The Eternal Tourist

backpack is on!

On Courtesy — May 14, 2016

On Courtesy

So the usual overnight bus travel stuff. I have a nice dinner at home, set out, and get into the bus, welcomed gloriously the customary loud movie playing on the tv. I settle in, stuff my earphones into my ear, in an effort to mask the noise from the movie. All good here. Some obligatory pondering-while-staring-out-of-bus-window goes on, and a couple of hours pass by thus. The movie gets over, the seat is reclined, and I’m all ready to fall asleep.

And what happens? The guy sitting across aisle decides it’s time to whip his phone out and scroll through all his favourite video forwards and play them one by one. With. No. Earphones. That right there is one of my biggest pet peeves. People, in their excitement to use technology, forget the simplest courtesies. For the next few minutes, I try to make eye contact with him, with a stern look ready on my face….like an idiot, I realise soon, because it’s dark in the bus. 

As a semi-related aside, today is also the last day that political parties here are allowed to campaign in public, before the big election coming up in two days. And what do they do? Put up big rallies in every major junction, inconveniencing the very people they request votes from. 

It’ll be a long time before big groups of people with power start acting responsibly and with courtesy. But isn’t it alright to expect a little of it from educated individuals? Or maybe I’m being a little too optimistic. Lol. Whatever. 

We Owe it to Him — July 30, 2015

We Owe it to Him

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam has undoubtedly been one of India’s most popular leaders. Of course I use the term ‘leader’ not in its usual political sense – one that probably involves being head of a party, or holding a position of power over a portion or whole of the country. I use that in a much more literal sense. A more actual sense. One that involves inspiring people around, and showing them by example, how above all else, commitment and hard work prevail.

And in that regard, Abdul Kalam was eminence personified. He had vision, he spoke of empowering the youth, he believed in the people of our country. I don’t think any political leader has ever gone to as great lengths as him to at least attempt to tell us that they believe in us. I have immense respect for him for trying to envision a larger picture of development for our country. As for his contributions as a scientist, I don’t know the specifics, but I do know what most of us know. That he has headed some important advancements that ISRO has made for our country.

What he was also successful in, was connecting with us like no one did before. He made hundreds of public appearances to an almost rockstar-like reception. He would breach security protocols in reaching out to people, he’d enthusiastically go off-topic from serious speeches to talk of simple things in life, he’d inspire and make us feel he was one of our own. His death, thus, is greater than the loss of just a great scientist, or just a great orator, or just a great teacher, or just a great leader. It’s even greater than the sum of all that. We loved him, and we miss him.

My point is something else entirely. His death has led to an explosion of sentiment in social media like never before. It was so heartening to see that someone could inspire unconditional love and respect from a huge majority of our society. It was thus only a minor annoyance when a picture of him being picked up by a couple of people from the floor, started being spread as his ‘final picture’. When in fact, it was a picture after a fall he had years back on another stage. It went all downhill from there. Quotes, wrongly attributed to him, were being spread around like crazy. The well-framed ones, I can tolerate. But what about extremely cheeky ones, that in all probability could never have been spoken by Abdul Kalam, being a man of great knowledge that he is?

I believe we have a certain responsibility to him, more so during these few days after his death. It’s very important that something a large portion of our society reads, are actually his words, and not some dimwit’s idea of what his words might have been. I’ve had moderate criticism for holding this view from people who think this is okay. That it’s absolutely fine for people to draw inspiration from positive messages, even though they are not his. So it’s apparently alright that the occasion of his death can be used to the advantage of people who come up with such ‘quotes’? This attitude seems very strange to me. In principle, we all love him and respect him immensely. But does it also not come with the responsibility of ensuring we spread only his actual words, even more diligently so in the days after his death? If my ‘respect = responsibility’ argument doesn’t cut it, I think I have more – the words he has actually said are way more powerful and inspiring than most of what’s being spread around.

Here are a few quotes from him that I’m sure the larger part of social media hasn’t seen :

My message, especially to young people is to have courage to think differently, courage to invent, to travel the unexplored path, courage to discover the impossible and to conquer the problems and succeed. These are great qualities that they must work towards. This is my message to the young people.

… the best way to win was to not need to win. The best performances are accomplished when you are relaxed and free of doubt.

Are you aware of your inner signals? Do you trust them? Do you have the focus of control over your life in your own hands? Take this from me, the more decisions you can make avoiding external pressures, which will constantly try to manipulate and immobilise you, the better your life will be, the better your society will become. The entire nation will benefit from having strong, inner-directed people as their leaders.

To succeed in your mission, you must have single-minded devotion to your goal. Individuals like myself are often called ‘workaholics’. I question this term because that implies a pathological condition or an illness. If I do what I desire more than anything else in the world and which makes me happy, such work can never be an aberration.

And here are some that have been spread around a lot.

Fantastic answer by A P J ABDUL KALAM to a question asked in BBC.


Answer: The only day in Ur life, when U CRIED, Ur MOTHER was SMILING.

I am not a “HANDSOME” guy. But I can give my “HAND” to “SOME” one who needs me. Beauty is in HEART, Not in FACE.

I’m sure you’d see what I’m trying to say here. The ones in the first set are from decades of a man’s wisdom and experience, having dealt with odds beyond our comprehension, and yet having maintained a clear vision. The ones after that, are from someone with a possibly twisted sense of wordplay and pun! There has been no such BBC interview. Nor was his (non-existent) answer chosen as the best from all world leaders! (I tried my best to find original references for the quotes I mentioned in the second section, but couldn’t. I’ll happily correct myself if someone does.)

I only wish we’d spend a little more time reading up on the kind of messages that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam actually wanted us to hear and be inspired from. He believed in us. We owe it to him.

Music from Above — June 21, 2015

Music from Above

So yesterday I was at one of my favourite ethnic home decor shops. Their colour palette is predominantly on the warmer spectrum, and being a sucker for everything orange, yellow and red, I was having a field day, picking up everything I liked.

And then this piece of music came on the store speakers. It took some time, but the song got to me. Like really got to me. It was melodically simple, but the groovy refrain line was plain infectious. So much so that I caught myself walking over to an empty corner of the store and swaying to the music. It sounded like a very rustic piece of Rajasthani folk music, which in all probability was recorded on the streets. I impulsively pulled out my phone, and at the risk of looking like a complete fool, I held it up to the speakers on the ceiling and captured about a minute and a half of the music. I also sheepishly asked the folks at the store if they could tell me the title of the song. Apparently it was being streamed from their central office, so no, they could not tell me anything about the song.

I got home, with the tune still looping constantly in my head. I tried googling whatever words of the song I could decipher, but nothing turned up. I told my friend about this whole thing. He quickly suggested using SoundHound, the app. Of course I had used it previously to successfully find out information on numerous pieces of music. But I was skeptic in this case, probably because how obscure the song sounded. And that was probably why my first impulse earlier was to record the song, instead of using music recognition technology.

I went ahead with it though. The first few tries were disappointing, but SoundHound finally gave me a match. And yes, it was the exact same song I had heard earlier! I could stream it again. I could buy the whole album in a few taps. Everything right on the little device in my hand.

A couple of things about this whole experience moved me. One, that a record company had taken the pains to capture a largely unknown song in all its glory, into a format that is potentially accessible by millions. The song was recorded in a very minimal setup, in what looked like a village house in Rajasthan, as revealed by a video in the record label’s YouTube channel. Two, that there exists technology that helped me track down the song. You’ve got to give it up to the algorithm behind it. I mean, I heard the song from the ceiling speakers on a store, captured it on my phone, and played it back through my home speakers. That’s so many levels of distortion right there, and yet here I am with the song on my phone. And three – this might seem trivial – a centuries old song got stuck it in my head even when I heard it passively, and left me animated until I found out more about it. Did I mention I also wrote a mail to the store’s customer care in frenzy asking them if they could give me any leads about it?

I’ll never forget how this whole thing has made me feel. Music truly is powerful, and technology is making us do unbelievable things with it, be it in creation, cataloging, or discovery.

And yes, today is World Music Day.

PS : To those of who are wondering, the song is ‘Girdhari Maara Laal’, performed by Bagga Khan, Meisa Ram and their group from an album called ‘Mitha Bol’ brought out by Amarrass Records.

That streak of madness! — February 22, 2012

That streak of madness!

There’s something Vineeth Sreenivasan told me a few months back. That all of us have a streak of madness inside us, but only a few lucky ones can actually indulge in expressing it. I’ve been giving that a lot of thought of late.

"mad" in graffiti

Think rockstars, artists, actors, sportspersons, writers… Think walking on to a stage and having the time of your life singing out to thousands… Think filling a blank canvas with stroke after stroke of paint, watching it take shape, letting only your mind guide your hands… Think bringing in your own little quirks to the character you’re playing… Think feeling on top of the world and running around with your tongue sticking out, after nicking in that crucial goal…Think creating a full set of characters, and watching them create a story themselves on paper… They, for a few moments or hours or days, rise above the banalities and concerns of everyday life. They get to experience that high which nothing else can give you. They go beyond the point of being concerned about what everyone thinks of them. They get to express the one gift they’re given, and connect to people through it.

No matter what you do, find a way to express yourself. And whatever that is, bring YOUR madness into it. Because nobody else will.

I thank god for giving me music. For the sheer craziness that it brings!

Did you know this? — February 16, 2012

Did you know this?

The nightmare – from which he had just woken up that night – involved something about running around a temple. It was probably among the first nightmares he ever saw.  In that moment of restlessness, all he wanted to do was cup his tiny hands over mom’s elbow and fall comfortably back to sleep. Or maybe hold on to dad’s strong arms and close his eyes fearing nothing.

But he suddenly discovered both of them were missing from their usual positions beside him. The bed only had his favourite pillow, shaped like some blue-faced cartoon character. He reached out to it while looking around.

He slid out of bed, the pillow in hand, and went towards the door. There, to his relief, he heard sounds of water dripping from the bathroom at the end of the corridor. He walked with a smile towards the bathroom and peeped in, leaning on the doorframe. He was now grinning wide, expecting his mom and dad to be there. Empty. Water continued dripping down from the rusty pipe.

He dashed back down the corridor and stood on top of the stairs. He sneaked into the bedroom, just to be sure. Empty again. At some point, his wonderful smile had given way to an expression that said tears are just about to break down from his little eyes. He started down the stairs, both tiny hands gripping the rails and still managing to hold on to the pillow.

He went straight to the kitchen once the stairs were behind him. Where else would mom be? He was sure that somehow his sense of time had got messed up, and this was actually about time for breakfast and getting ready for school. But the kitchen was darker and emptier than he had ever seen it.

Scared, he was. But more than that, he felt helpless. He ran from room to room, poking his head inside from the doors. He finally sprinted and jumped to the living room wanting to hear a big laugh from mom and dad who would of course be sitting there waiting for him. Nobody. The empty living room, just as he always knew – only scarier.

The boy – who thought going to the next room alone to fetch a book for mom was scary enough – now stood all by himself in that old little house. He was sure that right now, hairy hands would creep up from under the chairs and grab him by his legs. Or some thugs would slam the door down, throw him into a van and take him away forever. Or worst of all, some circus master would take him away and whip him until he did all the impossible tricks he asked him to. He cried. He looked around, and he cried. He thought of all the things that were about to happen to him, and he cried. He dropped the pillow, walked towards the door, slid his tiny fingers into the grille, and cried.

He had no idea how long he stood there, tears rolling down, before he saw their outlines walking towards the door. He was still crying when they came in and took him up in an embrace. In between his sobs, they were trying to explain they had only gone to the temple for a special puja for a few minutes. He heard none of this. He found comfort only in digging his head on mom’s shoulder and weeping away, while dad patted his shoulders soothingly.

*                                                             *                                                             *

After about 20 years, it’s nothing more than a nice story. One that they all love to repeat when they sit around and talk of the good old days! He even mocks how insensitive they were to leave a boy like him home alone in such strange hours. Mom and dad openly admit that they know he’ll never forgive them for what they did. Even though they all know that all the forgiving that could be done, was done that very night. His sister still wonders whether this whole thing actually happened!

What dad, mom and sister don’t know is this. When nothing in his life seems okay, when frustration is all he has time for, when loneliness strikes despite being where he had dreamed of coming, when his dreams seems so close and yet unreachable, when things don’t work out quite the way he expects – all he wants to do is to go lean on that door and weep. Because then, he knows, they’ll come running for him and say it’s okay.

He, is me.

A second serving? Yes, please! — February 7, 2012

A second serving? Yes, please!

I hear a sweet little plop as I spoon in a dollop of curd over the rice in my plate. And I know instantly that the saving grace to this boring day is just about to unfurl!

Just this morning I realized a shot of feel-good hormones is what I needed – what with all the negativity that seems to clog my mind these days! And so I found myself at my office supermarket waiting in the billing line with a big cup of curd and a silly smile; at a meeting, constantly eyeing the carry bag with the cup in it; in the bus, smiling in anticipation of the moment coming closer. Hell, I sprinted up 4 floors because the lift had chosen this exact day to act up! A straight dash to the kitchen, and in a couple of minutes I made myself a plateful of freshly fried pappadams too.

And then, almost musically, that “plop”! I dig in my fingers mixing the curd and rice into a beautiful mush.  Just to make things a little tangy, I also put in a little scoop of dried lime pickle on the side. It’s a very familiar sight to my eyes now – the rice and the curd, so pleasingly together in a lump, the red verve of the pickle on one side, the pappadams, golden brown and blistered on the other. I take just a moment to let my eyes have their feast, and then…I relish the first handful…and then the next… and then the next… ever so slowly…

It must be the simplicity of the taste that makes me crave for this little feast of mine every time I need some genuine bliss. Or maybe it’s because this is the very taste I grew up with (mom, you’re great, simply for letting me have as much curd as I wanted!). And there are so many memories I associate with this simple act of indulgence. Of how I have come to love curd with almost any breakfast my mom makes. Of how, one day, my sister and me discovered that a simple mix of crushed pappadams and really sour curd makes for a lovely unusual snack (which we can’t help stealing from each other’s plates!). Of how we would sit for a small round of curd and rice after getting home from a heavy dine-out.

There’s this Italian concept of l’arte d’arrangiarsi (which I read about in Eat Pray Love) – the art of making something out of nothing, the art of enjoying the simplest of food. I guess this is my version of l’arte d’arrangiarsi – feasting myself on simple tastes that are too special for me to ever stop indulging in. The pleasure at the end of it all? Unbeatable!

Did I mention that I helped myself to a second serving too? 😉

A beautifully painted house! — February 3, 2012

A beautifully painted house!

There’s something about a story set in a country side of Arkansas in the 50’s, that captivates you instantly. And that’s why John Grisham’s ‘A Painted House’ had me, within the first few pages, right there in that county, almost watching the story happen in front of my eyes.

What I loved about the book was how easily it created a whole imagery of the setting – with dusty roads, tractors (and rarely any cars), cotton fields, farmers, the town where those folks gather every weekend to either gossip or worry about the upcoming harvest… The story unfurls as some untoward events take place around the Chandler’s household, leaving everyone with little secrets and private worries. And what had been a very hopeful season of harvest, turns out to be just the opposite, as even mother nature plays mischief. Everything in this book is about how the characters come to terms with the turn of events – with the ‘painted house’ being a metaphoric indicator to this.

I’ve always loved Grisham’s writing when he steps out of his usual genre of legal thrillers and ‘A Painted House’ definitely tops the list. The beauty of this book is that it picks up a few months of life from an era long gone by, and without muddling it all up with twists and turns, introduces just the right dose of characters and feelings and conflicts to keep it moving in a pace so characteristic to country life. A very honest book, one that I’d definitely like to read again!

Let me just say (with an Arkansas lilt to it), “If y’all haven’t done read this book, it’s ‘bout time you did” ! 🙂

The Sense of Achievement — July 14, 2010

The Sense of Achievement

Probably another fifteen minutes for the train to arrive. Having to wait in an unknown railway station for your train is certainly not among the best of things that can happen to you. But that day, somehow the whole setting brought a curious pleasure. The station seemed to be blissfully detached from all that which makes the world irksome and tiring. There seemed to be an air of magical serenity to the whole place. And of course, there was this rare pleasure of being in a place where nobody noticed you, knew you, or cared about what you’re doing!

Just as I was glancing through my Reader’s Digest (with no particular interest), I heard a shuffle of two tiny feet. I looked up to see a little girl, around three years of age, with a small bottle in her hand. With a gait so typical of little children – small irregular steps, excited hops in between, arms flailing – she walked past me. In no time, she reached a water tap near the fence on the platform, and turned back. When I glanced towards where she came from, I could see that she had turned to look at her mother, who was seated several benches away from me. I saw the mother gesture to her child to open the tap and stick the bottle under it, to collect the water. The child, despite having had to stand on her tiptoes for it, was quick to turn the tap on a little and hold the bottle under the trickle of water that had just begun to pour from it.

The sight of the bottle getting filled up slowly caught her fancy, I think; for she immediately turned to look at her mother with a wide smile, as if seeking approval for what she was doing. Even though her mother was gesturing to her, almost mouthing the words, to open the tap further so that the bottle would get filled up sooner, the girl seemed contented with the pace at which she was doing the job. The smile intact, she looked back at the bottle getting filled up, eyes gleaming in amazement and curiosity. Though her mother was still trying to get her attention, she seemed to be lost in her own simple world, where nothing could beat the pleasure of watching water drip into a bottle, filling it up ever so slowly!

It didn’t take much for her to realize though, that once you really want to concentrate on something, everything else distracts you. Now, the group of pigeons on the roof of the station building, then the bleating of the goats standing on the other side of the fence, then the creak of a trolley wheel behind her – she found it hard to resist looking at them. And in doing so, a couple of times, the bottle she was holding got misplaced from underneath the tap, and she got her arms wet. Soon it became a silly game between her and the tap – she would pull off the bottle for a few seconds, get her arms wet, but put the bottle back under the tap again!

She had spent several minutes in such a manner, before she suddenly decided she had collected enough water. She closed the tap, with an appreciative pat on it, and started walking back to her mother. The brilliant flash of smile on her face gave off the sense of achievement that her pristine mind had derived from such a seemingly dull task.

That she had managed to fill up just about a quarter of her bottle, or that her animated hops would spill much of the bottle’s contents by the time she would reach her mother, didn’t seem to make any difference to her. She probably held the big grin on her face all day…