Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Pale Blue Dot


(guest post by Shruti: she has now revived her own blog too: http://shrutidiaries.blogspot.in/)

Life ha a funny way of reminding you where your stand in the whole scheme of things. Thanks to the latest announcement on demonetization, i suddenly feel stifled and restricted. Though most of my big purchases can be done on cards, I feel restricted in terms of daily commute where only cash prevails. Walking to and from home from the railway station to save every penny worth ofchutta,eating only at restaurants that accept cards, disliking people when they shamelessly ask for cash post their services; these are just some of the many daily situations I come across post 8th of November, 2016.

But this post is not about demonetization (even the American version of demonetisation restricts my freedom of self expression). This post is about how life changes in a jiffy. In one moment, you are rich and comfortable with your cash, cards and the works and the next moment you are standing in never ending queues at the ATM for somechuttas.The worst part is the restriction on these cash exchange transactions and withdrawals. Ofcourse it wont be right to say that I feel like how people would have felt during the Great Depression but I seriously do empathize with them much more.

Life has changed overnight for many people. People whose business depended solely on cash have seen atleast a 50% drop. People have stopped going out often. Patients have suffered, waiters have suffered without their tiny tips and people like me are such feeling the heat of things when someone argues in a local train either supporting or defaming this move. There is blatant restlessness palpitating among the crowd. I am worried now. Worried for humanity, for justice and most of all I think we are going to relive the era of "The Silent Generation." The happy Millennials and iGeneration will need to re-read their history books to learn a lesson or two from their ancestors.

I suddenly feel a profound sense of helplessness. I am worried for my future. Just plain worried. I cannot trust anything anymore. In one moment, a government move changes my life, in one day my aunt falls critically ill and her world turns upside down. What do we humans gloat about so much? We are helpless on so many fronts. I have cash in bank but I can hardly use it. My aunt has the power and money to get her way out of things but today she is helpless in front of what sits inside her body. We are helpless if tomorrow an airstrike (just like the one in Syria and other war stricken countries) hits Mumbai. We will be homeless and poor in the tiny speck of a moment if our house collapses or our banks go bust. Banks do not guarantee our entire money. I know I read cynical here but what can this "Pale Blue Dot" do when an asteroid welcomes its way in?

Humans are a complex mix of vulnerabilities and strengths. Spirituality teaches us that the power of the Universe is also the power within us. Science teaches us the heavy realization of how seriously we take ourselves even though we are such a tiny speck on the face of this vast Universe.

All these years growing up, I had a sense of relief that let me take care of myself and things will fall in place. I also believed that life is full of choices and it is largely our choices thatmaketh thee.But I blindly ignored the possibilities of life changing experiences through fate. Some will not agree with me on this as they believe that it is solely their deeds and words that made them who they are today. But you cannot ignore the factors of getting a good foundation as a child, living in a conflict-free positive environment. That is where fate comes in. Maybe it is theill-fateof Syrians or Palestinians or even Kashmiris to suffer in an induced poverty and see their life savings burnt down due to a choice made by few men.

I hope my bubbly optimism surfaces soon and takes over this induced cynicism. I am amazed at how deeply things affect me these days. My sensitivity is to its fore. A good outcome of this though is that I am writing much more and I feel free in doing so.

Monday, November 14, 2016

suicidal bikers

I pity the plight of drivers of 4-and-more vehicles in India. being a biker myself, I'm constantly thinking about what the drivers around me see and sense before attempting a maneuvere. small things like flashing my headlight when I'm behind a car while I move to whichever side I'm overtaking from, and anticipating if they intend to give way based on the way they brake (it's not that difficult, the human mind is quite amazing in its ability to judge velocity and acceleration!), treating drivers on the phone with extra caution to and checking their blind spots instead of assuming I can always be seen.

yesterday, I had to ride pillion with someone for a fair distance (12 km). at first I was simply unnerved by his refusal to signal turns and his tendency to not brake early when an opportunity to overtake is closed... and i was gonna politely give him a bit of advice.

but eventually I realized the problem ran deeper: he simply wasn't thinking about the other drivers and vehicles on the road. about the fact that the average rickshaw brakes can't be trusted enough for you to to cut in between and halve its braking distance without warning, or that a car driver taking a turn can't see you in the rear view while turning, so if you weren't visible before he started turning, he'd have to emergency brake when you cut in halfway through the turn. or that if a bus does an emergency brake, there's some sort of obstacle in front of it that you better not make any assumptions about.

the sort of things you can't politely advise someone to start doing.

seriously, I wonder what was occupying the part of his mind which a safe rider would use to analyze the road.

how do you politely advise someone to ride defensively?

Monday, November 07, 2016

the sculptor

yesterday, in church, the priest happened to narrate a story that reminded me of grandma.

there was a sculptor, who was working on a bronze statue. he toiled at it, day and night, and even when it looked like the sculpture was ready, he continued to polish and apply finishing touches to it. a curious passerby once asked: your sculpture looks complete, how much longer do you plan to work on it for?

the sculptor replied: I will work until my sculpture is taken from me

I remembered grandma. weeks ago, we thought she was on her deathbed. she has stopped opening her eyes, she has long since lost her sense of hearing. she just lies in bed all day, with her laboured breathing and occasional restless movement of her head and hands to remind us that she is still there. she even stopped swallowing food and drinking water for some time, but has resumed again.

she is like that sculptor.

she will not give up until her life is taken away.

such is the human spirit. to fight until the final breath. to never give up even when the end is in sight.

I visited grandma recently, again. I held her shriveled hands and stroked her sunken face. her fingers twitched and she struggled to open her eyes. I visited her to make my peace with what I thought was the end. but watching her struggle, I realized that it wasn't the end. what seems like a few days or months to us, must feel very different to her. just like the last 100 steps to everest seems like any other 100 steps to anyone else, but not to the mountaineer making her approach to the summit, drawing on every last ounce of strength.

I have honestly always believed that every moment prepares myself for the rest, but I found it hard to apply that philosophy to situations like these. I realize now, that such moments are what call for the greatest strength.

I have tears in my eyes as I think about what grandma's frail body is going through. but I remind myself that grandma's mind is not frail. she is strong, stronger than even most of us living in the prime of our youth.

and I will never tell myself that it's over. not until the last breath, when her battle is won.

when her sculpture is taken away.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

getting married 101: *how* do you get married?

for the average human, getting married probably ranks near the top of the list when it comes to life-changing decisions, maybe only second to having a kid. luckily for us, we had enough time to think, figure things out, and plan. but then again, you (hopefully) only get married once, and you obviously want it to be perfect, and there's a lifetime of expectations built by relatives, friends, and even colleagues... a perfect recipe for craziness!
and so, for the benefit of everyone, here's a quick guide to getting married. it's obviously incomplete, since we aren't exactly there yet, but we're close enough now :D
here's how you go about getting married (our list, so far):
  1. get yourself a partner
  2. make sure it's gonna last forever
  3. propose! do it however you want, it doesn't have to be crazy, but it has to be you. take plenty of photos, cos you don't want to forget this moment anytime soon ;)
  4. fix the date - it's hard to fix everything else without a date, at least an approximate one!
  5. broach the subject with each others' families, if you haven't done it yet - makes life a lot easier.
  6. tell your friends - nothing like excited, enthusiastic friends to motivate you to get your act together!
  7. budget - atleast an approximate one. don't overspend, your life after the big day is probably not going to be much fun if you're broke!
  8. make a to-do list. start off with the list of someone else who recently got married, and preferable in a similar style and budget as you're planning to.
  9. fix the venue. all up to you, but keep in mind the budget, your convenience and the convenience of your guests. destination weddings are beautiful and awesome, but they don't come cheap (unless your family lives at the destination :D) and can be a pain to coordinate unless you have a wedding planner at the destination.
  10. get an approximate guest count. you're bound to miss out people on the first count, so don't bother getting it accurate. a ballpark will do.
  11. fix the exact date, and if it's gonna be a huge affair, the number of days.
  12. book the venue. a ground/hall/whatever have you. make sure it can accommodate your guests comfortably. work out a deal for photographer(s), catering, decor, and if it's a destination wedding, stay and transport.
  13. send out a "save the date" (optional) - important if you have people traveling from far away, or it's a destination wedding.
  14. book your leave at your workplace. factor in your honeymoon, and a few days off before the wedding.
  15. plan/book your honeymoon
  16. inform your entourage, let them know if they will be helping out with any of the planning, preparation, etc
  17. start getting your card, electronic invitations, and website (optional) designed
  18. start shopping for outfits, accessories, entourage outfits, etc. if you're getting them tailor-made, get your design etc fixed, but get the size finalized no more than two months before the wedding.
  19. start figuring your stay after marriage. setting up can take a while, and you want your new place to be ready to move in right after the big day!
  20. send your invites out
  21. start checking the rest of your to-do! don't underestimate the small things.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

the bachelor "trip"

months ago, right after I declared I would be getting married in December, my best friends decided a bachelor trip was called for. and it had to live up to my reputation for crazy travel. places and dates were thrown around, and it was collectively decided we had to go to Thailand. I guess it was not so much actual research and thought as much as it was the stereotype promoted by the movie "the hangover" (a cult movie for most groups of guys, I'm sure, as much as it was for us).

and so, Thailand it was. a top secret whatsapp group was formed, invites were sent, and I was only temporarily added so that the venue and dates could be confirmed, and quickly removed again.

while I busied myself with getting ready to get married, my friends did a great job of figuring what exactly we had to do to have the craziest bachelor trip ever, getting the itinerary and bookings sorted, etc. - all without my explicit knowledge. it was only when most of the planning was done, I was informed. and honestly, I didn't quite care about the details. all I knew was that the friends who decided to make it were really special to me, and this was probably (realistically) the last opportunity I would have to really bond with them on a trip like this.

there were some setbacks, like a few close friends who I was looking forward to being with, canceling at the last minute, and me finding myself flat broke a few weeks before the trip. my parents were either not informed or conveniently forgot, and threw half a tantrum when I reminded them. shruti was as understanding as I could humanly expect her to be (a lot more, in fact!), but I know it was difficult for her to trust me. and there were some friends (yes, mayur, I'm talking about you) whose repeated, if light hearted, jokes about "bang bang" and "pee pee massage" were a constant reminder to her about what could happen. I made promises, but we both knew that promises could be broken.

and then, of course, there was my life. when we started planning, I hadn't even started preparing for my wedding (in fact, the wedding dates were changed even after we had already started the trip planning!) as I got into wedding preparations, things started getting crazy. I was literally struggling against an ever growing to-do list that was refusing to get stuff checked off. things felt like they were getting out of control.

a month before the trip, I actually half considered calling it off. I guess it was less out of respect for what my friends had all done to plan it for me (and obviously, there was a significant amount of money at stake) and more out of the realization that I really needed this, that I dismissed all thoughts of canceling.
the days before the trip were harrowing, to say the least. I was literally struggling to stay afloat and productive at work. I was sleep deprived, overworked, frustrated and broke.
but then things started improving. I got a lot checked off my todo in a week. things improved at work. shruti was more supportive than usual, and I got my paycheck.

I slept just two hours, the night before we left. I started packing at what was my usual bedtime. I headed to office sleep deprived and unenthusiastic. my office colleagues were probably more excited than I was. I was planning to do some overtime and leave in time for my flight, but my colleagues would hear nothing of it. and so, pre-drinking plans were made, shruti was called to see us off, and the fun started well before we even took off.

what happened in Thailand was half a blur (also, a bachelor trip without a secrecy pact isn't really a bachelor trip, is it?), and so I'm going to skip the details... but now, on the flight back home, nursing my 3rd gin and tonic, I think I can talk about what I got from the trip.

for starters, you can have real friends, even if you barely meet them twice a year, and have never traveled with them ever before. friends are the same people, no matter where you go. the level of comfort used to surprise me, but I kinda take it for granted now.

also, you can have a good (nay, amazing!) time on a vacation even if your objectives are different.
I have finally accepted that I do have a taste for luxury, even though I have scorned it all my life. opulence can actually be enjoyable. it's possible to travel without converting every transaction to my own currency, and subtracting it from my ever-diminishing bank balance.

and last, but not the least, I am now ready to get married.

travel is a good way to assess similarities and differences, and after traveling with shruti earlier, and now with the guys, I can now say that I fully appreciate how much shruti "completes" me.

I hate to admit it, but I think I have to: I am ready to go back home to her. after 5 days of luxury service apartments, private bungalows and opulent hotels, I crave my simple life. the life that I have been so carefully setting up for myself. the life that actually seems awesome now. when the plane started taxiing in Mumbai, 5 days ago, I was relieved to let go of my life back home. but now that we're a little over an hour from touchdown, my enthusiasm for the future beats any remorse of the trip being over.

married life will probably be difficult, but it definitely will be awesome.

cheers!