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Home

I sit in the same corner table, looking through the glass of Heathrow. Staring in smug contentment as aircrafts land and take off. People going and coming home with a sort of wistful energy that a wasp with a loud buzz would convey.

Two empty cups sit in the table in front of me. One I had nursed and the other, she had held. The coffee is gone but the conversations remain. She is gone too. The ruffled fabric of the cushion on the chair, the only other trace she has left behind. ‘So, how many days have you been away from home?’, she had asked a while ago. Her first question. I am still at the first question.

‘Two weeks’, I had said.

‘I mean HOME’. She had emphasised. With an emphasis that a stern teacher would reserve for the slowest student.

She wasn’t talking of where I lived now. She was talking of where we had lived earlier. Where we went to school together.

With the careless ease of slipping into the favourite shirt that got tucked beneath several layers or new purchases, we had dived in. Deep conversation abounded leaving me with abundant joy to think and talk of the easy times when innocence was still our skin. Now, she is gone. Her flight was on time and mine has ‘delay’ written in the air. The empty cups are on the table and the conversation runs in my mind.

So what is home? I ask myself. Still with the first question she popped. My mind darts in many directions. I watch one aircraft take off and my mind follows my eye.

It is but natural to think of HOME as a physical structure. The one that gets built with steel rods, bricks, mortar and paint. From time immemorial the need for people to add structure and territory to safety has existed. The cave men sought out caves for psychological safety as much for physical sanctuary. Over generations, the building of a home has morphed into a ‘life purpose’! It still is, for large parts of India.

I remember what it took to build our home. My dad ran to the architect and then made a dash to the bank. He worked insane long hard hours, to get the structure up. Mom kept the family together while he was at it. Me and my brother watched from the sidelines sometimes lifting a pipe or moving a brick. It was the quintessential man on the moon moment for him when he did build it. We called it HOME. He thought we would live in it forever. But it turned out quite otherwise.

As our age of making our own living arrived so did jobs. We nurtured new dreams of living under bright lights and bustle that big metros invitingly held out. Upon their urging me and my brother flew the nest while dad and mom stayed on. Since then, we have made homes our of mere houses and raised our families in different cities but we can say for sure, that we can never ‘outgrow’ the HOME that dad built. We were, and we are, wedded to the place mentally.

But now, our dear HOME that dad built will tell a curious visitor the tale of poverty of residents and the plentiful silence its privy to. The occasional hosting of the grandchildren, giving the arc of effort in its construction some angular (and only) redemption. But perhaps the building isn’t privy to how often I visit it. To take the memory route to get there, just takes a closing of the eye. Sometimes, that isn’t required either, when you could reach there with wide open eyes and easy ears.

My memories of HOME come alive when I recall conversations. Some hard fights, tender moments, the spanking that we got when we lied, the company of good books, lazy gawking and good coffee. Of course, good coffee! Memories bring the HOME alive. A sanctuary of care and love whose walls come coated with familiarity and ease. Where even the pillars seem to understand us well and the floors take to the careless toss of a well-worn shirt with a muted grin.

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Memories sparkle and rush out like pieces of iron sighting a big magnet. If a home is this accessible, is it a building in a particular place or is it an ‘idea’? To a migrant like me, memories of the place are as sacred as the place in itself. Long after the people moved on and the blue sky turned gray, the twinkle in HOME’s night sky comes from the glow memory offers.

Somedays, sitting in the new home, a memory begets sighs. A longing for what it was and how it would be to go back there. The famous lines from Garden State that my good friend Manu put into my head several years ago come alive

“You’ll see one day when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s gone.

You feel like you can never get it back. It’s like you feel homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist. Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know.

You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something.

I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place”.

HOME gives us renewal. But home can also dull us into inaction. With its familiarity and comfort. It does a few things to us. It makes us take to it and our lives thereon with a certain air of settled certainty.

Thoreau‘s brilliant thoughts on ‘living deliberately’ can bring a thought or two. We need seek out the unfamiliar and make new homes. For it is in the balance between the ‘wild’ and ‘cautious’ that new bearings must get taken. These often lead us to tearing down old ideas, learning anew and building new ones. Not only are homes built on the ground around us, but also what we structure our minds with. Perhaps, that makes all the difference.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with my brother. About home. Our HOME. We were sitting in a foreign land and talking. We are both migrants with stickers and seals in our passports that ease our entries and exits from places we now call ‘home’. We are migrants too, of a luckier kind. Our migrations forcing upon us a need to reinvent ourselves, renew our relationships and take new bearing. That it hasn’t been easy, is a story that will remain silent. But what retains eloquence is the idea that the HOME that dad built, remains our personal centre of reference.

It connects us back, I realise, not only to what dad and mom put into the building but what they put into us. While the building gave a dimension of physical space and comfort, the real giving was in the treasure trove of moments they have left in us to cherish. It is ironical that building stands in silence, for it has got us sing new songs in faraway lands.

The home’s essence lies in what we put inside it. The care with which we load its beams with strength walls with colour tell stories about the hopes we have for our future. Our children’s future comes from the moments we fill their lives with. The time that we take to talk to them and be with them. It constructs a sense of identity and gives us an inner resilience to build all over again with a sense of imagination and hope. Hopes from which new homes and new futures can get created.

Hopes that can cause us to honour this space with the title of HOME!

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I continue gazing through the glass window of Heathrow. Another flight lands and taxis away. So there, if you aks me ‘so where’s home’, I have this blogpost as an answer for you.

How wonderful would it be to sit down and go on a long memory ride to hear your stories of pillars, beams, lessons and moments.  I will buy you a coffee and spend a few hours with an inviting ear and a careful presence. Perhaps you will open to me, the grooves of your memory lines and the tenor of your dreams. And through the images of your HOME, I will see a little bit of your soul.

When even a bit of the soul is worn on the sleeve, dots connect and new skies become visible for everyone around. Of course, new skies make old clouds irrelevant.

Coffee anyone?

Written after viewing TATA Tiscon steel bars being made at the TATA Steel plant in Jamshedpur as part of the #buildingblogsofjoy campaign. Arresting sights & sounds of iron ore morphing into steel rods and some smelting conversations with people who exquisitely choreograph this, makes me think of HOME. What it takes to build a house and the stuff that makes it a HOME.   Part of a blogger group, put together by www.blogadda.com. Do read the posts from others for a different take. They are listed here. Vivek Patwardhan, Lakshmi Sharath, Shruti Garodia, Shoma Abhyankar, Vamshi Krishna,  Sammya Brata

Spinning the wheel – My reflections on blogging

A couple of years ago, I stood in Kathmandu’s famous Swayambunath temple. I stood transfixed, besotted by all it offered. Of particular interest was a stellar set of prayer wheels. They were exquisite and seemed to offer something deeper and more joyful than what was apparent.

I watched in quiet awe as people came by to spin the wheel, reciting something quick and muted. The older folk turned it with gentle ease and with a ready rhythm backed by an effortless flow. I stood there for a long time. Taken by the magic of it all.

There is a reason why I think of that now.

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A few days ago, I was in Kolkata interacting with some bloggers there. Friends at Blogadda were hosting a meeting and I was passing by and happening to have to time at hand. It was delectable. Both the conversation and the consequent thoughts that it has sparked off. I shared some of my views there and the kind folks there were kind enough to stay put and listen. Some of them reached out to stay connected after the event! Which left me smiling.

Ever since, ‘blogging’ has been on my mind, wondering if I could have been more pointed and coherent.

For, to me blogs are special. They offer the scale and opportunity to thoughts and expressions. Blogging has had a profound impact on my life. So much so, that I could go out on a limb and proclaim that it aided in changing the course of my life.

Here are some reflections on my journey of blogging. Five points. Not much I think. Top five, if you will.

1. Blogging is a craft. People excel in a craft because they love a craft. Awesome bloggers that I know, publish content because they love doing so. While their voice and points of view get heard, it is a relentless discipline at getting better at it, that rests beneath. They treat blogging with respect and intensity. A certain sense of joy and deep value that passionate practitioners of any craft can relate to.

2. Getting the basics right is such an important facet of any picking up a craft. The basics of blogging, in my opinion, revolve around creating good content and finding a way of reaching it to people. Now, ‘good content’ in itself lends itself well to a long conversation. But the idea is this: Content is key. Statistics on the number of hits, where the hits come from, at what time they come etc are incidental. Focusing on getting better at putting the message across makes a substantial difference. You become a great batsman by watching the ball and spending time at the nets. Not by staring at the scoreboard.

3. Participating and building community conversations matter. Making friends via blogs is a natural consequence. The bounty of friends that I have made just because my blogs have been around for a while is a true bounty. Perhaps bounty with a capital B! Blogging is about people and conversation.

I have enjoyed growing with a set of bloggers. Going far beyond knowing them through their blogs and being present when they turned a new page. Grooved by passion and polished by time, this intimacy has evolved beyond the URL. A blessing that is so rich, that it stays outside my limited capabilities of describing it.

4. Responses to posts and ideas over all these years have varied. Swinging from idolatry to the downright dismissive, teaching me a thing or two in the process. The famous lines from Kipling’s ‘If’ has much mindshare now:

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

To be equanimous to comments and responses after I hit ‘Publish’ has been one huge piece of learning. Blogging lends itself well to comments and staying calm help.

People who read a blog in the initial years happen to be friends and relatives. People who are generally of the kind kind. A heap of good comments can show up every time you published. I learnt it the hard way, that it’s so easy to get swayed by it. I have one piece of advice: Don’t! Keep working on the craft. If you are into writing, do read this book by Stephen King.

5. After you have put down Stephen King, do make it a point to read other people’s blogs. The better ones. The getting better ones. The ones that you disagree with. The ones with a point of view. The ones with a flourish in language. Whatever. Do read.

For reading helps in finding inspiration and establishing a connection. These connections and inspirations span generations and geography. But present an interweave that goes beyond the obvious. And in a good way, will lead you to stay curious. In the present day templatised world, staying curious can sometimes make all the difference!

So there, those are my top five reflections on blogging.

Now, back to the prayer wheel.

The prayer wheel is profound at many levels, as I discovered. The prayer wheel is spun with a meditative stance. You stay focused and get better at it. There are several beliefs and practices that surround Prayer Wheels. There is one that hugs my mind, though. The Tibetan tradition has a practice ‘of dedicating any accumulated merits that one may have gathered during practice to the benefits of all sentient beings‘.

That to me is at the centre of it all.

To share a point of view, with love and a degree of compassion is an opportunity that is available to everyone with a blog. The choices, of course, are ours to make.

A peek into the future

“How about taking your daughter to KidZania and having a good time?”, the good folks at Blogadda asked.  Now, several friends had spoken about the place as a vibrant vivacious fun place for kids. God bless their good souls. If anyone gives me an opportunity to try and bring a smile to the little miss, well they grab a piece of my heart. ‘Yes’, I said and they arranged it all. Seeking to experience the place first hand and see what the world was coming to.

Some search later, the facts seemed to hold promise. To say the least. A Mexican entrepreneur Xavier Lopez Ancona ( & a former managing director of a Private Equity business with GE) wove this idea from nothing and its mushrooming into a sought after, profitable global franchise held allure. Currently, the only Indian franchise is the one at Mumbai’s R City Mall at Ghatkopar. The perpetual dusk setting within, the sculpted roads & stores, the services are all supposed to be similar in every franchise around the world to exacting detail. Including the fuselage of a plane that juts out of the building!

The place is a city in itself. With immigration counters and stamping etc to enter. The immigration folks being cheerful and helpful was a dead give away that this after all is a make believe world that we were entering. Everything else is real. In fact, a tad too eerily real. Real clean sculpted pavements, real products and services that go out on a limb to recreate life as it exists outside, with a charter and a bill a of rights drawn up by children. Suave marketing, methinks, but its a story well told.

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From health services, fire service ( the sirens of the ambulance and a fire engine that do the rounds at a periodic interval can capture attention with a snap of a finger), their own supermarket, a cop station, a radio station, replicas of factories that make stuff from soft drink to cereals etc etc, the place packs a punch. Plus of course, to complete the milieu, KidZania has its own ‘currency’ and a bank (with adult tellers) to boot. A ‘fully functional economy’ of sorts!

Speaking of the economy, the place reeks of real life brands, which must vary from country to country and speaks of hardcore commerce. For example, when the kids play courier delivery folks, they work for DHL. Radio City when they work as a Radio Jockey. Hyundai for the cars. Camlin. Coca Cola, Nerolac. Yes Bank. etc etc. They are all there. Soaking up the kids and their attention. Consumerist reality is everyday reality for all ofus in the real world and that is an unmistakable part of the business model of KidZania

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The idea is simple. Kids from the age of 4 to 14 choose to do various jobs ( from being firemen, dabbawallas, doctors on call etc are paid in Kidzos the local currency, and then dispense it on artistic pursuits like drawing greeting cards, pottery lessons, or simply spending it on food and fun.  Or they can save up the money, deposit in the bank within and use it again in the next visit. Its quite a load of fun for the children. For they get to play multiple roles and for parents get to have a voyeuristic peep into the future. The little miss enjoyed playing a fireman, and going about the fire engine with its loud bells and screaming sirens. She played doctor. And then a super market assistant. She would come back with a wad of currency from each of these places and dutifully hand it over to the missus.

Me and the missus walked about soaking up the place.

We watched kids run around as courier delivery folks. They queued up to clean tall buildings. To paint walls. Of course it was part of play. Never since Tom Sawyer was there this enthusiasm in painting, I must say! There are adult instructors for each activity, who hold court handing over the necessary costume and setting up the boundary conditions and instructions for the kids to play their part. An education, it surely provides kids with with.  One way of adding perspective is to soak into different jobs. To empathise with people is to ‘step into someone else s shoe’, as the cliched expression goes. Kids get to be adults and play different roles. Each activity lasts approximately 20 minutes and no kid I could see had a shortage of excitement there.

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Play is an integral part of learning. Especially so in children. The little miss had such a whale of a time doing all that she got to do. She told us after successfully ‘putting out a fire’, that fire can be ‘dangerous’, with a roll of her eyes. The setting for some tremendous learning to happen is endearing and complete.

On second thoughts, it is near complete.

It is near complete for it is a replication of adult real life as it stands today, it comes a tad too close in making a linear extension of the present day life into the future and overlaying a materialistic mindset on impressionable minds.  That’s at least the feeling I was left with all through. Particularly so, when a tall kid who was playing the role of a courier boy brushed past us, pushing his trolley in infinite hurry. He turned for a minute to give us another look and then went his way with his darting lunges as his Kidzo notes awaited him. In the fully functional economy of KidZania, kids could learn more about adult life than perhaps adults themselves would care to acknowledge. Running around to ‘make money’ and then ‘spend’ it on ‘artistically creating greeting cards’, ‘Pottery lessons’ etc is part of our story. Now, that’s why it struck me as a linear extension of the present into the future.

It is a scary future, where money will continue to have currency over our thoughts and ‘finding meaning’ in life is a distant and dead thought. Perhaps it is a practical and the most likely future as well. The hours at KidZania prepares kids for this kind of a future. Helping them experience reality in safe circumstances, teaching them options and choices for a material world. On how it perhaps would be and what all they would need to do to get ahead. Parents who have this as the most secure future for their children, will simply adore the place.

For those of you parents who imagine a different future, where a life of purpose and meaning without a wad of currency notes dictating what our kids should end up doing, KidZania is quite an experience. For the parents that is. Atleast, it was for me. For it gives a well calibrated peak into the future and nudged me to seek and exercise the right choices now, for an alternate narrative to take root in the little miss’s mind. Possibilities abound. The changing nature of creative work, the fundamental changes that technology has brought to us, the importance of conversation, relating to one another and building relationships, the joy and curiosity in discovery. A heap of such things struck me as possible. Building these into the little miss’s choice set and creating a base of enduring interest there, is work cut out for me.  In the times we live in, its not child’s play.

At KidZania, you could retire to the luxurious parents lounge there(sponsored by Urban Ladder) , (where the kids aren’t allowed) or plough into some cheese Pizza and masticate these thoughts. For you have the time. The staff at the place are friendly to a fault and have an endearing demenour that helps kids gravitate to them like iron fillings to a magnet, leaving you with nothing much to do. Unless of course, you would want to capture every inch of your kid’s experience, every smile, wince, whine, laugh on every possible device – mobile phones, digital cameras, tablets and the like. If you belong to the latter category, you can run behind the fire engine and chase the ambulance like Paparazzi, clicking pictures and recording videos of kids, getting to be adults. To an uncharitable eye it can appear to be an elaborate fancy dress pageant with some high tech props in tow, but to some parents it is a priceless experience.

The entry fee is steep but perhaps it is worth the experience. It is a good place to check out. It sure will get your kid excited (especially so, if he/she has a friend along) and by natural consequence, get you smiling. If you are someone like me, it perhaps will get you to think hard about how incomplete the loud voices for leaving a good planet behind for our children are.  A pretty planet is pointless, if we don’t work the right perspectives into kids who will inherit it.

Going beyond boundaries

The airport offers a myriad melange. A melting pot of sorts where boundaries whittle down to the colour of the passports you carry with you and what identity rules your mind. People of different nationalities freely walk about with aplomb. Here, there and everywhere. Languages, currencies, passports and duty free shops all freely mingle.

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The Mumbai airport, with its fanciful art installations provides an artful facade to a multitude of emotions. We sit there waiting for the announcement for our flights and trying to make sense of all the art installations. Its late in the night we have no obvious clue on what some of the art installations mean, leaving us to make our own meanings. We clutch our passports with some freshly inked pages in them. Stamped with vigour and aimless energy by people doing their duty.

The next few listless hours are spent inside an aircraft. Trying to induce sleep, sitting upright with dim lights that are bright enough to ruin your sleep is cruel enough. This done to a background score of a steady drone of big aircraft engines, a few feet away can be bloody cruel. And it is.

A few hours later dawn breaks through the window. A fascinating bed of clouds show up as I peer with sincerity. The pilot announces we are flying over Malaysia. The expanse offers its own beauty of the bed of clouds with the Sun throwing its seductive might from a far off place, in incognito mode. Sans boundaries. Sans limits. Just merging into the horizon with effortless ease.

In sometime we descend amidst neat arrays of palm trees. The expanse of the KL airport is balanced with the calm presence of the immigration official who adds some more ink to our passports. Malaysian Ink. Maybe Chinese ink. Or Indian or Malaysian for that matter. The symbol is that of Malaysia with a date on it. Trade builds bridges across boundaries.

Kuala Lumpur singularly strikes me to at the artful middle. At the intersection of modernity, tradition, urban sophistication and nature. Warm, friendly and very helpful people, to match the bright sunshine and massive rains that most evenings steady company. Our eyes constantly go wide as we consume the startlingly sumptuous beauty that the city offers.

Our hosts in KL, very dear friends they are, decide to drive us around showing the sights. First off, they take us to a place called Little India. Blogger friends have nudged me here. Speaking of Blogger friends, sometimes I wonder what I would ever do without the love of scores of people the internet has offered. People who have opened their homes to wanderers like me with aplomb. An offer thats done without pompous might of marketing muscle.

Years ago, amongst the first URLs that was part of my regular feed was Human Universe . The blog was based out of Malaysia. It was a big black page with with white fonts. For years I knew him as ‘Ghost Particle’, his digital name, before discovering Siva. His blog left a lasting deep impression on me. Unfortunately, he isn’t around first hand to show me the sights in KL today. He sits in far away California to guide me through messages and mails. He provides perspectives that provide context and meaning to the sights, smells and love the place offers.

At Masjid India, lunch happens at a restaurant called Betel leaf. The fare is as rich as it can be and rekindles taste buds that have remained dormant for long enough that ‘camatose’ would be an apt description for them. Usually, such delectable fare quickly sinks down the throat, in more than necessary quantities and today is no exception. I look around the hotel. Bobbing heads that are gorging on the food amidst conversation. Indians. Malays. Europeans. Chinese. Some of them turning pink beyond recognition as they try a few traditional curries. Food breaks boundaries.

Siva pings me on messenger and points me in the direction of the Tamil that is spoken in Malaysia. “the core culture of malaysian tamils has always been ‘tamil’ itself” he writes. Its a different, distinct tamil. Even as we chat on what I should look for beyond what I see here, his own passion for the land, the language and our friendship shows. I look into the Malaysian skies and think how much technology has rendered boundaries meaningless.

Years ago, he put together an assortment of bloggers from across the world. It was called the 2005-2050 project. The idea was to blog about and give independent voices to incidents around the world from 2005 onwards to 2050 and onwards. I was one of them. Those were the wonder years. Today, he sits in distant California and guides me around.

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A leisure stroll across the streets follows. Deepawali lightings and greetings adorn all shops. The tamil radio bubbles with a celebratory tone. Blaring music on a multitude of speakers fills the air. The sights, smells, the passing comments, all remind me of an ancient Tamil Nadu as it was in the 1980s, but in a modern setting. Almost like in a time wrap, allowing modernity to seep in for just as much as required, but keeping the language and cultural nuances as pristine as ever. That to me, is magical.

Yet, I notice, the ‘language’ and ‘culture’ envelopes you by just letting you be. Peaceful coexistence with a sense of mutual pride and not one that aggressively has to assert its presence, demanding recognition, status and the truculent likes, as is the case back home.

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A box full of murukku, with an ‘imported from India’ label stares at me invitingly as my friend holds a Jangiri up. That this dish that originated in the Mughal kitchens, traveled to South India and then took the hop across the oceans to settle in Malaysia is proof enough that boundaries are man made notions in our head. Those artfully connected whorls seem to have a multitude of stories in each whorl. But when the taste buds take over, everything else melts away. That is immeasurably more priceless than the most expensive collection of royal baubles.

In a few minutes, as we walk towards our car, I notice a lady who is sitting under a tree. A distinctly tamil lady. An elderly lady. She gives me searching look. She clearly is looking for something. I don’t know what it is. I smile. She smiles too. A frail weak smile. I cross her, and after crossing her I pause to take one more look at the lady.

I see a Malay looking man walk by. She holds out her hand almost like asking for alms. A surprise filled curiosity knocks at my brain. The man respectfully hands her a carefully folded newspaper that has been read. From a distance I think I hear a ‘thank you’. I stand there for a couple of minutes, as she devours the newspaper. He walks on. It is momentary. But it is telling. That when people live and let other people live as well, we create space, meaning in each other’s lives. In a very present sort of a way. Where boundaries don’t just break away, but fail to exist in the first place.

Trade breaks boundaries. Food breaks boundaries. Love breaks boundaries. What after all is a boundary but a notion in our minds?

Written in the middle of travel in Malaysia. To bid for an opportunity to be part of INK 2014, through Blogadda. Going beyond borders has gotten a new meaning. Sitting in a far away land and viewing it through the eyes of a son of the soil, who himself sits beyond boundaries. What more proof do I need that borders and boundaries are notions in our minds. Nothing else.