Sunday, October 26, 2014

Stop, shrug, and fly, you fools!

Certain things that I came across in the past few days led me into deep contemplation of a sort I was unable express properly. And then, I discovered a video that clarifies a lot of what I had been wondering about, and expresses my worries better than I could ever do. First, let me try to trace the triggers that made me consider things I may not be doing anything about anytime soon. I discovered a totally worthy way of spending time when I came across a Podcast channel called OpenSource. It is hosted by one Christopher Lydon, who seems like a great guy. He is knowledgeable, polite, and capable of firmly stopping his guests if they begin to rant. His guests have excellent credentials, and he seems to know his guests well. In fact, he the sort of person I wouldn't mind seeing as an expert guest himself.

The first podcast I listened to is titled "Is Capitalism Working?", the short answer being "No". Just look around you; you must be deluded not to notice. If you are born poor, you don't have many chances of making it big. There are odds, but the odds are low. People with money invest in a corporate, and the corporate runs solely to satisfy these investors. Customers, employees and society come far behind, often in that order. People with money make more money.  This Podcast touches upon issues such as loss of job through outsourcing, government policies that favour the rich and so on. But as a dignified debate, it ends in a subdued manner with a hope that things would become better. Sometimes, what else can one do other than hope? We slog hours and hours for other people to make money, as long as they let us make some of it too. To stop and to consider our situation itself demands sacrifices we are not willing to make. I am of course typing this from an expensive gadget. Did you hear about the newest version of it they have released? It seems damn expensive, but I want to buy it. So that I can listen to more such podcasts in better quality.

The other podcast I listened to is titled "End of Work". Random Fact mentioned in the show: If Eastman Kodak company shuts down, which is a real possibility, thousands of jobs will be eliminated. Instagram, a somewhat modern version of the Kodak company, employs thirteen people. The End of Work podcast discusses the possibility that we are at the most defining moment of human kind since the Industrial Revolution; Industrial revolution was about machines replacing muscles, the digital revolution is about machines replacing brains. One of the guests is a top researcher from Google who speaks optimistically that by 2030, we would have artificial intelligence (he thinks the term is a misnomer), and men will be allowed to pursue more artistic and "gratifying" jobs. He points out rightly that such fears of people losing jobs accompanied the Industrial Revolution too, but things turned out really well for humanity. He reminds us of the thousands of people who contribute immensely to the wealth of the internet all while sitting at home. Chris Lyndon casually mentions that most of these people don't earn money, to which the Google scientist replies that things such as education won't cost as much as it did, and internet and modern innovations like 3D printers will reduce the importance of money. He shrugs off questions on whether we can carry with us the whole of humanity in this revolution, and seems happy enough that we will have gratifying things to do instead of monotonous labour. We can safely assume that a lot of these gratifying jobs involve talking to machines : in other words, programming. No wonder an employee of Google finds it gratifying -- to be honest, I find it that way too, at least as long as I am doing it well. But what about you? I have extremely intelligent friends who don't think much of programming. What about the rest of humanity? Can we dare to assume that they will all enjoy such a World? Will they be able to adapt, or will they be left behind?

I was talking to this person from Bihar a couple of weeks back. We had to get across using my broken Hindi and his barely survivable English. Over the last year, I have discovered that language is not as important to communication as I thought. This person, much older than me, is a technician. There are a lot of them around the World, but I had not been aware of their existence in my closed IT circles. Technicians of this particular brand are not highly educated, but they are specialized in certain day-to-day industrial operations that involve a lot of manual work. Some of them, not very inaccurately, believe that they are critical to the operation of a whole industrial plant. If at all they get jobs back home though, it will pay them paltry sums. They come abroad to richer countries in search of jobs. When they get them, they hold on to them, braving difficult physical conditions and minor to outright exploitation. They visit their homes for about a month every year. There are people who have been a long, long time. Someone staying here for, say, 12 years, has spent one year of that time with his dear ones. Money is important.  This guy mentioned that his father had been in the army, and that he had once been a student of a Kendriya Vidyalaya. Kendriya Vidyalayas are a chain of Government schools created predominantly for wards of Central Government servants who have transferable jobs. They are extremely, unimaginably inexpensive. They usually don't have entrance examinations, they don't filter out "poor performers" with as much vehemence as expensive private schools, and they generally take it easy. Yet, they are remarkably effective. I told this guy I am from a KV too, and encouraged him to speak more. He hesitated visibly, and shiftily changed the topic. A few minutes later he added that he had been in a KV till his 7th class, when he had to go back to his village. "Financial problems", he said. As if that explains everything. It does, and it doesn't.

It doesn't because I have never known it. I hope I won't get to know it too well too. I hope that because I am pathetic. Despite recognizing that the World is an unjust place where money plays a vital role, I still remain a part of the very system that is corrupt and skewed against people who are just unlucky. There are people more pathetic than me though, who are not even willing to concede that the World is unfair. I look at them and sometimes wish I can be as deluded. A couple of months back I saw this video of cocoa farmers tasting chocolates for the very first time in their lives (watch video below). People who produce the source for chocolates do not even know what becomes of their efforts. I would learn later that this is one type alienation predicted by Karl Marx for capitalist societies. Will these people be able to taste chocolates once again in their lifetime? What about other symbols of human progress then; televisions, air-conditioners, computers, internet, smart phones, Google glass, the iOS experience? When will they experience such things the rest of us have come to take as granted? Capitalism is not working. Technology is not trickling down to everyone. Too many scientists are spending too much money on things we don't need, leaving too many marketers to try and make us want them. Charitable institutions such as Google and Facebook are trying to correct this by taking internet to all of humanity. The hungry can then stare at Instagram photos of food to quench their hunger.

On the other hand, meet Bryan Stevenson. I chanced upon this video by an accident (watch video below). With shocking statistics on how the American justice system systematically works against certain races and the poor classes, he explains why technological progress is next to nothing if we are leaving humanity behind. Congrats Bryan! You are an inspiration. You seem to do something about issues most of us ignore and the rest of us only talk about. Take a bow! I clapped for you. I spent some time of my life to contemplate yours. Heck, I even wrote a blog post on you. But, I need to move on now.

On that note dear readers, can somebody please suggest ways to monetize this blog, preferably without intrusive ads? You see, I am facing this unique problem of wanting more money that I need.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post Series - On Writing

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Since my mother is a teacher, she would often end up meeting other teachers from my school. It would soon be discovered that a few of these people had been my own teachers. As a result, I would occasionally get trapped into a conversation with some long-forgotten faces when I am not adequately prepared for it (it is always advisable to prepare before meeting a teacher), and there would be an awkward moment when they unsuccessfully dig deep into their memory to summon up an image of me. They would then give up, and ask me, "which batch were you in?". "Srini's batch, ma'm. Srinivas". "Ahhh, yeah. I remember him! What is he doing now?" That is the extent of Srini's popularity, and that is the extent of my invisibility.

I know Srinivas for about fifteen years. My school was at a walkable distance from my house, and I would go by a shame-inducing ladies cycle when I didn't walk. Srini and another guy traveled from and to what seemed like a great distance to the tiny us, usually by city bus. I once suggested that they walk the other way towards my home for a few minutes so that the buses are emptier, and they crazily agreed. I don't remember even a single topic we discussed all those days walking back, other than some stray incidents. Like that occasion when we tried flagging an auto for a lift only to be berated by a furious auto-driver who demanded money from us. Or the other one when Srini and N unexpectedly got a lift towards my house leaving me all alone. Panic drains shyness. I glanced around quickly, jumped into a random two wheeler driver which had happened to stop by, and urged him to drop me. He was too stunned to protest.

I digressed there! I do that often. I am wont to lose concentration, but Srini is not. When he sets his mind on a thing, he usually gets it done. It is not wise to tell him that he can't do something, for he will soon prove you wrong. During our final couple of years at school, he travelled nearly a couple of hours every second day to prepare for his entrance exams. His efforts paid of as he got into one of the most prestigious chain of institutions in India. And college is the best place to start a blog. He started with the very impressive My First Post. The impact this post has had on me is such that for an idea that I am hoping to pen soon, I have been subconsciously telling myself that the opening must be as dramatic as this post.

And how did he help my own writing? When we were around 11 or 12, three of us worked briefly on a collaborative novel : a disgustingly pathetic attempt at writing. I hope to tell more about this on a later day, if I get this third person to write for me. Srini and I haven't really been in touch lately. When I pinged him abruptly and asked him to write though, he didn't hesitate even a wink. Within hours of requesting him, I had in my mailbox this meta post on the process of writing.

On Writing

“Old Habits die hard”…. Well how old should the habit be, so that it doesn’t die?!?
Sometimes I wonder, having finished a quarter of the life I am blessed with, how many things from the past should I take forward for the rest of my life. So, when I look back I see there are two most precious things that would invariably come with me no matter what – Memories and habits!

Memories are developed by learning, so it primarily consists of knowledge.
Habits are developed by doing, so it primarily consists of actions!

Cool, so why do I have to take them with me? Aren't they heavy?!?
Will they be useful?
Will these make me sad or happy?
Can I cash on these?

The words memory and habits are referred to differently depending on the phase of life we are in.  I wish to bucket them into four phases:
[1-25] Early in life we call them lesson and studying.
[26-50] Later, we quantize it and call it knowledge and skill.
[51-75] It then moves on to become just one thing : experience, this is when I think you can think and act seamlessly.
[76-100] There is not much action now, so its all just memories L

I am not sure if you will agree to this generalization, but after much thought and associating how people (I have met)in these phases of their life project themselves, I am pretty convinced that this framework is okay!
Also, I firmly believe that
1.       Every action is a consequence of a thought.
2.       Every thought evolves from learning.
3.       And you learn when you do!
This is yet another cycle of life, but we cannot dismiss it without understanding the beauty of it. Because this cycle goes uphill and if we do not pedal, we fall.
Wait. Do not proceed, but reflect on the framework once again [at least till you get convinced].

So, what am I rambling and what is the relevance to the title of the post?!?
When Adarsh asked me to write a guest post, I simply couldn’t say no! I liked the concept. So I started writing this one thinking “old habits die hard!” I took it up as an opportunity to give a nice come back. Then, I went into the classic writer’s dilemma – what do I write about today?!?
My mind raced from the facts I read from some books this month, the movie I saw yesterday, to my office, to the world of software development, life as an engineer , Bangalore, India, to people I have met, schoolmates, role models, food, economy and many more I am not mentioning here ….
But, then I realized something…
This framework I talked about, is the realization.
I should confess that I have not written anything but thousands of lines of production code, almost equal amount of status mails and nothing more, in the last four years. I am appalled by how much we “watch” instead of “read” and how much we “talk” instead of “write”. If this is what technology does to us, then I fear old habits will die hard!
So my answer to those questions:
There is nothing good or bad. There is nothing useful or waste. Yes, your thoughts and actions make you feel happy and sad. They can get you money and they might not. But, its only them, who come with you in this long journey.
I think I missed a few pedals in this journey. But, if you enjoyed reading this post, maybe I am gasping but am still riding on…

Thank you Adarsh for making me do this!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Guest Post Series - From Hell

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

While attending the induction training at my first job, I would wake up every morning quite early, walk a little, take a share auto, take a thirty minute bus ride, and then take another sixty minute bus ride to reach my training centre. Uncoordinatedly, Arun would be usually end up in the same bus towards the end of my journey. He was from my college but we had just met. We would occasionally discuss film making and leave it at that. Much later, thanks to Facebook, I discovered that Arun holds views that are similar to mine on things such as purpose of life, or the lack of it. I don't exactly remember how he became a reader of the blog, considering that the first post I remember showing him was a movie list that I am not too proud off. But he did. And soon, both of us started exchanging random write-ups and story ideas for each others' feedback. We both expect each other to be brutally frank when required and he has helpfully dished out a few of my story ideas which had false starts.

Arun is a big movie fan, a photographer, and a traveler. He reads a lot too, and spends much of his time reading on subjects such as psychology and philosophy. His book recommendations -- The Bhagawad Gita and comics by Alan Moore -- are high up on my to-read list, and I will start with them as soon as I trust myself to be able to interpret them not-too-wrongly. Arun gives you perspectives you will never have by yourself. Check out his post Anamoly, where he questions our trivial lives. Read his mind-boggling The Loop System, which can have zillions of interpretations. Or read Statistical Miracle, his passionate (and uncharacteristically direct) plea for treating women well. He has a fantastic interpretation of the Lord of the Rings, and you can have a sneak peak at it in his short poem Of Sauron and the Untold Story. In what seems like an alien characteristic for a subtly-attention-craving me, he has written wonderful things he does not intend to show to a lot of people. And more trivially, he is capable of typing out whole stories on his mobile while travelling in Chennai city buses.

Arun's writings demand attention from and challenge you as a reader. He intentionally leaves large parts of his initial idea unwritten, forcing you to fill in the blanks. He is a big fan of open endings.  If you want a story not to be completely dished out by him, just take out the climax and mail it to him. Along with Shyam and Vidhya, he is also a part of the short story collection we are looking to self-publish; for which he has penned down a futuristic psychological thriller and is working on a fairy tale. This metaphorical and imaginative write-up is by itself a great example of Arun's writing, so read on.

From Hell

She stood there unperturbed, in front of the burning gates of hell. She was not at all moved by the ominous sight it presented. She had seen worse. The golden flames burnt away everything at sight. There were no roses, no trees and no gold. There was a gate, black and ominous and then there was fire and more fire, at the end of which were two thrones. She stood alone in front of the gate and she stood there as though she were going to drag the devil out and shoot him. Of course she was in that kind of a mood. This visit was not planned, she was forced into coming out and seeing the devil. At a very young age that too, she had no tea to serve this time.

Hell was empty, everybody went to heaven. God had been forgiving, very much so. The sinners of heaven were thrown out and they finally made their way down to earth. Earth was full of them now. Even hell would reject them, ask Irene, she would tell you.

She flung open the gates and stood unfazed as the burning coal ate away at her feet.
"I hurt people, I make people cry and I enjoy doing it. I play with people's souls, make scars that never heal. Whenever I am alone I think about this and laugh. And I am alone most of the times", said he and started to laugh.
"Are you the devil?” she asked
"Yes", he answered
"Are you the epitome of evil"
She had been asked where she wanted to be, heaven or hell. She did not bat her eyelid even once when she said hell. Everybody is given a choice, and everybody chooses heaven, everybody wants to reform, everybody don't.

"Lucifer!” She shouted, she was not older than 14 maybe.

"Come on out you dirty devil", she shouted again
"Who dares open my gates and wake me from my deep slumber", cried Lucifer
"It’s me Irene, your bride to be. Come forth Lucifer, marry me, consume me, now", she ordered
There was deep laugh from within.
"I am very ugly", said Lucifer.
"I have seen worse" answered Irene
"I torture people", said Lucifer. "
I have seen worse" answered Irene
"I do not respect women”, said Lucifer.
"I have seen worse" answered Irene

Irene hung her head down and in a low voice asked, "Do you rape women?"

Puzzled, Lucifer asked, "What is that?"
Irene stood up, tears rolling down from her eyes and said, "I have seen worse"
"You call yourselves a devil, aren't you ashamed of yourselves? While you were deep in slumber, many have surpassed you", She said sadly.
Lucifer began to stutter, "What, What do you mean?” he asked


"Do you want to know what real evil is"
"Yes, yes, yes", he shouted
"Make way for me Lucifer, let me take that throne beside you"
With fire gleaming in her eyes, she seemed crying down fire. She turned back and said in a high monotonous tone.

"Open the gates of hell, you may,
And I shall show you the way,
For I have some hatred to share,
Each and every one of them I shall bare.

They tore me apart, those men,
These evil started from whence,
I have seen them, their souls they sell,
It’s not you, I am the one coming - From Hell"

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guest Post Series - God's own guests

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Meet Vidhya, another contributor for a short story collection a few of us are hoping to publish soon. You have already met Shyam, and you will be meeting the one remaining contributor soon. Vidhya has been reading my blog for less than a year, but she is one of my best readers. She quickly went through almost every nook and corner of the blog when she discovered it, and has since then let me know her thoughts on every single post I have written. On a few occassions, she is the only person getting back with her views, dispelling my doubts that I was deluded into thinking I had published something. It helps that she is a wonderful person, rarely capable of discouraging anyone other than herself.

For an awesomely entertaining writer, Vidhya started blogging very late. "Random House Publications - Random stuff written from my house" : these are the title and tagline of her blog. And as you come to expect from the tagline, the posts are hilarious. In A bottle of horlicks and a spoon, you will be busy laughing, sniggering and smiling at the jokes until you are hit by the beautiful idea behind the post. In Driving Woes, she makes you squirm at the thought of being anywhere in her vicinity when she is driving an automobile (despite her hastily added assurances to the contrary). And in Animals and their whims, she talks about her inexplicable (for me at least) love for cats, dogs and few other animals. I hope that you would be able to read her stories soon, and be as shocked as I was while encountering the unexpected mini-tragedies she manages to sneak in.

I have felt that Vidhya's humour works because of her tone. It gives an impression that she is completely unaware of the humour in her writing. There is also an air of mock-pompousness; she is anything but pompous in real life. She does this really well while writing about children, caricaturing people based on their minor quirks. I requested her to try and showcase this aspect of her writing, and she managed to do exactly that by recalling this rollicking incident from her childhood.

God's Own Guests

Looks like Adarsh has decided to scoot over and make room for people on his Freudian couch. It’s a nice place this couch .Mostly because the choice of reading is quite good .Ranging  from the ridiculously complicated yet funny flowcharts, treatises on names , excellent book reviews and the philosophizing about entropy, about science , morality and Sam Anderson etc.(Wait Anderson? Cant be.. Mendes? No. Definitely Sam someone).

The guest post series got me thinking, about guests.So today on the couch , you will hear from me , a story from my childhood . One that involves guests. The fundamental question on guests is of course “How many is too many?” . One or two is ok right? Alright, I guess a small family of say perhaps four is acceptable too. What’s the maximum number of guests you’ve had at home ?Don’t count the time when someone was getting married. On a nice and  lazy , month long school vacation, when you’re usually expected only to eat your meals on time , have a bath regularly and not be a menace to your mother, have you ever suddenly found your house inundated  with guests you couldn’t count with fingers from both your hands? I have..

We were forewarned of course, my brother and I. A strange bonding had developed between us in anticipation of our shared misery. The day my father told us that we would be having 17 people from God's own country to stay with us for a week our voices rose to the same pitch. We screamed the same questions to our father. "who are these people", "do we even have that many relatives", "where will they sleep",  "how many kids are there in the group, and more importantly "do they watch the same cartoons as us?" . Father tried to answer our questions patiently. I'm sure he made reasonable arguments. We didn't hear any of it. We were too shocked thinking about the prospects. One vacation week without our daily dose of cartoon network was not something we were accustomed to and  none too eager to find out what it would be like . My brother had a little bit more to worry about . He was the proud owner of a noisy contraption which he would plug in to the TV to play Mario and TMNT for hours on end .  He was not able to bring himself to imagine God's own children getting their hands on it. It was his  life line.  He did not reckon he can survive for long without it , so stowing it away for a week was not a viable option.

So there we were, a pair of spoiled brats, who didn't usually get along very well but suddenly we found ourselves on the same side of the battle front.  Unwilling as we both were to share material things ( such as the TV remote, the sofa , the distinctly demarcated regions of the bed ) with each other , we were even more unwilling to have to share them with anyone else, let alone a whole circus troupe.

We watched silently as our parents looked worried too , wondering  anxiously about how we were to accommodate that many people. My brother became excited all of a sudden and wanted to join in this discussion.  He rushed out of the room and returned with an exam pad , some papers and a pen.   He beckoned to me. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of whatever he was planning. He mostly never includes me in things he did. He began to roughly sketch a plan of the house. He quickly verified the demographics with my father  again. "How big is child no 1?, how tall is adult no 12? Are you absolutely sure its 17 ?”.etc. Of course my father had only a vague idea . His patience was evidently wearing thin and we thought it would be best to get out of his sight. We moved our conference to the adjoining room. My brother intended to chart out all the spaces in our house that were  unoccupied by furniture and other sundry items that make up a household. He told me that we were going to help our parents by coming up with a Master floor plan that would allocate  sleeping area to all of the guests.

We were both completely excited and we spent days planning it. No nook or cranny was spared. We heard talk of a baby being a part of the troupe and assigned the staircase landing area for it. We felt mighty proud of ourselves and went around importantly like civil engineers, examining the floor, bending over it , trying to wear intelligent expressions  , knocking on the floor checking the amount of noise generated, measuring random spaces with our mother's inch tape and so on.

When the day finally came, two mini vans squeezed in with difficulty into our tiny street and disgorged our guests.  The days and hours spent in anticipation of their arrival had failed to prepare us for the stupendously spectacular sight they presented.I was  stumped into silence by their sheer number. They were all uniformly in a state of excitement that probably rivalled those of the electrons in the outer most circle that your chemistry teacher claimed was the "highly excited state". They spoke to each other loudly and happily  in a tongue that would remain an unintelligible song  despite the number of times I would hear it. It was evident that they were enjoying each other's company.

I recall vaguely that my mother braved the task of making idlis for everyone on the first day. Enlightened by the experience, she had my father buy all the remaining  meals of the day from the nearby Sangeetha hotel.  They all ate contentedly amid loud ruckus and made themselves at home. My brother and I soon witnessed our lazy vacation routine fall apart dramatically. Asianet would be on all through the day instead of cartoon network , where more people sang as they spoke. The video game set was not spared too. It was taken over by the  youngest and the loudest . They seemed very well acquainted with the tiny man climbing the endless walls and whenever he fell we would hear one of them disappointedly exclaiming that he had indeed hit  the jump button and continue attacking the controls on the joy stick long after "game over" flashed on the screen .  My brother managed to elbow his  way through and joined in defiantly, claiming ownership rights.

Later that evening , after everyone was well fed and there was nothing to do but sleep , my brother and I proudly presented our master plan to our parents. My father was dumb struck and we initially thought that was a good thing. He definitely had to be impressed with the level of detail. Undeterred by the lack of vocal reaction from him or our mother, we enthusiastically dragged them about the house showing them exactly what we had planned. We began to debrief the guests  too, quite pompously I might add. But for once none of them had anything to say. Or sing.

One of the adults in the group suggested that they would all camp at the terrace and everyone agreed with mild sighs of relief. So that was that. The grand plan that had mighty potential and could have saved the world even, was unceremoniously chucked. Forlorn was I to see all the hard work go to waste but my brother? He didn't care . He simply went back to his video game. 

So that's the end of the story . Perhaps there's a moral there somewhere ? Anyone who has spotted it can let Adarsh know. I'm sure he will be kind enough to pass it on. Until next time on the Couch!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Post Series - Reflections

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Travel sounds so romantic. But the truth is that not all of us are built for travel. Anyone can be a tourist, but only a few of us are cut out to be travelers. What most of us actually want is to have some cool photos snapped at photogenic locations that tell the World how happy we allegedly are. A true traveler enjoys the journey as much as the destination, if not more -- and takes back memories and lessons that will last longer than any photograph can. Not always consciously, but definitely. Take this  post on how Shriya wanted very badly to visit Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. The post ends a bit anti-climatically with her not being able to reach her destination, but the journey of reading it is by itself enthralling; mirroring her own journey.

Shriya has been a long time reader of this blog. Since I had't written a lot in the first few years of the blog, it is fair to say she is a regular visitor who has read more posts than most readers. She does not always read the posts as soon as they are published, but she does read them eventually. She also takes the time to let me know when she finds what I write to be interesting, or when it makes her think; whilst staying politely silent about posts she can't relate with.  

I have rarely been able to describe physical objects, and I feel jealous of people who can do that well. Shriya has an enviable vocabulary, and she uses it to write excellent (that adjective is the limit of my vocabulary) travelogues. It helps that she travels a lot, that she reads a lot, that her travels are not confined to normal tourist spots, and that she does not seem to visit these places with a tourist's routine. The nicest thing about her travelogues is that they are not impersonal. They invariably have some personal anecdotes retold with a cautious humor that makes them very enjoyable. Add some gorgeous photos, and you always end up feeling a compelling desire to visit the places she describes. She is also a Couchsurfer, and she explains about it in her post The Couchsurfing Experience (On a side-note, couchsurfers are very active in India too). I proudly feel that this guest post is one of her best amongst the ones I have read. You can check out a few more. There is De-vine valley of the Rhine about the Rhine valley of Germany , Of culture, character and codfish about a little known Portugese city, and her posts on Scintillating Sintra. She also writes non-travelogues, such as 'Not-so-silly' putty which explains a part of her line of work, and my personal favorite : Rückkehrunruhe where she relives childhood memories that all of us have experienced.


On our recent trip to Bordeaux (France), a friend and I decided to amble around the city one night, after our hearty meal. We were visiting Bordeaux on a quick getaway. The only things I knew about Bordeaux prior to the visit were that its lush vineyards provide some of the world’s finest wines, and that a large part of the city is a World Heritage site. A quick scan through travel guides confirmed that I wasn’t forgetting anything special. Or so it seemed.

As we strolled along in the chilly night, chance occurrence brought us to a large square in front of majestic French architecture. A central fountain was flanked on an entire side by symmetrically aligned buildings. Apparently built in the 18th century, the buildings now house the ministry of Commerce. Aglow with amber tints, contrasting the darkness of the clear night sky, the setting made for a pretty picture. The square, called Place de la Bourse, spacious in its own right, was one of the nicest I had seen. As I stood there taking photographs, I noticed how there was an effect of mist on the other side of the main street, across the fountain. A fuzzy haze in the darkness, something seemed amiss. We walked towards the sound of children’s laughter and the patter of tiny feet. As we crossed the street, shadows of children running amidst the fog soon emerged. Why was there a localized mist?

The mist quickly faded away, and then we noticed where it came from. Many orifices were evenly distributed across the expanse of the ground ahead of us. They soon began to slowly release water, uniformly forming a film along the entire length of the floor. As I looked back to view the buildings that were now behind us, we guessed their purpose. Reflections. By creating a really thin film, a water mirror could provide for the reflection of the entire square.

‘Genius, pure genius’, my friend muttered beside me, while I cursed myself for lack of a better camera. We stood there, at the edge of the film, settling into a comfortable silence. Keeping our eyes peeled while waiting for disruptions to cease. Waiting for meek water to stop being slave to gusty winds. Winds that created ripples on the surface, causing light to scatter into a thousand little sparkles. Sparkles that would recombine at will to form a whole image. The loose nature of its fleetingness took my breath away and left me with goose-bumps. Like a reminder: Sometimes, you need to wait for beauty to show.

We oft caught glimpses of the complete reflection of the square: graceful fountain flanked by beautiful buildings. Serenely motionless in time, stubbornly contrasted by cars zipping by. The sight was made more magical when people occasionally walked across the film. The brazen sprint of a child, or the gentle, barefooted gait of a couple. Like Gods walking on water, creating their own reflections while crudely deforming another.

I was left feeling a lot of things that night. About how we don’t take the time to notice the gratuitous beauty around us. Catch a sunset. Listen to the sound of the rain. How, more often than not, we’re so involved in mundane routine, that we’re blind to obvious moments that can create feeling.

Place de la Bourse reminded me that some of the nicest memories are created by chance. It’s ironic how things we might remember for years to come stem from incidents that were given no prior thought. The unpredictability of the moment leaves quite an impression. To wholly embrace the present and know that there are lifelong memories being created now! Maybe that’s something worth reflecting on…

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Guest Post Series - Poison Ivy

Note : This post is a part of the Guest Post Series.

Supriya was my schoolmate, but we barely knew each other at school. She ended up at the same college as I, but we would still exchange only a word or two when we came across each other occasionally. I did know that she writes poetry and started publishing them online around the time I started writing, but she was totally unaware that I blogged. I don't remember how (I suspect I asked her to read it. How else?), but she stumbled upon the blog. Around a year and a half back, she was one of the most frequent readers, reading posts at a stretch and encouraging me. It was around this time that I decided to make my blog more about me, regardless of what I end up revealing about me and regardless of how boring it is to the readers. Her feedback -- especially when I wrote intensely personal posts such as The Depression Flowchart -- helped me a lot in making this shift.

I would call Supriya a feminist, but I believe she is a fierce individualist first. She has strong views, and rarely hesitates to voice them. She also keeps surprising me with things I keep discovering about her. She is an outdoor type, but she is also a voracious reader, reading books at a furious pace and writing in multiple languages. She is, literally, a rocket scientist. She pens poems on extremes of joy and hope, extremes of grief and despair, and on other trivialities in between. She writes prose too, but not as frequently. Her prose often gives an impression that it is meandering, but there are profound observations and glimmers of humour hidden in them.

When I asked her to write for me, she was not able to summon up the inspiration to write anything. She wanted me to post something she had already written, and suspected that not a lot of people had read. I would have chosen the stunningly pessimistic Tunnel of Downfall, or the lovely Tell Me. I would have published Spring which is so unlike what I know of her, or the colourful Paint Me a Picture. I loved I Wish, and A Void which is filled with so much anguish that it made me squirm. There is A Moment which captures the beauty of the World, the passionate You, and the exhilaratingly happy A meeting with a star. Talking of happiness, there is this profound essay-- Can I dry clean my melancholy suit, please? on the importance of feeling a little melancholy now and then, with which I completely agree. But Supriya bossed me around (she is capable of doing that to stronger minds than mine) into choosing a poem I haven't been able to decipher completely. She feels it to be her best work till date, despite (because of?) it being as abstract as her. So, on her request/command, here is Poison Ivy.

Poison Ivy

Last summer
I often saw you near the pier
prickling my skin
like poison ivy

Shooting memories into my veins
where have I seen you before?
may be some other life
a different time

Intangible as a shadow 
you appear dark inside
or do you shade me?
Wish I knew

The more I seek
the more you slip away
you try to forget me
as I forgot you

you evaporate, but
take it along with you
the poison ivy.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Success Series : The Dog and the Buffalo

Wanting to write a series of articles on how I feel about motivational messages, I got off to a terrible start with this post : The Success Series (with WhatsApp and Facebook) - The Samosa Vendor. I received only a couple of feedbacks, and both were negative. Apparently, I took a harmless story too seriously, and got too worked out about it. I should have ignored the story, or atleast cut the story some slack. And the post was unnecessarily sure of itself, unlike most of my other posts. The feedbacks were exactly what I needed. I do get needlessly frustrated seeing certain things. Flawed motivational memes are among the few things that do this to me the most. I decided to make one more attempt on exploring why I feel that way. This time, instead of being sarcastic, I will try to be direct. Instead of outrage, I will try to appeal.

"What is your long-term goal?" is the most popular question that floats around final year batches of any undergraduate college in India. Followed in popularity by something like "next enna pannalamnu irrukinga?" (what next?). People have to decide between a random exam for a post graduate course, or hope that they would get "placed" in one of the many companies that conduct campus recruitments. Apparently, our under-graduate education is not good enough to get us jobs. My college hired an external company to orient us to the requirements of the corporates who would be looking to hire us. It was called pre-placement training : a two day program that was supposed to make us battle-ready. I attended because there was a rumour floating around that the pre-placement training was mandatory for those who wanted to make themselves available for the campus recruitments. I would have attended otherwise too, for I was eager to get placed.

"Have you noticed a dog that comes in the way of a speeding vehicle?", asked the guy who was leading the team of pre-placement trainers. "It panics. It reacts without thought. And more often than not, it gets hit. Look at a buffalo though, and how it rarely panics. You must all be like the buffalo, and not panic in stressful situations". The whole training focussed on "lessening our inhibitions". When someone questioned the rationale behind the whole event, the trainers explained about a "cockroach" theory. Someone who fears a cockroach would let go of the fear if the only other option he/she had was to face something more scary, like a snake. These guys were attempting to put us in situations where we would permanently loose all our inhibitions, be our true selves, and hence, blaze through all interviews.

On the final day of this training, I spotted a couple of ferocious looking buffaloes running towards me with great speed at Thanjavur New Bus Stand. Recalling our training, I controlled my panic and stepped aside casually, only to notice that the buffaloes were actually running away having been scared by a tiny dog. That's when I realized that motivating people is a big money making industry today, and that the dog and the buffalo story is exactly what is wrong with this industry. This industry aims to transform us all into buffaloes, and it makes us feel grateful for this transformation -- until the day we get hit by a speeding vehicle and realize that our skin is not made to withstand. The modern employable candidate has great communication skills, is filled with positive thoughts, has leadership qualities, believes everything is possible, dresses carefully and is capable of motivating others. 

I am a sceptic by nature. Apart from being not-sure of most things, I really get baffled when others are sure of things. This bafflement usually transforms into a mild envy at an ability that I do not have. But, when these same people are so sure of their views that they try imposing it on others, I get irritated. Priests call us sinners for not believing in God, and Richard Dawkins calls us fools for believing in Him. Why do we get an overpowering urge to get others to conform to our views? How do people decide that buffaloes are better than dogs, or that dogs are better than buffaloes? 

All groups of people hate non-conformists. Have you noticed that some people take an irrational pleasure in killing your individuality? "Why are you not like others", "we all do it, why don't you", and "you are right, but no one does it that way". Even as kids, we bully other kids who are different. And we grow up to measure the success of other people based on our own definition of it. There is probably one correct way to live life, one purpose to it. Socrates thought it to be intellectual pursuit, Epicurus thought it to be non-materialistic happiness, Schopenhauer thought it to be suffering, Nietzsche thought it to be power, Sartre thought it to be void and Camus thought it to be whatever. When minds of such intellectual caliber try and fail  to achieve a common ground, an agreement; where do we with our intellectual and moral handicaps get the confidence that our definition of success is right?

There is always one prevailing way societies judge success. A few years back it was external virtuousness. Today, it is material wealth. Most motivational quotes subtly hint that material wealth is a big part of success. It is important that they do it subtly, for we are not yet ready to accept the importance of money outright. Take a Robin Sharma's motivational seminar, for example. He starts with a meaningless disclaimer (I would know a lot about meaningless disclaimers), explaining that success need not be a high paying job. But the rest of the speech contains veiled references to rich people in high places : "I asked this Vice President", "I was talking to a CEO of a Fortune 500 company" and so on an on. He casually refers to his audio CDs, online course and seminars, all of which cost a lot of money. The unspoken understanding is that the money you spend is just an investment which will provide high returns later on. Invest on your personality.

And why are we so wrapped up in changing our personality. Apparently, schools these days are doing away with the traditional benches and are replacing them with round tables which facilitate more interaction. Children are discouraged from spending time alone with their own imaginations. We are already a generation that feels too entitled. We complain about the quality of food in flights, and the signal strength in free Wi-Fi zones. We are quick to point out how the other person is inefficient in his work, but we forget that we are mediocre in our own jobs. We believe everything is possible, and that we can win every battles. We are turning into an army of sore losers. We are all trying to be something we are not, in a hope that it will allow us to be our own selves. Each of us wants to look polished, to express lucidly, and to dress up meticulously. If some people have it their way, we would soon loose all traits that make us us, and end up as someone else.

You probably think I am paranoid. I will tell you who else was paranoid. Check out the embedded 3 and a half minute video of George Carlin's brilliant I Am A Modern Man, and you will realize that he was eerily accurate. "My inner child is outward bound", "I'm a non-believer and an over-achiever" and "in denial". Read the full text here if you are not able to view the video.

Like in my previous post, here is another open letter:

Dear Mr/Mrs.Whoever-wants-other-people-to-adopt-your-ideas-of-success,

I know all your arguments on why life must be lived your way, and honestly, they sound very convincing. Yet, I don't feel like joining you. I would rather define success my own way, even at the risk of being wrong. I don't mean this in an individualistic I-dont-give-a-damn-about-your-views way. I respect your point of view, but I do not think it will fit me. Be with me, but let me be.

The Freudian Couch

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