Vada Pav and Tapri Chai

The staple day-food of almost everyone who works in the field in Mumbai. It’s not an alien concept to me. I have lived this life, for almost four years, early in my career. It’s easily available and its cheap. When you don’t have a lot of money and time, it’s the perfect combination.

Having the Vada Pav and Tapri Chai, we’d gaze at the fancy hotels and say, someday. That someday came soon enough, and the days of gobbling Street food before the next appointment, were a thing of the past. Then came the era of fancy street food. Overpriced, badly cooked street food that was promoted through Facebook events. I visited those too, hated the food, and returned home slightly disappointed.

Most people I’d meet wanted to have breakfast meetings, in fancy air-conditioned restaurants. All this while, imagining Vada Pav and Tapri Chai, and thinking, someday.

Having a Vada Pav and Tapri Chai become the new luxury, for which I had to take time out and go out to the street to get one.

Today, I had Vada Pav and Tapri Chai. Work has changed for me and I am less bound to a desk than I was before. I love that sense. Not because it is nostalgic, but it’s a happy sense. Great ambitions have been cooked and inspiring dreams have been brewed over a Vada Pav and Tapri Chai.

There’s nothing wrong with fancy food. Food’s purpose is to satisfy hunger. All food can do that. Some food, however, not just satisfies your hunger, it feeds your soul.

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The Mob Within

There are those who wear white. But they didn’t always wear white. And then, there are those who wear black. They didn’t always wear black either. What was white, what was black was never something that was definite.

In the absence of standards, White said, this is how it all should be. Black said, this is how it should not be. Like iron-shavings, around and about a horseshoe magnet, alignment happened. Needless to say, the shavings had no mind of their own.

Whitish emotions aligned with the White end. Blackish emotions, of course, aligned with the Black end. I wonder if it was truly magnetic. Emotions are mercenaries. They will go where they get the most benefit. White camp, Black camp. They’ll adorn their hoods of grey and go to either camp. Emotions have the same basic survival instinct as humans. They will make their choice. Emotions choose to survive. Simple.

White makes a recruitment case, so does Black. We are our emotions. We are choosing camps.

There is darkness in all of us. The “obvious” Black. But the White camp has currency. Black is bleaching their hoods and becoming greyer towards white. Acceptance eats identity for breakfast. The White-hood gangs up. Swords drawn, ready to attack the Black. Black is smart, it fades in the darkness that is its nature. White can’t fight in that arena, it withdraws. Stands tall.

Black is not vanquished. And it never will be. For if Black was to ever disappear, how will White exist. White knows this. It can only push Black to the shadows, but never vanquish it. When and how did White become the vanquisher? Did it borrow from Black? Is a part of White’s identity based on Black?

Then comes the question of the whole. Can it be fully White? Can it be fully Black? Is there a Blackness in White? Is there a Whiteness in Black?

I am White fighter. In between the gunfight, I look over my shoulder, and my coat is grey. A shade I have never seen before. I am Black fighter. In between the gunfight, I look over my shoulder, and my coat is grey. A shade I have never seen before.

*

I am White and Black, and everything between. I am the total of the Mob that is fighting with each other. I am fighting with me. I am both sides of the Mob. I am White. I am Black. I acknowledge White. I accept Black. I am Whole.

I am the conflict. I am peace.

LIFO: The Recusant Rule

Till recently, India did not have a no-fly list. A while ago, an Indian MP (Member of Parliament) misbehaved with the staff of an airline. What actually ensued, during that misbehaviour is a matter of discussion (and speculation), which, folks on Twitter have happily voiced, without their seat-belts on. The misbehaviour occurred when the doors of the flight were open. I am further assuming that when the aircraft is “open” there is ground/airport security available (and in charge). As far as I know, Captain of the flight gets authority only when the doors are closed and his or her word is final. Airline staff could have just handed him over to airport security; charged him for assault etc. We live in times when a 140-character tweet gives you all the information you need to be, not just the judge, jury, and executioner; you can even be sarcastic, nasty, abusive, and further. Without a need to investigate or reflect.

Private and public sector airlines came together and listed this MP on a “no-fly” list. Simple — he would not be allowed to fly on any airline. This, when India did not have a government-mandated “no-fly-list.” We have a body, in India, called the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) – a regulatory body for, well, you guessed it, civil aviation. The DGCA (or any other government body) was not a part of adding this MP on a no-fly-list (as far as I know, and I may be wrong). The “no-fly” list was issued by the association of airlines. A private body. This one name was declared persona-non-airline-grata. No thought, no plan, just no-fly-list. How will the airlines know if some other passenger with the same name is travelling? What if this MP has a medical emergency? (He has only misbehaved, he is not a terrorist, right?) Many such questions came to my mind.

It all got resolved in a few weeks, and this MP was back flying. A few days ago, I heard that India, now has an official no-fly list. Three degrees and all. It’s scary. I’ll leave it at that.

*

But this post is not about that at all. But the irony is stark. I’d assume, bad behaviour is bad behaviour, right? Not so, apparently.

*

Airlines in India tend to promote recusant behaviour. As a person who generally respects authority, I find the baggage handling of all airlines to be very peculiar. Now, here are all airlines, asking us to check-in anywhere from two-three hours before, right? So a person like me, does that. I check-in early. That’s good behaviour, right? The new commercial airports in India are happy too, because of passengers like me I end up paying three times for some eatable just to hold something in my hand and chew on. Win, win. For the airline and the airport. But it is actually win-win-lose. And I am the loser. When I land, my bag is the last to come. The recusants are the first to get their bags. LIFO. Last In First Out.

They are the ones who are brought to the front of the security line by the airline staff. Almost every time I have seen this, and I have wondered, why do I follow the rules? I am denied my five minutes in the smoking lounge and the time to buy the overpriced sandwich. Needless to say, these irreverent people are the ones who will carry mobile phones in their pockets, and will be sent back by the security to send their devices through the X-ray machines. Delaying me further, six minutes. I am amused by how they are blinded by the 12 signs asking them to send their devices and wallets through the machine. Why don’t private airports get this? That’s one overpriced sandwich I do not have time to buy! That idiot who you just allowed to cross the line, is not going to buy anything at your illegally overpriced shop. He is going to run to the bus. (If you are certain blue airline. If you are the other blue airline, you get an aerobridge.)

Airlines and airports promote bad behaviour. Commerce eats rules for breakfast. That’s about it. Given my upbringing, my ethics, and my respect for authority, I will continue to behave the way I do. But, if you have no qualms, be a bad boy or a bad girl. You will be rewarded. I actually recommend it.

Little did I know when learning data structures in college, LIFO/FIFO it would have meaning in just more than code.

How, will you use what you learnt in school and college?

Happy Teachers’ Day

Every year this day comes. On this day. And you find yourself wondering what will you say different from all the times before. Things are changing so slowly, they are hardly noticeable. The most important serviceperson of the nation is getting disillusioned and I have not much to offer that makes real sense to a teacher.

I hope things will change for the better. The teacher’s life will become better. I will do all that I can, along with like-minded people who share the same beliefs. For now, the people you work with, are the best motivation for you.

Young students, Akanksha, Teacher's Day

Courtesy: Akanksha Photo Shoot

Thank you, dear architects of the future of this country. Thank you for your relentless service to the nation against the most challenging odds. Thank you, especially, for standing tall and strong through the seemingly hopelessness of it all. That takes a different type of courage.

#RESPECT

Happy Independence Day

We all work for our country.

We write software programmes, we build buildings, we save children, we teach, we police our community. We train customer service people. We help commerce across boundaries. We clean the sewers, we sweep the streets. We balance the books, we make machines, we serve food. We offer loans, we give interest. We sit at home and make our children good people. We fight for what is not right. We fight to keep what is right. We fight, sometimes, for all the wrong reasons. We do what we have to do, to protect our present and our future. We join the armed forces, we protect our country; our families.

The Indian Tricolour - National Flag

The Indian Tricolour – National Flag

On this Independence Day, here’s a shout out to all the armed forces – national and state [The Indian Army, Air Force, and Navy. The State Police forces, the paramilitary forces, CISF, CRPF, BSF, IB, R&AW, All of you], who protect our present.

Here’s a shout out to all the teachers – who protect and nurture our future. You are the most important of us all. Our soldiers are looking to you. They are protecting our present, so that you can protect our future.

As someone who just does stuff and pays taxes, so that you can do your job, I hope you know that each morning, I salute you first.

And I apologise for the kind of leaders we ended up electing. Spineless and gutless. Do not blame the politicians. We failed you. Yet, we trust you. But, I promise you, we will do better. Your sacrifice and you frustration will not be in vain.

And to, all our soldiers: promise us one thing: Kill, do not die. Please do not die for your country; kill if you have to; live for your country. Come back home.

This is all WIP (work-in-progress), we’ll get there, bear with us.

To all my protectors of the present and the future: Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

A Warm Embrace

When Richard Bach said,

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.

He wasn’t joking.

8632: Keep the Faith

It’s been a couple of months since I had been to a school reunion. And after three decades of being apart, we are rediscovering what we meant to each other. It is amusing that we aren’t on this road to rediscovery from the age that we are now, but from the age when we separated. Amusing, because we tend to behave like teenagers in our conversations. Memories have faded, too much water under and over the bridge. But we haven’t lost the sense of who we were, how we were. Theories abound about why some people feel connected with others, each with some merit, or at least some factor of interestingness.

To me, it’s the snug, cosiness that I experience in our conversations. Tied up, close and tight from all sides, never to fall apart, never to leave.

A warm clasped embrace, that defies time and space, which I always carry around with me.

Reuniting With Myself

Thirty-two years is a long time.

They say that every seven years the human body is essentially new (all cells being replaced, in that span; not entirely accurate, but it’s a good thought). By this theory, I have been renewed a little over four times, since I left my school in Goa, for another one in Bombay. It wasn’t only me, all my friends from then, have changed exactly that many times. Some dread lingered after I confirmed that I’d attend the school reunion.

Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, India

Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, India

In 1985 we didn’t have many tools to save memories. We either remembered them or wrote it down on paper. Of the cells in our body, brain cells are the one’s that last a lifetime, and if they do die, they don’t regenerate (Don’t worry, there’s always new research around the corner that says otherwise).

For a month before the reunion, all of us 40-somethings, were connected online, seeking lost fragments of half-broken memories to make them whole. We only had one physical reference — the annual class photo — to help us. The rest of it, we had to seek from our randomly connected neurons; from disused and discarded pathways. Slowly, it started coming back together; some memories we recalled; for the rest we trusted our friends’ authority. But this wasn’t true about all our memories. A select few were sharp, very sharp: those of adventures, discoveries, punishments, and of course – first crushes.

*

It was an agonising wait for 9th June. The suspense hung suspended like smog in New Delhi. Who would I meet? The vaguely familiar 13-year-olds or the vaguely unfamiliar 40-somethings? What would I say? What would they say? What would they remember? There was a motley crowd of questions commuting in my head, but none of them, strong enough to trample on my resolve to attend.

The bag was packed two days before. Finally, the airport. Flight’s on time. So far. For some events, you leave nothing to chance. Plan well. I reach the airport two hours earlier than I should have. Nothing; nothing should be left to chance. Am waiting at the gate. Not much to do. Update Facebook status:

Reached airport two hours early. I know it doesn’t affect when the aircraft will take off. Don’t remember the last time I was so excited. Meeting friends from thirty-two years ago, does that to you, I guess. Friendships forged in classrooms and playgrounds. Helping each other in study and games. Those long conversations that were dense with imagination. That very awkward age of being thirteen. That display of solidarity during class punishments. The giggly responses to the newly discovered double-entrende.

The love declaration in the last page of the notebook and the vigorous scratching of it.

The white-haired, pot-bellied, balding boys; and the beautiful girls of that class are going to relive it all. Entry is by invitation only, else you would also get to see 13yr old 45-somethings.

It starts raining. Flight’s delayed. Thankfully, only 15 minutes. The seasoned air-traveller who pays for the aisle seat has chosen the window. There’s a promise of something wonderful on the other side of this one hour and fifteen minutes. The clouds told me.

Taking off from Bengaluru Airport

Taking off from Bengaluru Airport

finally am there. Five minutes in, I see that everything and everyone has changed. Except the love. That’s as intact as it was three decades ago. There is, however, one surreal dissonance: all of my friends look very different from how I remember them; but they are the same 13-year old kids I had parted from. The smiles, the words, the jokes, everything – was how it was, then. One by one, we all trickle in. It’s the same with everyone. It takes each of us less than five minutes to establish identities (often by recalling something absolutely stupid that we had done).

The reunion of Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1, INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, was ON.

Without any delay, the collective memories were laid out as Exhibit No. 1, 2, 3, … You get the picture. Sheepish and naughty references began floating around. Ah, well, boys will be boys, though, technically, they were all men. I was a compliant and participating member, but the dissonance didn’t leave me. Late at night, we finally settled down for a conversation so that the one with most of his neurons intact, would remind us how much of our memories were real; how many were imagined.

Then, the girls joined.

Long-forgotten pubescent awkward silence enveloped the boys in the room. There was some conversation, yes. I think the girls were somewhat disappointed with our inability to gossip in their presence.

My Classroom - Right of Centre

My Classroom – Right of Centre

Hangovers and emotions are never good, when they arrive together. It’s Saturday morning now. We are in our school. Needless to say much has changed. Then, we just had a barbed-wire fence. Now there are 10-feet walls. Dissonance. Then we had just two parallel building. Now it’s a square of four buildings. But my classrooms are there. It’s vacation, so the rooms are closed. But I peep in through the high windows. I recall where I sat, where my BFF sat, where my crush sat. A movie plays. The abstract kind. Part memory, part imagination, part dream. Hangovers and emotions are good when the arrive together. You can use one to hide the other. Most of my reunion-mates assume I am hungover. Works for me. I see across from my classroom to the building opposite. My sister’s class. Every time I was in trouble, she was summoned to ensure that the complaint reached home.

We walked the corridors of yore. Then, as if drawn by an old magnet, we were drawn and stood in the middle of the assembly ground. Aligned ourselves perfectly. Without a warning, without a signal, without a plan, without a prompt, strict in attention, we sang the National Anthem. If I ever had to explain hive mind, this would be it. Not one of us was surprised or taken aback. It felt as natural as breathing. Any hesitation or apprehension I had felt in the month before this day was quelled, without a fight.

National Anthem - At School - KV INS Hansa

National Anthem – At School – KV INS Hansa

And the rest of the day passed in much fun and frolic. The evening was one of the best since I can long remember. No, I am not telling any more. (Some of my juvenile friends may read this!) I retired happy. Especially for someone who could manage only four awkward and useless phrases for those two years, a long time ago. I forget, even, what the words were. But it matters not, anymore. I may have forgotten the words, but not the sense, not what I felt. What I alone, felt.

Three decades is a lifetime, if you think of it. There’s so much water under the bridge, the landscape has changed. So have the cells of our eyes. Everything is different now. We’ve been renewed four times over. Life is different. And it is still beautiful as ever.

*

Sunday was shocking. The sun behind the rainy clouds was teasing us, chuckling almost, telling us it was all over. We wasted no time, though. We jumped right back on to the fun-wagon. Much fun was had. Even though it was a dry-day (elections). With all who were there, we made the best of the little remaining time. Then, one-by-one came the goodbyes. Tearful, but I shed not one, then. I am a late-bloomer, I guess.

Today is my day, when the floodgates open.

It was a good reunion. With friends from long ago. It was also a reunion with my self. A discovery, an acknowledgement, a sense of being. A sense, beyond words. The best way to discover ourselves, is when we are with others.

This is a public post, so I won’t take your names, but you know who you are. All of you in Goa who arranged everything to perfection. The rest of you who came from far and wide, and all of you for so much of love, that I find hard to contain.

Good positive vibes, as you said.