A Social-Media Experiment Unravels

This post is premature. By a day. But, I’ll allow it. The advantage of having your own blog! Rules assume the garb of guidelines, when you want them to.

I have ranted often of what I am now writing about, today. The topic is not new, the emotion has been experienced often. The content, perhaps has a fresh flavour or a tantalising twist.

As of tomorrow, I have been away from three social networks that I used to indulge in, regularly — for a working month. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I was mostly a consumer on all three, while creating some content on Facebook and Twitter. YT was pure consumption.

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Little over a month ago, I finished reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport — I was amused by the directness of a Chapter Title — “Quit Social Media” — but I read it nevertheless. This post is not a review of the book, nor do I want it to be. After a while you pick and choose your battles — like writing a review of a book. A star rating is enough to describe where you stand.

Of the many reasons mentioned in “Quit Social Media” – the one that intrigued me the most was the question: how many people (of the few hundred friends you have) will miss you, if you do not post. YT didn’t fall in that category, because I never created any content on YT.

Twitter also did not matter much, because a decent percentage of my followers started following me, because of a random tweet in a timeline of years, which appealed to them. They stayed followed, but never ever interacted after that one tweet. Most Twitter connections (other than my actual friends) are connections of convenience.

Facebook was the one I really wanted to put to the test of: how many people (of the few hundred friends you have) will miss you.do actually know all (ah, ok, most!) of my connections on FB. In recent years, I was never a prolific poster – but I was irregularly regular. What would happen if I stop? Armed with a commandment from Cal Newport’s book, I took the step. Changed my profile picture — showing my back, looking away, to all my FB friends. Changed my cover photo to a metaphorical chain (smart, eh?). And just stopped posting.

For ten days since that day, I religiously did not open any of the three sites, web or mobile. But, what if Cal was wrong? What if in the ten days gone by, people were missing me? So, I did some soft cheating; I did not post anything still, but went and checked who was missing me.

Zilch on Twitter; Zilch on Facebook.

//INSET

The mobile phone innovation came to us in the late 90s. Even before that – basic telephony was costly and cumbersome. It was cheaper to meet-in-person according to convenience. 50p and 1Re coins jingled in our pockets. In 2021 coins have almost gone out of circulation, and 1Re coins cant get you anything worthwhile. We used to make 3-min calls, without any niceties, conforming time, place, and Plan B’s.

For me a phone has always been about name, place, and time. Most of friends and relatives do not understand; I have a low tolerance for conversation on a phone. The real engagement happened when I met the named person at a time in a place that we we had planned for. Face to Face.

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So, some people had liked my profile picture, with my back turned to them. No comments, no questions. Cal Newport was winning. On Twitter there was one mention, purely circumstantial; work-related. I didn’t even bother about YT.

I developed a 10-day-itch, so I continued to soft-cheat every ten days.

Zilch on Twitter; Zilch on Facebook.

(One day, I liked a photo that a cousin had posted; sheer muscle memory. #FAIL) #Sigh! I totally OUCHed myself!

In just a month long social-media rehab, I feel cured; or at least on the way to a cure.

For sure, however, not a cure from friends. For Sure. It’s a cure from the network. It’s like mistaking the map for the territory; or forest for the trees. Something like that. Specifically, it is a cure from the compulsions of the network. A networked connection does not automatically mean friendship. Not every network enables conversations (if they would, they would have greater opportunities of data mining and targeted advertising!)

[Damn! I should not have given them that idea. But, chances are, they have already exploited it.]

I have not lost touch with my friends because of my absence on social networks. In fact, I am speaking with them more often. On a mobile phone that does not weigh as much as a construction brick. Pandemic and all, that is the best we can do today. I no longer feel the need to post my crappy humour, unoriginal ideas, ill-formed opinions, and angry rants on these social networks anymore. I have not lost the feeling; I just do not feel a need to post it. (WhatsApp/Other IMs are an exception, because they are more intimate; but I think I shall conquer that, in good time)

Finally, this post; about social networks and social media – is not a rant. It’s a happy experience of not experiencing everything that is fed to you.

#JOMO.

As an early-70s kid, it has brought back a happiness that I knew and related to.

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Life’s better when it is small and full; rather than being big and empty.

The Story of Seventeen Years

Seventeen years ago, when I wrote my first post, without any idea what I was getting into and how how far I wanted to take it – I gave a very short advisory about carrying cash, if you travel to Konkan. The next post came much much later. And then slowly, but surely I found my writing rhythm, which has continued to this day, with all the highs and lows one would expect in any seventeen-year relationship. In a high, there is not much to think of – you go with the adrenaline-fuelled flow. It’s the lows that get you thinking.

You tend to seek the past highs as they were – and try and replicate them. But no high is like the other. The construct, the motivation, the experience, the quantity and concentration of the adrenaline – is all different. It is impossible to make the same concoction again. The lows become lower.

Needless to say, a high, with a different cocktail soon comes over, and you are good to go, once again.

That has pretty much been the story of my seventeen years of blogging. Quite a bit of the writing has been about my thoughts and ideas, but a large part has been about my experiences – translated, protected, or reflected upon. And each experience was a result of an adventure. Those adventures are responsible for most content here, on the blog. And, those adventures happened because I said – YES!

As I look back at the lows of my blogging rhythm, I discover that almost all those times were when I said no to an adventure. For a few, I had good reason, but not for all. But I don’t think the reasons matter – irrespective of the reason (unless it’s about your safety) it’s usually a good idea to say yes. I recently went through such a time when I was called upon to do something that I wasn’t particularly interested in, but I did it anyway – in spite of an utter discomfort. I imagined it would be one off, so I thought, I’d just get it out of the way and be done with it. And I did. Without warning, however, it has set me on a path that I am now very curious about, and I believe I will enjoy it. It has a faded scent of a concoction I have had a long time ago; yet is absolutely fresh (and frightening) and exciting. Where it will lead me, I do not know – and that is the best part of it!

From the “Keep the Faith” Series, Atul Sabnis

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In the last few years, I have done a disservice to my readers, I feel. The frequency is down, the mood is depressing, and the tone is dark. Like the long-high of 2013-15, the time between 2017-20 has been a long low. Yet, many of you have always been here, often silently waiting, perhaps – for the high, that I have been waiting for.

Thank you all for all the love and generosity for all these years!

Reclaiming Pleasure

I completed reading a book the other day.

(No, not this book.)

Normally, this would not have been news. Definitely not bloggable. I used to read a lot and often. Like writing, something broke, and I didn’t read a book for a long time. I didn’t stop reading; articles, documents and such were still being consumed voraciously; but a book didn’t figure in the list.

Clearly there is a loss of patience to go through the book. From deep within, there is a constant nagging that seeks finishing the book. The remainder of the pages on the right hand is a daunting task. Desperately waiting to increase the pages in the left hand.

It doesn’t help that others are reading so many books and so frequently. What should work as motivation creepily transforms into competition.

What should be pleasure, becomes a chore.

#NotesToSelf

Inland Schizophrenia

We have a WhatsApp group.

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Classmates. Living a peripatetic life. Non-linear overlaps across the length and breadth of India, in varying time slices. Born early seventies, all of us. Gen X. Gen X is a fancy name for a generation that didn’t have access to technology. Obvious. This Gen was supposed to build the technology. So, in our early days we were dependent on the technology that the Baby Boomers used.

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Letters. Post. Mail. (not email). In India specifically we had Inland letters and Postcards. 25p and 15p respectively. If you had to write a really long letter, you had to shell out 50p for a postal envelope. But, we had to be careful, there was a weight limit. That’s when we discovered onion sheets – extremely thin paper. We could now stuff more sheets in the 50p envelope than before. We weren’t quite smart then, we used to pay a fortune for the onion paper pad, to save on postage. Go figure.

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Times have changed. Classmates grew up, and are doing well in their lives. If we feel like meeting out friends, we just hop on to a flight in the morning, spend a day with them, and return in the evening. We have WhatsApp, we have video calls, and such (which our generation built, mind you). We now live in a world of hyper-connectivity. Just the other day, mates from Goa, Dubai, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat met one evening. Easy-peasy.

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Indian Inland Letter India Post Rs. 2.50

The 25p Inland letter is now Rs. 2.50. I have taken it up upon myself to write letters to my friends. Notwithstanding the WhatsApp group. It’s not easy. But writing letters is muscle memory. It’s all coming back, no thanks to the changed format of the new expensive inland letter. All my letters start by asking my friend – what do I write in this letter, given that we already know everything that is going on in our lives. What should be the purpose and content of the letter? And as my out-of-practice trembling hands ask this question, an answer emerges. Purpose and content in this context don’t matter much. It is the intent, and the sense of sending you something tangible – is what matters. WhatsApp messages get deleted every night – to save space. Their nature is transient. A paper and scrawled ink is forever. When we are no more (like the deleted WhatsApp messages) these letters are an ounce of us that will be with you forever.

I should know, I have letters from dead people. And they are a part of me. And a part of them is with me.

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I have an old briefcase full of letters from all of my friends, from the early 80s. It is one of my most prized possessions. May the briefcase become a suitcase. May there be many more letters. May there be many more fragments of our lives in each other’s lives.

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Some gratitude is due. To my teachers and friends. I may not be the best letter-writer, but I understand something of structure and format and choice of words. Here’s a big thank you to all my teachers for helping us learn how to write letters and follow know the rules. To break a rule, you first have to know the rule. Here’s a big thank you to all my friends for helping me to learn how to break those rules.

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PS: I really, really wanted to use “peripatetic” – Happy now.

Friends As Homing Devices

A peeking rose

 

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

I read this poem a couple of days ago. Only because I stumbled upon it, while I was reading a book. A book, which I had no idea existed, and discovered it only because I saw a movie, which was recommended to me by a dear friend, which, I would have never watched, if it was left to me. How and why this poem found its way to me, intrigues me. In an amusing way, i.e., not in a way that makes me weave the wool of conspiracy with needles of reason. Ironically, this book had itself alerted me to this phenomenon that I was to soon experience. I had smiled, when I read it; it was cute, but to have experienced the exact phenomenon couple of score pages later, was a revelation, it said:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

Importantly, the above line ended with, “How delightful if that were true.”

Ah, well, dear author, here is a perfect example of why I believe that books have homing instincts. My time to tell you the story.

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Time-travel is my favourite movie/series genre. It fascinates me, much. The actual time travel not so much, but the implications of it all. The scientific and the philosophical. Needless to say, all time-travel themed movies and series have been binge-consumed and there is nothing left. I move to the War genre.

Out of the blue, a friend asks, if I have watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – I tell her, it has been nagging me on Netflix, but it seems (because of the poster) too mushy for my taste. She urges me to watch it. A few days pass. I do watch it. I love it. I tweet about it. Amit thinks I am talking of the book. I say, no, I watched the film. As gently as he can, he curses my wretchedness, that I haven’t read the book, and Amit being Amit, he explains why. Point well taken. I buy the book. I flip through it. I know, what Amit meant. I start reading the book. It’s enjoyable. Then I stumble upon the homing device statement. I smile. Cute, I say to myself. Then I stumble upon the opening line of a poem, that the character in the book writes of; he doesn’t recall the author. Well, I have Google.

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

These are the opening lines of Malcolm Arnold’s “Hymn to Empedocles,” part of Empedocles on Etna. I’ve never heard of Malcolm Arnold the poet before. More Googling ensues. I am reminded of something else, in the book”

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

And suddenly, late as it is, I am reading “Dover Beach. for sheer enjoyment.”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I feel blessed. I thank my friend who suggested the movie. I thank Amit for making me read the book.

I am grateful to the homing devices, that are my friends.

Of Fifteen Years

Fifteen years.

That’s how long I have been blogging. Last year this day, I said, given that I have blogged for so many years, I don’t have much to show for it. I was referring to the number of posts. A year has passed since, and if are to go by numbers, the numbers are worse.

While I have not been writing much, I have read a lot; my blog, i.e. And I am very happy about what I have written. It’s not extraordinary, but it is good. It makes me feel good to read what I have written. That, I suppose is the value of a personal blog.

My relationship with words amuses me the most. I am most curious of how the most abstract emotion, event, or a thought actually transforms to something so discrete as a post. When I read a post, I enjoy how the original abstraction presents itself. In my head, at least. I hope, most of the readers get it too. This blog has helped me elevate how I think, and I am grateful for that.

I can’t promise regular updates, I do not want to promise regular updates.

All I want to say is thank you – to everyone who has helped this blog become what it is. Thank you for the love, appreciation, and acknowledgement.

It’s Not About Photographs – VI

Don’t take a photo of what you see – take a photo of what you want to show!

I said that in a recent conversation to a friend. There were some composition rules she was missing, which she could have easily rectified; was just helping her take a better photo the next time around. What I said to her, however, has been haunting me for a few hours, now. I don’t altogether believe what I said to my friend. I think, I was asking her to be more careful with the camera. Or, in my head, I was asking her to be more careful with the frame. Our eyes see a lot, we send it all to the brain. Somewhere, somehow, all the chemical and electrical events that occur during this transmission from eye to brain, are not the sum total of the image that we present.

What our eye does see is vast, the frame is a crop. Having a camera in your hand, in front of your eyes is a responsibility. How will you crop?

153400: Light & Arches

I cannot relate to the urgency of taking a photo. I just do not understand the urgency. Photography is patience. Personified. Why do we seek to take a photo in this moment when, it is possible that the next moment is better? And if the next moment is not better, what have we lost? If we lived in that moment, which we did not capture, is the moment lost to us? What wasn’t captured is a memory that is our own. Do you remember stills that aren’t available on paper or as digital files? When we crossed rows in the classroom; when we stood in front of each other, that split moment, when nothing was said and yet, an entire life was lived?

I don’t remember it, but you do. There’s no documentation of the moment, but both of us live it. Photos aren’t false memories – they are only artificial. Artificial in the sense of the frame in which they are presented to you.

Not that they do not represent the truth. Photos are as real. Just that they are a slice of the reality. And we have to learn to see photos for what they are. My eyes, your eyes.

All the eyes that see the photo, that is what the photo is about.

Crowd of Strangers

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page. Put words. Words. Words. Words. And drop it in Times Square, NY. None of the words will know each other, strangers from far off lands revolving on the axis of their feet, drowned in wonder. The crowd of strangers is what gives meaning to Times Square. Not meaning itself. The meaning is in the presence; not in anything else. NY winks and we miss it in the blink of an eye. It’s at its naughtiest best.

Bow to the city, it has seen the birth of your grandparents; it is witnessing your death. Never, ever, however, has a city wished for a birth or death. It is a witness. It allows all. It winks, often, (and you may miss it) but it never asks for either this or that.

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page.

I’ll just put five words. I’ll call it abstract. Not for what it is, but for what I can hide behind.

Nay, nay, nay! This wasn’t to be. At the peak of the strange words, there was to be meaning. For me, for you. Running around the base of the pyramid I am lost; for no stone at the base is discrete. I have to climb! Something forms at the peak. And it is built by these abstract slabs at the bottom. I am a slave to how these huge slabs were dragged in place. Without ropes, without connections, I am dragged down. I stay here as if a mutual belonging exists; yet the apex.

May I flex my wrists and twist my ankles. Flex my muscles and twist my body. Shackles will be broken. I will be free. In a foreign land. In New York. In London. In Mumbai. My I see the cities winking at me. And jump on those abstract slabs. Thoughtful; unlike the agitated Prince of Persia.

Once again, watching the crowd of strangers.

That’s All There Is

Ink and paper.

Blood and tissue.

Teachers’ Day is for Teachers

Happy Teachers’ Day to all Teachers.

In these days, when a meaning of a word can be stretched far from its actual and intended meaning, even the meaning of “teacher” has fallen victim to Unspeak. It has now come to mean any and every person who is responsible for anything that we learn.

That’s not a teacher. A teacher makes a conscious commitment to nurture and develop young people to do better. The act isn’t incidental nor accidental. It’s a deliberate choice that requires a dedication to continue “teaching” for a lifetime. I don’t disagree that we learn from people who aren’t “teachers”, yet, if we were to ask these people to do what they do, day in and day out, we’d probably not get the answer we think we will. The attitude, the patience, the rigour of a teacher is different from a person from whom we learn.

It is not that these non-teachers are seeking to be acknowledged on this day. It’s us. We are expanding the meaning of the word and the purpose of the day to make it inclusive. Very inclusive. Perhaps it is our laziness. To take time to think of our teachers and be grateful to them, specifically. Open the gates wide enough, and we could pretty much include every person we met, for we have learnt something from every person we met.

Irrespective of whether that person intended to teach us.

We could thank the others on all of the 364 days of the year, but that would take effort, to think of who it is we are grateful to, and for what purpose. It’s a lot of work!Teachers’ Day is a good blanket that covers it all. And one message, which includes, “… to all the people who have taught me along the way…” covers it all. While we may learn things from people, I am not sure if everyone intended to teach us.

This day is in celebration of those who have made it their life’s work to teach – who have held their patience for years together, while we fumbled and fell. They picked us up time and again, without judgement and urged us on towards success. They loved us without discrimination, and we went on ahead in life while they stood in the same place, awaiting the next generation, and did the same with them. In return they get a paltry sum, but their biggest payment is in our happiness and success.

For all the others who helped us learn, we’ll celebrate it all through the year.

There is a sanctity to this day. Let it remain Teachers’ Day.

A Broken Letter

Everyone knows everything about everyone else. As it happens. Information age and all. Instant ka zamaana hai. Almost everything. From the important to the trivial. Fact that my friend bought a new house and the fact that another friend over-ate last Saturday.  You don’t miss a thing.

Most of us, moved a lot, during our childhood. Given our fathers lived a peripatetic life. Armed forces, Government, Banks, and such. A couple and three decades ago, nothing was instant. Except for coffee, perhaps. We had to resort to old-school (those days it was the best tech available to us) and used to stay in touch through letters. I was recently surprised to know that they still teach letter-writing in school. I wonder if the kids write letters other than scribbling make-believe content to imaginary friends. Even recently, a friend was lamenting the loss of all these sweet old-world charms; ironically on an instant messenger. Being a sucker for sentiment, I shared a letter (not the contents; just the back of the inland-letter he had sent me, way back). Emotions gushed, much emojical sentiment was shared and received.

Another friend caught on to it. Hey, do you have any letters that I wrote to you? I’d like to share them with my kids, show, how we communicated when we were young. Of course, I said, I have a few. I wondered, however, if he’d actually share the content of the letter. We laughed-out-loud emojically.  Share them with me, I’ll see what I can share. I started shuffling through the semi-organised pile of withering envelopes, inland covers, and pages torn from notebooks. I find three of his letters.

One letter, not in any particular pile, sits in the box, with not a care for the world. It’s in a decorative envelope, addressed, but no postage stamp on it. My handwriting. Stuffed, with neatly folded pages. Yellowed by twenty-nine years. I recognise it. I am not sure I want to open it. I know it is about fifteen pages long, back-to-back; that’s thirty pages worth of a letter. It was meant to go where it was supposed to go, but I never let go of it. Letters that don’t get sent, don’t live a life. They don’t die, for they never have lived. They just don’t live. It’s not an unfinished letter. It has been completed, signed. I gingerly open it. It starts to break in my hands. Folds that have not been opened for almost three decades are now sharp cuts where once there were folds. It’s broken. Yet, it does not fall to pieces. Something held the letter together. And I started reading it.

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It slowly comes back to me. I knew where I was sitting. I remember the time of that night. I sense all that I sensed then. It’s painful. It’s raw. Ironically, it is satisfying. In retrospect, it is always easy to justify something. And even if it wasn’t so intentioned, I was writing this letter to myself. To be discovered thirty years later.

Who knew, a broken letter had the power to mend so much.

The Matter of Form

So, my last few posts have been about the writing block. Or Laziness. Or some such thing. While I venture on exploring what causes us (me, actually) to shy away from writing well enough and often enough, I discovered that it may have something to do with the platform. (Previous Post).

100 Links

I wonder whether it is about form — that makes us choose a platform. Now that micro-form is more popular than longform, do platforms like Twitter make more sense? But then, Twitter has added features that allow it become a platform for “longform” writing. See this thread:

So is it the death of longform writing as we know it, and that conventional longform has no readers now? From a readership and access point of view, perhaps, – it makes sense.

What then, stops anyone from using WordPress (or any other conventional blogging platform) for microform writing?

Synonym for Laziness

By now, we have clearly established that there is a writer’s block, and the July challenge is suffering on account of that. Fourteen days behind. Filling up the fourteen days is not the problem, come to think of it – it would take fourteen minutes to come up to speed; which, by the way is the plan.

The real question is, whether it would be quality content. Which in turn begets the question – what is quality content. Quality for who? And then, we do a full roundabout and start questioning the writer’s block. That phrase is just a fashionable word for laziness. And I prefer that. Writer’s block sounds so much better than laziness.

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I read a book recently. From my perspective, it is an important book. Politically themed. It is a book that should have helped us all, get a deeper understanding of stuff. It did. Great insights. Important information. Cleared misconceptions. Yet, it fell flat on its face. Shoddy copy editing. That is about it. Nothing gets me upset than a word or a punctuation that is misplaced [especially one that could have been easily corrected], and I have to correct it — on-the-go — in my head. That just ruins your tempo and your flow.

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Perhaps that is what my writer’s block is about. I dread I’ll write something shoddy. In a little over a thousand posts, I have perhaps written only 30-40 clean, neat, thoughtful posts. Maybe that is what writer’s block is about. You are scared of your worst critic: yourself. I am very unhappy with myself for those 20-30 really good posts I wrote. They are the standard. And anything I write now, reminds me of those 5 – 10 good posts of mine.

May the seas part!

Medium & the Message

This happened: A friend wrote a post, a very personal one. In a notepad. Pen and paper. I was privy to it. It was as personal as it could be. Photos of that very personal encounter were shared with me. It was later edited, to remove all personal references and posted in a WhatsApp group of friends. People commented on it, appreciated, loved it, responded to it. Good fun. In July. Last year. Six months later, the same post was reposted as a forward. Exactly the same text. Author changed. Apparently the same text was written by the Big B. I was upset, and I let people know that I was upset, because they just accepted the post as a Big B post. It was wrongly attributed to say the least. But none, in that group even wondered or asked, hey! Haven’t I seen this before?

Needless to say, that post went out of our group, and came back in our group in a shiny new bottle with celebrity status.

Gemstone Necklace

My blood started boiling and my FitBit had a fit.

I asked my friend, the author — did you see it? My friend sent me a smile. Just a smile.

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It would have been very easy for me to tell everyone in the WA group that this was wrongly attributed. This was an original piece from our friend, which exited our group, and re-entered our group, now falsely attributed to a famous person. I sent a few messages describing why the famous person could not have said it. Let it be known that I am a big fan of the famous person. Some of my close friends asked me to disclose the source and get it over with.

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Every once in a while, life asks you to look at problems, not from where you stand, but to take a position where a problem exists. Walk to where the problem is. Stand where the problem is. Sometime you have to see afar, sometimes you have to look inward. Giving answers is easy. Most people will take answers. Very few will take questions and go and to find answers. Often, what we call a problem, is just a question of our vantage point; or lack thereof.

Sometimes, we are just careless.

Write Side

One thing’s for sure. This blog is not what it used to be.

I have yet to decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing. But I am sure, that it is a different thing. My audience has changed. That is a very good indicator of the change. Those that used to read this blog do not read this blog anymore. Different people seem to find meaning in this blog and the posts. And that is a good thing, do not get me wrong; I am not complaining.

I wonder, if it is ever a good idea to lose readership. Most authors will disagree with me. I would also disagree with me. Loss is never good. Yet, when I think of losing an audience, I cannot help but wonder, who I am losing. I was once a writer of some style. [Bear with me, while I shower my own accolades on myself.] I am no more a writer of that style. I am a writer of this style. If you can call it a style, i.e.

The advantage of not being a published popular author is working for me.

Maybe.

The True Letter

“Bhai!” (Brother; no blood-relation, but what we feel about people is stronger than a blood-call)

I always love hearing his voice.

Hey, how are you, I asked.

“All good man. I am sorry.”

Huh? Why?

“I haven’t replied to your letter” [A physical letter, written on paper, paid for with postage, to be delivered by a postman]

That’s alright. I have received one from you.

“I know, but I never replied to your reply to that. I want to reply. I want you to know that.”

She had written a letter to me once. On an unruled Inland Letter. There was a lot of space in between the lines she wrote. Maybe she was helping me read in-between the lines. I wasn’t as smart then, also, I thought I was in love. I just saw the empty space between the actual lines, beautiful handwriting, and well, you know what. She also wrote of how she had good intentions to write to me, but, she reminded me that, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I thought I’d re-quote this to my brother. Thought better of it.

That’s fine. I know you will reply. Soon.

“I don’t understand why I don’t write. I have the stationery. I have the will.”

You are, perhaps too focused on writing a proper letter.

“Meaning?”

You don’t need to write a full letter, you know. Just write a big ‘HI’ on the letter and post it?

“Meaning?”

*

Rest of the conversation was of various other things. And while I did give him an answer for his last question, I wondered, what was the “Meaning?” What does a letter mean? To me?

Doing an about-turn and looking within yourself is a difficult thing to do. We rarely do it. It follows, that we have lost (or are losing) the art of looking within. That evening, I turned.

It’s just so nice to receive a personal letter. A small little envelope, with your name inscribed on it in, fat, thin, curvy, thick, elegant, scribbly handwriting. It’s your name. Then follows your address. Whoever sent you the letter knows exactly where you are. The letter comes home. We aren’t having a conversation while I am commuting or when I am down on the street for a late afternoon for a chai and a cigarette. [Statutory Warning: Smoking is injurious to health].

A letter comes to where you are. Home. And then you open the letter. It may be a single page, or pages and pages stuffed in that reluctant envelope, ready to burst at the seams. It’s never the same as having the letter-writer in front of you, but it is the closest. I know, many folks think voice is the closest, but I think otherwise. Written words are. See, letter writing (pen and paper) is not the same as typing on a keyboard. Our thoughts are racing, our pen-in-our-hand cannot keep up. So, we often slow down out thoughts. If you have ever received a multi-page letter, you will know what I am talking of.

The first paragraph is exquisite. Your friend has sat down to write the letter, slowed down the thought process, and the best of her handwriting shows up. One page down. Now the excitement of Oh-I-have-so-many-things-to-share-with-you, takes over. Scribbly text takes over. Spelling mistakes. Scratches. She sees her own handwriting. Slows down. It repeats. Somewhere, the weight of the paper comes into consideration. No more pages! But I have so much more to say. A-ha! Margins! Let’s flout that one rule we learnt in school.

There’s more character to a letter than any other form of communication. Except of course, when we are having coffee together, at the same table.

To write a good letter, we need to be in denial, however; in these times. We have to deny ourselves an instant response. We have to let go, of a response, if that is what it takes. There is sheer pleasure in writing a letter. We have to move away form the instant gratification of the double-blue-tick-mark of WhatsApp and learn to yearn for a postal delivery. For something tangible. For something that’s forever.

*

Take your time, Bhai. Send me that letter when you can. What matters not is that it’s a postcard or an overstuffed envelope for which I have to pay extra postage. What matters is that I get it. You know it, there’s a joy in receiving letters. You have experienced it.

Spread the joy.

End of an Exile: 14 Years

Fourteen years is usually a standard for an exile in ancient Indian texts. So, exile is the first word that comes to mind when fourteen years have passed. Of course exile doesn’t apply in the context of this post – it is actually the fourteenth-anniversary of this blog. Yes, fourteen years. Not a round number like ten of fifteen, just a number, somewhere in the middle.

I don’t know if I have enough to show for it, I mean I have less than 1400 posts, not even a 100 for every year. Once upon a time it made a lot of difference to me – to write regularly, nicely. Over time, it didn’t seem as important. The urge to write was always there, the bloggable thoughts continued. Just writing them seemed unimportant. What’s one thought lost among the millions that never saw the bytes of a blog? More thoughts got added to those millions.

1132: Jantar Mantar

Recently, after a long and an interesting conversation, which I may add is pretty rare these days, I discovered that a lot of what was going in that conversation had occurred before and it was in this blog, somewhere. Present-me felt thankful to the Past-me. Thank you for expressing all that out here. This experience has also got me reading my blog all over again. It’s not just nostalgia, there’s a wonderful sense of getting to know a person. For me, more so, because I know the person more than these posts describe.

There’s not much to say about this anniversary, just that it is overwhelming to think it, even. I just look forward to do more justice and send lesser thoughts the way of the firing squad in the days and years to come. Not every thought may be popular or interesting, even, but it is worth in itself. For its be-ing.

That’s worth fighting for.

*

Thank you all who have visited all these years, I am truly grateful for your visit, acknowledgement, and your thoughts.

Story-listeners

I was called a storyteller, recently. (Read this first, if you want to make sense of this post)

I acknowledge that I am a storyteller, don’t want to be modest and such. There have been a few times when I have told stories. Some have been good stories, some have been quite lame. But that’s how you get there, you keep at it.

In the post (link above) where I was called a storyteller, I wondered what kind of storyteller I am. I am not C-Bag, and I am grateful for that. I am definitely not Wallace-ish. I am certain, I am not Murakami-ish. But I am someone-ish, perhaps. Which makes me think of this anthem by S&G:

This post is not about the style of stories that are being told. This is about the stories that I cannot tell. Stories of love. Stories of hate dislike. Stories of gain and loss. Stories of depression and ecstasy. No, those stories don’t sell.

The people in the stories do not want these stories to be published.

Some stories will be ours, personal, and secret. They may be beautiful, dreary, shocking, wondrous, or fantastic, but they will be untold. Storytelling is not just the responsibility of the storyteller.

Do not be a passive, patient audience.

A Permanent Image

I was on vacation, last week.

It has been a while that I have been on a vacation. Those of you know me, will probably be rolling your eyes. Yes, I have been on a holiday recently, but it has been a while that I have been on a vacation. Somewhere, in my mind a break, a holiday, and a vacation are different. I mean obviously they are different, they are three different words. But how they differ, actually, is a mystery to me. It’s probably got to do with the length, of how long you are away. This one was a full week, so, vacation.

A vacation after five years, almost. And much has changed, since my last vacation.

I saw all that I thought I would see. The faraway trailing mountain lines, the thready waterfalls of summer, the centenarian eucalypti seeking the sky, wild flowers sidelining the roads, brightly coloured happy homes that are the stuff of dreams, and sunsets that Turner would want to capture on a canvas. I saw all of that. Yes, I did.

I also saw, however, that no one else was seeing all this. Almost everyone had their backs to these wondrous sights. Seeing the sight doesn’t matter much. Being seen with the sight is now important. At all places, yes, all places, all the tourists had their back to what they came to see. This is not to say that they weren’t seeing the mountains, the trees, the waterfalls, or the flowers. They were seeing it. They were seeing it on their phones, bounded in an unnatural 16:9 ratio on a five-inch screen, while they took a photo of themselves being there.

I do not deride these selfie-seekers. For, when you are on a vacation, you must seek that, that makes you happy. I am, however, unable to relate to it.

How I look to the mountains; how the mountains look at me, is an image. It will never be shared. But it is forever.

It’s etched on my soul.

Writing Rigour

I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. – Agatha Christie

That’s the headline of a blog that I have followed for a while. For a few years now, the blog has been defunct; not the blogger. I met the blogger today; very much alive. Said blogger stopped blogging a few years ago. What’s the point, she said. When she stopped blogging, she did not explicitly ask this question. I know another blogger who did the same. She perhaps was asking different questions. I actually know of a third blogger. He stopped blogging too. His question — I have no idea. He went to the extent of deleting his blog. It must have been serious.

I have, I will confess, considered not blogging. But for the life of me, I could never consider deleting my blog. Good or bad, I cannot deny that this has been an integral part of my life. That, some of the followers of my blog bring up posts from several years ago in a conversation, is reason enough. (I tried doing an April Fool gag; fell flat on my face). There was a time when I wrote words that everyone most people liked. That’s not the case, now.

Not that words are foreign. They are still mine. I recognise them just like before. Just that the way they want to be together is unlike how they’d gather like obedient children; earlier. Perhaps, I am not a shepherd of words. Perhaps words shepherd me. Perhaps, that is why some of my recent posts are shite. Or, I have lost the ability to shepherd. The shepherding, notwithstanding — the words are mine and I am of words.

We have just lost the rhythm.

All I need, is to go to the dance floor that isn’t patronized by any one any more and do my silly dance. Where no one will see me. Where neither my words, nor I will care.  Salsa with adjectives and Samba with verbs. The apocalyptic dance. One writer in the world; no reader left. Is a writer made of readers or is a writer made of writing? Will a writer write if there is no one left to read? What defines a writer? The writing, or the readers?

*

I told her today, my writing, in recent times, has achieved heights of mediocrity, not knowing, if that is a sense of achievement. But I have to write. Not because you will read. Not because you will like it. I have to write, because I have to write. Scribble.

125659: Wall Grunge

*

No writer, if she can, should give up writing. Because every writer knows one thing (even if she cannot sense it) – she and the words are one. She may walk away from words. (Words are kinda stupid; they have no emotion – they will sit where they were last sat; where words should be – is a writer’s prerogative.) But there is no leaving. Even if she never writes them – she cannot escape them.

If you can help it – do not become a writer. There is no escape. If you become a writer; welcome to the club!