June 24, 2011 4 comments

New York is like a very old friend. The more you see her, the quicker it is to be comfortable living with her. And just like with an old friend, you can pick up where you left off, as if you never went away. But if you haven’t visited in a while, just like a good old friend, she’ll make you pay first.

I’ve come back to New York properly after nearly a year, and it extracted its pound of flesh on the first day. I had the same feeling coming to New York that I had the first time I came here three years ago – a sense of loneliness. In this city, where people are packed as close as can be expected in this country, where you’re always in someone’s personal space and someone is in yours, no matter who you are, you are invisible. I see girls who have shaved off the left half of their scalp completely, women who wear just an over-sized shirt as if it is all one needs to wear, guys with dreadlocks down to their ass, and the crowd never even bats an eyelid at them. This double-edged sword of you-can-be-anyone-you-want and we-don’t-care-who-you-are, of being nobody but just you, makes you one of the crowd and at the same time isolates you completely from it. For the first few hours, three years ago and two weeks ago, everyone three feet away may well have been a mile away.

And like any good friend, after the first round of recriminations New York goes straight into where-have-you-been mode. All the sights and sounds become less of a sensory assault and more of a reassuring heartbeat. Wherever you are, even late at night, this city stays alive and makes sure you know it. Even the weather seems rigged for your fancy.

Waking up in the morning for a run, you find that New York has covered herself with a blanket of fog. The tallest skyscrapers end only 30 feet above the ground, and only the smallest amount of sunlight breaks through. With the white fog ceiling, and everything under it in shades of grey, you can’t shake the feeling that New York has moved you to the set of a very classy ’50s film. And as if that wasn’t enough, out of nowhere she ends those blocks of skyscrapers and gives you Central Park with such suddenness that you can’t help but look. Look up, and see the fog resting above the treetops. Look right, and see content dogs being run by their masters, horses being groomed by their riders and even at this early hour, the occasional tourist. Look ahead, and see trees after trees after trees. Step back and look, and you might be forgiven for staring into infinity for a second.

And just like that, she snaps you out of it. You finish your run, get to work, have lunch at this delicious hole-in-the-wall Moroccan place, and go back to work. You leave a little late, but New York understands and arranges a few more sights for you. The fog has long disappeared, leaving behind a cloud of mist swimming high amongst the rooftops. It all must be planned, the way the lights from the masts of all the buildings shine in the mist. The way even the clouds blanket the city, and depending on where you are you see different colours bouncing back from the heavens. The way everything is transformed into something to look at – even the mundane black sky was not left out.

It is all too good to resist, and you choose to walk the 20 blocks home instead of taking the metro. People are leaving the theaters or going home from work, and there is an unmistakable sense of upbeatness in the air. You see a 20-foot tall yellow teddy bear sculpture installed next to a building on your way home, and it doesn’t surprise you. You reflect on how natural it happen upon a giant yellow teddy bear on the street.

Lights twinkle in the distance, as if to wink at you.

Miss me?, she asks.

You can’t describe something so intangible, but this is why you come back to New York.

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People talking without…

April 14, 2011 2 comments

There is a solitary streetlamp at the bus stop, and two impeccably dressed men stand bathed in its yellow light. I am a dozen feet away, far enough to be invisible in the darkness. I, however, can see them plainly. It is close to midnight but their bodies do not show the fatigue this late hour merits. Their faces are still smiling, backs not hunched over and their shoulders do not slouch  – it might as well have been the break of dawn for these two.

Something isn’t quite right. I see them grinning and shoulders occasionally shaking from laughter, but I hear no sound. No guffaws to go with the laughs, no stray sentences carried by the wind, and no loud words from raised voices. I know I’m not deaf.

They are.

I move a few steps and see their hands furiously signing away. All the while, each is looking at the other’s eyes and never his fingers. I wonder what it is like to be a part of that conversation – unaided by sound and unhindered by noise, dependent on the other’s hands yet never losing eye contact, each sign pure function absent useless form. I have a feeling that they choose their words carefully, and absent voices they are communicating more than I could in the same time. That makes me feel a little jealous.

Presently they finish their conversation. They give each other the most genuine embrace I have seen in a long time, and walk in opposite directions. This is strange – they did not wait to leave on a bus, so they probably came here on one. There are very few houses nearby and they walked – so they must live very close to each other. And yet, they talked under a streetlight and parted with an embrace so deep it is reserved for departing loved ones.

Perhaps that is what happened – these two gentlemen have just returned from the last dinner they would have before one leaves for good. One of the two walks by me with slow steps, head down, lost in thought. The last thing I see on his face is something a little short of a smile – something that looks like contentment, or acceptance. For the second time that night, I am jealous of a deaf person.

Now I only hear the rustling of the leaves, but I am suddenly aware of how loud my world is. I put on my earphones and play some noise of my choosing, and wait.

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April 3, 2011 4 comments

I like watching strangers as they go about their daily lives. I have a very selfish motive for doing so – watching normal people do normal things, as they sometimes make the same mistakes I do, makes me feel a little more normal. Sometimes I catch the awkward hands-halfway-in-pockets walk, sometimes it’s the earphones-fell-out-of-my-ears routine, and sometimes it’s check-cellphone-repeatedly bit. Whenever I spot someone do mundane things I’m happy knowing that I’m not the only one who does those mundane things.

I was in the local computer store the other day, buying a pair of earphones to replace the ones that had recently died. I picked the ones I wanted off the shelf, and took my place in the line at the counter. At the next counter was someone a little younger than me, with who I presume was his father. The son was explaining to the salesman what he was planning to use his new computer for, and the salesman was doing his job by pushing as many software titles as he could. The son looked fairly self-assured as they chatted amiably about different versions of Microsoft Office, and it became clear that this was probably the first computer he was going to call his own.

I hadn’t really noticed the father until he did one of those mundane things I just mentioned – he put his hands in his back pockets, while shuffling his feet and looking at the floor. In that moment his entire body language seemed to tell me that he was waiting for this whole thing to be over. The salesman cracked a joke that the son seemed to find funny, and the father responded with insincere laughter. I think we’ve all been in that father’s shoes at some point of time, or at least I know I have – when I’m not really sure what’s going on, I’d rather be somewhere else, and I’m fairly certain my presence or absence is irrelevant to the goings-on.

For whatever reason, I’m not as easily moved by sad stories. Still, I sometimes surprise myself when apparently mundane sights cause me to stop and (discreetly) stare. I’m not sure why, but this scene playing out in front of me was one of those sights. The father was around fifty, dressed in clothes that didn’t look like they came off any fashion line. His son was probably his biggest investment, and he must have worked very hard to make sure his son could go to a good university. And here, while his son was buying a new computer that would surely cost the father a fair sum, he might as well have been on a different planet.

I’m not sure why this scene struck me so. I think I might have seen the same look on my parents’ face when I bought my first laptop. It was expensive by any standards, and I remember my parents asking me if I was happy with the configuration, etc. I remember detecting a hint of Do you really need this? in their question, and I remember almost insisting I wanted it – now I cringe a little at the memory. It was strange to see that same situation from an objective viewpoint – the father perhaps wanting but uncomfortably unable to be of use, and the son decidedly comfortable in the situation. I doubt this was the only situation where the son, in his short 20 years, was more at home than the father would ever be.

As much the father would have shared with his son, for me this transaction seemed to mark the boundary between their respective worlds. This whole world belongs more to the son each passing day than it does to the father. I wondered if that was all we had to look forward to, if our most notable deed was handing over the world to the next generation. I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that.

I paid for my earphones and stepped out into the sunlight. Bono was crooning Beautiful Day, some kids were having frozen yogurt and someone was reading a Kindle under a tree. For now at least, this world was mine.

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The fun in run

March 29, 2011 6 comments

Beginnings are tricky. I think they are trickier when you’re not quite sure about what’s coming up next, and all you have to go on is hope and a promise. As I stand still, my mind is rushing ahead and already imagines the race half run while my heart dreads the task set to it. Are you sure?, it asks, You don’t really need to do this. The reluctant heart always surrenders to the mind in some expected yet surprising moment of weakness, and slowly but surely, I move forward.

In a few minutes warm blood is coursing through my veins, and my feet and heart are glad to be doing what they are meant to do. Things start to click as I find my rhythm and settle into the comfortable routine of the run. I think light, fast thoughts. My heart beats a steady tattoo, my feet touch the pavement noiselessly and lift off in an instant, as if they wish not to run, but fly. I crest a tiny hillock and my once-reluctant heart urges faster. The sun warms as the breeze cools, in this moment I feel like I could run forever.

I’m running on familiar ground, and nothing seems out of the ordinary. The only people out on a Saturday morning are other runners and troops of cyclists. I spot someone jogging up the pavement towards me, her face covered in sweat and her eyes grim in concentration. She’s looking straight ahead, not at me but through me – a look that every runner wears at some point, a look that says she is going to see the race through. She gets closer and we both automatically drift to opposite edges of the track. We give each other way to pass with a smile and a wave, two people who were and will be strangers, our lives connected for brief instant by a shared 4 feet of pavement.

That brief instant is the only interaction with people I have on most runs, and that might be why I like running more than any other activity. Being alone is not unpleasant for me, and at the core of it running is as solitary an activity as could be. I rarely run with other people, and even when I do, running tends to be a personal conversation between me and the road. Other runners will run up against me, pass me by when I’m slower, or give me way when I’m faster, but I’m always my only adversary. I’m the only person I’m trying to beat, and each additional step is a victory against myself.

In a sense, the whole run always passes like a dream. Just like you don’t remember your dreams when you wake up, I hardly ever remember what I was thinking about during a run. Sometimes I convert miles to kilometers, or speed to pace, or just divide numbers to keep myself distracted. That usually doesn’t work for long, and my mind drifts to whatever is catching its fancy that day. Sometimes I think about the weather, sometimes I think about how comfortable long sleeves are, and sometimes a song I haven’t heard for a while comes on and I think about that. But mostly, in a Forrest Gump kind of way, I just run.

I turn onto a steep uphill road, and something inside me becomes wary. This is too steep – this wasn’t in the deal. Too late to turn back, I begin the slow march upwards, and a good eight minutes later I crest the hill. Inside my mind victorious tunes from Rocky and Chariots of Fire are playing to commemorate the climb. A pretty girl on a bicycle compliments me on my funny looking shoes, and I am sadly a little too short for breath to give a witty response. The steep climb was worth it – from this vantage point I have the Pacific Ocean to my left, and grassy canyons to my right.

I am still panting from the effort on the hill, and as if to give me a reward, a cool wind comes in from over the ocean. I still have 4 miles to go, but with the warm sun, an ocean breeze and a view to die for, I am a happier man with every step.

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Deus Ex Machina

September 21, 2010 4 comments

It was, undoubtedly, the Golden Age of Man – of that there was no question. After a mere 700 years of a battery of five world wars within a span of a century, mankind had finally gotten its act together. Global warming had effectively submerged Bombay, Hong Kong, New York and came close to threating London neutralizing any old world order – thank god for the marvelous luck of having people in power who agreed to build a world state at a time when there was no other option. Adjustment was not a problem, the majority of the people who had a problem with the New World Order were taken care of by nature – 60 odd years were all that was needed for their generation to pass on; and the youth are rarely scared of taking the reins. After that it was a matter of time. Saving for genetic defects, diseases were eliminated. Particle physics advanced fast enough for scientists to finally be able to tap into anti-matter, and get that bounty of energy they so sorely needed, and then mankind reproduced like bunnies. You could see it now – colonies reaching as far as the moons of Jupiter, all with their own private artificial geodesic domes that could have put the Garden of Eden to shame. Politics was a thing of the past, people were more concerned with living a good life than deciding who gets to decide how people should live a good life.

Of course there was one thing no one ever could quite get a hang of – the whole God business. It was bad enough when there was just Earth where man lived, imagine the problem compounded by children being born on different worlds that had never seen Earth itself. Christ and Mohammed had taken a backseat, there were bigger players at the table now. They were only prophets of Gods, and there were some new kids on the block. The great minds responsible for keeping all of humankind together – those eccentric geniuses of psychology, population dynamics, sub-quantum theoretical physicists and the occasional elemental chemist thrown in – they knew if they had to prevent the inter-planetary war that was so obviously coming in the next half a millenium, they had to nip this one in the bud. And they went about building the only thing that could give a definite answer to the question on everyone’s minds – Is there a God?

It was what would become the most powerful computational system ever designed – calling it a mere “computer” – a throwback to the old 20th century days – would be calling an ion-propelled spaceship a bicycle. It was christened Deep Thought, a reference to a fictional computer in the seminal work of Douglas Adams, who first proposed the bold idea of inter-galactic travel and inter-galactic travel guides. To build it was no mean feat, but their task was a lot easier given they’d taken care of minor hassles like the speed of light that bothered ancient thinkers like Einstein (God rest his soul (given there is a God (which we shall now find out))).

And it was done. The greatest of minds gathered in the Grand Hall that housed Deep Thought, all the homes in all the cities in all the domes in all the planets all watching their holovisions with utmost attention, waiting for the answer to the question. Deep Thought was given its first gigawatt of power.

And it was asked : “Tell us, Deep thought, is there a God?”

Deep in thought, within a few picoseconds Deep Thought scanned all known history about Gods, myths, legends, philosophical and mathematical theories for and against the existence of “God”, and gave his answer:

“Well, now there is.”

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Well, then

June 3, 2008 7 comments

To put it simply, I am bored. Its amazing how days can be, one moment they seem to be rolling along fine, full of un-boring-ness and things-happening-ness, the next moment they decide they’ve had just about enough of rolling along and they stop, leaving you feeling like that guy must feel when he starts the 100m sprint before the starter’s gun actually goes off. I always wonder how he must feel,”Oh you’ve done it now, Kuthrapalli”, if Kuthrapalli were to be his name,”Vasundhara Srijayalakshmireallylongnameramakrishnan won’t let you hear the end of it. No matter, walk back the 10 meters, surely the millions watching on television won’t notice. Hey you – yes you, No. 78, one more grin and I introduce you to the business end of my foot.” Though I’ve plenty of time these days to wonder about how he must feel after a nasty shock like not hearing the starter’s gun, even my boring days are more un-boring than thinking about what some chap named Kuthrapalli might feel like after dashing away like a mad rabbit before hearing the starter’s gun go off. Who does that, I mean? Yes, I notice un-boring is not a word. I just choose not to use “interesting” instead of un-boring because a change is needed on occasion to make things, well, un-boring.

So. Well. Hmmm. Here we are. Since I’ve already started this damned post I guess I might as well give it a little nudge forward. Or at least poke it with a stick and see if it moves. So what’s been going on at home these days? Apart from the usual eating and sleeping there is the aspect of getting bored. I think I’ve mentioned that. There’s this bit about my parents wanting me to go to IIM and me not wanting to go, its the kind of bit that keeps one on the toes, and one gets a faint glimmer of hope when one of one’s parents talks about the need to buy one some formal wear for the office and the other of the said pair of parents comes along, rejuvanted from the night’s sleep, to talk about why one should indeed go for IIM and save oneself from this trouble of buying formal wear and what not, at which point the faint glimmer of hope one had mentioned so long ago that you’ll have to read this entire paragraph again to find, vanishes. Just to help you find that mention of the faint glimmer of hope, go to the start, and with a pencil if you must, proceed reading slowly. If you got till here without finding mention of the hope I’m sure I’ve mentioned, you’ve gone too far. Go to the start and go over again. Or one might have forgotten to mention that glimmer of hope bit after all.

That said, I’d say the whole IIM thing is blowing over rather well. And since apparently a whole gaggle of relatives, aunts, uncles, friends of family and in a few cases friends of extended family (or extended friends of family, one of those, I forget which) have been informed about my choice and apparent dilemma as it were, with at least one member of each of the mentioned classes I foresee the following conversation happening, my seemingly fallacious foresight based on what is infact anything but fallacious evidence of it having happened already:

“So young man, have you decided to join IIM?”
“No, actually I plan to work for a couple of years.”
“So you’re not joining IIM?”
“No I’m not.”
“You’re sure?”
“About IIM?”
“That very same insitute.”
“Definitely not joining?”
“Definitely not.”
And so on for a few more minutes, till the said elder on the other end realizes what a hopeless lunatic I actually am, says a few prayers in his mind for my blessed soul and asks me to hand the phone over to my parents. But no fear, where a lesser man might have quailed at the prospects of looking such a large posse of elders in the eye or through the earpiece of a telephone and telling them, Yes I will do what you think is stupid, I merely say my piece, look them in the eye and smile like someone just pumped me full of a barrel’s worth of morphine in my arm, and has not stopped pumping since. Bless that man, imaginary as he may be.

So. You’d expect a post to be like a job, where they say a job well-begun is half done. Or something like that. And if you don’t think that the way this post has begun will fit cosily under the category of “well-begun”, then I must insist, Madam (or sir, as the case may be), that you know little about what well-begun things look like. Which brings me to the next thing on my mind – the apparent difficulty in finding English, August in this town. How it brings me to this thing is irrelevant. The point is, its damned hard to find that book in this town. Just today I was going through a rack of books in a bookstore, playfully ignoring the five-year-old that insisted on going around my legs saying “Thapth” over and over again like it was some sort of revelation unto man, I found not one copy of English, August but rather several copies of a series of books with titles like “The Sheikh’s Blackmailed Mistress”, “The Kiss of Love”, “How can you say no to love”, “To die for love”, and “Something something yada yada love”. Then again, who could blame the storekeepers. English, August isn’t half as exciting a title as “Something something yada yada love”, which itself is nowhere in the league of titles like “The Sheikh’s Blackmailed Mistress”.

My keen questioning glance stole away to a book by Anne Rice, who, if you are someone well-read and enlightened in matters of prose, wrote a series of good books on vampires. Those who know me well know I am mildly susceptible to works relating to (or possibly by) vampires. I abstain from calling it fiction, because lets be honest, in the narrow margin that vampires end up ruling the known earthly kingdom, I for one would like to have an alibi when they ask, “So you thought we didn’t exist, eh?”. Though I doubt they’d say things like “eh?” and would rather move right along to the skin-tearing and blood-drinking bit. But I digress. As I was saying, I chanced upon a book by Anne Rice (which I remember now, was a two-novels-in-one offer, a smashing deal, the only thing better than a book on vampires is two books on vampires), and one is only human (unless one is a vampire), so I went on and read a few pages, which I remind you was not a violation of ethics of bookstores (which as the name suggest are stores for books, so you’re expected to buy the damned thing and not read a few pages of it when it pleases you), because the store policy said you could very well plonk yourself down and read the whole book if it were to make you happy. That said, those few pages seemed like utter drivel. I think, after reading a few pages like that, I wouldn’t mind going to those vampires and saying, “Look chums, I totally dig your devil-may-care no-moral-scruples hedonistic blood-sucking attitude (though I could do without the blood sucking bit), this book makes you look like downright pansies. In your best interests, I’d rather not but this book.” And I proceeded to buy Mark Haddon’s “A Spot of Bother” instead, which is currently sitting on the table with a beckoning glance, asking me to pick it up and read it again. But then again, a post well-begun is only half done, the other half won’t bloody well write itself.

Speaking of posts writing themselves, the airport was funny the other day. Well not the airport itself, it was concrete and glass as usual, more so the people in there. After a minor incident involving me explaining to a pair of concerned security personnel the 12 rechargable batteries I had were not for igniting in the plane but rather for the same use their designer had initially intended, I noticed a Gujarati businessman of a sort on his iPhone going (note the capitalization and punctuation and all):
“plane time par che.” (“the plane is on time”, for those that know not)
“Plane time par che.”
“Plane Time Par Che.”
Plane Time Par Che.
and finally,
At each repetition he just said the same thing loudly into his phone, and by the end of the whole thing I’m sure pilots circling far overhead had heard the plane was on time. Immediately following the exhibition of : (a)The man’s vocal chords, (b) The possibly poor microphone in the iPhone and (c) The torn eardrums of the poor chap on the other end, I found myself involved in some baggage-mishandling and tag-tearing and I proceeded to get tagged again, and once again explained how the batteries would serve the purpose of making the camera work and not be the fuel for some fire (I swear I heard on of the security guys going “It’s him“). Eventually I sat myself down after getting a ice-cream milkshake from the Nirula’s stall. It gave me a chance to develop a procedure to eat the ice-cream off the bottom of a very deep glass without a spoon. What you do is, take a straw, plug it into the ice-cream lump, suck all the air out so its firmly attached to the identified lump of ice-cream, pull the straw out and eat the ice-cream off the other end of the straw, to which it is now firmly attached. Further research into this area requires funding, which is welcome in both cash and kind.

A member of the opposite sex also asked to use my mobile, however this interaction was dampened by the fact that said member was overweight and also the mother of a overbearing ten-year-old.

This bring me back to that bit about the posts writing the second halves of themselves by themselves. Apparently I seem to have done quite a bit or writing, and if anyone got this far, they clearly have:
(a) Excellent taste in reading material
(b) Plenty of free time
(c) Apparently even less of a social life than me, if such a thing were possible.

PS: Before I forget, I have found and downloaded the theme to the Lonely Planet show that used to air on Discovery, and it is by far one of the best tracks I have found in the past 5.5 days. I’m now looking for 54 free gigabytes where I plan to download the episodes themselves.

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