INK

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.

INKing the Future !

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 DasJoi BaruaShantanu MoitraShruti 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. 

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I got to be part of the conference by writing this blogpost on “Designing The Future” as part of this contest organised by the wonderful people at Blogadda & INK Talks.  

The next year’s conference is in Kochi  & there is a 50% discount on till the end of October! 

Designing the future

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.