Wheels within wheels

Of the several inflection points in the evolution of man, the invention of the wheel has occupied a place of prominence that is unrivaled   Wheels have powered mankind’s evolution. Wheels within wheels have taken it to a different level. For now, we’ll stick to wheels!  

The wheel, once upon a time it was plain functional. It lent itself well for the making of pots and utensils or for a slightly more glamorous utilitarian attachment to carts, wagons et al for transport. 
Wikipedia will lead you to the information that it wasn’t until 1839 that someone thought of ‘balance’ and invented the bicycle. God bless his soul.  Man obviously didn’t stop with bicycle and two wheels. While four wheels have become de rigueur in most urban homes, the ordinary man on the street has to be content with a couple of wheels less. Or atleast one less! 
This post celebrates the ‘cycle’ in India! 
There can be no instrument that is as grossly under rated as this humble piece of engineering! We could put a man on the moon, but to an average Indian, we would have truly arrived on any planet only when a bicycle ride is possible. 
Around the world, the bicycle is synonymous with calorie burning or as contraption to save the planet. For many in India and other nations though, it is a basic means to livelihood. Here are a few examples.  


Ask the laundry guy. The clothes of an entire neighbourhood (which can get as big as a small country), gets rolled into bigger bed sheets, and carefully bundled on to become big lumps that helped balance. Taken for a wash and a press.  An entire industry survives. A neighbourhood walks fresh and sprightly! 


The rickshaw and the tricycle continue to be lynchpins in transporting people in many parts of rural India. The power of bulging human calfs, heaving biceps and ballooning invisible lungs doing the work that infinitely more powerful inanimate engines do around the world.  

While this can seem to be all romantic and such else, the bicycles last mile connect to the business world can be missed only at the cost of being comfortable with the idea that this blog is operating beyond the outer limits of its mental capabilities. 

The refills, the trips for money collections, the market visits to the local corner store, all happen more often than not on a bicycle. Equipped with specially designed carry cases that could teach design studios a thing or two about innovation. 

The list is long. Newspaper delivery. Cooking Gas. Courier services. Groceries. And so on.  The bicycle has often proven that putting all eggs into one carrier is often not a bad idea, but a necessary pre-requisite for business. 

Stories abound about how bicycles have been used for generating electricity to the Mysore palace  and similar stories that would flare your ears and stretch your imagination when you try answering the question : ‘What else?”


News when nestled within the columns of a newspaper take a different shape and hue when something similar is spotted in real life. For instance, a bicycle that can transport and help sharpen knives when stationary. A contraption that comes alive by pedaling a stationary bicycle thereby getting a different stone wheel to rotate! Which sharpens knives!  
Wheels within wheels and sharpening of knives could well sound like tales of palace intrigue and politics. But if this ingenuity and spirit of making it possible, shapes our lives, our collective futures will take to a different height by a factor that can be too high to compute.


When the humdrum of big city life gets the bloated ego to balloon (in addition to the body that is), it is travel to small cities and experiencing a life that is lived at a different rhythm that swings the pendulum back.

Semi-urban India offers a diverse array of uniquely simple folks who go about their lives with so much of ease, quiet and sense of ‘get-on-with-it. Infact that is part of how life is lived normally !

Ofcourse, readers could be more familiar with that life. These scenes have appeared ever so many times in our movies and even more so in discussions on ‘rural empowerment’, ofcourse, set in five star hotels.

In the corporate humdrum dominated city life, sticking-neck-out-plying-of-wares is more of an exercise with an eye on the annual increment and what the ‘boss’ thinks. ( I didn’t intend generalizing, and am sure you the reader can point to several people (including yourself) who are very different. Yet, I guess, the world that I describe is the world that I often see) !

When viewed in a hurry, it is only natural for people to relate to these scenes with the superficiality of what the picture seems to hold and not explore the depths of the story that is pregnant within.

Think about this. When you don’t have a degree to back you up or a set of ‘Key Result Areas’ to confine yourself to while being expected to support the family, provide for the future of children with whatever you have, I guess, you carry a different load in your head. We all will.

Yet! To have no choice but to look forward to everyday. To walk more than 20 KMs with a 10 KG weight on the head. To do this day in day out. Shouting out to customers. Arguing with middlemen, bus conductors and sometimes fellow bus passengers, these folks are such an inspiration to life. These folks are human. And anyone of us could have been them !

Urban settings and offices, call them ‘unskilled labour’. ‘Daily Wages’ is their compensation structure. A twang laden educated air engulfs our collective view of such ‘labour’. An educated air that is devoid of basic understanding and respect that one human being could accord another.

And so, I sat there in a bus stop. As ‘small’ farmers, merchants and their wives got down from buses, struck deals with middlemen and sold their wares, in an almost rural setting. There were others who loaded and unloaded and moved about with purpose. Looking at me with curiosity, if at all. They had a job to do Perhaps families to feed, livestock to rear and children to raise.

They balanced the loads on their heads, carried some more in extended arms, hips and parts of the human body which strangely transformed to grooves for holding such stock.

Not for a moment seeking attention, pity or even any physical help. They were proud people going about their daily routines.

I don’t know for how long I sat there. Doing nothing but soaking it all in. Every image registered in the mind. The slow rhythms of life in a small town can be supremely captivating superlatively preparatory for life elsewhere. Especially when the urge to stand and stare rules.

As old women hauled weights that seemed far in excess of the frail frames, I realized that my struggle was not really the most supreme. Infact, some of it appeared rather small. If you are reading this post, we ( you and I ) are perhaps part of a blessed minority. A minority that can read, write, has basic needs taken care of, can access the web and have the capacity for thinking and thought.

Its about time our education and our capacity to think, alters our understanding of weights on other peoples heads. Even as we stick our necks out to reach to a new height at work, may we have it in us to see these weights with new eyes.

May we spread a smile. Perhaps a friendly wave. Even more, a full-throated greeting to the man and woman on the street who have no options but to just ‘get-on-with-it’! Above all this, may we travel and see the ‘exotic’ness of sights that we miss seeing with the heart!

May we all make it large !

Broom time !

This is the broom. Well, for those that think that it is an antiquated instrument that is used only to sweep off the remnant of cow dung or the recalcitrant dead leaf or empty dust, well, you are sadly mistaken. The broom is a mainstream household article. Of considerable eminence.

An article of significance that people cant, don’t and wont do without. Having been used to seeing it used with a casual bend of the body at the hip and an arc of the hand, the ground getting brushed clean in sweeping motions, is part of life !The swish swash sounds back home, herald a new morning. That is if the neighbourhood rooster’s silence leaves you wondering if he is having a throat ache, headache. Or perhaps a hangover !

The broom has more social standing than what its put to use for. An item of reverence. An item to be feared. From ghosts to Gods. If you didn’t already know, brooms form part of the offering paraphernalia for a variety of Gods down in the deep south !

Brooms being the Jaguar equivalent for the nether world is often quoted and kept alive by the likes of Harry Potter. Made famous enough to be left at that !

What perhaps is a must mention is the broom’s standing in language! Case in point : An oft quoted usage in Tamil is a two word combination which when roughly translated reads ‘the broom will tear’ ! Which is short form for ‘i-will-lynch-you-with-the-broom-till-the-blood-that-courses-in-your-dirty-veins-oozes-out-or-till-the-broom-tears-apart’. Or something to that effect.

Used with such swirl of the tongue and pitch of the voice, that any gent with an ounce of self respect and quarter of an ounce of pride, will quiver in his boots.

In modern times, urban homes are dotted with the sophisticated ‘vaccum cleaner’. Electricity powered sucking up or blowing away of dust and dirt is a fancy that many households can ill afford to miss, if a certain standing amongst the neighbours has to be maintained. That sure is a far cry from the broom.

At a sophisticated premises, there is a new instrument in use. Seemingly simple yet efficient. The user just had to hold firm and walk about. No swish. No swash. The gloves are spotless.

Indeed we have moved on in life and the broom is steadily getting confined to a certain class of homes in certain parts of the country ! Perhaps good for everybody, for all you know !

But, come contest me on this. Methinks, that the broom will stay put in peoples memories, if not in their homes. A vaccum cleaner as an offering for a God will am sure be promptly rejected by the Gods themselves, and on old lady flying off on a twin tailed contraption like the one above, sure is not going to be endearing on the eye !

If not for anything else, the swirl of the tongue and the pitch of the voice that will spout ‘the broom will tear’ will remain. Whatsay ?

Salted history

I used to hate him. Hate him with the bottom of my heart. For what he did to his father. For what he did to his brothers. For what he did to many many thousands of people who he killed and mowed and so on.

Yet today, i want to see him. Kind of go stand where he lies. Its ironical. For my friends don’t want to go anywhere close. Not because they hate him as much.

But today to go close to him, you have to go to a small nondescript place. A place nondescript enough that without direction and desire to get there, missing it would be normal ! He perhaps had all of India under his thumbs. Palaces were built and minor empires destroyed with a casual wave of a hand.

And all who talked thus far, about him, talked with a sense of borrowed spite and frown. The eternal bad chap image stayed fixed. Today, the simplicity of what i hear moves me to think.

Today, another man gives us another angle:

Imagine being born in a royal family. Imagine seeing your head of state dad, spend crane heaps of government money on a tomb for his wife. Imagine you having consternation about it. Imagine having the resolve to fight for simplicity yet scale. Fight anybody.

From an aggressive neighbour to your own father. Imagine ruling the land with great simplicity and methodical precision. Imagine living a simple frugal life when surrounded by royal splendour.

Imagine stitching caps and writing the holy scripture. The proceeds of which, you mandate, is all that would go to making of your own tomb ! I

Imagine, first of all, mandating that there wont be a significant tomb, despite being the emperor of India ! Imagine Aurangazeb.

As the shudder runs down the spine all the way to the left toe, he adds. “History is written by the victor. Its never factual”. The tourist guide moves me.

In some time we reach Khuldabad. In what appears to be another mosque in a predominantly muslim neighbourhood, Aurangazeb’s lies at the feet of his guru. No grand structure. Simple and quiet.

The Taj loses sheen in the mind. Think of it this way: Shah Jahan built the Taj out of government money and emptied the state coffers. His son threw him in jail ruled the land ably and died a simple man.

Well, i dont know what the truth is. None of us will never ever know. But then, i have resolved to read history with pitchers of salt by the side.

And as Dylan says, “All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie”

Sugar Circles !

Somewhere between Shirdi and Aurangabad we see sugar territory. They see him. Slightly decked up. With an assortment of colour threads and beads on his forehead and frontage ! Visitors they are. To the rural plains !

He walks around. In circles. Almost in synchrony to the command he nonchalantly receives from a man standing afar.

“There are new people who have come’. The man seems to say. Our protogonist must commence his walk again. On the beaten path. In the much treaded circle. He walks. He walks the rounds. There are levers at work. Circles of wood that spin. Juice that’s made. Raw. Sweet. And complete.

The visitors sit there. In row of chairs that have been held to a straight line by a rope. Much to the awe of the city siders. Omni present simple solutions stump them.

They havent seen anything like this before in big city Mumbai or wherever they came from. The sugar cane juice disappears from the glass tumblers like money in an inflation prone economy !

And him… Job done. He looks at the visitors. Almost asking if he must walk the path again. For them to soothe parched throats with more juice that was sitting pretty inside the cane !

They nod. He walks again. In that circle ! All for sugar & juice !

Sugar circles ! Ah ! The story of our lives.

Of Water !

The arrival of the sun is announced everyday by a cans of water washing down the previous day’s dust and soot from the city’s vehicles.

Now, that is under threat !

The cars themselves could be dented so much that you could think it to be pop art ! The auto rickshaws and taxis could well make more noise than a NASA space shuttle. The bikes may wear their riders’ kick ass attitude visibly, with torn seats !


Yet, everyday morning, vehicles get a wash down. Washed. Scrubbed. Turned upside down. Well, almost. But then, cleaned.

It is part of the city’s DNA ! To rise and wander with the bucketful of water and scrub away grime !

Now, that’s under threat ! Well, the rain gods have heaped scorn on a parched population. Which any which way let three quarters of the rain water into the Arabian sea ! The weatherman’s prediction of rain was a joke that you could only bear with a stiff upper lip.

To cut a long pipeline short, well, we don’t have much water in reserve. And the summer is yet to show up !!

In apartment complexes, meetings have been organised, and eloquence has been well waxed. With blame being apportioned between Obama and the Ozone layer. The BMC and Brazilian rain forests

Of course, the water conservation was the only buzz ( until google usurped ‘buzz’). A multitude of steps have been announced ! And done very well too. And yes. The morning car wash routines have come under the scanner.

There isn’t much option is there ? If the option was between cleaning a behind and cleaning a boot…. well..Is there much choice ?

Of course, there is haggling that’s on. About the taxes that we pay and the action the government should take ! of how neighbours use much water. Of how we should all get into conservation, until the next monsoon ( after which we all live happily ever after )

Of course, We will have to cope with all of this ! Of course we will ! Of course we will. Blaming the politician. Blogging about the weather and the BMC. Tweeting for help and twiddling thumbs !

Wondering whatever they did in conferences like Copenhagen ! Drinking mineral water and bathing in triple refined swimming pools.

Copenhagen is for the wealthy.

Perhaps, the rest of us can be content with cope-n-haggle !

From Above. From Below.

On Mumbai’s marine drive, theres an exhibition thats on. Awesome. Is the word. Its titled ‘ Earth from Above‘. A series of stunning photographs. A collage from up above.

The setting is perfect too. With the Arabian sea on one side and a bustling army of cars, bikes and people to provide the contrast, on the other.

Perfect time to look at the big picture. The pictures are work of a creative mind at its best.

Talking of creative human minds, there is more to be done. Whatever are those scientist folks doing ? With all those gadgets and goatees that, whatever are they doing ?

Especially, for cases like this one. Read on.

An apartment complex that is home to a myriad set of people. Like…Hmm.. educated from the best of universities the world can offer. The best of designations the corporate world can conjure.

Cars that can swallow the economy and bank accounts that seem perpetually overflowing. Computers that run the household and household helps who pay obeisance to the family dog.

All in all, if this set of people were reduced to a single drop of petrol, they could keep an empty fuel tank power a world trip. Twice. That kind of power. You get the drift… ?

That type of an apartment complex. And this was the announcement on the notice board !

Hope the scientist folks are still listening. They need to come up with several things for this apartment.

But where do they start ? What work can science do, when common sense and basic sensitivity go on exile.

Perhaps these are the signs of our times. A time for extremes. New frontiers get broken as new inventions hit the market at speeds that only the sun tries to compete with.

New markets get created, as existing land disappears. A time when the Internet brings us all closer even as we as people get divided further.

A time, when those that coast in luxury are epitomes of ‘uncivil’ and the actions of the ‘educated’ take us back a few hundred years.

A time where the beauty of the Earth from the sky is only contrasted by our actions on the ground ! Actions, that which we inflict on one another and on ourselves too.

The opportunity to keep our Earth pristine is omnipresent. The choices are ours to make. And in this apartment’s case, the choice starts with the dustbin !

Collateral Damage

You have been reading the papers too. In the hurry of the morning minute. Somethings register. Many things dont. But today you are in the market. The missus has brought you here. By force. It doesnt take long for you to realise whats been lurking in the dark corridors of the mind.

That you are far removed from the reality of the real world.

You wonder if you are part of the burgeoning numbers of escapists. Not for long. For you know. Educated. Desk worker. Working out of cubicles cleaned by contracted organisations to the sound of noiseless air conditioners.

Lost in a mirage filled canopy of busy ness. In perpetual quest of aggrandisement of self-importance. All under the garb of work !! Attending meetings, making presentations, sending mail, seeking approvals and giving feedback ! ofcourse, all over many cups of tea.

Today, you hear the missus bargain with the vegetable vendor. In marathi. For obvious reasons, you feel safe in her company. You hold the bag. She bargains. Brinjal. Cauliflower. Onions. You hear the prices. And baulk.

You remember reading in the papers about inflation and such else. But arent quite prepared for this.

You remember going to the market as a young boy. Shopping for the family. At these prices, you think you could have bought out every chap out there. You are still reeling from the surprise. Of the prices.

And, you realise, what irks you more is how distant you are from the masses.You follow the missus. Shop after shop. Carrying that bag. Wondering, how people make a living at these prices.

The security gaurd who perhaps would make as much as your monthly grocery bill. The chap who cleans the car who perhaps would make half of that. The maid who mops the floor. The shop boy who fetches the product. You wonder.

The weight of the bag of vegetables isnt as heavy as the thoughts that run past you. You wince.

That night, long after your trip to the market, you are in bed. A book in hand. Reading lamp on. The book that usually sets some thoughts afire is miles away from a strand of a spark. Restless thoughts still roam the market that you went to.

You realise how fortunate and cocooned you are. You make resolutions about sharing. About awareness. About staying light. You feel better. Slightly.

The missus senses something amiss. You sense she has sensed something too. The air stays quiet. Interrupted by honks and wailing sirens faded by the distance. This city isnt called maximum city for nothing. Making a living despite all odds is what gets you by.

She clears her throat. And says, ‘you know in some time we can apply for a new loan’. You sit up. Half in trepidation. For you dont know where this is headed. ‘I have the collaterals ready’.

Your ears perk up. Like a deer who hears the rustle of dead leaves as the cheetah gallops towards it. “In some time the collateral will have enough value to make the bank chap sit up” …..

In the silence. You sit up. Half a tremor seeps through as you mutter ‘and what is that’

‘Two bags of cauliflowers. At current prices….’. Her voice trails.

You smile. Close the book. Say your prayer to the lord up there. And thank him for his large mercies.

Tea !

Indian tea. Chai. Available at every street corner. Well before the sun shows up. To long after he has disappeared into the Arabian sea !

It doesn’t take much to get this going. Tea powder. Loads of milk. Plenty of sugar. Traces of ginger. And voila, theres this ‘chai’ ! And as the sugar coat courses the alimentary canal, a strange energy pervades. Usually. Placebo or otherwise. That is fact.

Many have romantically described the humble tea as some kind of a ‘least common denominator’.

For everybody has tea. From the stock broker who makes a million as he twiddles his thumb and the slum dweller who makes an inconsequential sum amount after heaving his whole body and lifting inconsequential construction equipment.

Everybody has tea. From the office goer to the street side hawker. The college professor to the cop. Thugs to theologists. The player to the proctor.

The tag of ‘least common denominator’ seems to fit in perfectly.

Of course, the tea is served in the glass tumbler ! So much part of our tea drinking routine. So much so that the flavour of the tea also seems to come from the glasses that hold the tea.

Washed many times over in a day. Refilled as many times. Perhaps more ! The tea glasses are an integral part of ‘chai’ ! Adding their own twang to the tea.

But imagine. Imagine you worked in an office some distance away. Or at some obscene height in a construction site with no lifts ! Ordering tea in a glass is impractical.

Worse ( & more probable) if the vendor knows your overdue amount on the credit card and is doubtful of the return of the tea glasses…

Tea comes in a polythene bag, with plastic cups. Home delivery !

The same tea. With Tea powder. Loads of milk. Traces of ginger. Sugar coated. But in a plastic frame ! It may not have the glassy feel. Its still tea. Offered with happiness.

The next time your taste buds take to the sugar and milk like a first time MP making his first swindled million, take a moment to savour it more !

Popularity and preference sure point to tea power. Tea brings alive any discussion. On any topic. Business and recession. Life and culture. Body and fitness. Anything and anything at all.

Like the other day. An insipid discussion was in progress. About the important part plastic has begun playing in our lives. Insipid. Until the time the tea arrived. Brought from the local corner tea store.

In some time, we sipped tea. Out of a plastic cup. Poured out of a polythene bag ! You bet, there was a different ring to the discussion.

The group ranted and raved about plastic.

My mind was elsewhere though. The flavour of human ingenuity underscored the flavour the tea! Or plastic for that matter.

Oodles of doodles

The speaker moves his arms. Wavy gestures and air filled lungs pump enough volume to reach the far corners of the room. Examples are cited. The future is invoked. Questions are posed. Frameworks are discussed.

There is a training program that’s on.

The participants are all there. Physically at least. Their bodies too large to disappear into thin air. They are all there. Their thoughts are a different realm though. Nobody can say for sure where thoughts are. Like a cyclone that’s much hyped but didn’t turn up.

Their hands are at work though. Heads almost hemmed to their notepads. Perhaps serving as the biggest of ‘motivators’ to the trainers and lecturers ! Construed as note taking, and such other activity of importance that adds to the self importance of the speaker.

In practice, doodles emerge.

Of cows. Huts. Planes. Ships. Faces. And the like. The cows could look like sheep whose harmone therapy went awry. And hut designs that could make a Pygmy cry. And that could be particularly ironic if the program was on something like ‘Getting it Right the first time” or something to that effect !

Perhaps not as ironic as having arrows and spears doodled all over, in a workshop while the junta is talking ‘Partnership’ !

At other times there are lines & shadings. Precise shading of intersections and empty spaces. Preciseness to the nano millimeter. That hitherto seemed capabilities that rested with American missiles that were launched from ships, traversing two seas and many mountain ranges to hit the hidden commode of secret toilets of Osama Bin Laden and gang.

Such impeccable designs. Sketched with such intensity and effort.

Have you wondered why ? Something seems to be at work here. A natural by product of sitting in a lecture or a training program.

Perhaps its about camouflage. Of pretense. Pretending to be attending, but actually away !

But why would students & participants take all the effort to draw such impeccable cows ( with hormonal treatment going awry ) and arrows & straight lines that could be used to teach geometry to infants.

There must be some research done on this.

Perhaps its all about the mind. Perhaps it helps shade a few shapes. And shape a few shades. Or maybe its to sharpen whats faded. Or fade whats sharpened. Contrasts. Colours. And the like. .

Which perhaps is what one can get out of a training ! Whatsay ?

Doodles seem to be here to stay !