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I gave up on people long ago….

Companionship is dear…

There is only one important question – and it begins with Why?

The object of your affection is a reflection of yourself. There is a mirror in my stranger.

We see everything through a lens. Which is really okay – problem is we can’t see the lens and hence we often have no idea it exists, or what it does to what we’re viewing.

I have found what I was searching for, and it will remain with me forever.

Burn the Certificates. Get a Skill.

A cousin of mine, recently graduated, got a job in a bank. We were all happy for her, and she was presumably excited. You know how it is – the romance of the first job. Holding that appointment letter in your hand, showing it to your parents. Your mom would offer laddoos to Ganeshji, relieved that her darling laddoo has now become a man. Dad gives you a nice speech about career management. And if you’re lucky, someone takes you shopping for new clothes. I presume my cousin had a similar, enthusiastic start – got new clothes, took the ladies special with much gusto, carried a tiffin, made new friends, bitched about her boss and then, six months later – quit.

 I’m sure many of you have heard similar stories. When I was in college, everyone joked about how IT guys changed their jobs faster than their underwear. I remember in both my workplaces, an average of two people quit almost every month. (One even had the creativity to cite “low haemoglobin” as the reason). That I, myself quit both those places in less than three months is a different matter. The important thing is – there is a new trend occurring here: The Quit Jobs Movement.

 I’m sure you’ve noticed this around your workplace too, and your friends’ workplaces. I won’t be stretching it too far if I say that almost half of the people who started at the company with you have quit, and it’s very likely that you’re part of that half.

 Back in my dad’s time, getting a job was big deal. REALLY big. BIG. If you passed out of college at one go, you were going to have a decent life. If you got a second class, your parents would be proud. If you got a first class, your whole building was proud. And well, a distinction was a ticket to the US. Okay, maybe not, but almost. Your marksheet  was all you needed to get a job; and once you got, you held on to it like your life depended upon it. Most of the time, you stuck with it for almost half of your working life, if not all of it. Don’t believe me? Ask your father how many companies he’s changed. Chances are you’ve changed more companies in 5 years than he did in his whole life.

 So what was so different back then? Did our parents really looooove their jobs? Meh. Hardly. Was it fear then, that kept them signing the muster, year after year? Well, yes, fear is a significant motivating factor. But heck, we live in a far more competitive, uncertain and expensive time now. Fear and anxiety are at an all time high. But that’s not stopping us from not turning up at work. Mind you, I didn’t say resigning. People don’t even resign anymore really – they just don’t turn up! So how is our generation becoming so, so….. so BOLD ? Well they’re not. What they’re becoming is BORED.

 Other than pay, position and prestige, a vital motivation for a job is how well you’re able to do your job. In fact, in the long run, it is THE MOST IMPORTANT motivator. Being able to do your job well on your own and knowing that you do it well goes a long way in keeping you engaged and interested in whatever it is you’re doing. This applies to everything, I mean EVERYTHING in life. If you’re able to do it well, you will enjoy it; if you enjoy it, you will get better at it; the better you get, the better you will do and the exhilarating cycle perpetuates.

 This is the simple reason our parents stuck with their jobs: They knew what to do, and most of the time, they did it well. In fact, this is the only reason why anyone sticks to any job. And a large reason for this, was that they were prepared for their jobs well. As a commerce student, your father studied Accounting. When he got a job, he actually sat at a desk and tallied a Profit & Loss Statement. He actually had to fill up the columns by himself and he knew what was debited from what and credited into what. Similarly, if your mom studied English literature, she became a professor of the subject. If they learnt short-hand, they became receptionists or ‘stenos’. Their education more or less prepared them for their jobs. We too learnt accounting as a commerce student. But then we got a job making presentations or doing cold calls. Unfortunately, our education too prepared us for our parent’s jobs.

 Like our parents, we are still tallying accounts, learning derivates, quoting Shakespeare and ‘by-hearting’ the Law of Diminishing Marginal Gains. Unfortunately, no office in the world can make any use of ANY of these things. Everything that we learnt in school is done by a computer. All we gotta do is a push a button. That’s it. And there’s only so much pushing of a button that you can do at one place. So you quit, and go to another. They give you Yellow buttons, or Red or Purple. Whatever. Eventually, all your working life comes down cursing your buttons, and envying someone else’s. But at the end of day – all you get are buttons. And well, that’s boring.

 Now, this isn’t going to be a tirade on our education system. That’s pointless. But even more pointless is our apathetic adherence to this pointlessness. In the real world, that certificate and those marks don’t mean squat. And yet, all throughout our academic life, all we do is obsess over them. First because our parents think so, then because you think so. In reality, those certificates are not worth the paper they’re printed on, unless your academic education is bestowing  you with a highly specialized skill – like doing a by-pass or a root canal. (And even that isn’t being taught so well these days).

 And that’s what it really comes down to – having a skill. Or a set of skills. Something you are good at and hopefully good enough that others will want to pay you for it. And since our excellent education system isn’t doing it, you’ll have to do it yourself. Equip yourself with a skill, and get good at it – because THAT’S what’s going to help you find and keep a job that’s more than a button – a job you will not want to quit.

 Most of my friends who are doing well in their jobs, enjoy them and aren’t complaining all the time are ones who learnt a skill while they were in college. Whether it was writing, editing videos, talking, dancing, playing an instrument, coding, designing, pickaskill – they practiced it extensively and got good at it. At some point of time, they even decided to get a certificate that said so, event though most of them didn’t need it. Most of them were self-taught, and continued to hone their skills even while at their job. Needless to say, they haven’t had to push a button one day in their life.

 So burn those certificates. Yes, even the one that gives you an MBA. Because as far as certificates go that one’s as useless as they could be. Not only does an MBA not teach you any skills, it actually programs you and encourages you to NOT LEARN anything in detail. It makes you fall in love with buttons. There’s a term for that kind of skill – Mediocrity. But since you’ve spent a lot of time and money on your certificates, keep it, but please, get a skill along with it.

My skill is writing. Even though my degree has nothing  to do with it, I kept writing and learning to write on the side, because I knew that’s the job I would be good at. And after college that’s the kind of job I got. A few months of office-time later, I figured out an even better way to work – one where I wouldn’t have to commute, listen to non-sense gossip, and worry about office politics. I switched to freelancing and working remotely. Today I work from my house, no more than 4-5 hours a day and get paid – solely and well – for my writing.

My husband studied physiotherapy. He’s a problem-solver and nothing makes him happier than fixing people. However, other than the permission to practice legally, his stint in med college gave him nothing else. He learnt all he needed to fix an aching muscle on his own. Patients come to him disappointed and hopeless, with 12-years worth of backaches and knee trouble and they are amazed at how quickly they see results. He works out of an independent clinic that’s footsteps away from our home, and even with practicing less than 6 hours a day, makes a neat little sweep.

Both me and my husband have never gotten more formal education than what was the bare necessity required to help us work our skills in peace. And so have a lot of people I’ve come to know over the years. They are extremely hard-working, focused, professional and happy with their jobs. They’re all people who realized that it’s not the certificate, but the satisfaction you feel at the end of a job well done.

What Boston Legal taught me about Men and Relationships.

I love Boston Legal. Absolutely.

And of course, the next (only) logical statement is: I absolutely loved James Spader/Alan Shore.

But waitaminute, love’d’?

Well, yes.

I first watched Boston Legal in around 2007-08, when I was in college. I missed out on the initial episodes of season 1 and 2, but I was pretty regular with 3, 4 and 5. It is one of the smartest, wittiest, most engrossing TV series I have ever come across. And of course, there’s Alan Shore.

How can anyone not love Alan Shore. I mean, HOW. Of course, there’s nothing about the show that you cannot love. David E Kelly creates some really compelling characters – each with their own idiosyncrasies and issues. And of course, he gets a ‘just perfect’ actor to play each role. Whether it’s William Shatner portraying  the borderline narcissist, sexually explicit, heart-of-gold bearing, ‘mad-cow’ ridden, legendary attorney Denny Crane; or Christian Clemenson as encyclopedic, introverted, socially awkward, Asperger’s Syndrome ridden lawyer Jerry “Hands” Espenson; or even Rene Auberjonois as the perpetually constipated, about-to-have-a-coronary, totally predictable and annoyingly self-righteous Paul Lewiston – David E Kelly gets them all ‘just perfect’.

The story-telling and scripting are the wittiest I have ever seen in a drama. Kelly seamlessly and effortlessly blends critical and controversial American issues (abortion, religious extremism, gun control, tobacco, sexual harassment, racism, the US war on Iraq, global warming, justice system, homophobia) with humour and satire with such class that you cannot help but chuckle. And underlining all of this – the leitmotif throughout the show is the heart-warming friendship between Denny Crane and Alan Shore, who, opposite as opposites could be, stick together thanks to their common love of whisky, cigars and women.

But oh, the highlight of the show – what made it absolutely irresistible to anyone who watched it – was undeniably Alan Shore. When I watched the series for the first time, it was only and only for Alan Shore. Sexiest man alive, EVER. Period. Alan Shore is the quintessential bad guy, who does good things. Just what women want. He’s astutely intelligent, fears nothing and nobody, gets what he wants, does what is needed to get it, and does it with such charm and panache that you love him even when he is screwing you over. He’s stubborn, lascivious, egotistical and absolutely hates being vulnerable in any way. He chases women incorrigibly and women chase him hopelessly. He’s everything you will want, and when you have him, he’s everything you wish you never had.

And can he talk!! After 5 seasons of orgasm-inducing closing statements, anything else that any man could do with his mouth seems to pale in comparison. Alan Shore’s dialogues, distinct speech and intonation, and badass vocabulary oozes sex appeal. But don’t think he’s all gas and no gumption. Alan Shore fiercely defends the innocent, the betrayed, the victimized and the wronged, particularly when it seems like no one else can or will. But he’s got issues. Commitment-issues, intimacy-issues, mommy-issues. He is, like the channel says, The Bad Good Guy. And I loved him. In fact, I don’t believe any woman who watched the show couldn’t. He’s was The Man. In a Screwed-Up World, the Imperfect Man fits in Perfectly. And that’s what you want.

Then they started a rerun in December 2013. And I was only too excited to watch it all over again. I got the hubby pretty excited too, and no doubt, he too started loving the series. I had stopped watching TV altogether, but I set aside time to watch Alan Shore in action, again. Then, I noticed someone else. Brad Chase.

Brad Chase, played by the very handsome Mark Valley, is the antithesis of Alan Shore. Don’t get me wrong, he’s also very passionate about defending the right and defeating the wrong, but just that Brad Chase takes the boring, right approach. He’s conscientious and respectful, upright and matter-of-fact, professional and brave. He’s an ex-Marine who is passionately patriotic, believes in family, does good by society and does not lie. But makes no bones whacking off a priest’s fingers or impersonating an FBI officer while trying to rescue a 4 year old boy, even though it may land him in jail. And he’s very handsome. Did I mention that?

Takes no time to guess then, that Brad hates Alan Shore. To be honest, I hated Brad, when I watched the series for the first time. I’d snort and turn up my nose at him. Bah, how typical. How predictable. How boring. But this time, it was different. Now I loved him. More than I loved Alan Shore. In fact, for the first time, I actually saw how his character was actually better than Alan Shore.Because you see, Alan Shore, for all his enigma, and aura, and confidence and charm is not someone you can count on. If you were in a relationship with Alan Shore, he’d excite you, intimidate you, overwhelm you and discomfort you and you’d think, “OMG I’ve never felt this way before – this must be love!!!” only to feel nauseated at best or suffocated at worst to be with a man who you can never really figure out or be sure of.

But isn’t that what most women want? The thrill of being chased, the drama of unpredictability, the romance of discomfort. Love is not a comforting arm around you, a warm hug, a gentle kiss and a simple dinner. It’s sleepless nights and amazing sex and screaming fights. That’s passion! That’s excitement! That’s Bullshit. This weird and dysfunctional view of men and romance is the reason why women are consistently unhappy in love and relationships. It’s why I was miserable in love and relationship. Because I was in love with an Alan Shore! And let me tell you -it’s not love. Heck, it’s not even a relationship. Love isn’t discomfort. It isn’t Dangerous. And it’s definitely not Cocky or Witty. Love is Dependable. Love is Polite. Love is Brave. Love is Respectful. Love is Brad Chase.

A man who does the right thing by you. Who says what he means and means what he says. Who is considerate of your feelings and extends himself to make room for them. Who respects things even if he doesn’t agree with them. Who does what is needed, and not what he feels like. Who has wants, not whims. Who is straightforward, not sarcastic. Who’s more practical than passionate. Forthright, not Funny. Who fights hard, but fights fair. Who’ll do the right thing even when he hates it. Who’s good, not grand. Who doesn’t sweep you off your feet, but keeps you grounded.

Brad Chase encourages lawyers to go vote during a meeting. Alan Shore publicly and scathingly despises the government. Brad talks down a suicide bomber from carrying out his threat in open court before knocking him out with a punch. Alan pays a patron to start a bar-room brawl when a man punches him. Brad is disappointed but still graceful when a female co-worker rejects him. Alan mocks his ex-girlfriend and almost drives another one insane. Brad wants to marry Denise and have a family with her when he learns she is pregnant with his child. Alan lives in a hotel so that he can ‘check out on a whim’. Brad helps Alan Shore overcome his fear of clowns, even though he hates him. Alan slights Brad when they don’t see eye-to-eye. And, well, he makes good closing statements.

But Brad’s qualities are not what we want in a man. These qualities are boring. They are not exciting or passionate. They don’t sweep you off your feet. And if you haven’t been paying attention to the social customs as dictated by the media these days, being swept off your feet has become almost mandatory in relationships. It’s all Witty, Smart, Great Sense of Humour, with a Bottle of Champagne in one hand and a Bouquet of Roses in another. That’s the dog-shit criteria we’ve been fed these days. Hard-working, Honest or Polite?? Meh. What’s the fun in that? I want the jokes, bloody! I want the charm! I want the sweeping!! Even Boston Legal, the show that’s otherwise brutally honest, presents Brad Chase as the ‘stupider & simpler’ version of Alan Shore. It’s all, ‘Let’s give viewers the typical male soap-star and poke fun at him’. Every amazing quality Brad possesses  is routinely and categorically paled out to Alan Shore’s closing statements. Whereas, as a friend and another hardcore Boston Legal fan pointed out: If Brad Chase had been given even an fraction of the oratory excellence that was part of Alan Shore’s character, he would’ve made the sexiest man on TV, EVER.

And so we fall in love with Alan Shore. With an Imperfect Man who fits perfectly in our Screwed-Up view of the World. Who is everything we want; but can give us nothing of what we need. But worry not, the best thing about being with an Alan Shore is – sooner or later, you get a closing statement.

Trekking to Kalsubai

I’m not a fighter. Not anymore at least. When you realize that most of your life has been spent fighting for the wrong things, and for the wrong reasons, you find yourself questioning if anything really is worth fighting for. If the scars are all that remain, then why bother, right?

But Life is strange. It sometimes gets you to do things without you realizing what it is you’re doing. You just throw the punch, you just keep walking, you just refuse to stop and you never realize – you were actually fighting. And what’s more – that you chose to fight. Trekking to Kalsubai is one such fight – one that you never realize you’re in while it’s happening – only when it’s done, and only once you’ve won.

We climbed the highest peak in Maharashtra on New Year’s Eve. To be precise it was actually New Year’s Day, because we started climbing at 12:30 AM on January 1. It was a night trek organized by Mumbai Travellers. The aim was to see the first sunrise of the year from the highest point in the entire state. Sounds pretty dramatic, I know. It’s why there were 70 of us on that trek. Everyone loves drama.

And action. Kalsubai is not easy, regardless of what some trekkers (and the organizers) might tell you.It’s 5400 feet of sheer climbing. The terrain is rocky and steep, and in patches so steep that you need ladders to continue the climb.

blog 2The entire climb takes around 3.5 – 4 hours – in the night. In the day, with the sun bearing down on you, and the sight of the terrain wearing you down – I would assume it takes much longer.

We also happened to go on the coldest night of the year, or at least what seemed to be the coldest. It didn’t seem so bad when we started off for Kasara, or even when we traveled to Bari – the base village – from Kasara. But once you’re in the village, and the lights of the city have all but vanished, and the air is free from the heat of the pollution, the cold gets to you. As you start to climb, you start to pant, and with every breath you suck in more and more of the chilly night air until the cold is in your belly, spreading it’s icy tentacles inside you slowly. It’s not so bad when you’re climbing, because the heat in your body keeps it at bay; but the moment you stop, you freeze. This is probably the only drawback of climbing in the night. You’re miserable when you walk, you’re miserable when you stop.

However, the vista surrounding you as you climb does leave you with a happy, warm feeling, even when the wind gives you goosebumps. A million stars give you company. Bright yellow dots suspended against a black nothingness remind you of warm houses. When you look down at the trekkers behind you, you see a line of torch lights draped upon the mountainside like lights on a Christmas tree. Even in the pitch blackness of the night, you glow. Or maybe it’s just the sweat.

But Kalsubai is a kind mountain. It gives you ample patches to rest in. A small temple about 1/3rd way to the top. Another grassy patch halfway. This patch is particularly beautiful, as it offers you a panoramic, unobstructed view of the night sky and the mountains around. It’s hard not to forget about the trek (and everything else) and just stay there. You could almost doze off into a little snooze if it weren’t for the biting cold and a local villager narrating the legend of Kalsubai. It’s almost killing us to get up and start walking again. And well, this would be the second drawback of trekking on a cold night – when you start climbing after a break, you feel even more miserable than before.

To be honest, there were umpteen times on that 4-hour climb when I wholeheartedly wished that I’d just gone to some stupid new year’s party and gotten bored instead of subjecting myself to this ordeal. And I’m pretty sure a lot of other people felt the same way, at some point on that night. That my husband kept reminding me whose idea this was didn’t do much to soothe my frayed nerves, aching muscles and runny nose. However, climbing at night had the single biggest advantage of ignorance. Except for the next rock you had to step on, we had no idea what we were climbing. We couldn’t see the terrain, we couldn’t see the summit, we couldn’t see each other. We were completely in the dark, literally. All we focused on was the next big rock, the next stepping stone. We had absolutely no idea what we had actually gotten ourselves into, except that if we kept going long enough, we’d eventually get there.

When you are doing a trek like Kalsubai, not seeing the mountain of a task in front of you is really comforting. I’m pretty sure a lot of people including me would’ve given up half way if we could actually see what we were climbing. And therefore, if you’re going to do Kalsubai, do it in the night. That sounds very weird. Anyway, do it in the night, and do it with Mumbai Travellers. Getting 70 people to climb the highest summit in Maharashtra, many of them first-timers, is not an easy task. But they managed it effortlessly. No one was left behind, no matter how tired or slow they were. The organizers were extremely skilled climbers, but more importantly, were incredibly efficient and managed the entire trip without any glitches.

If you’re lucky, at the base of the summit, there will be a villager making kanda bhaji and chai in a little hut, at 4 AM. Yes. You read that right. And if you’re really lucky there will not be a group of rowdy, loud boys playing mafia at the top of their voices outside that hut as if their lives depended on it. Obviously we weren’t really lucky. All we got were the bhajjis and chai. But the rest of our group was worse off. All the way to the top you are relentlessly whipped by the wind which is hell bent on skimming the skin off your bones. As you near the summit there are many patches that are on the leeward side, and hence will protect you from this onslaught. This is where you should wait to rest. Our group did not. Our group chose the most windy spot you could find to start a bonfire. Now, I’m one of the most sensitive people when it comes to cold that I have ever met. I was wearing five layers and was still shivering. The chai and bhajji had not helped. The hut hadn’t helped either. In hindsight, brandy may have, but I didn’t have the foresight to carry any. There was no way I was sitting  out in the cold, so me and the hubby opted to stay in the hut. I’m sad to say that did not help either. I shivered for a whole hour sitting next to that stove.

An hour later, we were jerked out of our stupor by someone who said the rest of our group was on their way to the summit (we were parked some 100 feet below it) to see the sunrise. It was around 5:00 AM. In a maddening hurry we managed to align our creaking bones with our stiff muscles and stumbled out of the hut, scrambling in twilight over the last 100 feet in an attempt to catch up with the rest of the torches.

I want you to take a minute to let this seep in. This is my first trek in 3 years. I can barely run for 5 mins without panting. Both my knees are on fire. I’m shivering through the 5 layers. I can’t feel my hands or feet. We haven’t slept in 24 hours and have climbed 5200 feet in 3 of those hours, 3 coldest hours. And now just when we were finally beginning to rest, we had to climb some more. Those last 100 feet – the very last of those hand-hewn stone steps were torture – pure and simple. I stopped in my tracks, and cried. I cried. And told my husband I wanted to go home. I’d had enough. My husband, who’s is the most resilient of people, too was on edge. He looked at me and said, “Mini, there’s really no where else for us to go.”

That’s when I knew, I was fighting. More importantly, that’s when I knew I wanted to win. I didn’t really know whether we would see a sunrise through the fog and clouds around us. I didn’t care. I would make it to the top. I would climb this damned mountain. And then I would die in peace.

When I would go to dance classes, my teacher would often say, “Just give in to the pain. Don’t resist it” while we moaned and groaned in the prone position for 30 counts. I never really understood what that meant up until that morning. For the kind of pain I was in (my knee problem is a little serious for a 26 year old) I have no recollection of how I climbed the rest of the 100 feet. Throughout the trek I’d waited for every small break and devoured it – because that’s when the pain stopped. Now, I just didn’t care for it anymore, not even for it to stop. It was going to hurt. Period. And I was going to climb. Perioder.

Far scarier than it looks

We climbed over 4 really poorly constructed ladders on this trek. We had to climb the fourth and last ladder right now, which would take us to the top. This one was over the steepest part. I remember climbing it with such disdain and hope. Disdain that there was one more step to climb. Hope that I had climbed one more. When I finally set foot at the top, I could have fallen down on my knees and kissed the ground, but it was too cold.

The freezing gale blowing at the summit could have swept one off the cliff. And it looked like it had, because our group wasn’t there. What we’d seen were villagers making their way to the temple on the summit for the morning aarti. One of them kindly lit us a small fire and we tried to warm ourselves while waiting for the promised sun.

I don’t know how many of you have seen a sunrise. It kinda sneaks up on you. One minute the sky is blue, then it turns purple, then pink,then orange, and then finally yellow-white.

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It’s an amazing feeling. You don’t really notice the colours – all you realize is that things around you get clearer and clearer. It was still a very foggy winter morning, and I began to think that we might not be able to see the sun after all. I went back to the fire just as the aarti was about to end. The villagers started with ‘Ghalin Lotangan’ – the customary aarti to end all aartis (and also one of my favourites), and that’s when we saw it.

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A bright ball of Orange. The brightest orange you could ever see. Like a glowing ember suspended amidst dark clouds. At first we could only see the uppermost rim and slowly, as the chants of the men grew louder, as the sanskrit words began, the ones that praise the Almighty for being everything, the parent and the brother, the friend and the teacher, the alpha and the omega, the eternal and the infinite, it appeared, its entire form slowly emerging. And as the final chants of Hare Rama and Hare Krishna resounded, it glowed brilliantly, having now ‘risen’ completely. And having witnessed it like I did, I felt like it had risen for me alone.

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It was the most spell-binding moment of my life. I had not slept the whole night, but I awakened then. It had been the most befitting end to my struggle. For the first time, in a long time, I had fought for something – that I knew, with utmost certainty – had been worth the fight. And I had won. I felt redeemed. I felt humbled.

It wasn’t over yet though. There was still the journey downhill – but it didn’t matter. Actually, nothing mattered anymore. Climbing down that ladder was nerve-wracking to say the least, particularly because you had to descend it facing downwards. The rest of the descent was surreal, to say the least. We were now actually ‘seeing’ what we climbed over last night. Everywhere we turned were vistas of the Western Ghats, and we looked down upon the mountain tops, from the highest among them. We saw the valleys and the slopes, the mountain forms and the roads – all with a wondrous feeling of – ‘Did we really climb all this in the night?! HOW did we DO THIS?!’. Had we climbed during the day, our fatigue would have definitely not let us enjoy any of this. And while I’ve trekked down many mountains before, trekking down the Kalsubai gives you a view like no other.

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It was exactly 24 hours later that we were on a local again, to Mumbai. A lot can happen in a day, they say. But what can you do in a day? You could go to work. You could travel to a new country. You could meet someone. You could get married. Or you could climb a mountain. The highest in the state, just for kicks. If that’s possible in one day, imagine what’s possible in 365.

(The images on this post are courtesy of fellow trekker Pratik Koli. You can view the original images here: http://goo.gl/gT6jXA)

Answer the following questions correctly:

They say to know what one really wants, or loves, all one has to do, is listen to the heart. The heart knows exactly what it wants, and what can make you happy.

However, when you talk about the heart, what you really mean is your mind. It’s the mind that knows, or rather, some part of the mind. But the mind does know. It always has an answer.

But sometimes, in fact most of the times, for most of us, the mind has no answer to the question – “what do I want?” What do I really want? What do I want to do most, at this moment, right now?

BLANK.

In between telling us what we Have to do, what we Need to do and what we Should do – our mind seems to have lost the capacity to answer this question.

Perhaps it doesn’t even understand this question really. The word ‘want’ bamboozles it, particularly when prefixed with the word ‘really’. It’s not used to that word. It’s always been about need, and have, and should. ‘Want’ throws it off track. Or rather, it just assumes the words to be another variant of Should or Must or Have and answers accordingly. Haha.

It takes a while, for the mind to be able to tell us what we want, right here, right now. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of trial and error, before the mind understands we really mean it, when we ask it what we ‘want’. But it of course, once it gets that, it’s never wrong.

Love Poem

I worry if I may have loved you
In the brief time we met
I wonder if I have let it on
In the tiny space we shared
I guess it’s all too well now
I guess everything’s just fine
‘Cause you’ve gone back to your sweetheart,
And I’ve come back to mine.

Life Glare. Sundays 9:00 PM. Only on Conscience. Don’t miss the first episode!

As she landed on a webpage that reminded her of him, she sighed. It was sad that things had come to where they had. But yet, somewhere in her heart, or mind rather, because that’s where one knows, she knew that this was more or less inevitable. They would have reached this impasse sooner or later. ‘You always had a way of falling for the wrong guy’

 ‘Falling’ she thought. Had she really fallen for him? She didn’t really like the idea. She wasn’t some 16 year old school girl. She was 25. Would turn 26, in a matter of weeks. She was married. To her boyfriend. And happy. Yes, of course, no doubt about that. Her husband and the marriage were one of the best things to have happened to her. The husband, she had fallen for. Hook, line and sinker. No doubt again.

 So what was it exactly with him, that now made her wince and sigh as she thought of him? She had missed him, no doubt (goddamn, she thought, I keep using that phrase, yet doubt seems to be the only thing running through my mind, all the time) in the few days that they had maintained their stoic and stubborn silence. She also knew that this time the silence would be protracted, unlike their previous disagreements, and she would probably have to miss him some more. But she knew she wouldn’t be going back to the same thing either. She had had enough.

 Exactly what had he been? A distraction? A past-time perhaps? A friend? Maybe all three. Maybe none. She thought of all the times they had talked, all their conversations. They had brought her immense joy and laughter and excitement. Yes, that was the word – excitement. He was exciting. Stimulating. Endlessly. Almost addictive-ly. And he made her laugh, and smile, and get upset, and angry and sad. Something was always happening with him. Like with your favourite TV series.  An episode of Lost. Or One Tree Hill. Yes, that is what he was. That is what she had made him into. She smiled wanly and wistfully. It was too sad.

 Why? And How? She felt pathetic. It was pathetic. ‘God, my life must really suck’ she thought. Perhaps she was right. Had there been nothing, in her day-to-day life apart from his conversations to excite her? To give her that sense of rush and satisfaction? To make her feel? She reflected on all the events of the past week, the past month – she couldn’t recall a single memorable activity. 30 days, 4 weeks, god knows how many hours, and she couldn’t recall one, single memorable thing. Except maybe the argument with him. It was beyond pathetic.

 There is really nothing lacking in my life right now. It’s actually pretty awesome. I’ve got money. I’m with the man I love, and he’s with me. I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to do. I don’t have to work an 8-hour job. I don’t have to withstand a harrowing daily commute. It’s actually a breeze! But yet, apparently, nothing in my life excites me or gives me a sense of satisfaction.

 I seriously need help.

I seriously need to help, myself.

This would stop. Right now. Right this minute. She couldn’t go on like this. I cannot let it. The idea that the most memorable moments of her day happened in front of a chat window was too disturbing to excuse or reason with. I would have to do something. The operative word being ‘Do’. And ‘Something’.

‘Something’ that excites me, that gives my day meaning, that reflects my real wants, that is true to my values, that is a conscious choice, and that brings me memorable happiness. Happiness that occurs while I’m doing it, and that lingers on long after I’ve done it. It need not be complicated, or huge or particularly boast-worthy. It need not even take a lot of time. It just needed to be done. The operative word being ‘Needed’.

Otherwise, she would just go back to watching a TV series. On TV or on a chat window. The drama had to come from her own life, her own day, her own actions. Not from persons, real or fictional.

She wished she could apologize to him. Then realized she probably owed a much bigger apology to herself. She smiled. This would be memorable moment number 1. Sitting by herself on a cold, damp Sunday night, typing away at a computer, listening to the rain tap-tapping outside and awakening to a new realization. Yes, the first of many others.

Cat’s Got My Heart

The cat went on a sabbatical recently. A break from his routine of sleeping, eating, grooming itself, occasionally chasing a grasshopper down the garden, meditating and generally screaming for food at the kitchen window. Perhaps he wished to see more, more than what this home and garden would allow him to. Maybe during one of his meditative trances, he had a moment of epiphany (or perhaps it was while being chased or beaten up by other neighbourhood strays) wherein he realized what a comfortable, sheltered little existence he had; and that in order to come into his own, make his mark in the world, he would have to challenge himself, push his limits, face his fears, dare to go beyond, well, the garden.

Or maybe he just lost his way back home from the dustbin.

In any case, my mum woke up one day, and he wasn’t screaming at the door. He didn’t ‘apparate’ when the fish-wala came around either. Nor did he maul the old uncle next door for chips in evening – as he always does when the devout tambram lights his holy lamp at the tulsi vrindavan every evening. Obviously, the family was tensed. Even the uncle next door, who spent majority of the cat’s life despising him and subsequently feeding him chips in the evening, seemed perplexed. This had never happened before.

Let me tell you something about Tyson: He has never gone away. He isn’t a house-cat, but he does treat himself like one. He wandered into our building along with a litter of two others, and I, ecstatically scooped them up and adopted them. My mother begrudgingly so. As they grew up the others went away, probably died too, but Tyson survived (D’Uh, he’s Tyson, after all) at our doorstep. We fed him, played with him and wiped his poop. Well, okay my mom did most of the feeding and the wiping of the poop, but we helped. A bit. So since then he’s always been with us.

He’s quite a cocky cat. And a darned good-looking one at that. I’m yet to see a cat as good-looking as Tyson. He’s like got the perfect face that’s makes him look incredibly cute & vulnerable at all times. The patterns of colours on his fur are distributed symmetrically and optimally to produce an instantly aesthetic appealing visual everytime he sits or sleeps or does just about anything. He’s got the cutest meow. And since he’s been fed by us his whole life he lacks any kind of survival skills whatsoever. To be precise, his only defense strategy is my mom and her broom.

Tyson has spent a large part of his life growling at, and in turn being chased or getting beaten up by our other, older cat – Coco, as well as any other stray in the society. My guess is they’re all jealous, of his obvious good looks and lifestyle. And also because he makes very good entertainment – can’t fight to save his ass, but makes a hell of a racket. He’ll be down on the ground, paws up in the air, growling and screaming for all he’s worth until someone from the family comes and shoos away the molester. I guess the other cats just get a kick out of it.

Obviously then, to find Tyson gone poof one fine morning was worrisome. I mean this is a cat who knows nothing about surviving in the big bad world. The only hunting skills he possesses is screaming in the morning, jumping into the fishwalas basket, mauling our neighbour’s dhoti and at times, climbing the iron grill on our window in a bid to find a way in. He’s never caught a thing in his life and wouldn’t last more than 5 seconds in a street fight. We were quite worried.

And most of all, everyone missed him. Terribly. Even my dad, who’s a self-proclaimed dog-lover and cat-hater. My mom found her mornings uncomfortably quiet, my dad had nothing to complain about and no one to cuss at and my brother had no one to be mean to.   They also honestly believed that he might be dead or injured pretty badly. You see, pesky as he was, he was a part of the family. We knew what he liked, what he didn’t, what he would be doing at any given time and how he would react to a given situation. Just the way we know our family members. Every morning he was there, and every night he was there too. We talked to him, talked about him. We laughed at him, and joked about him. When he made a mess we yelled at him. When he got sick, we got worried. He was, in every way, one of us. And then to suddenly see him gone was a nasty shock – one that no one was prepared for.

Eventually, 5 days later, while standing at the door one morning, my dad saw a cat limp into the society gate at a distance, looking scared and bamboozled. Instantly my dad knew – that’s our cat. So he walked to the edge of our garden and whistled lightly (This is probably Tyson’s only surviving skill – he can recognize our voices anywhere). He looked up, saw my dad and started mewing like his life depended upon it. Obviously, this caused some of the stray dogs in the vicinity to descend upon him (Tyson never really possessed much common sense) and my dad had to show considerable aggression to get rid of them. Eventually my dad, okay – get this, my dad ACTUALLY PICKED HIM UP in his ARMS and brought him home.

Tyson seemed worse for wear. He was thoroughly shaken up. Even had bits of fur missing – probably the result of pulling a very stupid stunt of some sort. (Overconfidence is his biggest flaw). The family was obviously very happy, even the neighbour – I can’t say the same for Coco, however. Yet, Tyson remained disoriented and slightly jumpy throughout the rest of the week. One would have thought that he’d be all relieved and thank his lucky stars for being reunited with us – ‘home, and safe – at last!!!’. But that did not seem to be the case. Far from it, in fact. He’d become terribly thin, and yet, seemed to have lost all his appetite. My mother found it quite upsetting when he didn’t ruin her morning cuppa with his howls. Dad cussed at him for not being gratefully joyous. My brother got irritated because he couldn’t be mean to him when he was looking so pathetic. By and by though, things got better.

Or rather, stranger. Tyson had, well, changed. He was quieter, calmer. Almost sombre. He didn’t mew as much as he used to, nor did he get into unnecessary trouble. He kept to himself. At times, I almost thought he couldn’t recognize us. It saddened me. But everyone was glad he was still there. And to be honest, my mum didn’t really miss the morning ruckus.

He also started going out of the garden a lot more. Not away, but OUT. For the entire day. And return in the evening as if it had been his routine the whole time. I was surprised, to put it mildly. To be honest, I didn’t like it one bit. My cat was becoming wise. And independent. It didn’t suit him. I liked him silly & stupid & vulnerable. This newfound sense of identity was getting right onto my nerves. I mean, if I called him, he’d look at me, and then look AWAY. As if to say, ‘Yeah, whatever. See ya.” Well, HELLOOO!! But that wasn’t even the worst part. The Worst part was – he no longer liked to be petted or played with.

He no longer liked being stroked till he was comatose; he would no longer latch onto your foot if you tickled his underbelly. He would no longer entertain our non-sense. Basically, he just plain ignored us. Like we were some senile family members he had to put up with. I absolutely hated it.

Absolutely. I wanted to smack his cute little face for this insolence. Walking about with his tail in the air, sitting on our stairs with his back to us, looking at us for exactly 2 seconds when we called only to completely ignore us; actually refusing, REFUSING to become a puddle of fur when scratched at the neck and basically pretending like he was better than us. But god forbid we refuse to feed him. He growled like we were offending his very existence. It was just not a very nice time for me. I wanted to throw him to the dogs. Really.

Then one day, I was sitting on the stairs, staring, at well, nothing in particular when Tyson actually decides to get up from where he’s sitting and actually come sit next to me. And get this, he’s sitting so that his underbelly lies along the side of my foot, touching me. As if to say, ‘Here, I won’t let you pet me any longer, but you can have a feel of my underbelly if you want because I’m just feeling so generous & affectionate right now’. Wow. Thank you. And, although I’m not exactly proud to say it, I pretty much lapped up the chance – careful not to move in case he gets irritated and decides to get up and go back to his spot. Sigh. The things one does for those one cares about.

So there we are, sitting foot to belly, in complete & utter silence. I tried to avoid looking at him. But after some time I found myself wondering if he’d stopped breathing because he was SO freakin’ still. So, very silently, with as minimal movement as possible I put out a hand and stroked his head. He purred. (God, I’m so gullible)

I was quite elated (Internally. There’s no way I’m letting this wretched, ungrateful feline know exactly how much this meant to me) So I pretended to absent-mindedly keep stroking him, and I wondered – ‘how did we come to this?’. When did things change? What happened to him – when he went away? I wish I could know. I wished, with all my heart, that he could talk. In English. maybe then he’d tell me – all the amazing, horrifying & wonderful things he’d seen. All the people & cats he’d met. Where he’d slept, what he’d eaten. Who he’d humped, (if he had). What walls or trees he’d climbed. Whether he’d met some other girl or boy, who’d taken him home & fed him. If someone had gushed over his cuteness while he licked his paws. If people had been nice to him, or if he’d just been jaded by life. I wondered if he ever thought of us – or missed us. I wanted to know what made him back. I wanted to know – so much.

But there are things that we will never know, that we can’t. Or rather, things that do not become known to us, in the way we’d like to. I had known this cat all his life, but now, I couldn’t know the very things that I really wanted to about him. I could just guesstimate. And well, accept. That he’d changed. And that he was here. And in that moment, purring and resting his underbelly on my foot, my cat taught me what it meant to ‘be cool with it’.

He watched her intently as she moved.

She moved with a grace and fluidity that he knew only she could possess. Grace combined with a reckless abandon, scorning everything and everyone else. Almost as if she would recognize no reality, except the one she crated right now with her every move. As if space and time were just a function of her body movement, to be accepted only in relation to how she moved. As if the world around her collapsed and coalesced, thanks to her body. As if her body created a reality of its own, out of thin air. He stood rooted at the spot, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to tear his eyes away. Unable to feel anything apart from what she made him feel.

She, of lithe sinews and velvety skin, of tiny bones and tinier lips. Her body moved effortlessly, almost unconsciously, as though it wasn’t hers at all, as though it never belonged to anyone, but was just an entity being driven by – Desire – he thought – His desire. He found it impossible to watch her move independently of his sight. It were his eyes that caused every pull, every contortion, every twitch of her muscles. His eyes choreographed her. So that every movement she made belonged to him. He felt a slight curve on the ends of his lips as he thought of this.

How he wished to pull that delicate, determined frame into his body and that mouth into his. A mouth that was a window to a mind. A mind that had held him captive in amazement, in wonder at the thoughts it echoed. Thoughts held by no one but just a woman meant for him, uttered by none but her, belonging to no one else but her, and when they spoke, to him. It was her mind, her being, that he was most attracted to, always, except now, when she was dancing.

But her dance too was a function of her mind, just like her words, just like verything else she was or did. He wished he could take her away with him. Take her to a place where no one else could see her, hear her or be with her. So that everything she was or did would be his alone.

He wanted to possess her. In the way one possesses the ground beneath one’s feet at any given point of time. She arched her back and threw her head back to a lilt in the music. He inhaled. It was too late. She already possessed him. With every movement her body made, every word out of her mouth, every inch of her being. He had no choice. And all he could do was hold on – to anything, everything – she threw his way.

When did it come to this? God, When?

Who was she? Just a person. Just a normal person. Talking to him, sharing his meals, dancing on his verandah, ruining his life.

Move, he told himself. Getaway from here. Now.

He didn’t. He just stood there watching. After a while the music stopped. Her body relaxed. She became still. She breathed deeply a few times, looking into the distance. She knew he was watching. She let him. She stood still so that he could take in all of her, without interrupting him with her eyes. But of course, she chose how much he got. After a while she turned to face him and gave a slight smile of acknowledgment, of amusement, of innocence.

What he felt could have shattered the ground beneath their feet.

Jason Mraz

I believe I’ve just found an artist whose work I truly love.

He’s been around for a while, (at least that’s what Wikipedia tells me) but well, I just heard one of his songs today morning, and have been on a listening spree since then.

To be honest, this is the first time I encountered one of his songs, long back:

That is Jeanine Mason, winner of Seaosn 5, So You Think You Can Dance, performing a Travis Wall choreography to ‘If It Kills Me’ by Jason Mraz.

I don’t know how anyone can listen to this song and not want to dance. I do not how anyone watching this performance cannot cry. And I don’t know how anyone performing this cannot fall in love with Jason Mraz.

This is music like I’ve never heard before. Even the songs of his I don’t like too much, I still want to listen. And coming from someone who doesn’t give a song more than 5 seconds to prove its worth, that’s A LOT.

I believe great art is one that shows you your own reflection within an artist. Perhaps its a narcissistic point of view, but there isn’t any other way to judge art. When Jason Mraz sings it’s almost as if he’s crooning to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to romanticize unnecessarily. What I’m emphasizing, is that every song seems like a private, impromptu performance. Like you were sitting in a room along with a guy who’s got a guitar and he goes, “Hey, you wanna hear something?”

Every one of his songs that I’ve heard so far has this quality. It isn’t rehearsed, it isn’t calculated. It’s effortless. It’s completely honest, bare-naked. It’s almost as if he’s making up the song as he’s singing it. Like he has no idea really what will come next, what note he is to hit, what solo he’s to play, how long he’s to pause, or anything like that. He just knows what he wants to sing about, and the rest, he knows, is just going to flow out of his body, come from his mind – like your lungs breathe or your heart beats or your blood flows.

Because it is a default function that your body performs out of the fact of being a ‘body’. So Jason Mraz thoughts turn to lyrics and lyrics turn to music – on their own, without any effort, as a default function of him being who he is. It’s almost as if he’s the music and the music is in him.

I guess this is the reflection I love and cherish. Because that’s how I write too. I don’t really rehearse or calculate my words and sentences. I barely ever edit what write. I just start with a thought. And then words flow. Sentences are formed. Paragraphs created. A Meaning Delivered. Without any real effort. I love everything I write because it’s honest, real, bare-naked. It’s unflinchingly, un-apologetically, unequivocally ME.

Train to Life

This kid keeps climbing up and down the seats, like he’s on some kind of eternal, endless and exciting treasure hunt.He pauses to look at me from time to time, as if he knows I’m writing about him.  He’s climbed the same bench 5 times now.

He climbs with his entire being. He probably doesn’t get get much to nourish that apology of a body, definitely not enough to match the appetite of his curiosity, but that’s not stopping him. Single-minded dedication towards the aim getting the right leg up, after the left. He lies prostate, belly down, on the bench for about 3 seconds after he’s up; summoning strength, or perhaps deciding upon the best strategy possisble to tackle his next objective or maybe just to bask in the glory of a task successfully completed. And then he climbs down. This entire process is repeated 8 odd times, before he’s found a loose screw somewhere.

My heart skips a beat as he reaches out and fondles it. I want to grab him and pull him back; and explain to him in some form of baby-talk that he’s not to touch the big, bad screw. But I know the effort would be futile. There’s no deterring a kid who’s got his mind set on something.

I look around, hoping his mother is around somewhere, so that I might catch her eye. But on second thoughts, (and the hundredth look) I know this kid has been through worse; and, more importantly, survived.

For sometime he disappears from my sight, seemingly to conquer another innocent bench. 5 minutes later, he emerges from under mine, mildly astonishing me. He pauses to look at my rather attractive pink, frilly umbrella. For a minute, I think he’s going to latch onto it, and we’re going to have a grand old tug-o-war, right here in the middle of the train compartment. Thankfully, my umbrella is nowhere as exciting to him as the bench.

Finally the mother appears. I heave a sigh of relief. Unattended children climbing benches in fast-moving trains make me uncomfortable. Lost childhoods holding onto innocence in an attempt to feign reality, even moreso.

Clad in her burkha, the woman seemed every bit as experienced as the child. Thankfully, she’s at least smiling as she picks him up. He doesn’t seem too happy about leaving his beloved bench, that he has so eagerly conquered about 10 times in a row by now; but thankfully, he doesn’t cry. The train stops. They get off.

I’ve seen so many such kids on trains, so many times. They are almost a part of the utility – like the ticket windows, the subways, the skywalks, the tracks – omnipresent & inconspicuous. In sight but out of mind. Everywhere and yet, nowhere.

So why this kid?

Most of these kids die within the first few years in the system. What’s left is just a zombie. A hollow shell. An emtpy glass, broken long before it could ever hold anything. They lose before the fight could begin.

This kid was different. He was not lost, not broken. He was going to climb every other hurdle with as much gusto as he climbed the benches. He wasn’t going to lose. This was just his playground, his training camp. and he wasn’t done yet.