Monday, August 15, 2016

Do unto others...

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"...
Sounds wise, pragmatic and even doable.

In fact, I have long used this as a guiding principle in determining my conduct with people. And still there have been times when this has led me to place of selfishness and bad choices - all completely unintentionally.

I have now realized that using ourselves as the standard for treating others is often a bad choice because it sets us up as some form of a moral rubric. Following this maxim has often led me to do things that I believe are right for me, not necessarily things that are right for the other person.

How would someone want to be told of a bad news - clearly in writing or rambling in person?
How would you like to deal with a bad memory or experience - bury it, live in it constantly, fight it constantly or succumb to it?
Would you rather vent in rage and move on or silently process it, forgive and forget?
What do you do with a wound? Dress it and wait for it heal, leave it open as a reminder of the things that went wrong or pick on it till you have a scar for your lifetime?
Do you console them? Do you mourn with them? Do you remind them of better days or do you offer them hope?
Do you talk them out and give them attention or do you give them space?
Different people react differently and need different things. When we do to them, what we would have them do unto us, we are taking the choice away from them. We are imposing our standards and our choices on someone else. We end up putting ourselves above their needs and that often leads us to making bad choices with the best of intentions.

What is best for you may not be the best for me... How then do we navigate this?
What does one do? How do you treat a person with the kindness and love they truly deserve? How do you give them what they truly need at the moment?

I don't quite have all the answers but the first step to identifying a solution is to find the problem, and in my mind that is the problem. Being a kind human being means being able to recognize what the person needs at that moment and to give them that - and nothing else.

If you know someone well enough, these choices might become easier and intuitive, if not, it might be best to just ask them. Because sometimes, all we want to do is be helpful and do our bit. But in the process, we may just end up becoming a part of the problem and not of the solution.


From nowhere to somewhere...

I was never quite fond of airports. 
They were always impersonal, artificial and aseptically clean of any and all human emotions. Despite my wanderlust and the fact that they were my portals to trips, vacations, exciting memories and wonderful life experiences; airports remained these strange places of transit, that I associated being somewhere and no where. 

They were always laced with a certain anxiety - of ticking clocks, uncertain time-zones, long queues, uncomfortable chairs, overpriced coffee and the likes. Somehow, the angst of parting from someone always weighed over the excitement of getting to some new place. And often times, the anxiety and excitement of getting to a new place left me in a state of limbo in the airport - a state of transit. I was never a frequent traveler and airports were associated with a state of weariness in my mind. A weariness that accompanies that frantic activity of packing up, finishing chores, meeting deadlines, making preparations and actually getting somewhere. 
Yes, I know. I am making even a vacation sound like a task - but the truth is that when one is doing everything, even the good things take a toll on you. 

And so airports were always these impersonal spaces where nothing good or horrible really happened. 

That was, of course till a year ago when airports started making their presence felt in my life. 
Now, I have some of my fondest memories in the aseptic corridors and halls of an airport. Of meeting the people I love, of falling into an unexpected embrace and never wanting to let go. What began with a personal story, one july morning in an airport, has grown into something unexpected. A friendship that seems to grow stronger with time. A relationship that seems to evolve with time. 
Airports have become imbued with unexpected meaning and memories. What after all is the meaning of driving 3 hours to meet someone for 1 hour at an airport? Irrationality reigns supreme in many of these moments and yet I have not regretted them. 

Memories of stories over cups of coffee. Memories of shared meals and laughter. All in those very same aseptic corridors. What used to be laced with memories of anxiety, tension and interminable waits to get some place, now feels like a place in itself. A place that has an existence of its own. A place that triggers emotions and memories - things I want to hold onto. 
Things I am in no hurry, whatsoever, to forget. 

It is amazing how places become so much more when we have memories associated with them. 


Monday, May 30, 2016

What is home?

What is a home?
A city? A place? A person? A feeling?

I have often wondered about this question trying to find an answer. I have searched for the meaning of 'home' as I moved across state and national borders, as I shared my space and lived alone, as I traveled and as I came back home. Home has been an evolving concept... always present and yet just out of reach of definition. 

Below is a song by Teitur, an artist from Faroe Islands on the subject of home... Listening to this song brought back that question all over again....

"Home is the sound of birds early in the morning
Home is a song I've always remembered
Home is the memory of my first day in school
Home is the books that I carry around
Home is an alley in a faraway town
Home is the places I’ve been and where I’d like to go
Home
I'm always gonna feel at home
No matter where I may roam
I'm always gonna find my way back home
No matter how far I’m gone
I’m always gonna feel this longing
No matter where I might stay
Home is a feather twirling in the air
Home is flowers in a windowsill
Home is all the things she said to me
Home is a photo I never threw away
Home is the smile on my face when I die
Home is the taste of an apple pie
I met a woman, she always lived in the same place
And she said home is where you’re born and raised
And I met a man, he sat looking out to the sea
And he said home is where you want to be
I met a girl in some downtown bar
And she said I'll have whatever he's having
And I asked her how come we never met before?
And she said all my life I’ve been trying
to get a place of my own
I’m always gonna feel at home
No matter where I may roam
Always gonna find my way back home
No matter how far I’m gone
I'm always gonna feel this longing
No matter where I might stay"

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As someone who has moved around a decent bit - cities, places, buildings, houses have all felt like home at one time or another. But with time, the identity of a home has evolved into something more amorphous.

I realize now that 'home' for me was always about people. I felt at home when I found my people - be it in the middle of a book, an airport, a school or even at home. I have felt like an outsider in my own home at times; and I have felt comfortably at home in somebody else's kitchen. Its just a feeling - sometimes evoked by people, memories and visions of a time gone-by.

There are not many people who become a 'home' for me but thankfully there are a few...

In their tight embrace, with their lingering warmth and their comfort - they take me home.

They feel like home even though I haven't had too long to be familiar with the embrace. When I look back, we probably didn't fit in as well with our heads bumping and arms reaching... With time, we just fit better and better each time. With each embrace, I left a little bit of me left behind and I took a little bit of you. As we grew from strangers, to acquaintances, to friends - that comfort and feeling of home has stayed with me.
The embrace has been just as reassuring, just as comforting - right from that awkward first time.
In their arms, it was and still is like finding home. There is a sense of familiarity, of acceptance and even surrender. A sense of old camaraderie, a certain acceptance of the chipped paints and broken windows. I come to these embraces with that sense of acceptance. Its not perfect and I am not perfect.. but its perfect for me.
I miss those hugs that held me together in times when all I wanted was to fall apart.
That is home, I guess... a familiar place that comforts, protects and keeps you together.





Monday, April 18, 2016

Hoarding words...

Life has turned a corner over the past few months.
Not a lot has changed but a few things have.

People have been kinder and so much more generous. Even as people who are the closest to me have walked out of my life, some others have stepped in. Strangers have become friends. Estranged friends have found their way back effortlessly and have left me with kind words. My circle has grown and my world has billowed into something wider, brighter, happier (and clearer maybe).

Some other near strangers too have written in with kind words - words of encouragement, appreciation, empathy. A cynic would say they are but empty words, but to me these words mean a lot. 
They are the comfort I hold onto as things fall apart - around me, within me.

As months of work fail; As that sense of gloom and doom come knocking; as accusations fly and as anger surges - these are the words that pull me back from the brink. 
These are the words I save in a jar of thankfulness because I know I will need them.

So, like memories, I hoard words too because they hold the power in them to take me back to the magical moments. To the moments of  thoughtful kindness. To moments of unexpected pleasure. To the warmth of love and friendship. To genuine and generous compliments.

And so I hoard words...


PS - For all of those wonderfully generous people who have read my ramblings and have send me their thoughts and thoughtful words of appreciation - Thank you! :) They do mean a lot. 

The Gestalt shift

I hear people describing others - lovers, friends, enemies with great detail.
They see the lines of their face, the color of their eyes, the flecks in their irises,  the skin color,  the sinews of their muscles, the sway of their hips...
The list is endless. After all, poets and writers have loved and hated for eons and everyone has described the people they love or they hate with great attention to detail.
Yes, attention to detail. That is what it is.

Some people can see others (and the world around them) as an assemblage of pieces - the eyes, the hair, the nails, the mind, their heart. Everything is a smaller part of a big whole. They can see where and how the pieces align, mis-align and fall apart. They can see the fault-lines, the wrinkles, the pock-marks, the scars and the freckles. They can see the symmetries and asymmetries of our physical and mental selves. They can see the details which make our individual selves.
And from the assemblage of those many tiny details, there emerges a whole. A person. A thing. A view. A world.

But things seem to work differently for me. I can't see those details - those freckles or the wrinkles. I start with the whole itself.

For me, people and the world comes with a sense of completeness. A wholeness where I cannot identify the pieces or even how they fit in or don't. I cannot even say what I like or don't like.

I either like you or I don't.
No judgment really - just a fondness, a liking, a deeper sense of amicability. Its a visceral feeling that defies explanation (sometimes even logic).

It is so intuitive and instinctive that I can't ever understand what makes some people work and not some others.

Why is it so difficult for me to say I like this about you or that?
Why do I find it hard to notice the shoes or the scarf or the hair or the dress?
I look at your eyes and I look at your mind... and all of you seems to fit into it - wholly, completely, perfectly. Everything else is just there like the garnish on a plate. I might notice it but I don't really care for it.

But then when I listen to you talking about these many aspects of me - some that you like and some that you don't. I see pieces of me as you see them but I struggle to see what you see as a whole...or rather even what you feel for the whole.

There is a gestalt shift I think that happens when the eye moves from the many details to finding the whole. I think I got the process upside down.

I start with the whole of you and maybe then I work backwards to find the pieces that make you, YOU.
I start from the whole of you, to then look for the edges or the lack of them, to see the grains in your character or the bumps in your heart. But by the time I see all that, it doesn't matter because I like you for who you are. Just as you are. Given enough years and the gift of hindsight, maybe I can pick a few qualities I like and a few that I don't but none of that changes much for me... because it is the whole of you that matters by that point.

I see you, I like you and I want you in my life for all that you are...
Would I want to change anything? Probably. Or probably not.

Do you see what I am saying? Does it make sense to you? Do you see, why I struggle to see me as you see?
Do you see why I am ever so clueless?

I cannot but stop wondering how the rest of you see the world and the people in it? A collage of pieces or a single whole?



Thursday, March 31, 2016

An absence...

My days are now enveloped in a sense of absence. A sense of lack. A void, whose is shape is of another person. Someone I haven't known for a long time. But that lack is glaring, it is ever-present. Its shocking to me how easily we get used to the good things in life. Even when we know that it is not going to last and it is not forever.
And even as I spend my days trying to fill this void with life, I see M. 

M, you lost a leg. A leg that was wholly, completely yours. Not for a brief while, but for the forever that you have known. And you lost it. In one day.  In a few hours in fact (because I saw you running that day). I can't even imagine losing my leg after spending my day running - life does have a sense of irony... 

I think of you and that over-whelming sense of absence that you might feel and tears find their way into my dry eyes. I am sure it is unimaginably hard when the ground beneath your feet shifts like this. When you are not able to do things like standing up on your own that you have done from the very first year of your life. I am sure it is devastating to look at the prosthetic and to imagine the real thing. You may even have phantom pains in the limb that is no longer there. Making its presence felt, signaling its ache and throb - like a clarion call from the dead. I am sure life as it was is no longer the same. 
And I know,  If I were you, I would have spent many a days, packing and unpacking that one word - why. 
Not that answers are ever easy but this one is always especially difficult. 
Why do bad things happen to good people? 
Why does randomness seem to be so totally random? 
(And I know that question doesn't even make sense in a rational world but I can't not ask... after all, when I see good people being thrashed about, I have to ask. I have to try and make sense of it.)

And yet, despite all this and more, you walk into the gym, M, smiling as ever. You are back to your life,  business as usual or at least so you seem to say.  In a few months. 
I don't know you so well. Maybe we spoke a couple of times in more than a year. But I hope you know, that I admire what you have done.  I admire the fortitude, the resilience, the spirit and the courage with which you have overcome that void and have marched on. 

I find it hard to put the pieces of my life together even on a good day. I can barely imagine doing that when some pieces are missing. And you have done that. Just that. So beautifully and bravely at that. 

And when I think of the void that is left in your life and how you have filled it, I see hope for my  foolish self. So, thank you for being there. 
I am terribly sorry that you had to go through this.  
I am sure many will tell you that this will make you a better person and it will all work out in the end. It probably did make you a better person and it probably will work out in the end. But even if it doesn't, M, I hope you know that you gave courage to someone. 
Someone who is not easily inspired, who is not easily awed...  

And now I shall get back to the arduous task of filling that void around me. 


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Some monsters are never really dead...

Some monsters are never really dead.
You think you've slain them, buried them, burnt them and walked away - whole and alive... but, no, my dear, no.
They continue to lurk in the deep recesses of your mind, as a memory that you can vaguely recall. They seem to have multiple hidden lives, protected from our watchful eyes in horcruxes that are stowed away.
Their subliminal presence casts a faint shadow every now and then one learns to ignore it.
But then there are times, when a tiny comment, a jibe or a passing witticism by someone will unleash those monsters. The horcruxes will begin to burn, itch and glow even as you do your damnedest best to ignore their very existence.
They will rise up from the dead and you will have to deal with them again - and yet again.

I have had my share of monsters. I have run away from them, ignored them, battled them and finally slain them - or so I thought.
They were hidden for a long time, but even the most innocent of comments can serve as powerful spells as they revive the slain monsters.
I can sense their presence as they raise their head now. I can hear the jibes, the sneers, the tug on my confidence...
I can feel the angst of my 'plain', teenage self, who wanted nothing but to wake up as a different person. I thought I had slain this monster.
What happened here?

But this time, things are also a little different... This is a familiar enemy and I have seen the other side. I know how the battle plays out and I know I can survive this too. And so, I am not yet broken and buried. Instead, I retreat and find myself a foothold. I strategize and I plan. I know where I stumble and I am going to make sure I don't.
The monsters shall rise but I shall slay them again... and again and again. Because that is all you can do. Find the monsters that scream defeat, hatred and insult; and slay them, ruthlessly and relentlessly.



Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Life in metaphors...

I began as they said. I wet the paper and gently dabbed paint at one corner. It spreads quickly.
I apply another dab of paint and wait.
First it was blue, then green. Then yellow and red.
The water trapped in the paper is blurring the boundaries. Somehow, nothing is clear and distinct.

The colors are spreading. Things are moving out of my control as the colors diffuse, spread, mix and leave trails behind. I sat there watching.
Waiting.

A small panic rising in my heart. Will this be ok? Should I wipe it off? Should I dry it? Should I dab a  little more? Or maybe a little less? What should I do?

But, I hold on tight. I sit on my hands (literally) to stop myself from doing something. The effort to not do anything is enormous. The urge is over-whelming.
It is completely unnerving to sit but I have to wait. I have to see how this plays out.

And so I do.

I let the colors follow their course. I let the water dry at its own pace. I wait for the water-soaked, mellowed, cold-pressed paper to return to its dry, rigid self.
And it does in a few minutes. Some really long minutes but minutes nonetheless.

I now see that my panic was unjustified. Because the colors had only merged and melded seamlessly into this beautiful, complete whole that I couldn't have painted on my own. The incline of the surface, the water, the colors, the air, the humidity and my brush strokes - they had all come together to give rise to something unexpectedly beautiful and complete.

A few months ago, I would have panicked, interfered and stopped the colors from mixing on their own. I would have taken charge and dabbed, dried, erased, outlined. I would have done things to get the image I wanted without letting it emerge.

I would have drawn lines to trap the objects, the people and the world into my tiny-little outlines. They would have fit into those boxes and they would have stayed like that - fixed, unmoving and sharp. Surreal to the point of being fake.

But today, the image emerged on its own, unaffected by my outlines, boxes or preconceived notions. Freely the shapes blended and rose as the colors danced with each other (and also fought sometimes). The image was filled with soft, blurry lines that invited my eyes to linger. To imagine.

It was filled with possibilities - and new possibilities arose as I saw again. Shapes shifted, lines blurred, objects emerged and appeared. It was dynamically fixed.

My former sharply defined world seemed like a distant past. This new blurry world was my present reality. It was real, surreal and ethereal - all at the same time.
I, a person of action, who could not be a passive spectator, learned a lesson today about passivity. I saw my life and myself a little clearer in those blurry lines and fuzzy shapes.

This is a lesson I need to remember.
I need to learn to BE. To be a little passive when situations demand so with the hope and the faith that the consequences will not necessarily be bad.
Complete control is not always the solution we seek. Sometimes, one has to wait for order to emerge from the chaos.

I always knew that art mimicked life but today, for me, art carried a valuable life-lesson too.
The lesson to just BE. To learn to wait for things to emerge before pounding them into existence.















Friday, February 19, 2016

Letting go...

For as long as I remember, I have been a fighter and I have always had a firm grip - on plans, hopes and dreams. When things would go awry, I would chip away at it, with an almost manic sense of doggedness. With a perseverance that borders on being a mistake (or probably is a mistake) and has often surprised me too.
I would grab on with all my might and not let go as if it were my last link to life and all that is good. I have spent years like this, in this frantic, death-grip of sorts - on things; on life.

But now, after years of gripping tight, somehow letting go has become a little easier. Instead of tensing up and pulling in with all my might, I am now able to walk away. I let go a little more easily - of dreams, plans, wishes and even life itself. I can now see myself - not fighting things; of just letting go and drifting off.

I wonder though, if I am made or unmade in the process of getting here...

Is this a result of fatigue from the deathly grip and sore knuckles or is it wisdom seeping in? Am I losing my stubbornness or just gaining perspective? Have I lost my resilience or am I just finding my courage in letting go? Is this driven by fear and pain or by a higher purpose? Am I finding a newer self or just letting go of my sense of self?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Hope springs... happiness blooms...

They say life doesn't go the way you planned. It doesn't. But the good thing about it is that sometimes it goes better than what you expected. Or at least that's what people and books said. I had believed in them for a long time but it never happened to me. Not much, at least. But today it did to someone so dear that I felt it happened to me - suddenly, simply, silently, happiness had walked through the door.

Today, I saw a happy ending or rather a happy beginning, after a lot of patience, frustration and anguish. My heart sang at the prospect of such happiness for someone so close.

I had somehow given up on happy endings. I thought they happened only in books and movies for young girls.

Real life is different, I had come to accept. It is colder, harsher, a little more brittle and a lot more confusing.
But today proved me wrong and I am a happier person for that.  Because today made me believe again - that in real life too, happiness can come simply, easily and effortlessly. It can spring into your life one fine day like the spring flowers that line the roads. It can bring beauty, happiness and a change for the better.

Like the spring blossoms, they may last for a few days but they mark a new beginning. They mark a step forward towards a bigger, brighter and happier future. And that is all I need to believe for a little longer - that good things do come to good people. That amidst all the chaos, randomness and luck, good things do come. May be not to everyone and may be not all the time,  but there is enough of a chance to make it worth playing the game.

Here's to the new beginning and a walk in the clouds - because some people are special!
L'chaim!


 


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Daddy's little girl

I have been walking at the edge for a long time... at the edge of belonging and not belonging. 
I have often wondered if someone will be around to help... If I trip. If I stumble. If I fall. 
Will that be the end? Will a chance accident, a slip, a rolling pebble, a stray breeze - be the beginning of my end? 
What happens to me then? 

Will people just blame me for testing the rules, for skirting the edges, for flirting with the boundaries that they, in their 'infinite wisdom', had set? 
Will anyone ever even try to understand my reasons for my actions? My reasons for not following the rules? For seeking something more. For wanting to look beyond what was told to be my rightful place in the world.  

I didn't think so because every time I had looked, there was hardly anyone without a finger pointing at me. I heard jeering and jibing. I heard doubts and incessant advice. I heard voices of concern and I heard fear. 

And through all this time, all I wanted was to know that I was not alone. Not alone in wanting something better, in wanting something real. All I wanted was to know there are people who see some good in me and my actions. And who would want for me what is good for "Me"... not what the world says is good for me, but what is truly good. For ME, for my mind and my soul - as a being distinct from the rest.

But then you gave me that assurance the other day. As you wept on the phone, I could see that despite the anguish and the pain, there was also a flicker of the understanding I had hoped. As you promised to stand by me, I wanted to be nothing but 'daddy's little girl'.... the one who would stoically walk back from school or college after a bad day - only to collapse into a puddle of tears at your one single question. I wanted to be the girl who knew that despite everything going wrong, I will be OK because you were there with me - through it all. I wanted to be that girl because she was fearless. She didn't waver at the edges, because she knew there was a cord holding her - tight and strong. She knew there was a hand supporting her, if she tripped, stumbled or fell. She knew that someone would fight for her when she was tired. 
And that flicker was all I needed to steady my feet at the edges. To dig my feet into the dusty ground and to hold my head high without worrying about the ground below. 

Thank you for that! 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

A year in numbers...

Some years are better than others but the good thing about a bad year is that almost anything after seems better. So that was 2015 for me - the year after a storm.
I did a little more. I learnt more.
I fell less often and when I did, I rose up faster. I ran more. I dreamt more. And I let myself worry about fewer things in life. I met many more wonderful people even as I lost the assurance of some close relationships.
I have some good memories I want to hold onto.
I have some bad memories I am ready to forget.

But unlike most years there are some numbers that define this year for me...

2015 = 68 books in 365 days
2015 = -15 to 20 pounds in ~365 days
2015 = 3 trips in 150 days
2015 = 46 paintings in 365 days
2015 = ~ 500 - 800 miles running in 365 days
2015 = 6000 - 7000 words in 60 days

This year, I want to do atleast this much if not more.







Thursday, December 10, 2015

Come away with me...

Life is a journey, they say. But that sense of constant motion and progress is often broken by periods of stillness. Periods when life is stationary and still; and contrary to what it may seem like, this  phase is not peaceful and tranquil. In fact, it feels like a trap one needs to cut through; a wall to break through or a dense forest to trample through. It feels like the warm waters trapped by a frigid arctic ice sheet waiting for that evanescent summer. In this stillness, there is a restlessness, a desperation, and a force that cannot be contained for too long.

I know you have just come but I've been at this station for a while now, dear friend.  I have seen trains coming and leaving. People coming and leaving. I have seen families meeting and parting, friends becoming and unbecoming. I have seen people falling in love and falling out of it. I have seen the young and the old; even the young becoming the old. I have seen people come in and out of my life. I have seen life pass me by as I have waited for the right train. And now, I feel like I need to just move because it is the stillness that is unbearably stifling. Because now staying in the same place is scarier than going to the wrong place. 

After all, what is a journey without the sense of progress? And what is life, if not a journey?   

And that is why I say, come away with me. Even though, I know we just met and I am ever so glad we did...the truth is, that although I may want you by my side, I won't be able to hold on here for much too long. Cracks are appearing in the frigid layer of ice and I can see the future welling up.  I know the next train is on its way and I need to take it.  
Not want, my friend, but Need. 
I Need to move on but I also don't want to leave you here. 

So, come away with me, my friend... 
We will roam the earth and walk on the clouds. We can sleep under the stars as we wait for them to fall. We will travel through the lands and write our own little stories. We will meet old friends and make new ones. We can laugh with each other and cry for each other. We will find new answers even as we rediscover old questions. We can become a little more of our better selves in learning from each other. I know we will, because, we are better than each other when we are not like each other. 
We can show each other our lives and our stories because I do want to hear them all, from you. I want to hear of your best and worst moments and I want you to know of mine.

I know you have just come to this station but trust me when I say, there are better things ahead. I wish you would just come away with me and we can begin another journey, another life... 



  

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Negative spaces


Spaces and people are most commonly defined by what they contain.
And yet, unappreciated or perhaps under-appreciated by us, the empty spaces that surround them are also defining them constantly - quietly, sharply and effectively.

A negative space, as defined by artists is the space around a subject, not the subject itself that forms an interesting shape, in turn becoming the "real" subject of the image. The concept of negative space has been used effectively in many optical illusions, images and visual tricks; from Rubin's vase to the Japanese gardens - so much so that it is considered a key element of artistic composition


Most of us, tend to define our lives by who we are, what we have and what we can bring to our lives through hard work, planning and dedicated effort. And yet, I now realize that we also allow ourselves to be defined (especially by others) by the negative spaces around us - by what we lack and what we cannot have.

I now realize that despite my many attempts to focus on what is there, I have also allowed myself to be defined by what is not there. I have allowed others to define me by "my negative spaces". So much so, that there have been times when these dark, empty, 'negative-spaces' have threatened to swallow me intact or annihilate my very identity. Much like the Rubin's vase in some sense because once you see the faces, the vase is lost a little bit.

This is a note to myself and to others who have been on these roads - a reminder, to not just let the negative spaces define us; but instead to actually use them and find new meaning in life. The absence of one thing allows for the presence of something else. As we sculpt our lives, dreams and visions of our future, we need to visualize the negative spaces for what they bring to us, than for what they lack.


Monday, September 7, 2015

People of the coast...

There are a few among us who belong to the coast.

We grow up looking outward and wondering about that which lies beyond the oceans. We look towards the unknown - the heavens above and the oceans below. The mass of humanity behind us does little to interest us. Their concerns of everyday living are practical and important but at the same time uninteresting to the likes of us.
We are the people of the coast. The people who live on the edges of the world.
We grow up watching the boats coming in; hearing stories of far and distant lands; and imagining what those lands really looked like. We are the children who can't wait to try the new thing.
The stories that would quench other people's curiosity would only fuel ours more because we haven't lived those stories or seen them with our own eyes.
We wonder about the people that inhabit those distant lands. We wonder if the tall tales that the sailors have are indeed true. We hear of the mythical creatures and wonder what else lies there - beyond these oceans.

We are the people of the coast.
We live at the cusp of two worlds - the known and the unknown. And while we appreciate the security and comfort of the known, it is the unknown that fascinates us. That tingles our sense of curiosity and colors our dreams. We grow up listening to the stories and taking in all their elements. We dream of great explorations in our future even as we work through the world and acquire the skills of everyday living. We grow up watching the ships being built and learning the tricks of the trade. The sailors regale us with the scary tales of big waves and thunderstorms. We listen to them in awe and watch the big waves crashing on to the shores. And yet, we are not scared, not daunted. The lure of the unknown is too strong for us and blinds us of these dangers. We grow up wanting to be sailors and explorers - the discoverers of new worlds. We work our way through hardships because of the unknown and the unseen that stands before us.

And then one day, after decades of work and struggle; after explaining to our loved ones, our need to explore, it is our turn to build our ship and map our journey. And so, we build our ship; perhaps, not as grand as in our dreams but definitely sturdy and ready to battle the waves. We prepare ourselves for the storms, for the rough-shod waves, for the cracks and tears and for those other scary eventualities.

And we leave all that was known to us - and march into a world, unseen and unknown. We hope for the best and yet we think we are prepared for the worst - for the worst of the storms, for the winds and the pirates, for the rocks and the blizzards.

But, then something strange happens - the ocean turns placid and we are stranded by inaction. The winds cease and we are left moored on the ocean, waiting for that gust of wind that will lead us forward.
Waiting.
For motion, for action, for an opportunity - to do what we trained for all our lives. And yet, there is no escaping this. And so we wait. Stranded for days, weeks, even months - hoping that the breeze will pick up and would lead us on.

Sometimes, all you have to do is wait. And hope. 





Sunday, May 10, 2015

On the road where others have been…

Reading for me has often been a quest to live multiple lives simultaneously, to compress time and to see how the 'story' ends. Its a way to read people's thoughts; their biggest dreams and their darkest fears.
And in this quest, it is most comforting when I find a resonance of my own sentiments and thoughts. Just to know that other people have been here and have made it through.

And so after having written about the breaking and remaking of selves, when I found these quotes, my heart felt a little more comforted and a little less lonely…



Monday, March 2, 2015

Look up at the stars...

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.

Stephen Hawking




Some one liners for a laugh...

A good 30 laughs - Dilbert's one liners:

I say no to alcohol, it just doesn't listen.
A friend in need is a pest indeed.
Marriage is one of the chief causes of divorce.
Work is fine if it doesn't take too much of your time.
When everything comes in your way you're in the wrong lane.
The light at the end of the tunnel may be an incoming train..
Born free, taxed to death.
Everyone has a photographic memory, some just don't have film.
Life is unsure; always eat your dessert first.
Smile, it makes people wonder what you are thinking.
If you keep your feet firmly on the ground, you'll have trouble putting on your pants.
It's not hard to meet expenses, they are everywhere.
I love being a writer... what I can't stand is the paperwork..
A printer consists of 3 main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray and the blinking red light.
The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was the genius.
The trouble with being punctual is that no one is there to appreciate it.
In a country of free speech, why are there phone bills?
If you cannot change your mind, are you sure you have one?
Beat the 5 O'clock rush, leave work at noon!
If you can't convince them, confuse them.
It's not the fall that kills you. It's the sudden stop at the end.
I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.
Hot glass looks same as cold glass. - Cunino's Law of Burnt Fingers
The cigarette does the smoking you are just the sucker.
Someday is not a day of the week
Whenever I find the key to success, someone changes the lock.
The road to success.... Is always under construction.
Alcohol doesn't solve any problems, but if you think again, neither does Milk.
In order to get a Loan, you first need to prove that you don't need it !!!

Quotes that resonate..


“True beauty, the kind that doesn't fade or wash off, takes time. It takes incredible endurance. It is the slow drip that creates the stalactite, the shaking of the Earth that creates mountains, the constant pounding of the waves that breaks up the rocks and smooths the rough edges. And from the violence, the furor, the raging of the winds, the roaring of the waters, something better emerges, something that would have otherwise never existed.
And so we endure. We have faith that there is purpose. We hope for things we can't see. We believe there are lessons in loss, power in love, and that we have within us the potential for a beauty so magnificent, our bodies can't contain it.”
― Amy Harmon, Making Faces

“You loved ferris wheels more than roller coasters because life shouldn’t be lived at full speed, but in anticipation and appreciation.”
― Amy Harmon, Making Faces

“It's hard to come to terms with the fact that you aren't going to be loved the way you want to be loved.”
― Amy Harmon, Making Faces

“Death is easy. Living is the hard part.”
― Amy Harmon, Making Faces

“Sometimes a beautiful face is false advertising.”
― Amy Harmon, Making Faces

“I don't think we get answers to every question. We don't get all the whys. But I think when we look back to the end of our lives, if we do the best we can, and we will see that the things we begged God to take from us, the things we cursed him for, the things that made us turn our backs on him, are the things that were the biggest blessings, the biggest opportunities for growth.”
― Amy Harmon, Making Faces

“I was scarred but I was not broken. Beneath my wounds I was still whole. Beneath my insecurities, beneath my pain, beneath my struggle, beneath it all, I was still whole.”
― Amy Harmon, A Different Blue

“Have you ever stared at a painting so long that the colors blur and you can’t tell what you’re looking at anymore? There’s no form, face, or shape–just color, just swirls of paint? I think people are like that. When you really look at them, you stop seeing a perfect nose or straight teeth. You stop seeing the acne scar or the dimple in the chin. Those things start to blur, and suddenly you see them, the colors, the life inside the shell, and beauty takes on a whole new meaning.”

Amy Harmon

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The flutter of a butterfly…

The butterfly effect is a common trope in popular science and fiction that attempts to convey a hard-to-grasp scientific fact: a very small change in the initial conditions can create a significantly different outcome. The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of tornado a large distance away. 

A small twist of fate can alter a lot for one person but I have always suspected the impact of  one event on the course of the entire world. Can one person, one event, one random turn, truly alter the course of history? Aren't we all just pieces in one gigantic puzzle linked together in a million tiny ways but unable to influence the picture as a whole. But then, once in a while, I encounter examples where one person does manage to alter the entire course of history - unintentionally perhaps, but irreversibly altered nevertheless. 

In many ways, the story below - laced with irony, rebellion, intrigue and love - symbolizes the Economist's law of unintended consequences. Ever since I first heard the story, I have been trying to reconcile the monumental impact of this one man, Gavrillo Princip and this one chance event on the world as it exists today. The thing that caught my attention in this story was not the action of men because they failed in their own ways. But it was the role of chance, randomness or luck that truly stood out for me. 

Gavrillo Princip (1894-1918), was a Bosnian Serb who was responsible for the assassination of Prince Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenburg. Princip was born in a family of serfs at a time when Serbia was in a tumultuous state of transition. 

In 1878, under the Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary received the mandate to occupy and administer the Bosnia while the Ottoman empire retained official sovereignty. As part of the same treaty, Serbia was accorded the status of a sovereign state which soon transformed into a kingdom under Prince Obrenovic who ruled within the borders set by the treaty. However, this peaceful state of existence changed when as part of a military coup, the king and the queen of Serbia were violently murdered and Peter I was installed as the new king. This new dynasty was friendlier to Russia than to Austria-Hungary and over the next decade, disputes erupted as Serbia moved to reclaim its former fourteenth century empire. Serbia's military successes in these campaigns further emboldened the nationalistic elements in Serbia and the serbs in Austria-Hungary who were irked by the Austro-Hungarian rule. 

As a christian serb (serf) family living in northwestern Bosnia, the Princips (and other serbs) were often oppressed by their muslim landlords and forced to live off the little land they owned. This led to large scale discontent against the Austro-Hungrian empire. At the age of 13, Princip's brother moved him to Sarajevo and this gave him more opportunities for protest. In 1911, Princip joined the Young Bosnia, a society that wanted to separate Bosnia from Austria-Hungary and to unite it with the rising kingdom of Serbia. The following year, Princip was expelled from school for being involved in demonstrations against the Austro-Hungarian authorities. Coincidentally, after the Balkan wars in 1912-1913 the Austro-Hungarian administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina became extremely serbophobic and declared a state of emergency as the governor closed many schools and Serb societies and inflamed the historic anti-serb rhetoric. All this further fueled the young Princip and he left Sarajevo to arrive in Belgrade. He then volunteered to join Serbian Guerrilla bands fighting under the leadership of Major Vojin Tankosic, who was a member of the Black Hand - the leading terrorist organization in Serbia at the time. Three young men, including Gavrillo Princip at the age of 19, were thus trained, armed and tasked with the assassination of Prince archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by Major Tankosic. These young men were a product of their times as they sought freedom from the Austro-Hungarain empire to unite with the serbs, in hope of a better future. 





Gavrillo Princip, PC: Wikipedia 

Franz Ferdinand's life too is a charming story in itself. He was born in Austria to the younger brother of the emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Karl Ludwig and was thus not the direct heir to the throne. However, in 1889, his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf committed suicide and this left emperor Franz Joseph's younger brother (and Franz Ferdinand's father) next in line to the throne. When his father, Archduke Karl Ludwig, died of typhoid fever in 1896, Franz Ferdinand became the prince and heir to the throne. 

            

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, PC: Wikipedia    Duchess Sophie, PC: Wikipedia 

As a young man, Franz Ferdinand had met Countess Sophie Chotek at a ball in Prague but was forbidden to marry her as she was not a member of one of the reigning dynasties of Europe. Sophie and Prince Franz stayed in touch through letters and their relationship blossomed, away from the eyes of the court. Deeply in love, Franz Ferdinand refused to marry anyone else and after numerous appeals from him and his royal friends (Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, German emperor Wilhelm II and Pope Leo XIII all appealed his case), emperor Franz Joseph finally permitted the prince to marry Sophie. He however imposed a condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their children would have no succession rights to the throne. Sophie was further forbidden from sharing her husband's rank, title, precedence or privileges and could normally not appear in public with him. Despite these brutal restrictions, the two married in 1900 and stayed together for the rest of the lives (and even deaths).  

In 1913, in the midst of the crisis in Serbia, Emperor Franz Joseph commanded the archduke to observe military maneuvers that were scheduled for June 1914 in Bosnia.  June was also a time of great unrest in Serbia as it commemorates the 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans when the Sultan was assassinated by a Serb. This was a time for serbian patriotism and military observances. Although, Duchess Sophie could never share the archduke's rank and splendors as the prince; she would not let him travel alone as she feared for his safety amidst all this turmoil. In fact, if you were to believe historian AJP Taylor, love was the reason they met their deaths on this fateful day in June - "[Sophie] could never share Franz Ferdinand's] rank… could never share his splendors, could never even sit by his side on any public occasion. There was one loophole… his wife could enjoy the recognition of his rank when he was acting in a military capacity. Hence, he decided in 1914, to inspect the army in Bosnia. There at its capital Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife could ride in an open carriage side by side…Thus, for love, did the Archduke go to his death".

On the fateful morning of June 28, 1914, The Archduke and his wife arrived in Sarajevo by train and the entire motorcade including the governor of Sarajevo began its journey as per a pre-announced program. Six armed assassins including Princip were positioned along the motorcade route with a single target in mind - Austria's heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. 

The first two assassins along the route failed to act but the third assassin, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, who was armed with a bomb decided to take action. He threw his bomb on the motorcade but unfortunately the bomb bounced off the convertible and exploded under the next car in the motorcade. This blast caused a major furore as 16-20 people were wounded. The assassin Cabrinovic swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the nearby river to evade the police. Unfortunately for him though, the river was running dry and only 6 inches deep and the cyanide pill did not quite work.  He was thus taken into custody and severely beaten. A disaster seemed to have been averted as the assassination attempt appeared to have been foiled. The motorcade sped away to arrive at the town hall for the scheduled reception where the Archduke (understandably) complained about the reception accorded to him - "Mr. Mayor, I come here on a visit and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous." After a few soothing words from Sophie, he finally thanked the people of Sarajevo for their ovations "as I see in them an expression of their joy at the failure of the attempt at assassination." 


After the commotion of the explosion and the rally, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie gave up their planned program and decided to visit the wounded from the bombing at the nearby hospital. The remaining assassins had all dispersed to avoid capture and it seemed that the  plot was indeed foiled. 


Now, this is where fate makes an unlikely entry and alters the course of events. 


Once the Archduke and Duchess board the motorcade, the accompanying general orders that the royal car be  taken to the Hospital through a route that avoids the city center. However, the driver of this motorcade, Leopold Lojka did not get the order and took a wrong turn into the Franz Josef street which had a cafe. Fortuitously enough, after the failed assassination attempt, Gavrillo Princip had wandered to a nearby food shop - Schiller's Delicatessen on the same street. As the universe conspired, it was at this point that the Archduke's motorcade made the wrong turn. The driver, upon being told about the changed route was trying to reverse the car when the engine stalled and the gears locked giving Princip an unexpected opportunity. Taking the chance, Princip stepped forward and fired two shots from a distance of about 5 feet. The first bullet wounded the Archduke in the jugular and the second inflicted an abdominal wound on the Duchess (who some reports say was pregnant at this time). Both victims remained seated upright but died while being driven to the Governor's residence for medical treatment. As reported by Count Harrach who was with the motorcade, Franz Ferdinand's last words were "Sophie, Sophie! Don't die! Live for our children!" followed by six or seven utterances of "It's nothing" in response to questions about his pain. 




Princip and the other assassins were meanwhile caught and imprisoned for high treason. At his sentencing, Princip stated that his second shot was aimed at Governor Potiorek than the Duchess. Princip was 19 years old at the time of the assassinations and was thus too young to receive the death penalty. In fact, he was 27 days short of his twentieth birthday which would have made him eligible for death penalty under the Habsburg law. Instead, he received the maximum sentence of twenty years in prison where he contracted tuberculosis and died on 28 April 1918. Princip had stated under cross-examination: "I am a yugoslav nationalist and I believe in unification of all South Slavs in whatever form of state and that it be free of Austria." Princip, was a young terrorist who wished for nothing but the betterment of his people. 




Assassination illustrated in the Italian newspaper Domenica del Corriere, 12 July 1914 by Achille Beltrame.


As fate conspired, this single event - the assassination of the Archduke, triggered a chain of events that resulted in the first world war within a month. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia and dragged Germany into the war. Russia responded and France got involved leading finally to the entry of Great Britain. The war began one month after this assassination and continued for 4 years leading to one of the bloodiest wars in world history that spanned almost the entire world in one way or another. The first world war, of course, was directly responsible for the Second world war which ultimately shaped the world as it exists today. And so, one can extrapolate that the gun shot that was intended to start a local protest by killing the Archduke actually triggered a whole lot more than that. 

Ironically, Princip was saved from the death sentence by his young age but he only lived long enough to witness the horrors of the first world war and the millions of deaths that directly resulted from his actions. I cannot be certain but I am fairly sure that given the benefit of hindsight and knowing the consequences of his actions, Princip might have chosen to not fire his gun on that fateful day. Because if you extend the chains of causation - the current middle east crisis, the Israel-Palentinian conflict, the cold war, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Pearl Harbor, The third Reich, the treaty of Versailles, the first world war - they all occur at the other end of that one gunshot! 


I have long suspected the impact of individual agency on the course of world history because it often seems that our actions are often drowned by those of the multitudes around us, especially when it comes to changing the world. And yet, when I come across examples like this, I am forced to believe in the agency of one - for better or for worse. The agency of one, aided by the randomness and chaos that drives us is sometimes just as powerful as the flap of that butterfly's wings. 


Post-Script: 
My journey into understanding the first world war began through a podcast (Hardcore History by Dan Carlin) but it soon led me to dig deeper in books by John Keegan (The First World War) and Barbara Tuchman (The guns of August). This story has particularly captured my fascination even as I have dug-deeper and read more about it in wikipedia and other media outlets. 

Reference Sources: 
1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_of_Austria
2) G. J. Meyer (2007). A world undone: The story of the great war, Bantam Dell.
3) John Keegan (2000). The First World War.
4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Archduke_Franz_Ferdinand_of_Austria
5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavrilo_Princip
6) http://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/princip.htm
7) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/27/gavrilo-princip-sarajevo-divided-archduke-franz-ferdinand-assassination
8) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/27/guardian-1914-analysis-archduke-franz-ferdinand-shooting





Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cities…

Cities - these densely populated clusters of humanity guzzling resources and energy. These eclectic ensembles of people from disparate regions and origins. Different in their hues and shades and yet painted with similar strokes.

I grew up in cities but they remain an enigma to me when I think about them.

Are they man's victory over Nature or our last stand before complete retreat? 
Are they resource efficient, well organized settlements or are they resource intensive, haphazard clusters?
Are they a melting pot of cultures or merely a single malignant culture? 
Are they a sign of man's victory or a sign of our surrendering the rest to nature? 
Are they a sign of hubris that we keep building them over and over despite every assault from the elements? 
Are they a sign of human prosperity and endeavor or are they merely nature's tolerance of human whimsy?  
Are they a source of pride and joy or a mission gone awry?

I return to cities, over and over, like the ocean bluffs finding their way to the shore - almost as if I had no where else to go. Why? 


Things to remember…

"Our travels give us sights to behold, but it is the stillness that helps us gain insights."

"Making a living and making a life can sometimes point in opposite directions."

Paraphrased from Pico Iyer

So very true…



The unsolvable problems…

These days my mind is preoccupied by one thought, or rather one question.
What do you do when you are the biggest obstacle in the happiness of your dearest people? What do you do when there is no right choice - when life is messy, twisted and confusing? Who gives up their happiness when everyone cannot be happy with the same choice? Philosophers have thought that "greatest good" is a good thing to strive for… but is chronic sorrow for one better than acute sorrow for many?
Can these questions of justice, happiness, fairness ever be really resolved?

I meander through these questions weighed by a sense of guilt and sadness unable to make the choices because I am hopeful that the future will change the circumstances. But who knows what the future brings? I try to train myself for a future where the people I care most for will not longer be there and I will be faced with a burden of guilt. A guilt for not doing everything I could to ensure their happiness. I weigh my responsibilities to me with my responsibilities to others. Who wins in the end and who loses?

We all seem to be losers in this zero sum game where only the future seems to have all the answers.



Sunday, November 30, 2014

Chance musings…

Words, I now realize, can be capricious and perfidious. They can be hollow and meaningless at some times and at others, they can encompass the entirety of our existence - the known and the unknown. I have used them on various occasions to various ends - intentionally, unintentionally, on request, as a challenge, to help myself, to help others, for mirth and to chastise. 

Chance musings led me to some random excerpts I had written over the years and since this blog was meant to be a collage in text, I decided to post them here, for another chance encounter… 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This was the Nature Future's segment where they had asked for a short paragraph (200 words, I think) on how our future might look like. I didn't end up sending it so don't know how it would have fared among the other entries. 

"My dear Maya, 
It is that time in my life that parents dread because they have to finally let go of their children. It is time for me to pass on from here, to whatever lies beyond. 
When I was in your place decades ago, I cherished my parents' memory through their books, their photographs, and through this house. The physical world held for me the essence of my parents in the form of their belongings. But now that the State owns my physical world and will take everything of mine from you upon my passing - I thought I should leave something behind for you. Something for you to hold onto and to revisit at a later time. In this portable memcore you will find my thoughts, memories and reflections over the years. I hope my mistakes, miscalculations, oversights and dilemmas will serve a purpose and help you navigate through this ever changing world.
Lots of love,
Mom"

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hope is a dangerous ally. 

Something I have always felt and yet never managed to convey so succinctly… The right words just happened to fall in place while on a text chat. Strange are some days.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There is a fine line separating chivalry and chauvinism. 

Another of those glimpses from a random conversation that tend to grow on you… 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A dear friend asked me to try and write something for a public awareness campaign about giving the right of way to ambulances. It seems fairly obvious to many but somehow, in reality, ambulances are still stranded in rush hour traffic in India. And people still lose their lives, stranded in a traffic jam. It is a great initiative and while I can never be sure of how much of a difference these campaigns can make, I certainly would want someone to try. And I was glad to be given an opportunity to be a part of it. 
  

"This time last year I was training for a marathon. I was a healthy, 35 year old successful executive who was running 20 kilometers at lunch and then heading back to work. Today, I sit here waiting for someone to push me out of your way. I need assistance to exist. 
A lot can happen in a year, you'd think. 
I can tell you, a lot can happen in a few minutes. 

It started as fatigue that I attributed to the training but it was a stroke of terrible luck - a life-altering event. Within a couple of hours of that cloudy , foggy afternoon, I knew this was not just fatigue. There was more happening here as words failed me and I felt like I was drowning into a deep, cavernous silence. What I realized later was that my brain was drowning in its own life-blood. A tiny blood vessel somewhere had ripped at the seams and was leaking blood. It was a stroke. 
A stroke of misfortune that will stay with me throughout my life. 

It need not have been so bad because the doctors later told me that I could have recovered full function if I had been attended to within the first four hours of that leak. 
And… DON'T you think I waited too long because when I called for help, I was still only two hours into that disastrous leak. The ambulances arrived on time too - in half an hour. I could hear the eerily shrill sirens roaring down the streets as they picked me up and transported me. But what I did not know then was that I had not chosen a good day to have a stroke. 

The streets were crowded with scurrying diwali shoppers driving to and from places, in a hurry to make merry.  No one cared for our ambulance blaring its sirens because everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere - a theater, a mall, a school, a market or even just home. They all had promises to keep, deadlines to meet, festivities to begin. And stuck behind them all, was the white ambulance - blaring its siren and its red lights - that carried me in a daze. We stayed there immobile, stranded. Waiting for tiny spaces to open up in rush hour traffic. 
Even as the ambulance was stuck unable to move; my blood was flowing freely into my own brain. Choking parts of it and drowning my life with it. 

If only they had given us some room to get through to the hospital. Those shoppers would have been a few minutes late or even an hour late. They would have missed a meeting or been late for a dinner. But I, I missed my whole life in those few hours. As the blood leaked, it overwhelmed areas of my brain, and drowned parts of me never to be found again. If only they had given way to the ambulance. If only they had cleared the roads. 
If only I had reached in the first four hours, the doctors say as they shrug helplessly. You could have made a full recovery but, now, you are too late…. 
I am too late. 

And today, I sit here in a wheelchair, waiting for someone to help me clean the spittle off my face. I look at you people and I wonder constantly, how many of you were on the road that day. How many of you could have saved my life… by not doing anything heroic or dramatic. By just getting out of the way. How many? I sit and wonder… 
Never did I think, this would be my fate, perhaps at 80 but certainly not at 35. I hope you never have to experience this, but tomorrow, when you are stuck in traffic, cursing the blaring sirens behind you and refusing to budge - stop for a second and think of me.  Think of the person inside that white ambulance and the few minutes that you could give him. They could just as well make all the difference in the world." 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Everyone comes with their share of troubles in the form of idiosyncratic quirks and annoyances, some people just seem worth the trouble. 

Hoping for a fair and logical world builds up expectations which only set you up for failure and disappointment. 

Do all you can so that you don’t have any regrets and then prepare yourself to accept the outcome - good or bad. The universe is not a fair place that works according to what we want or deserve… 

In one of those moods… 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rediscovering a gastronome…

One thing that I have often complained about but now accepted is my severe inability to remember stuff… A glaring manifestation of that happened just now as I was browsing through my computer's search records looking for a file. Happenstance however, I ended up finding something else I had written. I am fairly certain this was in the last four years but for what end, I really cannot even imagine. 
Nonetheless, I thought I will post it here for another day when another memory lapse might lead me to yet another rediscovery. 

"As I sit here almost 8000 miles away from home, trying to pen down an article on request, there are many things that are flooding my mind. But since I have been asked to talk about food, I am going to try and restrict myself to it. I am not a connoisseur or a gastronome. I am a simple person who eats to live (and not the lives to eat kind) and who believes in cooking well to eat well. I have very few preferences in terms of food and as Phoebe once said, I can eat almost anything without a face (being brought up as a vegetarian does leave you a little disadvantaged in that one arena that faces become unappetising…). I have also almost always had a very high threshold for taste and smell perceptions and that just means that I need a lot of salt to taste the saltiness, a lot of spice to taste the spiciness, a lot of sugar to get the sweetness, I am sure you get the drift by now which is that, I basically needed a lot of anything to sense it, one way or another. I was a survivor in some sense. Quite unlike the gourmet friends of mine, I could eat almost any food and not complain – be it the mess food or the food at some other unmentionable places (unmentionable because I am still not rich enough to spend money on libel cases, you see!).

My introduction to food as an art and an experience happened after my introduction to IISc and a few people (unmentionable now, because of privacy issues than the fear of libel) who surrounded me and who kept talking about the texture of food, the smells, the looks, the subtle tastes and a whole lot of such stuff which was completely unpalatable (pun intended) to someone like me. More often than not, I was left amazed at the sensory acuity of my friends… (one of them could actually smell food and tell if the salt was right.. !!! (Wowo… and at this point you should imagine me staring at her with my not so very well-known “jaw-dropping look”)

But that was the beginning and from that shaky beginning I have now evolved to see the very many pleasures of food. I have started to explore diverse cuisines and to note the finer points of the entire culinary expedition. I find it fascinating to now eat a morsel of food and to try and discern the components that built it… I mean, the spices, the herbs, the vegetables that went in… The subtle flavour of oregano or pepper, salt or mustard, basil or cumin, garlic or ginger etc etc…. I find it fascinating that people can actually do that !! I have also started noticing the kind of food that I like more than a few others, I have started paying attention to the texture of food, the amount of oil, the possible variations etc (the fact that I didn’t have an on-going PhD to pay attention to did help enormously). I assure you that it would have seemed like a lot of indulgence and vanity to me too perhaps a few years ago but now I can see the art and the craft underneath. I have started to appreciate the view of the connoisseurs. Afterall no pursuit can be trivial and while books interest me, food could interest someone else. And more often than not having food could kill you while not having a book will only upset you a little.

I also realize now that my unbridled spirit in dealing with ingredients was kind of kept in check by the fear that I could have others consuming (and perhaps commenting) on the fruits of my labour. A physical distance from such daunting responsibility and a solitary existence in distant lands, has now  truly liberated me from the bonds of tradition and cuilinary shows. I now cook for myself knowing fully well that I will still love myself no matter how the food turns out and I experiment with gay abandon. I mix ingredients just because they appeal to me and I match recipes. The fact that I have to cook for myself has only opened up a new journey and I am loving it so far. Cooking can be therapeutic in some ways. Coming back from a crazy day at work with a disastrous experiments, pushy bosses and dumb colleagues, cooking can be a relaxing activity. One atleast gets a good meal at the end of the day and the joy of creating something new is an added bonus. It is an experience that I treasure and look forward to. I am exploring a whole new world and as McDonalds says it “I’m lovin it”. 

But then through all these years, there has been one thing that has been a constant in my life – my sweet tooth (I didn’t lose it when I lost my milk teeth and grew the permanent set !!). While, I was quite unaffected by most food and not really choosy about what I put in my mouth (well, there is a child in me still ;)); there was one thing which really got me dreaming and drooling. Desserts!!! Oooo wonderful desserts!! Through the more physiological endorphin and dopamine release the desserts – cakes, pastries, cheesecakes, mousse, muffins, chocolates… have made many a rotten day feel better. I have often craved for some simple sugar and chocolate combination when things have been going far from good and my friends have pampered me through. From a cheesecake at Amma’s to the ganashe tart at Freska’s to sometimes the Tiramisu at Miller’s, I have relished many a fine desserts. I have also realised that my weakness lies in the combination of a bitter-sweet taste of dark chocolate or coffee and sugar, like life as it is (well… I knew there was a philosopher in me all along). I love the chocolate melting in my mouth even as the nuts give me something to chew upon. I love the warmth of the molten chocolate as it seeps through the cold vanilla ice cream and I love the sweet mascarpone cheese even as the coffee soaked sponge cake crumbles in my mouth. If there were a heaven, I would say that I have seen glimpses of it and I am very happy with it too… J

But then, here lies the challenge for the future, through my culinary explorations, I have still not ventured into the land of desserts, simply because it sounds like a sacrilege to me!!! But one day I do hope to make a leap of faith and try my hand at some of these bits of heaven accessible to ordinary mortals like us… Till then I console myself saying that there should be something in man’s reach but just out of his grasp. After all it gives us something to look forward to. So as I prepare myself for my giant leap (sometime in the future) I continue to dabble with smells, textures, colours and tastes as I explore the world of culinary perfection though my own humble means. 

As a sincere advice, I would say “the devil lies in the details” and one must watch out for what one puts into their mouth… it is a rewarding experience…

Happy eating and happier cooking to you all!!