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The city, I and my fears

A fortnight in the city, I’m no longer exploring the city, but the city is taking me on a tour of my inner self. Walking the streets of this city I’m discovering more about myself than about the city. I have grown up to accept the traffic of the city as an integral part of it’s being and am no longer whining about. But, that doesn’t prevent me from trying to escaping the almost stand-still traffic queues during the evening commute. In an attempt to escape the beast of Mumbai’s road traffic, I found another monster in the form of the local trains. Since the time I started thinking about my self as an adult, I can’t remember a time when I was petrified. I have done some crazy stuffs so far in my life, had made a lot of impulse decisions, been unmindful of consequences; none of them caused fear in my heart, and this was totally different. I felt totally ineffectual. And probably for the first time in my life, I felt small. A couple of days back, I would have said that I could do anything that is humanly possible in this world; But now I’m like I could do anything in this world except for travelling by a “Fast” Mumbai local train. Speaking the truth, there was nothing new or unseen that I saw there in the station. Almost every Railway station in the country follows the same template and looks pretty much the same. The train’s coaches are just identical to the ones I’m used to travel in Chennai as they are both made at the same place. The crowd was also not new to me as the Chennai locals also do get crowded during the peak hours. Though the crowd in the Chennai train’s may be a little less when compared to Mumbai’s, but still Chennai trains would get crowded enough to cause you discomfort. Visually there wasn’t much of a difference, but I could feel the difference in the emotion of the place. The working class of the Chennai’s trains too would be tired after a long day, but they would have space (both figuratively and literally) to unwind in their commute back home. Though the trains in Chennai are not the most comfortable mode of transportation, they serve the city pretty well. But the crowd in the Mumbai’s trains were not just tired, but Angry, Annoyed, Anxious, Frustrated, the whole air around the train was so negative that it repelled me and I literally took a couple of steps back and watched motionlessly the chaotic routine of people on the platform trying to force themselves into the train and the people who are supposed to get down at that station pushing hard against the tide to get out of the train. There was no room for decency on the train. No one apologised for stepping on someone else’s toes as everyone knew that they are going to step on a dozen more of people’s toes and at least a few tens of people are going to step on their toes, so there was no incentive to be civil. Everyone was just contended that they were able to make the commute. The train was sweaty, cramped, filthy but the people were glad just to get a small hand hold and a little space anywhere on the train’s body to rest any one of their feet and travel dangling out of the train along side the spit and stain marks of paan on the sides of the train. The trains are indispensable as the alternatives are worse or simply just don’t exist. When I finally managed to get into a slow train, that is when the demons from the closet came to haunt me. The train was overflowing with people, and I was separated from the gang. Though the people I came with are in an earshot distance, panic started creeping in. What if I got lost in this cosmic city. I can’t speak a single word of Hindi yet. For all the combinations of misfortunes I thought that could happen to me during that ride, I found out that my phone was the only thing which could take me to safety in all of them. So, I held on to my phone, like my life depended on it (Actually, I really still believe that it did) and I was holding it so tight that it felt like I’m holding my heart in my hand. No time else before I depended so much on a particular thing and did not trust my ability to salvage any situation. I always had an Plan B. But now there was no plan at all but not to get lost.

All is well that ends well. To me the Mumbai local trains are like Demi-gods. I could found a whole religion based on them. The local trains are like the saviours which has come to save us from the drudgery of the city’s traffic and deliver us to the promised land. In a city as dense as Mumbai these trains are serving an herculean task. I can write a book of complaints about these trains but looking at the context of the city these trains are just perfect. There is always room for improvement, but still these are perfect none the less.

To read more about my experiences in local trains follow the links below. 

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The city and Prejudice – 1

Straight out of College, moving to a new city where I speak not a single word of the local tongue is quite intimidating to be honest. But, strangely I seem to love this new city. I have lived in three cities before moving here, for a significant amount of time enough to say that I know those cities, but none of them comes even close to what Mumbai is. Mumbai is everything that I would call as a nightmare in the shape of a city. The traffic in this city is so bad that my evening commute from the office to the place where I stay by the company’s bus takes an eternity. This takes more than the time of a round trip from my college hostel to my home town. The traffic in the streets are literal chaos. This is a city where people stand in lines to get into a bus, but has no respect for lane discipline or for the traffic signals. But, I can’t blame them for it as the traffic signals here are not a modern day marvel either. There is a four way junction near by where I stay and it is the most sympathetic traffic light I have ever seen. For every ten minutes or so it turns Red on all sides, even for the Pedestrian. The whole traffic would halt and it would take a few moments for everyone to realise what is happening. And then a Traffic constable would come running towards the middle to set the traffic into flow again. The traffic light behaves like it takes pity on the poor road and wants to give it a little rest occasionally. In a city where daily commutes takes hours, every time one stops at a traffic signal a little amount of their sanity is sucked out of them. But, which major city doesn’t have traffic woes?

This city is a melting pot. Being the economic capital of the country it pulls in people from all parts of the country, that also in large numbers. This city is a microcosm of the nation. I have never seen so much diversity in one place any where else. These people bring in their cuisines and their cultures along with them and the city seems to be bustling with festivals and celebrations in this part of the year. Janmashtami happened to be first festival for me to witness in this city and it was lit. People seem to be very passionate about their cultural identities and take a lot of pride in it. This provokes me to think about the scope for discrimination in the city. Though my complexion and looks blare out the geoposition from which I hail from, I haven’t experienced any discrimination significant enough for me to take notice yet. But, since I have been in the city for only a week now and most of my interactions have been only with the people from my workplace and there haven’t been much scope for conflict yet. But no city has ever been noble enough to rid itself of all prejudices. But there has always been a instrument for checks and balance built into the society to make the diversity work for the betterment and the overall good. In a city as diverse as Mumbai I wish to see the invisible lines and wrinkles which run through the city and how the city manages to hold it’s peace than the Gateway and Marine drive. I want to walk their street and eat their food and experience the city like how the locals experience it than to stand away and see the monuments of the city. I want to know how the economy of the most costliest city to live-in in this country affects the cultures of it’s people and how the cultures of the people affect the economy of the city. This beautiful city has got a lot to offer and I got a lot to explore…

When your colleagues are twice as old as you…

For a millennial who has had a lot of exposure towards and have expectations to succeed in a startup culture, working within a corporate culture which has it’s bases and draws it’s influences from the past millennia is a totally different from what I dreamed my dream job is going to be like. But at the same time I do not totally admonish the codes and practices which this corporate culture encapsulates. At the end of the day these are what has made this company reach the valuation in the billions and most wonderful of all sustain and grow on top of it. I work in a company where people boast about their service periods which are greater than my age and definitely the average age of my colleagues would be almost twice as that of my age. I look up at everyone of them with at most regard; I have got a lot to learn from them. But at the same time I feel that they have got to learn somethings from us millennials. Especially I would like them to have our attitude of dissatisfaction. This has already earned me a brand of being too ambitious from my bosses.

I also sometimes feel that this need to be extra polite with my colleagues a huge hindrance for me to express myself freely. They just seem to take offence at a lot of things. College didn’t coach me in this regard at all. My words need to be measured at every instance so as not to even unintentionally offend anyone. But I seem to like this way of working so far, because it’s different from the carefree nonchalant ways of my college days. I don’t know when I would start feeling that this job is going towards a dead end. So far every day has been a new day and every instance has been a new opportunity to learn and grow from getting to enjoy the essence of the knowledge gained through experience of my colleagues.

I seem to have said “Yes Sir!”more number of times in the last couple of months since I joined this job than I had said those words all through the four years of my college. May be the day I start saying “No Sir!” I should start looking for a new way to earn my living.

Escaping Reality

If there is one unifying thing which we would all agree upon then that would be that the reality sucks. No matter how nice and rosy others think that your reality is, it always sucks for you. We try very hard to prove it otherwise, but resistance is futile. This is a universal truth, no one can ever escape it absolutely. But, there are ways to find short-lived solaces. There are a lot of ways to take our mind away from the grueling reality; Art, books, music, cinema, drugs, sports, games, friends, people. But none of them seem to give a good return on investment and also with everything at last the bill comes due and we are back in reality. The pursuit for an eternal high, is this going to be an unremitting voyage?

Being the odd man out

My appetite for novelty has been quenched or atleast seems to have been diminished after a month long in an alien land. Now I seem to wish for something familiar to break this monotony of unusual experiences. This city is amazing. Though I seem to use a lot of not so positive words to describe it, I don’t mean to demean it in anyway. The city operates in a totally different scale and I’m marvelled by it. The city is not perfect in any way, but it is very efficient in its own way. The people I met here have been wonderfully warm to me. They happen to be very considerate of me but still I feel something missing.

Once there was a time when I longed for new experiences and wanted everyday to be fresh and out of the usual. And now I seem to be living that dream, but I’m not contended. Though every thing is new, every experience fresh and not from my Book of I have done that before, something is stopping me from experiencing it to the fullest. I’m an odd man in every situation. Though people don’t intentionally treat me like that, I seem to feel like I don’t belong. I appear to carry an wall with me everywhere I go and have to climb over it everytime I need to interact with anyone. This wall is my lack of proficiency in the language these people speak. It’s been almost a month since I set foot in this new city and I don’t think that I have had more than an handful of conversations which goes beyond the usual pleasantries. Though people seem to know English over here, they are not very comfortable in speaking it over extended periods of time. And the moment they switch over to their native tongue I’m totally lost in the woods. But I don’t want to keep asking them to translate what they said every single time as I myself find it annoying as well as I don’t want to take the cliche that, “What they just said isn’t important enough for me to know”. I pretty much have been relying on non verbal signals and the very little vocabulary I picked up of the local tongue to wade through this last month. This has made it very difficult for me to make meaningful relationships. But I’m glad that I could find at least a few people with whom I could connect and get closer to a level that I could offend, get offended, fight and then reconcile with in this short span of time and that too with my patchy mode of communication. I wish I could have created better relationships with these people had I know their language, but I wish it more that these people were comfortable in a language which I already knew so that they could have known what they are missing from me, which they would have seen had we broken the wall of the communication gap between us.

My friend became a Monk

How long should you have known a person for them to leave an impact on your life? Two years was all that was required for someone to make me feel their absence every single moment they were not there. When that person is preparing to fulfil their life-long desire, should you feel so sombre that you wouldn’t even care if the sky was coming down crashing. After all the great time of friendship in school if that person suddenly falls off the face of the earth for an year and comes back with some pretty awesome stories giving you hope that we can be friends forever at last. But again goes Radio silent for a couple of years and finally calls you up on a day of summer rain and tells you that this is possibly the last time we are talking over the phone and in a weeks time you won’t even be able to come see me, so can we meet for one last time. All this because she wants to become a monk. In the 21st century who in their right mind becomes a monk? Apparently my friend does…

To present some context on who she is, this wonderful friend of mine is Preksha. She joined our school in 11th grade and I was in my 9th grade then. The best time of us knowing each other were the hour long commute from our hometown to school to and fro. What’s the big deal about making friends in High school? Every High schooler does that. What big thing which did we do together to justify all the ruckus I have been creating. But the truth of the matter is we didn’t do anything big ever together in school. It’s all the small things, the nuances of a strong bond of friendship which most people don’t recognise that we did great. Everyday or at least on every school day the sun rose and fell while we were having the best of the conversations ever. No topic was too mature and nothing was too childish to talk about for us. From Ghost stories to the last episode of the power rangers, from Spirituality to Nihilism and stoicism everything was on the menu. Sometimes we also did what normal kids do too to, we do the personality analysis or situation – character case studies about people which was most commonly known as gossiping, but we did it in our own way. She was the most mature teenager I have ever seen in my life. She provided me the moral and emotional anchorage to endure through the nightmarish high school life. During school time itself she had spiritual inclinations and even casually told me once that she wants to become a saint after doing a psychology degree and explore the meaning of life. I didn’t take it very seriously then, High school kids always told something new and uncommon about what they wanna do in their future to sound cool. Not many end up doing the things in life that they dreamt of in High school. But Preksha indeed did her Bachelors in Psychology and is now becoming a monk.

Though I don’t have considerable interest in religions, I never think little of someone who does. I see religions as a necessary tool for social harmony. I respect the people who see religion as anything other than as a mean to make money. I’m disheartened by my friend’s decision because I would never get to see her again or at least as a person whom I have known and been friends with, and I have some ideological differences with accepting monkhood as a mean to find the meaning of life. I believe that ridding oneself of all materialistic desires and living a life of minimalism is the bravest thing one can do. But I just question the effectiveness and necessity of such an extreme measure to reach that end. Consumption in moderation could be a better way of approaching enlightenment. I’m alright with the parts of sainthood which emphasises material possessions and physical pleasures, but I disagree with the rules which takes the humanly traits of empathy and removing oneself from the relationships with other people we have, to attain true self-realisation. If living life as a saint is the most noble way of life, I see a huge logistical problem if everyone takes it up. What good is an ideal model of life if it fails if everyone takes it’s path? To give an insight into my argument, if everyone becomes a saint, who will be the person doing the hard work to produce the things which need for subsistence? For I have heard that practise of any kind of professional activity is prohibited after accepting sainthood. In this case who will be the one who will be providing the food. Let’s make one more assumption in this hypothetical world of all saints that fruits and vegetables grown in ample amounts to meet the needs of all just on their own in the wild. In this hypothetical world life seems to descend into the rudimentary routine of “eat, sleep, repeat” of the animal world. What purpose or meaning to life would you find in this world. Of course this is not the reality of our world in which these people are becoming saints in and they got several challenges in their path and it’s not very simple to live the life of such extreme discipline. For all the spiritual endeavours of centuries of saints until now, what progress have they made in finding the true meaning of life? At this rate how many more centuries do we need to reach there?

May be all my arguments are stupid and baseless. For a person like me who was born and brought up in a capitalist environment without many strong spiritual influences may find it very difficult to quantify these uber abstract concepts and accept them as absolute truths. May be I should see and experience these first hand to realise the truth and effectiveness of these things. I engaged in a never ending battle of reason with her on why her becoming a monk is not going to solve anyone’s problem, she matched me point for point for every argument. The thing which took the wind out of my arguments is that she said that “she ‘believes’ this path of righteousness is the path which would suit her to take her to her destiny. There may be several paths, they all may be effective too, but this is the one she ‘believes’ in”. I can’t argue with that. It’s her belief. If she was doing this because of someone else or of not her own conscience, I would have turned this world upside down and inside out to prevent her from doing this. But she is accepting this way of life with her whole heart, this is something not many could say about their lives. So I couldn’t object her on her decision any longer. In the end she proved to be just as good as she was in winning arguments just like in the good old days, but I’m sad that those good days are coming to an end.

People ask me why are you lamenting over this as though she is going to die tomorrow, to me I indeed see this as a demise of her as a person that I have known. She no longer is the same person after she becomes a monk if not she has already changed. Now we both seem to be going off into tangential life paths, but though we both are not satisfied with each other’s decisions we both wish for our paths to cross once again and then I’m sure we both will be asking the same questions, what did you find? Was it worth it?

The Balloon Seller in Radha Nagar

One of the most debated and criticised topic in my undergrad hostel life would be the mess food and the seemingly impossible way of arriving at an optimal schedule and variety of dishes for a week which satisfies all. Hostel food always smells good when it is being cooked and terribly disappoints on the plate. I always wonder what could possibly go wrong between the stove and the serving area. So, search of good food constitutes most of our night life during college. But eating out brings with it a different set of decision to make; the number of people going, their taste preferences, that one infuriating occasional vegetarians who doesn’t eat meat on specific days, the offers and discounts on Swiggy and Zomato, whose birthday is coming up, what time is it and which part of the month it is (because pocket money is inversely proportional to the date of the month) all these goes into consideration before deciding on where and what we are gonna eat that night.

Going out to eat at night in Radha Nagar is a wonderful experience. Entering into the Station road of the Radha Nagar itself is a phenomenal thing. Going from the yellowish Halogen illumination of the college back gate into the brilliantly white lit street by the shop’s lights brings a child like enthusiasm into me every single time. These shops sell almost everything. The super narrow street which permits only two wheelers to bifurcate the pedestrian traffic and go sometimes even showcases the spectacular manoeuvring skills of the auto drivers who take the road as a shortcut to reduce the travel distance. Radha Nagar at night is an happening place. Though there is so much noise and commotion running along side the serial and cricket commentary volume flooding the street from the TVs in the shops, I always felt a strange sense of peace in that street. It is almost be like perching on top a rock in the middle of the flow of a river and witnessing the river. That flow consists of tired office workers rushing back home get their due of rest for the day, the brisk shopkeepers trying to make a sale to the fleeting potential customers and us creating turbulence in the flow by obstructing it in our quest for dinner that night. Radha Nagar at night is a great place to go people watching.

One such night when I was returning to the hostel after having food, I saw an old man standing in a relatively dim lit spot on the road between shops and selling deflated rubber balloons. Night times in hostel are pretty long ones, so I decided to buy a few balloons for the puerile entertainment for that night. Though what we did with the balloons that night itself would make a great story, it was not the most remarkable thing about the night nor there was anything particularly special about the looks of the old man. He was just another street hawker whom we all see on the streets of Chennai. But what he said after doing business with me made me to meditate upon what he said. He told as I was handing over the money to him that his son was in America, he was a brilliant kid just like we people (pointing towards us). He also said that he has a daughter who is a doctor and in all he has five children. He said that he loves his children while he handed me over the change and gave a goodbye pat on the side of my shoulder. I left with out saying anything. But I had a lot of questions in my mind. Firstly is this man delusional? Is he talking about the prospects of the children he never had or is he blabbering about the expectations he had for his children who never were able to materialise his expectations? Because if he really has a son who is in America, a daughter who is a doctor and the three other children whom I assume would have accomplished almost similar stability in life, why is this poor old man standing here selling balloons in the street? What if it was all true, how horrendous it would be.

Appalled by this old man’s choice of making a living which showed very little prospect of providing a square meal a day, I was wondering about what life has in store for me. Children abandoning their parent’s in their old age is not something which is novel in anyway as I have heard and even seen several accounts of it and have witnessed those poor old people doing hard jobs at times even beg to live through their final days. I appreciate the fact that this man wasn’t begging. But in life if something unfortunate were to happen and if I was forced into this situation would I be able to sell balloons and fill my platter at the end of the day forty years down the line? Forty years down the line would there be scope for a person to sell balloons in the street anymore. Would it make sense then? Because this world is fast changing. We are at a juncture of changing times. The unskilled labour of the Industrial revolution era which is providing a source of livelihood for the discarded, disabled and disadvantaged people like this old man are fast declining. Especially in a country like India where there is going to be an abundant supply of fresh young workforce constantly available for the next half century or so, what is the fate of the ageing workforce which no longer proves efficient as well as has no additional value to add in the name of experience? There are only so many ATMs there which can give them anchorage in life as night watchmen, only very little employable positions there are that they could prove to be economical to employ these people, what would the remaining lot do?

India is boasting that it has the greatest number of youth in the world, but in a few years these youth and all are going to get old and one day we are doing to be country with the greatest number of old people. Would the Indian economy have grown big enough to support this huge burden of old people by using this golden era of Indian Human capital? Is the country in the right path and in the right hands? I’m not sure…

To be Continued…