Friday, 14 March 2014
Sunday, 22 September 2013
Cochin, or Kochi; in God’s Own Country, and nothing less than the biggest city – what is to be expected?
Broadway Market is suggested as the first stop. A creaking ferry from a God-forsaken jetty, a brief waterside walk, and we reach our destination.
It is a low-key market, congested, crowded, getting ready for Christmas. But it’s a ‘poor state’ and you can give this much of leeway. You are back in the cottage and it’s the end of the day. The first tryst with Cochin is nothing to remember.
The morning sun changes all that. You wake up and you discover what bliss is. Now you don’t regret having spent so much on sea-side cottages; now you don’t berate yourself for having included Cochin in you six-day Kerela itinerary; now, you fall crazily in love with the view outside your window; now, you just want to sit and gaze tenderly at these backwaters that stretch before your eyes, and want to follow the lonesome ship till it disappears behind a distant island. Cochin makes you hear its silence.
As you get ready to leave your cottage, a half-buried memory resurfaces: a wooden cottage, out on the sea, white curtains, white sunshine… it’s not creaking under Blue Lagoon inspired adolescent fantasies of non-stop sex this time… and it makes you think of a different life.
You spend the rest of the day roaming about, ticking off a few boxes on you ‘To Visit’ list. You discover a number of things. Firstly, Cochin is not nearly as small as Broadway had suggested. Secondly, Fort Kochi is not really a fort at all. Thirdly, Jew Town is a beautiful place, especially if you happen to go into that shop near the Friday-closed synagogue where they’ll show you a wonderful chessboard with bronze pieces on one side and brass on the other, which, if you looked at it long enough, could have burnt a Rs. 7,500 hole in your pocket, which you might or might not have later regretted.
Saturday, 31 August 2013
There’s a song I watched on TV when I was a kid. And I never recovered. I was done for life, I was doomed to become a hopeless romantic… not necessarily languishing in love, but constantly yearning for that glorious rarity, that wonderful element that our mundane lives lack – constantly searching for Charm.
Which song was it? Maybe you can guess. It’s one of those vintage evergreen classics that make you wonder if you were born fifty years later than you should have been, and whether the world you would find charming just went out of fashion after 1955…
1. A World without colours: There’s a special kind of magic in the black and white setting of this song! Coloured pictures are like our lives today, and like some of our music: short, sudden explosions of joy and glamour and then gone, poof! But those old B/W ones are like impressions in your memory, the essence of a time gone by, linking you forever to this era of cobbled-stone roads and beautiful street lamps…
2. A World where words still carry weight: Which means that the lyrics of a song are deeply meaningful, or, that poetry is valued, or, that people stand by what they say, or, that letters – handwritten, on real paper – still exist, or, that our words are actually bulky, in the shape of magnificiently old, dusty hardbacks… interpret this one in any way you want. Or in all of them.
3. A World where men are men… with moustaches, and valour and courage, and firm handshakes, not boys with ear studs and waxed chests. Where chivalry still counts for something, and when it’s raining, you’ll give your umbrella to the lady, but not share it yourself until she asks you to. And where courtship is still done wearing a suit, even if it’s only an old tweed jacket.
4. And women are women, and can carry off a gown or a dress with panache, or a saree with Nargis’ grace, and need neither tighter jeans nor shorter skirts to assert their femininity… ladies who kept their secrets, didn’t swear, and retained those last bits of demureness and shyness that are lost in the name of ‘empowerment’ today.
5. And simplicity is still valued: There is charm in simplicity, in wisdom and in modesty. There’s charm in the way a person might be comfortable with what he is, and not requiring a fake ‘attitude’ or false flamboyance. The way Raj Kapoor starts playing his mouth-organ and dancing is almost comical… but it’s heart touching. As is the simplicity of a world where dusk’s rain and humble umbrellas can still be considered beautiful.
If you haven’t figured it out already, I’ll tell you: the song is the timeless ‘Pyaar hua ikraar hua’ from the 1955 movie Shri 420.
And watching it once again now, and reminiscing about an era that ended much before I began, I begin to think not all of it might be as far away as it seems. Yes, we might be in too much of a hurry to notice it maybe, but I think it is still all here, waiting and wanting to be discovered. Somewhere deep within ourselves, hidden, till the time that we truly realize what ‘Charm’ means.
Friday, 23 August 2013
You want to be there, right? At the Money Fountain? Of course you do. So do I. Everyone, actually. But have you ever really thought about what you want money for? Don’t worry, this isn't one of those money-is-futile morality preaching stories. Money is necessary, for food, bed, healthcare and for shampoo in your hair. But keep the cost of living aside, most of us cover up the basics pretty early in our careers. What do you really want money for?
Here’s my list:
10. Meaningful gifts to friends: Among the hundreds of gifts that you’ll give during your lifetime, only a handful will stand out… a book, carefully chosen, that appears to have been written just for her, a childhood photograph, hand-framed by you, something your friend mentioned so long ago that he himself might have forgotten it, something that takes him a step closer to his goals. Friendship is built on moments, not things, but the thought behind a gift means a lot.
9. A convertible car: I don’t need a BMW, a simpler one will do. It’s one of the few things that I really want to earn for. I’m not crazy about cars or anything, but the idea of coming down a mountain road in an open-top car, with trees on both sides is scintillating. I don’t know, maybe this song has something to do with this wish.
8. Books: You've seen shopaholics, you've known them, perhaps you even are one. I HATE shopping. Except when I’m in a bookstore. When I’m in a Landmark or a Crossword or even just a second-hand book stall by the roadside, I go crazy. I want this and I want that, the huge encyclopedia the Batman comics, the Steve Jobs biography, Freedom at Midnight, The Motorcycle Diaries, The Lost Symbol, Sins of the Father, Manuscript fou – sorry, I’ll just shut up now.
7. Pamper the girl I love: The girl you profess to love, the girl who’ll love you back, the girl who’ll spend her life with you and stand by you through thick and thin… every girl deserves to be pampered by someone, and this girl deserves your absolute best. Put a smile in her eyes: pamper her silly.
6. Pamper my mother: Fulfill any long standing wishes. Everything else is secondary.
5. Travel: I've talked about this earlier too, probably the thing I’d do if I had infinite money. Sand on the beaches is free, so is snow on the mountains. But you’ll need cash to get out of your city home and reach there, eat there, stay there and so on.
4. To create: Excerpt from my diary, 25th December, 2010:
“I’d like to have a sort of study of my own, with a library along one wall, and a computer and furniture that I've made myself. And easels for painting, and sculpting material in one corner, and chemical apparatus for making perfumes from flowers. And a guitar and a flute.”
You get the idea.
3. Change a life: It’s a matter of perspective, what’s insignificant to you might mean everything in the world to someone else. Maybe pay education fees for slum child, maybe create a new job in your company for someone who can do better than beg on the streets. It doesn't take much. The key is to remember your priorities when you get your next raise.
2. Test yourself: Maybe you don’t want a smartphone, a big car or much of anything else. That’s no excuse to live a tramp’s life. In our age, money isn't just means, it’s also a meter, a way of checking how good you are at what you do. Don’t rum endless races, don’t buy things you don’t need, don’t worship the greenback, but don’t let those be reasons to not test yourself.
1. To give it up: I’m not going to retract on my promise of not preaching the futility of money. No, I want money, I want it for all of the things I've listed above. But at some point in my life, after I've done all this and more, I want to be able to realize truly that money isn't necessary for happiness. I cannot do it now, for you can only renounce what you have achieved… but I hope the day comes.
Sunday, 18 August 2013
“There we discovered that our vocation,
our true vocation,
was to roam the highways and waterways of the world forever.”
Che Guavera, The Motorcycle Diaries
“The core of man’s spirit comes from new experiences.”
Alexander Supertramp, Into the Wild
There’s a question that each one of us inevitably comes across at some point in our lives or the other. The more social ones are asked by a friend maybe, and people like me, by themselves:
If you didn’t have to worry about earning a living, if you were free of all obligations, what’d you spend your life doing?
I ask this to myself, and I don’t bite the half-baked answers like “just chill out”, “create a business empire”, “work for world peace”. I keep thinking. I keep reading, observing myself. And bit by bit I discover: reading writing, sketching people, places and possessions in my notebook.
Strangely, money doesn’t feature per se in my dreams. I mean yes, I see myself in 5-star hotels as easily as in roadside motels, I imagine a convertible car, good food and wine and all the charms of the cities of the world. But I don’t imagine myself earning my way through all this…and I laugh – hell, dreams don’t cost nothing.
Travelling. New cities. Towns. Villages.
Roads coming down mountains, trees both sides. Sandy beaches.
New people. The storekeeper you’d buy your groceries from, or the farmer. The man under the tree by the highway.
The chai-walla, an artist past his prime, a beggar, a street dancer, the pompous aristocrat.
Travelling. Not just visiting cities and seeing their tourist attractions, but actually living in them, for months, or years, absorbing their cultures as we’ve absorbed ours, and getting absorbed by them, working, knowing and learning. Becoming a part of them.
Writing. Writing about whole countries and their nooks and crannies, writing about all those people I met, their stories and their lives and their sorrows and their joys as I would about mine, about culture, history and folklore. Getting out, out of myself first and then houses, cities and mindsets. Shunning limitations.
People. Not being afraid, not being embarrassed of the poor or obsequious of the powerful, just being yourself, being open, being honest. Not letting your feelings, your thoughts, your words depend upon others’ opinion of you. Making acquaintances across the world, simple and straightforward, but only a few friends who matter, who’ll anchor your heart but not your feet. Knowing what trust means, understanding what the human spirit is.
But suddenly reality begins to peep in and my reverie is broken. The basic premise was hypothetical – dreams don’t cost anything – dreams don’t cost anything, goals do. There are two ways of travelling the way I want to: either get insanely rich by some brilliant venture early in my career, or go the way Guavera went: journeying on foot, second-hand bikes or hitch-hiking, begging, doing odd jobs, for years, going without food, leaving behind family, social status and education. For what? For a whim.
And again, I slowly begin to understand. Run-of-the-mill lives don’t mix with adventure. Perhaps it’s like a cosmic law of balance or something: when you want something, you must give up something. Perhaps the bigger your goal, the bigger is the sacrifice required. If you want adventure, maybe you’ll have to give up some other things.
I re-think… and realize that so many things that I might have spent on might actually be extraneous, dispensable. Like smartphones, television, expensive watches, deodorants, a fancy car… branded underwear. And it works the other way round too. Not only does giving up on un-necessities saves money, a Spartan lifestyle also keeps you in touch with your basic goals. Struggle breaks down pretensions, assumptions and helps you find yourself. It’s the man who’s not afraid to lose it all for the sake of his goal, who’ll ultimately win.
Of course, most of us don’t know what we want. But what if you do?
Can you give up the comfort of the air-conditioner? The indulgence of Facebook? The luxury of procrastination? The assurance of knowing where your next meal is coming from?
If you have a dream, how much can you give up?
Wednesday, 31 July 2013
But then again, my misery is hardly unique. It’s not just me that suffers due to poor public transport, messy roads, gross ineptitude, bribe culture and utterly inept public offices – millions across the nation share these. And that’s just local news, here’s the national: an MP demands that an internationally acclaimed intellectual be stripped of his Bharat Ratna for daring to express his opinion; an honest IAS officer is blatantly suspended for taking on the mining mafia; pot-bellied politicians advice the poor to fill their stomach with imaginary Rs 5 meals… and so on.
We live in a society which houses a third of the world’s poor and the largest illiterate population across the globe – probably deliberately kept so to serve as gullible voters. We live in a democracy where politics is family business, and the only choice voters have is between him and him. We live in an economy where multi-crore scams don’t even make the front-page anymore.
I read then, and I talk, I look around and I feel the frustration building up within me. But what I can’t decide is whether there is still a way out? Sofa-activism is easy. Like this blog. But how effective is it really? How effective are NGOs? There are numerous Indian websites dedicated to building a better India, but what are their real motives?
Back in college, I and my friends started a group to protest for some necessary changes. In response, the administration formulated a new student committee to address the issues. The entire situation soon got politicized, the committee lost its fangs, and within an year became sycophantic and idle. Who was to blame in that situation?
I have friends who aspire to get into the IAS. Perhaps I should praise them for exchanging lucrative careers for an honest officer’s salary in order to serve the country? Except that most of them never explicitly say that they want to do it for the right reasons…
And thus we come to the basic question: throughout all this, where do we stand? We are told that India is demographically a young country, and we keep hearing that the youth wants this and it wants that. But the ‘youth’ is not some fictitious chimera – it’s us. And so I ask you: what do you think is the nature of Young India?
Are you really against corruption, or do you just like joke about it on social networks? Do you really refuse to transact in bribes or are they a part of life? Are you secular? More fundamentally, which side are you really on?
And most importantly, what will you do?
Monday, 29 July 2013
Life is inevitable. One way or the other, for good or for not-so-good, it relentlessly proceeds; and Time is a strange phenomenon: it may either fly away or crawl, but it never stops. Not until the end.
My journey has lasted twenty-four years, and now that I think of it, that’s quite a large part of the whole. Twenty-four years, spent, not knowing where I am headed. At various times in this journey, I have become vaguely aware of the value of various concepts. For example, it took me twenty-one years before I realized that people are important. And it’s only been a couple years since I started understanding the value of dreams. Religion and spirituality, idealism and practicality, passion and greed, love – and disappointment… I’ve known them all. I’ve won and I’ve lost, I’ve failed and I’ve succeeded. And yet, I know that I’ve done none of these things. I know that if I open my eyes to look, I shall find the canvas of my life still vacant, still new. And I know that I must fill it.
And so, the journey begins again. Once again I lift my head and I look forward. More than anything else in Life, I seek meaning. I’m not a solitary pilgrim, and I’m not a preposterous guru. I’m simply a young man, strong and hopeful, in search of a dream, and hoping that you and I can walk together awhile – till our roads diverge.