The Vernacular

Everytime my Achan comes to Bangalore to visit us, he brings a suitcase full of vegetables and coconuts for my sister and a book or two for me.  This is a bit of a ritual. Even if he doesn’t bring a book for me per se, he’ll bring one for himself which, chances are, I will nick. Having been at the wrong end of the book-theft-program quite a few times, he now travels almost always with a spare book for yours truly.

This time when he came to visit, he bought me the Malayalam translation of a Kannada book named “Bhujangayyana Dasavataragalu” (which can be roughly translated as the Ten Avatars of Bhujangayan, the protagonist) written by Srikrishna Alanahalli. I started reading it, got hooked and swore to finish it, only to be frustrated by how slow a progress I am making.

You see, there is a pattern here. Everytime I start reading a Malayalam book, I start off with a lot of enthusiasm – grand plans on how I’m going to read it, absorb it and talk about it eloquently to anyone who will listen. And almost everytime, I lose interest halfway through. Well, lose interest is too broad a term. What actually happens is I give up on the language.

I am extremely ashamed to admit this, but it is true. Malayalam is not my mental home ground. One of my English teachers in school used to tell us that to master a language, we have to start thinking in that language. “Most of you”, she used to say, “think in Malayalam and then try to convert it to English. That is why you find English frustrating. Think in English. THINK in English”, she used to repeat time and again.

For me, the case is often opposite. This is not to say that I don’t know Malayalam. I speak fluent Malayalam, I write, I read – all good. What I lack is the ability to appreciate Malayalam literature, the ability to articulate emotions or experiences beautifully. And I can’t put in plain words how much this frustrates and depresses me.

To be fair, I was not always like this. For a better part of my life, I was not aware of what I was missing. I have officially studied Malayalam till 4th std. After that, I took up Sanskrit as an elective. (if you have an hour or two to spare, lemme know. I can rant on and on about how ‘raama, raamau, raamah!’ screwed up my life) And it amuses me to no end what followed. Around 6th std or so, our school saw an influx of NRI malayalees – kids who had grown up in Dubai or Kuwait. Kids who spoke flawless English and took pride in saying “enik Malayalam korach korach ariyam” (“I know very little Malayalam). Stories of how they can’t read Malayalam and how they ‘speak only English’ at home were shared with a lot of panache. Not to be left behind, I decided to follow suit.  No more Malayalam. Na-ah. I became a I-am-too-cool-for-Malayalam person. I wrote out notes to my amma in Manglish. And when she pulled my leg about it, I ignored her.

Somewhere in 9th std, a lot of things changed for me. I don’t remember why or how, but looking back, I think of that period as ‘the time I grew a spine’. Among other epiphanies, it dawned on me how shameful it is that I can’t write a word in my mother tongue. And being the stupidly persistent person that I am, I decided to rectify this by spending an entire summer vacation copy-writing the headlines of each day’s Malayalam newspaper until my handwriting stopped resembling that of a 5-year-old.

But somewhere in between all this, I forgot to learn to appreciate fine Malayalam literature. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that good tastes are acquired, not instinctive. Sure, the effort that you are willing to put in matters a lot, but it also matter when you put in that effort. There is such a thing called the ‘formative years’ and what you are exposed to then is likely to stay with you forever.

As I grew up, I often lamented (albeit privately) that I didn’t put in enough effort into understanding Malayalam literature. Today I have an additional concern. My baby niece, my MiniatureHuman (or Mihu, as I call her) is growing up in Bangalore. A place that is an amalgamation of all cultures and lifestyles. A place where she will learn a lot of things that I hadn’t. But will she learn her mother tongue? When she hears a poem in her mothertongue, will she appreciate the emotion in it or will she just…process it? I am worried, because as Vineeth Sreenivasan said in an interview, there will come a time in every person’s life when he/she will feel culturally adrift. It is only then that you will realise how closely linked your identity and your roots are.

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When did I become a grown up?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this happens to everyone. Almost everyone, at least. That feeling of “wow! I’m an adult now? When did that happen?”

One of the instances of that feeling accosting me occurred last weekend. I was at my sister’s place and was out for an evening walk with my sister and my 6 month-old niece when three 10-year-ish-looking girls ran towards us, all giggly. I smiled back politely and maybe encouraged by that they proceeded to tell me the story of how they saw “3 frogs.. no wait, there were 4 frogs – 3 big and 1 small.” The long story was told, debates on the size of frogs were made and they ended the story with “Don’t go there Aunty!”

When they said that, I immediately looked at my sister, because in my head, it makes sense for her to be called “aunty”. ‘Coz, you know, she has a kid and stuff. Only catch – they were clearly talking to me.  (Unless all three had crooked eyes. That is a possibility, yeah?) Then I convinced myself that they called me “aunty” ‘coz I was holding the baby – can’t blame the kids for being politically correct, can I? It took me a few more minutes to accept the reality that I am (and I look) old enough to be included in the ‘aunty’ category, especially from a 10-year-olds eye.

As we were walking back, my sister and I ended up talking about the whole ‘oh-man-she-called-me-an-aunty’. (Dear reader, I can sense you rolling your eyes at me now. I’ll stop in a bit. Thank you for your patience!) When we were talking it dawned on us that there is no equivalent term in English for the Malayalam word ‘chechi’. Technically, it means sister, but colloquially, it is used to address all women who appear to be older than you but is no old-old, geddit? You can’t ask people ‘sister, could you help me get an auto?’ whereas ‘chechi, can you help me get an auto?’ is completely acceptable. The vagaries of languages. Sigh.

As for the growing old part, I feel that there is a huge difference between growing up and feeling grown up, though I am still on the fence about the importance of the latter. All this hungama (which I am causing. Yes, I’m aware of that) is reminding me of a conversation from the movie ‘Liberal Arts’ (it’s one of my favourite movies. Go watch it if you haven’t. It’s super amazing.) which goes as follows:

Prof. Peter Hoberg: You know how old I am?

Jesse Fisher: No, how old are you?

Prof. Peter Hoberg: It’s none of your goddamn business. Do you know how old I feel like I am?

Jesse Fisher: [shrugs]

Prof. Peter Hoberg: 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face, and I look in the mirror, and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.”

[sighs]

Prof. Peter Hoberg: Teaching here all these years, I’ve had to be very clear with myself, that even when I’m surrounded by 19-year-olds, and I may have felt 19, I’m not 19 anymore. You follow me?

Jesse Fisher: Yeah.

Prof. Peter Hoberg: Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

And now you have in on the dirty secret too. You can thank me in the comments. Or send me Bournville – the super dark one, not the raisins one. That works too.

24*

I turned 24 today. And I’m very excited!

You see, the thing is that usually I don’t enjoy birthdays. It’s not that I don’t like getting old. In fact, it’s the opposite. I love getting older. Yes, that sounds weird, but I truly do love getting older. So much so that I have this theory of how I was actually born as a 30 year old, but the social conventions have confined me to this Gregorian calendar system. Yet, I’ve never been a person who gets all thrilled about her b’day. I genuinely disliked all the attention and absolutely loathed surprises! Which is why this year’s b’day deserves a blog post of it’s own.

Because this year, I feel quite different. For the first time in my conscious memory, I feel excited that it’s my birthday. I have no idea why that is, but I am. 24 seems to be a good age. And the fact that I’m going to get older excites me to no bounds, because I LOVE being an adult. I love having responsibilities, being in charge of my life, making tough choices and living with the repercussions. I love budgeting my earnings, saving up for trips, going broke at the end of the month…I love being in charge of my life, and the infinite possibilities it presents.

That is not all. This b’day has been really a sweet one. A bunch of friends called me up, a number of Whatsapp group names were changed to include mine and two of my chunk-brozz popped over to my place for an impromptu cake-cutting session (complete with a cone-cap!). I swear that if u measured my heart right now, I’d be twice its normal size!

Also, Google gave me a personalised homepage! I mean how cool is that! If you were to see me right now, I’d look like I slept with a hanger in my mouth, I tell ya! 😀

Google is bae

The Bad Bad Day

It was a bad bad day. It was a not very feel-good day. You’ve probably experienced one of those before. I have too. No matter how many times you’ve had it, it is one experience that I hope we never get used to.

So where was I? Yes, bad day. What was so bad about it, you ask? Oh nothing. Nothing in particular. Just a day where you mess up a lot of things you could’ve not. You know, work things. Nothing major, just….things. I’m not being very eloquent, am I?

So what do you do when you have such days?  Seriously? The old me would’ve headed to the kitchen, made a cup of coffee, shouted a bit at amma and sat in a corner reading a good book. The new me, on the other hand, deals with such days by heading home, switching on the laptop and going through an entire season of FRIENDS/The Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother/Mentalist/…., you get the gist. Effective, you’d think.

Nah.

So that’s what this post is about. (Yes, there is a purpose to this, you-snarky-person-who-is-grinning-as-you-read-this). This post is a celebration. For what, you ask? Celebration of an aberration. An anomaly. A deviation from the well-treaded path. This post is a hurray to the old-turned-new-turned-old me who is dealing with a bad, bad day by crawling in bed with a cup of coffee and a fascinating book and ending up writing a short post about it, that, in retrospect, doesn’t make much sense.

Just a note.

It’s been a while. It’s almost like I’ve forgotten how to write. For the past few days, weeks even, I’ve been carrying this nagging feeling to jot down something – anything, really. Of course, like the wannabe I am, I’d love it if I could sit in front of my lap and churn away a poignant, eloquent piece of article. However, that’s not how it is to be. I’m trying to come in terms with the fact that maybe this is the best I can do – an occasional peep into the blog to rant/jot about life and its numerous intricacies.

So as I was saying, I’ve been wanting to write desperately for the past few days. In fact, the last time I wrote something meaningful was a good 3 months back. In between these, many a thing has happened that’d have normally had me running to my beloved Word document. And I did too. But somehow, every time I sat down to write something, all the words that I knew of, all the clever metaphors and witty one-liners I had in my mind seemed to fade into oblivion right before my eyes, until all that was left was a wisp of lame English words strung together by the most uninspired of connectors.

I’ve spent quite a few bus rides wondering why this is. For the uninitiated, I love bus rides. And I love not to talk during bus rides. Unless I’m in exceptionally, exceedingly awesome mood, that is. It is during that time that I do a lot of things I like to do. I think about stuff like the Calvin n Hobbes quote I read the other day. Or a conversation I had with a friend about religion/politics. I talk to myself in my mind. I pray in my own warped way. I read sometimes. So my point is that I’ve spent quite a few precious hours (I live at Bangalore, so a normal 15 min bus ride gets stretched to at least 40 min – plenty of time) pondering why I don’t write anymore. As I said, it is not for lack of issues. If anything, it might be ‘coz of too many issues to write about.

After much thought, the conclusion I came into was this – of late, I’ve been exposed to a variety of articles on a wide range of topics that I’ve hit what can be called (sophistically) a writer’s block. Let’s not focus on the fact that I just referred to myself as a writer (I mean, how vain is THAT!) and move on to the point I’m trying to make. Basically, I’m feeling how Cooper might have felt when he stepped on (erm..stepped on? That ain’t right, is it?) space – so much out there that transcends what you know and what you do…so much out there that you know is out there but is yet to find out. And in between all this there is the incomparably insignificant you, your work and your passion that matters so much to you but in actuality, is not even a drop in the ocean. Does that make sense?

Well, if it doesn’t, blame it on the rain. It always messes with my mind. (Yep, it’s raining in Bangalore. And yep, that smell of new soil is overpowering my senses.) I mean, I love rains. Monsoon is my favourite season. However, in what may seem as a contradiction, rain also makes me sad. Emotional. It makes me long for the places I left behind and the places I have to go to.

It makes me feel alive.

The new-found freedom

It was only the last evening while talking to a friend on phone that it dawned on me that I’ve been away from home for nearly 6 months now. Which, of course, in the larger scheme of things is kinda like a drop of water in the ocean. It’s just that I absolutely loved these last few months. And I find that amusing ‘coz if you were to call me up at this moment and ask me to educe my memories of Bangalore, I’d probably come up with more rotten ones than the other.

Huh.

On second thought, that shouldn’t surprise me so, should it? En masse, we humans have this tendency to highlight the bad over good, haven’t you felt? Trashy movies, shoddy books, third-rate politics, mediocre celebs, their sub-standard tactics…all this makes us have collective mini-orgasms. The good stuff usually makes us go “Damn, why didn’t I think of that? And now I have to sit through others praising him. And smile while I’m seething with jealousy.”

And so, it is a truth universally acknowledged that bad experiences end up being a damn good story. And yes, I realise it echoes of the first line of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. And that, keeping in with the tradition, I’ve drifted off the topic. Focus, Navmi.

So yeah, Bangalore. I keep saying Bangalore ‘coz even though I’ve been here for just 3 months, life in Gandhinagar had been a breeze compared to that here. There, everything was handed out to us in a platter – all we had to do was to shell out a few bucks to keep ‘em coming. Here, we had to start everything from scratch. You know how you watched Ayesha paint her cute little apartment in ‘Wake up Sid!’ and told yourself “That’s how it is gonna be when I move to a new place”? Well, I really don’t want to rain on your parade, but THAT is utter bullshit. When YOU move to a new place, you’re probably going to end up in a P.G which advertises free wifi, “homely” food, and a bunch of smiling owners only to realise by the end of the month that (a) it takes an hour to load Google, (b) you can only have so much dal in a day (c) you are the little Red Riding Hood and the owners may as well be the big, bad wolves in your Grandma’s clothes. So there.

And then you are going to realise that life is bloody expensive. I’m not talking about the ‘No cash for petrol’ kinda crisis. I’m talking about the one where you realise a packet of Surf Xcel costs as much as a king-sized Diary Milk Silk! And once you realise the number of chips packets you consume in a month, you’ll start wondering how your parents could afford to stay off the streets. Seriously. But hey, jokes apart, there is nothing like being completely in charge of your finances that helps you grow up. A few of us taste the first spurt of this growth in your college days. For a few others like me, it’s a completely new arena. There is nothing as baffling as watching your carefully scripted monthly budget plan falling apart in the first week of the month. From then on, it’s like increasingly depressing cricket match. Theoretically, there is hope till the last over is bowled. And yet, you get a picture of how things are gonna be in those crucial initial overs.

And somewhere between all these, you’ll start getting hounded by a newfound worry that you are not doing enough for your parents – financially or physically, whether they need it or not. There’ll be times when you’ll be astounded by the heights of your selfishness in choosing to put your life, your dreams, your independence above that of theirs. You are gonna fret over those calls that start with “I have this headache for the last few days…” or “Cholesterol level is quite high…” When they call you up to inform you about the demise of an acquaintance or a friend or are uncharacteristically silent on the phone, you are gonna catch yourself wondering “If only I were there, we could have talked about this…” You are gonna brood over that for a while and will, almost certainly, try and shake it off by watching a movie or reading a book. After all, you gotta do what you gotta do.

And in between all these, strangely enough, you’ll relish the life you live. You’ll enjoy that you can go out at 9.30pm to buy a jar of jam. Or that you can go jogging in the morning just because you felt so. Or that you can blow off a good portion of your salary on books and no one is gonna give you THAT look. Some days you’ll go up on the terrace, look at the stars and simply lie there, listening to the distant rumble of traffic, the impatient horns and wonder where everyone is going. You’ll gaze at the apartments nearby and wonder what they are doing. You’ll have the luxury of being at your whims and fancies…

Some days, most days, that’ll be enough.

Could’ve..

It was killing her. Literally killing her. She didn’t know where it was coming from, this fist that was squeezing her chest. This burning in her eyes…oh the burning…if only she could put it off with a flood of tears. But she couldn’t. That she was sure of. It had never been in her to ease the pain with tears. The irony was the pain had an audience within her. A part of her that was standing back, slightly amused, saying “Hmm…so this is how it feels to have loved and lost.

Loved? Is that what she had been doing for the past few days? If that was so, then Gautham Vasudev Menon sure as hell had it wrong. There had been no violins or stolen glances or even a lingering smile. There as sure as hell were no proposals or ‘I’ll-love-you-till-the-end-of-my-lifes’. Not even an ‘I-have-a-thing-for-you’. Nor had she know, by some inexplicable cosmic suggestion that he was in love with her. In fact, to this day, she had no idea if he was.

However, it had all begun in a fashion that was the baap of all clichés – through a common friend. This ‘common friend’ (let’s call him – for it is a he in this particular story – Mr.CF for the moment) is the most evenly distributed species that has ever walked the earth – every gang has at least one. He is the most cheerful, vibrant guy you’ll ever meet. He has been in a relationship, a very exciting relationship since you’ve known him which is probably why he thinks his mission in life is to match of the people who are ‘meant-to-be’. And he is good. Almost 90 % success rate he has, even though his methods of connecting the people who are ‘meant-to-be’ is often questionable.

Regardless, it came as a surprise when Mr.CF came in one day and told her that someone has a thing for her. “Uvv…!” was her reaction, for that sure she was that he was pulling her leg. “No, seriously. Swear to God”, he insisted. She grinned at him and shrugged it off. A few days passed. Every time he passed her in the corridor (the CF i.e.), he’d ask her “Have you thought about what I told ya?” and she’d smile at him and wave it off.

To nobody’s surprise, as days passed on, the idea started growing on her. Curiosity came first. What was he like? What did he like in her? Did he find her gorgeous? Was there anything about her that he didn’t like? Did he notice her when she walked into the room? To find the answer to the first question, she did the obvious – landed up on his Facebook profile. And there, between the books he liked and the music he loved, she realised that she and he bowed to a different deity. Uh oh. A casual mention of a ‘hypothetical situation in which she falls in love with a guy of a different religion’ was presented before her parents. Negative.

“So..did you think about it? He’s really into you, you know…” CF told her.

“Religion scene aavm”, she told him.

“What if we work around that?”

“Na…you can’t work around that. At least, my folks can’t.”

“What if his folks can?”

“They can’t. No one can”, she responded.

“He’s gonna ask them. He wants to, but should he?”

She didn’t know what to say. The logical part in her, the realist, knew well that no good was ever gonna come out of it. It was one thing to spout “religion is bullshit”, another to practise it. After all, one’s life was never truly one’s own. What she didn’t anticipate was the part in her that wanted it to be true. Like the camel that crept in to rest its hump, he had crept into a corner of her mind and before she knew it, he’d carved out a cosy corner for himself.

Which was why, when CF turned up one evening and said “It’s not gonna work out. He asked his family. They said no. He’s devastated, but that’s just the way things are, I guess. You guys’ll be friends, right?”, all she could do was smile and say “Of course! I told you it’ll never work out.” She pretended that she couldn’t feel the tightness in her chest, the piercing needle of sorrow (or was it regret?) that threatened to burst her heart. It wasn’t his fault. He hadn’t mentioned, much less promised her anything.

And it wasn’t like she was in love with him. You couldn’t be in love with someone over a week’s time.

No, she definitely wasn’t in love with him.

But she could have. Over the week, she had realized that she could easily fall in love with him. It’s almost like the bud of a flower, ready to blossom but it’s just not quite there yet. And she liked him a lot, she really did. She thought about him often, but she didn’t love him.

She could, though. She knew she could.

LFB #2 – That Bus Ride

It was just another day. As usual, my 5 friends and I boarded the bus from our hostel to work. It had been around 2-3 weeks since we had landed at Bangalore. The city was becoming less alien and was fast losing the “Wow!” factor in our eyes as was evident by our choice of local bus over the AC-fied, extremely sleek-looking BMTC buses. Being the responsible adults that we are, we preferred skimping 20 bucks by compromising on our level of comfort so that we can hit the Commercial Street and blow up twice the amount we have saved on shoes that we’ll never wear and books that we’ve already read. Like I said, responsible adults and all.

Back to my story. So here we were, in the local bus, cramped between a cute girl with a nose-ring and enough perfume to drown out the stench from the nearby gutter & an aunty with long, loose hair which, I know not how, kept finding its way into my mouth. The conductor came in and I gave him the customary 10 Rs. And as was the practice, he didn’t give me the ticket. My friend, who asked for the ticket was dismissed with a shrug and some muttered words (most probably, it was Kannada). Nothing unusual in that. In Bangalore, you get tickets only in the above-mentioned sleek-looking BMTC buses.

In the next stop, the aunty with long, loose hair that kept getting into my mouth (and tastes disgusting, btw) got down only to be replaced by a kakhi-wearing uncle. He came in and asked the cute-girl-with-the-nose-ring for her ticket. She promptly explained that she had already paid but was not issued a ticket by the conductor. She looked towards our conductor, who looked rather frightened and said that since she didn’t give him 2 Rs. change, he had not given her a ticket. On hearing this, the kakhi-clad conductor said (in Kannada) “Alright then. Travelling without a ticket is a crime. Pay Rs.140 as fine.”

And thus started the drama.

Within seconds, the cute-girl-with-the-nose-ring turned to a Kannada-spouting version of the girl that the author of the lines ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ had in mind. She went on and on in full steam, alternately shouting at the conductor (who, by now, was feebly trying to say “she did take a ticket”) and volubly refusing to pay the fine. And with good reason. Apparently, she HAD given the prefixed amount of Rs.12. The conductor, in order to slip that amount into his pocket, had not accepted that 2 Rs. and not given the ticket too. This, we later came to know, was a common trick in local buses.

In between all this hungama, that girl somehow got down at her stop and the kakhi-clad conductor turned his fury towards us. We explained, rather tried to explain, that we had paid the amount and didn’t receive the ticket. But the kakhi-clad conductor wouldn’t listen to any of it. He kept on saying “Fine of Rs.140, fine of Rs.140” By then, in true Kannada movie style, another kakhi-clad conductor got onto the bus and blocked the back door to prevent us from getting down at our stop. As things started getting a bit ugly, one of my friends (who, incidentally, is the perfect example for the quote ‘appearances can be deceptive’) suggested that we pay up, only to be silenced by 5 pairs of Bharatanatyam-style stares.

By now, the kakhi-clad conductor had started scolding us in Kannada. Not to be left behind, we retaliated in a mix of Hindi, English and Telugu. Next he came up with a “brilliant” idea – we pay up the fine, he’ll question the conductor ‘properly’ and if our claims were found to be true, he’d send us back the money to our address!

When we refused to give our address after repeated ‘instructions’, he took out the ‘Brahmastra’.

“Take the bus to the police station,” he shouted, rather dramatically.

“Alright then, take the bus to the police station”, we retaliated.

This went on for a few minutes. By this time, all the locals in the bus, with the exception of a gentleman (alright, a good-looking gentleman. Gawd! Just let me get on with my story, will you?) who worked at UST Global and had supported us right from the beginning, had started getting pissed off with us and the drama. Unable to withstand the pressure, the kakhi-clad conductors made our bus conductor pay Rs.720 as fine right before us, and let us go. Finally.

So the moral of the story? If you get into a bus at B’lore, before you give the money, always ask “Ticket kodi..”  Might save ya quite a bit of trouble later on, you know.

Goodbye Gujarat

“Why does one person need so many cloths?? How many t-shirts and salwar could one person wear in a span of 3months?? What in the world was I thinking when I bought all this stuff?? How the hell was I going to get all this stuff across 5 states?!”

These were just a few questions that were going through my mind as I sat in front of a suitcase that was looking increasingly puny in comparison with all the stuff that is supposed to go inside it. So I decided to do what many a genius has done time and again when faced with such daunting tasks. I decided to procrastinate.

See the thing is, I am moving out from Gandhinagar in less than a week. Wow… hurts quite a bit to think about it! In a little over than 3 months, this place has become as much a home as is possible. So many memories…walking down the memory lane, I am jotting down some of the most vivid memories I have of this place.

  1. Wandering through Manek Chowk

Manek Chowk is a street food bazaar which opens at around 10.00pm every night. Known for the mouth-watering variety of food it offers, it is the perfect place to have the BEST dosa you’ve ever had (I’m a South Indian. So when I say The Best, I mean it), lip-smacking pav bhajis, kulfi with raita, faludas, hot jalebis, and reasonably good pani puris among other delicacies. Key in the 1980s Bollywood music streaming in from speakers to experience life in North India at its best.

Street Food at Manek Chowk (Photo Courtesy: www.ahmedabadgiftshop.com)
Street Food at Manek Chowk (Photo Courtesy: http://www.ahmedabadgiftshop.com)
  1. The day of hailstorm

This is truly an unforgettable experience. A few friends and I had set out to visit the Adalaj Stepwell as few kilometers away from Infocity. It was a very hot and cloudy day and we were expecting (or rather hoping) for a strong drizzle at most. Imagine our surprise when the sun who had been playing peek-a-boo barely a second ago, suddenly disappeared and wind strong enough to overturn roadside carts and uproot age-old trees appeared. Initially we waited a while, hoping it would abate as abruptly as it started. And then it started to rain with such ferocity that we wondered if this was a replay of the 2001 earthquake. Somehow we managed to find an autorickshaw. It took us a moment to realise that half the ferocity of the rain was because it wasn’t raindrops that was drenching us – it was sharp, pebble-sized pieces of ice! My first hailstorm! And then, as if it were a Bollywood movie, the rickshaw broke down. How we got back to the hostel with our wits intact still eludes me but once we did, it made a hell of a story!

Caught in the hailstorm (Picture Courtesy: www.skymetweather.com)
Caught in the hailstorm (Picture Courtesy: http://www.skymetweather.com)
  1. Strolling through Sabarmati Riverfront. At 12.30 am.

Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is an initiative by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to develop the Sabarmati riverfront in the city of Ahmedabad, India. . We reached there at around 12.30 am, only to be sent back as it closes at 11.00pm. Neverthless, the short walks outside the entrance were enticing enough to make me want to come back to this place as and when I can.

Sabarmati Riverfront at night. (Photo Courtesy: defence.pk)
Sabarmati Riverfront at night. (Photo Courtesy: defence.pk)

It was also the place where I got the first glimpse of how dangerous the seemingly safe places of North can be. The fact is, in the Southern parts of India, people rarely venture out after dark, with the exception of metro cities. We don’t have night bazaars or street shopping. However in the other parts of India, night is the time everything comes alive. There is something about seeing multitudes streaming through streets going through their lives that make you put your guard down. It makes your forget all that you’ve read about how unsafe a place it is for girls. Which you should never, EVER forget.

  1. Sunset at Somnath

Somnath is an ancient temple located in the Western coast of Gujarat. We were on a trip to Diu and stopped there and ended up visiting the temple at the best moment possible. The evening aarthi was just starting and the ambiance inside was amazing. But the best part of Somnath was standing on the deck there and watching the sunset across one of the most beautiful expanse of sea I’ve ever seen. Experiencing that sense of peace and tranquillity – very difficult to put into words.

Somnath temple at sunset. (Picure Courtesy: Shobha Kamath)
Somnath temple at sunset. (Picure Courtesy: Shobha Kamath)
  1. The day Modi won

How can that day not be memorable? Hearing about Gujarat rejoicing over Modi’s win is one thing – seeing it person, feeling that joy and sense of triumph vibrating through passers by…unforgettable. Needless to say, by the night of 16th May, there was not a single sweet shop not empty and there were policemen stationed every 100 metres. (Erm…I just realised that those two facts have nothing in common!) Brushing aside my personal emotions, it was amazing seeing so much faith in one man’s vision.

Celebratory ladoos on the streets after Modi won (Photo Courtesy: indianexpress.com)
Celebratory ladoos on the streets after Modi won (Photo Courtesy: indianexpress.com)

#Inspire – Sparks by Chetan Bhagat

Speech given at the orientation program for the new batch of MBA students
Symbiosis, Pune, July 24, 2008 © Chetan Bhagat

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Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated.  The first day in college is one of them.  When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates – there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it another way, how to be happy most, if not all the time.

Where do these sparks start? I think we are born with them. My 3-year old twin boys have a million sparks. A little Spiderman toy can make them jump on the bed. They get thrills from creaky swings in the park. A story from daddy gets them excited. They do a daily countdown for birthday party – several months in advance – just for the day they will cut their own birthday cake.

I see students like you, and I still see some sparks. But when I see older people, the spark is difficult to find. That means as we age, the spark fades. People whose spark has faded too much are dull, dejected, aimless and bitter. Remember Kareena in the first half of Jab We Met vs the second half? That is what happens when the spark is lost.   So how to save the spark?

Imagine the spark to be a lamp’s flame. The first aspect is nurturing – to give your spark the fuel, continuously. The second is to guard against storms.

To nurture, always have goals. It is human nature to strive, improve and achieve full potential. In fact, that is success. It is what is possible for you. It isn’t any external measure – a certain cost to company pay package, a particular car or house.

Most of us are from middle class families. To us, having material landmarks is success and rightly so. When you have grown up where money constraints force everyday choices, financial freedom is a big achievement. But it isn’t the purpose of life. If that was the case, Mr. Ambani would not show up for work. Shah Rukh Khan would stay at home and not dance anymore. Steve Jobs won’t be working hard to make a better iPhone, as he sold Pixar for billions of dollars already. Why do they do it? What makes them come to work everyday? They do it because it makes them happy. They do it because it makes them feel alive Just getting better from current levels feels good. If you study hard, you can improve your rank. If you make an effort to interact with people, you will do better in interviews. If you practice, your cricket will get better. You may also know that you cannot become Tendulkar, yet. But you can get to the next level. Striving for that next level is important.

Nature designed with a random set of genes and circumstances in which we were born. To be happy, we have to accept it and make the most of nature’s design. Are you? Goals will help you do that. I must add, don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. I use the word balanced before successful. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order.

There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions.

You must have read some quotes – Life is a tough race, it is a marathon or whatever. No, from what I have seen so far, life is one of those races in nursery school, where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same with life, where health and relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die.

One last thing about nurturing the spark – don’t take life seriously. One of my yoga teachers used to make students laugh during classes. One student asked him if these jokes would take away something from the yoga practice. The teacher said – don’t be serious, be sincere. This quote has defined my work ever since. Whether its my writing, my job, my relationships or any of my goals. I get thousands of opinions on my writing everyday. There is heaps of praise, there is intense criticism. If I take it all seriously, how will I write? Or rather, how will I live? Life is not to be taken seriously, as we are really temporary here. We are like a pre-paid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2,500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? It’s ok, bunk a few classes, goof up a few interviews, fall in love. We are people, not programmed devices.

I’ve told you three things – reasonable goals, balance and not taking it too seriously that will nurture the spark. However, there are four storms in life that will threaten to completely put out the flame. These must be guarded against. These are disappointment, frustration, unfairness and loneliness of purpose.

Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger. What did this failure teach me? is the question you will need to ask. You will feel miserable. You will want to quit, like I wanted to when nine publishers rejected my first book. Some IITians kill themselves over low grades – how silly is that? But that is how much failure can hurt you. But it’s life. If challenges could always be overcome, they would cease to be a challenge. And remember – if you are failing at something, that means you are at your limit or potential. And that’s where you want to be.

Disappointment’ s cousin is  Frustration, the second storm.  Have you ever been frustrated? It happens when things are stuck. This is especially relevant in India. From traffic jams to getting that job you deserve, sometimes things take so long that you don’t know if you chose the right goal. After books, I set the goal of writing for Bollywood, as I thought they needed writers. I am called extremely lucky, but it took me five years to get close to  a release. Frustration saps excitement, and turns your initial energy into something negative, making you a bitter person. How did I deal with it? A realistic assessment of the time involved – movies take a long time to make even though they are watched quickly, seeking a certain enjoyment in the process rather than the end result – at least I was learning how to write scripts, having a side plan – I had my third book to write and even something as simple as pleasurable distractions in your life – friends, food, travel can help you overcome it. Remember, nothing is to be taken seriously. Frustration is a sign somewhere, you took it too seriously.

Unfairness – this is hardest to deal with, but unfortunately that is how our country works. People with connections, rich dads, beautiful faces, pedigree find it easier to make it – not just in Bollywood, but everywhere. And sometimes it is just plain luck. There are so few opportunities in India, so many stars need to be aligned for you to make it happen. Merit and hard work is not always linked to achievement in the short term, but the long term correlation is high, and ultimately things do work out. But realize, there will be some people luckier than you. In fact, to have an opportunity to go to college and understand this speech in English means you are pretty damm lucky by Indian standards. Let’s be grateful for what we have and get the strength to accept what we don’t. I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok. I don’t look like Aishwarya Rai, but I have two boys who I think are more beautiful than her. It’s ok. Don’t let unfairness kill your spark.

Finally, the last point that can kill your spark is Isolation. As you grow older you will realize you are unique. When you are little, all kids want Ice cream and Spiderman. As you grow older to college, you still are a lot like your friends. But ten years later and you realize you are unique. What you want, what you believe in, what makes you feel, may be different from even the people closest to you. This can create conflict as your goals may not match with others. And you may drop some of them. Basketball captains in college invariably stop playing basketball by the time they have their second child. They give up something that meant so much to them. They do it for their family. But in doing that, the spark dies. Never, ever make that compromise. Love yourself first, and then others.

There you go. I’ve told you the four thunderstorms – disappointment, frustration, unfairness and isolation. You cannot avoid them, as like the monsoon they will come into your life at regular intervals. You just need to keep the raincoat handy to not let the spark die.

I welcome you again to the most wonderful  years of your life. If someone gave me the choice to go back in time, I will surely choose college. But I also hope that ten years later as well, your eyes will shine the same way as they do today. That you will Keep the Spark alive, not only through college, but through the next 2,500 weekends. And I hope not just you, but my whole country will keep that spark alive, as we really need it now more than any moment in history. And there is something cool about saying – I come from the land of a billion sparks.

Thank You

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#Inspire series comprise of speeches/quotes that I, personally, have found exceedingly inspiring. They’ve often had me wondering about the power of words, so if you find it as inspiring as I do, please pass it on. 🙂