Passive Information Consumption

In February 2016, we stopped our newspaper subscription at home. This was a huge step for me at the time. Since I can remember, my top morning ritual was reading the newspaper. Even when I was a child who barely understood the words, I made sure that I glanced through the headlines and clarify things I didn’t understand with dad.

11 months down the line, this was one of the best things I did this year. Along with other changes and even by itself, this allowed my day to be not as influenced by events (esp. the depressing ones) that had little influence over my life or more importantly, over which I had little influence.

It has been my biggest life-hack this year – consciously, actively stopping information flow into my life yielded immense benefits. I also recently uninstalled (well, functionally – I still need it to schedule football games and stay in touch with remote friends) WhatsApp, deactivated my Twitter account (a separate section on this) and cut my Reddit browsing time by over 60% (I still follow curated sub-reddits of interest occasionally but I’ve stopped browsing the front page).

I haven’t read a newspaper or a magazine all of this year. Either on the web or in print. I’ve uninstalled the one news app (WSJ) I had on my phone. I’ve found that there’s a significant cognitive overload required to navigate to a website in a mobile browser, instead of easy-access apps, that reduced time I spent on mindlessly browsing news stories.

A more recent obsession, soccer, also has moved to the back-burner. In the last few years, I’d deluded myself into thinking that following football matches through 40 weekends (!?!) was worth my attention. It ended up swallowing my precious weekend hours and killed my thin social life. Without conscious effort but by design (my cable operator stopped live telecasts of these matches), I’ve got rid of this obsession too. One fine weekend it was gone and I realized I didn’t miss it at all. I continue to play football but I can’t be bothered about keeping tabs on clubs and their performances through an entire season.

Between August and November 2016, I was heavily active on Twitter, scrolling through thousands of tweets every morning, noon and night. I curated my follow list but it didn’t help in avoiding the negativity that is rampant on Twitter. I think many have used it very well but it clearly isn’t a tool for me.

So, in turn, my primary and only source of news was what I heard through friends, family and co-workers. In its digital form, this took the shape of Facebook news feeds. After a few years of tweaking to figure the best way to use Facebook (including ‘cold’ exits, daily posts and active sharing), I’ve designed my Facebook now as a curated news medium, filtered by following ONLY people whose opinions I value highly and people who form the group of loved ones.

Similarly, in its physical form, by hanging around with like-minded friends, I was able to have focused, in-depth discussions about things I’m genuinely interested.

In a year of heightened passions, political divides and unpredictable outcomes, this helped moderate my political positions. I take my own and everyone else’s political positions a lot less seriously. Despite all the rhetoric and ridiculous positions, the fact that events like Trump POTUS, Brexit and demonetization all happened means that I can safely ignore mainstream opinions. I did and it has had absolutely no impact on my life. There are fewer inane conversations about ‘current affairs’ and instead I tend to have more meaningful and personal conversations with people I meet around their hobbies, interests and passions and mine.

As a positive side-effect, I have been able to channel my unused time, memory and cognitive abilities into more productive activities. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve learned to code in Python, using it for a wide variety of tasks from writing mini productivity programs to using it for machine-learning projects. For the first time since my teens (when I used to read Hardy Boys books), I’ve read 15 books in a year including a mammoth ‘War and Peace’. Both of these have been incredibly fulfilling and enjoyable activities.

A few other relevant anecdotes
  • http://www.raptitude.com/2016/12/five-things-you-notice-when-you-quit-the-news/ – This guy too quit reading the news and realized benefits — “You’ll find that your abstinence did not result in any worse cabinet appointments than were already being made, and that disaster relief efforts carried on without your involvement, just as they always do. As it turns out, your hobby of monitoring the “state of the world” did not actually affect the world.”
Passive Information Consumption

A Travel About Nothing

The Airport – Class divide on transport modes

Day 6 – Back Home

In the wee hours of late midnight, I was awoken by a sudden outburst of a Marathi song, from the speakers in the bus. I stared at my acrobatic feet, splayed in physically impossible directions, ahead of me. I had barely managed to nod off and this unwanted wake-up call got me angry.

I thought to myself, ‘ I haven’t slept for 10 minutes and now this?’.  War and Peace had just put me to sleep at 1230 am, despite my body situated in a position in which it was impossible to sleep.

I re-adjusted my feet and was about to get out to give a mouthful to the driver when I chanced upon my silver watch lying on the floor. I picked it up. Glanced at the time. It showed 330 am. I had slept for more than 3 hours with my body contorted. Amazing what traveling does to you.

Earlier that day, I woke up in a town I’ve always wanted to visit. I had booked tickets to travel at least twice earlier but had to drop plans each time. Bidar. Not many people I know have wished to travel to Bidar. Neither would I have except for the fact that it’s the northernmost town in Karnataka. Like a crown on a concave king.

I woke up bright and early, just like I had on all previous days of my trip. I was staying in a hotel that had a fading facade but was filled with warmth hospitality. Rooms were well-maintained, affordable and airy. Plus, the location was worth its weight in gold – right opposite the bus stand, saving conversational time while negotiating directions with the auto drivers. I ventured out with the air of a man who was here to rake in all the delights of Bidar, that elusive frontier town.

The first spot on the list was the Bidar fort. I hopped on to a local bus. Yes, even for a town with a population of a shade under 180K, Bidar had a great fleet of local buses. They were new and very clean. The break-up of KSRTC (Karnataka State Road Transport Corp) into NEKRTC  (North-East) and NWKRTC (North-West) was clearly working out well, at least in the north-east.

I got dropped off at an Ambedkar circle from where I was instructed to hire an auto. This conversation followed the tourist – auto driver template:

Me: ‘To the fort?’

AD: ‘Yes. 30 rupees only.’ (Watch out whenever someone uses only after specifying an amount. It is anything but.)

Me: ‘No, I’m going to give you 7’

AD: (with a look that sought to establish me as an evil capitalist alien) ‘Are you mad? It is way inside. I’ll drop you to the market for 5′

Me: (in no mood to be fleeced) ‘Alright’

I hopped in with a large(r) man as a co-passenger. All autos in Bidar are shared autos. We waited for a few more passengers to fill this small auto up and three more ladies joined us shortly. Chivalry demanded that I move out of the backseat and hop on to the front, sharing a 3 feet seat with the driver and the man, which it clearly wasn’t designed to.

A Travel About Nothing

A New Trip and A New Journey

I visited the US for the first time. I was there for 11 days and it left me tired.

True, partly because there was so much of work to get done. But, also because, the country is so bloody vast and …… exhausting.

Random observations follow:

  • The winters in the northern parts of the US are downright depressing. I’ve never seen the sun set at 3 in the afternoon and after 3 days of this, I was completely bummed out.

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  • This probably also is the reason for the general grouchiness of the people? I was racially abused, provoked into fights and met many unhelpful (busy?) people.
  • But all of the three cities I visited here – Boston, Buffalo and NYC – are beautiful. Boston with its historical buildings, pathways and the awesome MIT campus. Buffalo is the kind of American city that I had envisaged and it was true to type. Delis, 7-11s and small pizzerias.

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  • NYC though deserves a section of its town. From being conned to getting overawed by its skyscrapers, NYC blew me away. I’m glad I spent a non-working weekend here; I walked its streets and avenues. Negotiated the swathes of holiday crowd adroitly ( thanks to training received traversing by-lanes of Avenue Road). Stayed at an expensive hotel yet managed to feel very poor. Went to the top of the Rockefeller, bought expensive souvenirs and consumed the best pizzas I’ve ever had.

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  • The icing on the experience that was NYC deserves yet another section of its own. MoMA was recommended by many and rightly so. I’ve never been a sucker for art but the paintings, sculptures, photographs and the striking, unpredictable pieces of art in everyday things – motel signs, barricades, a telephone directory even. A talking counter. A jarring screen of white. What left me the most stunned were the large paintings by Henry Rousseau, a 19th century French painter who was a life-long city-dweller yet drew a series of striking, richly coloured images of the forest and wild. Purely from what he’d read and what he’d heard others describe. Yet, it was the stand-out work for me in this vast gallery.

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  • Down below the country, I next visited the proud (a bit too proud probably?) state of Texas. Both of them were filled with beautiful sunshine and equally warm people. I met at least three Uber drivers who’d moved there from California because it was more affordable. Plus, there’s so much space – parking lots that never end, roads that have so much width, it’ll make you jealous if you live in Bangalore. I also enjoyed it because I was among friends again. Work kept me busy but from the little that I went out, I’m piqued sufficiently to explore further. It means that I’ll have to learn to drive though.img4
A New Trip and A New Journey

Miraculous Games

A few years back, I picked up FIFA 13 to play on my brand-new PS3. It is a game with various modes, including one where you play as a manager of a team. I did and I chose to manage a club from the second-tier of the English footballing system. Leicester City. Leicester City Football Club. LCFC.

This, of course, was a video game with various difficulty settings. I chose an easy setting and promptly etched a fairy-tale story of getting LCFC promoted to the first-tier, winning the premier league and yes, the European Champions League too while I was at it. It took me a matter of few days to acquire these faux trophies.

Yesterday, though, LCFC did this for real. A team of 23 players, fighting off relegation from the top tier of English football, rose through the ranks, played out of their skins and beat odds of 5000-1 to finish as the champions of English football. Outside of football, very few are able to appreciate the significance of this achievement.

Unlike Boris Becker winning Wimbledon as an unseeded rookie, this wasn’t a two-week affair. It wasn’t an individual achievement.

Unlike a previously undefeated Mike Tyson getting knocked out by underdog Buster Douglas, this wasn’t just one past champion being dethroned. Multiple championship winners were laid by the wayside as LCFC marched on.

Unlike Greece winning Euro 2004, this was no knock-out tournament where form and luck can get you across the fence. This was a 9-month slog of 38 matches.

Unlike the famous Jamaican bobsled team at the Winter Olympics, LCFC finished the job. This wasn’t an unfinished affair.

Unlike Lance Armstrong’s rampant siege of the Tour De France, this was no dope-infused victory. (Of course, if you don’t want to ignore  the ‘IfNotForPearsonSonOrgyInThailand’ story).

Football is a supremely difficult sport. It is demanding – you have to be 100% in the game throughout. It is physical – you are running throughout. It is hazardous – injuries can hurt and set you back months.

Apart from this, in a game lasting 90 minutes, it is imperative that all eleven members of a team have crystal-clear coordination and timing among and between each other. Sixty-six separate one-on-one connections that need to work every single game to ensure victory.

Now, extend this thought experiment – there are a further 12 members of the team who operate as substitutes and reserves. Every time a team member is replaced, new connections need to work as well as the old to maintain winning form.

This is true of all football leagues around the world. The top ones have 20 teams in the top tier. Every year there is a champion. So, what’s so special with what LCFC have done? Every there is a champion and so there is one now for the 2015-16 season.

Only that Leicester were playing in the third tier of the footballing system 6 years back. During those six years, they have fought up through similar grueling seasons of 40+ matches to move up the promotion ladder.

Aren’t there other teams that have done this? Yes, except for crossing that last, enormous hurdle of actually finishing as the winners of the English Premier League.

That honor has been shared by just 5 teams (Manchester United, Chlesea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers) of which only 3 have won it more than twice in the last 25 years.Since football is such a commercial sport, it has been seen and expected that teams that have the funds to spend on top players, coaches and support staff are the only ones who are able to finish as champions. Like a capitalist system gone wrong, the ones at the top keep rising further and the ones at the bottom are in endless relegation battles. There is a set pattern to this dance every year. Bottom-placed clubs occasionally win matches against the big clubs to bring some rare moments of joy to their supporters but no one realistically expects them to win enough number of times to finish as champions.

But, this season, LCFC did just that. Every weekend, since September, when they first rose to the top of the league, commentators would brush them aside and talk about how they’ll drop momentum soon. Who could blame them? It happens every season. A surprise outsider in the top 4 only for injuries and fatigue to set in and push them down.

Miraculous Games

Mehico!

Forget Paris, Mexico City is the most romantic city on earth.

Beautifully dressed people where all men, young and old, wear jackets. The women are all beautiful. My god, are they beautiful or what? Immaculately dressed, mildly perfumed and make up that just about enhances their looks. They sway and sashay in the most stylish dresses.

Waking along Reforma, you have a large expanse of cobbled and stoned pathways lined with shrubs, trees and historical statues. Sure, vehicles whizz past you to remind you of present times and its symbols but for those, the monuments transport you to a different era of mixed European and Mexican mores.

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The weather is so so wonderful. Pleasantly cold it never gets uncomfortably warm or unbearably chilly. There are many cars but many more people walking on the streets. How happily different from the dead, lifeless roads of America.

Public displays of affection abound all through. There are roses and flowers and trinkets to buy for one’s romantic partner everywhere. None of it is gaudy or vulgar though.

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They love their dance and music, the Mexicans do. Bars and pubs straddle and overflow into the streets with the laughing patrons guzzling liters of cerveza. How they laugh!

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Mehico!

A commuting flowchart

8:30: Swipe right, delete the alarm.

Error: You were supposed to swipe left and snooze.

8.45: Gather your limbs and body off the bed. Assemble.

8.50: Finish ablutions.

8.55: Consume black coffee and the newspaper headlines.

9.00: Get ready. Get out.

9.05: Laptop check. Earphones check.  Book to read and show-off check. Wallet check. Jabra Lync Headset check. Orbit check. Badge check. Most importantly, check phone charger cable’s present.

Else, repeat 9.00 step

9.15: Wish wife goodbye. Start bike.

9.25: Reach railway station. Park bike. Lock bike.

WARNING: Bike handle lock engaged. Expect damage when you return since haphazard parking translates to brutal man-handling of locked bikes by attendants. Reset step 9.25 and disengage bike’s handle lock.

9.30: IMPORTANT: Collect parking ticket from attendant. Forget at your own peril. Lost or absent ticket = exorbitant fine.

9.32: Fold ticket and slip in safe nook in the wallet.

9.38: Walk to railway ticket counter, check Rs. 20 availability.

Else, reset at step 9.00 and ensure availability of “change”.

Else, forgo Rs. 80 in cash to be returned by grumpy, angry cashier at counter.

9.42: Saunter to platform. Examine potential co-passengers. Plot entry point to minimize crowd entry.

9.45: Customary phone check

9.48: Train arrives. Occupy seat closest to exit. Plop bag on the luggage counter above.

Until 10.24: note and observe the below occurrences. Factor in new ones.

10:30: Lady seeking alms and wearing dark glasses, a scarf over her head.

10:35: On cue, versatile vendor hawking miracle headache cures, memory drugs, pencils and small eats

10:39: Train mysteriously stops between Baiyappanahalli and KR Puram stations. No one in my compartment appears to be bothered by this. I used to.

11:15: DECISION TIME: Choose to jump off on to the tracks behind Prestige Shantiniketan (A) OR Continue on to the Whitefield station (B)

If (A):

  • Walk 1500 mtrs on tracks with hundreds of other stone-stomping, well-heeled (not for long, if those stones have any say) zombies
  • Cross over a muddy, slippery path. Negotiate bikes. Reach the other side.
  • Flurry of autos driven by mad men arrives
  • Rush to the one that’s headed towards ITPL
  • Multiple decision points: Where to stand so that you get a seat on the auto, whether to ‘capture’ the tiny space next to driver’s thighs or be un-chivalrous and huddle at the back, which auto looks the least likely to kill you this fine morning
  • Reach ITPL. Hop any bus. Wait for it to accumulate enough passengers. Get down. You’ve REACHED!

If (B):

  • Peek out to see if goods train of infinite length is parked on the other side of the platform.If train isn’t parked, jump to (C)
  • DECISION: Is your life worth living? If Yes, follow path (D).
  • Many self-help books recommend doing one thing that scares you every day. If you’re at this point in this flowchart, you are are in luck. A freakishly long goods-carrier train plonks itself on many mornings at WFD station, blocking the path to the walkway that will get you out of this station. Most people choose to jump over this train between the bogies, walking 5 ft above ground on short metal connectors. All hunky-dory so far? Here’s the exciting bit. Often, (too often for it to not be statistically insignificant), the train driver returns from his breakfast and starts the engine! If you survive this, congratulations! You’ve saved yourself a long walk and the search for finding something scary to do today. Climb up the bridge and reach the other side to get the bus
  • D: Walk out through the station, land at the opposite side, walk over 1000 mtrs (!?) to the bridge, climb up and reach the other side to get the bus.
  • C: Pass the vegetable hawkers, Bengali signboards, overhear conversations in at least seven different languages and hop in to the bus. Bus will take more time than planned. ALWAYS. Listen to podcast, spy on co-passengers and avoid air-conditioned, cold draft hitting your head.
  • You’ve REACHED!
A commuting flowchart

Stream of Unconsciousness

Today brought in a new spark of life.

My partner (that appears to be the most politically correct word these days) and I have been seeing each other for three years now, the last one of which has been a long-distance one. I stay in Chennai, she stays in Mangalore. We lead busy lives, rarely getting the chance to spend more than an occasional weekend with each other.

Age has caught up with both us, probably a bit faster with me than with her. I no longer participate in my life, happy to watch it from the pavilion, with an occasional beer to remove the sobriety. Else, it is all quite bleak.

Yesterday was also bleak. But, in an unusual attempt to break the monotony, I got onto the first bus to Mangalore, checked into a lodge and decided to surprise her.

So, today was special. It was special because it had all elements that can make a day special.I woke up before sunrise and I smelled the first batch of jasmine (which I also bought for her). I surprised her by showing up at her place and we ate breakfast in an ancient restaurant that had waiters older than its walls. We watched a 3D-movie that had a story and polished off some delicious seafood. We walked and we sipped on Tropical Iceberg. We bought books for each other, for loved ones and we ate at Ideal ice-cream. In between, we talked and we sat silently. She read out a story from the book she bought. I listened to her, distracted by her glistening, sun-soaked face. As the sun set, we went by the seaside and bid a very special day adieu.

Some days are special and some days are not. The sun decides which is what. He’d etched his mark today and just as he set, so did the charm he’d brought with him. We walked out of the beach and we fought. I was defensive. She was annoyed. We continued to bicker but I had to rush back to get on my train. We didn’t even say our goodbyes properly.

I boarded the train. It had been a strange day so far. A loud, young family of four occupied the bogie beside mine. Beyond that lay the noisome corridor of wash-basin, toilets and general grime that form any Indian train’s sleeper compartment. In this trinity, squatted a thin, lean shadow of a man. The husband, a swarthy man, of the young family took upon himself to rid the train of this unnecessary, ticket-less burden. This was when I got up to see what was happening. Swarthy was gesticulating intimidatingly at the Shadow. Shadow kept staring at him, not too softly, but with daggers for eyes. I couldn’t take my eyes off the scene. Swarthy, after yet another manly show of strength, turned back, smiling slyly at me, almost asking me to thank him. I stared beyond him at the Shadow, who had now begun to gesticulate even more violently, with Swarthy out of sight. Shadow was not just usually invisible, he couldn’t be audible even if he screamed. He was deaf-mute too.

There were other eyes watching this scene. A voice that belonged to one pair remarked, “He’s probably pretending just so that he can travel in reserved class. Ha!”. I sensed other heads nodding in agreement. But, I wasn’t able to take my eyes off Shadow. I made a feeble attempt smiling at him but he either didn’t see me or didn’t know how to respond. As minutes passed, I was overcome with an indescribable mixture of guilt, helplessness, confusion and incredible sadness. I’d decided that by the time the TT comes back on his next round, I’ll offer to pay for Shadow’s seat.

We arrived at the next station. Swarthy had again bossed over Shadow and I couldn’t hold myself back. On asked, Swarthy said, “Guru, this guy’s not only traveling ticketless, he’s stuffed the corridor with his bags.”. I still gave him a look of disgust. At the station, an agitated family got in. It appears Swarthy was traveling without a ticket and was promptly asked by Husband Agitated to vacate their seats. The Mangalore sun was still shining a bit faintly somewhere.

But, before the TT came, a hefty security guard with his faux gun came in, chased Shadow out with his luggage. I ran up to Shadow, without knowing what it was that I exactly planned to do. I probably wanted to carry some of his bags, speak to faux guard? I stood in the corridor of uncertainty while a man with crutches got in. Husband Agitated spoke concernedly to crutches, asking if he needed help. Meanwhile, faux guard continued to bark in Shadow’s ears and he got down. I followed him out and in a moment of helpless desperation, I got out whatever money I could find in my pocket and handed it down to Shadow. Faux guard and I tried to get him to board the un-reserved compartment but Shadow didn’t understand. He only wailed under that rainy, thankless night. The train started to move and I ran to get back on it. Shadow was gone, the doors were locked back.

Agitated, Concerned Husband thanked faux guard. “Thank you sir, we were scared for our small child because of him.

Today brought in a new spark of life. But, I died a bit today.

Stream of Unconsciousness