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“I just want to this about that.”
― Steven C. Smith

Staying Grounded

Holy shrines seek a ‘cleanliness’, often beginning with asking you walk in barefoot. To me, it is a poke to go light. To experience the stone and the rough surface pick supple feet. It is about staying grounded. That is the best way of staying clean!

Staying grounded involves being aware of realities as they are. Realities around oneself and the world. It necessitates a certain level of humility to accept what comes ones way yet to search for more.

Staying grounded means one is not occupied by thoughts about oneself but is innately curious about the other. And seeks to ask questions and seeks to build understanding. However sure one is about the answer!

Staying grounded requires an anticipation of uncertainty and a comfort with it. For when one is not driving an agenda, the outcomes can be many. Outcomes that will arrive at and get evolved in the moment at that time!

Staying grounded is not about ‘staying’. It is not a state of immobility. What stays behind is dynamism and change. To keep the mind alive and the ideas in the air but the feet on the ground makes a difference.

Staying grounded does not mean that one forgoes! In fact its the opposite. When one stays grounded what one is able to create far more. Both in the self and in the collective.

Staying grounded needs patience but more importantly, staying grounded needs energy. The energy to let things emerge, by staying in the moment and rummaging through with interest.

Staying grounded is to allow the idea to fly and letting the credit for the idea kiss the Earth. It means one is not wedded to the idea as much as solving the problem with the idea.

Staying grounded is about strength. It’s about awareness. It’s about calm. It’s about a sense of possibility. A sense of what can emerge.

Staying grounded is about the future!

The cost of victory. #SandpaperGate

Everything comes at a cost. Including victory. Sometimes the cost of ‘victory at all costs’ is so mind-boggling that victory loses meaning. Today Australia (and the rest of the world) woke up to ‘ #SandpaperGate ‘. Just the other day, I was wondering about the ‘cost of victory’.

On that ‘other day’, I landed up at the attic at my mom’s place. I was looking to fill gaps in memory fuelled by gaps from WhatsApp conversations.

A few old cherished medals lay in one corner of a dusty trunk. Amongst other things that kept the medals company: an assortment of parched certificates, a couple of spent manuscripts, a dog-eared atlas, and some dull question papers from a ‘quarterly exam’ that ended decades ago.  Amidst these were some assorted pages from an old English textbook. Remnants of my school going years. I looked at the medals with wistfulness and the books with nostalgia.  And started flipping through the Engish textbook landing at ‘If’, Kipling’s much loved work.

I stayed there for a bit. There are poems that move. And then there are poems that stay with you and get you to move. Every poem is a work of art reaching places in the mind that barely existed. ‘If’ is perhaps ‘The’ poem with the shortest title while having the farthest reach. It has been a personal favourite. And as I tossed a few things around, I realised, that it has shaped my outlook too.

Today, as I was writing this post, I discovered I had a post in  2009 on ‘IF’ . It is something.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Back to the English textbook. It is in that book that I first read that two lines from ‘If’

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”

stare at players as they walk into Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

 

I remember talking to my dad about it. And he saying that there is no meaning in victory or defeat without learning the lessons of victory and defeat. His clear voice about letting victories and defeats pass by and seek each new day as a new day sought to make their presence. He would say with emphasis often that there is a cost to victory! And if the cost of victory is greater than the victory itself, there is no point to the victory.

As I wistfully examined medals that were in the trunk, I realised that the real victory was not in getting to wear them then. It has been in moving past them, cherishing the experience of winning and later consigning the medals to the attic.

Pursuits of the present day are morphed forms of medals that I had won back then. Medals that now rest in the dark confines of an old trunk in the attic. To experience and cherish every moment, to be of value to someone, to be grateful for all that has happened. These are my aspirations now.

The medal that I seek is perhaps inner quiet, peace, and lightness. That perhaps is real victory while I scurry around looking for medals and podiums. Today there is even further realisation about real victory. Real victory is beyond paper victories. And certainly beyond sandpaper ones!

 

Annual Sunset

It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it and embrace the shiny’, ‘new’ year!

So, its time to change the printed calendar that hangs on the wall. I have to take care to write ‘2018’ instead of  ‘2017’ on the cheques that I sign. Other than that, nothing changes. Of course, tonight some folks will move in the name of dance, to random noise that’s called music. Everybody will wish each other ‘Happy New Year’ and then go about living their lives with renewed fervour.

By the 8th of Jan, 25% of resolutions “have fallen by the wayside”. “And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept”, says a piece in the New York Times. Thats a colossal underperformance by corporate standards, won’t you think? (Do give the piece a read. Very good pointers )

That of course, is a limited view. Thank God!

What would we do if there was just no chance in hell that we could begin all over again? Even if we knew in the innermost recesses of our hearts that it is the same Sun that will show up tomorrow.  That it’s sinking into the west doesn’t sink with it our warts and wiggles. I wouldn’t mind it taking along with it the credit card bill, the lump of fat on the hip and the sinus in the head. Alas! That said, the new year is special. For it is the chance for some energy into starting all over again.  That is priceless. It fills us with hope and courses a new energy in our fraying minds.

An uncle of mine used to say that this energy would take him through “March – April”! “If you get a few solid wins in this time, who knows, the momentum can take you into June-July”. I find this enticing today.

It makes sense. Once it is July, you are already looking at beginning the countdown to end the year and make a new beginning.  In early October, the uncle would say, ” we are going to end the year”. Looking forward to it like a kid walking with his dad to buy a promised lollipop.  The ‘looking forward to next year’ saw him through the last three-four months.

In one way or the other, he had to wade through pestilence laden waters of ‘what is the meaning of my life’ and such other desultory questions for about five months.  Right in the middle of the year. Those months could seem to have a slower pace to them.  A few other ways to work those months would help. Perhaps breaking the year into smaller bits. Maybe having other special rituals for renewal.

But right now, the Sun is just about downing its shutters for 2017. The mid-year ‘sulk months’ seem a good distance away. Those months will happen when they happen. To make them ‘happening’ is after we take care of this evening and the next few weeks.

I have on my agenda a few must-dos.

Meet friends.

Make white spaces.

Plan well and yet create the space to plan as you go.

Spend time with the little miss. Grow up with her.

Walk. Run.

Take care of the body. And the mind. That’s the best way to take care of the bank account. (“Fixed deposits are best in the bank. Spare your hips”, said a wall scrawl in Madurai ).

Eat vegetables.

Write.  Travel.

Dream.

Do meaningful work.

Shoot the breeze.

That’s the best part of beginning again. For some irrational reason, it fills the heart with hope. As this sunset sinks its teeth into the year’s neck, the fleeting gasps of the setting Sun remind me of the promises that I need to keep. No new promises. Just keeping the old ones is good enough.

That’s as good as it gets. The aim is to go through to the end of March with it. A running coach once sat me down as I shuddered thinking about how I would ever do a 42 KM run. The trick he said, “is not to think of the full 42 KM. But to have a target like “until the end of where the eye can see”.  With the run soaking up most of the energy, my line of sight was often a just a hazy patch. It helped me finish!

So, here is what I am going to do. Soak up the Sun and look forward to the end of March. Maybe, April. Before the blink of the eye, it would be July.  And then, it would be next year.

For now, go dance. Sing. Love.

That’s all there is to it. Besides saying “Happy New Year”!

There are two pigeons that dart on to my balcony. Tilting their necks and looking at me with an odious ‘oh not again’ look. I want to prove them wrong and start somewhere, even as the bright arc of the orange Sun is reduced to crimson splash on the horizon. I pull out my laptop and start typing. “It’s the same Sun that will pop out of the east tomorrow morning. Yet, today’s sunset helps us keep score that one more year has melted. It’s the 31st of December. And this is the ‘Annual Sunset’!  Sunsets are amongst the most enticing of reminders that one more block of time is gone for good. The annual sunset on can be sentimental. Partly, because the world seems eager to be done with it…”

Peddling In Memories

2017 hurtles to a close.  Well, the year is going at the pace at which every year has gone by.  A clutch of stuff that got done while a heap that stays in the ‘to be done’ mode make it ‘hurtle’.  Green pastures, unspoken aspirations, dormant desires, dry deserts, severe floods dot my year.  Peddling in memories is an acceptable indulgence this time of the year. From newspapers to magazines to every other Tom, Dick, and Harry.  I am another random Tom who is going to peddle in memories of 2017.

The ever so connected digital lives that we lead makes everything easy. Including, peddling in memory. I don’t have to hunt between the whorls of the brain to recollect a chance interaction or a chosen meeting. In all probability, a trail would emerge from somewhere.  From my calendar or mail.  Perhaps from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram too. And several other places. So, it’s easy.  That is the indulgence that I am going to allow myself. I call it indulgence more because I am running against time on a few other projects. But this must be done too. Scan the year through the trail I have left behind.

Well, why would you care? Seriously, you shouldn’t. I have ordinariness imprinted on me.  From the life that I lead to the occasional prose that I post. Maybe you could make good use of your time and do something useful. For a start, how about finding how this year has gone by and plotting the next year.  And maybe, what I put down here may trigger a thought or two and you do your own exploration of your 2017. If a few things emerge for you, if you are game, we should grab a coffee and have a conversation. For no other reason other than letting each other know that we are all in the same boat. Some pulling the oars and others watching the waves.

And so I begin. Game?

Within the first few minutes of scanning my feeds, one realisation stands tall. Through the year, I have been inconsistent on social platforms.   I recall how I began booting several apps off the phone as I began to understand how much they control my life. Available for access, sans notification at a time, place, emotion and setting of my choosing.  That in itself is a significant shift. More on that later.

As soon as I put consistency of use as a barometer, it is easy. The one app that strings all 2017 and its attendant passing is my ‘calendar’.  It holds a trail of the meetings, the conversations, the people, the places. The ones that I have declined and the ones that remained. It is a treasure trove and I like a deep-sea diver who has found a ship that sank ages ago, begin the examination.  With curiosity and compelling intent. I want to know where the year went. Suddenly, peddling in memory is, as the daughter says, ‘easy peasy’!

With a short, simple stroke of my finger, the year emerges on the iPad screen. I have a quick first go at it scanning through the months. In seven-eight strokes, the year is over. I see the empty patches and periods filled with ‘back to back’ meetings. At times, I notice myself lingering. At other times, the hurry in glossing over a bald patch is palpable.  Even as the finger does its dance on the screen, flicking a month away like a speck of dust, I catch myself looking inwards.

Specific events show up. Like a meeting that went well and another that went downhill. One where very senior managers in a company tried hard to load a big monkey on my back much to the annoyance of the monkey too. I smile. But only to quickly realise that I must not drown in the easy pit stops of ‘events’ like these. I am keen to trade these ‘events’ for ‘themes’ and ‘direction’.

After about an hour of pondering and a mug full of coffee disappearing these are the four bundles that I am left with. I feel energised. Perhaps it is the coffee. Perhaps it is the ‘being awestruck by the prowess of hindsight’ moment!

‘Productive’ is a label.

The number of interactions / meetings / experiences that I thought didn’t lead up to ‘productive’ results are many. It looks like litter falling off a faulty garbage truck! All over the calendar.  At least, that was how I thought of it when the purpose for which the event showed up on the calendar went down with a whimper.

But hindsight presents a different the view at the end of the year.  While that meeting or interaction may not have lead me to the desired result, the experience was invaluable. That experience often, I realise, lead me to learn something new. Or meet an interesting person and my curiosity helped me power on in another direction.  And thus, the realisation: Every experience counts.

Especially so, if I gave it some time to reflect on how the experience was. Reflection is underrated. And no one has the time for it. But without it, the experience is almost pointless.  Reflection on a periodic basis is important. (Once in a year, is not good enough for ‘periodic’. I made a mental note of that).

Projects and proportions.

Projects and work have a way of evolving.  To expect that they follow a steady pattern in a dynamic world is round pegs in square holes in a shaking lotto machine.  Massive chunks of time thinking through every possible outcome have often come to naught.  One month they are there and the next month, they just disappear. Because there is something outside of what was thought through, that emerged.

Our plans have to be nimble enough to respond to the response of the world, to our first steps!  I realise what I keep realising again and again. I realise I have to draw more comfort from direction alignment whilst getting sharper with making changes ‘as you go’. Put the big milestones in, strike deals but always stay prepared for change.

I realise I have to sharpen my stoic resolve to move on irrespective of outcomes: Good and bad! And the spaces that they have filled on my calendar.  The longer I expand the arc of time the easier it is to see a different perspective of real success and failure. Plan the big milestones and projects but what happens is a function of what happens! So, keep moving and allow for grey. Grey is a good colour.

Henry Mintzberg, a fantastic thinker that I follow writes about ‘PAT problems’. Problems were the problems and solutions come in a box! With the amount of precision dominating our lives going manifold (‘you will reach your destination in 9 minutes’), I seem to be inching towards precision where it’s not needed. If the reason for doing what I decided to do is expansive the answers cannot come in easy made-to-order boxes. Even though that’s a seductive promise many meeting invitations seem to make.

Bald is beautiful.

On a whim, I decided to search for white spaces on the calendar. Where I didn’t have anything written down.  There were a few. Most of it revolves around the Daughter. A sigh escapes. And another stays. The first one with relief and the second with mixed emotions. Other than the time with the daughter on her special days, the calendar points to this huge need to ‘maximise every passing moment’.

Commute times have been filled with calls. Lunchtimes have been over meetings. Coffee has a business flavour and dinner, I realise, has often been a function of projects.

It brings me front and square of certain facts. The number of books I have read and the posts I have written is perhaps at the lowest ebb. Ever. Let’s not even go in the direction of the movies I have watched.  The visits to the doc notwithstanding, it’s a slippery slope and I am stopping right there to summarise.

More downtimes and pursuing passions is necessary. While grey is a good colour, white spaces are important for gray.

‘Just Data’ is an incomplete view.

The data on my calendar is a treasure trove. I have far more to dive into and sit with.  As much as it reveals, it conceals a lot too.  It doesn’t cover how many times I missed a sunset or a saw a beautiful one. It doesn’t cover the sighs and the smiles beyond the obvious. And in those nuances, there exists a world.

I recall dropping my daughter one day at school, and she asked me ‘when do you plan to go to school?’. It doesn’t find a mention in the calendar but a space in time that holds a question of reckoning!

The lens of viewing the world through the calendar gives me a stark picture of how time went. But time, just by itself is not complete. Filling time up is easy. Leading life in a linear bullet train wearing a straight jacket embossed ‘growth’, fueled by the pursuit of ‘more’ is common.  That’s the gravy train to several of life’s attendant complications. The trouble is we never know when we boarded or for that matter, how we did.  However, we board, the option to get onboard to jump off at stations is a choice that rests with us.

So, Peddling in memories..

So, it’s been a good year. Its been full of experiences, conversations, right angles and frayed edges. All punctuated by a hurry and hurtle that has given way to a new grammar. Let me be honest. It’s not as though, I dislike the hurry and bustle or that it didn’t lead me anywhere.  Like a swimmer at sea who has been negotiating sharks, I raise my head to take bearing. While I have covered a very good distance, I realise I need to take a new bearing.

I grab my finished mug, collect the four bundles and head to the terrace. I reckon I have to build vast spaces of empty white. That will tell a different story perhaps at the end of the year. Perhaps there will be more music, more stories, and more prose!

From the terrace, I look at the vast expanse of the sky with its patches of clouds.  And as they change form, I wonder which I other lenses I must pick to look at the year though.

 

My experiments with Instagram

Picture stories have been the nerve centre of this website. It is in the long hard look at images that the words and stories have emerged. Over several years. As my Instagram page begins to hog a dab more of my attention than it did earlier, my experiments with Instagram embolden me to weave more stories.

Ever since the shift in career trajectory, there have been many experiments in the recent times that I have been running. When the view of life in itself is viewed as a series of experiments there is only discovery and learning all the way around, experiments and learning on social are also default. Several of social ones are on my Instagram page.

To try and bring a story alive in what is essentially a siloed and image based medium has been a bucket of work with droplets of learning here and there. I have learnt the power of images and how much they can chew up everything else. The importance of filters, lenses, hashtags and what all they can stand in for, and gently gloss over is omnipresent. But to spot the story behind the dominant narrative, has been such fun.

This house, where many of the young are permanently stationed is often viewed as an abode of narcissism by the old. Ok, older. I am finding it to be a very interesting and different platform. I try and keep the play with filters to the minimum and add some shade, contrast and brightness with words. Especially about the places and people that I encounter. If at all it is about me, it is only through the micro accounts stories that I tell there. “Thats not how the medium works” many have told me, shaking their heads with a smug smile lurking in the corner of their lip. Perhaps, they are right. For the way I use Instagram is not what Instagram has bet its shirt on. Instagram’s soul lies in its filters and the words are clearly optional extras. In more ways than one, I am harbouring some old fashioned beliefs. Some of them go like this : Good stories draw people. Good stories are often a combination of pictures and words. etc. etc.

But who cares. Its never about a platform as much as its about the users, their imagination and what they do with it. So I believe. So my page there is become something of a mini blog. Needless to say, my difficulty in adapting to the ready-shoot-filter-publish model is evident in every post. At least in my head. Sometimes though, I receive appreciation. Like the one today from this gentleman whose work I admire hugely, which read  “Love the stories behind your posts. Amazing patience and ‘care’ “.  That chuffed my heart and set me thinking.

The missus added some sense into the dose of kaapi on an otherwise busy Sunday evening to suggest that I need to consider the fact that some of the ‘short posts’ and pictures merited a ‘fuller’ post on the website. “Not everybody is on Instagram you know”, she began. And then quickly went on to other things like “assuming too much” etc, which I thought was fresh brew from another world.

Promptly this blogpost was thought of and some quick-fire decisions were made. Some pictures and accounts from Instagram will get here as well. Some of it shared on other platforms. In any case, its all experiments. So, if you are still reading, do follow me on Instagram and let me know how the page is evolving. My page on Instagram is here : https://www.instagram.com/kavi.arasu/

For, am going to be at it. Chasing a bunch of hypotheses and relishing whatever emerges. When you don’t break into a  sweat on the numbers of likes or followers and are focused on being present with people, their pictures and their stories, there is joy.

Try.

Happy New Year

I am in search of a word. One word. That would help hold the array of thoughts and emotions on a string. It remains elusive. I am searching for one word to encapsulate the time as 2104 says goodbye and 2015 chirps in with a hello.

Its the night of the 31st Dec. There are fireworks that light up the night sky. Puppet shows. Loud music. People on the road genuinely wishing each other. Lights. Parties. Cops on the road. Bizarre brawls. TV shows. Discounts and offers. Three and a half tonnes of whatsapp messages. And such else!

A flurry of activity on how the world went by in the past year marks pronounced presence across all media. Both the erstwhile and the new media. People are acknowledged. Events are recalled. Comments are regurgitated. Photographs dug out. Videos showcased. Sometimes, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. At other times, the bridge has shifted. Or seems irrelevant.

At the other end of the spectrum there are experts and commoners making a set of predictions for the new year. For the times ahead. Sometimes with glaring audacity that causes an involuntary gape in awe and at other times such stark pessimism pervades that you would much rather want to go back to the previous year.

I take the lift to reach my home. Today my neighbours dog looks at me in the lift and it seems to ask me what this fuss is about. What ‘Happy New Year?’ he seems to say, in-between his hefty panting.
I peer into his eyes and shrug. Hoping that he catches my sentiment. That life is a seamless continuum. The ultra heavy importance accorded to one single day seems rather tame in a naive sort of a way and misplaced. Must you not seek to be happy on all days?

I continue peering into his eyes as the neighbour, the good lady that she is, continues to speak into the phone to a person of importance who she is on first name basis with. I am sincerely impressed, for the lift has never shown me any mercy ever before. All my conversations on the phone stand abruptly terminated the moment I enter the lift.

As the lift makes its slow climb upwards, I continue to peer into his eyes and a thought strikes me. If there is any reasonable use to this day, it is this : It represents a transition. Ah. Transition. Maybe thats the word.

A punctuation mark, if you will. A comma for some. A period for some others. Maybe it’s a new sentence. A new paragraph. Perhaps a brand new chapter. Whatever it is, a year singing out and new year breaking is a transition that helps the world keep collective score.

footprints

An opportunity to sit down and take stock, if you will. Of wins and losses. Of joys and sorrows. Of fears and hopes. An opportunity for renewal. Of ties. Of hopes. Of oneself. While footprints thus far shout out where we have been, where we will get to is a function of the direction and distance we train our sights on. Now!

I wonder if the Retriever reads my mind. He seems far more composed as they alight at their floor. The lady still on the phone.

Later that night, at the strike of the midnight hour, the little miss sees some fireworks in the sky and said, “Papa, the lights are tickling the sky”. It is her extension of a thought that’s been on her mind for a while now.

I stare into the night sky and wonder how the next 365 days will pan out. I am not sure. I know for sure about one thing though. The new year will arrive at blistering pace with syncretised assortment of events, that will appear as fleeting as the fireworks that decorate the night sky. Intense. Fleeting. Colourful.

For me though, every new year is a push at the punctuation precipice. I can choose to stop. Start. Or keep going with a comma. Begin a brand new sentence. A few chapters. All of it in a varied dizzying array of possibilities. Ah ‘possibilities’, I think. Perhaps that is the word I am looking for.

The next day morning, as the night sky turns a brilliant blue, it dawns on me that it is rather foolish to attempt to encapsulate it in one word. Even with a wide all encompassing word like ‘possibilities’! With ‘change’ holding us as life prisoners of sorts, perhaps what’s required are a string of words. Transitions. Possibilities. Perpetual beta. Amoeboid movement.  And such else. Many more come to the mind. A string of words that will need us to stay alive to the moment and yet stay true to our dreams. That will also be deeply personal! As it has been every year. Wonder what it will be for you.

Whatever it is, here is my wish for a great time. Happy New Year! And one last thing, Stay foolish. There is merit in that.

Until the cows come home

Some days ago, I was visiting a friend. A friend in a village.

A typical one at that. The village, I mean. Small roads. Large fields. A trickle of electricity. A fainter trickle of water. Large trees. Strong community and dense roots that stand above the ground. In ever so many ways, that class two biology lessons of roots being under the soil is brought to question. The village temple and its dried up tank that can sit easily as a pretty desktop image on the latest iMac. An apology of a road. You get the picture, dont you?

But most importantly, every house has a few pairs of eyes staring at you as you pass by. You could think of yourself as a celebrity and if the optimistic imagination is sufficiently pepped up, you could even imagine your visage to bear a striking resemblance to the handsome hulk of a bollywood star who ends up selling underwear on TV. Such level of interest the village folk’s never ending gaze accord you.

If you aren’t familiar with the salubrious rhythms of village life, you would lose the fact that the same pairs of eyes that looked at you with great interest are are trained on everything that moves and doesn’t move. Every fly and its distant cousin doing aimless sorties flying from the two drops of oil spilt on the kitchen tawa to the yesterdays remnants of jalebi, and such else. Not just you.

In the absence of such understanding, you could be enveloped by a sudden sense of importance or an inveterate disquiet that could soak top to toe with sweat. Especially so, if you are from a big city and live in a high rise. Where your only evidence of life behind a neighbour’s door is the instantaneous disappearance of the newspaper from his front door after it is aimlessly tossed to land at the precise spot by the kid that delivers it.

If you love the city life that breeds a minute to minute frenzy, you would go open mouthed at this incredible ‘waste of time’, as a friend described. To be able to just sit at your doorstep and see the fly and its pregnant cousin squat on the inverted tumbler that just held a hot cup of tea, for hours on end, is something.  Cloaked in what seems to be an easy act lies a way of thinking and an ability whose order of magnitude is far larger than it seems.

A city dweller in the same time, would have done a dozen other things. Pay the bill, check the newspaper, run three and a half other errands, plan when the last part of the errand needs to be completed, tried a new shirt, debated on the Iraq war etc. If he had a smart phone on him, well, his accomplishments would stand just short of preparing for a moon landing. Or so you would think, looking at the furrowed brow and incredible focus on the face.

No. No judgements on either way of life and living. Both are ways of life and living. Different ways of living. Let me tell you a secret if you promise not to tell this to anyone : True joy comes in knowing, living with and loving both ways of living.

Wait a minute. At a far more vicarious level, there is even greater joy hearing one group talk about the other. The city dweller has a remarkable ways of dismissing his village cousin. “Villager” he calls him, and doesn’t see the need to say anything else. That one word, in his mind has an all encompassing pejorative flair.

The village view of the high rise based urban living, is tinged with sarcasm and a disdain filled disregard. Starting with waking up to a shriek of the alarm clock and not to natures subtle hints of morning. “A creeper on an electric wire”, said a friend who has made the village his home.

On this particular day, we revel in conversation and company. Me and the village friend. The still air and silent village fields soaked up our laughter and arguments, in exchange for some peace and calm. As the Sun goes his way into the west, I make my customary promises to return soon and drive back.

It is a single track apology of a road, dotted with electricity poles and the odd villager staring at you like you have just escaped from the local prison.

Cows

It is then, that a herd of cattle cross the road. The road, realisation dawns has been doing a Moses like parting of the fields. The cattle and their herdsmen join the long list of people who don’t give a damn to roads and to people on them.

Languidly they start crossing. Armed with the mobile phone’s camera prowess, I step out and click a picture of the first lot that crosses. A random sparse trickle at first. Then a herded bunch. The random and violent clangs of multiple bells, the kicking of raw hooves on land and then tar is does something to the air. Dust and dung of this magnitude, at dusk, is new to me. This is a large herd. Thin and scrawny. Furiously kicking and inching forward.

Its a full ten minutes. Maybe more. I turn around to see a long line of smaller cars, bikes, buses and a lorry standing behind me. The cattle standing in between us and our journey to the city.  A similar line up on the other side. People who are returning to the village after  day of work in the city. Waiting for the cows to cross the road. Sort of like an unmanned level cross for a train. The vehicles line up in order, behind me. Nobody messes with the cows. They must be muttering and cursing, I think.

The cattle don’t seem to care. They are headed home after their daily grazing. They amble. Some nudge the ones ahead. Others gallop for no reason. Yet others cantor without a care. A smile escapes my eye. This is just like the herd that I see everyday. On the roads of Mumbai. A different kind of herd going home from work. The herd that I am part of.

After what seems like an eternity, the last of the cattle cross. A few young herdsmen who have been holding up the rear, amble across. With long sticks, catcalls and strange whistles that herd the cattle through. As they cross the road, I realise the engines of vehicles behind me have purred to life and the honks are ready to blare. There is a limit to the wait and that time was up.

The last of the herdsmen, turns looks at me and smiles. The smile that could befit a victorious commander at war. His cows have held traffic on either side without a care in the world.

Within seconds of many engines jumping to life, mayhem descends to dance in spectacular splendour on the village road, as every single vehicle and its driver wants to get ahead first. The fresh marks of random hooves would soon disappear as motorists with animal instincts would ply their wares. Another herd will take over.

Us, our herds and our mentalities. An evergreen grassland of a topic that can hold fodder for never ending thought and argument. Until the cows come home! Maybe, much longer.

A chap and his cycle

It was an ordinary day. With incredible heat, a ton of sweat and a generous supply of dust that every passing car would kick up. It was a road side joint, that gave the tired passerby or the bored office goer some reprieve. It had an assortment of knick knacks, cigarettes and a host of items that would seek to be a valid excuse to take a break. Or sometimes, just to provide space for a conversation.

Out of nowhere, the refills for the day arrived. A chap and his cycle. Rather a chap on his cycle. Every conceivable part of the bicycle held some article that fuelled a supply chain of sorts.

Professor

Two plastic bags on either side of the front handlebar. Two on either side of the rear. One huge crate that occupied the ‘carrier’. When he removed that, a seat with strong spring coils became visible. The cycle in itself appeared as ancient as the man. Rusted and a tad beaten down. But arrived without making a fuss and departed without making any.

Out of curiosity and the general liberty that people take with perfect strangers I checked out the cycle. Regarding it as an object of interest like an art curator would. Walking around it and tapping on the e rims with two bent fingers. Like a coconut vendor checking out his coconuts to let you know his had two litres of water in them!

The tapping hurt my nails. This was no pushover aluminium. This was hard steel. Solid metal. If one of these fancy modern day cars rammed into this cycle, well, God save the car. That kind of hard steel. The cycle in itself was heavy and it was clear that riding it must be an ask.

IMG-20110502-00017

It was when the man was all set to leave that I spotted the branding. ‘Professor’ by an outfit called “Chowdhri & Co”. This more dated than me. I remembered Hercules. Atlas and Rallis as the conservative bicycle variety and the BSA SLR with Kapil Dev promoting it, as the upstart challenger. But Professor? No idea.

Some things stay. Don’t they. As much as they are a function of what they are made of, it is also because of how dearly they are held. How important they are.

I wonder how this bicycle survived the elements. Which is when, a thought struck that it may not about the survival of the bicycle. Perhaps it is about the flourishing of the family and the bicycle just being a means to it. Whichever way, the bicycle stories that were left untold, seemed to knock on me to look beyond the obvious.

Maybe a memory that the worn out chap that drives it, wants to preserve. I didn’t ask. He was tired and more importantly in a hurry.
For some strange reason the old rusted bicycle left an impression on me, even as the chap pedalled away into the next road with the Sun beating down on him. I wonder why.

That night, as I was reflecting on the day, I wondered if our daily work was as resolute and as worthy, as the bicycle that I saw. The ‘Professor’(s) that made me, seemed to give me a nudge. To dive into the next day with gusto.

Here’s to a glorious week people.

A pass to the past

You do odd things to get even. I don’t know about you. But, that is me. Especially when turbulence hits the soul. This time it’s not been very different.  
 
Most parts of the last few weeks have been whisked away by the desire to latch on to every memory. Perhaps a quest to seek new meaning, draw lines in the mind to what seemed to be faint dots faded by time and the vagaries that ‘gainful employment’ has brought over years. 
 
So, I went looking for places that my feet aimlessly shuffled around while locks of hair bounded the forehead of my wonder years! Hopeful of catching the smell, feel and sights of a time that seemed distant yet close. A time that often looks like its within arm’s reach of clear recollection and then slips away almost like a mirage that chooses to go into hiding upon seeing me.  
 
My journeys took me to the small village where we spent many summers challenging the Sun to beat us down with his rays, while we soaked much of the open air, green fields, braying donkeys, cows, goats and of course the languorous rhythms of easy village life. 
 
It then took me to the club that I hung out with classmates.  The courts where I played tennis in. The roads that I took my walks on. The small shops that sold silly candies. The bungalows that held allure. The College that was privy to adolescent dreams, hopes and expansive aspiration.  
 
It wasn’t a well orchestrated journey of sorts. Three quarters lead by happenstance and the meager rest by careful plotting. Most of the times carelessly retracing steps, upon a whim, on a road that brought alive last remnants of a clinging memory. Of a glance exchanged. A smile passed around. A word uttered. Sentences not spoken and conversations that spanned the world. 
 
In sheer gluttony of consuming far more than what the present had to offer and in the ever expanding search to relive a memory, occasionally I reached out To DO the things that I did when it was “in those days”.
 
No memory of growing up in those times in the intense climes of Madurai, can be complete without memories of what continues to be called ‘Paal ice’ ( Milk Ice). 
 
Proffered usually by a man with a hoarse rhythmic voice that arrested your attention no matter what you were doing. It caused you to run to your dad, mom, grandma, uncles or whoever that would be around and usually willing to spend a grand sum of one full rupee on you. 
 
I saw the “Ice man” again. A couple of weeks ago. 
 
 
Imagine the delight of seeing a memory come alive and stroll ahead of you.  The narrow lanes of a Sun beaten village served as a poignant backdrop as a man sold ‘Paal Ice’! Before I could say yes, my brother bought it, for a grand sum of Rs.5/-. In a short time, the collective memories stretched to ask “Do you have Semiya Ice?” 
 
 
 
 
Another grand sum of Rs.5/- left the wallet, even as the ice creams disappeared from the flimsy sticks that’s held them. Not a word spoken about hygiene or if it was made from ‘mineral water’ or some such urbane stuff. For it wasn’t quenching taste buds. It was satiating a part of me that was parched beyond parched. As the ice cream went down the throat, a million memories were resurrected, rejoicing a thirsty mind and a thrifty soul.  
 
 
The “ice man” moved on. After being bemused by us, for a bit. Tapping the box to announce his arrival in the neighbourhood and supplementing it with his arresting coarse voice.
 
I clicked a few more snaps vigorously.  In the future, if I needed a pass to the past, this was it. 

Movement & momentum

There are more thousands and thousands of photographs in my hard drive.  Some that are very special. For the ‘special’ element of moment captured or more simply for the emotion triggered by a memory that lies pregnant in that image.  

Here is one such.

 

A young boy who suddenly started running, with a posture that befits an accomplished runner.  I balanced myself at the open door of a moving train to see if I could get a picture. Truth be told, I was trying to get a clean shot of railway tracks, for some reason. Through the camera lens, I saw the boy start to sprint and changed my focus! 


After about 100 meters of sure footed sprinting, he stopped and started walking. Still smiling. The train I was in, kept pulling away at greater speeds and the last I saw of the boy, he was still walking.  I hope he still is, with the smile intact.

The intensity in the stride, the surefooted in an uneven terrain and kept me captivated for long after the journey was done. . 

That is my wish of all of us this week. To run with joy. For movement begets its own momentum. With momentum you never know where you could end up at. 

Every time I look at the photograph, I get a dose of raw energy that suddenly courses my veins. Of course the boy doesn’t know. Which brings me to the other point: Do you know who you inspire to action / reflection? 

Do you realise that you may never know that what to you are ‘simple routines of daily living’ could be deeply inspirational to many. When the lens changes, the action takes a different meaning.  

“You dont have to get it perfect. You just have to get it going” said Gary Halbert. Perfection is an elusive target that will stay elusive forever. Getting going, will get us all closer to perfection

I wonder what you think of the picture. What stories come to your mind? You never know how inspiring your stories can be. Share. Somewhere! 

Have a great week people.