Saturday, 15 August 2020

Master of the Game

The greatest players are the ones who make the difficult seem so easy that it seems they got some serious cheat codes up their sleeves in life. When the impossible is finally made possible, legends as such possess an uncanny knack of being found at the centre stage. And yet as the much-deserved spotlight inches towards them, they choose to gently recede away from the euphoria and towards their preferred state of equanimity, leaving the glorification for the rest of the world. Some call it chance, others heroism. But for the artist, it is just another day’s work.

Ever since Martin Guptill managed to disturb the stumps in the 2019 WC semi-finals with a direct hit that found him a few feet short of the crease – and entire India short of the shores of hope – followers of the game could see this day coming. ‘When’ was the only pertinent question and it has been put to rest today. Given the pace of happenings in 2020, this too shall pass. And that is perhaps the most appropriate phrase to summarise the extravagant legacy that is MS Dhoni’s contributions to the game of cricket, the awe-inspiring list of his achievements and his approach towards life at large.

2003 world cup was the time that 11-year-old me developed a serious fascination for the game and ever since I saw the men in blue lose to (arguably) the best squad ever assembled in the game of cricket, seeing my team lift that trophy was a dream I started sharing with a billion fellow countrymen. Our generation knew the folklore of 1983 and the sheer epicness of the occasion but would find it too far into the past to truly relate with. When a hitherto surgical Misbah ‘iceberg’ Ul Haq from Pakistan – enchanted momentarily by the devil perhaps – popped a deceptive slower one up in the air (when he could literally have done anything with that delivery) and into the hands of an erratic Sreesanth at short fine leg, it meant India were the winners of the debut edition of T20 World Cup in 2007. The sight of the long locks of Dhoni (recently dyed black from blond) flying in the winds of Johannesburg was not only a soothing balm over the wounds of the painful knock-out suffered at the hands of Bangladesh earlier that year at the 50 over world cup, but also one of the most joyful and vivid memories of childhood.

But the true longing was far from fulfilled. And it would come to our shores in 2011 in the next edition of the 50 over world cup. The long locks had vanished with the ravages of time and the toils of captaincy, transforming the artist into a stoic – unmoved by the fleeting vagaries of countless victories and defeats. The journey to the finals wasn’t as romantic as in 2003 but the finale at Wankhade amidst a sensitively passionate home crowd, was the biggest sporting event for 21st century India. It was a matter of collective pride for a billion, the biggest bet with everyone ‘all in’, the mauka, if ever there was one.

It is impossible to get even a hint of what Captain Cool would have thought or felt. When the Gods of chance – hitherto firmly by his side, evidently – had played one against him at the moment of his life as he lost the chance to bat first in a pressure game that would make even the depths of Mariana Trench crumble. Or when Jayawardene demolished his bowlers at the death overs, posting the highest ever score in a WC final. Or when he lost both his openers (legends in their own right) within the first 5 overs of the chase. Or when he walked into bat ahead of Yuvi (who had had a dream tournament with the bat and the bowl) with an asking rate of almost a run a ball and less than half the total runs required on the board.

These are equations and calculations that would make mere mortals shudder, let alone be able to compute or act. But in yet another mesmerising display of grit and his characteristic brand of rugged, street smart, unorthodox but highly effective batsmanship, the last Jedi managed to hail the Force yet again to accomplish the impossible. Ravi Shastri’s now immortal words declared it on air as MS Dhoni smacked the bowler straight back for a mammoth six, steady eyes following the projectile off his bat into the maddening crowd of thousands – who were collectively chanting Vande Mataram minutes ago – unwavering, unmoved as if failing to register the immensity of the occasion. It took a dancing and jumping Yuvraj Singh for him to respond in a manner fit for an emotional being, as he pulled one stump off the ground as a personal memento of victory – the most priceless one in his enormous kitty. The fact that Sunil Gavaskar wants the image of that six to be the last thing he watches before he dies is by no means an exaggeration. The cricket fanatic in me had finally seen it all, as had everyone who had ever watched the game or tried to mimic their idol’s stance in a gully or a ground.

Cricket was ushered into the collective conscience by Kapil Dev’s immortal heroics at Lord’s in 1983. It was carried through its most turbulent times under the quiet class of Azharuddin and completely redefined by the explosive swag of Dada. Greats of the game like Sachin, Dravid and Kumble also gave it their blood, sweat and tears. But it took the unassuming calm and unwavering stoicism of MS Dhoni to put together a team of 11 men who could make history repeat itself after 28 years. There are countless other times where his genius presence of mind, wicked (or weird – your call) strategic manoeuvres and lightning fast glove work both in front and behind the wicket have produced unforgettable moments of magic. But 2007 and 2011 are two memories most of us will carry throughout our lives – in 1080p.

The incredible journey from a ticket examiner in Indian railways who just loved hitting balls to becoming the most successful captain in modern cricket has been documented and recounted millions of times. His burgeoning legacy was so unequivocally impressive that it even ended up as a major motion picture on the celluloid at a time when he was still playing, believing he still had a few tricks up the sleeves for us. But sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. ‘You can’t always get what you want’ and even the mighty MS Dhoni couldn’t escape that heavy burden of always.

Beneath that helmet and under that jersey is a man all of us recognize but perhaps no one really knows. He is an iconoclast, an absolute enigma, a mystery we only believe we understand because the story always seemed too exciting to miss. But perhaps it was just an artist going about his work in the way he understood best, equally oblivious to both admiration and criticism. And that, unsurprisingly, was enough. He is less a man of words than deeds but the legend of Dhoni tells us what we have already been told several times before –

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same,
If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss,
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

O Captain, My Captain. Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

बोल के लब आज़ाद हैं तेरे

You do not always have deep disagreements with good, old friends on something fundamental or existential. But when you do, it makes you put your bum on a chair to spell out your thoughts. Not just for the record but because it also happens to be something that you have been thinking about increasingly over the past 5 years. What lies at the heart of these thoughts is what is going for the record here and has been duly summarised at the very end in just two lines for your convenient reference, in case you want to save yourself from the tyranny of few minutes of peaceful self-expression.

(Why 5 years you ask? Random and unremarkable, except perhaps for the fact that it happens to coincide with the first time yours truly made a choice of life and aspirations that was based on a delicate balance of ‘what we have been taught or told by people and institutions’ and ‘what we have learnt through our own individual learnings and experiences’, and not merely the former as had been the case until then. But perhaps I digress.)

Allow me to try to elaborate within the limits of time, personal wisdom and above all, the discretion that this exercise demands.

The disagreement – a tangential discussion on Swami Vivekananda’s speech at Chicago in the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 – began with the assertions (all quoted verbatim only to avoid any dilution by translation) ‘BC maine suna woh Chicago wala speech’, ‘aisa kuch extraordinary nahi hai’, which was duly seconded by ‘bring the hype down’ by another good, old friend in company. ‘International acknowledgement hai but aisa kuch nahi jaise humein market kara gaya hai’ was the contention. The POV was that back then there was no one ‘jo US jaake philosophy and religion pe baatein karta tha’ and ‘people were enamored’ by the fact that ‘in a world where (aero)plane invention was still some time away’, ‘an eastern philosopher’, ‘traveled in a ship so far away’, ‘not (to) Europe but (to) America’.

Holding Vivekananda’s ideas against contemporary philosophers, admittedly, far more worthy of adulation and following, like Nietzsche, the friend’s discontent was with the fact that ‘Indian people have literally started taking him as a God’, ‘just like some Indians do with Sachin Tendulkar, Rajnikant and all’ ‘just because he was the first to take it to the West’. The core point of contention, in case you have missed, was also duly explained later with - ‘we dont have many idols around, who broke the barrier and shone at (the) world level. Whoever does we make him a God.’

Now obviously there are a lot of subjects worth extensive debate in that just another casual interaction between 20-somethings. But dwelling on them here would be as pointless and unproductive as blankly holding any one individual/opinion in this exercise as right or wrong. However, what reminds me and makes me share what I have been thinking about increasingly over the last 5 years, is the bitter denouncement of the element of (allegedly - exaggerated) veneration of a person, whose ideas remain one of the most shining emblems of our culture, just because you ‘read his teachings’ and arrived at the conclusion that you ‘didn’t find anything interesting other than to control temptations of life like sex, money etc’ (which BTW is also the reason you feel ‘Osho makes more sense’) like ’sex mat karo’, ‘tamas ko control karo’, ‘mirror fenk do’.

This, in my humble opinion, is what happens when a little intellectual masturbation by self-proclaimed liberals and progressive individuals leads to a delusional sense of premature enlightenment at best, and at its worst, violent expressions of misguided iconoclasm that deeply affect our society today. Like I was constantly trying to assert during our conversation, such things come with their deep seated and highly sophisticated socio-political contexts and nuance which one must account for with the associated benefit of hindsight that lies at our disposal.

It is the same even while critically evaluating any person or ideology from history, for that matter. To elaborate my POV, while it is absolutely alright (even necessary) as a 20-something to disagree with Vivekananda’s views on the importance of Brahmacharya towards achieving one’s goals in life OR to criticise elements of your culture that don’t make sense to you as an individual, it is downright unjust to diminish someone’s life’s work or teachings for carrying nothing remarkable except regurgitation of ‘4000 saal pehli ki teachings’, just because one of the many happened to be a commitment to celibacy for self-actualisation that you fail to understand. To my mind, this is a gross oversimplification, misinterpretation and shallow understanding of the ideas which the spiritual leader stood and worked for in his entire short and troubled existence.

You can discover and critique his teachings or thoughts on neo-Vedanta on your own and it is not my intention AT ALL – to either defend or espouse them here, or even to talk about the historical relevance of his Chicago address. In fact, I simply can’t because I not only find myself intellectually deficient due to the lack of knowledge and profound life experiences in these domains, but also perhaps because I stand at the wrong stage of life’s journey, so as to have had adequate time for any form of spiritual development. Perhaps unlike in the late 19th century, sadly those aren’t the tools and toils of youth today. But I cannot ignore how difficult (even impossible) it is for people, even as learned and informed as me and my friends, to be able to observe and rationalise things with due context, reverence and, above all, the humility that a journey of self-actualisation asks for.

And I cannot ignore how convenient it has become in this age of internet, social media and sensationalism to develop and successfully deploy straw man arguments not just as a means to disagree and misrepresent a culture, a history, an ethnicity, a nation, a religion, an institution, a political party or an individual, but also use the same to stoke ideologies that foment feelings of divide and unrest. And I find it painfully ironical when the underlying subject itself is the primal and oldest human endeavour to further social bonding and foster collective identities which are the source of our power as sentient, intellectual, emotional beings in an unforgiving universe devoid of inherent meaning (aka religion).

To summarise, while I applaud and stand by all your rights to self determination as a means to self-actualisation - whether or not they happen to overlap with the much larger umbrella of our shared culture - I have also come to realise that it is equally important to call out the sharp edges of derogatory assertions, oversimplification, misrepresentations and misunderstandings that only serve to dilute complicated areas of human knowledge and experience by cutting them down to just a few incorrect conclusions.

It is because it is these sharp edges, which when left unchecked, can gradually get machined into lethally poisonous ideological daggers that carry the potential to rip apart the very fabric of the society over which all of us have thrived and prospered for the last few millenia (at times, apparently, too ignorantly and arrogantly as well). A fabric which has been stitched together over centuries, all the way from the gifted philosophers who conceptualised its tenets OR the generations of courageous believers who helped preserve and improve them even against constant forces of aggression OR the selfless souls who endeavored to use it to make this world a better place in deeply racist, feudal, casteist, colonial times, right up to simple individuals like you and me today who may choose to practice them in order to discover some meaning in our existence.

OR as Nietzsche would subscribe - after proclaiming 'God is dead' - in our quest towards Übermensch.

The later realisation that this discussion had to transpire today exactly one day after Swami Vivekananda’s death anniversary (which also happened to be a Sunday afternoon) was the cruel irony of circumstances that brings me (and you) here. In other news, Kanye West marked 4th of July with the declaration that he will be contesting the 2020 US presidential elections. If an avant-garde rap artist with all his flaws, stands un-apologetically for his questionable, albeit harmless and unique brand of self-expression, as a means to discover and shape ones identity in a world where death is the only truth, who are we if we cannot even admit what we believe?

"उसूलों पे आंच आये तोह टकराना ज़रूरी है,
जो ज़िंदा हो तोह ज़िंदा नज़र आना ज़रूरी है"

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Left Right Left

“Nothing exists apart from atoms and empty space. Everything else is opinion.”

I remember coming across this ancient Greek wisdom some time in my undergrad years. Being as philosophically loaded as it is, my mind would always refuse to accept the underlying cynicism and generalisation. Trained in the scientific school of thought (read ‘PCM vaale’) as most of us are (at least through the bulk of our formative years), we invariably - albeit at times only subconsciously - grow to respect, love and prefer the beauty of determinism and order in all walks of life. And while at one point or another we may end up surrendering the joys of scientific pursuit to the more brilliant of minds amongst us, it does not happen before we understand, accept and start experiencing the universe as an objective reality governed by infallible principles, laws and truths that help separate right from wrong. This means opinions can only begin where the unflinching grasp of the truth ends.

But life is more than just science and math. In fact, as we break the shells of childhood, adolescence and eventually teenage, and endeavour to discover the world on our own (beyond the vestigial learnings accrued from the preceding generation), we also break past the comfortable determinism of science and start venturing into the maddening chaos of fields of knowledge such as sociology, economics, politics and psychology. The scientific temper in us rebels at the realisation that in the multivariate analysis of life, these complex subjects carry a much bigger coefficient than science and math. This disappointment stems partly from the fact that unlike science, these fields of practical knowledge are/can-never-be correctly/exactly taught/simulated in any classroom environment (without significantly diluting their objective essence), and partly from the sheer existential dread from the realisation that in these areas of human experience, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ almost always lead to an incorrect over-simplification culminating in nihilistic self-doubt and identity crisis.

The universal lockdown of the past 2 months happened to perfectly coincide with a transition phase in yours truly's professional life. Relieved vastly of the usual toils of work, I ended up condemning my mind to immerse itself into the everyday developments across the world, just like you.

Back when I had first stumbled on to the quote, I was what I would now describe as a left liberal, and a lazy one at that. Riding high on the youthful exuberance of premature enlightenment, right wing ideologies & institutions would always seem authoritative and conservative to the extent of being dogmatic and regressive - like unnecessary relics of the past. Examining these subjects and several socio-economic developments of the times in isolation with a myopic world view, it would always seem fashionable and at times heroic to consider oneself an iconoclastic renegade, at least in thought and principle. This ideological inclination resulted from an absence of consequences for a privileged dependent adult who was still learning and living on his parent’s earnings, blissfully shielded against the direct ravages of the society (and the world at large) by the guardianship of the government institution of learning to which he belonged. Rebellion had not only seemed convenient but also the right thing to do.

But as one eventually sheds these temporary institutional asylums that foster collective identities (read ‘herd mentalities’) and strives to carve one’s own individuality and place in the world, one starts gaining cognizance of the much larger forces at play. Like a young scientific mind that wakes up one fine day to the infinite vastness of the universe, this is one of the most revealing and humbling experiences of life. Learning to watch our own backs in a world with consequences attached to every action forces us to descend from the comfortable intellectual & moral high grounds and empathise with the ideologies and institutions that we had once abhorred with misguided pride and prejudice. This happens because the cosy controlled confines of college classrooms and corridors (please appreciate the delicate alliteration) get swiftly replaced with the real world where nothing exists and happens in isolation. Every event is embedded in a context which is part of an infinite chain of causality running across ages, cultures and geography, too complex to be comprehended in entirety by any single mind.

Given enough time like one enjoys during a professional transition in a global lockdown, one gets to endeavour to peel away the multiple layers of convoluted nuance attached to any socio-economic development to try to unravel the elusive underlying ‘truth’ - constantly switching between the ideological left and the right in attempts to rationalise both perspectives in the process. Eventually, hours of aimless scrolling over endless news feeds on social media force you to return to the timeless wisdom of the ancient Greeks- that sentient intelligence evolved over millennia has helped us build a world that is too complicated to be examined and governed by just one view or ideology. Moreover, it would be pointless to force the other side to do so.

This is because in the information age constantly fuelled by technological progress, subjects like sociology, economics, politics and psychology have become such seamlessly integrated with one another, that it is virtually impossible to make an argument – ideologically left or right – in one without an implication or inherent assumption in one or more of the other. In short, the biggest problems of the 21st century are so complicated that they demand a highly sophisticated and conscientious approach towards solution.

The latent problem is the vast intellectual differential among the masses, all of whom now possess the ability to communicate (read ‘indoctrinate’) at unprecedented scale and speed. This knowledge gap is being exploited 24X7 by carefully, and at times unwittingly, crafted social media bubbles – toxic and violent echo chambers of both the left and the right and their respective ever expanding followers – that always refuse to agree on anything under the sun.

As a result, everything is an outrage or an outrage against an outrage or even an outrage over the lack of outrage, over one thing after another, day in and day out with extremely limited room for tolerant consideration towards constructive criticism. Those who even attempt to bridge the gap are labelled hypocrites or deluded and are mercilessly shamed or ostracised, until a small minority is forced to resort to unscrupulous or even violent means to get their voices heard. Such socio-political movements often culminate in a revolution that comes at the cost of years of peaceful progress and resets the game all over again. The degree and extent to which social media has normalised violence, hatred and death is a shocking testimony to same. This doesn’t end up deciding who was right, it only determines who will be left – to survive and eventually start playing the game all over again. These violent delights have violent ends.

To you, my truth will seem just like an opinion, and vice versa. 'We do not necessarily need to agree and arrive at a consensus, so long as we agree on the ground rules on how we would disagree without a consensus.' Sadly, this fundamental tenet of progressive democracy is easily lost in the complicated, fast paced, noisy and high stake socio-political discourse of our times, where vested interests and extremist ideologies keep running over the bitter truth until it looks familiar and acceptable. Perhaps like Neo from the Matrix, more of us need to be unplugged and awakened to the power of causality and consequences in the real world. Else the anomalous Agent Smiths among us and their malicious codes will continue to wreak havoc and revel in the chaos by constantly playing both sides of the table. Or we can choose to go back to the blue pill of a comfortable work life in a metro city and simply forget all this even exists, except for that occasional small talk and WhattsApp forward.


Left or right, the problem – as the Architect explains in the movie with delightful verbosity – is choice.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

ख़्याल - V

ख्यालों का मिलना ज़रूरी है, वरना-
यूँ ही कहाँ कोई किसी के काम आया है
कुछ न कुछ तो मजबूरी रही होगी,
अरसों बाद जो उनका पैग़ाम आया है

खुदाई भी कम पड़ी होगी, शायद-
मस्जिद के बाद जो अस्पताल आया है
मत पूछो उससे जुस्तजू की वजह,
नादाँ दिल को अभी ही तो प्यार आया है.

शब् ने चिरागों को कर दी इंतिबाह,
उसने चेहरे से आज पर्दा हटाया है.
कर लिया हमने खुदको उसके काबिल,
यहाँ मैं नहीं आज कोई और आया है.

बचत नहीं होती उसूलों की यहां,
सस्ते हैं ईमान, मेहेंगा किराया है
पकड़ नहीं पाता इस शहर की रफ़्तार,
आज फिर गांव ने वापस बुलाया है.

बड़े हो गए शायद हम भी काबिल,
याद नहीं माँ को कब गुस्सा दिलाया है.
कैसे करूँ वक़्त से जवानी का सौदा?
पिछली बाज़ी में ही तो बचपन गवाया है.

जाना नहीं कहीं फिर भी कर लो फैसला,
के क्या है अपना और क्या पराया है.
मिलना, न-मिलना - दोनों मुकद्दर होगा,
देखते हैं सब खो कर के क्या पाया है.

बात होती रहे, यही बात हुई थी सबकी,
क्या मैं ही हूँ जिसने वादा निभाया है?
छोड़ दो मुझे मेरे हाल पे अब,
बड़ी देर बाद ये कश फिर हाथ आया है...

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Decade Ends

Hello friend.

Hello friend”? That sounds lame. Is it the misfit “Hello” for an online journal? Or the second word, the simplest yet most commonly misunderstood relationship of our times? Besides the fact that it is a bow-to-the-protagonist-of-a-show-that-recently-became-my-2nd-favourite-of-all-time disguised as a lousy conversation starter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that this is essentially a new year’s post coming 100 days late.

The quintessential epiphany had happened at that near inescapable moment, when the creature of habit in you makes an inadvertent mistake while writing the date for the very first time after that much awaited and widely celebrated stroke of midnight. This time when I repeated the customary error though, I couldn’t merely scribble over the last digit of the year. Scribbling over the tens digit as well, I consciously accepted the fact that it was also the end of a decade. Given the unrelenting grasp of time on existence, this occasion with its profundity and human propensity for the theatrical - retrospection was inevitable.

This is me recounting that moment 100 days later during a nationwide lockdown amidst a highly contagious global pandemic that has already infected more than 1.3 million people across 170 countries, claiming over 70,000 lives.

What makes me recount that insignificant moment was the insignificant realisation that with transmission to patient zero traced back to November 2019, the scourge that has gripped humanity now seems as if nature had suddenly decided to pull up the last act of the past decade. In an unexpected anti-climax enacted at the very dusk of 2019, amidst countless overlapping food webs spanning ecosystems, nature had somehow devised an insidious yet ingenious method of doing perhaps the only thing it ever does - restore balance.

Quite ironically, this was done by pitting the smallest conceivable organism, something that would find a place at the very bottom of the evolutionary tree (something whose existence begs reconsideration of the very concept of existence) against the species that resides at the very top, in an evil reproduction of the classic David vs Goliath. OR it is just the Chinese coming up with their own brand of bio-economic colonialism because oil is just so 20th century now. Either way, one couldn’t have imagined a better act of restoration of balance even if this was a Black Mirror episode with a dark twist.

As a result, perhaps for the only time in eternity, ALL of humanity has been simultaneously pushed to mental and emotional resonance in a battle against one common enemy, a diabolical by product of our own indiscretions. The only mercy is the fact that humans are the only organisms in nature capable of identifying, uniting and repelling an existential threat. To be fair, it is more than enough of an unfair advantage. Even after this devastating ‘check’, the universe has ensured that the game will go on. Or has it?

Intelligent consciousness is the unaccountable variable. With 7.5 billion (and counting) members of a technological civilisation equipped with the ability to communicate at almost any scale and speed, imagine 7.5 billion choices being made every moment of every day of every year of existence. Judging by empirical evidence one unwittingly comes across on various media platforms these days, a sizeable proportion of those choices cannot be deemed intelligent by any stretch of imagination. This is not only an unsettling realisation of our mortality, but also of the subtle truth that far from priding ourselves in being the ultimate product of creation arrogant enough to ‘save the earth’, with all our arts and sciences developed and honed over millennia, humans still amount to one random variable in the enormous equation of existence – one that can be removed any time in a more dramatic and audacious act of restoration of balance.

What this mischievously well timed, seemingly seminal act of the universe has also done is pushed the pause button to a massive machinery that was never designed for a maintenance halt. With our profit margins and working capital and credit cards and bad loans, we have literally mortgaged our present to the future, through each other. But when this machine starts grinding towards a halt and the user manual has nothing to say, those with power finally realise that they have screwed up yet again. With all our politics, religion, morality and technology, intellectual social animals are forced to isolate themselves for days on end, because their survival depends on defeating an invisible enemy that can make them turn against each other in a merciless act of self-destruction, both knowingly and otherwise.

Those dwelling at the fringes, the ones who are forced to count on the ball to keep rolling, remain at the mercy of the system itself- tragic victims of economics, the spare change of capitalism. The remaining lot - the docile, the ever obedient, the middle children of history, ones holding on with the slightest control, those privileged enough to be able to write about it on a high speed internet connection amidst a nationwide lockdown in essentially-a-new-year’s-post-which-was-100-days-late - can only wait for those in power to shepherd the weak through the valley of darkness.

Noticeably, in our desperate pause, somewhere between the maddening cacophony of all the surplus noise and despair, in these lonely moments of inevitable retrospection, we have managed to give ourselves enough time to realise the depth of shit we have driven ourselves into. Perhaps unlike any of our powerful ancestors, we are the only civilisation fortunate enough to get such a polite collective reminder at the pinnacle of its decadence.


Let's hope we remember.

"I've seen enough people who die for an idea. I don't believe in heroism; I know it's easy and I've learnt it can be murderous. There's no question of heroism in all this. That's an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is — common decency."
Albert Camus (The Plague)

Goodbye, friend.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The Gym

What is 'the gym'?

Some of the smartest apes of the planet suddenly became so smart that they developed the ability to build things to make their lives easy.

But over time their lives became SO easy by the machines they had built, that they now had to build machines designed specifically to make their lives hard, so that they can be healthy.

We call these machines "the gym". And if that isn't trippy, I don't know what is.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

My Experiments with Work

Denial
Let me start by admitting I never really aspired to become a manager, much less a supply chain manager. To this day, my parents cannot understand how I can plan, (help) produce and deliver more than 500 tonnes of fast moving consumer goods from factories to warehouses (and eventually to you) every month, but can still not pack my own suitcase convincingly (actually I can – just not convincingly). Simply put, production and distribution planning was never in the scheme of things.

But here we all are.

Anger
As it is with most problems that beset me at work, this was an optimal solution. An acceptable product of 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will, 5% pleasure and 50% pain, with no real reason to remember the name (yet). And as optimal solutions and The Rolling Stones go – you don’t always get what you want, just what you need. That is perhaps the most under-appreciated, indigestible piece of truth that us, over-privileged, inexperienced, pseudo-intellectual millennials with a self-destructive sense of entitlement, understand only when it becomes impossible to ignore. This happens, not in the moment you realise that your current predicament is a direct consequence of a near point-less education system built for/by a society that values very specific hacks, which ultimately have little or no relevance in the world beyond the guardianship of its various institutions. It happens when you eventually fall into perfect resonance with this reality, instead of eternally hoping for an escape that doesn’t exist.

Depression
Such experiences are born from an initial lack of belongingness. When armchair philosophers, self-styled liberals and rebels like us, start working for any of the million private corporate establishments masquerading as inter-subjective realities with an ideology (read vision and mission), and get to start discovering first-hand the effects of capitalism on humanity. Closely behind religion, the virtues of this second biggest social experiment in the history of civilisation, are exceeded (and eventually completely clouded) by the combined wrath of seven deadly sins it unleashes upon its unwitting subjects. The progressive counter culture of years of hippy hostel life suddenly gives way to a resentful regime where caffeine and adrenaline power you through numerous social charades of the weekdays, while nicotine, alcohol and some choicest Schedule I narcotics patiently wait to carry you across the existential crises of weekends. This is perhaps the most consistent behaviour pattern across 1st generation urban millennial workforce, who have slowly discovered that there are no answers and that everyone is navigating through the same mysteries with different points of view.

Bargain
Financial independence is the deal with the devil that we prepare for our entire lives. It is an oft dramatic consequence of a series of conscious choices - each with a different balance between mind and heart – which constitute the opening acts of our tryst with adulthood, the first fruit of our capitalistic endeavours. Its enormous bounties and distractions serve as perfect anaesthetics to the pangs of nihilistic realisations, but in process, start sowing the seeds of acceptance and complacency that eventually grow into our identity. In time, as the greenback boogie picks tempo, these anaesthetics become a steady prescription against the malaise of dreams and aspirations. Few more years down the line, the prescription becomes the diet and the red pills get flushed down the drain as integration with the matrix mainframe is now complete.

Acceptance
Humanity may be overrated but its ability to adapt and keep growing out of its own follies isn’t – like an organism constantly evolving to an increasingly hostile environment. After years, even decades, of internal and external conflicts, we realise it is easier to accept some things than to keep struggling against them. The only difference is how gracefully one can accomplish this without compromising our distinctive individuality. Most of us wear faces to help us get through this eternal pendulum swing between relapse and recovery, telling each other the same lies, over and over again. The few who don’t, just haven’t found one that fits them yet. All in all it’s just a-nother brick in the wall.

Workplace is as real as the real world that people used to talk about in hushed tones, can get. To an observer so inclined, it is an exciting social experiment that one gets to participate in, each day - a dark, delectable melting pot of people with divergent principles, peeves and personalities, all at different stages of corporate evolution. It has the capacity to take you through the entire emotional spectrum on a daily basis, and in process lend you a deeper understanding of who you really are. It teaches us the importance of emotional and social intelligence – abstract concepts which should but can never be a part of organised education.  It teaches us about consequences- of having to live with the smallest of choices and decisions, most of which seem deceptively inconsequential and low-stake at first sight. In this way, it constitutes the most dramatic part of our life long journey to self-discovery, that most of us misread as a mere 9 to 5.

But that’s only because the matrix is designed to keep you distracted long enough from asking the questions that really matter:

“Choice is an illusion created between those with power and those without. Beneath our poised appearance, the truth is, we are completely out of control. You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth - Causality. There is no escape from it. We are forever slaves to it. Our only hope, our only peace, is to understand it, to understand the why. “Why” is what separates us from them, you from me. “Why” is the only real source of power. Without it, you are powerless.”

Friday, 26 April 2019

To Mary Jane

I do not know how you’d feel about me being on you and talking to you about us in public. But I know you would understand, just like all times.

To say that I have had the pleasure of your company for the better part of my 20s would be neither precise nor just. And considering you already know how emotionally malleable I can be on occasions, I can comfortably say something as insipidly romantic as ‘our companionship has been one for the ages, my love’.

I wish I could start by talking about our very first acquaintance. But you know I’m easily embarrassed by that. To think I met you after being hammered dead by none other than the old Duke of McDowells on a helpless night in my third year hostel! In my defense, it wasn’t even a fair introduction. That other guy who knew you didn’t even tell me your name! And in that dress you looked like a partially annoyed Lady Nicotine. Yeah, right - what did I know? I was already a lost cause for that night. It was only once I woke up after losing half of the following day, did the guy tell me that it was actually you the previous night. My bad. But bless that guy- I was convinced I wanted to know more about you.

It was the other sophomore who gave me a proper introduction with you. Together, we created our own social circle, the fabric of which was stitched together by hemp. I must say it was pretty unique. Actually, for some reason it always has been. But back in those days, our gatherings used to be few and planned based on occasions. (Yeah I know – to think there was a time I needed an occasion to be with you!) This occasional rarity used to make them joint sessions very special. It is not by mere chance that those first encounters of ours are the most memorable of all.

Your influence was some sweet sorcery Señorita. How you would ease yourself into our surroundings has always been your most magical quality. It didn’t take long for us to realize it was only one among many of your super powers - like how effortlessly you could make everything better. Our shared sense of humor was probably what first got me interested. Remember how almost anything could make us laugh out loud? LOL it still does.

And boy could you talk! Conversations with you have been everything from naively delightful to surprisingly profound, from heart breakingly true to mind numbingly dark. Your company would make me feel like a poet, a scientist, a philosopher and a mathematician- all at once. The hopeless romantic in me would say ‘you make me want to be at all times how I am when I am with you’. But I’ve never really let him talk much, have I?

And then time moved on. Our company changed. From being one among many boys in a hostel for engineering students in North India, I graduated to become one among many boys in a hostel for management students in West India. Now I know you’ve had your complains about my hopelessly reductive life choices. But hey, I’ve always managed to convince the lunatic in my head to prioritize the continuity of our company over fleeting human motivations. Poor excuse – I know. My bad again. For a change, allow me to change the mood for you mademoiselle.

It was in the company of 2 fellow indulgers in the 9th floor of a supremely windy and quiet hostel balcony that I realized that all my experiences till date had only been with the light side of your force, figuratively speaking. Until then, I had only heard wild tales of the dark side of this force. But this time, I was determined and prepared not to screw up. This time, we met like two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.

Over the next year and a half, we started meeting virtually every day. It was in this time that the ludicrous uninitiated apprentice in me mastered the dark art of rolling Js. If the ‘age of the #’ just gone by was an era of ignorant restraint, the 18 months of green-leafy delight to follow was the fucking renaissance. We started going out on long trips, almost every time I wanted to. And just when I thought I’d caught up to all your charms, I was swayed yet again by the powerfully persuasive cocktail of you and music. It was seduction for the ears and they wouldn’t get enough. From Steven Wilson to Shamoon Ismail and Bonobo to Glass Animals, I have only you to thank for humanizing us savages by bringing some culture to our group.

Our circle expanded till it became a family – the joint family. It was amusing- the number of people who wanted to get to know you. We must have sat with at least 20 first-time enthusiasts over as many months. Most of them would turn out to be lifelong devotees but it was our chemistry that exploded by the day. Cheesy - I know - just like the countless pizzas we’ve devoured. Which reminds me- food continues to be just another prop for you to work your mystical magic. From making maid-cooked food far less sufferable, to making the richest tiramisus even more luscious than Scarlett Johansson in a red dress, I have only you to thank Mary Jane. And the Lord knows I ain’t lying.

By this time, we had been spending so much time together, I knew I had to take our relationship to the next level. Swearing by the bong in our possession, we moved in together and you introduced me to facets of yours I could never imagine, despite having known you for almost 3 years. Neatly encapsulated within the clamor and chaos of a world that is never enough for anyone, ours was an alternate reality full of carefree happiness and curious content. It is this uncomplicated existence that a-man has always admired the most about you and which continues to be the bedrock of our companionship.

As it is always with you – time flew by and life made a slave out of the part of me that has always refused to rebel against the choices us humans are made to feel are our own. But the distractions of the blue pill soon wore off and I relapsed back into the red pill as soon as I could. Time forged a reunion and the paths of the two sophomores intertwined once again. From that first joint to the four hundred and twenty first, unforgiving life had somehow come a poetic full circle. It was amusing - how you had preserved in both of us the parts that still recognized each other despite the whirlwinds of two years of youthful realisations fueled by our respective exploits outside the Matrix.

The universe continues to wear us all, recycling tiny bits of its incomprehensibly mighty self through our existence- silently mocking at our apish endeavors. I often wonder where you and I are headed. Whether all this is just one of countless acts of an eternal drama from the theatre of the absurd or just a wild experience that will eventually be a memory of a time that I tried so hard and got so far but in the end it doesn't even matter… I don’t know. I don’t think that is something I’m meant to know. I am too poorly made to answer my own questions. But sitting by another windy window on a Friday evening, I like to grapple with them, if I have you by my side. You met me at a very strange time in my life MJ.

So where was I…

Friday, 29 March 2019

Moh Maya

There is one question we’ve all thought about, albeit through different lenses and to varying extents. It is a knowledge gap that lies at the heart of science, at war with the very laws upon which it rests, questioning its very existence! Sort of like an embarrassing secret. In some trains of thought that pass through this particular station, it may also be the holy grail to existentialists. For a definitive ‘how’ would help tackle the even more mammoth ‘why’, a pain that belongs to philosophy – a place where science need not venture.

How did the universe come to be? 
Hmm.

Our universe is incomprehensibly complex. Can we distill it down to elementary essentials?
Yes.

Quite evidently, the universe consists of a lot of… stuff. Stars, planets, and all things bright and beautiful. All of this comprises of finite number of elements which were forged in the hearts of countless super massive stars from nothing but hydrogen (the simplest combination of the two most fundamental sub-atomic particles - electron and proton) and then sprayed all over space when those stars imploded and died (yes, we are all star dusts). Thus, we can generalize the first ingredient and call it mass.

Then we see a lot of energy – the sun for instance, which not just gives warmth and light but also nourishes plants and animals which power our vehicles and industries, millions of years after they die and decay. So energy becomes the second ingredient. Now all we need is an arena for all this mass and energy to play out their billion year dance of evolution. This cosmic arena is space - the final ingredient of our universe.

However, the most famous scientist of all time told us that mass and energy aren’t really different entities but 2 different sides of the same coin. Most of you would also be familiar with the relation between these two ingredients – the most famous equation in all of science.

So, as it turns out, all we need is energy and space. This means our question simplifies to ‘how did space and energy come to be’? As Axl Rose famously sang – Where do we go now?

Science which has brought us this far also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Certainly, so much of it cannot just pop out of nowhere. However, this apparent vice of science becomes a virtue if we evoke a concept even yours truly does not understand – negative energy. This implies that at the moment of creation, when all the energy in our universe came to be, an equal amount of negative energy was also created. This is sort of like having to create a mountain- you can do it by just digging a lot of earth and piling it all up in one giant heap. But while you have created a mountain, you’ve also dug up a hole - this is negative energy, simplified.

But where is all this negative energy? The answer is it is all around us, in all of space. But how can it be? The second most famous scientist of all time taught us that every object with mass attracts every other object with mass with a force we call gravity. This gravitational force makes our universe one giant storehouse of gravitational potential energy. Few of you would be able to recall the formula from 11th grade:
That minus sign solves the negative energy conundrum.

And what about space? Edwin Hubble, sometime in early 20th century, saw through his telescope that galaxies weren’t just moving away from one another, but doing so at an ever increasing pace. This means if we were to rewind the cosmic film, they must have been closer together at some time in the past. The cosmic rewind takes us to this moment where everything that we see today was smaller than the smallest thing we can imagine. This is the big bang – the moment of creation that has had scientists and believers slam their heads and tales for millennia. At this point, we enter the quantum realm (a place even Einstein and Newton dread to tread but which Hank Pym and Scott Lang visit for occasional adventures). 

The rules of this quantum realm are some of the strangest but most fascinating areas of science as we know it. Here, particles can not just be at two places at the same time but also (seem to) appear (or disappear) out of nothing. Is It possible all the mass in the universe just came out of nothing at this quantum moment of creation?

Rewinding the cosmic film by 14 billion years also means we reach the beginning of time as we know it. This makes answering ‘what caused mass to pop out of nothing’ extremely tricky. Causation as we know it implies something at one point of time resulting in something else at another time in the future, as if they were two events on a linear timeline. So how do we answer what comes before the beginning of this timeline? To quote Hawkings - "We have found something that doesn't have a cause because there was no time for a cause to exist in".

So kurzgesagt, this is the best prevalent understanding of how the universe (i.e. the energy and space that makes all of it) came to be. After 14 billion years of awe-inspiring companionship, this is where physics seems to have given up on us today. But don’t worry, people driven infinitely more by this curiosity than mere mortals like you and me, haven’t given up yet. This means you and I get to surrender our cosmic inquiry and get back to partying another weekend.

Happy?

Saturday, 14 July 2018

Nothing Really

If you'd ever have cared enough and scrolled down this dumpster I consider "my blog", you'd have found (among other things):
  1. Admiration for childhood idols
  2. Disguised nostalgia
  3. Sheer cynicism
  4. Early attempt at cheap fame (we WERE naive back then)
  5. Hopeless attempt at Urdu poetry
  6. Hangover of a TV series I'd just finished
  7. Anger
  8. A true story
  9. A one-dimensional anatomy of love
  10. Self consolation
  11. Brush with nihilism
  12. Some serious overthinking
  13. and just plain shite!
A blog that was started exactly six years ago by two Nobodys, who were too high one night on an embarrassing concoction of three parts whimsy and one part misguided literary-vainglory, today has 16k hits at an unremarkable-but-noticeable 7 page views per day. The number means literally nothing in this age of virality. But for a web page that bears a name barely designed for recall, and which has virtually nothing pointing to itself in the infinity of cyber space, I often wonder what brings you - the reader - here. Being driven to my office in the rear seat of an Uber on a lousy Monday morning, the obvious next question was the quintessential "why"- why were they written in the first place?

Scrolling down my posts over the past 6 years I saw a list like you see it on top. Although the actual titles aren't half as self explanatory, I could - in the ever so magical experience of retrospective wisdom - see them for what they truly were. And I realized this- despite all the loved ones and closest of relationships one might have, there are things which perhaps no one can truly understand, but one's own future self- a person that doesn't even exist when those thoughts first come to amuse, haunt, annoy or delude you, but a person that slowly but surely emerges out of them. That is because theoretically speaking, anyone else's understanding of our mental state would be defined and limited by two factors-
  1. your own understanding of that emotion or state of mind at that point of time, and
  2. the efficacy of any language as a tool to communicate such a complicated emotion or realization to another individual
There are clear inefficiencies here. Which is why such emotional states are so fleeting in nature- they evaporate before they can be thoughtfully (and at times painfully) distilled into a realization or an understanding. That is essentially all of adolescence- a lot of feeling with little understanding of what anything actually means. Perhaps that is all of life itself- a constant mismatch between what we feel and when we actually become able enough to comprehend what it truly means. And hence, a constant attachment to the past, for it always feels clearer/simpler than the present, which in turn will make more sense some time in the future.

Or maybe it means nothing really. Perhaps, as a species we should spend more time understanding ourselves than anything else in the universe. Or maybe the best of us knew this and accepted the futility of such an endeavor and the sheer existential horror that it would bring. So we created a world and a society that could keep us distracted enough to remain sane.

Why should this blog be any different?