Sunday, September 23, 2018

the boiling candle

after waking up from this dream, i decided to light the bedside scented candle. and then dozed off.

when i woke up, the candle had been burning for a while, much longer than we usually leave it burning. i looked in and noticed all the wax in the holder had melted and i could see through the translucent green wax all the way to the bottom. and then a curious thing happened. the wax began to boil. first, in tiny bubbles, and then abruptly, it became a rising opaque mass of foam, with bubbles so tiny that it almost looked solid! the foam rose to the top of the candle holder, and i was scared it would spill over, so i started blowing gently at the centre of the candle, near the wick.

blowing at the boiling wax started to break the bubbles and halt its rise, and strangely, also kept the candle going, because the bubbles had crossed the level of the wick.

i decided to take my chances and stop blowing, and see what happens.

the foam of wax bubbles extinguished the flame, and the foam died down almost immediately.

i tried lighting the candle again, to check if i could reproduce the phenomenon. sure enough, i could.

i then tried waking shruti up, to show her the candle's strange behaviour.

it was early in the morning, barely past sunrise, and shruti understandably took her time to wake up, and definitely wasn't interested in watching the candle.

meanwhile, the wax cooled down, so when i tried lighting the candle again, it didn't boil over. irritated, shruti went back to sleep, while i continued to watch the candle burn.

sure enough, after a few minutes, the wax began to boil again.

i extinguished the candle before it fully boiled to the top.

i woke shruti up again, and told her to check out the candle. she told me the candle was off.

i turned to light it again, and then realized the candle was solid, and hadn't melted or boiled at all.

in fact, it was all a dream!

ps: i then did light the candle, just for this photo :D

belfast to mumbai in summer

it was a summer weekend. i was walking around in belfast. it was pretty hot, so i had taken off my shirt and put it away in my bag. as i was walking around, i passed by a crowd of people standing around and watching something. a lady was sitting on someone's shoulders and recording a video on her phone. i looked at her phone screen (the phone had pretty good zoom!) and could see it was pointed at my friend rama sitting in the balcony of her apartment. rama was being interviewed by a tv reporter in her balcony. i didn't bother asking anyone what was happening, as it started drizzling at that very moment. i wanted to wear my shirt, and suddenly started feeling embarrassed, but there were other shirtless guys around as well. i didn't want to get the insides of my bag wet, so instead of taking out the shirt, i covered my head with the bag and walked towards a more sheltered place.

the rain subsided a couple of minutes later, and i wore my shirt while i kept walking. i met vane and we made small talk while walking together. we were stopped by a couple of random indian guys who said hi and asked if i remember them. they claimed that they bumped into me a few weeks ago in belfast as well, and i didn't remember them back then either. i told them i unfortunately still couldn't remember them, but i might if they told me how we met. they said they knew me from mumbai meat marathon, but i was still blank. as we walked on, and vane asked me how come i never introduced him to the mumbai meat marathon guys. i told him it's because the mumbai meat marathon guys aren't particularly big fans of chicken biryani :D

we walked along tree lined (but unfamiliar-looking) streets until we came to a corner where nickolai and shruti were waiting for us. i was glad to see nickolai as it had been over a year since we had last met. i told her about a recent conversation i had with shruti about how i had found her "hand twin" many years ago in mumbai, and i told her that shruti's hand looks quite similar to hers. they both held out their hands and refused to agree, and it was pretty obvious that their hands looked quite different, but i refused to change my mind. finally they agreed that their hands look similar "from some angles", and changed the subject.

i told them we were walking on sydenham road, and nickolai pointed out sydenham college.

and that's when i realized we were not in belfast, but in mumbai. somewhere in khar west. and we were walking north along SV road, parallel to the railway tracks. at times, we randomly decided to climb up the stairs of buildings and walk through them instead of on the road. somewhere in between, we got separated. and then i noticed kevin following me. i stopped and called out to him, and he pretended not to see me, but then realized i was sure i had seen him and walked up to me. he told me he had been following me for a while, and was playing a game of avoiding me for as long as possible. we discussed shortcuts to home from khar while we walked, and he told me about the secret routes he'd take while walking home.

we had walked a good way, when we realized nickolai and shruti had reached the road below the building we were walking through, and we got back down on it. they had met dannika, and were about to cross a busy street, which looked like a highway.

nickolai ran across, dodging cars and other vehicles, but we didn't follow, as we were too scared. nickolai called us from across the road and told us it's safe to cross - it was actually a red light and the vehicles were moving illegally and had to stop for us. we ran, one behind the other, kevin, followed by dannika, myself, and finally shruti.

across the road, there were a line of stalls, selling tea and fruit juices. beyond the stalls, there was a high railing, and on the other side of the railing were the railway tracks. we were somewhere near kandivali. nickolai told us she had planned a surprise, but first, she had something to give us. she opened a bag of sugar coated chocolate "gems", all red in colour, and told us we could have as many as we like. we took about a fistful each. there were still some left over though, and nickolai encouraged us to have more, as they would get spoiled if not eaten soon enough. i told her i can take some home for my parents, but she said i couldn't - these were "special" gems, and were strictly to be given by her, and not to be passed on to others :P

that done, it was time for the surprise: nickolai pointed to 4 glasses on the roof of the shed on my left. they had straws in them, and had a pale amber liquid.

i told her it's impossible to get up there, and maybe there's been some sort of mistake? but nickolai persisted, and kevin looked around and pointed out that the roof was actually a sloping wooden sheet with planks nailed to it, like a rough ladder. he climbed up, and had a sip from his glass. he said it tasted like fruit beer, and the view was amazing - he was lying flat on his stomach on the sloping roof while sipping on his fruit beer. the rest of us were trying to figure how to get there ourselves.

and that's when i woke up.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

hiking around Belfast - cavehill

a few weekends ago, we decided to make the best use of what's left of summer and hike to cavehill, which we had heard is a good hike, and also had happened to pass by sometime in august - it looked great from the highway that ran past it.

and so, some notes after getting back, for anyone who might want to attempt it:

overall verdict: great place for hiking - not difficult at all, superb views on the way up as well as at the top, but might get lost if there aren't people around, as we encountered a lot of unmarked paths that seemed to branch off. there's a cellular network tower on one of the adjacent hills, so you aren't offline at any point.

there are 4 main routes that we saw:

  1. via Belfast zoo (pretty narrow and quite overgrown) - we ascended via this one. there were signs saying some paths are closed due to landslides, and we had to hop over a fallen tree trunk on the way as well.
  2. via Belfast castle - this is the widest path, with gravel all the way. seems like the easiest and most popular route - we descended part way down this path.
  3. via old cavehill road - this one joins the Belfast castle route about halfway (a small gate marks the point where it joins the castle route) has a spar supermarket near the start, which is good if you need to stock up on snacks/water. stone steps and well packed dirt (until it joins the gravel path of the castle route) - we descended by this path once it branched off the castle route.
  4. we saw a path that seems to ascend directly to the fort at the top, but have no idea where it starts from. we did see people climbing it, but the final stretch by this path would have been much steeper than the rest.
route 1 seemed like very familiar experience, as the overgrown path and bushes, and minimal markings reminded us of hikes we did in konkan. also gives you a slight feeling of a challenge since it feels like you could get lost (while you actually can't - if you veer too far off the path, you will encounter barbed wire fencing!)

route 2 seems to be easy enough for little kids - you will even be able to even push an off-road buggy up it!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

the other side of the 30s

i turned 35 earlier this week. the celebration was a quiet, relaxed time with shruti at home - and for the first time in my life, i also went to work on my birthday! felt weird, but did also fit in with the low key mood.

and so, at around 12:30am, after cutting homemade cake and downing a "wee glass" of traditional irish ginger wine, i opened my blog to last year's birthday, just to remind myself of what my last birthday was like. yes, i actually couldn't remember!

and then i realized that by many measures, this birthday wasn't quite different from the previous one.

the only main difference (besides going to work and the yummy goodies by shruti, of course) was the absence of family and old friends. i guess that's part of moving to a new country. but the similarity was that my birthday was once again a day for looking back and introspection - and also about living a "normal" day, but with more self-awareness than usual.

because, i've realized, that age is just a number. days, months and years mean nothing. it's what you do with them that counts. and if you feel you're living the way you want to, you don't need anything different to celebrate.

and i guess, that's my resolution for this year of my life, as much as it was for the last: to live each day to the fullest. with no room for regrets.

happy birthday to me!

Monday, August 13, 2018


of late, i've been getting sucked into quora, especially questions about human interactions - both because i find them fascinating, and because i've found that it's something i can contribute to and impact others' lives in a concrete, positive manner. sometimes, though, more than helping others, the questions make me think and crystallize my thoughts to myself. like this question, today:
What is something that others see as success but you don't? Why?
funnily enough, the existing answers seemed (to me) to be quite one dimensional, and coloured by the respondent's perspective - more like they were venting their pet peeve about someone or something widely regarded as successful. and that prompted my answer:

When I saw this question, my mind spun off into multiple directions, trying to think of all the things that “others” see as success, that I don’t. When I tried to summarize them all, it came down to this: 
“Success is internal to you. You succeed when you feel like you have, and nothing else.” 
Nobody else’s definition of success applies to you (if you ignore the paradox this creates with my statement above). If you want to appear successful to others, sure, go ahead and find their definition and try to conform to it. But you’re truly successful only when you feel it - even if nobody else can tell! 
As for why, I can put it down to experience: there have been plenty of times I have felt successful, when others did not see or even realize it, and there have been a comparable number of times when others have expressed delight in their own success, but where I failed to see it. In fact, I have reached a point where I do not think about whether or not someone else has been successful, but instead, I watch out for cues that suggest they feel successful, and compliment them or encourage them to achieve further success without suggesting terms for their future success.

Monday, August 06, 2018

#firstworldproblems and my carbon footprint

about a month and a half after moving to belfast, there are a few things i'm still trying to come to terms with.

for most of my adult life, i have tried to be conscious of my "carbon footprint", and i took it upon myself to live a reasonably fun life without trashing the environment in the process. things seemed much easier to evaluate in india - i never used airconditioning at home, i reused plastic bags which i would get in situations where they were unavoidable, and decline plastic bags whenever possible. i probably have not had a hot water shower in over 10 years (except when i was unwell). i tried my hand at making compost at home, although honestly i gave up when i ended up with more compost than i could use. i commuted by bus whenever i could, switching to bike only when traffic became insanely unmanageable (how does 2 hours of diesel fumes by a bus stuck in a traffic jam compare to 45 minutes on bike? i don't have enough inputs to do the math). i would buy my groceries from vendors who sourced locally.

sadly, there were environmental issues that were outside my control. garbage segregation and recycling was quite a mess, and i'm quite sure everything was being mixed up and dumped somewhere anyway. there wasn't much i could do with e-waste, and things like milk and meat were always sold in non-recyclable (and non reusable) plastic bags. in fact, we used our plastic bags so sparingly, that despite refusing bags wherever we could, we still received more bags than we could use. also, the poor quality of public transport meant that i'd have to travel by cab, and despite carpooling, i know that it was a significant compromise.

and then, we moved to the uk.

the first few days took a lot of adjustment, especially for shruti who needed the heater despite it being "summer", just because we weren't used to the temperatures. while we're now used to the temperature and haven't used the heater in the last month, i still can't bring myself to have a cold shower (i tried!).

and then there's the food. while the meat, eggs and milk seems to be sourced locally, a lot of the other stuff we've been eating seems to have come from really far away. lemons from south america, chillies from africa, and fruits from southern europe. seafood from pretty much anywhere in the world. and yes, some of the veggies actually come from india!

and of course, everything is pre-wrapped in plastic. a lot of the plastic is marked as non recyclable.

after a couple of weeks, we happened to attend a cooking workshop sponsored by the city council, and realized that we were doing our garbage wrong. we now discard our compostable waste separately, and our general "non recyclable" waste has come down a lot. but still, we're generating way more waste than we used to. and i'm not sure how energy efficient the recycling process is, without further reading. and i know most people don't know or don't care - i've seen bottles and plastic packaging thrown into general waste, along with food and everything else. our own food waste bin was sitting in a closet, stuffed with odds and ends when we moved into this house - which means it wasn't even being used before.

on the other hand, i do walk/cycle to work, and thankfully the buses are well maintained - no visible fumes at least! but i don't know how significant that saving is, compared to the distance our food has to travel.

but it's summer now. once winter sets in, our lighting and heating bills will definitely shoot up. our home is far more spacious here than it was in india, and while we enjoy the comfort it brings, i don't like the fact that so much space will have to be heated for just two people. and also, i recently read that (contrary to my belief) it's been proven that heating uses more energy than cooling - which means i may just wipe out a few decades my life's energy savings in a couple of years! so i guess that means, my baseline carbon footprint itself has grown significantly.

what i dislike the most though, is that i don't have a reasonably accurate means of gauging my carbon footprint any longer. and that, for all the focus on recycling and promoting public transport here, the real problems seem to be hidden and without publicly available metrics, let alone a plan to reduce them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

a month in belfast

a month ago, after a long wait, and as much preparation as we could do, my wife and i hopped onto a plane with four suitcases (and a couple of other bags... literally as much as we were allowed to carry!) and landed here. in a practical sense, it didn't feel very different from any of our past vacations, other than the greater than usual number of bags (yes, we usually pack tight and travel light!), and the fact that we didn't exactly have a budget - we just had to be careful with money until my first paycheck.

but as the days progressed, our behaviour and mindset changed from vacation mode to... i don't know exactly what to call it yet, so let's just term it "behaving sustainably". after about 3 days we realized we had to start sleeping and waking at civilized timings. cooking, house hunting, figuring transportation to work, buying stuff we needed but (intentionally/unintentionally) didn't pack, etc. by the end of the first week, i was ready to start work - we had figured our laundry, and picked up some semblance of a lunchbox and water bottle (yes, for some reason they were so hard to find initially!), gotten an appointment to get my bank account, getting a grip on my alcohol/protein/fibre/processed food intake, etc.

my first week at work started off rather strangely, with me forgetting to carry my passport (yes, that's literally the only thing i was absolutely required to carry on day 1, and i had to go back home and get it!). once i was at my desk, it was all the little things like getting my stuff setup and software installed on my workstation, figuring how the cafeteria works, getting company for lunch, finding my way to and from work and whatnot... but by the end of week 1 at work, i was ready to actually contribute and get stuff done - and granted that it's been 6 years since the last time i started at a new job, it's still a huge improvement!

meanwhile, we actually managed to get our permanent accommodation sorted sooner than expected... and our second sunday in belfast was spent moving to our new home. it was a big step, finding a place to call our own, and despite our initial reluctance to put our roots down at literally the first apartment we saw, we realized it was actually perfect for us! with a lot of goodwill and a fair bit of assistance from the guys moving out of this apartment (yes, we can actually call them our friends now!), we managed the move smoothly and i was able to get to work on the subsequent monday, still tired, but without much of a hitch.

as we got into the thick of things, time began to fly, and before we knew it, week 3 was done as well. we had mostly finished unpacking our bags, done another round of household shopping (my wife now jumps at any opportunity, however trivial, to head to ikea!). week 4 started with us getting home the last of the furniture and accessories we wanted, and moved on to figuring the oven, me getting annual membership to the cycle rental scheme, and by the time the weekend was upon us, we were invited over to two different friends' homes - a sure sign of having an actual "social network" of sorts.

and of course, our first month ended with my first paycheck here, and with it the relief that we're no longer living off our savings.

sitting on the couch, with my wife snoozing comfortably with her head in my lap, and looking back, it's hard to believe it's only been a month. life in india already seems far away. our home, my office, the weather, our parents, the food, my motorcycle... it seems like another life.

and as the days go by, time seems to fly even faster. like a movie reel, spinning up until it's at the pace it should run at until its end. and it already seems like we're at that pace. as i was telling a friend: we're pretty much done with our short-term to-do, and back to our long-term todo. the stuff we were working on before we decided to move.

it's been an amazing month in belfast.

the boiling candle

after waking up from this dream , i decided to light the bedside scented candle. and then dozed off. when i woke up, the candle had been b...