Friday, July 26, 2013

Those Days...!!

When you are 25 years old and have done nothing substantial in your life (the odd job aside), one does tend to think what exactly has he been doing all this time. I did that too a few days back, while on a flight, primarily because there was nothing better to do (the carrier was Air India). Just ten minutes to myself and the realization of how much life has changed in the last one decade hit me like a bolt of lightening. I never had enough time to introspect about personal stuff because I was busy planning other things, important things..things that my family cared for and the society gave importance to. And as time flew, I barely noticed the changes within myself. But that day, on the flight with overpriced food, I delved deeper into my memories, ironically for the first time in the last 10 years...

There are basically 3 important stages in a person's life in his transformation from a teenager to an adult. They are -: high school, college and job! Of these three, I guess everyone would agree that the last one is the least enjoyable. High school for me was the transition period, the turbulent period, when I had changed schools and was preparing for IIT-JEE exams. Which reminds me of a question that my boss had asked sometime back-'Why did you join engineering?' The fact that I was stumped by his question had made me realize that I had actually not given a good thought to it, even after becoming a practicing engineer. Not that I regret being one of the million engineers of India, but I was disappointed with myself for giving my boss the impression that I went along with the tide (and the sadist bastard's smirk still lingers in my mind). 

I remember it all started after finishing the 10th boards exam, when parents sit with you and ask you to decide your career path, and sometimes force you to select their preferred career path (not in my case though). What they don't understand is how the fuck is a 15 year old supposed to decide something so important, something which they are supposed to do for their entire life (no one does that though, but this is what goes through the mind when parents have such conversations). I remember deciding my fate over a game of daily evening cricket with my best buddy Sharad. When asked, he said unflinchingly that he wanted to do engineering and get into IITs. There was awe and respect in our minds when we thought about the IITs. It was the time when facebook was just born and quora (the best place these days apparently to answer all your IIT related stupid questions) was just a word in the dictionary. Our knowledge about the famed IITs were based on the triumphs and stories of the neighbourhood bhaiyyas who (or whose friends) were studying there or had failed trying to get into it after years and years of preparation. So began the quest for the unthinkable-cracking the JEE! Tuitions, admission to the best school and practice tests, these dominated my mind for 2 years.

After having spent 12 laidback years in a school for middle class people, I found my new school (Delhi Public School) to be a bit overwhelming. Filled with intelligent and good looking people, and with the indiscipline all around, I use to feel out of place. My definitions about friendships and discipline changed more rapidly than the value of rupee against the dollar. All of us in the school, as well as in the coaching class, were nothing but competition. It was the first time my self confidence had taken a beating, but I remember crawling out of the mess somehow, primarily because my best friend was also in the same place as me.

The DPS experience transformed me from an introvert to an extrovert, and I will always be thankful to it for this sole reason. I tasted my first big success and failure simultaneously at the end of 2 years of high school, an event that definitely did change my life. Most of my batchmates cleared the revered JEE, but I couldn't. Probably the only reason I recovered from this disappointment was again the same reason-Sharad couldn't make it too! (I guess it's general tendency to find solace if your friend fails along with you) My decision to take a study break, even after clearing other national competitive exams was followed by mixed reactions from family and friends. I decided to move to Bokaro from my hometown Ranchi, basically to avoid unnecessary questions (and mostly unwanted advice) of relatives and neighbours. I will always be grateful to my father and Kittu, my sister-cum-friend, who understood the personal turmoil that I was going through for having failed myself, and made me strong enough to continue on my path.

I did clear JEE the next time, with an allergy problem arising unceremoniously during the exam, affecting my aggregate rank. It was disappointing, but not disheartening for long, since this became the reason I joined the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), my alma mater, where I spent the best and most enjoyable 4 years of my life. There are some memories that stays with you forever, and my counselling for IIST at hotel capitol remains one of those incidents (I still can't say with conviction that its a good memory or a bad one). Some may think that going as the first batch to Asia's first space institute required some guts, given that most of my friends had preferred opting for an established college, thinking that they would do an MBA after finishing engineering. But to me, the decision somehow came without any hesitation, and later on, without any regrets! One article is short to write about those 4 years in God's own country, a place which we hated at first, and now each one of us misses in some way or the other...

Friendships were forged based on different criteria, like the floor on which you lived, the sport you played or the interests you had. People from different parts of the country, speaking different languages and having different upbringing mingled freely. Somehow, religion, region or caste wasn't a deciding factor. For the first time, I understood the concept of living in India and the complicacies it involves. First year went like a whiff of a storm. Celebrities like former President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam visited our college. But it was the one on one interaction with Rakesh Sharma, India's first (and only) cosmonaut that had an impact on me. New friends, CET practicals (and Mar Ivanios too..whooff!), the tiring (and sometimes enjoyable) journey to the academic block  by buses, the Kanyakumari trip, Veegaland, sleeping at the back rows like a bunch of sleep deprived daily labourers, the daily adda in my room, the excellent mess food (including the stolen ice-creams at nights) and my first ever crush, these were the what defined my first year in college.

Second year was more meaningful, in the sense that I found out a lot of things that I was good at, like organizing events and leading from the front, playing cricket, writing stories and enacting them on stage or through movies (one of them being selected in top 5 short films at Mood Indigo, IITB being a highlight), being a good friend and eating like there was no tomorrow! Oh yes, and I was in love too by the end of the 2nd year, and like so many other people in long distance relationships, I had my own cheapest mobile set (thanks to Reliance mobile) with a monthly plan.

Third year was more of defining, both on the personal as well as professional front. I went to Wayanad for holidaying with my entire (or almost) group for the first and last time. The trip was fun, but such an endeavour could not be taken in future again due to broken friendships and soured relations. I came of my own as a co-ordinator for both annual technical and cultural festival of IIST. I understood that my strength lay in my communication skills and man-management. But everything comes with a price, so this new found abilities came with the baggage of having to stand up against friends at times. I had a minor health scare when I pulled a muscle near my spinal chord that year while trying to play rugby for the first time. I can never forgive myself for that freak accident as my cricket team lost out in the semi-finals and I could not bat. This, and the outcomes of the fests made me more responsible towards my duties and my personal life, but probably not towards my health as booze and the occasional weed became a part and parcel of my life. My music tastes were now larger with Pink Floyd, Guns & Roses, Creed etc. making to the music folder in my laptop. But the main highlight of 3rd year were my frequent trips to Pune...

I tasted freedom to live in the city of Pune. I never knew college students could have so much fun until I went there. I somehow managed to get an internship in Pune, so as to be able to spend some time with my lady love. But I ended up doing so much more, like making new friends, visiting new places and doing stuff I hadn't imagined I will ever do in my life. That time will always remain with me, although we are no longer together, because it was a life I wished to live, but could not because I had bigger plans...Those late night coffee/ice-cream shop visits, dining at different restaurants everyday, the trips to Khandala, Lavassa and KhadakVaasla, celebrating my birthday and hitting the badminton court (and the tasty snacks after the game), who can forget these ever! Back to college by the backwater, I was forced to wonder for the first time whether I was missing something in my life at IIST, Trivandrum. No amount of Baskin Robins ice-cream at Technopark, Sharma Dhaba's delicious and cheap food or the sun-kissed beaches of Kerala could match the charm of Pune's life thereafter.

Shifting to our new campus at Valiamala was an arduous task, and settling there was even more difficult. But what was more difficult was recovering my academic scores from the deep abyss they were in. Thus began my quest to prove to myself that I am more than my marks. Thanks to an able partner, I found back my motivation to study. And it is when I realized that after coming to college, I had not thought seriously about what I was going to do after college. Of course a government job at ISRO was waiting for me, but then I had never imagined myself settling for a comfortable secured life with just above average remuneration. It was then that I seriously gave a thought about 'what after college' thing. This time I had more clarity than the last time, when I was forced to make such a decision. And this time, I had matured friends to take advice from. Alas, they were as clueless as me! I somehow came up with a basic idea about what I was going to do, hence I started working towards it and the result were a few good research works that were presentable in outside forums.

My participation in extra curricular activities went up, now that I was a 'super senior' and my job, like my other friends, was to just guide our juniors for organizing fests. And did I thoroughly enjoy it! I amassed more than 20k winning events at fest of other colleges, some as far as Cochin. Most of it was splurged on food and drinks though as being the last year, all of us had got a bit touchy and tried to spend maximum time with each others close friends. Late night canteen raids and biweekly trip to Trivandrum city (through the windy kerala roads aboard the rickety KSRTC buses) became our hobbies. And we did visit a lot of places in and around our college that time as we had a lot of free time during our project semester.

Every good story has an end, and mine had two endings. College life finally came to an end, and so did 3 years of courtship. As a child I was prone to anxiety attacks due to anger, and I had a minor scare that I may go back to being the weird kid who shouldn't be angered. But thankfully, such a situation did not arise and surprisingly I took both the endings pretty well, because a new beginning awaited me. I really like this dialogue from the movie Batman Begins - "It's not who we are underneath but what we do that defines us". My next two years were defined by my decision to opt for Sriharikota as my first job. The decision baffled many, including my parents, since it's an isolated place (90kms north off Chennai) and I was used to the ways of cities. But I stood by my decision because for the first time in my life, I was clear in what I wanted to do. Although I still couldn't understand why I wanted to do it. Financial freedom is what I tasted in my first job (and the scotch too) at SDSC SHAR, and this place will always be remembered for that. Zooming around on my Yamaha Fazer, frequenting the highway dhabas (and sometimes the odd CCD) and learning new activities (the local language, swimming and lawn tennis), the Bangalore and Chennai trips; I truly re-discovered myself. The boy who had a break up and chose his job away from friends, transformed into a man finally, and of course not without flaws... There are few things about which I am pretty sure after my tenure of 2yrs at SHAR. One is that all my future bosses will be better than my first, and secondly, that I will never stay so far away from my social circle! :P

8 years is a long time. Lot of things have changed during these times. My mobile (my first being a Motorola C100) and its specifications (from black & white to the age of smartphones), entertainment (from gully cricket to social networks), my weight (I gained fucking 10kgs!), my family demography (I am no longer the youngest), my camera (Kodak KB10 to a sleek digicam) and my overall perspective of the world. I will be going to France in a months time for pursuing higher studies, and once again my world will change. But I have learnt to absorb changes in these years and I am sure that if I can live happily in a place like Sriharikota (an island basically), I can live anywhere in the world! I had set some goals for myself a few years back during a drunken introspection, and uncannily I have completed all of them till now. That sense of purpose, which I had lost after joining IIST, is back again. And it is this that gives me the confidence to explore the unknown.

By god's grace, I have been able to execute whatever I have planned or imagined in my professional life for quiet sometime. But one cannot plan everything, especially matters like falling in love or having to let go of it. Very recently, a friend asked me innocently-"Is there anything that you want and you do not get?" The conversation was over phone thankfully. I knew that to the world, I was this lucky kid who somehow managed to make correct decisions based on pure intuition. People usually forget to see that I put in a lot of hard work, but then it doesn't matter what others think as long as I am able to achieve my goals. I replied to her truthfully that I did not always get what I wanted, and like in that telephonic conversation, I will leave the this topic for some other fine day. But I too, like so many embraced the fact that everyone makes mistakes in their lives, and I was no better. Howsoever I achieve, I can't always get my way. All in all, I had my good days and bad days, but at the end I don't remember them by their outcome. I just remember those days as they came by and went...


Sunday, January 20, 2013

That Girl in Red Dress

It was raining incessantly from the morning, and according to news reports, there was a chance of thunderstorms later on in the evening. Thankfully it was a weekend, so I didn't have to bear the brunt of rain gods all the way to office and back. But weekends usually came with their own baggage; that of boredom and loneliness. Just out of college, I was still getting used to the fact that although friends are for life, they aren't our life. It was only after I ran out of cigarettes that I decided to venture out of my bed. Although my earnings were sufficient to feed myself lavishly as well as send money back home, I enjoyed the unkempt shabby look because it reminded me of my college days when my wallets weren't always this full. Putting on the shirt I wore yesterday, I came out of my flat after almost 12 hours of undisturbed sleep (I am engineer, hence this is common practice). There was a coffee shop in the building where I lived, and it happened to be a popular place to hangout for most people of the neighbourhood. People like me, who had money to spend but no one to spend with usually kept away from such places for numerous reasons like overpriced items, misery of seeing completely gorgeous females with douche bags and the terrifying prospect of meeting an old friend with a companion while I sat there alone. But that day, I somehow felt the urge to have a hot steaming cup of that overpriced coffee, blaming the weather conveniently for my temptation.

The place was literally empty, and I sat in a corner reading the newspaper and waiting for my latte. The hit Guns & Roses song "November Rain" was playing in the backdrop, the strumming of its guitar resonating with the sound of water droplets splashing in the pools of water outside. As I turned over a page of the newspaper, a flash of bright red caught my eyes. A girl in a glowing red gown was sitting at the other corner of the room. There was something about her, that made me pause my shuffling of pages. And for the first time, I paid attention to the lyrics of the song (or maybe the guitar no longer seemed important to me)
When I look into your eyes
I can see a love restrained
But darlin' when I hold you
Don't you know I feel the same
'Cause nothin' lasts forever
And we both know hearts can change
And it's hard to hold a candle
In the cold November rain
It was 11.30 in the morning and her dressing didn't really match the ambience or the mood of the place. I continued turning the pages of the newspaper disinterestedly  because my thoughts were suddenly intruded by this mysterious woman. Her light brown eyes reflected a certain pain, but her high cheekbones almost hid it like an arrogant dismissal of the onlooker. Her slender frame made it difficult to judge her age; but one thing that I was sure of was that she belonged to the upper strata of our society (primarily the top floor flat owners of the nearby high rises). The waiter's interruption brought me back to my senses and I took the cup of coffee from him hurriedly, trying to hide the fact that I was openly gaping at his attractive other customer. Two minutes later, when I put down the newspaper, hoping to catch a glimpse of her again, she wasn't there. I looked around frenetically and saw her cross the street and walk away as the fog caused by my breath on the window blocked my view slowly, and the guitar started overpowering the lyrics once again...

(A month later)   

I was a frequent visitor to the coffee shop now. It had become a habit for me to stop by it, whenever I came back from office. I even invited my colleagues sometimes for hanging out in the shop, whenever I got bored waiting for her. And she did drop by the shop now and then, although there was no particular pattern of her visits. She always dressed in a manner that stood out in the crowd, and they kept on getting brighter by the day (for me at-least). I hadn't disclosed this recent obsession to my friends yet, because I knew they would make fun of me because even after a month, I couldn't draw enough courage to ask the girl's name. But a part of me didn't want to know who she was or what she did, because all I wanted was to look at her and feel intrigued...

There was a certain thrill in doing what I was doing, i.e., hitting the coffee shop everyday to catch a glimpse of her without any hope of reciprocation. The fact that she existed had given me a new lease of life. While in office, I would wait relentlessly for the clock to strike 6 and then hurry through the streets and metro rail queues to make it home early. There was something to look forward to everyday, for a change, and I loved the feeling that this thought gave me. Standing in front of the mirror and making mock conversations with the mysterious lady was something I enjoyed, and got better with every passing day. I had still not heard her voice, but I was sure that I would like it too. She changed my taste in music, and I was now more tolerant of the grunge rock songs that the coffee shop occasionally played. The good shirts in my wardrobe seemed wearable on days other than office parties or the rare get together of friends who lived in different parts of the city. My day dreams about her were usually broken by the housemaid, who grew suspicious of my recent smugness for no apparent reasons. She might probably be thinking that I was on drugs, and to an extent she was right as I was always in a state of permanent high; the type of high that even weed, scotch, cigarettes or Pink Floyd couldn't give me in my lifetime...

I decided to take the plunge one fine day. May be it was the effect of the song 'You shook me all night' (AC/DC) that the coffee shop was playing, but I definitely got the courage to sit a few tables closer to her. As the waiter came towards her table to take the order, things slowed down around me as I shook slightly in the anticipation to hear the voice of my torturer for the first time ever since I saw her in that glowing red dress...
Was the best damn woman that I ever seen
She had the sightless eyes, telling me no lies..
The lyrics faded into oblivion as she turned to the waiter for answering his request of order. As her lips moved, I sensed my palpitation increase by manifolds. I held my breath to hear the first words from her, and they were 'A glass of water please'. Deep and musical, she had a lyrical contralto voice...a rarity which I was so sure that she would possess. I realized that I was leaning in on the table out of the excitement to hear her, and relaxed immediately on doing so. As the high notes of the guitar in the song hit me like a shot of vodka, the lyrics overpowered the surrounding noises once again..  
She's one of a kind, she's just mine, all mine
Wanted no applause, it's just another course..
(A Few Days Later)

I couldn't help but ponder, how come such a beautiful girl as her be so lonely, sitting all alone at the coffee-house, without a single companion? Her mesmerizing voice had captured my imagination. She possessed gaunt facial features, which made her look misfit in this age of plastic make-ups. As the fan above me twirled slowly and the clock ticked away, making unnaturally loud noises in the eerie silence that I was used to live in, my phone beeped breaking the rhythm of these natural sounds. It was from office, and they needed me for some emergency. Crap! I was about to dress up and go to the coffee shop. Today was supposed to be my big day. I had made up my mind that I would make the first move and speak to her. And going by the pace of my progress, this really was an important event in our story! I called my boss to ask whether my presence is essential and I could be pardoned for tonight, to which I got an earful. I hated myself, for not being being pushy enough with my boss. I made up my mind to pack up quickly and return, citing some urgent health issue. As I started for my office, I peeked through the window of the coffee shop on the way, but she still hadn’t come. I paused, thinking of the various ways to communicate to her that I existed, but thought otherwise and boarded a taxi. It was the decision that would change my life forever...

I was asked to pack up that fateful night for USA, because my company had to comply by the deadline set by its customer there for a particular work. People were jealous that I was getting this golden opportunity, where as I was in two minds whether to go or not, since I had an unfinished personal quest to make here. A month back, when I hadn't met her, I would have given anything for such an opportunity. But that day, I was not so sure about it. I sat in the coffee shop till late hours everyday, hoping against hope that I would get to see her one last time before I left the country. As I waited for the place to close, I couldn't help but notice the lyrics of the last song every night. As they say, I was numb, comfortably numb...
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?
Come on, now,
I hear you're feeling down.
I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.
I'll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

On the night of my departure, I could not take my restlessness anymore. She had not turned up at the coffee shop for two straight weeks. I was friends with the waiters there by then, so I finally asked one of them about the girl, for whom I pined for more than anything else in the world. 

"Ohh, so its you for whom the lady left this note!", he said. He handed me a sealed note, addressed to 'That Guy on Rightmost Corner Table". I was puzzled and happy at the same time, and it surely was a difficult feeling to explain. I had so many questions to ask, but only this came out- "Who is she, do you know her?" The waiter nodded, as he continued doing his routines chores before closure of the shop. "She was the daughter of the owner of this place, this coffee shop I mean." I stared at him, hoping for more information. "She died two weeks back...had some mental problem I guess sir, her lover had died in an accident last year and she never was the same woman thereafter." My heart plunged into the deepest abyss at this news. So many days I had spent without any information about this girl who had made sleeping an arduous task for me, and when I finally came to know who she was, all I could do was nod at the waiter. I walked back slowly to my place, holding the note tightly in my hands. It was drizzling lightly, and I kept the note inside my bag, although I did not bother covering myself to protect from the rains. The chilly feeling of getting drenched seemed more welcome than the fire that was burning inside me. All this while, when she needed someone to comfort her from her pains, all I could do was stare at her and admire her. I felt hollow at my actions, and desperately wanted to let out all my emotions. As a tear rolled down my cheek, it mixed and vanished along with the thousand droplets of water that were making streams over my face. I walked back slowly to my flat to get my luggage, or maybe time had slowed just for me while the city moved at its own break-neck speed...  

All through the way till the airport, I imagined seeing her, sometimes at the traffic signal, sometimes on the signboards by the flyovers. I had never seen her smile, but I was sure it would have been genuine and mysterious like her. The fact that she left me a note was enough to uplift my mood for a lifetime. I took the note in my hand, but did not find the courage to open her note till the time I was sitting in the airplane to New York. I finally took a deep breadth, and opened it to find the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy's lines in it

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.

That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her, poor Ithaca has not deceived you

(Sigh)...Wise as I had become off late, I understood what Ithaca meant to her and to me…and couldn't help smiling as my girl in the red dress faded away in the blue skies, giving way for the New York skyline. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Faceless Man

Music and lyrics has always managed to inspire the best out of me. Time and again, I find myself mesmerized by the geniuses of bands like Pink Floyd, Eagles, Guns & Roses, Creed and Alice in Chains. I really like this particular song called 'Faceless Man' by Creed, whose lyrics I have shared below. 
I spent a day by the river 
It was quiet and the wind stood still
I spent some time with nature 
To remind me of all that's real 
It's funny how silence speaks sometimes when you're alone 
And remember that you feel 
I said it's funny how silence speaks sometimes when you're alone 
And remember that you feel 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand, 
Against the Faceless Man 

Now I saw a face on the water 
It looked humble but willing to fight 
I saw the will of a warrior 
His yoke is easy and His burden is light 

He looked me right in the eyes 
Direct and concise to remind me 
To always do what's right 
He looked me right in the eyes 
Direct and concise to remind me 
To always do what's right 

Again I stand. Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand. Lord, God I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 

'Cause if the face inside can't see the light 
I know I'll have to walk alone 
And if I walk alone to the other side 
I know I might not make it home 

Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 

Next time I see this face 
I'll say I choose to live for always 
So won't you come inside And never go away 
Next time I see this face 
I'll say I choose to live for always 
So won't you come inside And never go away 

Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man 
Again I stand, Lord I stand,
Against the Faceless Man

The song basically has 4 protagonists- nature, the vocalist, the face in the water and the faceless man. The vocalist (Scott) is asking the face (I think of god) on the water to enter his inner world and "never go away", thus choosing eternal life which gives him strength to face the Faceless Man ( death, mortality, innermost fear of lack of purpose and terminality of human life). It can have an alternate interpretation too, but I found this too be coherent with what others have given in different internet forums, hence I posted this.

P.S. The interpretation given here is purely my opinion