Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Staying in vogue

There are some things which you can live without; there are some things which you just cannot live without after having lived with it for some time. This blog post is coming to you at 12:27 AM (to be absolutely precise) EST, and you can imagine, at this wee hour in the morning, how my mind is clouded with random thoughts. Life has taken a fast track in the last twenty years, and I just can't imagine how quickly our lives have got adapted to it. It is strange, but in the process of making things simpler, how we have lost out on some of the simple aspects of life. In the last many years, I have always fought for simplicity, trying to steer my life away from the norms, since norms are no longer associated with simplicity. Yet, the more I try to get away from it, the more I am interested in the development of today's world.

I clearly remember the day we got the land line phone back in Bangalore. I was in my fifth standard and was getting all excited about the new device at home. It was an important phase in my life; at least that's what I thought. We no longer had to go to the telephone booth located a furlong away to make long distance calls. We no longer had to run to our neighbor's house to receive a call in case of emergency situations. It was the first time the family was walking towards the era of modern development, and to us, the seemingly small device assumed significant proportions in our quest for quick communication. Prior to getting the phone, we were accustomed to life without the talking machine. Life did not change much after we got the phone. Well, that's what we thought initially. Just one day, we had to lose the connection due to network problem, or to put in simple words, the phone fell dead. It seemed that the lifeless phone had sucked our lives from the daily chores. I was in despair. I had to walk past two buildings down the road to ask my friend if he was interested to play, instead of making a quick dial. My father found it difficult to get across to his colleagues to make important decisions. My brother was a toddler and he was thankfully not affected by the deadly outcome of the dead phone. My mother was never too dependent on the mouthing device to carry out her daily household chores. It was not a big thing, but it marked the onset of many more things in the future.

Mobile phones belonged to the elite class initially. Top bureaucrats and important bigwigs ran around with the skimpy little handset. The smaller the handset, greater it was in vogue. Mobile changed the dynamics of coolness factor. All of them who were boasting about the big things in life were now trying their best to prove each other that they had the smallest. It was the beginning of the change of conventional perception. Things were changing dramatically and quickly. Slowly and steadily, the mobile bug caught on with almost everyone who entered the 21st century. School and college goers were creating their own film industry, thanks to tonnes of MMS getting generated in every nook and corner of the country. It was no longer cool to have a phone anymore. The stakes had just increased. The gadget had to be cool and trendy for the world to sit back and take note of you. As the mobile phones made its appearance in the market, I could feel a mysterious gray hair creeping out from behind. Why? I had entered work and I guess I was the only one in my friends' circle not to have a mobile phone. People were aghast, but my life was in no way different from normal.

Desktop computers were getting important as I got into engineering. I considered it impossible to do my daily work without a computer, and so after a lot of pleading with my parents, I got myself a computer with the best configuration at that time. As I type this post from my notebook computer, it is so difficult to imagine how life has changed in a short duration of time. We have moved ahead all along taking everything along the way to make our lives as comfortable as possible. I have to send my laptop to the service center to get a minor problem rectified, and I will be away from it for a few days; the thought itself makes me feel miserable, even though I have tried my level best to channelize my time away from the computer as much as possible. We have adapted to the changes and moved on with time, and it remains to be seen when there will be a time, when we would be laughing at ourselves for using mobiles and laptop computers. Who knows what's on the way!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Staying (dis)connected

One of the greatest wonders of life, according to me, is the ability to communicate with a wide set of people, identify a select few with whom you think will share an unknown closeness, back your instincts and give it all you can to be in touch with them. Many a time, I have pondered how much a new face means to us after some point of time.

How many of us really keep in touch with our old friends? All of us have met so many people since childhood that the number keeps increasing by the day. We lose track of some of them just due to the sheer number of new faces that we meet everyday. Obviously, you give it your best shot to stay in touch with all, but the inevitable slowly seeps in. The good old days of yesteryears is slowly forgotten. The hourly phone calls are replaced by daily phone calls, which soon turns weekly and before your realize, it has already become bi-monthly, until one fine day it dawns on you that you haven't spoken to your friend in a year. You think, by then, it is too late, and the shameless guilt in you prevents you from reaching out to him then on. It's quite a sad story, really! But, why is it really difficult to stay in touch with everyone? Let us consider the statistics. I had about 100 people in school, 150 people in Pre-University college, about a 200 during my Engineering, another 200 during my Masters, and top it off with another 300 away from the academic circle (jobs, neighborhood and common friends). The accumulation process takes the count to close to a thousand people in the last few years, and the addition has just not stopped. Obviously, it goes without saying that I am not close to everyone in the group. It has always been a handful at every stage, where you get to know a few of them really well, and the rest just make up the numbers. Considering that I was close to at least twenty people on an average (the number is really high during Masters and abysmally low when it comes to high school) at every stage, that brings down the figure to about hundred people. Keeping in touch with hundred people too can be a daunting task. That's when the importance of emails and social networking sites are realized. Just to keep in touch, Orkut is phenomenal, but for all other purpose, it is nothing but an absolute time consuming exercise leading nowhere.

Imagine the prospect of meeting all these people sometime in the future. That would be phenomenal, but will I really have the chance to meet them is the big question. It is a scary prospect to realize that I will never meet some of them again in my life. There are many with whom I have spent all my time talking loads and loads on issues that mean nothing to others, waging little wars that have no economic impact, trying to gain an upper hand in trivialities, boasting about nothing, when finally you realize that whatever is happening is so momentary and on-the-spot. The sad part is, you have no idea how all those wonderful moments translate to nothing but memories for the future. I am sure I have used this quote many a time in my blog, but some sentences can be repeated time and again. Your guess is as good as mine; the quote is from R K Narayan, who in Bachelor of Arts says, People pretended that they were friends, but the fact is they are brought together by forces of circumstances. How much more can a sentence be plain and hard hitting!

Everybody is on the run, all of us wanting to be something in life. So, on the way, you meet some and bid goodbye to some, and in the process, you realize that you might never be meeting the person whom you bid farewell. In plain words, the farewell is as good for life. I know I have to stay in touch with many, but in the quagmire of daily chores, I am sometimes lost in the absurdity of life where short term relief masks everlasting happiness, giving me a chance to reflect on these uncertainties, bringing me to reality with a question that pounds my mind often Why?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Washing away your "echchal"

The habit of maintaining a foot long distance between the mouth and spoon dates back to early stages of childhood when my mother had a stern eye on the proceedings in the kitchen. The typical conservative South Indian touch that I inculcated at such a young age under the watchful eyes of my mother has actually made life difficult for me several years later. They are simple set of rules, but when I see the general population bypass them, I have an unexplainable sense of exasperation seething through me. The first feeling I get when I see such things happen is Oh! What would my mother say if she sees this!

The concept of echchal was made clear to me at home when I had just crossed the stage of crawling I guess. It remains distinct in memory to me because at every stage it was explained to me the consequence of not following the general protocols of life. I remember as a toddler, I would follow my mother into the kitchen holding the pallu of her saree, and demanding some offerings from the daily food cooked at home. My mother would ask me to take a small plate, sit in the corner without making any noise and place a small amount of curry or rice on the little plate. She would never be bothered about the mess that I make with that small plate, but my subsequent actions fell under immense scrutiny. She would make it absolutely clear to me that I was not supposed to touch anything until I have washed my hands perfectly. At that stage, I never understood why I was doing what she said. But, I followed without a question. From then on, it became a sort of habit for me to wash my hands as soon as they found contact with my mouth.

A few years later, the habit of going into the kitchen for freshly cooked food to be eaten instantly never ceased. My father, brother and I would find the confines of the kitchen very comforting; the warmth generated from the gas masking the winter of Bangalore. Stealthily, one of us used to take something from the pan on the stove, and put it in our mouth. There would be absolutely no contact between the hand and the mouth, but there she was, ready to confront us, not that we were in a mood to confront her knowing her well over the years. All of us would immediately head to the sink to cleanse the expanse of nothingness sitting in our hands; the nothingness that was looming large in my mother's eyes as if there was sin written all over it. For all our questions, she had a simple explanation, Imagine, if your paati (grandma) or thatha (grandpa) saw you doing this, they would never again eat in our house. She would then start off about how things were different when she grew up. I would love to hear what she would say about the present!

I was lucky enough to be associated with perfect roommates when I came here to do my Masters. All of them took great care to follow the practices taught back at home. No wonder, our house in Rolla was referred to as the House of Protocols. But, none of us really cared. There was no fear of worrying whether the other person has washed his hands or not after tasting something, simply because all of us came from highly similar backgrounds and took great care to live just like the way we lived back in India. At home, we could eat in peace. So, when I eat outside, I just close my mind to the way it is cooked. It is too scary to think about it. That's the sign of having become liberal over the years. It is also amusing to see the reaction of my friends when we head to a hotel and have to eat something from the common plate. Allow this fellow to eat first, otherwise he would not eat!!!

I have also realized that it is very difficult to explain the concept of echchal to a person who has never understood the importance of it. A typical response is, "So, what if you do not wash your hands?" That statement generally is as big a question to me as for him. I have stopped responding to the question and head back with a deep sigh pondering about the times when such things were followed without a question. Times have changed, but you just wish some things do not change ever.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Five minutes...please...!!!

Get up. It is time to get ready.

Ma, 5 minutes, please!

I have no idea how many times I would have played out this situation in my life. It all started during my school days, when I had to get up early in the morning. My school started at 7:30 in the morning, and my mother would start her wake-me-up process from 6:00, which would easily go on till 6:30. The struggle would continue relentlessly every morning, shuttling between the room and the kitchen every five minutes. She would coax and cajole, give a stern call at times, and finally, would consider that the best option would be to drag me off the bed. I would react as if my mother had committed a sin by treating me so "violently". I would never help her cause by reacting too slowly in the morning, contrary to the way she pulled herself up every morning, never flinching even once in her daily chores. How could I explain to her the bliss of early morning sleep? The day began by deriding the cold Bangalore weather, which never helped my cause of an early morning wake up. In spite of all that, the next forty five minutes saw a frenzy of activities, with some amazing management skills, that helped me reach school perfectly on time. Not once have I reached late in my primary school, thanks to my mother.

Luckily, the shift system helped me get an afternoon slot for the next five years. I never really had to worry about getting up early till my high school. Not that my high school had early school hours, but the fact was, I had this habit of putting up a show, an act of study at dawn. Just before going to bed, I would let out a statement of utmost sincerity, which was actually devoid of even the smallest quantity of it, Ma, please wake me up at five in the morning. I have to study quite a lot. Exams are fast approaching. I would sleep as if my whole life had been forgotten for the next few hours. My mother would get up, wake me up, wake me up again, and again, and again. But there I used to lie on the bed with absolutely no idea, that somebody is shaking me so violently, and that I had made a commitment a few hours ago about the early morning saga. She would let out a sigh, mutter (well, actually, shout) a few words, and then get back to catch a few winks herself for the next few minutes. After approximately two to three hours, I would wake up, with dread and fear; I had so much to study, but more importantly with a fear of what my mother would say. She would let me know that she is never going to take up the task of waking me up again. If I was responsible enough, I should get up with the help of an old alarm clock. She would make it clear in the next twenty minutes, as I sipped a cup of Boost or Bournvita, with my eyes fixed intently on the sports column of the Deccan Herald. My father, who would be watching this from close quarters, would let out a sigh at my mother's misery and scold her for taking up such an arduous task of waking me up. But my mother would continue the next day on my insistence.

As I grew up and walked through the different phases of my life in college, engineering and work, I depended more and more on my mother for the early morning call. She responded at every stage, egging me on to get up and do what I should for the rest of the day, listening to several five minute requests, and waiting patiently with a cup of hot milk or whatever that could infuse a sense of awakening (no pun intended), and making sure that I was fully awake before she could carry on with her daily chores. I could never get myself to wake up using an alarm clock, as I always knew that my mother would come to me early in the morning. I never could gain that sense of responsibility as long as I was at home. Even as I started work, I knew whom to look up to for a wake up call. My brother who grew up turned out to be the same. I narrate this incident to friends, and they second me by saying that they have been through the same things in life. It is no doubt that with mothers, we take things for granted.

To sum it up nicely, I remember an incident sometime back. My cousin was telling us about his boss. He always sleeps with his laptop by his side. Whenever he gets a message, he hears an alert from Outlook. So, he immediately gets up, responds to the message and continues with his work. My mother just looked at us and told, "You fellows will not get up even if a temple bell is sounded, let alone an Outlook alert"!!! We were laughing the whole day with that statement. But the truth is, that statement never turned out to be a joke.

Today, as I help myself with mobile alarms, snoozing it twenty times in an hour, I realize how difficult it must have been for my mother to do the same things day in and day out without a hint of frustration even once in those many years. As I complete this blog and get some sleep, I realize that I have to get up early tomorrow to finish up some work. How I wish you could see that glint in my eye!