December 27, 2004

Found

Yes, with ample help from w.bloggar I managed to lose the last post I had made here. My sincere apologies to anyone who had commented on it; sorry, but that one is just not coming back. It has been a vicious circle of total inaction chasing even more ineffective contemplation that has been marking the recent interim between activities that mostly include partying, socialising or just commuting to and fro from work. And in the background, hangs the constant spectre of time slipping away without any significant addition to skills or contributions and the lure of the omnipresent wanderlust.

Before this year breathes its last, I am rushing to put together a laundry list of tasks to be done, skills to be acquired and the series of changes that are required to make better and more productive use of my time in the new year. If the list that includes putting my second story to paper, learning a couple of programming languages and probably striking out on my own professionally is any indication of enormity of the task ahead, it must be very evident that I am already running late.

December 03, 2004

Pileup

One of the hardest feats to pull off if you are one of those self-styled "info freakos" is to organise the bucketfuls of data you have trawled and collected over time. Of the various elements that contribute to this data pile up, organising bookmarks has been the oldest and grandest pain, with the latest entrant to the list, RSS subscriptions, coming in at a close second. A few days back, I took the plunge and decided to reorganise my bookmarks and RSS subscriptions (yes, again). While the method I followed - organising bookmarks by month, resources and tracked topics - is not the most logical, it has resulted in a considerably less scarier bookmarks drop down that does not keep scrolling endlessly.

Reorganising the RSS subscriptions was a relatively easier task. All it took was to figure out the 'right way' to categorise the feeds and the results were quite outstanding. The 'right way' for me was to be as specific as it would be possible in defining the categories. For instance, "Technology", "Technology News" and "News" are three different categories in my subscriptions list now. Of course, this categorisation might not work for everyone and going through the public subscription lists of others on Bloglines is proof enough of that. There is no end to the different ways in which people organise their feeds and it is all about context, at its subjective and unique best, lacking which even the best engineered product can be hit by instant obsolesce.

Incidentally, the above point about context was made by not by me, but by Adam Bosworth in his much commented upon ISCOC04 Talk in which he said, "Soon as you deliver context and content and community and collaboration over the web, 2 billion people will be able to see and interact with your solutions." Since I work in a primarily news oriented company, the thought that immediately crossed my mind was how could we deliver this "context" in an industry which has almost nothing when it comes to user generated content? It is one thing to deliver user specific content on portals and quite a different thing altogether when you have to add context to news or related products.

The answer to that question may lie in the possibility that there is no future for a standalone news product in the on the Internet. Content, these days, is aggregated, repackaged and represented in numerous ways all over the web and if content providers do not have a presence at these points of aggregation and delivery, they will not contextually available and stand the risk of being forgotten. If you cannot procure significant tie ups (for example: with My Yahoo! in the case of Yahoo!) that would provide your product with a prominent enough presence on places other than your primary outbound gateway (homepages), the average surfer would have almost no chance of knowing that your news product exists.

Picking up the same theme from a different angle, Digital Web Magazine asks, "Should we be concerned that aggregators are increasingly allowing users to find their own ways to use our content how they see fit?" The way I see it, it should not really be a matter of concern that information aggregators re-purpose and repackage content. Be it blogs or newspapers, it is now only very rarely that I visit the homepages of the websites I follow using my aggregator. What it means is that, in the next couple of years, newspaper sites will have to figure out alternative ways of making money other than from advertisements on the homepages or section pages alone. In fact, I see this as more of an opportunity than a threat and it just might even push us enough to shift to a different and probably more efficient model of distributing content online.

Online news in most cases is only text based, which is why it is the form of content that is most amenable to distribution through XML/RSS. The other elements in news, like slide shows and multimedia presentations, has considerable value addition to be gained from the traditional presentation and packaging on the web, which is not really required with textual content. In an ideal situation (sic), text-based news should be output by news organisations primarily as XML/RSS feeds which can be picked up/transformed/presented by things as varied as My Yahoo! or even the hypothetical My.Newspaper extension. This framework would also allow for a single point of payment for accessing premium content, with the added benefit of even ad serving being offloaded to the aggregator side.

The caveat, as usual, would be the resistance to go against the done thing. Right now, almost every newspaper or news organisation is busy trying to make everything, including the kitchen sink, available online. In any case, very few news organisations have the wherewithal to produce their entire content on their own. A vast majority only succeed in taking up page after page of listing on Google News by reproducing the omnipresent agency stories with differing headlines. If, by using the new approach, we can unburden the content providers from spending their precious time on pushing out the same content that everyone else is going to push anyway, maybe they can then divert those resources to creating feature stories or special packages that could give you a chance to stand out in the crowd.

Which could also mean that at some point in time we might have XML/RSS only news pages. Do we have any takers?

November 14, 2004

Five

When September turned itself over on the calendar this year, it marked the celebrationless passing of a minor milestone in my life. It was in the same month in 1999 that I came do Delhi, uncertain and dejected, to start a life that I had not really wanted, after the one that I wanted failed to materialise. The first few years were tough. I was scared, there was never enough money and the good times were hard to find, while hardship lost no time in being a constant companion.

Choices are easy when you do not have many to pick from and once the real hard years had passed I lost that luxury too. In the past year and a half, I have had to teach myself to decide and pick what works for me. Without the luxury of constraints to hide behind, it has been a steep learning curve that I have been on. I do not know where it will lead me. On one hand there is the joy of learning something new, while, on the other, there is the fear of age and time slipping away from me.

The past year has been almost a case of life coming full circle for me. After being inconsolable and desolate, around the same time last year, this time around I feel complete, contented, at peace with myself and happy in the companionship I discovered when I was least expecting it. In some ways I do feel that I have completed my life. I have given all that I ever had to give. Even with its uncertain future, I am happy about the state of affairs and I feel like I have finally lived.

Speaking about timelines, this blog too has passed a little milestone of its own. Three years is a long time, even after factoring in the countless mini-breaks and the numerous times I have wanted to close it down, for this monotonic diatribe to have gone on for. Now, when most of us who were a part of the handful of the early Indian bloggers have either quit or have, like me, more or less stopped writing, I have a decision to make and it is not whether to keep going or not.

Most of the regulars here (yes, there are a handful of them!), know who I am, where I am, what I do and so on. The anonymity that I get from my 'nick' serves no great purpose, especially since I am not one of those people who are either rich, good looking, powerful or opinionated enough to warrant if at all any unwanted attention. The intent, I guess, is to write here on more topics and maybe give it a bit more of credibility with a higher degree of openness.

All of which depends on me managing my time better. Before the year is over I would have turned 26 and in another year I would have to come up with the first ever long term plan in my life. Whatever that maybe, I would still need to give the long list of things that I am doing now a fair enough shot before I can either keep or discard them. Five years is a long time to me to have stayed in one place and there is a lot I need to think about and sort out before the sixth is over.

For now, the only thing I am bothered about is the glorious sunshine filtering into the room through the corner window. It is late afternoon on a beautiful winter day and all that I feel like taking is a walk in the old fort by the golf course.

November 10, 2004

Inevitable

I have not been writing for I fear that the staleness of my mind would reflect splendidly in the words that I can come up with. With passage of time, the only destination of inevitability draws even closer. It resembles an ever-darkening shadow lingering over each and every thought in an already lightless world that has little in common with the environment that surrounds it. I feel precariously naked, stripped of any convictions or beliefs and shivering like a weakened twig burdened by the weight of its own unrealistic expectations.

October 18, 2004

MyNewspaper

While reading Richard's weblog entry, Yahoo!+RSS = Good Thing, a wild thought streaked through my mind: What would it take to write an extension for Firefox that would allow me to create my own personal newspaper based on RSS or Atom feeds? The feeds could be saved under different cateogries (Technology, Politics and so on) and they could be ranked and displayed (customisable by CSS) according to a manually-set order of preference or by keywords provided by the user for every category and voila! I could have my own personal newspaper of newsapers.

From observing my own reading patterns and feed caterogrization, I have observed that I tend to treat newspaper feeds and weblogs differently. If someone could pull this extension off, it would be something that would save me a lot of time. I could happily read under a section, all the stories relevant to it, as if it were a newspaper! RSS Bandit and Bloglines already do something similar. If you were to click on a cateogry, the application or page shows aggregated items from all the feeds under that category. This, though, is done without taking into account my preferences of priorities, which is why I would like an extension for it.

Away from syndication shenanigans, it has been a truly trying time on the career front. The number of instances where I have just wanted to throw in the towel now vastly outnumber the times I have wanted to stay back. It can be quite frustrating to know that you can do a lot more and are only allowed to do almost nothing or just little insignificant bits. And it is not like I was not warned, which I was in plently, and even when I do realise that every organisation is different, it does go on to prove again that I don't get along well at all in large ones.

I had more or less allocated the past year as recovery time from the heavy duty slogging that preceeded the three years before that. Now I have exhausted that period, I can hardly justify the level at which I am performing now. It is not like I have been underperforming, I have done pretty well for myself by their standards. But, by my own standards it has been a dismal year. There are a lot of things whizzing around in my head all the time, but I can't seem to follow up on them because of either a lack of relevant experience or because of monetary reasons. Being patient can suck like crazy at times.

September 28, 2004

Chasm

My current work profile involves a fair bit of evangelising new technologies and features. Selling technology in what is primarily an editorial environment is never easy even at the best of times and it becomes even harder when you have to pitch for things that are new or things have just about left the 'early adopter' stage. The problem is that I often have to face an unbridgeable chasm between the two sides involved - content and technology. I won't get into the details of what actually happens (confidentiality and yada yada), but I will talk about the basic issues like group think, lack of communication and a near-total ignorance of technology.

Even though almost every person involved in the process is responsible for the messy state of affairs, I would stick my neck out and blame the people who manage technology more than the end users - the people who end up using the same technology. It always helps the technology team to have simplistic and well defined briefs in the first place from the content team, but that is almost never present in the first place. This is mostly because content management is still very much an evolving subject and to be very honest there are very few people in the editorial side of things who can visualise workflows, processes and the whole nine yards.

This rot sets in deeper when the technology team put in their own interpretation of things to the proceedings. The end result is that the editorial team gets an application that is stubborn, inflexible and has feature set that the majority of users cannot understand or make use of. In fact this problem has grown to such enormous proportions that it is almost laughable every time I get to read some long winding conversation by geeks and usability experts about the amount of bevel on a button that would make it more visible or easier to click. We spend such a lot of time discussing the insignificant specific at the cost of the greater picture.

This problem kicks you where it really hurts when it comes to evangelising. The editorial, lacking the understanding, is willing to adopt a new feature only if they can rebrand it as some kind of newfangled innovation than as a feature any good product should have. The technology team, who understand technology mostly at the level of specifications, reflexively swats anything that did not originate from them. But why is it so difficult to explain technology to a layman? Why is it that even after people have been given explicit and illustrated instructions, they still cannot seem to get an application as basic as a desktop aggregator running by themselves? Why can't we present an apple as an apple to technologists and editorial people at the same time?

The the irony becomes even more profound when, even in this age of APIs and web services, we still lack simple ways to explain technology to ordinary people. The chasm between the editorial side and the technology side is more or less accurately replicated when it comes to the layman. While most of us are talking about a zillion different ways to achieve the end of autodiscovery, the mother of all syndication standards and other geek-orgasm-evoking feats, the average user is left more and more out of the loop and with it the steep curve of mass adoption grows even more steeper.

A month or so back I was trying to explain to the higher ups what RSS could do and I found myself struggling to break free of very much overused jargon and technical terminology. If I ask all of you who are developing the next generation/iteration of technology to explain, in five simple sentences, your current fascination to the the average surfer, how many of you can do it? What is even more ridiculous is that the latest 'simplest introduction to RSS' article on the web sounds almost like archaic Greek to the average user. There was also the case when someone even wrote to us fuming that we 'chose' to name the specification after a right wing Hindu organisation!

The problem that is the killer is that most of us who design and create interfaces, frameworks and information infrastructure often take the 'I-know-what-you-know-better' approach. When was the last time you ever observed someone renaming a file? Hint: It is not often done in the way you think it is done. We tend to drill down the possible user actions to what we think they will do than to ever look at the things they actually do. The proof of concept for this is the number of times data poisoning happen even in those content management systems which already have a very strict policy on allowed data inputs.

Layers of abstraction are wonderful, provided they are not overused. Interfaces are wonderful when they primarily do useful stuff than to just be cute to the eyes. But how many really did ask for the ice candy look that XP sports or even the semi-transparent menus that the open source zealots drool over? Hell, most users cannot even figure out that the search bar that they see all the time on their screen is not a feature, but an irritating bit of spyware. When was the last time you saw, other than the Google toolbar, an actually useful browser help object? Developers don't often realise that it is not just themselves who have to find what they are developing is cool, it also has to satisfy the average user.

A simple illustration of this problem can be seen in the much talked about Live Bookmarks on Firefox 1.0. Peter Andrews, the lead developer of Sage, asks "Does Firefox need an integrated heavyweight aggregator if it has an excellent extension mechanism?" My answer is a loud 'NO'. Why would an excellent, lightweight browser want to add more confusion to the 'What-is-RSS' mess? Live Bookmarks is a half baked effort that falls between a bookmark manager and a RSS reader and it ends up being neither. I do not want a frigging rocket launcher rolled into a dishwasher in my browser. That is why I use Firefox with the extensions that I like. Let us please not do an Internet Explorer all over again.

Why is it a terrible mistake to mix up bookmarks with subscriptions is as simple as this. Bookmarks is feature that is used to mark sites or pages or specific articles that you would want to go back to. It is not often associated with content that changes over time. Getting RSS feeds into it would further confuse an already clueless average user. Did anyone ever ask him if he wanted the feature in his bookmarks? Did anyone ask what they thought/knew about RSS? I have and most of them, including even those who have worked in the online sphere for many years, have no idea of what it is. And that is how bad the chasm is.

September 20, 2004

Pruning

How much information is too much of information? It takes me almost the entire day, when unhindered by meetings, to multitask and finish reading my RSS subscriptions. Last night, during one of those lack-of-sleep-driven mental ruminations, I was wondering how I could prune my subscriptions and reading lists and manage my time better.

Why this step is needed is because of two things. The first is redundancy. Too many people saying or quoting the same thing, without any new new perspective, leads to the waste of a significant amount of time. The second is the inability of technologists to counter the first problem. There is not a single RSS aggregator which will give me ranked results. This really sucks when you have to skim over thousands of words in a day to satisfy your need for feed.

Why would I want ranked results in my aggregator when there are websites like Popdex, Daypop or Technorati? The reason is pretty simple. These sites only crawl and rank popularly linked content. I want something that does the ranking only from the piece of the pie that I consider is important. I want a link or a button on my aggregator which, on clicking, will give me the day's most talked about link or topic.

Is it totally impossible? I do not think so. RSS and Atom feeds are XML files in the first place and almost every desktop aggregator caches the feeds locally. I have read, time and again, many a fan going on and on Xpath queries and/or Libxml2. What would it take to implement something similar on the desktop? Is it time, effort or just a pure lack of imagination?

Coming back to the matter of pruning, I have decided that the maximum age a feed will have to prove itself useful is about two weeks. If I am not compelled to read/check it again in that period of time, it gets the boot from the list. That leads to another problem. How do I synchronise my feeds with my Bloglines subscriptions? Anyone feeling particularly bookmarkletish, please?

September 13, 2004

Pure

It is not like I don't ever stop and wonder. In fact, I almost always do. It is only that, of late, wondering has become a very tiring and depressing thing to go through. You know, the experience of wondering is very much connected to the amount of passion and romance that you have in yourself. Those are the very same things that make the mundane something very unique and the ordinary nothing short of extraordinary. Lacking which, we have souls like mine, thoroughly jaded, passive and growing old even before the best of the years have begun.

Which is again another reason why wondering is not such a pleasurable activity anymore. It is even hurtful to realise that somewhere along the way the flame of passion went out and you accept that there is not a lot you can do about anything. Even the latest low shall pass and instead of the twinkle what is left now in the same eyes are a tired droopiness, a silent plea for the latest drama to end, so that you can drag yourself into the nearest dark corner and fade out into the night, beyond any pesky questions or explanations.

It all feels so very regimented. It all feels so predictable. There is an explanation for every eventuality, there is always a rationalisation, things just do not happen anymore by themselves. There is always a system and a greater, grander scheme. There is always a larger picture that obscures the minor detail. There is always tomorrow's eventuality that clouds out today's reality. Practicality demands its own inclusion everything. There is nothing pure left anymore. Words, gestures, conversations - all just serve to deflect and obscure.

September 09, 2004

No Carrier

I have discovered the pleasures, by accident, of an instant messaging-free existence. I have cancelled my Ryze account and Orkut should follow soon enough. My spam magnet e-mail account, listed on this page, is totally free of personal mail now and getting rid of spam is a less-than-three-clicks affair. My RSS subscriptions number in the high 200s, sprinkle a bit of extensions magic on Firefox and I am somewhere on my way to getting a better signal to noise ratio and productivity.

August 30, 2004

Backpacker

I for one am not the first, in most cases, to point my fingers at anyone. That is the case not due to any heightened sense of wrong or right, which I don't possess in any case, but more due to the fact that I am wrong in most cases. Wrong to the extent that the person that I find the hardest to believe in is myself, making justifications and rationalisations wonderfully amusing ways to spend time. At the same time, I also spend considerable amount of time trying to convince everyone around me of the same devious schemes. It is not as if I don't believe in one or all of the explanations I come up with. It is just that I do not know which is the one I 'really' believe in.

As far as I could remember, I never really had any fantastic dreams. I did not want to, as a kid, become a pilot or an engine driver or even a soldier. I was probably less than ordinary, with a mind that was a bit twisted and I simply did not want to be anybody in my life. And it has not changed a lot even now. Of course, I would want you to believe that at age 30 I would chuck everything and go backpacking through Europe, write an absolutely self-centred book that I would hate for the rest of my life and change a million lives in such an unseen manner that every third person I would meet would have been affected directly or indirectly by me.

Cutting back to reality or something close to it, I find myself sauntering blindly through oncoming traffic that resemble bees, with tiny red tail lamps on them, around a hive that is buzzing with an extraordinary level of activity. I am a million things, ranging from the unambitious prodigy to the patient other half, at different times in the day. Somewhere between turf wars fought over mindlessly boring, useless meetings and the indisciplined efforts at the household's book keeping, I cannot honestly say if there is anything at all left of me to come back home to. Somehow, I am on this huge thing just on the verge of happening, while I feel that I am on the edge of a precipice - deep, dark and endless.

Fear. It is a feeling that leaves you once you befriend the demons. They are always there, unseen and not understood by anyone else. After all, behind the closed doors, there are no ghosts, only more of the same dark emptiness. On Sunday, I had seen a man mindlessly drunk, sitting on a heap of rubbish, bruised and wet, uttering gibberish. I still do not understand why he affected me in the way he did. I was shaken, not by his state, but by seeing a fair degree of someone familiar in him. Despondency is what made him not get up from where he was. It might have taken the drink to bring it out of him, while for some others even that might not be necessary.

Maybe I am pontificating as a cheap way to give an outlet to my vanity, but I cannot understand the thought behind a lot of my actions, for mostly they have no significant amount of thought behind them. I feel as if I am a lowly paper boat in an ocean of liners with no legitimate right to exist or complain in their shadows. I have none to pacify, none to give heed to, I just take on water ungrudgingly. It is not mine to complain, since I am a lone stranger in these oceans. I will float as long as my fickle make up allows me to withstand the onslaughts. But, where were we? Yes, we were back packing across Europe.

Which is actually the last thing on my mind right now. Tomorrow, at 11 in the morning, I have another of those fancy meetings to attend. I shall twiddle my thumb, mouth a few catch phrases that even I cannot make any sense of, and in general play the dependable and sensible young idiot. In a way, I do not have much to complain about, even my memory has begun to serve me well, blanking out entire spaces covering years. I am tired of explaining and I think the numbness is a welcome change. Not that I don't feel anything at all. It is just a gentle warmth that hurts just a little bit, but it is really nothing that dreams of backpacking in Europe can't obscure.

August 23, 2004

Momentum

What if the life you are living is very different from the life you wanted to live? What if you wanted opulence, flamboyance and adventure and ended up with meagerness, mediocrity and the staleness of routine? How many of us wonder if we got it all wrong and that this was not the way it was meant to be? I do that, every now and then, wanting to believe that I can push the boundaries a bit further apart, while the real reason is that it is a convenient way to invent a purpose to my loneliness.

It is pelting down outside, the sounds of tiny pebble-sized raindrops overwhelm even Dylan crooning Make You Feel My love. After the ocean, the thing I miss most about home is the rainy season. I would watch it fall incessantly on the handful of trees in our courtyard and the muddy brown streams rushing down on the road below. Later I would head for the terrace, under the pretext of cleaning up the choked drains, where I would ‘accidentally’ let go of my umbrella and be soaked from head to toe, watching the whirlpools form around the outlets.

Sometimes I feel so much at peace with everything. It then feels almost as if I have died and gone to another world, without any complaints, regrets and with nothing left to do. Then there are other times when I feel anything but complete, inconsequential and struggling for time, effort and ability to do a million things that I know I will never be able to do. Where is the time? Where is the energy for all this? What all will I be able to finish? How many more miles do I have to run? How much more do I have to do?

Then there are times like now. Times when I want to just give up on everything. It is not my battle, it is not my cause and it is not for me to affect, if at all I can effect anything. It is not my world, nor is it my reality. I am just a spectator, a passerby and an unpublicised interlude in a drama that enacts itself on the other side of the window, in which my own clandestine reflection, interwoven with my vision, is my only possible contribution.

It has stopped raining now, a pleasant lull before the splotchy business starts all over again, I can hear the solitary bird chirp outside. Is this not what I value and want the most? To be honest, I do not know anymore. The last time I cried in front of anyone was because I was afraid of having gone so much over the line now that I cannot recognise perfection, even if it is right in front of me. I have ceased to have any impulsive responses to anything, I have been reduced to a handful of constructs, each with its own pre-determined responses to circumstances.

August 02, 2004

Quarrel

And then there are times when you run into the dark stranger called as loneliness and you wonder whether it is good or bad that you are running constantly away from. Being equally capable of good and bad is a logical blind spot and that blinds you towards the true nature of your inherent inclinations.

If you step away from the safe heavens of self-bestowed purity of intention and purpose, it can be scary to face up to the nakedness of the real intentions of your actions. Often, they are bona fide, but they can be mala fide too, more often than what you would want to admit.

What happens then? What if you turn the tables around and get to that point where everything begins at the ledge of fuzziness and gradually falls into the abyss of pristine clarity, performing an alchemy of sorts, turning the best of your intentions into something that could not get any worse?

That said, it is not impossible or improbable for such things to happen. When it sits with you on the carriage called as life, all you can do is to sit tight, hold your own hands and smile at everything in the world. For you are your own ghost and the living can do nothing about that.

July 15, 2004

Heat

You know it is hot like hell, when all it takes is less than a few minutes, after a shower, for the first beads of sweat to appear on you brow. The last time I felt this miserable about the weather was during my early days as a student in Delhi, sharing a shoebox room with two other batch mates. Our room was a barsati and by the time we would come back from the institute, it used to feel like being inside a pressure cooker.

As a result, we used to sleep with the many others on the open terrace, looking at the stars in a windless night, hoping that the fumes from the mosquito coil would keep away the buzzing creatures from us. Around us, the times when sleep was elusive, the rustic village-turned-overcrowded-shanty could be seen in the moonlight, looking like an ailing, suffocated beast, waiting, in vain, for a chance to exhale.

That was towards the end of 2000 and since then all three of us have gone our different ways due to various reasons. There was a time when we used to think, considering the tough times that we pulled through together, that our friendship was going to last forever. Now we know it does not work that way. If it was the lack of time in one case, it was a lack of consideration that that led to the split in the other.

After the loss of many a good friend and now in the august company of hindsight, I still cannot say whether I understand how friendships work. Over time, I have moved through many sets of friends. While some have had the displeasure of being discarded by me, the intervention of poetic justice has ensured that I get paid back in the same coin and be discarded by others.

There used to be a time when I would try to keep all of them with me, if it was possible. I would jump over multiple hoops; push myself into impossible corners and in general make a total idiot of myself trying to keep everyone happy. Thankfully, that has changed considerably and these days I prefer dying by a handful of swords that I choose to live by too. Still, I do wonder about those times.

Meanwhile, the heat continues unabated. I can see the shadows outside crisp like a summer noon, even though it is past five in the evening. The air conditioning in the room stubbornly refuses to work for more than a few days in a row and there is not a single fan in the room. I cannot escape the feeling of living in a novel set in the old days of the Raj -- feeling hot, sweaty and very bothered.

July 12, 2004

Echoes

Conversations in corridors are always of great interest if you are a passerby. In well populated corridors and staircases, it feels something like moving in and out of various consciousnesses. One moment you could be listening to someone saying “the problem is that I cannot do anything about the problem” and next it could be someone delivering the much-beaten-about lines of courtship and flirtation. Eavesdropping? Maybe, but it certainly is good fun when you have to work five floors, countless times, to do even the most menial of tasks.

That, incidentally, is no excuse for the lack of anything new here, nor do I have any other excuse that is worthy of any mention. The long and the short of the tale is that I am fine and well. The only problem is that I am bored out of my mind and in constant conflict with the monster called routine, which doggedly follows me around all the time. For the time being though, you, my dear reader, will be spared of another of those ‘damn-what-do-write-about-now’ bouts of verbal diarrhea and be guided over probably mildly better matter of interests like a mildly-different weekend.

After the best-laid plans for a partying Saturday went totally awry, we found ourselves looking almost skyward, in one of the front row seats, at the giant screen for a late night show of Troy. Bulk was in abundance everywhere and so were ample instances of unintended humour. Pardon us Greek Gods for not lending enough gravity towards the tale of pathos and a stellar example of crappy movie making on the screen. But we certainly did have our bang for the Rs. 75 buck a pop and save the Brad Pitt-induced droolfest by the ladies, it was, all things considered, not a bad way to spend a Saturday night.

Around evening, Sunday picked up speed and chugged on towards a meeting of seven bloggers and one non-blogger at one of the local watering holes. At the head of the table, was the ‘high’ priest of the Delhi Blogger clan – Simple Simon – at his often-failingly menacing best. Towards my left was seated the bovine clan – Boomsa and the Tuber, followed by my good friend and non-blogging colleague. And on my right was the fabulous Wonderbug, the star attraction of the congregation, seamlessly switching between her mommy and blogger modes, flanked on her left by Surinder ‘I-love-Schumie’ XX and Reshma.

Reverting back to the main ‘done-to-death’ theme, one of the reasons why I don’t update the blog much is that I can’t seem to beat redundancy when it comes to tackling certain issues on the personal front. That is reflected on the blog with entries that maybe different from each other only in terms of metaphorical mockery and nothing else. Thus, as long as the larger malaise, of the actual life, remains unchanged, there would be nothing new here. For me the blog is just an echo chamber, where I can listen to myself interpret things, chart a clear path for my thought pattern and see, just for myself, where I trip and fall.

Beyond the falls, things are changing all around; only if the damned weather would change too. Someone should tell them Gods that the adage “change is the only constant” applies to weather too. Another cousin is about to take the plunge and will be getting married soon. The folks have breached the topic in one of our previous strained conversations. The future is very much an unknown, yet exciting, dark road ahead. And the journey with no specific destination or purpose moves on ahead like a steam engine that tears into the darkness. How in the world can you explain all this to anyone at all? How in the world can you describe what is it that you want and what is it that you are looking for, when it is yourself that you know the least about?

June 23, 2004

Chance

The greatest thing about life is probably not the degree or heroism involved, nor is it about the grandness of the scale. It is all about chances -- the ones that you missed and the ones that you took. It is not the eyes of others that the judgement regarding the chances would be made. It will be made in your own eyes, by your own values and by the rule book of honesty. It could be a single word, a fading gesture, or even an inconsequential break from tradition. Water it might not be, but it might just be the hope of finding it, in the distance, that would keep the weary traveller alive for just another crucial desert mile. Did you take yours?

June 14, 2004

Boy

Ambition has never been one of my distinguishing factors as far as I can remember. I have never wanted to lead anyone, change things in the world for better, or even invent anything. As a matter of fact, I would not have ended up in media if it was not for the circle of friends that I used to hang out with. They were fascinated by the headlines, bylines and the charm of the arc light reflected on the faces of the many television stars. I came here by chance, not by purpose and somehow I have managed to make a living out of it. But it is not home. Nothing is home.

It has been a long journey from the shy kid to whatever I represent today. Facades are easy to do, but the old shadows still fall over it and when they overlap, they serve to only intensify the darkness. The old ones are nothing but the realisation that there is nothing that you can do where it matters the most. Somehow, nothing can quite save the lumbering spectacle of a failed family. At the best it enthuses you to run as far away as possible, after you have had your fill. At the worst, it only tends to suck you down into its maddening vortex of twisted emotional currents.

Therein lies the root of the feeling that is so often mistaken for things varying from love to competition. The feeling that wants to give up on no one, regardless of how right or wrong it might be or how impractical or stupid it might look. Kindness is something that is easily taken than given, out of which is born the elusive child of consideration. In my panicked quest to offset my ineffectiveness, where it has to matter, I offer it in plenty. Not in expectation of something better in return, but in the hope that maybe there is a little bit I could do. You never know.

When the eventual separation comes, it is peaceful like nothing else. In fact, the anticipation hurts more than the actual event. I have a feeling the event has started for me. When the hinges finally let go, the pain is mine alone to bear. It is my singular and unexplainable burden. But I don't feel much pain for myself. What I feel is for those I have left behind. Finally, I have been pushed beyond the level where I don't feel them anymore. They never saw the boy who once lived, nor will now they ever see the boy who died. Consideration surely is an elusive child.

May 26, 2004

Rut

It can be technically called a rut, but not quite. For there have been no catastrophic disasters, or is it just that disasters, being the omnipresent creatures they are, have lost their killer quality of being unpredictable? Life, on a personal level, has long passed the stage where every blow is an unwritten novel of a million chapters, an endless stream of thought analysing and re-analysing what happened and what did not happen. Professionally, I am very much in the doldrums. I need to make a million decisions and I am keeping off each and every one of them.

In the period of silence that ensued after my last post, I was subject to one of the very amusing off-site corporate brainstorming sessions that seems be an integral part of every bloated and underproductive company these days. If anything, the entire freakshow convinced me that there is almost no future for me in such a set up and that I need to get clear picture of where I am headed for. Which would have been a very easy thing to do if you are one those people who were given to planning most of their life well in advance. Well, the news is, I am not one of those. My bad.

To avoid the main mistake I had seen at the meet, I will have to convince myself that the medium is not a product. A road cannot be useful or profitable by itself, nor will a business survive by itself just because of the road's existence. Having a respectable skill set alone does not guarantee that you will go anywhere in your career. The magic lies how it is applied. Either you need to package them into a deliverable and purposeful product to make your mark in a lesser role or have the guts to risk it all and head out on your own. This is precisely my dilemma.

Career has always been a tricky concept for me. Initially, it was a means to pay my own way through life, enabling to me to live life on my own terms than depend on my folks on whom I have always managed to disagree. Later, it turned into something that was an enabler, allowing me to spend the kind of time I wanted to spend with my friends and people close to me. Now, I stand at a point where I either need to derive more satisfaction out of it (which according to my first boss is a recipe for disaster) and do something worthwhile or risk being an 'also-ran' and one among the legions of underachievers out there.

So now, where to? For a change I am not totally clueless on that count. I have a rough idea of the things that I would like to do. The tricky aspect is to not be stupid and throw away all the hard work I have put in the past four years. It is painstakingly slow and frustrating at times and lethargy slows me down on other occasions. Will it work or not? I do not know. But I have to try. Moreover, it is a much-required change in personal direction to offset the impact of the multitude of friends and acquaintances settling down and giving up their wild ways. Loneliness of the lone believer?

May 02, 2004

Knots

It has always been a matter of considerable amazement for me to try to understand the level of trust, commitment and mutual accommodation that is involved in two people deciding to live the rest of their lives together. The amount of self-assurance that I have seen, in people who take the plunge, is so high that I have often considered myself as anything but relationship material. The past months have seen a sea change in that and it is not necessarily in the way I see myself. It is more in the way I see the very self-assured and married people around me suddenly lose their way and stumble in a manner that makes salvaging anything at all extremely improbable.

At the best, what I feel is how can someone get things so wrong? At the worst, it is as simple as, if people who are so self-assured get it so badly wrong, can there be any hope at all for people like me. Yes, you can always make a case for the mismatch you could always see, but between two people, your studied and instinctive opinion is of no importance. I have always held it that what makes a relationship tick is almost never understood by a third person. Still, I do not understand how can anyone be so blind to the practical feasibility of what is essentially a joint endeavor. Love, that is good and right, cannot be so overpowering that it virtually ties you down or erases most of what defines you as a person. And what good is that love of anyway, if it only suffocates and grants you a slow death?

A friend told me recently that our generation lives our lives too fast. That we totally expend ourselves in such a short time that by the time we would really want to settle down there is nothing left. Somehow, I find that is the only way to go ahead. In this age and time, it is very hard to sustain or keep any emotion captive if it does not want to settle down naturally. You would be fooling yourself if you think you can keep any kind of emotion or feelings, that another person feels towards you, by issuing threats or by restricting anyone. If you cannot have it by its own total free will and volition, it will never be yours. The world is otherwise too open a place and the people way too smart enough to let you live on in your fool's paradise.

Sometimes, I do wonder if it is very sensible to live so much on the edge of the precipice. After all, if things that you put your all into do not work out, there is always a chance that you would not find your feet after you fall. From experience, though, I have learnt that if you badly want to live and that too on your own terms, you will eventually find your feet. You just have to want it bad enough, as much as you want that thing into which you have put your heart and soul. The first time I took a major fall on those grounds, I did not honestly think I would make it out, but I did. I gave credit for that to chance, luck or anything that you might want to call it. Now I know better, there is no luck in it, you do not live unless you want to do precisely that.

Most of my life is grounded on pure instinct than practicality. I stick up for people and things that often matter nothing for most people. As long as it matters to me, it makes little difference how the rest see it. That being the case, measures of success and happiness are often very vague and reality in itself is a very indifferent concept. You do not have much of a clue whether you are doing things right, or if you are just imagining that you are doing it right. Things have been even tougher on that count because of the fact that I have been changing a lot of things that were not right about myself. Now they seem to be working out well and probably for the first time in my life I am at peace with myself. I am comfortable with myself. I am happy. That is in no small part due to your effort and faith my dear friend, thank you for everything.

April 19, 2004

Story

Life is so much like a novel. After all, we all hope that the chapter we are reading is where it will all end. We hope that the story does not go through another of those iterations, another set of characters, or another series of reinterpretations. Can't we just be satisfied with the way things stand and not have to change a thing, not have to flip another page and just lighten yourself of the burden of remembering how it all came to be? And just submit to a more than momentary feeling of contentment?

Hidden behind every unfurling petal of joy is the dewdrop of a tear of sadness. In this garden of wilderness, instinct is your only ally, often an unreliable ally. Like the lifesaving antidote that arrived a second too late, it rises to the occasion only after the audience has left and the stage is empty. In the confusion that ensues, the only hope is that we do not upset any more of the general scenery. Regardless, we must move on, minimise the damage, hold on to that mantra and hope, once again, for the pale light of the rising sun.

April 12, 2004

Rishikesh

The hiatus was largely unprecedented and known to very few. If you were not aware of it, please do accept my heart-felt (sic) apologies. It was not my intention to submit in totality to the wilderness, but that was precisely what I did. Given that there was no electricity or cellphone coverage or access to the net where we were staying, there was not a lot to that could be done on that count, other than to scoop up handfuls of water from the Ganges and wash my face every second minute, in a futile attempt to keep my body cool as we furiously rowed over the baby rapids.

Sanity is not something that you get when you put together two very people-unfriendly dogs, a car owner/driver who is scared of heights and a collective index of less than zero when it comes to sense of direction between the three human passengers. All things considered (mind you, there was a lot of it including some scintillating driving, superb shouting matches and interesting disagreements between the two canines who threatened to tear each other up and everything else in between them), it was a nice a break and we were very happy to have made it back in one piece.

It all started on Thursday when vague plans that were made a few months back started falling into place. Early Friday morning saw us struggling to find the right order to fit all of us in and the dogs into the car, with the least possible amount of bodily harm. A few close calls, an unwelcome detour through some farms and liberal doses of dog drool later, we eventually made it to Rishikesh and started the ascent on the 33 kilometre climb towards our camp. This was when we discover that my dear friend, trusted driver and car owner had a fear for heights. Appropriately timed significant piece of information, eh?

The camp itself was a wonderful affair. It was pretty basic with all the bare necessities and most importantly it had running water and proper loos. The only issue was the mini downhill trek one had to undertake to reach it from the road. The piece d' resistance, banks of river Ganga, was a two minute walk from the camp which overlooks it. The water was almost crystal clear with of white sandy beaches running alongside it in patches. It was almost the end of the season, so rafting was no great shakes. Since I am petrified of drowning I could not really enjoy the body surfing part too. I absolutely HATE water getting into my ears.

With night came the crickets and slow gurgling sounds of the river going about its business. With the moon drenching the valley in her light, we sat on the sandy shores and watched the dogs go berserk in what must have been their interpretation of canine heaven on earth. Time is inconsequential here and events are triggered by elements of nature. Morning is when the sun rises and night comes right after it sets. What the clock has to say is nobody's business and since there is no electricity, there are no televisions, laptops or high-speed internet connections.

Bliss, though, was to sit on a rock in the river and listen to her, eyes closed, flow by. Then to open them and watch a mild breeze flow in from between the two hills in the distance and swoop down on the water's surface creating a thousand or more goosebumpish ripples on it. They dissipate as the water flowed further down, regaining its glassy composure before being devoured time and again by the breeze. For once I had no grand theories to expound, no great metaphors to torture the world with. I was just glad it was there and I was there to see it.

The drive back was pretty uneventful other than the episode where my dear friend threatened to throw her dogs out of the car (which she almost did preceded by a few ear-piercing screams, which had the local population wondering what was going on and sent me on a desperate search for plausible explanations) and the slow suffocation of Delhi was well within sight by the time it was dusk. Right now, it is past nine in the night and I hear people clapping outside my room in the office. It must be someone's birthday. It is Monday too and the screen name on my friend's messenger says: "Back to reality".

April 07, 2004

Sober

It is not often that one gets to see anything else but the innumerable things that might pop-up at you when you are riding down Delhi roads. The probable exception being something on the lines of what I got to see today - the moon shining in her full unabashed glory, gently sneering down on us city slickers, honking, swearing and swerving to avoid yet another suicidal pedestrian, as we made our way home.

To be very honest, I am at a sort of loss regarding what to write anymore. For one, I think I have had enough of being whiny. There have been three hundred too many entries here that go on recycling the same theme endlessly. Life is a lot more cheerful now, the uncertainties notwithstanding, and to say it very plainly, I suck when I write anything else but doom and gloom.

Thankfully, I have almost never regretted anything I have written here. I have always, as a policy, made sure that I do not mention specific instances or people as much as possible. My life and this blog might be mine, but that is not the case when it comes to dragging other people in and I am glad about that. This often creates the dreary metaphoric cesspools that litter this place. That, though, is something I can live with.

I do not think I am going to stop writing here, but I do feel the need for a change in the monotone. Besides, it would be terribly dishonest to paint everything in dark shades when the reality differs, in better ways and degrees, at different times. And I am not stupid enough to strive to stay depressed for the sake of somewhat mediocre prose. I know better than that from experience and I am very thankful about that.

What amuses me though, is the twenty-plus loyal visitors that I seem to get every day. I too do the same, religiously following certain blogs on a daily basis, but the gulf in the quality of the content is so vast that it is laughable to even try and compare. So, this is for those twenty-plus loyalists, a huge thank you from the bottom of my blogheart. May the power of the "submit" button be with you!

April 01, 2004

Want

I have to admit that the recent past has indeed been a curious passage of time. Not that I had not noticed it earlier too, but I myself am not too sure of what the program or the endgame is. That being the case, I have to stop every now and then to take an unbiased look at what had happened. These are only little scattered dots that I am trying to join. I have no definite idea of what the final picture would be like. It feels so much like looking out of the train's window as it runs deeper into the embrace of the pitch darkness ahead.

I guess it is time I gave all these silly metaphors some rest and try and speak like normal people do. For a long time I have wanted to step out of the trap of living every aspect of my life as a statement. I have also wanted to listen to what I was hearing without reflexively slotting it into some great theory. The toughest want to crack though, is still the giving up bit. I am still prone to ego-charged episodes of wanting to salvage something where there is nothing left, that is worth anything, to salvage.

And it is not like there are no problems anymore. They are still very much there. I guess they would be there forever and we have managed to work out something of a tentative time-share arrangement. I still cannot figure out most people, the things they believe in and so on. Being the perpetual misfit that I am, I certainly do not understand where I fit into all of this. There will always be people whom I have failed and vice versa too. That is the risk in living and given a choice I would always risk the hurt and live.

At times, it feels very awkward and extremely vulnerable. It feels like walking on a tightrope without the safety harness. Nevertheless, it feels extremely nice not to have an agenda to stick to all the time and to feel like a silly paper boat tossed and thrown about in the drain. To answer your questions, it is not love. It is beyond it and for the first time in my life I feel that I am living by my choice than by chance and the best bit is that I do not have any apologies to make about it.

March 24, 2004

Imperfection

The fragility of life never ceases to amaze me. Pull a string here, another there and the whole fabric falls apart. The entire structure in itself is in many ways an illusion in itself. What means a lot to me might mean nothing to you and vice versa too. My fabric is an elaborate tapestry of delusions; Delusions of independence, isolation, fairness and unconditional reliability. Can we have some goddamn simplicity in the house please?

You know, my worst nightmare is to drown to my death. It is so scary that I often feel like hitting my hairdresser in his face when he washes my hair before he cuts it. Sometimes I feel the same about trusting anyone. I can go to great lengths to do things for people who mean anything or everything to me, but I hardly let anyone in. For a long time I thought it was just a phase, with time it would all change, especially considering the way I have grown up. But of late it has been giving me the 'hairdresser feeling' and it is not funny.

Trust in itself, though, is a funny thing. Some are only too willing to give it away for the least important of things, while others give it away after a lot of careful thought and consideration. What bothers me is that I just cannot seem to give it away, even when I would want to. Have you ever screamed at yourself, "lose the grip on yourself"? I can hear myself screaming that to myself and there is nothing I can do about it. At least it seems to be that way.

What bothers me most is not even that, but that in the process I end up hurting people close to me who mean no harm to me. They want to do something, anything, in return for the 'oh-so-grand-and-unconditional-support' that I provide them and there is seemingly zilch that they can do. It has happened once, twice and time and again when I have had one person or the other failing to touch me in the way they would want and take it as some kind of shortcoming about themselves. How do you explain it to them that it has nothing to do with them, it is all about you, and not sound condescending too?

Sometimes I wish it were all so simple. Simple enough to love people who matter to you without having to care about give and takes and silly measures that quantify the most insignificant of things. However, I do see the unfairness of the whole situation. I do not think I would want to be on the receiving end of what I dole out and find out that there is nothing I can give in return. Regardless, you have to take your pick, nah? Still, so much time is spent on trying to rock the boat, in trying to understand and comprehend. At the end of the day why would you want to understand imperfection anyway?

March 22, 2004

Outcome

"You have changed a lot", she told me just moments before we went our separate ways. That was how our first meeting in over 18 months ended, with my impromptu hug eliciting that semi-astonished response. If it was a while back in time, I would have still been lost in analysing and dissecting that moment and the previous moments that led to it. I guess I am learning, finally, to stop thinking about living and actually do the living. I know it must sound quite abnormal, but that was precisely what I used to do.

In trying to deal with all the bitterness and the pain of times past, what often gets lost is the grip that we have on the present. Miracles can happen only if you believe in it and want it too. In a lot of ways, life too is a miracle, if you do not believe in it and if you do not want it to happen, it just will not. If you put in an effort to start every day, for whatever reasons, the simple fact is that you did want it. That being the case, the rest of the details are peripheral. What matters more is to make it as good as it is possible.

I know I must be sounding like one of those new-age living experts. But my reasoning is not based on the karmic cycle or the importance of chi, it is based on just one simple question: Do I want to feel the same way when I am 35 someday? It is not as if life is pretty easy otherwise. It is so much of an effort most times and the last thing I want is more self-created and unwanted complications that serve no end at all. Prolonged conversations with sadness tire me now; I can certainly live without more of those.

Which is why I had said earlier that in any case there is only so little we can do anyway. Give things a shot, maybe two, even three more. Beyond that there is no point in trying. Once the moment is past, even the your best thrown at it won't stand a chance of sticking and in spite of your best attempts, you cannot ever win them all. Giving up is never easy, when the time comes for it, it will extract its certain price for sure, so you have to love the best, what you love the most, when you have the chance.

I'm flying because I have stopped fearing the eventual fall. I am letting my heart lead the way even when I know the possible and probable outcomes. But I honestly believe in living not to regret tomorrow that maybe I had left something unsaid, maybe I had left a face untouched, maybe there was something more I could have done and maybe there was an another valley that I could have flown over. And for that I am way much happier than I have been in a long long while. I probably don't say that often enough.

There, of course, is the constant companionship of lack of resolution in many an issue. But what can one do about them? Resolution, eventually, depends on all the people involved wishing precisely that and if all that is doing is to drag you down along with it, it is just not worth it. Life, yours or mine, deserves more than that and it is nothing but hard work that will deliver that. Life should seriously amount to more than feeling guilty about being happy just because of other people's sadness and it was about time I realised that.

At the end of the day, it is a given that the sources of happiness will always be fewer than the ones for sadness. Those numbers alone would dictate that it is not worth living a life, even at age 110, to remember only the sad things. Hindsight being the bitch that she is, there will always be things that could have been done better. Eventually it all boils down to doing the best you can, at a given point in time, the rest is just a mystery, maybe it will work next time, maybe it won't. To try is about all what you can do.

March 17, 2004

Spellbreaker

It is pretty obvious that one cannot do much in most circumstances. If it was otherwise, we would not have to battle constantly the temptation to run away, as far as possible, from everything. Actually, it is not as if things are looking down, they are not exactly looking up either, but considering the massive chaos that surrounds me, this is the most by means of calm that I have ever had the privilege of having.

During the course of meandering through a thousand faces and the outcomes of another thousand or more indirectly related actions, the wheel of life spins evermore faster, circumventing any attempts by the yarn to break free of the spindle's intentions. I am flying and as long as I do not look down, to see how low or how high I am flying, it should be okay. Ground beware, I might hit you any day.

Don't you feel that we spend a lot of time getting first getting tangled up horribly and then go about trying to disentangle ourselves? Wait, do not answer that, I should know well by now that I suffer from a very unique form of weirdness. Regardless, if that is the case then, what is left is not much, right? Guess I am glad, in a lot of ways, to be way too tired to even think.

March 03, 2004

Theatre

If you have not tried it yet, you should certainly go vegetable shopping at half past ten in the night. It is a quite a memorable experience to see all that brightly lit up greenery in a setting that gets even more deserted with the passage of time. Yes, it does not assure you quality, mornings are the best time for that, but who in the world ever gets all of what they want in one go? Concentrate on the experience, sir. The experience, I say!

For the unlucky, the act of living is not something to be taken for granted. It takes an overwhelming amount of courage, energy and maturity to persist with it over time, all for the medal of just having lived. And in that very ordinary drama called life passes a season or two, even beyond extraordinary, lighting up the darkness with the delight of a comet tearing through the heart of an otherwise resilient night sky. Leaving you wondering, wandering, looking and forever anticipating the improbable next.

Eventually, it is very hard to change from what you really are. The point being that we might all like/love thugs, doctors, politicians or even bank robbers, but as long as the feeling is unadulterated and beyond self-reproach, the rest hardly matters, as long as your priorities are properly in place. Maybe, I am only telling myself all of this, just another chapter from the 'let's-try-this-again' manual of approaching life. Maybe this one might just work, maybe it won't. There are always more chapters to follow.

As the roles tire playing themselves out on the elevated plateau of life, the out of character actor, in a fleeting moment of nakedness, struggles to find his own face in the mirror. There are stagnant wisps of cigarette smoke, cheap make up and mocking expressions that stand between him and the shiny surface. The only refuge is the camouflage of the scripted line, the delivery of another's emotions and the adulation of the audience. Bow, smile and move on. Thankfully, encores are an unpleasant rarity.

February 25, 2004

Sleep

At night in bed I patiently wait for the arrival of sleep, like a husband awaits his tired and weary housewife. And when she arrives finally, after having taken care of everyone else, we make love in an ordinary and matter-of-factly way. It has of late become an unavoidable necessity. It is more like an agreement or a treaty signed in alcohol's ink, which evaporates in a flash.

It takes more than a while to understand and accept that is more important to know how things are, than how they came to be. Life starts all over again then, sort of an unpleasant, uneventful and dreamless sleep. One that leaves you unchanged from the perspective of freshness, a string of continuous and predictable monotony, running towards and away from death at the same time.

A sharp tamarind-like taste oozes from the corners of my mouth, like muffled words of protest that wants to emerge out of my firmly closed mouth. The room is now illuminated only by the television that paints its own confused pantomime on the walls. It is the customary precursor to the long-awaited arrival as more images flash by. Few more minutes and she would be here. I cross my fingers.

Like a distant oasis, a new resolve emerges. I have already started to feel like a recently moulted snake. Only bits of the old skin remain now. Sans substance, it looks uncomfortably hollow. Dead, translucent tissue. I am not unhappy anymore, but I am not happy either. At the most it can be called relief, relative and temporary. Like the movie name goes, I guess, this is as good as it gets.

It is late now, I must slide into her arms before the alcohol wears off, into the cacophony inside my head. Morning is just a few hours away and it will soon be at my doorstep, with its bag full of recycled purpose, targets, tangents and destinations. High time I made my escape and as if on cue there she comes.

February 20, 2004

Memory

The greatest burden that persistence places on you is the not-so-welcome virtue of impatience. Since the endgame is already known, all you want to do get the rites of passage out of the way as soon as possible and move on towards the next world. Only if it were that easy. The lords of emotions, sentiments and memories rule their lands with an iron hand which no one can escape. It is only after one pays the required homage in the currency of tears, seemingly unending darkness and wasted time, the soul is unburdened and set free.

Beyond which the same landscape rises again, under the glare of a new day's sun, like a patient emerging out a deep coma. There is so much to be learnt, so many places to go and so many things to look back at, all without the customary bitterness that used to haunt these same alleyways. Life often feels like a screw's worn thread, you never know how much longer it will hold. A turn and another and it all lets go. Back to square one again, turn and same result. And one day it holds. Finally, we have reached the end of the lords' kingdom. Freedom.

It is not as much about vindication as it is about lending a hand to hold on to, when it is needed the most, even if it goes against every single thing you ever stood for. It is not as much about spelling things out as it is about reading correctly the bouts of silence. It is not as much about counting the moments of your presence as it is about counting the moments of your absence. In the end, it is not as much about remembering the times that you disliked about someone as it is about remembering the times you liked. It is all so simple, yet so very difficult.

February 17, 2004

Nainital

And we went driving on Friday, in near-zero visibility and over ledges that could barely be described as roads, towards a quaint old town that grew up from the shores of a lake. The higher we climbed, the colder the wind became and it gradually blew away the foliage of misery that has come to litter the grounds of life. For once, I felt no need to sweep it off, this was going to be a short-lived pleasure. The leaves could wait.

With a flourish of romantic keystrokes I could have called the town, I saw at four in the morning, surreal. But it was not, it was just a town that was about to wake up. We started walking towards the center, while the others drove on ahead trying to find a place to stay. The lake, reaching far out on our left, did not take any notice. It has seen so many city slickers in its time and continued on its slumber, caressed every now and then by the moon lazily glistening over another tiny wave or two.

After couple of hours of sleep in a room that looked like a drawing straight out of a kindergarten sketchbook we were out again. A town that still had its shutters down, for a cause we cared little about, greeted us with its trademark lethargy. The sun was shining down in full force now and another dimension was added to the enduring confusion in my life. I definitely liked the place, but I did not like it enough to stay there for good, this was just another temporary destination, another rock the river would touch. The ocean, this was not.

We eventually found our sustenance, in an even tinier town, 12 kilometers from where we were. The main road twisted and turned through the collection of houses and shops in a boa-like manner. And onwards we went from there, with no definite plans or destinations, making decisions on the fly and then we stopped at what was the best part of the journey - a tea nursery.

It was nestled in a valley with huge hills in the distance, on a terrain that was deliciously up and down. The calm was something to be experienced. Every now and then the wind would pick up, gently howling its way through the trees like a Mexican wave and fade away, only to unexpectedly start again from another part. We were served cups of tea made from the finest leaves, it had the colour of the setting sun and tasted like honey.

I told my boss that, come Monday, he could hire someone new. I was not going anywhere from there.

Later, we spent a lot of time lazing around in an island in the middle of a huge lake, ate some horribly cooked and greasy Chinese food and made our way back to the quaint town. Over boiled eggs, heady rum and an assortment of food, that I cannot recollect much about, we bitched and cursed about every possible thing we could dig up.

It was so much like being back in college, it was so much fun and it so had to end, come Sunday morning.

The drive back was not fun, at least most parts of it was not. Places that we drove through at breakneck speeds on late Friday night were now packed with people and we were crawling through most tiny towns. The only saving grace was the highways that were flanked by lush green wheat fields on either side. I wanted that part to never end.

But it did end, at eight in the night, when I got back to my tiny home and the musty, smelly routine called life.

Even as short as it was, the trip was a great thing. It has been thirteen months since I had headed out of town and this was a very welcome break. The past few months have not been good and the worst is not over yet. There is so much work to be done, a few loose ends need tying up before I can move on.

This little journey is only a reflection of another journey that has come to an end. My work here is over; I have paid my dues; the mansion of memories need to be locked up and the keys given to time?s keeper.

To where, when and why are questions that will only answer itself in the time that is to come.

For now, I am a slave only to momentum.

February 09, 2004

Intergalactic

I thought I would write the obligatory 'winter-turns-to-summer-and-there-is-plenty-of-sweat-to-go-around' post, but I did not. There is no particular reason I have to give for sparing the world and its mongrels from another incredibly repetitive metaphorical onslaught. I just did not feel like it, like how very married people approach sex after being umm.. very married for a long time. So what do I write about?

I could start with how Potatoface is once again the target of my inscrutable snubbing, move on to the finer details of another 'unproductive-yet-productive-sounding' conversation with Pintsize and end with how dreary and dull the day has been and yes, the smell of sweat of course, how can anyone ignore it when it constantly rises up the nostrils in an endless stream?

Obviously, nobody actually notices any of this, precisely because nobody ever did. Add zero to zero, subtract zero from zero, it is only zero in the end. The benefit of being classified as a "weird one" is that I can laugh out loud for no reason, hop like a marsupial down the hallway and talk to myself, without anyone giving it a second glance. Normalcy? Perish the thought!

But we are digressing from a totally pointless and inane post here. Earth calling Mars, Earth calling Mars, Come back, come back. What do you think? Mars has nothing to do in life? Mars will not come back, Earth might as well go to hell. Earth going to hell? That should be something. Will Earth actually fit in hell? Imagine. Sorry Mr. Earth, we can't let you in, you are, apparently, very oversize. Hell regrets the inconvenience.

Forget Mars, we must go on, regardless. Fight them on the beaches (I should point out here that the nearest ocean is at least a thousand kilometres away, but what the heck) and fight them in the pubs (this one is more likely). And when the time finally comes, we will sneak out of town like bank robbers, move out with our cargo of worries and leave them all dumbfounded. Now, how in the world did they manage that?

For now, that will have to wait. Excuse me miss, we are too busy digging trenches, you are either with us or against us. Bomber or the bombed, which one do you pick? Psst.. hint.. hint.. bomber.. bomber.. No, it was not me! It was him, the man in the long black coat who was doing the prompting! Pat, pat, we are too smart for them. Them don't see the obvious, we always see what them can't see. Agreed, not to good effect all the time.

The clock, though, is ticking and ticking fast (evil grin). The date has been set, these moments are your last. Summers will go away and winters will be back. A few more days and I won't cut you anymore slack. We'll rip off all the pages and start a new chapter; colour it with smiles and there will be no more vile laughter. And thus it ends, all set to a marching band. Was it not fun, was it not fun?

Now, why do you look at me like that?

February 02, 2004

Experiment

"So, you've known it all this while?" She asked in a surprised tone.

"Yes, I have. You thought I did not?" I replied.

"Yeah," came the 'damn-what-do-I-say-now' response.

It is a graphic description of how much you can talk about an issue, one which everyone pretends to be unaware of, and still not talk about it at all.

Did it smart? Yes and no. No to the degree and yes to the sensation. It is something like getting bruised. Each subsequent trip to the doctor, after the first, is always a degree lesser in intensity in the suffering it causes. But I am doing rather well, taking the blows in my stride and moving on, philosophising, rationalising and commenting here in a 'yes-baby-I-know-it-all' manner, in the hope that the frequent non-seperation from the subject matter would degrade with time and with some luck, erase itself from my memory.

Then there are excuses. And then there are reasons and arguments. Like two old friends at a common acquaintances's memorial service, we would recount past instances, tally the notes, cry a lot, laugh a bit and agree that it was a good chap and it was a good time. Then we would go back to our respective lives, to brood, to rejoice, to bring up kids, buy a house, buy a car, pay back loans and tell ourselves facts that have been written before, a million times, about time and its merciless progress and then move on to yet another compartment of our worldly worries.

It is in this background that I find myself more and more attracted to the status of being incommunicado. The words here only express a minute portion of the 'broken-record' feeling. Change a few faces, a name or two and the story remains the same. I can't ignore for much longer the cries of the salesman within me, loudly advertising the latest exchange offer to get rid of the old and get something new. But I do not want anything new, I just want to keep quiet, not say anything at all and demonstrate to myself how life goes on regardless.

But the thing I want to least look at is my sense of judgement and value. It has already had a very checkered history and to be very honest, is becoming quite a liability. A liability that I cannot quite get rid of. But what do I replace it with? To live without feeling is an oxymoron and quite a stupid concept. After all, it is a matter of proportion, there must be a right one for me too. A concept not very unlike the existence of life elsewhere in the universe. We do not quite know where it is, but we sure do hope and spend a mammoth amount of energy and time on it, while ordinary life here pass us by, unnoticed.

January 30, 2004

Carmanomics

If you look at it, every relationship is not only what you feel towards another person, but also what you think the other person feels towards you. So, in every relationship we have a minimum of four streams of feelings. And if we consider even that staggering number as a known benchmark, it is a miracle of enormous proportions that so many people find love on this planet and so many different types too. "What type is your love? Oh! Type 32? Lovely! I know at least four others who belong to Type 32."

The worst type of relationships to be in are ones where there is no quid pro quo. You are in it for reasons that you cannot list. Yes, it is that 'feeling' again. And any attempt to verify it by predictable, sane or impartial behaviour is, I should warn you, destined to meet with certain failure. And no sir, this shop does not take back broken goods. Which is why it is hard to reclaim it. After all, there is only a 'feeling' that is involved. That gone, there is nothing to fall back on. And that is why it hurts the way it does. C'mon, the emperor did not get a refund after he realised he was strutting around in the buff, so why should you?

On the other hand, ones where there is a quid pro quo is a situation of bliss like one of those Japanese cars. As long as you fill it with petrol, give it the regular service shop run, it will run all day, every day. "Give me fuel, I give you reliability" (Insert drum roll and trumpet call here). Tell you what, from that perspective, growing up and 'maturing' in life must be something like giving up on dreams of owning a Ferrari without having to take care of the bills. Dumb it down, stop hopping down stairs, stop sliding down the hand rails. Look ma, I grew up finally!

You might say, though, that we should not judge an outcome before it actually arrives, all it requires is for you to persist with the intent. But intent does not quite sanitise the outcome. Case I) X kills Y in self-defence ; Case II) X kills Y with an intent to kill. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, regardless of the intent, the outcome is murder in both cases. And away from murderous intentions, it is often possible to factor in probable outcomes and once that is in place, the futility of the intent becomes all too apparent, as I have been finding in the past days.

Sometimes, when you search frantically for that elusive thread that would give you at least one count of validation, what gets lost is the fact that it amounts to nothing. It takes a while before it sinks in that your numbers were wrong, even worse when you know that you always knew it was wrong. And the most ridiculous bit is that you were a willing accessory to your own murder, with complete knowledge of the intent. Regardless, the seasons change, birds get back to making out once the flu goes away that is, the strokes deliver babies again and in general, life goes on.

You know, we spend so much time on communicating or at least trying to achieve that as an end. Still, so much of that time is spent either on telling precisely what another person wants to hear. The amount of predictable reactions is simply amazing. Give out a smile, two greetings and three good words in a row and we can all live in a perfect world. But it can't be all that complicated, right? We do not need to have all this mumbo jumbo about numbers, validation and crap. Yeah right, like you ever get to own Ferraris without the bills. Is it any wonder that the Japs rule the car market these days?

P.S: Congrats to the crew there. Pretty nice bit of work for a first issue with the budget and other constraints.

January 28, 2004

Surrender

I laughed for the first time in so many days today. Now, you might wonder what is there so much to be written about a guy laughing. You might even wonder if it is one of those "I bathed my dog today after 25 days" blog entries. But, but, but, what you cannot be is to be me and understand the value of that laughter, how precious it is to find that after god-knows-how-long spent in trying to figure out what the hell is the whole point to your existence. You can call it alcohol-induced, you can call it lunatic, you can call it any damn thing you want, but you cannot understand how much this laughter means to me.

To understand it better, you need to be in a position where you want to cry your heart away, for no reason. Well, there are reasons, but for convenience's sake we won't get into all that. And even then you cannot cry. Why? Because if you break down, you want to break down where you'd be taken care of, for an instant, for a few instances, for a few minutes, for any measure of time. Now, that luxury not being there, and there being bills to pay, pretences to keep up, what you are left with is laughter, not the sardonic, sadistic, self-mutilating laughter, but one where the simplest of things defeat you, where the most complicated of approaches don't even leave a scratch.

To understand it better, you need to know the value of the proverbial last straw, you should know how much value a stranger's unwarranted smile encapsulates, when there is not a single, not a single fucking goddamn reason to live. That is when you retrace your steps, that is when you start being grateful, being grateful for the tiniest littlest things. Things like you can still remember who you are, what your name is and what you should be doing in a day. Now, you cannot understand that, can you? I am sure I must have hit at least 7 your Richter scale of insanity. Did I break the previous mark? Haanh, haanh?

If there is anything that has stood by me through all these years, it is work. Hell, no one can complain if you work too much. You want to work on your off days too? Great! The lad is hard worker. The lad is a go-getter. No one will tell anyone that the lad is fucking loser and that this is the only thing that makes sense for him. Work is a low-maintenance spouse. Imagine getting paid for keeping a wife. No, we are not talking dowry here. But yeah, I owe it a damn lot and it has stood by me when nothing else would. Progression of the career path is inversely related to the progress in the personal life. Strange ain't it? Not really, it is just a case of two prostitutes making out and later paying each other. A case of equal opportunity costs.

But why? We all start from the same lovelorn look on two people's faces and end in the same pot of ash, gutter or even under that bit of earth, if we are lucky. Well, I do not know. Sue me, but I just have no fucking idea. Not that you have a lot to gain from suing me, but I honestly do not know. What stops me from being a conformist? Pride? Ego? I just do not know, there is not a lot of either left within me, it is only, actually, a feeling of deja vu. If macro does not make sense, the micro should? Nopes, it does not, that is when you run of of space to run. Where to, when, why?

That, is when you start picking at each thread in the fabric of life. To see what each thread means. Lucky you, you did find at least a few hundred meters of worthy yarn there. Me? I am still searching for mine. The past has different shades, textures and feel depending on the person you talk to. The present is a tangled mess and the future is where one needle steadfastly refuses to dance with the other. What if the present is really abstract? What if it is picture-perfect and I lied to you? What if I knitted a nice sweater and showed you what was left of the yarn? A tangled mess.

Fooled ya! I fooled ya'all! There is nothing there. My life is just a set of constructs that belong a number of people I have no definite count of. I exist only as an entity of opinion in a few peoples' mind, beyond that there is nothing. In them I search for myself and when I cannot find it, I get lost. And this is one of those times where I cannot find myself. I cannot find the answers for what I am supposed to feel, know and realise. I roughly know what it should all be with relation to another. But just for myself? I have no idea. Can you imagine that? Well, you really can't. That degree of idiocy is really very singular.

I am tired of bracing, the oft-repeated drills leading towards survival. Hello, it was not meant to be this way. Where did it all go wrong? Or is it that I am the only one right, in a world of wrong. Wake up! Who am I trying to kid? It is not possible. The world is right, I am wrong. Where do we discuss the terms of surrender? Where do we sign the terms of submission? How many of my beliefs would you leave unharmed, how many would you slaughter? At the end of the day, it was all rather uneventful, not much was said about it and the only pre-condition was that someone please make Madonna stop walking in her music videos!

January 21, 2004

Process

Rationalisation. The process by which we attempt to make the unfamiliar and unacceptable, both familiar and acceptable. You cannot manage it? Try harder, think it over a million times if need be. Hidden among all those things is your elusive explanation that would give a it flow, fit things into a pattern and even if you were in the wrong, make it a justifiable wrong. Aha! There. Gotcha! You were right all this while, were you not?

Recollection. The first step towards rationalisation. Work your way backwards towards the cause from the effect. To put it more precisely, towards a more plausible and acceptable effect. Geeks call it disassembly, the meek call it hindsight. Read a novel from the last page towards the beginning, give things colours that the author never intended to give. You knew it all the time. I know, you told me so.

Confusion. The part where the wheat and the chaff find they are in conjugal bliss before they are separated at the sieve of the first R. Fact looks like fiction, fiction looks like fact. This heady orgy is a journey of ecstasy, pain, joy, confusion, anger and disappointment. The ecstasy of detachment, of a lumbering part severing, the joy of an anticipated separation, the impulsive pain and anger of loss, finally, the disappointment of nothing having changed.

Realisation. The eradication of the latency between it happening and knowing what happened. Rubbing the eyes as hard as possible and the search for an exit button from the unwanted dream having failed, this is the first of the bitter medicines. It cures, eventually. The course needs to be followed religiously. It is only a mild from of reconciliation, socially more accepted too. No noticeable side effects. Can't you see the first R in the distance?

Desolation. The island of misery where the unfortunate come to roost. A land beyond the reach of any R, C or any other letter. There is only the ocean of misery filled that is refilled over and over again by the tears of the unfortunate. Every unfortunate has a rivulet of tears that runs from him till the ocean of misery. Every teardrop asks a simple question for which there is no answer, simple or otherwise. The unfortunate are destined to keep crying forever.

Postcards

Given a choice what would you pick, an out-and-out lie or a sugarcoated lie? What do you do when you have run like hell to escape that feeling and still, at the end of the day, you can see it rising before the setting sun, like a silhouette. Your legs are weary, you have no idea where you are and the whole world speaks a language in which you can do anything but express yourself. Sweet irony. Bittersweet irony. No, just bitter irony.

Capitulation finally? What to? What more can you be branded with? What difference does a dozen more make when your body is already riddled with a million barbs? But, wait, do not touch even one of them. It is much easier to live (sweet, bittersweet, just bitter irony again) when the wounds drain the life out at its own desired pace. It is much easier to not know whose barb it was. Close your eyes and the pain is almost not there.

Open eyes, the wounds follow. Don't you cut a despicable sight? Laugh, laugh more and laugh harder. Make yourself a joke, make yourself the subject of ridicule, let that collection box of accusations fill, fling yourself on the ground, stamp on it, jump in with the crowd, make merry and laugh. Laugh so much that you can lie later that those were tears of joy. It was funny, was it not funny? I thought it was. It was, I am telling you. But I can't tell you how much it hurts. Is that not funny?

An interlude is a period between compositions or within a composition. An interlude is time-off from degrees of perfection, routine and predictability. Interlude is you, me and you. An interlude lacks finesse, dedication, attention to detail and any sort of investment. It is only an interlude after all. An interlude is remembrance's illegitimate child who belongs only to the gutter. And I am your favourite interlude.

It's like the difference between a picture postcard and the real place. It never matches up and with every disappointment hope takes a beating. Eventually, you will be just about prosperous again to afford another of those expensive smiles and trudge on till another of those postcards arrive. But what is all the fuss about, it was only a silly postcard after all and no one takes them seriously. Do you? At least I do.

January 12, 2004

Reborn

On days like these thoughts of any kind refuse to cross over to my mind. Kick it, coax it, choke it, still the mind just refuses to feel anything, entombed its cozy phlegmatic womb. I have a task at hand which requires more than just thoughts, it requires original thought. The harder I grapple, the faster it slips, till I find my unwilling refuge in the blank 'I'll bite you' look, presented like a rattlesnake's warning to the outside world.

Late afternoon and the road to the market has lines of some kind running along its length till the eye can see. We jostle and snarl in search of supremacy derived from our respective internal combustion mechanisms. Red to green we go and till the next red we race. Few more turns and the market lines up far ahead in my vision, the crowd is way too large, there is hardly any space to park, after my customary bout of indecision I make my way out of there.

Many of these places have changed a lot in the past months, not that I did not notice the change, just that I did not bother to look. Places are so much like people. As the greyness starts to put on a darker shade, I park by the side of one of our favourite joints. It is strange how I have come to doing so many things by myself. If stag entry was not such a huge issue at most places I'd have even tried dancing alone. Not a pretty sight, I agree, but who cares.

Maybe the outside was much more cheerful than in here. I have nothing to read as I wait for the food to arrive and when it finally does I realise yet again that the anticipation was tastier than the real food. Somehow, it never measures up. I do not know why my tonsils feel as if someone has been filing at it for a long time. Which is fair enough considering the state I was in on Friday night, I could have been thrown down from a tower and still not known what happened.

Back home and then the walk to the multiplex in the neighbourhood to see if my luck would hold with a late evening movie. FULL. Hands in jacket pockets, I make my way back home once again and the bookshop sucks me in as I am reminded of something. Thankfully, it is not as well-stocked as it could have been. I pick Kundera's Immortality and another one. I do not know what I am going to have for dinner, but I do know what I am going to read.

As another spring approaches, the old tree spreads its branches in anticipation of the new flock that would eventually take shelter, till they are done with the nesting for the year, before they take away to far away lands, never to be seen or heard from again. Save the odd case, this year has been good, the flock is hale and hearty, with strong wings and cheerful hearts. What can the tree complain about when the season is over? It is only fated to stand till its eternity.

You know, it feels like some sort of dialysis. New replaces the old, for a life that seldom amounts to much. It is only the last few ounces of resistance that the body is experiencing now. There is no point fighting a life that is being drained out, there is nothing that prevents it, there is nothing that wants it. Fleeting images, cries and questions turn more incomprehensible, a muffled last gasp, new blood flows into a numb body. I am reborn and you are history.

Still, every passing hour leaves its mark. As the grain of sand slips from under the feet, the message of your own ineffectiveness is profoundly reflected in everything. What you do not have becomes more and more apparent, what you have is only worth a fleeting indulgence. No one will take your hand and dare to dream. Eventually, ordinariness takes over everything. Is it a rapidly spreading disease or is it just my extravagant dementia?

In just a matter of hours another day will begin, one that I'd approach with renewed vigour and whatever I have left in my little bag of hope. When I walk out of my door I'd see the sun shining bright, I'll tell myself it is okay, even if no one understands I can always tell my story to myself. Even if no one else would walk to the edge, I'd still walk all the way there and stand there alone till the day my legs fail me. I don't want to stop, ever.