Looking back, looking on


Zooming Out

I live in Bangalore, and have lived here almost always, except for a brief spell of about three years when I was away. Of these three years I spent about a year and half as a student in Pune and another year and a half getting my first taste of work life in Mumbai.

Student life in Pune – as most people who’ve experienced it will tell you – was breezy and carefree and incredibly fun. Pune, at the time, possessed a certain laidback, frothy charm; not surprising for a city that seemed to be brimming with young people who had congregated there from across the country, on the pretext of studying.

But it’s not Pune that prompted me to start putting down my thoughts here. It’s Mumbai (or ‘Bombay’, as many of us still like to call it). Mumbai welcomed me with open arms, or so I’d felt when I first got there. There was no sense of discomfort or homesickness at being in a new city. Instead, I was presented with a whole new world to observe and interact with, a world which I found incredibly engaging and thrilling.

Well, it wasn’t an entirely rosy picture. There were things about the city that filled one’s heart with warmth, and there were others that were unbelievably repulsive – yes, the much talked about dichotomies of Mumbai were all there. However, since I was filled with the curiosity of a traveler, even the most repulsive qualities of the city had seemed interesting to me. The truth is, I was quite awed and wonder-struck by Mumbai, just as numerous other people are.

Six years down the line, I’m sitting here in Bangalore wondering how I could stand to live in Mumbai, even for the really short period that I was there. I just can’t fathom how I could actually have liked the city so much, given its ugly excesses.

I suppose that when you are part of a certain place or system, you can get mighty entangled in its ways without even realising it. You fail to notice many things about it, and even if you do, you rarely give it any importance. It’s only once you take a few steps back and look at things as a spectator that you get a better perspective.

In the recent past, I’ve never really taken the initiative to re-visit Mumbai, but have sometimes been forced to do it (due to short-term work commitments or to meet with family and friends). During each of these visits I’ve been struck unfailingly by the lack of greenery, the lack of space and the lack of sanitation in this city. And of course we’ve heard of the lack of civic consciousness, the chalta-hai attitude which the city is famous for, with a majority of its teeming millions willing to accept things just as they are.

I am aware that my home town and current place of residence Bangalore has lost much of its previous charm, and it can drive one up the wall thanks to its pot-holed roads and crazy traffic. But still, the more I visit Mumbai, the more I appreciate Bangalore. I am thankful that Bangalore still has some lovely residential areas, with pretty lanes criss-crossing through them. One still gets to see many bungalows or ‘independent houses’ with beautiful little gardens – its not just dingy chawls and flats and apartments everywhere one looks. I’m also thankful that there are still some main roads out here which have massive old trees on either side, whose branches form a beautiful canopy over the road even as vehicles pass incessantly below them.

For once, the grass is not really greener on the other side.

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For the love of books…

I’m not yet into eBooks. Don’t know if I’ll ever be.

I like print on paper. I like flipping pages. I like the feel of a book in my hand. I like a book in my handbag so I can read when I’m waiting for someone, somewhere. I like to share books with others, I like to gift books and I like to be gifted books. Good old-fashioned books with pages made of paper. Not matter on a screen on an electronic gadget. Not eBooks.

I like books on the corner shelf in my house. And on my bedside table.

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Why eBooks…

I’m sure that staunch supporters of eBooks can cite any number of reasons for preferring them over actual books. There’s one reason that got me thinking.

Some eBook fans have been known to argue that eBooks go a long way in saving the environment. So much paper goes into the making of a book, so many trees get cut…they reel off the statistics. So why not read an electronic book that doesn’t consume paper?

I can’t help feeling that this is less of a ‘reason’ for buying an eBook, and more of a justification.

Even as people get excited by the idea of eBooks, a number of companies have come out with their own brands of ‘eBook readers’, which means a few more names to add to the ever-growing list of electronic gadgets in the market – electronic gadgets that become obsolete in no time and get discarded even as more new gadgets come into the picture.

I wonder if any of the eBook environmentalists have actually given a thought to the ecological hazards of electronic waste, and the challenges posed while disposing off or recycling tonnes of e-waste generated in our urban metropolises. If they did, they probably wouldn’t use ‘saving the environment’ as a reason for reading eBooks. They’d probably just say that it’s more convenient and novel and exciting for them than reading a book the regular way. That would any day sound more convincing and less hypocritical than the environment angle.

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One more thought…

Just as we can’t do away with electronic gadgets completely in order to avoid e-waste, we cannot do away with books entirely in order to save trees. A lot also depends on individual needs and preferences, and to take up vehemently for either books or eBooks would be missing the point.

At the same time, we do need checks and balances in terms of safeguarding the environment, and it would be stupid to deny our respective roles in this endeavor. Therein lies the challenge, and unfortunately, the questions come more easily than the answers. How can we do our bit to recreate that which we can’t avoid destroying? How can we compensate for the resources that we cannot help but utilize? How do we balance our love for advancement with our love for the environment? Or our love for books with our love for trees?


Beats Me

I recently watched Stanley Kubrick’s much talked about 2001: A Space Odyssey. I didn’t really understand what the filmmaker was trying to say, at least not in entirety. Apparently Kubrick wanted to leave the movie ambiguous and thereby open to interpretation.

The ambiguity bothered me. I surfed the internet to learn more about the movie and its maker. I was stunned at the amount of debate and discussion that this movie has been subject to (or should I say subject of?).

The point is, people are still talking about this movie, a good 40 years after it was released.  And it’s not just plain talking. People are stirred enough to try and crack precisely what the filmmaker is trying to say. They verify and cross-verify. Some say they didn’t like it the first time but loved it many viewings later. Some say emphatically that they’ve finally understood the movie after watching it at many different phases of their lives. People have blogged about their interpretations of the movie. Professional critics have given their versions of what the film could be trying to convey.

The ambiguity here seems to stimulate rather than frustrate. The movie manages to engage a large number of its viewers. Despite the fact that it barely makes sense. Or is it because of the fact that it barely makes sense?

Anyway…one more bites the dust…me…I watched this movie and couldn’t help writing about it…time to rest my case.


Snatches from a trip to Ladakh

A few months down the line, what of it remains?

A blood-splattered window pane…

It’s not really as gory as it sounds. On the bus ride from Delhi to Manali en route to Ladakh, a fellow passenger bided his time swatting mosquitoes that had parked themselves on the window pane. He eventually ended up forming a rather intricate pattern on the pane, which inspired another passenger on the bus to do the same. Why there were so many mosquitoes in an AC bus is a question that beats me but I think I should end the mosquito story right here since it’s beginning to sound morbid even to me.

Mountain, plain, canyon, desert…

It’s amazing how such a little place called Ladakh can contain so many different kinds of terrain. Add to that the rivers, streams, lakes. Muddy in places. Sometimes crystal clear. Various hues of green , blue, silver, white.

Rafting on cold, cold Zanskar…

It doesn’t rain much around Leh from what I hear but it started raining when we were half way down the river in our rafts. We continued in the rain.

Ang Mo, the little Ladakhi girl, and her little friend, gyrating to a Bollywood item number…

They said they were practicing for the Indian Independence Day celebrations in school.

Ganj, the brown mutt at Shanthi guest house…

The free-spirited wanderer who absconded when he felt like and returned when he felt like. Rumour has it that he is called Ganj because he was found on a Ganja field.

Seabuckthorn juice at one of the many monasteries…

Sweet, sour, tangy, yummy. Though not everyone around agreed with me on the ‘yummy’ bit.

A donkey sanctuary…

I’d never before heard of a home specifically meant for sick and homeless donkeys. I saw this one in Leh.

The indescribable blue of Tsomoriri and Pangong lakes…

The chocolate brown mountains with snow-capped peaks…

Reminded me of vanilla ice cream and chocolate fudge. In reverse proportions.

The blazing heat of Nubra Valley. The bitter cold of Sarchu…

We never really knew what to expect. Ladakh was blowing hot and cold depending on where we were.

The drive from Sarchu to Leh…

Beautiful beautiful beautiful. Almost unreal.


Getting more out of life

I learnt something interesting about Anthony Burgess (Anthony Burgess wrote A Clockwork Orange, the novel later made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick). Apparently Burgess was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 1959 and the doctors gave him less than a year to live. He decided that he would write as much as possible in the days he had left to live. He went on to write a book a year and a number of book reviews till he finally died in 1993, 34 years after the docs had written him off.

Reading his story made my day. Don’t know why. I felt really good after that. I also thought this was one really cool guy.

Three days earlier, I went to Nrityagram, the dance village set up by Protima Bedi. Protima Bedi the wild-child who started learning a classical Indian dance form when she was a middle aged woman, mastered it and became so passionately involved in the art that she went on to found a dance school.

Again, Nrityagram left me smiling. This was a life well-lived, I thought. No matter what Protima Bedi’s detractors might say, hers was a life well-lived.


Of order and anarchy

Art and Science once met and began an intriguing dance. They danced in perfect sync and harmony, complementing each other beautifully. It was a complex dance, but they carried it out masterfully, with effortless ease. Every step was precise, each movement graceful.

So Art and Science once met and carried out this intriguing dance, a dance that exuded power and skill and perfection, and thus was created the human body.

That’s what I like to believe.

Nothing else to me explains the sheer craftsmanship of the body. The form and functioning. The meticulously designed cells. The specialized organs. The coordination which they display. Every single element, no matter how big or small, consistently and constantly doing something or the other. Busy always.

Nothing else to me explains the fact that for every heart, there is a mind; that there are five sense organs that help one experience the wonders of the world around. That there’s something called a memory that makes time come back long after it’s gone.

I am fascinated.

By how this masterpiece is taken for granted. Used and abused. Bombarded with chemicals and cigarette smoke, pollutants and pesticides. Drugged and sloshed into numbness. Tampered with.

I’m amazed at how the mind is stressed out into thinking so much that it can think no more. (They even have a term for it, it’s called ‘burnout’).

I’m amused by how people never stop to think about their bodies till it starts complaining, protesting, voicing its disgust. Till it swells and creaks and jabs from inside. Till it starts mouthing obscenities – diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis. Till it refuses to do one’s bidding.

And then I’m just sorry.

And Art and Science stand helplessly around, watching what became of their creation.