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

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is a 1993 movie by Harold Ramis, starring Bill Murray. It also is the most meaningful movie I’ve ever seen. At different times in my life, since I first saw it in 2009, I’ve been moved by what I saw and understood from it. Back when I saw it the first time, I was amused by the idea of the movie. A day that repeats over and over for a hapless Bill Murray and he can do nothing about it. What a fascinating concept! Coupled with Murray’s acting par brilliance, especially his comedic timing, I laughed out aloud and had a good time.

But, just a few days and much IMDB/Wikipedia research later, I was drawn back to watch it again. And again. A few more times in a week’s time. I laughed louder. I cried a bit too. It was truly an emotional coaster-ride. No movie has made me feel that way in just over 100 minutes of screen-time. It was all still a big, great cinematic treat though. I did read about the various interpretations critics and wikipedia editors have had about it (connections with Eastern philosophy, rebirth and the like).

A year later I took a sabbatical from work to figure out what I wanted to do next. These were interesting times when I was often thinking about what is it that I wanted to do with my life. It also meant I had a lot of time on hand. Soon enough, I re-watched Groundhog again. Since a despondent Murray cannot find an escape out, he resorts to learning new skills. He picks up piano lessons and soon masters it. Well, “soon” for us viewers and everyone else in the movie but a few years for him. Someone somewhere on the Internet has determined that to be about 5 years of piano lessons. That struck a chord. Around the same time, I was reading Po Bronson and Malcolm Gladwell who were advocating a similar theme – persistent, relentless practice is what makes people great at what they do. Chess-players, artists, footballers and mathematicians. I got a job soon after doing something I knew I loved. When I took it up, I made a mental note to be at it for at least two years, inspired by this philosophy.

Time passed. Almost three years later, I felt an urge to revisit the movie. And, yet another revelation. As I sat watching it on a rainy Independence day, it altered my perspective yet again. If, like me, you spend any time on the Internet looking at life-hacks, you’re bound to have been exposed to thoughts around how important it is to make the most of our life, make it meaningful, cut the faff, rush things, travel, meditate, exercise, diet, things to do before you’re 30 lists, get married before 35, have kids before 40 and on and on. There’s extreme pressure to do something “different”, to stand out. Why? Because, hey, life’s too short.

In Groundhog Day though, life is not short. It is anything but. It is an endless tunnel with no end in sight. No mortality. Well, at least till the end. But, for the longest while (77 minutes of a 100 minute movie), Murray’s character, Phil, has difficulty adjusting to this new life. Before Groundhog Day, Phil is a restless, what-do-I-do-next?, unhappy hustler. He’s eager to move ahead in his career. There’s a promising prospect. Suddenly, he’s thrust with the prospect of a life, not just his career, that won’t move. What can he do? What would YOU do?

It actually does have strong connections with the philosophy of rebirth. Even if you were to find rebirth an esoteric concept, Groundhog Day asks you to consider the idea that life isn’t that short really. It is not. There are billions and billions of moments. What is important is to make sure they count and not that you are seeking out some special moment while losing sight of this moment. Right now. There’s no need to be anxious. Consider that thought. I did and it helped me in many ways. I will now get back to finish watching it for the second time in as many days.

Groundhog Day

Gratefulness

Life most often is a series of introspective episodes and futuristic planning. Hundreds of people, nay thousands, will let it be known that the present matters. To add to those numbers, here I am.

But, I am not here to say that you have to live in the moment. At this moment, I am here to be grateful for the life I lead. At this moment, I am truly grateful to be contented, around happy, loving people consisting of a friend for life, family, interesting work, good health, decent money and some really damn good vodka.

More often than not, it is not living the moment that matters as much as the fact that you realize you have lived a substantial amount of those moments in the last few days. Be grateful.

Gratefulness

Imagine something profound here

Attempting to write after you last wrote something 18 months back has to be a challenge even for Raymond Carver. At least, I’d like to imagine it so.

But, I’m inspired to write this because as I read through my older posts, I realize this is probably the only surviving witness of my life account through the years. Hell, if at all I pen an autobiography after I’ve become a new-age billionaire, most of that book is going to be made up with words on this very blog. So, wordpress, if you’re listening – do not take off this blog!

2012 was a rubbish year in many ways. Good things did happen of course – brother got married, I made more friends at work and improved my financial savings. Happy experiences, though, are not only made of good things. They’re also outweighed by musings on life, failed expectations, sour relationships. The usual grind of life that we want to ignore but the wheels of which will anyway cause friction.

So, you search for ways to slow those grinding gears. How do you do that? Action. You can read, ramble, search for cheat-sheets but in the end the only thing that will kick in those endrophins is action. For me, cycling was that antidote against regression and I happily embraced it the last year. I can only imagine that 2013’s going to get so much better if I continue to be on the saddle and keep pedaling away. I’ll also probably write more about my experiments with life here. Else, it is going to be a very slim autobiography.

Imagine something profound here

Rahul Sharad Dravid

I know, I know. There has been a flurry of blog posts, articles and odes singing high praise of Rahul Dravid and his cricketing ability. But, I had to get my word in and not least of all because he happens to be one of my favourite sportsmen.

If there is one statistic that you should take away from all that is written about him, it is this – there has been only one match, remember only one, of the thirty-one that he’s scored a century in that India have lost (3.2% loss rate). So, that is a remarkable statistic because the next guy on the list has more than double that number at 7.5%. But, statistics alone don’t speak the story.

Rahul Dravid is a true colossus of the game because he embodies the least glamorous aspect of sport – the struggle. Ever since I understood test cricket, it has been a favourite sport precisely for this reason. Because, test cricket is probably the only game of sport that has you waiting five days to get a result, and sometimes even that is not assured. It is a game of constant yet slow strife, where fortunes change not over a searing ace or a brilliant substitution, but over three hours of probing line-and-length bowling. Or, even longer. So, what this sport demands of those who seek to participate in it is ridiculously large reserves of zen-like concentration and infinite patience. If you are a bowler, you must be resigned to bowl six balls after six of good deliveries for six hours on a flat track, in the vain hope of getting a wicket. On the other hand, if you are a batsman on a dicey track, you are required to resist temptation like it’s no one’s business.

One is after all influenced by what one sees and I am probably less fortunate to have not witnessed Tendulkar’s century in bouncy Perth or a Gavaskar’s century on a wearing Chinnaswamy track but I have been fortunate to have seen some of the best innings by two batsmen I greatly admire – Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid. First, Lara. Lara could just have been the unmatchable, unenviable and unholy combination of three great batting talents – Tendulkar, Ponting and S.Waugh. I say ‘could’ because there is God.  I say ‘could’ because Lara lacked the single-minded passion these others shared for the game. He was bound to get carried away by all the off-field shenanigans too easily. But, he still managed to display of what he is capable by his two giant 300+ tons, a feat that is unmatched. What will earn him my life-long respect though is that super 152 he made against a rampaging Australia to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That is something that a Tendulkar or Ponting have not achieved and I don’t think ever will.

What Lara lacked in terms of determination is what Dravid has in oodles. He loves cricket and he loves batting even more. This is a man who loves batting so much that he probably wants to and can bat for all the five days of a match. Except that he also wants to win and save matches for India. He is also a class act. Not for him the slog sweep or the ugly heave. He respects the art of batting too much to slip to such lows. Those are best left to the Sehwags and the Afridis of the world. Dravid avoids the dangerous balls when he’s made his mind up like one avoids the plague. . You might think, given the amounts of it written about it, that concentration and focus is something that most batsmen should have inculcated the habit but it is clearly easier said than done. Very few sportspeople, let alone batsmen, are blessed with that quality and this is what makes Dravid’s innings more attractive. Darren Sammy’s comment that Dravid did not attempt a pull shot till he scored 98 in the post-match conference underlines the rarity of Dravid’s mental strength and discipline.

Overseas pitches hold a special attraction as well. With India two tests down in his debut series against South Africa, he comes up with his first century at Johannesburg that almost earned India an improbable victory. Same story, one year later in New Zealand, he comes up with a beautiful 148 that again would have handed India a victory, if not for the bowling attack. And so it goes. Headingley, Kingston, Adelaide and Rawalpindi have all followed and were followed by even more.

Once you think about this, it is easier to understand why people like to write about him so much. It is because we remember all these innings. For a long time. Not only because were these the turning points in India’s tide of fortunes in test cricket but because these were durable, long-lasting sporting achievements. It is one thing to rack up centuries on a flat track or to win in straight sets or to rout an opposition 4-0 but what leaves an impression are the masterclass acts of performance that are achieved against the odds, on a roguish cricket pitch or against a marauding opposition. Not that there is beauty without it – Tendulkar’s straight drive or a Federer volley still delights the heart, no matter how many times you see them but give me a Dravid special in Kingston any day.

In a recent article on cycling, it was written that suffering is cycling’s currency, one that has a very low exchange value against glory. Dravid’s batting might not be in the same league of suffering but he definitely is trading with low-value notes that might not earn him the visibility or the moolah of a Gayle or Valthaty but will earn an enduring legacy of joyous sporting satisfaction. There will be more IPLs, countless more one-day matches and freaky, mind-boggling slogs in between but I’d be damned if I remember any of them and not Dravid’s genius last night.

Rahul Sharad Dravid