For the small things in life

Lying down, chasing that elusive sleep which never surrenders without putting up a good fight; I ponder about things big and small. Like a wash-basin drain, no matter where I begin all topics always spiral in and end up in one particular question, “What next in life?” for which I have a lot of ideal answers but none so simple to put an end to this question once and for all. So, when these night thoughts want to pull in someone to take the blame and the usual victim is my past self, who has to take the brunt of the all the judgement I pass onto myself and the stupidness of my past decisions. Had I done this or done that things would have been better now. There is no denying that things would have been different, but I don’t think it would have been any better and even if it did, I don’t know whether it would be worth it.

Until I finished college, life has been like that water-slide which goes round and round with its twists and turns in an amusement park. This ride called education is the compulsory first ride. You may either enjoy every second of this ride or dread it and scream all the way through, you have to go through it and you pretty much have no control over it. You can try and eject out of this ride midway, but it most often than not ends in a crash landing, and too few stick the landing and end up successful to consider that option seriously as an alternative route. Of course a lot of people don’t get to take this ride. That’s a totally different story, I complaining about the privileges I have got may sound insensitive and ignorant. But a broken leg and sprained ankle will rank very differently in the scale of pain, but still both pains and both deserves a remedy and a cure.

In the journey of life, there are certain time-worn milestones or the big things in life as I like to call it, exists. Everyone’s culture and society may offer a slightly different variants of these but, in their core everything is the same. Stripping them down to their essence they are; get respected, earn money, gain power, get a life partner, procreate, invest into the progeny. It’s basically these things combined with context becomes a big milestone in a normal person’s life. Achieving these are supposed to make us happy in this life or after it.

This undulating journey of life is a pursuit of a source of an eternal high, a state of unending happiness or so I believe. Once you achieve one milestone, it is replaced with the another. In this peregrination, we are asked not to waste our time on the small things in life saying that they are too trivial and short lived to be the meaning of life, to be the purpose of our existence. But, my experiences show that those big and important things in life are also impermanent and are not always a source of happiness. What good is life if we don’t get have a little fun on the way without any precious purpose assigned to it, take detours away from the run of the mill things, meet new people without thinking about how they are going to be of help in the future, marvel at the trivialities, and be consumed by the present. Life is too long to wait for the payoff at the end of it and too short to get second chances.

There is no denying that these big things in life are the things which keep us going and not be broke at the very first mile of the journey, they provide the fuel to go further. But, it’s these small things which make the journey bearable and makes us to go do all the way through. I’m not saying that I’m going to enjoy a trivial life, but that these small things are ascribed a meaning worthy of them when placed in the midst of these big things. So, for the small things I love, I choose to put up with the drudgery of the big things in life.


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 we did do together to justify all the ruckus I have been creating about her becoming a monk. 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, we would 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 against 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 that 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 is needed 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 providing the food. Let’s make one more assumption in this hypothetical world of all saints that fruits and vegetables are growing 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 as I have known her. 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?


Why the rabbit lost the Race?

“You have to do this, because you can do this”, said the voices around me. This was followed by a very familiar list of reasons why I should win this race. I know; being born as a rabbit hopping around on these furry little legs is no unusual thing to be expected of me and also I know that I’m not very good at doing anything else, but there is a lot of difference between running out of joy, running away from a predator and running around for a reason which you don’t fully understand. The motivation matters. The reason which gets me running determines how well and how long I run. Since, running has been the only thing which I have always done I have out ran all the nice parts of running. It’s no longer fun as I have experienced it in all it’s forms. Now every time I run, I compare it with a benchmark of yesteryears from when I was still enjoying this process, to a remorseful end because there is a perfect image of running in my mind which I believe that I had for real in the past. The present always falls too short of it. These things don’t prevent me from running, for my life depends on me running. But, it’s an unsatisfying one. I constantly feel a void which never seem to get filled by anything I fill it with.

Now to make things even worse I have been pitted against a turtle to prove myself. Typically I should have been enraged by this belittling competition, but I’m not because I’m far too lost to worry about these superficial stereotypes of the society. Is there an end to this all encompassing void I feel. I think the way out of here is to stop running. People would say that I would lose my identity if I stop running, to them I ask “who defined me this way?”. I didn’t choose to be this way. I once loved running, I still do but not in the current form I do it. I chose not to run in this race. Not, because I was afraid, or due to incompetence, or because I think little of the competition but just because I don’t feel like running. I’m the rabbit who chose not to run, but the world sees me as a loser who inspite of being a rabbit lost to a Turtle.


If I were a god

If I were a god, would I change anything in the current state of things in the world, or would I have created the world in this way in the first place. But, is playing god always about creating or destroying things? Why not live the life like a god? Who wouldn’t want a life where everything they ask for happens…

You don’t really need everything to live a life like god. There are only a few things which matter, and those too matter only with a few people. Of the few who does matter, one will trump them all. This is the most difficult enigma of all, you don’t know which one it is. Being a god would greatly help here. If not you choose the right option, you can atleast make the chosen one the right one. I don’t think even godly powers would be of any use to me for the mission I have in mind. Falling in love for a women is too easy, but making her feel the same way towards us is truly an herculian task. If Battling the self-doubts and breaking through that unreasonably poor self-image is half the battle, then gathering up the courage to announce the unspoken is the even more difficult other half. Not all battles end in victory. In life there are a lot of wars to fight, so is this the one I should be fighting? Battle after battle, defeat after defeat persistence may eventually pay off, but what if this isn’t the war I must be waging? What if this was not against the right opponent? What if defeat is inevitable? Would I have the time and the heart to wage another war when the next right person comes along? Being a god would greatly help. If I were a god, I would…



I paid a prostitute and she returned it

Life is a strange thing. The fine line which we believe to divide the right from the wrong seems to disappear and cease to exist when we take a step back and see the bigger picture. At the end of the day all that matters is the thing we do which gives us the comfort that we will live to see another day. Even if we think that there is no purpose to our existence, we simply just don’t go commit suicide, if so then that thought process also would have never exist and should have perished with their bearers. Whether there is meaning to life or not we all unanimously wish to live and for that we do whatever we can. Some people’s choice of means are popularly disapproved, but if it really were not a choice of theirs to make what will they do?

It was our department’s alumni meet that day, as in every other function the schedules were just there to be printed on the invitations and not to be followed. It was all merry,  one thing got to another and time flew. One of my Female senior asked me whether I would accompany her home that night, because it is already past the time of the last bus to her home and the train is the only option for her. But, the problem with taking the train over the bus is, between her home and the railway station there is a dark stretch of road and a wine shop. Explaining any further about why she asked me to come is obsolete here after. We reached the railway station and passed through the eerily dark road and reached the main road. When we were just a couple of streets away from her home, she told me that she could go on from there on her own and I need not futilely exert myself. I didn’t understand the underlying meaning of what she meant at first. But the reality of my ignorance hit me hard in the head when she persistently insisted that I go back. There are people in this world as neighbors and house owners, and that they have a different interpretation of the event of a girl coming home with a stranger boy late in the night.

I walked back to the railway station thinking. When I got a ticket and sat on a bench I realized that my phone’s battery was dead. For a millennial with no phone is like being a penguin in Sahara, it was very uncomfortable and unusual. The train was 40 minutes away and it was the last train of the day and the next train after that is 4 hours later. This 40 minutes became unforgettable to me. The railway station was empty except for me and a poor old beggar at  the far end of the platform smoking. A train came in the opposite direction to which I’m supposed to go and a handful of people got out of it. Everyone left the station in a hurry, except for a woman who came and sat in the bench, next to me. Since she was the only one in the whole station I was paying attention to her. She pulled out her make up kit and applied some of it and turned towards me. She smiled at me and like a reflex I reciprocated it completely unaware of what was going to unfold next. She came and sat next to me. She placed her hand on my thigh and asked me how much I would pay. Taken aback by what just happened, I was short of words and couldn’t believe that this really happened because I have never even imagined in my wildest dreams that I would encounter something like this in my life. But I’m sure that I was not hypnotizing at that moment because her hands on my thigh felt very real. With the shock of the moment all that I could muster out is “nothing”. I froze. But when I got back to my senses I was excited, I was excited about meeting this stranger and to know her story. When I said I was looking for something else with our time together other than physical pleasure, she told that it was a waste of her time. She agreed to talk only when I offered to pay for her time, and also after realizing that there were no other potential customers there in and around that station. She made a condition that she would talk if I gave her all the money I had. I agreed readily because I knew what was there in my pocket. Before I could reach my pocket, she pulled my wallet out of it and emptied every last coin in it on the bench. She was disappointed with what she saw, there was only 189 rupees there. But, she was a woman of her words, she agreed to talk. I had only one question for her, “Why?”.

Her story

All I wanted to know is why she is doing what she is doing. She threw the harsh realities of life on my face. She didn’t answer me directly, instead asked a few questions which answered me profoundly. She asked me what I think about why she is doing what she is doing. I had no answer. She told me a story. She began, ” Once upon a time, there was a 16 year old girl standing at the CMBT Bus terminal alone at night with an empty stomach and nowhere to go.” She asked me how long and by how do I think she would survive. When a helpless 18 year old was forced into bed by her employer on whom her next meal depended on, what will she do? When every man she thought that would save her were looking for something in return from her, she asked what will she do? She said earlier it happened without her getting anything out of it, and now she insists on getting paid for it that’s the only difference. Though this mean of survival was forced upon her, now no one is forcing her to stay. She is into this on her own will, because according to her there are only two cravings for a person, the craving of the mouth and craving of the other. For her this job satisfies both. She asked me why should she change. She lives her life by the moment and more importantly without regrets or fear. She pulled out a bottle of poison from her bag and said that she carries it with her all the time. It was the poison which she bought to end her life when she was still believing in the morals and rules of our society. Now, it serves as a symbol that she is in control of her life.

The train came while she was talking, she hurriedly put back all the money into my wallet and gave it to me. Before I could open my mouth, she slapped me hard on the face and laughed her heart out about it. I felt nothing. When I got into the train she told me that I’m no different from other men and I’m a big loser. She got out of the station and walked into that dark road alone without any fear in which my senior asked me to accompany her. She disappeared into the darkness as the train started moving. I have nothing to say.


Do we all really have the same amount of Time in a day?

Whenever someone starts talking about Time Management, more often than not they will quote that, “Everyone from Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to the homeless sick old man sleeping in the platform has got the same amount of time in a day”. But is that really so? If we all have the same amount of time in a day how does Elon Musk can afford to aspire to go live in Mars in the next 5 years, when I couldn’t even fathom getting to buy myself a decent home in a posh neighbourhood in any given city in the same time period. Why is there a glass ceiling, an untold threshold to what each one of could achieve in a given day?

My first argument is that even though each one of us has got the same amount of time before the clock resets, we all don’t get to have equal access to all that time. A mother of a newborn who also has got a full time job as a software engineer, doesn’t really have the same amount of time as her unmarried colleague who doesn’t have the responsibility of taking care of and rising a newborn, who lives in a studio apartment, who can afford to wear the same jeans for a month and wake up everyday, brush their teeth and get to work. There are millions of cases like this where one has got some duties and reasons to do extra work which in a sense doesn’t propel us in the direction that we desire to progress in. No matter how efficient you are in doing that job, still you got to spend at least one second on that job more than someone who doesn’t have to do it at all in the first place. These responsibilities are not universal so we all don’t have the same amount of time in a day.

But still it’s not that I have got to spend a few hours a day towards my unavoidable responsibilities is creating this gargantuan difference in my potential from attempting to live in Mars to scraping the bottom of the wallet to buy a home. There is one more myth that we can’t buy time, not even borrow or lend it. This is said in a sense that no amount of money can make us time travel back like in a sci-fi movie and go to a earlier instance in time. There is no disputing this claim. But when we wish that if we had had more time or if we want to relive the past so that we could have some things differently, are we really wishing for the time to be back or do we want a different outcome for that spent time? When I wish that, if only I could go back to the time before my board exams, I would put my head down and study well so that I would get better marks than what I got now and get into that top rated college. When it is possible to buy your way into the same top college through capitation and management quota seats without having to travel back in time and correcting the wrongs, is that not buying back time with your money? When you don’t have to spend one more year preparing for that entrance exam and buy yourself a seat in that same college right now with your mediocre marks, is that not one year earned?

When you don’t have to wait in the line to get something just because you are the son/daughter of a person of power, whose power was bestowed on them by virtue of the governmental position they are holding or due to their social status attained by being part of the dominant group in the societal hierarchy. Does this not constitute adding more time to our day than others? All forms of social privilege we are enjoying are in a way adding more time to our day which is being taken away from others who are oppressed by the systemic social mechanisms.

Even if we manage to get the same amount of time as everyone else, still the output of that time is not going to be the same. There may be some inherent limitations to how much work we can get done through no mistake of ours or of others. You could solve only so many math problems in a minute even with extensive practice and training and may be that could be less than a prodigy who out performs us without breaking a sweat. But most often this is not the reason for the difference. The time of a black person and a white person are not the same, the time of the privileged and unprivileged are not that same, the time of people of different countries are not the same, of different faiths are not that same, of people coming from different neighbourhoods are not the same, of people speaking different languages are not the same, the time of people of different socio-economic groups are not the same. Indeed some people get to have an head start due to a multitude of factors and some get disadvantaged due to a number of reasons. This may be unfair, but is unavoidable.

Though always a different leverage is applied to our time and some get head starts, we should notice that our finish lines need not be the same always. I need not have to go to the Mars, or even buy a house within the next year. What the socially set standard of success and happiness is and what really brings us joy and what we really want to do in life could be polar opposites. Our times are not the same, but we are all given the same opportunity to choose to run or not to run the same race as everyone else, where the odds are not uniformly stacked. But when we are determined to run this race, when it is our own choice, do these differences in time really going to affect us?

Deleting Histories

Do you remember what dress you were wearing twelve days ago, what food you ate for breakfast last week, what was the first word you said to your co-worker sitting next to you in office a couple of days ago? Human memory is amazingly short-lived and it’s capacity small enough that it demands us to remember only the important things. Human ingenuity has come up with solutions to solve this deficiency by categorizing and assigning identification tags to similar things. So, we no longer need to remember the colour of every single elephant, but just remember that all elephants are black. But, a problem arises when this logic is applied in reverse. Not everything which is black and big are elephants and more often than not people are unconsciously using this faulty logic and are not willing to question it.

I feel this system of classification is doing more harm than good, historically and also more so in our present day. When people ask me which college I studied in, which place I’m from or what my parent’s are doing, they are trying to use their prejudice and classify and put me into one of their boxes. These are like the modern day equivalents of asking people what their caste is. But to be honest people still ask and look for signs of what caste others belong to largely even today. There is nothing wrong in asking people about their college in an attempt to know about their college, but when the college serves as a measure to gauge the person; I’m disappointed.

Every single moment we are tagged with our past which may or may not represent our true self. We are not judged by what we want to do and where we want to be in the future, but by what we were and where we are from in the past. With the improvements in technology these classifications and predictions based on these classifications are becoming more widespread and very generalised. So, statistically if a person with similar attributes as me didn’t do well in life, now this system is going to put me in the same bin as them and is going to deny me the fair opportunity I deserve. Nowadays, the job applications are increasingly being scrutinized by machines than by humans and this is a growing trend in other domains as well.

This growing sense of insecurity forces me to be wary of my history. This is a long persisting social issue which happens to be aggravated by the advent of technology. I wish to delete my history and become a nobody for the fear of being classified into the wrong group. It’s high time we should start acknowledging that all that glitters are not gold.

I met god in the bypass road

Even when the world appears to be coming to an end, for the people in Sales and Marketing March months being the end of the financial year doesn’t lose any of its importance. This day (A Tuesday in the second week of March) was supposed to be my last customer meet of the month as the people were now only slowly starting to realize the seriousness of the situation and are slowly announcing office closures and work from homes owing to the rapid spread of the Coronavirus. I was a little scared to travel during then in public or shared transports. Normally I would have taken a cab to make this travel of about 30 Kms, but in this extraordinary circumstance my odds of catching the infection by travelling in a cab from near the airport was too high. I just can’t afford to take that risk. But since this was the last one for the month I wanted to get done with it and also a lot of other things depended on the outcome of this meeting. My destination was Ambattur and I was in Tambaram. So, I borrowed my friend’s bike to go to Ambattur. When he gave the bike to me he said that the fuel was low, and asked me to fill up on the way. He also added that there must be enough juice in the tank to take me to the next petrol bunk. I took his words a little differently than what he had meant it to be.

From the place where I took my friend’s bike there was a petrol bunk in about half Km if I go in the road on the right side. But, google maps said that there is less traffic in the road on the left side and that I could save 4 minutes by taking this route. Wanting to be smart, I took the road on the left and thought that there will be a plenty of petrol bunks on the way and I can fuel up in the first one on the way. This route indeed was the fastest, since it requires me to take the NH32 for the most part of the journey. I have been on this road a handful of times before and I had failed to notice one key thing about this road. This stretch of road between Tambaram and Red hills did not have a single U-turn anywhere and once we enter the NH the very next exit comes only after about 9 Kms near Porur. And, more importantly there is only one petrol bunk on this stretch and that also is on the opposite lane and to reach there it would require me to travel 9 Kms forward, take an U turn at the exit under the bridge near Porur and travel about 5 Kms back. I had to learn all this the hard way.

I had come over 4 Kms into the Highway and I saw that Petrol bunk on the opposite and lane and thought that I would take the next U turn and come get some fuel. But after going a little further I ran out of fuel. I was marooned in the middle of that by pass road. This is when I pulled the Google Maps out and surveyed the area and got all those knowledge about the road which I was explaining a little while ago. This was totally a dumb thing for me to do. Pushing the bike to the next nearest Petrol bunk was not really a good idea as the next one was about 10 Kms away and also the Sun was high in the sky and scorching me with 37 deg Cs of Chennai’s Humid hotness. Out of options I wanted to book a cab to pick me from where I was, go to the next petrol bunk, get some petrol in a bottle and come back to where I have left the bike and refuel it and take the bike and be on my way to Ambattur. But as an extension of my misfortune for that day I could find no cabs in that area. I tried everything from Ola, Uber and even rapido, but for no good.

I found a petrol bunk on the map about 3 Kms away from the highway, but the problem was that there was no gap in the barricade on the side of the road and I have to leave the bike on the road, jump over the barricade and walk and get the fuel. This wasn’t such a bad idea since I have nothing better. I started pushing the bike and I wouldn’t have come a few metres away from where I ran out of fuel, I heard a voice behind me asking me, “Have you run out of Petrol, Boss?”. I was thrilled to see someone stop by and check on me. He didn’t even wait for my reply, he offered to tow me to the next petrol bunk. This was an offer I can’t refuse. I readily accepted his kindness. I didn’t know how to thank him. This was even more remarkable because I didn’t even ask him for help. He came out of his way to help me. He started pushing my bike from behind sitting on his bike. He asked me where I was going and he towed me till the nearest petrol bunk in that route. When the petrol bunk came near, he just told me that the bunk is on the left and he took his legs of my bike and went on his way showing a thumbs up to me. He didn’t even wait for my thanks. At that moment I would have built a Burj Khalifa itself for him for the help he has rendered me. He pretty much saved my life that day. I would have done anything that day for him, but he didn’t even want a thanks. I know nothing about him except that he rides a blue Bajaj Discover whose back left indicator was broken and was dangling by a wire.

I’m really amazed by this unconditional help rendered to me by a stranger. I’m not sure whether I would have done this to anyone. All along the time while I was being towed I was wondering about what this man would want in return for the help he is doing to me. I couldn’t even intuitively understand the idea of helping someone seeking nothing in return. One would at least expect gratitude in return, but this man didn’t even wait for that. This was like god had come to help me. But, actually I don’t know whether god would be coming to help people like this. A man in the by pass road came to help me and he was one kind MAN.

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.

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. 

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…

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…