Monday, December 30, 2013

Caution, it says

The orange beacon has begun to blink.
Slow, steadfast, determined. Silent.
Caution, it says. 

Don't rush, it says. Don't hurry.
Don't pause. Don't worry.
Just be careful.

There's a junction ahead.
And it's dark out there.
Take a deep breath. But don't close your eyes.

You know what it means.
You've been there before. 
You know the place.

But look again, something is not what it was.
Wait - it is you. 
You've changed.

You're approaching a crossroads.
Better be prudent. 
Better be safe.

You don't want to make the same mistakes you did last time.
But some errors can't be avoided. 
Some bruises have to be borne.

Caution, it says. Be alert.
This is not the place to relax.
This is not where you let go.

Cross it first. 
It shall pass. It has to.
Then you have all the time in the world to unwind.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Where's that Year again?

This Year...

... I saw ...

That hope can take you far, but it dies; optimism can take you far, that can die as well; a good, kind word can take you far, and its effect can die too. What really pushes you forward are results, small, significant, frequent.

That none of us are ever content with what we have, we want something more and it is this desire that makes us strive forward, it is the fire that sparks ambition, it is the strength that makes us live.

That trust, once shattered, can never be glued together to its original form.

That giving up is so much easier than fighting to make our dreams come true; but we fight because giving up kills us.

That doing something on an impulse is a good method to self-motivate, but impulsive decisions involving others is a terrible idea.

That everyone who enters our life is a memory to treasure, like a new book that we add to our bookshelf. They may gather dust or be eaten by insects if we do not take them out frequently, and the pages become yellow with time; but they exist nonetheless. We could pull them out one at a time and read the blurb and remember, oh that was a horror story - that was a comedy - God, that felt good - I don't want to remember this one, it is too painful even now....

That it would be a great idea to introduce Parenting Lessons in schools, rather than be surprised and lost every day of being a parent.

That there are walls you can scale, bridges you can cross and mountains you can climb, if you put an ounce of determination and dedication into it.

That there are times, though very very rare, when you find a tree in your path or a gate or a closed door that you cannot get past. However much you hammer or axe or plead or cry, they refuse to budge. And there comes a time when you realise that you are not fighting for what lies ahead, you are fighting merely because the thought that this structure has stopped me on my tracks, after I have come this far, after I have fought all the powers of the world, is too unbearable for your ego to handle. You have to bring it down at all costs, though you know very well that once the obstacle is gone, you would only walk back and not forward.

That there is nothing like going home.

That however much we plan for an event, when it happens, it takes us by surprise.

That it is difficult to choose between waiting for good things to come to us and going out to get them.

That ignoring someone is the worst punishment you can give; being ignored is the worst you can receive.

That we need to walk on fire to convince ourselves that fire could hurt.

That what we wish to remember evades our memory and what we wish to forget remains at the tip of our thoughts.

That communication separates humans from other living things, and our ascent as a species spins on our ability to communicate intelligently, and yet that is the one skill where we fail miserably.

That there are several ways you can support others, one of which is to step back and walk away.

That there are feelings that we can control, and there are those we cannot.

That the heart keeps the brain from making too prudent-and-practical decisions like a robot; and the brain keeps the heart from behaving like a child.

That if the trail looks difficult and impossible to cross, then that is the one intended for us. But if we do not want to take it, we only have to look closely to find a smaller path by the side, leading elsewhere.

That sometimes running away like a coward saves our lives.

That there is always time to watch a good movie or read an interesting book; there is always time to go out for a walk with your child; there is always time to chat with your friend; we can always make time, but only if we want to.

That it is possible to appreciate good art without thinking about the Who or What behind it.

That it is easy to believe we alone are responsible for our successes, whereas in reality each one of us is standing on the shoulders of giants.

That it is better to feel sorry about having done something than feel safe with a bunch of regrets for not doing it.

That sometimes guilt is a petty price to pay for stolen happiness.

That misfortunes do not knock on their way in.

That there is a huge difference between wanting to do it and doing it.

That there are many doors disguised as opportunities and if we need to find the right one, we need to keep knocking and keep trying.

That having the knowledge is one thing; putting it to practice is entirely another.

That, after all is said and done, if you don't take care of your life, no one else can.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Once Again!

Once again, I give up
Like I've done, only
A hundred times

Once again I forget
Or tell myself I do
Until the next wave

Washes over my efforts
(Cleans them spotless)
As if they never were.

Once again, I give up
Hoping this time, my
Resolve would be strong.

Once again, I know,
It's only a matter of time
Before I'm pulled in again.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Walk on

A long dark tunnel,
no light at the end of it,
no end at all in sight...
outstretched hands
encounter no wall,
uneven floor
trips one's foot to
stumble and fall;
a glance over the shoulder-
pitch black, is it
blindness or an absence of light?
if you turn around once
you lose direction
you trudge on,
falling and rising to your feet
'cause there is nothing else to do,
you must trudge on...
the battle is worst
when there is no battle to be fought
the battle is lost
when the walking is stopped.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Character Study: Hypocrisy?

She is pleasant and easy-going. You can tell her anything and be assured of her perfect response. If you crack a joke, she would laugh dutifully. If you are sad, she would offer comforting words. When you need the hard truth, she delivers them in a soft way, so as to cushion the impact. When you are upset, she acts as the sponge and absorbs a little of your anger. She never walks away.
In other words, she is the perfect person to be with.

But in truth, she hates working with you. She hates having to listen to your never-ending whines. She hates being forced to laugh at your lousy jokes, having to offer condolences to your endless miseries. But she and you are forced to be with each other, so she bears with you. She does not want you to know that she despises you, because she knows that is going to hurt you, the loner that you are. Never in this life will she be able to admit to you or show you through the slightest hint, that she is bored of you. You do not suspect, even for a moment, her aversion to your tales.

When she is overwhelmed with the weight of your stories, she spills it over to someone else, her close friend, of how tired she is of you.
Is she a hypocrite?


*Disclaimer: This is a character study, and any relation to anyone you know is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

How (not) to Spread a Rumour


He must have pondered over this for long. I can almost see his face, just as it was in his late teens, a series of expressions marching across it before breaking into a vile grin, as he proposed the name to the others. My name. I suspect he must have been the one to come up with the master plan too. Why don't we-? he must have said. And the others, the less creative ones looking up to him, must have nodded in agreement, their eyes shining in admiration at the sheer brilliance of the idea.

Even in that age, they knew how to spark a rumour. These girls, they must have whispered among themselves, they don't know how to start a fire, though they know very well to spread it. We need to show them the matchbox, the match stick and then gently suggest to them without seeming to, that these two could possibly ignite a fire or two.

The call came one sunny morning (yes, it was a Sunday). I was surprised - I was not expecting anyone to call. I was even more surprised to hear his voice. After some preliminary dialogs (carefully scripted, no doubt), he began in the utmost confidence:
Oh it's nothing. I just thought I should let you know. I have been pretty worried, and I thought someone sensible as you would know what to do.
My red flag went up. I knew him of course. But for a moment, I admit I faltered. I wasn't even twenty, for God's sake.
It's about - (he named a girl we knew). One of the guys (he named one) has a crush on her. Like a deep, terrible, unbearable crush, bordering dangerously on love. He cannot eat or sleep or sit or stand or study. I was just afraid someone would start to gossip about them or something. Don't tell her. Don't tell anyone.
I said okay, dontchaworry, my lips are sealed, and put the phone down. The red flag was still up and I wondered why.

It is important to note at this point that the dude knew nothing about me. Yes, you had figured it out when he suggested my extreme 'sensibleness', but otherwise too. If someone gave me a secret for safe-keeping, then I would protect it with my life (except when I blog about it a few decades later). It is also important to note that I am talking about a period on the other side of Y2K, and someone having a crush on you was like a disaster that has befallen you.

I went back and considered this bit of news. I felt sorry for my poor friend. What had she done to deserve a crush who could not eat or sleep because of her? What will her parents say if they heard this? No, there was no way I was going to tell her or anyone else. I did not want her to panic. I should not allow the rumour to spread, or anyone in the vicinity to gossip about her. My lips were sealed.

In the days that followed, when I met the dude who called me, I pretended as though the conversation on phone had never happened. When I saw the guy who had a crush on her, who looked all set to grab the attention everyone would soon shower on him, I narrowed my eyes, but I would pretend nothing was amiss. All the while I was looking out for some signs of people talking about it, ready to quell it at its slightest indication.

One week later - he could not contain himself any longer - he came and asked me how things were going. I hope you didn't tell anyone about what I told you.
Of course not, I said shaking my head vehemently. Not a soul.

When his face fell, it came to me in a burst of clarity, what my survival instinct had been trying to tell me all this while. He had been trying to point out the matchbox and the match-stick and suggesting fire. He had hoped the fire would spread and engulf us all. He probably thought he could watch proudly from the sidelines as the affair he had orchestrated hit a crescendo. On the one hand, I could not believe that I had been so used, on the other, (in the safety of my room) I could not stop chuckling. God, he had so chosen the wrong girl, poor dude.

I did tell my friend about it, a few weeks later, after I made sure the story about the crush had become too stale and not even the sootradhar and the 'crushed' were interested in it any longer. And if I remember right, we both had a good laugh at their expense.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Fall is Coming

"The Fall is coming, look."
"It's winter, already," you say,
"The Fall has come and gone."

"Look again," I insist;
"It's on its way. And we shall fall
Like the leaf, each alone."

"What's up with you?" you ask.
"The leaves shall spring again, of course;
The Fall returns next year."

"It's been coming for years,
Approaching slow and relentless.
It will be on us soon."

The leaf's always ignored,
for tasty fruits and pretty flowers,
Until it's time to fall.

The falling leaf is seen,
Colourful, melancholy, but
It's dead - and that's all.

Beyond the reach of words
That can hurt or prick or ignore.
The leaves will have moved on.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Like the Wind


Like the Wind*

When I slowly turned around, he still stood there, at the other end of the bridge, his hands thrust into his pockets, his face towards me. For the first time since I had known him, I could not read his face. I must have walked too quickly without realising it. My thoughts were too cluttered and clouded for me to notice how far I had come.

I tried to imagine what he must have been thinking: was it disappointment that he had failed again? Was it embarrassment for having spoken too soon, too openly? Was it pain? Was it understanding - did he know I would turn around when the shock passed, when hope dawned? Or was he just standing there, numb to all feelings, overwhelmed by a torrent of emotions? Was he thinking at all, in that moment?

And what about me? I was trying to shove away the choking emotion, by thinking of him. Why was I so concerned? Why was I shocked? Why had I walked away, like the wind? Was it because he had confessed his feelings so soon after my friend rejected him so shamefully? Was it because I hated to hurt my friend, though she no longer wanted him? Was it because I did not imagine him capable of such sudden shift of heart? Was it because he had been so surprised and so candid? Was it because I had known all along that he had been loving me and misunderstanding his own feelings? Was it because somewhere deep within myself, the ray of hope had always lain concealed, and it had darted to the surface at his words? Was it because it was unethical and wrong? Was it because when my friend did wrong, I was quick to admonish her, and now I was trying to pile up my dreams on top of her mistakes? Was it that I was trying to justify myself for feeling this way? Was it that I had been a stranger to happiness for such a long period of time that I did not know how to handle it when it came?

I was numb – with misery, confusion, desire. Everything had been so perfect – their life, as they had dreamed it. And in their perfection, I balanced my own. When they built their world, I found mine in it too. And all of a sudden, the accident and the strange change of mind of my friend. What it shattered was not theirs alone.

She seemed happy. And for a few minutes I had been angry. Her love had turned out to be fickle, and in her failure was my failure too. I had placed my trust on them, and how easily both had destroyed it! But now, as I looked back at him on the other side of the bridge, where I could barely see the wind playing at his hair, I saw my chance of happiness. I had played right into the hands of Love – unknowingly, unwittingly, like a fool. Love, from which I had run away; Love, in which I no longer believed; Love, which knew I would never approach it or allow it to approach; Love, that I thought I had seen in them; Love, that had shattered so many times than it had mended, and that still continued to spark. Love, whose existence I had denied.

In one moment, in a few words, a suggestion, a confession, he had turned my heart around. Where hope did not exist, he had planted it. Where love had wilted, he had blossomed it. Perhaps he was different, I knew he was different. But the fear would never leave. The fear would stop me for years from loving. And the fear of failing in love again would weaken the love. I feared it would all fall apart again, I feared getting hurt again. But I did not fear as much as I hoped.

As I looked at him, waiting, at the other end of the bridge, his pale face with the dark glasses across it unmoving, I knew it was better to hope than be hopeless; it was better to love than be unloving; it was better to desire than be empty of dreams; it was better to exist than lead a meaningless life.

Something must have showed in my movement, for I saw his chin raise slightly, as the evening breeze played harshly at the top of his hair, and he took a gentle, unintentional step forward.

*


* Inspired by a movie

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Darkness

Darkness stretches its arms and holds me close,
Out of sight of the blinking lights of the highway,
And whispers into my ear tales of untold woes,
Of faith and strength abandoned, Of people gone astray...

It beckons; seeps into my heart - a friend, unbidden;
Envelops my thoughts in a warm embrace;
From the eyes of the world, safe, I am hidden,
For a few blissful moments; a few precious days.

Darkness retraces its step in the dull dawn of day,
Bows in grace and gives itself up to the lights,
Life must and will go on, forever cold and grey,
Leaves me with memories of many solitary nights...

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The root of all misery

"Money," this dude tells me, "is the root of all misery. We walk around carrying a wad of grief in our pocket."
I liked the way he put it, though I did not like the way he put it.
"Then use credit card," I said.
"That's one hell of a card to sorrow," he insisted.
"Then why is it so popular?"
"Because barter system is outdated and no one has come up with a better system yet."

"It's a matter of perspective." I wasn't ready to give up, not just yet.
"No, it isn't. We want money, then more money, and so much more money."
"If we work hard for it, then we deserve the money we get," I said. I wasn't quite sure where this was headed. I could lose myself in arguments if I so wished.
"But people are tempted to break the law or break someone's neck for it."
"That's true. There is a good and bad side to everything."
"Tell me about its good side," he said. "We all know the bad."
I suspect he was a little drunk or something.

"For instance," I said, "folks pay money for something they would not normally do otherwise, which is actually good for them."
"Yeah? Tell me more."
"I know a person who has paid a certain amount for gym classes and forces herself to go, just because her money is at stake. I can think of at least two others who do it just because they have spent money on it. They're taking care of their health because they have the money to, because they owe something to the money they spent. Then I know a rich loner who spends money on expensive materials because seeing the new purchases brings a certain peace of mind or even happiness. Another person donates to charity. Unhappiness comes anyway. If you have money, you can be happy at least temporarily."

He chuckled. "So you are saying Money is the root of all happiness?"
"I am saying, money could be both. Just like anything else. It could do good and bad, it depends on whose hands it is on - or not on."

"Money has brought me misery," he said, "and now I use money to drown my miseries in my drink."
I was right. He was indeed drunk. "So now you agree money can make unhappiness go away for a while."

I was wasting my argument on a man who would not even remember this discussion tomorrow. Why should I waste my time and my happiness on worthless debates?

I could go home and relax, and watch the DVDs my money has bought me, read books my money has bought me, recline in the couch that my money has bought me, and find satisfaction for the day.

Take each day as it comes, as some other clever dude has said. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Of not wanting to remember

It's 26/11 again.

It seems like a date from the last century. A date from the pre-independence era. Something we had not witnessed, like pictures we see in an old magazine, of a burning palace, of a callous youngster in black, of a scattered and blood-stained railway station, of terrified, spell-bound citizens crowding the roads, of an entire world glued to the television.
Of names that popped up. The Taj. Girgaum Chowpatty. Chhatrapathi Shivaji Terminus. Leopold Cafe. Oberoi Trident. A little Jewish boy named Moshe wailing for his parents in the hands of his nanny.
The surge of hatred, towards the only one who survived. The hatred and pain that refused to fade even after his end. An end that was too merciful in the eyes of some.
Of calling up relatives to know if they are fine.
Of heroes. And heroism.

Of not wanting to remember.
The fear. The horror. The panic.
The quivering of the knees, the relentless pounding of the heart.
Of scars that remained.
Of hearing about the Indians and foreigners who were alive just moments before. Of wondering where their Gods were, at that moment.
Of the 26/11 that happens every day, everywhere, to every one of us.
Of never forgetting.

No, it was all real. It was not from the last century or before our time.
It was here. And it was now.
Today.

Monday, November 25, 2013

That's when you walk away

First you are fascinated,
You begin to appreciate.
Then you are awed,
And you become passionate.

Soon you are exhausted,
Because you are bored.
When you're disillusioned,
You stop believing in it.

You become unmotivated,
And you ask yourself
What you had seen in it;
And you've no answer.

And you then blame it
After you laugh at it,
You totally despise it.
That's when you walk away.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reflections

In Life of Pi, when young Pi goes to feed a piece of meat to Richard Parker, his father tells him: "What you see in the animal's eyes is your own emotion reflected back at you."



Sometimes (or perhaps, always?), that's how it is with people too. What you see in others is your own actions reflected back at you. You accuse them of ignoring you, maybe that's what you are doing to them.

The question is, are your actions/emotions reflected in their eyes, or are theirs reflected in yours?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Done to death

It died; Before
It was even born.
Conceived to its death
By the ones that're gone.

Fear was the trigger,
Knowledge the enemy;
Learning was its undoing,
Wisdom the weapon.

Innocence could've saved it,
Sincerity protected it,
Curiosity kindled it and
Love could have nourished it.

It died; Unfed,
Uncared for, By
Memories that turned sour...
By the ones that're gone.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Success - an observation

Today, "success" is measured in numbers. Numbers that signify the attention we get, numbers that indicate the "success" we have given others. It's the result of effort we spent on bringing attention to ourselves, not merely the output of talent, or hardwork. Well, can't complain. Bringing attention to oneself requires talent and hardwork too! Not everyone can go all out and make others notice us.

If you don't do your work today, your "success" falls by a certain number. If you don't help others to attain "success", your own "success" would fall. Everyone knows what this means, but no one is unduly worried. If this is what it looks like today, then this is the one we would like to have.

This kind of success gets addictive. I had it yesterday, I want it today. I would want it tomorrow and for all days to come. And if it is not found, it becomes frustrating, depressing. I would work harder on pushing others to their success so that I can attain mine.

It's certainly about skill and talent and hardwork. But not on our product, but on getting it out for all to see.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Catharsis

I shouldn't probably be writing this. This could offend someone. 
But I think I will take that risk. Because, as a wise person once said (in an entirely different context): What needs to be said must be said. If I think too much I might edit it out. 
I must publish without thinking.


There are many ways a group of people can work together. When they are working for the benefit of the product or for each other, they could focus their energies in different ways. One of them is to identify who is going to do what and not to bump into each other. Respect each other and trust that "the other person is going to do their work as well as I am going to do mine". I do not have to ask them if they have done their work. I trust that they will and leave it at that. I will never go back to check if it was done. Another way is to once again identify the tasks for each, but to intentionally bump into each other once in a while. If something new comes up that I know the other person is responsible for, ask , acknowledge. "By the way did you see that email?" It doesn't mean we step on others' toes, but it is an indication of support and ownership. The product is ours to work on, I need to know if all hands are healthy and strong. I am not the owner or the manager but I own the product just as the rest of the team does. There are several other ways to work as a team. It does not matter how we work or which method we choose, what matters is the attitude. The ownership. The responsibility that comes from within. It is contagious. If it dies, everything else will begin to wilt.


There. That's all I wanted to say. 



Monday, November 11, 2013

Rage

It's not anger frothing over,
Nor impatience breaking through;
Just that life has such to offer,
My rage has naught to do with you.

It's frustration that emerges forth,
It's despair on the run;
No, I haven't forgotten your worth,
It's nothing that you've done.

It spills across, the futile wrath,
It pours out through the cracks;
And once we're on a warpath,
None can halt us on our tracks.

Remorse, regret, have no place
When damage has been done;
Quickly may you pass the phase,
Bad lessons swiftly forgotten.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Complexity of Simplicity

To know how simple computers are today, we need to go back to twenty or forty years ago. (I can only vouch for the twenty years ago, though.) The way things are headed, in a few years the concept of computers will be as simple as our thoughts, or breathing itself.

Those days (twenty years ago), claiming that you attend computer classes was a sure way to instant celebrity status. There was nothing personal about computers. They were merely used in computer labs to write programs that said "Hello, World!" or to print out prime numbers until infinity. They also sometimes added one and one, and confirmed that humans had got the basics right. You could also try to divide by zero and make sure the computer knew its computations well. (It would burst into a series of expletive beeps if you try to pull that one).

We celebrities switched on our computers in the specially air conditioned labs (we also took off our shoes at the door in reverence) and waited until all the Greek text ran up, and stopped at a command prompt (also known as DOS prompt).
C:\>

We proudly typed "chdir" and told the feller to go where we wanted it to go. Then we typed "dir *.*" just to show off, and also to make sure that none of the other fools who used the computer lab had deleted our files for fun. One of our biggest jokes was that we will go to C: (C-colon) one day and do a "del *.*" We would roll on the floor laughing, but we did not ROFL yet.

There were commands to open a file, to edit, to copy, to make or remove a directory, oh there were so many of them, and if you spelled one wrong, this feller would reply, "Command not understood", with another aggressive beep, sounding just like the robot that he was. No auto correct, no suggestions like Google does, nothing. Command not understood, and then the command prompt reappeared, waiting. It would wait as long as we wanted. If we returned one hundred years later, it would still be waiting, and it would not even ask, "Where have you been??"
Such insensitivity.


Then one day came Windows (I think it was Windows 3.x). But it did not have its own existence yet, we still had to login to DOS, type "win" at the command prompt and wait for the Windows desktop to show. The rest, as they say, is...


Sounds terrible, doesn't it. So many commands that one had to know by heart! But believe it or not, no one complained. People attended computer classes to learn them (sometimes not even knowing why they were learning those).

Today, there is no complexity related to computers. Anyone can use them. It was designed to be used by anyone. You are a celebrity if you do not use one - you probably use an advanced thought-processor or something, embedded directly in your brain. No one needs to know any commands. If you make a mistake, the robot slave makes suggestions. Politely. He is no longer the boss who says Command not understood.

And yet, possibly owing to the difficult path I had taken to learn the beast's language, today's simplicity (or the appearance of it) seems too complex than the complicated commands of twenty years ago.

If you haven't yet figured out what I am driving at, here you go, in the simplest terms: I installed Windows 8. And imagine my nerve - I then upgraded it to Windows 8.1.

Even though I was prepared for the Windows 8 interface, I was taken aback when I finally met it face to face.

I think of Windows 3.x - the complex, simple, old Windows. Then I look at Windows 8.1. Where has Simplicity taken us, people? Where, where? I don't know about you, but it has brought me right to the doorsteps of Google.

For every action I need to do on Windows 8, I need an equal (and step-by-step) explanation on Google. ("How to log out of Skype on Windows 8", for example, was the top scorer. Worse, "How to open Notepad on Windows 8". Then as time passed, I would scream at Google, "Where the hell is Calculator??" "How do I close this @#$#@@!! app?" and so on).

Windows 8 is so simple that no one knows how to do anything. I think the idea of Simple comes into existence when the version is somehow derived from the older, much familiar version, so that the users of the older version (especially people who have seen Windows in its rawest and crudest and immature form) are not at sea in the new one. Fortifying the underlying architecture is one thing. It's perhaps robust on the inside, complex and powerful and 'nothing like anything' everywhere, but if a user can't use it, what's the purpose?

Suffice to say that Google has saved me from drowning inside the chaos called Windows 8.
In its defence, I will say that - it works. It hasn't broken yet. It works just like Windows usually does - somehow. And for people who like a change, oh yes, you will have it in plenty.

However, if the creators intended it to be simple, if that was their goal, then I have no further comments.

Well, maybe just one more. If this is how Simplicity looks today, I wonder about the future. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

If it's unfair...

If it's unfair,
Could you soften it
Before you deliver?

If it's unkind,
Could you polish it
Before you utter?

If it's in anger,
Could you let your scowl
Do all the talking?

If it's pleasing,
Could you let your smile
Show you're happy?

If it's in love,
Could you let your eyes
Tell the story?

Only if it's kind
Let the words flow,
Slow and gentle, meaningful

Also if it's soothing 
Or to offer comfort
Let them flood 

Like a river into sea
Like a storm,
Incessant and free...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The effects of enthusiasm

Enthusiasm affects us in different ways.

It gives us energy, it makes us blind to roadblocks, it makes us immune to negative criticism and it gives us courage to drive forward through dark, narrow, frightening alleys.

As long as the enthusiasm is our own.

What does others' enthusiasm do to us?

It inspires us, no doubt. Enthusiasm is contagious. We see a person bouncing up and down in excitement, we are tempted to shake our head a little to their rhythm. The fire spreads to us, and we are motivated too. If they can do so much, why can't I try a little harder?

Often, it irritates us. The world is a dark and gloomy place, and this person is bursting with energy? Why can't they shut the hell up? (No we aren't kind, in those moments.) Are they trying to show off? Impress someone? Annoying.

But sometimes it depresses us. There is so much energy in the world, everyone is drinking from it. I am the only one, we think, drowning in misery. (We love those kinds of phrases when we are sad - drowning in misery.) We wish to run away from the enthusiastic lot and revel in our grief.

Tomorrow, when we are the ones bouncing up and down, we fail to see the indifference and discomfort in the eyes of the others around us. Because, enthusiasm also blinds us to the misery of others.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Community

There's this place, deserted and unexplored. New. Fresh.

People come and set their eyes on it. They see its potential. They see its future. They dream big dreams. They come together in ones and twos, strangers with the same purpose, the same aim, slowly, over a great span of time. They call themselves by a name.

Many stay, planning to never leave. Some pass by, on their way to other destinations. The ones who stay slowly master the art of shaping the raw materials at their disposal into items of great beauty. They patent it, they develop their skill and they sell it.

They become a society, a community. They do not step on each other's toes and they step aside for others to pass. They are courteous and friendly and undemanding and kind to each other.

Time passes, as it has no option but to pass. Strangers become acquaintances, and acquaintances become friends. Familiarity begins to breed and other emotions to sprout.

A handful have identified themselves as the oldest dwellers of the community. The seniors, the decision-makers. They gather and have lengthy discussions. There is excitement and expectation in the air. We need law and order, they say in unison. Otherwise there will soon be chaos. Besides, we need to be respected. Because we are who we are. The newcomers are merely newcomers, of course. They do not need to have a say in things. They need to live by the rules of the ones who have been here since time started running. It is easier if we have clear guidelines. Rules.

They release a notice. The list of things to do. And not to do. Never to do. Do and be fined. Do and be dead.

Some disagree but remain silent. Some who are newcomers disagree, but they are not heard. The rules bring up walls around the community. Worse, the walls are built within too, separating them, categorising them, classifying them. All for our own good, the seniors say. All for our own good.

The law and order notices are put up everywhere, for everyone to see, so that no one forgets who the bosses are.

No one hears or pays attention to a low crack a short distance away, because everyone is speaking aloud. No one can hear anyone else, so how can anyone hear the gentle, warning sound? - The crumbling of the foundations of their community, the destruction of the source of their beliefs and goodness, the end of the roots of their existence.

It slowly spreads, gently, silently, determinedly, upwards and sidewards, ready to burst in on them, the people who made the law and order.

Then it breaks through one day and explodes right into their faces, shattering them, splitting them.
The end.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

When time runs out...

I wonder who came up with the phrase 'run out' to mean finish (or end, used up, etc).

My time is running out.

I picture an alarm clock with a pink bow on its forehead dashing to the door, gathering its long skirts in its hand, looking back over its shoulder in fear.

Recently, I overheard someone announce that he could not buy the latest gadget in the market because his allowance had run out. I had that vision again - a few thousand rupee notes heading for the door, afraid someone might pursue them and stack them into his pocket and spend them against a brand new handset.

As I said, I admire the one who first thought of it. Great visionary.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Admit your mistakes and win a continent!

It is important to admit your mistakes and take necessary action as soon as you realise that you have made a mistake. Otherwise you will be ignored when the continent is named.

What continent, you ask?
Remember Christopher Columbus? The poor dude who went all the way across the world and discovered America, thinking it was India or at least some obscure corner of Asia. We can forgive him for his blunder.

But then he did the unforgivable - he stubbornly refused to believe that the land he touched was not India, not by a long chalk. He kept insisting that it was.

So what happened? Finally, when it was time to name the continent, they called it America after Amerigo Vespucci, the bloke who travelled to the New Land after Columbus, and not Columbus himself. Shri Vespucci figured out that the land was new, previously unknown to Eurasians (source: Wikipedia). The land Columbus sought for and dreamed of reaching? Offended at the grave error he had made, we the people of India, demoted him to a location inside the pages of our English textbook and henceforth refused to have anything to do with him (except have a few chuckles at his expense).

That's why I say, be quick to admit mistakes. You do not want to lose the chance of having a pet continent of your own.

Friday, October 11, 2013

No racism from outside, please

We brown folk are a lucky lot. (Lucky doesn't quite cover it. I know.) I mean, how often have you heard white people accusing someone of racism?*

But what are we talking about? We have our own version of 'racism' inside our country that we aren't keen on taking any from outside at the moment.

For example. Keralites dislike Tamilians and like to think of them as illiterate. ('Pandi' is a very common term of endearment.) They also accuse them of stealing water from their favourite local dam. If a Malayali girl gets married to a Tamilian, people send condolences. Kannadigas dislike Tamilians, even apart from the issue over river water sharing. I don't know what Tamilians think of Kannadigas and Keralites, but I am sure the feeling is reciprocated. Kannadigas and Keralites keep a respectful and wary distance of each other, things are decent as long as no one says 'Kasargode'. In some places, being called Telugu is like an insult. The whole world knows what some Mumbaikars think of non-Mumbaikars, that feeling buds and blossoms once in a while, sending a chill through hearts of the guest-residents of the city. North Indians believe that all South Indians are sambar-eating Madrasis, and South Indians despise North Indians for thinking so, among other things. The rest of India does not know of the existence of the North East, and people from Assam are easily referred to as Chinese. (I wonder what the Chinese think of that.) And I have not even ventured into religion-based bias yet. Yeah, we have our own little racism in our hands. As in every other bias, these rules do not apply to all the people in the groups involved, but it exists nonetheless.

When we want a little foreign racism in the mix, we reach out to visitors from Africa, Sri Lanka or Male for the same. In bazaars, prices are different for desis and foreigners, especially white-skinned folks. Sometimes our racism goes official and we put up boards outside tourist spots that say, "Ticket price: Indians: Rs.10, Foreigners: Rs.50". (Apparently there is a tax-paying-national reason behind this, as I learnt recently. Whether it is right or wrong is a different matter.)

So, who are we kidding with all that cry about racism as though we are the poor innocent victims all the time? We run our own show down here, folks. We sure do.


* Disclaimer: Racism exists, and it is ugly. This post is not intended to belittle or mock people who have endured the dirtiest faces of racism. This is just to show that when we scream of racism elsewhere, a bit of it exists in us too.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pillar of Strength

I know not how you get through, friend,
The days of pain that have no end...
The one that's gone is gone forever
Leaving the one for you to care.

You're the pillar of strength to one
Yours the shoulder to cry on;
Yours, the battle to be fought alone,
Yours, the loss to be borne.

And from a distance I watch,
As do all the rest of us;
If you fall, we're there to catch,
We're here to steady your faltering steps...

You've been brave, you've been strong;
You've kept your smile all along;
It's okay to rest, have no fear;
Relax, dear friend, we're here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Password Overload

One of these days, I am going to drop dead of password overload.

I don't think anything taxes my memory as much as my innumerous passwords do. Added to the misery of remembering passwords, we are asked to change them frequently too, for security reasons.



A few years ago, my office introduced this weird (but no doubt, relevant) rule that we should change our passwords once a month. If it were a mere recommendation, I don't think any of us would have bothered to follow it. But it was an automated thing, and every thirty days the message would show up in red that it was time to change password and that dire consequences await us if we don't change it in the next seven days or so.

I appealed to my system admin for help. I told him that if this goes on, he would have to despatch me off to a lunatic asylum because maintaining these monthly passwords would wipe the rest of my memory off my overworked brain. He understood perfectly - both because he had seen many other near-breaking-point people in his life and also because he was human enough to understand that it was difficult.

He gave me a fix: he asked me to insert the month in the middle of the password and to leave the rest of the alphabets intact. So every month my password began to look like this: xxxJANxxx, xxxFEBxxx. The system never caught up.


Flashback to 1991 and my very first encounter with computers. Someone must have created a password for us. Wait - in 1991 we had small buzzing computer labs, where we spoke in hushed tones, at the entrance of which we used to take off our shoes, those ominous curtained rooms which were air-conditioned just for the weak, gentle, white, purring, foreign beings residing inside.

The World had been such a simple place, and there was only one password to remember - the one the system admin had created for us to login to our P.C. Secrets did not lie inside the computers. Computers were used only for what they were meant to do. Like, write a program in BASIC to add two numbers.


Today I have a file to maintain my passwords. And a password to protect that file. And that password is stored elsewhere in case I forget it. Each site has different rules for password creation. Besides, nothing is more foolish than having the same password for all sites. I don't like the idea of websites linked together and using each other's information, so I don't use one login to log in to another site. Some of these sites have password retrieval question which I had set a decade ago. Now I have no idea what those questions are, nor what answers I could possibly have given. I am not who I was ten years ago, how will I give the same answers today?

The story is no different for others. If you walk out on the street and see a host of bewildered, modern-looking humans, be sure that they are all trying to recall a password.

With different websites merging and sharing information, a cure is probably in the horizon, but paranoid people (like me) would think a hundred times before actually linking different accounts.

Meanwhile, the memorised-and-lost-password-epidemic is just waiting to erupt upon the world.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Life is a Gamble

Everything we do in life is a gamble. Who knows how it will turn out?

When you put clothes in the washing machine, you do not know if the colour from one is going to run and ruin all the white clothes.
When you go out to enjoy the rain, you do not know if lightning is going to strike your head.
When you stand carefully by the side of the road, you do not know if a crazy driver is going to lose control and crash into you.
When you send your child out to play, you do not know if he is going to be okay.
When you light the stove in the kitchen, you do not know if the gas cylinder is going to explode.
When you slog all day, you do not know if it is going to bring some results.
When you send an email, you do not know if it will be ignored.
When you plant a seed, you do not know if it will sprout.
When you love, you do not know if you will be loved too.
When you give, you do not know if you will get back.
When you are kind, you do not know if it is right to expect kindness in return.
When you plan for the future, you do not know if that day will ever arrive.

You just take a gamble and you wait.

Friday, September 27, 2013

If you want something very much

If you want something very much, don't let it go.
Fight for it, fight as though your life depended on it.
If your life doesn't depend on it, you probably don't need it.
If you don't wish to fight, you probably don't want it enough.
If you don't fight for it, you probably don't deserve it.

Fight until you decide there is nothing more to be done. That's stopping, not giving up.
You give up when there are more avenues to explore, when there are things to do and you decide you don't want to try any more.
You stop when there is nothing more to be done, when you have exhausted all options, when you have tried your best. Like the fox who stopped jumping for the grapes. He knew nothing more could be done. It was time to stop.

When you give up, you lose; when you stop, you move on.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's in the air

It's in the air, you know,
Hovering like a shadow:
Dark and deep as a Monsoon cloud
Bursting like thunder, aloud.

It gathers like an evil omen,
Glints in every drop of rain;
Concealed in a tender leaf;
Sneaking across like a thief.

It's in failures, oppressive;
In our choices, impulsive;
It's in the first break of dawn;
In the sky when the sun is gone.

It's in the stillness of the wind,
Aimless drifting of intent;
In this poem, 'tween the lines
You can find it, and its signs.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Once upon a time, on Facebook

Once upon a time:

Person 1: Hey, are you on Facebook?
Person 2: No, I am not, but most of my friends are. I think I should create an account there too.
Person 1: Oh, definitely. Create an account and add me. I'm totally addicted to it. I've over a thousand friends and I am considered very popular.
Person 3 (overhearing): Who's on Facebook? Add me too.




This week:

Person 1: Hey, I haven't seen you in a long time.
Person 2: Yeah, I don't see any of your updates on Facebook either. You didn't reply to some of my messages too!
Person 1: Oh, I have been busy. I don't have time for that sort of thing, Facebook or such nonsense.
Person 2: I see a lot of people tagging you in pictures and updates.
Person 1: Yeah, isn't it boring? Those people seem to have nothing else to do but Facebook all day.
Person 3: Yeah dude, Facebook really gets on my nerves, a helluva set of self-centred people!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Best parenting advices

The best people in the whole world to provide parenting advices are... those who have absolutely no experience in parenting.

Yeah, they know all about how to put the baby to sleep, when is the best time to make a toddler do his potty, how to calmly and gently tell the child to do as he is told, and,...- in fact they have a whole set of answers to all the problems parents could possibly face.

There is a certain knowing chuckle (or a wise smile) associated closely with these advices. You'll learn to recognise it if you are a parent. The moment they become parents, though, unfortunately, they seem to forget the advices they used to offer free of charge - perhaps because reality has come up from behind and knocked their heads out with a non-stick frying pan.

I might have been one of them too, I am sure. I must have forgotten. Thankfully.


Some of the advices go like this. (Parents, please take elaborate notes.)

"Oh, just put the baby to sleep by singing to him. That's very soothing to him."
The Poor Hapless Parent (PHP) has been singing herself hoarse for 40 minutes and the child is still wide-eyed (wider than before the songs started, for obvious reasons) and lively and energetic, cooing and giggling, with no sleep sighted anywhere in twenty neighbouring countries, and the PHP has begun to hate the fact that the Homo Sapiens have been foolish enough to discover such things as songs.


And then yeah, potty. Let's not forget the potty. So the parent thinks getting the child to do potty every evening is tough job."Evening?" comes the excellent advice, with that chuckle of wisdom I told you about. And perhaps an impatient tap on the forehead too. "Put him on the potty in the morning! That's very important for him, it will clear his little tummy and helps him eat better throughout the day."
Tears start coming out from the PHP's eyes. Not out of love or gratitude, of course, but from the irresistible urge to bang her own head against the nearest wall. She alone knows the morning chaos in the house to get the sleepy child to rise and squeeze into his school uniform and gobble something remotely resembling breakfast and run down the stairs to the bus that has been honking for the last thirty minutes. Potty, yeah, sure.


And when the child refuses to listen to us for whatever reason, this chuckling gang of people have a solution to that too. "Be gentle," they say. "Don't shout or yell at him, just explain it slowly to him and he will understand."
Why didn't I even think of that before? asks the PHP. I have been always screaming at him, from the time he was born. The day they first delivered him to my arms, I screamed at him, just to make sure he knew who was the boss around here. From there, there was no looking back. I should have been calm and loving, God, I never knew it. You should help me spell Love, okay? I hadn't even heard of it until today. Thank the mighty Almighty for bringing you to me. 

There are many more such gems of advices up their sleeves, if you need any tips, go to them!
I think you got the hint. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On the razor's edge

I've knocked on doors till there are no more
I've tapped on walls for good measure too
I've sauntered the paths where such do exist
I've cut new trails where none was found...

I've stepped on twigs and snapped a few branches
I swam the river and strolled across the bridge
I've endured the sea, faced the rough clouds
I've braved the storm, even survived death...

I've chased opportunities to their very end
Pursued fresh ones sprouting in the rain
I'm tired now, too tired, to wander back and forth
Swaying on the razor's edge of defeat.

If these weren't enough, now you give me
A life of calmness, silence, serenity;
The greatest test of time, existence,
To do what we could with the means we're given.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why would anyone want to stay in a sinking boat?


Because they think: it is better to sink with the boat than freeze to death in the water.
Because they do not know swimming and, whether they jump or not, death is on the cards.
Because they hope the wind would carry them to Paradise before they sink, that there should be some Paradise, though there is none in sight.
Because if there is a rescue party headed their way, they would see the boat from the distance more clearly than their heads bobbing in the water.
Because they hope against hope that the boat might not sink, after all.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Conscience Song

We've stopped being spontaneous
When we started pretending
We've stopped encouraging
Or shared a simple joy

For, now we need to think-
Will my little squeal of glee
Invite the wrath of a person
Whom the joy has not caressed?

And when they hit the jackpot,
Will my silent delight, but
to them an absence of joy,
Cause them deep offence?

Even happiness comes
Wrapped in pretension
We'd better be fake and safe
Than be real and sorry...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why (and How) Moms always Win

Me: Haven't I told you not to do ---?
Son: But I was in a hurry, that's why.

Me: So? After your hurry is over, you should make it right.
Son: I have seen you do the same! You didn't make it right the last time you were in a hurry.

Me: Of course I did.
Son: No, you didn't. Two days ago, you-

Me: Okay, so I didn't. Do you think I was right, or wrong?
Son: Wrong! It was bad, and you didn't-

Me: So you know it was bad, why did you do it today?
Son: (speechless) (gaping) (confused) (thinking) (lost)

Me: (escaping before the confusion cleared...)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Invisible Man

What thoughts cross your mind
On your way to work? Do they
Weigh you down, words unkind
Flung at you all day?

I sense unwritten worries-
I see none in your eyes.
I peer for untold fears-
Instead, your insolent smiles!

A careless chew of gum,
A slow, meaningful grin.
A pride that could irk some;
You hide your ache within.

Then one day, you turn away,
Your lips pursed in pain...
A lost look, a dropped word,
That vacant gaze again.

Does the present make you cry,
Or your painful past?
Long and weary, wet and dry
Days that slip by fast?

They see you not; if they do
They treat you with contempt.
Wear your mask of calm, though
They give you no respect.

A reckless show of haste-
Just because you can.
The twinkle in your eyes,
Yo! Invisible Man...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Making a man out of him


Seeing the picture of horses in the Bangalore Mirror one day, my son asked me to explain the story to him. When I read the part where "CUPA is considering legal action against the culprits", he wanted to know more about the culprits. I replied lightly that they were some bad men who did not give any food to the horses.

My seven-and-a-half year old son then explained to me that probably these men were poor, and did not have much money to buy food. They thought food would be found somewhere in that area for the horses, and there was none. That's what had happened. Then, luckily for them, the school children came with bananas and grass. My son could barely make himself coherent; his vocabulary was tumbling over, unable to keep pace with his thoughts.

I stared at him in wonder. Cruelty to animals is not something he imagines humans are capable of. There surely is some explanation behind it, he thinks. People cannot starve horses.

What do we do to these little gems, I wondered, in the pretext of raising them??

As Baloo the bear says to Bagheera the panther when they debate sending Mowgli back to the man-village, "They'll ruin him! They'll make a man out of him!" We ruin these little perfect, flawless, wonderful babies by making men and women out of them.

A few months ago, when my mother visited us, she asked me about the latest electrical equipment in the house. I explained to her briefly how it worked. Not that she had to do anything to it, she was only improving her general knowledge. A few days later when we were having dinner, my mother said, "I still get confused between the different green and orange indicators."

I replied shortly, "Green means it is working as it should, Orange means it is on battery backup."

A moment's silence later - in which it was evident that my mother's confusion was still as deep as ever - my son calmly, patiently and in no hurry at all, explained to his grandmother that the green light meant this, the orange meant that, the blinking green lights on that side meant this, the blinking orange meant that,... I watched them in amazement - my son pointing to each and elaborating its purpose and my mother nodding in understanding. I don't think my mother will ever get confused again - he was so thorough and so patient and so clear.

I am afraid of what I am doing to him - making a man out of him. I try to teach him my own different ways of showing impatience, anger, disapproval, disappointment,... We're in an unconscious tug of war, he and I, to teach each other a few lessons of life.

And I am terrified that sooner or later he will give in, and I will win.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Poetry is discovered, not created

A few scraps of thoughts and feelings, a set of words and emotions were laid out before me like random pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The lines I had written down had a pulse, a throbbing, a life, but it was not flowing yet. I tried to gather them into shape - my task was merely to find and join the pieces of the puzzle. There was no doubt that there was poetry within them, it was up to me to mould them gently with my hands and help them attain that form.

Then it struck me that... It was there, waiting to be discovered. I was not a creator, I was a mere adventurer who chanced upon the signs of a beautiful treasure.



The response by @BeYess on Twitter expanded the vague idea.




"Clear unwanted portions and discover the sculpture..." 
Chip off unwanted words and extract the poem within. How true!



How beautiful it is, when we are able to bring a poem to existence, how magical it seems when we extract it from the depths it was concealed in, how fulfilling it is when the finished poem glows in its final polished state!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Saturday Morning Dilemma...

- I can't write a word. I am too exhausted.
- I must.
- The week had been too hectic, I feel dizzy. I can't focus.
- Focus, anyway.
- No, I can't write.
- I have to.
- I will kill mysef if I do.
- I will die if I don't.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Second Timer's Unluck!

There is indeed such a thing as Beginner's Luck - we all know that.

Wikipedia says,
Beginner's luck refers to the supposed phenomenon of novices experiencing disproportionate frequency of success or succeeding against an expert in a given activity.

Nothing else can explain the fact that the very first time I made aviyal in my life, it tasted great - so great that I assumed I was already an expert, perhaps a genius, and that I had a natural knack (coupled with a natural lack-of-interest) for cooking. Forget the part that the second time I made it, it was a disaster and was saved only because my Mom was around.

Every week, my son has to learn words for his dictation in school, and it is my painful duty to teach him. Sometimes I tell him to "just write, let me see how many words you already know." He ponders for long over each word, applies phonics, thrusts his tongue out for effect and comes out with a result. I look at it, and am amazed - the word is perfect. English is a crazy language, as I always say. Nothing in English is as it seems. There is no clear rule for pronunciation, sometimes it is this way, sometimes it is that. For instance, I taught my son that if 'e' comes after 'g', it is pronounced like a 'j', example: strange, damage, danger. He pointed to 'belonged' and read it as 'belonjed'. He asks me why 'Ocean' is pronounced as 'oshen', shouldn't it be 'oseyan'? Anyway, he has his phonics right most of the time, so he gets some of the dictation words right at the first attempt. I am pleased. I don't bother with those words, and focus on the rest. The next day he comes back with the dictation results and lo and behold - the words that are wrong are exactly the ones he had got right the previous evening.

I firmly believe Wikipedia should devote a page to Second Timer's Unluck, because such a thing exists as much as Beginner's Luck does. It is almost inevitable and unavoidable that the second time the smug beginner attempts something, it should fail miserably. Because Sir Isaac Newton has rightfully said, "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction."

The first time, we are careful more than usual, we thrust our tongues out and ponder for long over each step. The second time, we feel it is easy - we have already done it right once, it was no fluke, and it was quite simple, really - and our concentration slips. We are prepared for an Encore. And the second time, we are unlucky.

The first (action) and second (reaction) balance each other out, and from the third time onwards, we are careful enough, we are experienced enough, we are sensible enough and we are balanced enough to get a moderately good (or sometimes better) result.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Child's Cry and a Mommy's Heart

When I hear a child's cry from the play area where the kids of the apartment gather every evening, I sit up, alert, and listen, my Mommy heart pounding. Is that my son's voice?

When I make out that it isn't him, it is not a rush of relief that washes over me - it is a rush of terror. My Mommy heart begins to pound harder: Did my son do something to him to make him cry?

I listen keenly to the wailing voice complain to anyone who is willing to listen. R threw the ball at me and it hit my head...here, right here...

R did. Not my son.
The flood of relief finally makes its appearance.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

What do you mean by Experience?

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What exactly do we mean by experience?

Is it the feeling of 'been there, seen this, done that'?
Or offering unsolicited advice based on it?
Or looking back in pride at the steps you have climbed to be where you are today?
Or shaking your heads at the yuppies trying to clamber up a tree (and thinking, 'that's not the way to do it, kid')?
Or being able to do things in half the time, because you had spent half your lifetime doing it?
Or looking at a bubbly girl and imagining evilly that all her joy will be gone in ten years (and hating yourself for thinking it)?
Or listening patiently to the polite and eager youngster put up his new idea, and trying not to kill his enthusiasm by saying things like 'I came up with something like this a few years ago and it was mercilessly shot down'?
Or being able to look into a friend's worried eyes and say 'Everything will be all right'?
Or feeling great about your smart methods because you know how much you have struggled to master them?
Or feeling terrible that after all these years, you still haven't mastered a thing?
Or being able to ask the right questions even though the entire concept is new?
Or playing down the admiration of admiring youngsters?
Or being arrogant or modest or cheerful or composed?
Or thinking fearfully that you used to be so good at it just a few years ago, 'is age catching up so soon'?
Or holding back when you want to shout in anger?
Or yelling in anger because you have 'been there, done that, more than you, dammit'?
Or trying to keep yourself from breaking into a smug grin, when you see someone failing miserably as you once had?
Or not offering a word of consolation or hope to a person who's struggling, because there was no one when you needed a word of support?
Or being able to hold out a hand to the fallen man and tell him it's okay?
Or not being overtly ecstatic when your efforts are finally successful, because somehow today you know what it means to totally deserve something you got?
Or being perplexed that something that had seemed impossible five years ago seems today like a piece of cake?
Or being humble because you acknowledge that you are standing on the shoulders of Giants?
Or knowing that you do not know everything in the world yet?
Or believing in the good result that would come from luck, hard work, talent and positive attitude?
Or deciding whether it is pessimism that drives you, or optimism, or a healthy combination of the two?
Or knowing that muttering a prayer or shedding a tear isn't a sign of weakness?
Or saying 'That was awesome' - and meaning it?


Or having a helluva lot of crazy thoughts and memories that cram your 'experienced' head?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

One plus one...

First, at the height of outrage, we find peace in blaming. Mostly because it is the simplest, easiest and most straightforward thing to do. They did this to me. He stole my toy. 1+1=2.

Sooner or later we step into what we like to call maturity. We become balanced enough to think from their side. They were helpless, they had no option; they did the best they could under the circumstances. He had just picked it up to play with it for a while, maybe he was tempted, poor thing. 1 + 1 need not be 2, we are ready to concede that it could also be a slightly bigger 1 (immini baliya 1), or could even be 11.

Then comes the day... when you are the one seated on the other side of the table. I am helpless, I have no option, I am doing the best I can... I did not steal your toy, I just picked it up and walked away... 1+1.... they say it is not quite 2, it is 1.9999999.....

You hate 1. You hate numbers, you hate addition. You hate the day you first encountered Mathematics.
It was so much easier to blame someone.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Calm Down O Heart!

What can a hapless woman do
To calm her restless will-
Hopping from this to that:
Calm Down O Heart, Be Still.

Dragging her along, as you
Stray from thought to thought;
Unsure of what to settle on,
Unsure of what you've sought.

Haunted by a vision that's
Withered, dead and gone.
Time has covered its tracks
Or you have, on your own.

A dream unreal, but longing!
An ache no one can soothe,
It exists not, but yearning!
Like an old hag seeking youth.

Hovering over a graveyard
Where flowers no longer bloom.
A wasted life, it's sad,
You'll lead yourself to doom.

Let go, let go your passion
And look no more behind...
Have you no ear for reason?
Behold, the world's not kind.

You've endured humiliation;
No more: Not once, not twice.
Be free from this obsession!
Calm Down O Heart, Be Wise.


My book of poems is now available on Kindle: Lonely Journeys

Friday, July 26, 2013

On the face of a catastrophe

There's this bloke on TV, dashing - bordering on knee-weakening irresistible - who's just had his world collapse all around him. It did collapse around a few others too, but it's this dude we're worried about. For obvious reasons. He bears it stoically, his shoulders straight, when the bad news is delivered like a sheaf of papers thrown at his face. A couple of curves appear on his forehead. The depth of pain in his eyes makes you want to jump right in and drown in it. Like, really. He says something brave - one does not care what he says as long as one gets to hear his deep, gentle voice, dripping with sorrow. Then he slowly turns around, a picture of dignity and composure, and leaves, his lips set in a grim line.

He then gets himself drunk, very, very drunk. The only thing that's deranged is his tie. He slouches in his seat - in dignity - and falls asleep with his head on the table. Our heart totally breaks all over the place.

When people in movies have issues they seem so painfully wonderful that we kind of long to borrow a few of those. And the way they carry themselves on the face of catastrophe makes us beg for a chance to be so dignified and poised as well.

Except that when a couple of them (the issues, not the people) make their appearance at our door, we are anything but.

We jump out of our seats. We rush to have a drink, a cup of tea, a glass of water. We avoid looking at our friends because they will demand to know the reason behind that insane confusion morphing to animal rage in our eyes. We take a few deep breaths but the heart refuses to stop pounding. Fear. We rub our hands over our face and realise that we have been sweating like a waterfall. We turn around to face an acquaintance's surprised eyes and we say, God, isn't it hot! 

There's a low rumble, no, it's a distinct roar. Look around, the walls are crumbling all around you, your world is coming down like those buildings in Inception. You either get out of the way, or get crushed underneath. There are people around you, they are looking at you in surprise, in sympathy, in sarcasm, in contempt. They just watch you, and do nothing. They wish to see what lies in your eyes. You wish to see too, but you cannot see yourself in their face. Nothing is falling apart, except yourself.

You go back inside and then you go out to make a phone call. Afterwards, you remember pretty much nothing. Except suffocation. Dizziness. Heavy-heartedness. The endless wait. Sandwich, half-eaten. Laughing for no reason. Crawling to a ball under the blanket and trembling all over. Trying not to blurt out or whimper or make a fool of yourself. Worse, you begin to sympathise. My own fault, you think. No one else's. Ice cold latte left untouched, in Café Coffee Day. Words, felt rather than heard. Anything, you say. Anything at all. Drizzle. That sinking feeling.

Then - nothing. A numbness that grips the heart like the so-called hand of death. Shivering for no reason. Staring at a mark on an immobile wall for what seems like hours. At the blank Windows desktop for hours. People passing by; casual talk, their lives seem intact. Insensitive minutes that last for centuries, threatening to never end.

What was once your world, in bits and pieces all around you. And you know there's no gluing them back together. And you walk all over them, mumbling, cursing, throwing.

Anything but dignified and composed. Bold? Nowhere close. Banging-head-on-the-wall frustrated? You said it. Confused? Absolutely. Uncensored swear words? Plenty.

Mr.Dashing was evidently just acting.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Throwing Christopher Columbus overboard

History teaches us a lot of things - surely, it teaches us more than it intends to. And more often than not, it must be amazed at what we have learnt from its chapters. One could almost hear it murmur, "I don't think that was the point I was trying to make..."

I am sure somewhere along the way, History learns a thing or two from us too.


In my high school, for a few days I happened to sit next to a girl who was a lot of fun to be with. I think we had moved into a temporary classroom or something, I cannot recall, but she was not my usual neighbour in class. For all her ready jokes and attitude, she was not quite popular, owing to some of her weaknesses - or flaws, if you like. Those weaknesses of hers had actually made her who she was. But, as I said, many were not kind to her.

It was English class, and we had a chapter on Columbus' journey. We Indians have a particular softness when it comes to Christopher Columbus. So many centuries have passed, but we still cannot forget the fact that the gent had come looking for us, the real Indians. Can he be blamed if he found a set of barbarians instead and because he was so innocent and ignorant, he called them Indians? He must have loved us so much. The only thing we can do in return is include him in our English text book.


Anyway, the lesson was about the long and tiresome journey undertaken by Columbus and his men in their three ships, the Santa Maria, the Pinta and the Niña in their search for a new route to Asia. The chapter ended when Columbus landed on the New World. The penultimate paragraph of the chapter described the mutiny in the ship when no land was sighted for many days. I copied the following text from this location. We had something very similar in our textbook:

Columbus had to face a mutiny because the crew felt that they were lost in the middle of the Ocean. At the beginning of the voyage, the did not trust very much in a foreigner who wanted to carry out a crazy project; however they finally accepted to enroll in such an adventure. But after thirty days sailing in the middle of the scary ocean they thought that Columbus was lying about the distance to sail to get ashore. The admiral could finally suffocate the mutiny, but three days later a second mutiny, harder than the first one, occurred. They were completely sure that Columbus was not telling the truth about the distance to sail to find land, and that they were being deceived into thinking they were not lost. This time the Pinta's captain, Martin Alonso Pinzon had to intervene, because the crew even thought of throwing Columbus off the ship. 
As Alonso Pinzon was a well known mariner who counted on the admiration of the crew, the seafarers calmed down, but Columbus had to commit himself to return if they did not find land in three days. Two days later, they finally came across the New World.

As our teacher was reading these two paragraphs out loud, this girl said to me in a bored, matter-of-fact voice: "If they had thrown him out, we wouldn't have to learn the last paragraph."

I have no idea how I stifled my laughter for the rest of the class. She would look at me, see me turn red trying not to laugh, and grin. That was a joke in such enormous proportions that, years later, it still reduces me to giggles. If they had thrown him out... he wouldn't have discovered America. No one in the world would have remembered his name. There wouldn't even have been a chapter in an Indian text book dedicated to him. And who knows what would have happened to that continent itself?! Someone else might have come across it sooner or later, but things over there would have turned out so differently. And the last paragraph? It was merely two sentences long, learning it was the least important thing in this entire Universe.

The joke began to peel itself in layers and layers before my eyes that I think after the class was over, I exploded in laughter for a few long hours. The spontaneity of her delivery was so characteristic of her. I think she was a little surprised that I laughed so much.


History must have stood there, at that moment, astonished, halted in mid-performance, the hair on its head standing upright in shock, watching us break into chuckles over chuckles. Maybe after a few moments, it must have slapped its forehead and laughed along with us.

Like I said, History has absolutely no clue how each one of us learns or remembers the lessons it tries to teach.

Aside. I lost touch with her after school. I doubt if she would have any recollection of this incident at all. I only hope things worked out well for her.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bringing up NRK

If you are a Malayali living in any part of the world, and if you are middle-aged or thereabouts (or older), you will know what I am going to talk about.

Those of us who regularly surf Malayalam TV channels have inevitably cringed and flinched and blanched and winced at the weird accent that flows out of those so-called-Malayalis who rule Prime Time TV. We have secretly and publicly mocked and laughed at and insulted these people to our heart's content. We have easily blamed their parents for not teaching them our beautiful language, for not correcting their Anglicised accent, for not telling them that though chetta and Chetta are spelled the same in English, there is a world of difference between the two.

But let me start at the very beginning... a very good place to start...
*A crimson Sun rises over the Western Ghats & Suprabhaata plays in the background*


The population of the world is divided into four groups : Malayalis, semi-Malayalis, adopted-Malayalis & non-Malayalis.

The first, Malayalis whom others fondly call Mallus, are born and brought up in Kerala; they think and talk in Malayalam, they also dream in Malayalam, when they are angry they swear in Malayalam (sometimes using words borrowed from friendly neighbourhood Tamil), when they wake up they read a Malayalam newspaper, they love Kilukkam, most of their lives they have lived in places where Malayali voices float in from outside, when they go out to a shop or in a bus, they are greeted (or abused) in Malayalam, and they have a special love-hate relationship with hartals, rains, alcohol and communism. A real Malayali is defined by more or less a blend of these, and much more.

Adopted Malayalis were once born as non-Malayalis but due to circumstances or fate (usually a mix of both) have learnt to understand the Malayali culture and speak Malayalam like an authentic one. (Much like the Punjabi family of Punjabi House.)

Semi-Malayalis are those quirks of nature who were brought up outside Nammude Kochu Keralam as Non-Resident Keralites, and as a result know precious little about their homeland and its fragilities, and they speak like foreigners. (I don't mean half-Malayalis). Yes, they are our topic of discussion today.


(Some of my friends would argue that though they were brought up as NRKs, they have the characteristics and mannerisms of a full-fledged Malayali. Full marks to them. 
I also know of another set of people who try very hard to conceal the fact that they are Malayalis, and they go through such troubles to not let anyone overhear when they are forced to speak in their mother tongue. 
There are obviously some overlaps.
Then there are half-Malayalis. Expecting them to behave like one of us is totally unfair.)

Non-Malayalis, of course, are the rest of the world.

If you know who you are, then you know who these people are too. Nee aaranennu ninakkariyillenkil nee ennodu chodickku nee aaranennu... etc. etc. 


*Zoom into a particular slice of time, chenda melam in the backdrop*

Some time before my son was born, I happened to work with a Malayali born and brought up in Pune. His accent was worse than that of a Westerner learning an Indian language. One day, overhearing both of us discussing the project in English, a colleague commented, "Why are two Malayalis conversing in English?" Without a moment's hesitation, I snapped, "I don't consider him a Malayali." The Pune NRK smiled good-naturedly. Later he confessed that he spoke to his parents in Malayalam but most of his time was spent with friends and others, which explained his accent. I wasn't convinced. I said to myself that surely he spoke to his parents in Hindi or Marathi or whatever language Pune-folk used.

Fate has its own weird and twisted sense of humour, people. When my son was born, I was determined that he would speak, think, dream and shout in Malayalam like a 24-carat Malayali. When others in Kerala and Bangalore admired his perfect two-year-old accent, I beamed and burst with pride. Then came school. I realised for the first time that he did not know a word of Kannada, English or Hindi to communicate. His ayahs knew only Kannada and pieces of Hindi, and none of his teachers spoke Malayalam. A Communication Disaster was knocking at my little baby's doors.

But he survived. A few weeks later, he demonstrated the words he had picked up from other languages, and I was impressed (and enormously relieved). Things started to go downhill from there - I think. His friends circle consisted of Malayalis, Tamilians, Kannadigas and Andhraites, and their common language became English. Even when only Malayali friends are around, they forget to switch language and would continue in English. When he comes running in from play, he begins with "Do you know what happened?" or "Amme, can I play for some more time?" When I roll my eyes at him, he thinks for a few minutes and then slowly understands why I did so, and then restarts in Malayalam. If I roll my eyes every time he does that, there wouldn't be much left of my eyes. Sometimes, rather than bothering with the eye-rolling routine, I confess I'm guilty of replying in English too. A friend, who overheard him one day, observed sarcastically: "You should teach your son a little Malayalam." Seriously! After all this effort, this is what I get to hear. Just you wait, I thought, your baby will soon start speaking - then you'll know!

When one day my son, then six years old, began to talk about "Njaan oru tree-yil climb cheythu" -- I almost fainted - and it was not because he was climbing a tree. Terrified out of my wits, I began to roll my eyes harder, and pretended to not understand a word of what he was saying until he used all words in Malayalam. (Another time, in the middle of an interesting story, he said frustrated, "I can't remember the Malayalam word for camel !") Every time this happens, the good-natured smile of my Pune NRK friend flashes before my eyes.

At seven and a half years, my son takes the hint and corrects himself, but a few years from now, he may not bother.

In every visit to Kerala, I observe how effortlessly and clearly the children there speak, how well they understand synonyms of a word simply because they hear these words from different people around them, and I realise it isn't as easy as I thought. It is even harder since my son does not get to learn Malayalam in school. (Which is another heavy responsibility of an NRK parent.)

One little girl who lives next door to us in Bangalore, who spent the first five years of her life in Kerala, speaks such delightful Malayalam that I make sure I converse with her whenever I see her. (I also shamelessly show my displeasure when her choice of words extends unnecessarily to English.) I suppose the early years spent steeped in Malayaliness do make such a big difference. My son understands his mother tongue very well, but there are some phrases and words that he may not come across at all, over here. There is no way I can teach him those. I taught him to count in Malayalam, painstakingly, at least till twenty, and then in spurts of ten until hundred, but the important part is that, today when he needs to count something, it comes out as onnu, randu, moonu instead of one, two, three. It wasn't easy, people. It wasn't easy at all, to say the least.

It was (is) like pushing a heavy rock up the mountain - if I relax for an instant, it would start rolling downhill, and I would have to chase it down. And there are miles to go before I reach the top, to the safe plateau from where no amount of gravity can pull it down.

Sometimes I fear that I try too hard, and he will end up saying something blasphemous like, Oh I hate Malayalam.

But perhaps there is no cause for concern. I meet a lot of folks here who speak Kannada like a native, and Malayalam with a rich, beautiful northern Kerala accent. Maybe those lads were born and brought up somewhere over here, or in places like Mangalore. If they can manage two languages so well, perhaps...


The bottom line is that I have stopped making fun of those Manglishi TV anchors. As a parent, I know how difficult it is, even if we are determined to put in the right amount of effort. It is easier to stop trying. When you have more important things to worry about, it is easier to pretend not to notice.

You're right, I am pretty much obsessed with this.

Who knows how this story would turn out?

*Sunset over the glorious Arabian Sea*

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Writer

I don't know her. Except her name, that is. And that she is on the other side of the globe, speaking a language I know, but living in circumstances I know nothing of, in a culture that is unknown to me. Or was? I don't know that either.

But through her words something seeps through, a familiarity, a connection, a strange sort of camaraderie. Have you been there too? I know what it's like.

Through her words I get a glimpse of her. As though I have climbed into a tap, squeezed through the pipe against the flow of the water, and crawled all the way to its source. I see her. Or rather, I get to see a small window that opens to one corner of her heart.

I do not know her. I do not know what she thinks, what she does, what she wears. But every writer, however cryptic or complex be her writing, leaves a bit of herself in her pages. Like saw dust sprinkled over them. You blow them away when you read, or you see them for what they are. The characters are not her. They are all made up. The author is invisible, no one cares except for the name. But the people in the story point her character out to us. If we are willing to see.

As a reader, you enjoy the book: the story, the plot, the ending, the writing, the characters.

As a writer, you see a little further. You are able to appreciate the tools used, the skills the author has sharpened, her innate talent, her brilliance, her ability to surprise.

As a thinker, sometimes you get to go beyond, much beyond, almost to the other side of the globe. You see her, the person, the mind. As though you are looking out through a foggy glass window. Yes, you see her, vague and fuzzy, you feel her presence.

You realise that the story was not entirely fabricated, it did not come to her one fine morning. It was always there, like a sob deep inside the recesses of her sophisticated mind. It is a metaphor of what she has seen, a thread of a thought, a fear, a desire, a pain, a life. Something I can connect with.

I Google her. For she is no longer a mere name to me. She is someone I know. And if she isn't, if what I have constructed of her isn't true, what does it matter?

She is no longer an unknown. I see her face. I read about her life. She rises in my unworthy eyes. I read about other books she has written. Books I should soon be laying my hands on.


Now reading. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.