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.
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.
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!
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.
How long back did you do things on a whim? If you point to buying a chewing gum or a magazine that was carefully placed by marketers, near the cash counter to induce a ‘whim’, well thats not counted. You know what I mean, don’t you? Just on a whim, ‘doing’. No, don’t count ‘impulse buying’!
A friend in the village had invited me over. I had to drive through a set of small villages. I was late but getting there as fast as I could.
Apartment complexes gave way to single houses. First dense back to back constructions. Then, a house amidst a set of clutch of mud walled huts. Then, huts and houses amidst green fields. Not very long after, plain green fields. They came at me unannounced, redefining ‘pristine’ and causing me to slow.
In sometime, they went as unannounced as they came. A few barren patches, stood alone, amidst a some construction activity.
I watched the landscape change as the roads got narrower and finally trickled down to a pathway that would barely accommodate one cycle rickshaw. At some places potholes and patches made the road, and a semblance of a road that was there sometime back, would make an appearance now and then. The perfect setting to elicit a set of indignant tweets and blogs if this was the state of roads in a big city!
The road itself cared less.
The narrow road curved and suddenly only to reveal a stream striving hard to flow. Not a soul on the road on either side. A struggling stream that was struggling to flow, yet managed to stir up a quiet breeze. A few coconut trees on the other side lent themselves and swayed just a bit.
The promise to the friend beckoned. But nature painted such a picture of allure that a meditative trance enveloped every pore. In the next five minutes, the last remnant of mobile signal was used to call up the friend. The voice kept breaking which I took for an ominous indication of the immersive pretty picture I was in, didn’t quite like intrusions.
I sat down beside the stream and realised that there is something to sit down beside a stream. And that it was a long time since I had last sat beside a stream and lost count of time. Memories of sitting by more sparkling streams that were in a rush, rushed in. Every stream is its own, I realised. The state of the mind caused the real flow.
Cows, mopeds and villagers passed me by. First dishing out a dismissive look of comical curiosity and then, ones of a mild anxiety.
In the calm of the limited flow, the stillness of the air and the jutting trees in the horizon, the beauty of the moment brought lightness that is beyond description. The load seemed to evaporate, slowly getting untethered from my soul, leaving in its wake a wistfully empty light space.
As the stream continued to struggle and the distant trees did a mild jig in honour, a few things came alive for me. One of them, was this : Do things on a whim. They have a charm that charm can’t fully explain!
“You look occupied”. He had said. And then added, “You must take time off from work. Spend time with all of us. Read. Drop your computer and office. Write your book..” and almost as an afterthought added, “don’t keep peering into your phone so much”.
I laughed. For all his illness, he had the knack to pack a punch into every feeble statement that escaped the stiffness of his lips. I looked up from my phone that I was peering into and smiled.
I was in a playful mood too. “For how many days should I follow that routine”, I asked. “Seven”. He said. “One week”. The “At least” that he said after the ‘one week’ didn’t quite translate into sound. But by then I was used to getting by with the occasional capability to read his lips when the movement of his lips didn’t translate to sound.
I smiled. Put the phone aside. His message had reached my head. That was on Christmas day, 2013.
Monday last. I am making a few notes and planning the week ahead. The mobile rings piercing the stillness and breaking the silence of the early hours. The clock silently speaks as the eye darts to catch it says: 4.31 AM. It is my brother on the line. A sundry thought assortment race up and down as the simple ringtone sounds shrill and tears into the morning. Perhaps, an accidental touch of the redial button or the nephew’s playing some game. I think.
I pick the up the call to what seem like muffled sobs. And then the sobs erupt in victory, beating the vain attempts to muffle them. He says in-between the quiet sobs, “Appa is gone”. My dad was no more.
Tears. Almost like a cloud burst triggered flash-flood, flow down my cheek. A sudden cold envelops my body. In less than ten seconds I shoot a set of rapid fire questions. “what are you saying?” “How is amma?” “How do you know” and such else.
He composes himself and explains. In a short time, we quickly regain composure to discuss, as two pragmatic adult men would, the practicalities of getting to Madurai as soon as possible. Before hanging up, he says, “You take care. And you don’t get worked up.”
Since that moment, life has been a fast whorl. Dad was central to our lives. If there was one person who I could look up with awe, regard and love, he was gone. If there was a purpose to the spirit of the daily fight, it was deflated. If there was an over encompassing hand that would soak all our troubles up and then set us free with energy, that hand was missing. If there was a compass to our lives, it needed resetting.
Born into a rural family with a dozen brothers and sisters, the rich beats of rural traditions were close to his heart even as a quintessentially modern outlook stayed as his most preferred lens. For the longest time I can remember.
The last week has been an emotional roller coaster ride. The only seat belts we have had on us have been memories of earlier times, unconditional love from family, relatives, friends, well wishers and lots of people who I wished I knew better. At least their names, for a start! My phone and mail box reek of condolence messages and calls (several that went unanswered). All loaded with love and peppered with care. If there was a lifetime of debt that I was to carry, well, this is it!
It may just be me. When the plot or a protagonist reaches a point of inflection, in a book that is well written, I pause the reading and put the book down for a bit. Chewing and digesting what the lines say and what the spaces in-between them mean, invariably resisting the ever so compelling urge to turn to the next page and get on with “what happens next”. So, I pause. Most times, reflect. Sometimes read passages all over again. See meaning that had escaped me. At other times, I even write, just to express what is running on my mind.
That is a habit my dad held dear. And amongst the stuff that I inherited from him, that habit stands tall. Amongst the most practiced!
In that spirit, there will be a few blogposts this time. Not eulogies. But more descriptions of what happened since that call at 4.31 AM on a fateful Monday morning. Maybe an incident here. A story there. Memories all over. And maybe from it all, there will be an inference or two. About our times, our cultures, of recalcitrant sons and a very different father.
Truth be told, it is just my way of dealing with his death. Of loss. Even as peaceful sleep remains elusive these will be attempts to make sense of all whats on my mind. The struggle to piece our lives together and limp back to its regular rhythms is only matched by the acute awareness that our lives will remain inexplicably changed.
And so, we consign his body to flames that very Monday. Our heads tonsured, barefoot, our dhotis dripping wet, garlands around our neck, we walk back to the car. The result of death taking him and we letting a rich paraphernalia of rural customs and traditions flow, and take charge of us. A relative from our village walks close by in company.
He hisses in my ear. “As part of our customs, you can’t go out of home or do your normal activities ‘like computer’ and so on..” I turn to look at him in surprise and he understands my question before I ask it. “For seven days” he says.
And then adds “at least”. I hear the ‘at least’ loud and clear.
My dad always had his ways. Only this time, it needn’t have been this way.
PS : The last time I wrote of him is here. And I think it was better written!
The two cups of hot tea that he makes for us, two weary travelers, on a cold Udaipur morning fills the air. As the chill of the morning seeks renewal with a fresh gust of cold air, every sip of his tea seems to set the system right.
He speaks, well, succinctly. He doesn’t need to speak a lot more. For his tea does the talking. It is both hot and crisp and with a sting of something like ginger. Keeping us awake.
As the tea sinks in and the eyes see more of the man, the wrinkles became apparent. First, some. And then, some more. As he adjusts the apology of the woolens that’s on him, even more become visible.
Ten rupees gets passed on to him.
He searches for change of which there is none. He searches some more, rummaging through what seems to be a sheaf of yesterdays newspapers. Perhaps he has some cash there. After another hurried ruffle, looks up and with an apology laced accent, says, “I don’t have change”.
“How much does it cost? How much do you have to give”, I ask.
The combination of abundant chill of the winter morning and the travel induced weariness that seamlessly envelop every bone, checking for the price of his tea before drinking it, was missed. Besides, this is a roadside stall. How much could it be!?!
“Nothing”. “I have nothing”. He says falteringly. “Actually, I had, but can’t http://pharmacy-no-rx.net/voltaren-generic.html find it”.
Sheepishness announcing its presence through a substantial drop in the decibel level of his voice at the end of each sentence.
“Doesn’t matter”. I say. And move on. Not bothering to stop and check with him. After all, It was ten rupees. Not a million. The old man with the wrinkles indeed made a very genuine attempt and seemed sincerely out of change.
As I get into the cab, the old man shouts out. “Wait”. He says running as fast as his wobbly feet can bring him. “Now, what did I miss”, I wonder and hurriedly get out of the car.
He grabs my hand and passes on a pack of biscuits to me. “For the five rupees”. He says. “Your balance”.
“It doesn’t matter”. I repeat.
“To you”. He completes the sentence. And then adds, “It does matter. To me.” With a firmness that befits a commander at war.
I smile and accept his biscuits. The wrinkles on his face stretch in sweet surrender to a smile that sprouts from nowhere. Perhaps to announce a quaint victory. Maybe in satisfaction of preserving what is dear to him: his pride.
I swallow hard. The lesson stays. I say “thank you”. We look at each other for a few seconds. He smiles. Suddenly, the twinkle in his eye outshines every wrinkle on the face. I smile too.
These days I open Facebook with a mild trepidation thinking of all the stuff that show up on my social media timelines. Ranging from the inane to the insane. From the incredulous to the ridiculous. Very rarely is there something that is truly incredible. Stuff that people post that make me go back in there. Like this video below.
A fascinating piece that the Films Division has released in 1967. A montage of people that were born on 15th Aug 1947. Something like a 20-20. They turned twenty when free India turned twenty. The visual collage weaves their hopes for the future and gives a snapshot of what it was to have lived in 1967!
I have watched the video a few times over now and hope you would snatch 18 minutes of your time to do so, once!
Lodged firmly in it are the reckless confidence of youth. The seemingly unsurmountable challenges of then and how they continue to haunt us now. And in the twinkle in the eye you can almost see the promise that ‘the tomorrow’ held for them. In the assertive confidence, pale quiver in the lips or in the obscure dream of making it in the future, I see the present day sitting and smiling too.
Only now it is all in a HDMI supported colour with more jazz. How much has life changed for the ordinary man on the street? Tom Brokaw, in a commencement speech put it eloquently : “It will do us little good to wire the world if we short circuit our souls”
What will the hold? How different will that be? I wonder if we have let a promise slip by. More importantly I wonder what it will take to keep the promises we made to ourselves when we were younger! What will it take for the twenty somethings of today turnaround and say, we have moved on?
Do give the video a dekho. The wheel of time spins with remarkable alacrity. As much as things change, the scale of stuff that remains the same is just incredible. A truly remarkable piece, I must say.
The INK conference happened in Pune last week.
Just outside the conference, was a hoarding, announcing the INK Conference. As I trained the camera on the hoarding, in the corner of my frame I noticed a street entrepreneur’s own billboard :‘Key Maker’, it said. He sat there making keys, for people who had locked their doors and lost their keys!
How serendipitously prophetically descriptive! Now do me a favour and throw in a few more adjectives, will you? This was delirium inducing ‘perfect’ metaphorical description that happened by chance.
For the INK conference unlocked many doors and shackles in the mind. In several cases the doors where shut firm and keys were lost. But when there is a Key maker around, you get a second chance to open the same silly door! A Key Maker sat outside making keys for real doors. The INK conference did it for doors in the mind. More on this later.
Pune was a drive away. The luggage was packed. The excitement was unbridled and flowing despite an uneventful drive on rather inviting roads. If you don’t take into account a lazy cow who on a whim decided to test if the brakes in my car were good enough to merit the EMI, on the Mumbai-Pune expressway.
The INK setting was fitting. Taken, as I was by the massive stage, the child like expectation on the faces of fellow participants, that just stopped short of drowning in their own drool, looking at list of speakers who were lined up.
And it was an EXPERIENCE. The INK Talks curator and her team seemed to have searched the ends of the horizon to put together an eclectic array of speakers and performers who unleashed an array of emotions, thought and of course plenty of cause to reflect on the life I was living.
A week later as I put this post together, I realise that it is hazardous to list any speakers and ideas. For while many I would list, the fear of leaving out a speaker or two and one of those stellar ideas that were shared persuasively, persists. So, heres the disclaimer : This blogpost is no comprehensive list of all speakers. Not by a long shot.
For the INK folks redefined ‘The spectrum’ with their array of speakers.
There was a scientist from NASA. Speaking of Curiosity. Speaking from NASA. There was another young man whose fascination was ‘space debris’. (I mean, ‘Space Debris’! This in a day and age, where for many, outer space ends at the gates of a star’s house, I mean a film star! And debris of course, is the neighbours problem!
Or for that matter being all of 17 and saying ‘I was passionate about bio-ethanol since I was 11”. When I was 11, other than perhaps collecting ‘photos of cricketers’ wrappers of a chewing gum called Big Fun there wasn’t any much more point to life. Or so I think now. Such young minds holding court with such clarity was large doses of anti-venom to slow poison that seeps in daily just reading the newspapers.
If I seem to suggest that it was all about adolescent wizardy, I cant be farther from fact. Take the case of a 76 year old Hindustani Classical Guru whose only passion is to spread the knowledge of music which he wants to stay with generations to come, for which he moved into the house of disciple (herself an accomplished bio-technologist who walked away from all that to be a student of music) to continue the guru-shisya tradition.
Speaking of music, have you ever considered whatever happened to all the voices that were part of the Gramaphone era? How bewitchingly fetching is it to note that a set of people are precisely at work with that putting it all together. Or for that matter if I tell you that there were people sobbing hearing a Jamaica based artist perform about the girl child, would you believe me?
The conservationists. People who worked with villagers to get them to embrace conservation and wild animals. Amazing innovations at MIT Media Labs that translates into vision for very many people across the world. Speaking of MIT Media Labs, I will never forget this line : “You don’t get a Nobel prize by doing what you have been told to do” said with a matter-of-fact ease by its Director
A dancer that brought alive the story of Thimmakka: a lady who made a difference in her village by just planting trees. A very young architect who creates an amphitheater anywhere in half an hour. A young celebrated photographer who started out life as a rag picker.
A cricketer who played marathon innings. An ultra marathoner whose humour and ease of speech made running marathons look as simple as sinking teeth into a cheese cake! Folks that spoke of Unschooling with such verve. The graphic designer of ‘Rolling Stones”. The creator of The Simpsons & Ernie Pooks comics. The Co-CEO of Archies…
Ah, now did I make it sound like a very ‘light’ array of topics and entertainment. Hold on. For there was a doctor who operated on a baby several weeks into pregnancy, while the baby was still connected to the mother! I will never ever be able to forget the gut wrenching account by a serial technology entrepreneur about letting go of a loved one. And just as you thought the emotions were getting really kicked on, you had soulful performances.
Like the one by Oikyotaan rendering awesome baul songs. And some glued-on-to-your- seat-and-sit-still performances by Vasundhara Das, Joi Barua, Shantanu Moitra, Shruti Hassan and others!
Ah, I realise that I am in the dreaded maze that I didn’t want to get into the first place. Of mentioning a few and not mentioning others. For every single person that spoke ( and there were more than 50 of them that spoke), rocked the stage.
Its more than a week later. And am getting old. But I cant forget the conceptual clarity of an ex-CEO and celebrated author whose idea of India was arresting as India itself. A current CEO whose organisation is a force to reckon with in the nutrition space. A hacker with high energy. The editor of Wired whose message of having a ‘healthy disregard for the impossible” has shaken the basis of thought and action. A week after the conference.
Ideas wafted in the air. Like incense in the Puja room. For instance did you know that Asteroids are full of platinum and one day, we could actually mine them? Yeah, go dig them up and spare the hills in Bellary or wherever?
Or did you, for that matter, know that drip irrigation technology was saving millions of litres of water right there in Pune! Or that there could many other ways in refreshing ways in which school curriculum could be designed.
Would you think it normal that someone choked on seeing at seeing a picture from her own presentation of the reams of plastic found at the ocean bed? What would you make of a superlatively successful advertising executive who explored the Antartica with the ostensible purpose of conquering fear!
But for this conference, I would have thought it to be an outrageous idea that someone even thought of impersonating a guru, founding a religion and make a much awaited film out of it? If that didn’t perk you ear, how about an activists fight to have her film on child trafficking released after directing it and having it as a finished product.
Oh! It was such a riot of ideas
Cars that will see. Dresses that can hug (someone else, that is). Phones that are (more) smart. Computers that can impersonate your thought.
But, but. That’s not the point. The things that matter are never about the things themselves. But the people that bring them alive. The singers that touch. The artists that stretch the horizon beyond imagination. And the scientists that make the horizon appear infinitely close.
Perhaps we could walk away with ‘One moment, One memory and one friend” as what was an eloquently painted goal. That was not to be. You couldn’t go with just one. Be it the moment. Memory. Or friend! And each was a key to a locked door. Suddenly a ton of possibilities emerged about the future.
And heres the truth. There are people that go through the motions. There are people that live. And there are people that choose the lives they live. There are plenty of them around the world. When you get to an INK conference, you will see only those that have chosen to live life on their own terms. And it is spectacular.
“So, tell me about your conference”, said the missus yesterday over dinner. With a fair sense of trepidation that could match that of ringmaster unlocking the cages of a recalcitrant lion who has a headache!
I could tell from her eyes, that she was half expecting me to start a soliloquy. I hate to disappoint her, you know and it culminated in this blogpost.
The rest as they say, is history. Even when its about the future.
The next year’s conference is in Kochi & there is a 50% discount on till the end of October!
I live by principles. Did I hear you say ‘yeah, sure’. Well, yes. But wait, I haven’t completed the sentence. “I live by principles, atleast far as this blog goes’.
One of the principles is, no matter what, I don’t copy paste written material from anywhere. Ofcourse, I am not a famous anchor on CNN or some insanely popular journalist. Not ever a PhD student swiping of research!
On this blog, the pictures are mine. So is the writing. Yeah, I cant blame it on my anybody. Especially as my nephew is a wonderful boy.
Today, I am breaking this principle by copying and pasting something that is supposed to have been printed in the London Times. The piece was simply brilliant! It had me nodding my head so vigorously that from a distance it would have appeared that a scorpion had got inside my ear.
I mean, I had to share it. It was purely commonsensical to do that. Read on !
“Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense ,who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as:
– Knowing when to come in out of the rain;
– Why the early bird gets the worm;
– Life isn’t always fair;
– And maybe it was my fault.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).
His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; http://pharmacy-no-rx.net/kamagra_oral_jelly_brand.html teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.
Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.
He declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sun lotion or an aspirin to a student; but could not inform parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.
Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.
Common Sense took a beating when you couldn’t defend yourself from a burglar in your own home and the burglar could sue you for assault.
Common Sense finally gave up the will to live, after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.
Common Sense was preceded in death,
-by his parents, Truth and Trust,
-by his wife, Discretion,
-by his daughter, Responsibility,
-and by his son, Reason.
He is survived by his 5 stepbrothers;
– I Know My Rights
– I Want It Now
– Someone Else Is To Blame
– I’m A Victim
– Pay me for Doing Nothing
Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone. If you still remember him, pass this on. If not, join the majority and do nothing. ”
Of course, You don’t have to pass it on. But stop on your tracks and think if you are could bring him back to life. In each one of us!
Have a great week ahead.
They jumped back.
Much like I did many months ago. At that time, I was walking the streets of San Francisco when what seemed to be a green shrub moved many meters, came close to me and out sprung a much bearded man.
Putting on display teeth coloured like the crimson Sun.
He was playing a prank much like the Canadian show ‘Scare Tactics’, the TV show where hidden cameras capture open mouthed shrieks escaping from the throats of innocent passerby in front of whom are propped corpses or broken bleeding hands or something more grotesque!
His crimson teeth and his harrowing shriek were gruesome enough for me to yell and jump a good distance. A few more inches and I would have landed in Mumbai. That was how far I jumped and I saw from the corner of my eye the entire city of San Francisco wiping away buckets of tears, full of mirth.
That was exactly how some people jumped, when I posed them a question, without warning: “Look, if we should be designing the future, what should we do?” It was partly the strength of the question itself that made people emit a sputtering cough. The other part, I must admit, perhaps was due to the sudden poser of what seemed to be a rather pertinent question in the most inopportune of places.
Like a bathroom stall. When the guy is standing next to you and doing what he is supposed to be doing in urinal. Or during the morning run, when ace marathoners were counting their steps and running to a choreographed plan. And to slightly more comforting environs, like a cab or an auto. The startled looks from Taxi and autorickshaw drivers will stay etched in my mind forever but co-passengers on a plane whose jaw dropped almost all the way to the Earth upon the sudden propping of the question, was something else though!
Let me explain this a bit more. You see, when BlogAdda.com & INK talks put out an opportunity to write out a post on designing the future, they quite helped break a lethargy induced labyrinthine walls that had held ideas to ransom for a long time. Before I could start, I realized I had to be clear about what I hoped to get: My design for the future.
And it went like this
I dreamt of a future that will be inclusive. Meaning ‘inclusive of all age groups. Of all classes. Of the rich and poor. Or the fit and the falling. Irrespective of whether you are based out of Minnesota or Mumbai (The ‘Boulder or Bangalore’ expression has been traipsed all over).
It had to apply immaterial of whether someone was a janitor or the Joint Secretary! Literacy, economics, skin colour shouldn’t come in the way. Therefore it should cost next to nothing, yet be simple enough to practice and shouldn’t require “the skill that seems like Edison’s wizardry” to a grandma as she watched her grandson play Angry Birds on the I pad.
Now that was an inconceivably towering future. I was happy.
With some satisfaction I reviewed the contours of what I had come up with. In no time, the satisfaction melted only to be quickly replaced by a deep churn in the stomach. If such was the contour, what could be solution and would I, of all people be able to come up with one?
I’d rather seek help, I thought. And promptly thought I would ask random people seeking an answer. It proved to be a swell idea. For every conversation left me refreshed. Some by what people wanted and yet others by the elegance with which people shared it all. The bottom line: It left me with hope that all is not lost. At least not yet!
For, the future that people wished to design for themselves was simple. Not one spoke of the next big gadget. Surprisingly, none spoke of producing electricity from lint in the butt crack. Or something as arrestingly innovative as that. Not even the everyday utterances like ‘global warming’, price rise or for that matter, corruption. Topics that I thought would stay in the forefront of people’s minds.
NONE. I was flummoxed. To put it mildy.
This was no national referendum. Perhaps it was the surprise element. Or maybe how I looked, or asked the question. Or perhaps it was the lack of time to give a considered response. Whatever! I had a variety of answers. All in the same genre.
The answers bordered on these: Empathy. Listening. Conversing. Respecting each other. Innovation. Spreading some real happiness and cheer. Quiet reflection. Kindness.
That made sense. Think of it, we are immersed in our gadgets. Locked up in apartments with wafer thin walls yet iron like cells. Our worlds have shrunk from the vast expanse that mother Earth had to offer to the silent vacuous confines of singularly lonely spaces punctuated only by the hollow glow of a Television set.
Our view of the world shaped largely through that hollow glow mistaking argument for debate and searching for new lows in the quest for new least common denominators. We have very little time and lesser interest in seeing if another point to a story or a person exists, leave alone embracing it!
The stories that we hear of fellow people that inhabit the earth, our next door neighbours and their cultures, their Gods their beliefs, practices are all monochrome ones. Perhaps black and white too. Very narrow definitions that is easy for us to accept and process. Mixed up and cemented. The spectacular colour that every life can hold aloft for us, forever lost in the perpetual quest for speed in ‘slotting’ people, places and countries.
A pattern was emerging in my mind and in another conversation; I asked a CEO friend ‘Where should we begin’. And he replied, in-between generous sips of his coffee and silence, ‘it’s not simple you see “. Just as I thought there he goes again, he said: “If we need to design the future, we have to begin with the people that will take charge of the future. Our children”.
That made sense.
On the way back from that meeting, I asked the elderly taxi driver what we should be doing! He said in a matter of fact manner ‘people must talk to each other’. It hit me like a ton of brinks and silence engulfed the cab. Ironically omnipresent for the rest of the journey.
That was a very productive day, by any stretch of imagination. I was hunched on my desk till the wee hours, pondering on what the two elderly gentlemen had said. I wrote on a piece of paper: “Are children taught to think? Do they even get to stay still? Reflect on what they do? What they haven’t done? Do they get to play with a diverse set of other kids? Do they understand the value of simple conversation? Of listening and talking. “
I went to bed with those thoughts and woke up in a few hours. My plan for designing the future was ready! It wasn’t anything spectacularly new. For in one word, it was about CONVERSATION.
Conversation! The future ought to be a world where conversations flourish. Where we hold an idea aloft with empathy and debate it. To understand another not only from one monochromatic view of ‘an ‘issue or a position but to accept a person the way he / she is.
That led me to my grand action proposal: It’s time to mandate ‘conversation’ in school. Allocated time. Every day. To just find someone new, and talk. Get to know the person. The family. Perhaps exchange lunch. Understand the food. Talk about interests. Reflect on the conversations.
How about writing essays on such conversations? How do we teach our kids to be passionately curious about many things in the world? To entice them to listen carefully and to sort the music in the noise! The design for our future thus must have conversation at school as a key!
With a flourish I told the missus the grand proposal. Silence greeted me. Silence with hands on the hips. “Could you change her diaper please” was the response.
And as I dutifully changed my daughter’s diaper, I thought if my idea was some idealistic hogwash?
Another ‘wayward waste of time’ as the missus would have liked me think? What will it get us? Will this lead to Promised Land? A land of plenty with smiles with angels playing the harp, science to liberate us and the latest maps that will keep us happy?
Perhaps not. But this seemed to be a pretty good place to start. Imagine a future where people talk to each other. Listen with empathy. Pass on some kindness. No, not necessarily ‘agree’ to all what the other person says. But enough to hear the other person that instills grace, even in defeat.
And what better a place to start than school? My daughter let go of a laugh which thrilled me no end.
The missus rushed in. Only to see the diaper change accomplished to perfection. Her arched eyebrow in a surprise laden appreciation was all I needed to think that I had her stamp of approval to my idea.
We meet after a long while. After what seems like an eternity.
He speaks of lost opportunities and missed chances. Inbetween stories of his valorous wins and overflowing juggernaut of his conquests.
He suddenly stopped, and asked, why he hadnt seen a blogpost from me in a long while. ‘Have you given up on blogging ?’, he asks.
I tell him there is a difference between a ‘bend’ and an ‘end’ !
He looks vaguely. Emptily he fiddles with his brand new Rolex, which I think is a fake one, and says, I should blog about this.
And I agree.