Wednesday, May 24

Gimme Shelter

Take the lid off of an Idli steamer, with a flourish because that's about all the drama there's left in your life, or with a snarled bit of invective which is equally effective when you've forgotten the feeling of hot metal on skin.

A cloud of vapour will rise, desperately seeking the heavens like Icarus on acid, so brave in the moonlight.

As an aside, if you ever wondered how a tree bark curls, now's the time to stick your arm above the vessel and watch your skin pucker, burn, peel and roll over like an obedient dog.

It should ruin the idli but curiosity demands sacrifice.

Anyway, steamed right, the idlis will be cooked perfectly.

Steamed wrong and it's your welcome to Bombay in the summer.

The city is a vessel on a medium flame, trapped within hand-made, self-constructed walls.

People drag themselves out of beds damp with sweat, the pungency an outcome of staleness rather than the spice of an erotic encounter.

Baths are taken, showers are stood under, heads bowed in forced penitence to the uselessness of the act.

The ads lied.

No soap, body-wash, deodorant or perfume can withstand the great sweat cataracts roaring and gushing from every pore and orifice.

Clothes cling to skins with the cloying longing of the one-night stand who does not leave.  

Commutes are simply about destinations where air conditioners, fans or both are hopefully waiting.

Everyone's fantasy involves the Liril Girl; not so much her as the waterfall she's under.

So humanity reaches offices in droves, wistfully wishing to bask in the cool, artificial air.

Together, the city stares listlessly at the day.

And those who can afford to, dream of the monsoon at night.

Song for the moment: Nightland - Droid Bishop 

Sunday, May 7

Playtime is over

Every river flows at its own pace. If you row long enough, its rhythm becomes yours. The muscle memory you develop helps navigate past cunning eddies, slack patches of water and even dangerous rocks hiding beneath the surface.

When you ford one river and face another, you must be patient. You have learned how to row but rhythm is something you must master all over again. You don't always take to it like a duck to water. Come what may, you must remember to take deep breaths and make peace with the fact that unknown rapids around a bend could capsize your craft in the blink of an eye.

Heavy figures of speech apart, tomorrow is when I must relearn rhythm. So far, I have been meandering along tributaries. Now, it's time for the River. All I can hope for is a good long ride, to the sea, not a rough one to a waterfall.

In keeping with the water theme, I wonder what goes through a swimmer's mind as he awaits the starting gun. What is he thinking about? The coldness of the water? His plunge? The competition? Or is he in the moment, trusting his arms and legs to just know what to do?

I wish I knew.

Song for the moment: Starman - David Bowie

Wednesday, May 3

Begin again

One of the great cataclysms of my life occurred in July 2013. Some genius at Big Broogle headquarters decided life was too good and pulled the plug on the best feed-reader ever developed - Google Reader.
One minute's silence while we shed a collective tear, heave a sigh of resignation, gather ourselves and find the strength to carry on.
Reader was everything a Rich Site Summary (RSS) collator should be; simple to use, easy on the eyes and dependable as a Swiss watch. An added benefit back when we were all perpetually signed into Google (which I now know was a bad, bad idea) was Reader's 1-click accessibility. Those truly were the glory days of feed-reading. Blogging was extremely popular, people wrote if not daily then at least bimonthly and the world's best RSS tool would faithfully keep us updated.

Of course, Chaucer certainly knew his onions when he coined the phrase "All good things must come to an end". And so, Reader did, mourned bitterly by loyal users but ruthlessly sacrificed to introduce the world to its repugnant heir, the new Eye of Sauron+.

Like most people, I moved to Feedly. It was... well, never mind what it was, that is, satisfactory at best. Critically, it just wasn't Reader and that fact basically doomed Feedly for me. I tolerated it more than I liked it. I always signed in filled with resentment, shaking my fist & railing against the unkind fates who... anyway you get the picture. I kept my Feedly subscription but used it only occasionally. That is, until yesterday, when the universe dusted off the hammer, selected a suitable nail and began knocking it into the coffin. Because that was when Feedly primly informed me that my ad blockers had to be disabled if I wanted to keep reading.

Many years ago, I developed a healthy horror of online ads, social media buttons and trackers which is why Ad Block Plus, Ad Guard and Disconnect are the first add-ons I install on any browser. Now, I understand Feedly's predicament. There's no such thing as a free lunch. A lot of time and effort have gone into offering this service to thankless bastards like me. The only way to keep the wolves from the door is advertising. But.

Which is when I wondered if there was a desktop feed-reader for Linux. It intrigued me because most tools designed for a Linux distro tend to be pretty spare. A little bit of searching led me to RSSOwl. Installing and setting it up was a piece of cake. And, if first impressions count for anything, I like it. It reminds me strongly of Reader. I don't need to sign into anything to use it. There are some handy tips & tweaks I will slowly try, though the basic version is good enough. So, it's time to read.

As an aside, migrating feed-readers always leaves me a bit sad because I discover just how many of the people I follow gave up the writing ghost a long time ago. Some links have been kept for nostalgia's sake while others have been discarded. Such it goes.

Song for the moment: As long as you follow - Fleetwood Mac

Monday, May 1

Hurt

One of the indisputable joys of my holiday has been the daily dose of cricket. The Puneri and I have been batting and bowling at and to each other for just about 15 years. But that is a different, mostly meditative experience. A regular game of neighbourhood cricket involves more people, excitement, gamesmanship and yes, fun too.

Being the supremely fit early 30s types, which is to say 'not', we play half-cricket with the kids in his society. Mercifully, this involves a tennis ball, one step chuck-bowling and fewer asthmatic huffs and puffs. So, balmy Pune evenings have been spent satisfactorily thwacking the ball to all parts and rediscovering lungs.

That is, until I attempted to take a catch, only to have the ball smash squarely into the top joint of an involuntarily bent index finger. If you've ever played any impact sport, you may have winced right now. As well you might. One minute, the sun was shining, the birds were singing and all was right with the world. This halcyon scene was swiftly eclipsed and the birds silenced by my squawk of agony. Signals were being urgently telegraphed to my brain that woe was about to be me.

Within a minute the finger had swollen up so fast, my other appendage should have been taking admiring notes. I took one look at joint which was heavily bruised and turning a shade that would put most sunsets to shame and did what the average guy would do; continued playing until the game was over, after which I iced the injury. Yes, I know... men are stupid like that. I then got home and taped it, hoping to straighten out the finger which, alarmingly enough, was now bending of its own volition.

I tried to correct the curve out once. Just once. Let me tell you now, dear reader, that I am no stranger to pain; a migraine is my bosom buddy. But this was an "And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger... and you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee" level of agony.

After two days of watching the finger attempt to become a brinjal and me yelp every time a breeze wafted by, the pater indicated a doctor's visit was needed. The medico glanced at it and delivered his verdict with a nonchalance a la Eastwood in the best kind of Spaghetti Western - hairline fracture with the tendon possibly torn off the joint. He then told me I had to wear a Mallet Splint on the finger for 6 weeks or let it develop a hook more befitting a Stymphalian bird. 

There was only one problem. This particular splint must be the rarest bit of medical equipment in the greater Aundh-Baner area because the 17 pharmacies I visited in search of it... er... gave me the finger? (seems the most appropriate phrase here). They either shot llamaesque looks of scorn at my daring to even ask for the mallet splint or pulled out a variety of paraphernalia which were everything but what I needed. Of course.

With a temporary splint jury-rigged out of toothpicks and tape in the best MacGyver fashion, I type this, forced to make do until tomorrow when the search continues. I won't lie and say this injury hasn't dampened my holiday mood. Still, I comfort myself with the thought that my spirit may be bent but it surely will never be broken. My body has other ideas, however.

Song for the moment: This ain't the summer of love - Blue Öyster Cult

Friday, April 28

Without words

The origin of the phrase "No news is good news" can be traced back to 1616 and King James I. The bloke may have casually looked into a crystal ball, seen today's media malaise and Twitter madness and calmly prognosticated his advice, which I heartily subscribe to.

Why did I sign up for Twitter in 2011? A shamefully weak need to conform I suspect. I do not have a FB account, have disabled all of Google's social tentacles and felt the need to keep up with the happenings of the day. What it certainly wasn't for was the present's endless barrage of rumour-mongering, desperate embellishment of minor incidents, opinions and worst of all, opinions on opinions that plague and spread faster than viruses through the third world. 

And lest we forget, open letters, that vile class of 'content' that stands alone in its pretentious horror.

I vented my frustration at this state of affairs to a wise friend who has patience aplenty. He laughed gently and suggested I curate my Twitter feed better. I took his advice and failed miserably, simply because some of the allegedly well-meaning people I 'follow' simply don't know when to call it a day. I'll see an article they've written or retweeted and click on said link. It will be followed by a putrid torrent of similar pieces, every one of them separated by some barely minuscule differences and accompanied by the same fucking hashtag, lord help us! Yes, I read, understood and respect your position on a matter, your philosophy on the government, every avatar of '...archy', life, the universe and everything else. Is there any need to keep dancing gleefully on the corpse of your viewpoint until the end of the world?

Being rather cerebrally challenged, eons passed before I cottoned on to the fact that this cycle of content was making me anxious. Be it news or opinions, it seemed I could not swim, only sink rapidly into the internet morass. It was so addictive, it became part of my morning ritual to sign into Twitter and check in once an hour throughout the day.

I feel like most platforms are bubbles that usually only serve to reinforce one's cognitive biases. And what passes for news is manufactured controversy. A singer makes a comment about prayers, a girl says something about war, an actor discusses his worry or a politician points out how horrible economy class flights are and fin. That's all the media, trolls and other content churners need to distract all & sundry, sucking everyone into a whirlpool of commentary and outrage. Heck, even serious issues such as a Machiavellian universal ID system become noise when the well-intentioned keep squawking about it every hour of every day. Get a hobby, you guys.

This 2-week hiatus from normal life (what a tragedy life has become) has allowed me to experiment with staying off Twitter and away from any news. Completely. And you know what? I haven't missed out on anything. No friend or family member has peered at me, aghast that I have no knowledge of some fresh or stale perfidy or foolishness. And my anxiety is reducing. If anything, I am now determined to keep this state of grace going as long as possible, even after the customary Murine jog-trot commences in a week's time.

I reckon Thomas Gray wasn't too far off the mark in 1742 when he said "Ignorance is bliss".

Song for the moment: Gossip in the Grain - Ray Lamontagne

Wednesday, April 26

The shortest straw

I am in between jobs right now. Not jobless, though I've had the chance to experience that twice. No, between wrapping up at the previous workplace and joining the new one, I flimflammed and hoodwinked my way to a 2-week break.

Now here's the situation. I am 34, single, without any serious responsibilities and with a reasonable amount of doubloons in the bank. Most people in these shoes would have planned or simply trotted off on a nice vacation somewhere. I am not most people. And it is only now that I am experiencing the power of conditioning (not air conditioning... egads, this summer heat). You see, for 2 and something years, I've worked, without a break. I take my weekends seriously and made it known loud and clear that I was not prepared to hotfoot it to the office to show "commitment". Every now and then, official working weekends couldn't be helped, though any sharp-eared character could have heard my jaws grinding in irritation. Unofficially, I reckon there were almost none where some ideas or scripts did not have to be thought of or fleshed out. So, now that 2 actual work-free weeks have been presented to me, I don't know what to do.

Sure, I wake up latish, enjoy every sip of filter coffee with gusto and loll over breakfast. There are no trains to catch, mails to check or deadlines to meet. Yet, I can feel something gnawing at my gut. This scenario feels wrong. I know, I know... it's crazy and stupid but try talking my brain out of it. I wander about the house in the somnolent Pune afternoons, read books in various rooms, gulp down glasses of iced tea, water the plants and generally mooch around in the accepted fashion. God knows I need this vacation. But I'm not enjoying it 100%. That's frustrating the dickens out of me.

For one thing, everyone and their uncles asks the standard question "Oh, why aren't you taking a trip somewhere?" As if I were the village idiot to whom this idea never occurred. I flash the weary smile of a latter day Stylite and explain my predicament. There's no one to holiday with. My friends are busy working or simply do not have the time. And I'm rather fed up of doing things by myself. Alone. I live alone, I travel singly (though I am given the opportunity to get intimately acquainted with a variety of sweaty armpits and backs on the Bombay trains), I cook meals for one and yes, there's no one in bed except me. After a point, it begins to try a man's soul. Even one in admittedly as limited a supply as mine.

I used to enjoy taking solo trips. I have no problems eating in restaurants or watching movies by myself. Heck, some weekends I am happy as a clam to be left to my own devices. Par ab mujhse na ho payega. So, I am pottering around the house, playing cricket in the evenings, arranging to meet old friends for lunches or dinners, and yes, even blogging. But it isn't joy, jollity and song.

However, one unexpected benefaction of my time has been to my patti (grandmother). Her annual visit to Pune has coincided with mine. That does mean I cannot lurch home late at night smelling like a brewery (these old folks have noses that would put wolves out of business). Though that is the least of her worries at present. The change of weather has given her a nasty cold & cough. The pater is rather getting on in years himself and busy to boot and the sibling has balanced work and life to ensure absence from home for most of the day. This has left the resident dogsbody to perform the medication ministration, as it were. That's fine by me.

One of my earliest memories of childhood is of suffering from chickenpox at the age of 2. I vividly remember a fever that left me delirious and the acute pain of a sore throat. I lay in a much-washed, cotton-soft sari clad lap, being fed rasam-rice by hand. That was my patti. Over the years, there have been many occasions her love, care and cooking have soothed my illnesses away. Now, it's my turn. Not because there's a debt to repay but because love works in many a mysterious way.

Life has a funny way of coming full circle, what?

Song for the moment: Anthem - Leonard Cohen     

Monday, April 24

What's on my mind

The 10th anniversary of this blog went by in March. I'd thought of writing something on the day, about the occasion but was defeated by a score of genuine reasons and a handful of lazy excuses. I cannot actually comprehend just how much the world has changed since the afternoon I tentatively began typing the title of my first ever post. I don't even remember why.

There I was, proverbially dazed and confused in a university city in the deep South of the US. Lonely, homesick and unable to overcome the feeling that I'd committed a ghastly mistake by picking Birmingham. I was halfway through my second semester and filled with regret that I'd taken on an unbelievably difficult Law course (that I'd never use). That Spring, I'd visited friends and family in NYC, which added to the black depression I was under. NYC was everything Birmingham was not; loud, lively and crowded. Since I barely had the money to cover rent every month, taking an impromptu trip home was out of the question. So, I took comfort in the written word.

How different things were! Facebook was a brand new phenomenon, tentatively creeping across college campuses throughout the country. My roommates and friends, always more enthusiastic than me about anything except beer, dove into the experience with gusto. Heck, Google itself was only working its way to a state of omniscience. Phone cards were zealously compared and hoarded, Indian food was bought by walking 5 kilometers to a Chinese store and songs from the film Gangster and others by Himesh ruled many a private music play-list. Yep, truly bizarre. We had no cars and depended on the University bus service or the charity of senior Indian students to visit the far away Walmart and Sam's Club. And boy did we have to make those trips count.

We gave each other haircuts, cooked langar-scale meals and got wasted on weekends. It was a mindbogglingly simple life, yet filled with struggles every day. Some of my friends found their courses tough while others needed to work off-campus at night to make ends meet and have enough left over to pay their student loans. We had left our homes behind and had no idea what lay ahead. The horizon of the future seemed so far away then, I can honestly say that being 34, single and working as a copywriter in Bombay was not in the top 200 scenarios I'd considered. I'm sure I'd never even thought of so many possibilities. We were living day to day and everything seemed an adventure.

And what was I? A mix of too many things, most of which were temporary coping behaviours. I felt like a marionette, my every move and decision made in a stupefying haze. The US was a shock to my system but it was also the freedom to shake off the deadweight of who I'd been and find out who I actually could be.

Sometimes, I reread my old posts. Some make me cringe. Others bring a teary smile. And there's always a sentence or a turn of phrase so amazing, I wonder how I had the chops to write it.

Of course, over time my writing has changed. I have experimented with different styles, tried to please my audience occasionally and even poured my heart out using heavy doses of euphemism. There have been posts I have loved and those I have disliked. Many I should have not published and some I never did write. This blog is a chronicle of 10 years of me and my experiences and memories of the US, Cambodia, Pune and Bombay. It was started by a 24 year old boy in the computer lab of his department building on a Spring evening so sunny and beautiful, his heart ached. Today, it is being written by a 34 year old... someone, in the middle of the night in his home city. And, in a way his heart is still aching.  

This is blog post number 300. Only a handful of you may have read every one of them. Thank you for that. And, I am also grateful to the set of circumstances that led me to start this blog. It hasn't been the greatest ride. But it isn't over yet.

Song for the moment: Wish you were here - Pink Floyd