Yesterday

A long way away from home

The Global Soul’ is not my favourite Pico Iyer book (though he is a favourite anyway) mostly because I couldn’t connect to three out of its six chapters. I picked up the book because, in addition to it being a Pico book, it was about a subject that has fascinated me for a while now – the concept of ‘home’. This, in a multicultural world whose corporate citizens are rapidly making sure that ’Everywhere is made up of everywhere else..’ I remember writing about this almost three years ago, in the context of another travel book and my visit to what I still consider home – Cochin. It was evoked by the presence of the same brands that I might see in a mall in Bangalore, the disappearance of familiar landmarks, and the residents referring to new landmarks that I really didn’t know of. It is perhaps unfair to expect that even as I changed, the idea of home would remain a constant. Maybe I will get used to that in a while too.

I had wondered whether, in our pursuit of convenience and familiarity, we might end up creating a homogeneous world. Now I wonder if we might be one of the last generations to live in a truly heterogeneous world, as, in addition to the corporate imperialism, culture also becomes the most exported and imported product, courtesy technological advances – real and virtual. Home is, as the t-shirt goes, where the wifi connects automatically, and I’d be able to recreate it anywhere, with all the props made available to me.

Every year, around this time, there is usually a home visit, and I would be chronicling it, this year there isn’t. Our regular visit targets are missing in action, and going there doesn’t make sense. I wonder if this is how it begins, and a couple of decades later, when I’m traveling, a bout of homesickness would hit me, and I would realise that it wasn’t Cochin I was thinking of. I’ll probably feel sad then, and guilty. But for now, I am closing my eyes, and recreating Cochin in my mind, with no props. I am able to, I can sense the wistfulness as I walk through the streets (without Google) and they haven’t changed. It’s heartening to know that while I have left Cochin, it hasn’t left me.

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until next time, homegrown can be grown?

Time Vault

bottle3

This was my ‘water bottle’ at Myntra, and the victim of many of my colleagues’ jokes, mostly thanks to its size. It is really tiny, and you could finish all the water in it in one gulp. It has been disfigured many a time, courtesy its battles with hot water. But it bears its scars with dignity, even though it wobbles a bit. It also seems to have a fair amount of stature, since at least three of my colleagues asked me if they could take the bottle after I left. I refused, but now that I’m ready to join the new workplace, I don’t know if I should use it anymore. But I don’t want to throw it away either, since it holds a lot of memories and in future, will probably be the only unchanged remnant of some good times. I wish I could store it somewhere, but I’m also trying to get rid of my hoarding habit!

That’s what led me to think of this concept – since we’re in the era of 3D scanning and 3D printing, theoretically it should be possible to construct a 3D scan of the bottle with its basic dimensions, exact contours, texture of material etc and store it. I should then be able to print out an exact replica using a 3D printer. These technologies are not yet mainstream, but I’m wondering if this could be a way of storing memories. We can store images, text, sounds easily now but not smell, taste and touch. This could at least take care of the touch aspect.

At some point in the future, I’m hoping if it’ll be possible to store such treasures as a file and print them out whenever I feel like it. An entire folder full of memories – of different times in my lives, that I can easily bring to life. It would be like a time vault. Vault as a noun -storehouse – and vault as a verb – leaping, in this case across time thanks to ‘physical’ memories. Maybe, in the future, we could live in the past for a day, and come back.

until next time, the future of memories

Movie magic

There’s a new wave of movies in Malayalam which have now gotten a genre all to themselves – they are being called ‘new generation’. This has as much to do with the new breed of filmmakers/actors/technicians who’ve begun to make their mark as it is to do with the themes that are portrayed in these films and the mindset that a viewer has to probably adopt – this mindset being radically different from the one reserved for the standard potboiler fare that viewers were used to. I stress the last two because it isn’t as though these kind of movies had never been made before. It was just that they were very few in number. Simply put, the maker and viewer generations are now showing a radical shift from even say, 2-3 years back – in terms of approach, outlook, perspectives, perceptions and expectations.

Movies being a medium of expression, I have always been intrigued by the subtexts, though I have not had the liberty of time to actually spend thoughts on the subject.  This article, for instance, does a good analysis on Mani Ratnam’s movies and the influence of various narratives. These days, when I watch (malayalam) movies from the 80s and 90s,  I try to identify the themes that have been used in/inspired them. Earlier than that would be difficult since I have no primary experience of the era.

I saw Thoovanathumbikal again recently, a fantastic movie which deserves a ‘new generation’ tag even if it were made now, especially because of its sensibilities. It is very much what I call a mood movie – requires the viewer to succumb to the mood to truly enjoy it, especially the current day viewer who expects something to happen every second, and nuances are not counted. (probably why Annayum Rasoolum was not appreciated much – it’s less to do with the theme and its twists and more about the way it’s been dealt with – the sophistication and the aesthetic) Timeless as Thoovanathumbikal might be, I wonder how much one would appreciate it more if one had experienced first hand the societal values, mindset  and the ethos of the time. The rain, for example, which plays such an important part, do we view it in that light anymore? At the same time, the maturity of the person is also a factor. I was nine when it released and would have slept through it! :)

And that’s probably why cinema is indeed magical – not only is it a representation of an era, or a part of it, but at any point in time, there’d be someone who’d be able to relate to it, across the passage of years.

until next time, moving pictures

Of fame and purpose

I completely missed Bigg Boss 6. Except for knowing that the arrested-for-sedition cartoonist and Sapna Bhavnani were participants, my exposure to it was limited to lunch conversations at office, where two of my friends seemed to be avid followers. :) I thought my ignorance was only fair, since they are usually clueless when I mention the names of micro-celebrities on Twitter.

Increasingly, I am realising that popular culture is going through massive fragmentation. The above was an example. I think this generation is connected with more people than any before it. It has always been so, with better means of communication, but this time, it has been an explosion. We’re still coping with the overload, or filter-failure, as Clay Shirky calls it. Despite social networks, or probably because of them and their algorithms, we miss out on many things.

I was thinking of all this in the context of fame. Fame, to me, has some connection with my favourite subject these days – purpose. Fame can serve as a means, or end, or a by product of purpose. The thing is, with the fragmentation I mentioned earlier, fame probably has to be redefined, also because its shelf life has been drastically reduced. Once upon a time, a name/photo appearing in a newspaper was an achievement. (let’s ignore the notoriety piece :) ) Later, before channels mushroomed, it was television. But now….

One of the things that might happen because of all this is the gradual de-linking of fame and purpose, if it does exist. I’m still trying to figure out how that will shift our perspectives on purpose.

until next time, being famous ain’t what it used to be…

Oh, my 90s

A couple of years back, I had written this post about the golden years of Bollywood music in my life – the 90s. The search for a restaurant within JP Nagar before we watched Talaash (at Gopalan) took us to Kakori Kababs & Curries. The restaurant review is for later, but what really made the day for me was their instrumental music collection of 90s Bollywood music. I listened to songs from Sainik, Imtihaan, Damini and it was amazing how I could remember most of the lyrics despite not having heard these in years! Just goes to show the power of those imprints.

Later, Talaash also took me on a sidetrack – memories, and I thought about how our reality changes massively over time. Many things that seemed to be the crux of our existence at one point in time slowly fade away into memories and then into archives of insignificance in the larger chapters of our lives. We can’t even mourn or be happy about them because we don’t remember them in the first place.

So the next day, I started working on this playlist, just so that every time I go through my YouTube channel, I would remember, and could help myself to a blast from the past. Music has always been time travel for me. Probably, many years later, when the memories surrounding these songs and the times they existed in slowly begin to fade, and they seem like a dream from years back, (what they say when they come across the lamp post at the end of The Chronicles of Narnia Part 1) this would be my crutch to go hobbling on that path. :)

until next time, the soul of music

From the Kerala diary..

An overcast sky met us at the Alwaye railway station on June 1st. As I sat inside the bus to Kothamangalam, I wondered where the rains would meet us. I saw school kids waiting for their bus, but not as many as I had expected. It has been a tradition in Kerala – on June 1st, when the kids begin their academic year, the rains are the first to welcome them. I remembered umbrellas, raincoats, pants hitched up, new wet notebooks…. But it seemed that things weren’t so anymore. I wasn’t the only one surprised – the Gandhi in Perumbavoor stood open jawed.  We reached our destination, dry. I learned later that most schools were opening on Jun 4th and the rains were scheduled on Jun 5th. On the way back to Cochin that night, starting from a near empty bus stand, I was able to relive the window seat. But I realised that just as the seer had changed, so had the scene.

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There’s a wonderful quote that’s attributed to Bryan White – “We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.” So when one goes back to places which only hold childhood memories, maybe there’s a natural pull to rewind to a time without that learning, and just let loose. And just like in that age and time, many impulsive, harmless things then become capable of delivering an incredible amount of joy.

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For a long time now, Nedumbassery had been my exit point from Kerala. And so I sat, after a wedding feast, on a journey from there to Palghat and beyond, watching a series of places I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. Familiar landmarks and new sights, and the Western Ghats that stood solidly in the background. Hello, Kuthiran. Dad was surprised I could remember the name of the towns. How many ever roads a man walks down, his first roads remain etched….

The occasion for which we had made the trip saw 3 generations – one that had been born and had spent all their childhood in that village, another (mine) in which the majority of the members had cities that they considered home but had spent many a wonderful vacation there, and a third which was probably making a few memories. There’s that favourite Garden State quote of mine - Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place. In this version, ‘imaginary place’ is not a place that no longer exists physically, but one that exists in a certain state in  the memories of many people. I wondered when a place would cease to exist at all – is it when it disappears physically, is it when all the people who have memories of the place cease to exist, or is it when the place changes so much that even memories cannot bring it back. You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. When the seer and the scene let go of each other. And that was why this trip was special – memories had been added, and the disappearing had been delayed.

until next time, seen there, done that :)

No kidding

The debate on twitter, some time back, on the subject of kids on Junior MasterChef Australia was an interesting one to watch. I have no definitive opinion on it, and I understand that it can be debated both ways. So, just a few perspectives.

I watched the show for a few days, and was amazed by the skill displayed by the kids. I also found the judges being very careful with their words. (they can be scathing as the ‘regular’ MasterChef show would prove) The kids seemed to be having fun. I don’t know if the elimination grind got to them. I don’t know how the entire experience would affect them – irrespective of them being winners or losers.

What I do think is that in many ways, the show is preparing these kids for the world – for making choices, (I’m reasonably sure none of them have been forced to come here) chasing a passion, the consequences – winning and losing, fame and despair, public scrutiny and the loss of privacy, dealing with judgments passed by others and so on. And that goes for all sorts of reality shows – dance shows with scantily clad kids included. Any opinion I have against dance shows is a judgment based on my baggage, and objectively, I can’t be sure that dancing (of any kind in any attire) < cooking. I could be flawed in my rationale, but that’s like saying Vidya Balan’s performance in The Dirty Picture is somehow lesser than Sanjeev Kapoor’s erm, Dal Makhani.

I am not a parent, so I can only talk from the perspective of a child that I once was. :) We didn’t have reality television then, but we had non televised competitions, and I have been a participant. Music, debate, hockey, quizzing, cricket, dumb charades – I’ve represented  my school/college in all of these. I was lucky enough to be encouraged in most of these (very few got the point of Dumb C :) ) by my parents and teachers. I can only dimly imagine the sacrifices my parents might have made for letting me pursue these and my other indulgences – voracious reading, for example. :)

I do believe that most parents want the best for their children, though the way they show it could be seen and judged in different ways. Parents have no inkling of what the world will become, though they pretend to. They make choices based on their experiences, their perspectives of the future, and their desires for their children. I have a choice to make now too – I could blame my parents for not making me focus completely on studies. (for example) Who knows, I might have gotten in and out of an IIT/M and might have finally written a book. ;) Or I could be thankful for the choices they made for me, and for the experiences that gave me. I, for one,  am indeed thankful, and think that these paths gave me valuable perspectives – with regards to all the ‘preparation for the world’ points I had listed earlier. There can be no A/B testing for all this, you realise. :)

The fun part is that somewhere along the way, I started writing a bit. This blog has been around for more than 9 years, I write 2 newspaper columns. I haven’t been trained for any of this. Whether the story has a fairy tale ending is completely subjective and dependent on many factors that are beyond the parents’ or the child’s control, or imagination. The parents and the children are living some great moments. Perhaps that’s all there is to it.

until next time, show stopper

Mythistory

Centuries apart, but both in The Wonder Eras and Irascible, I had written about the documentation of incidents that we now call mythology and history. (respectively) In the former, I had mentioned the feeling when I saw the place where Sita had been temporarily imprisoned in Lanka, and in the latter, a fictionalised version of an event that happened in 1919. Both a bit intangible – the first only because of the centuries that have passed and it was still difficult to believe that myth was just history but more ancient, and the second because I am not sure if it actually happened.

Sometime back, I read William Dalrymple’s ‘The Last Mughal’, that uses Bahadur Shah Zafar as a ‘device’ to write about the events of 1857. The book is based on actual documents. As I wrote in my review (will share soon) what remains with me long after I have read the book, and something I went back to, almost every time I picked up the book to continue, is the photo of Zafar, lying with his face to the camera – the face of a broken old man who through his life saw the dominion of his ancestors taken away from him until all he had was his city and an empty title, who had just been made to undergo a trial and many humiliations before it, eyes expressing melancholy, and resigned to his destiny.

Suddenly, the images that I remember from history textbooks were transformed into a real person, and history was somehow tangible, as was his plight. It was almost as though that if I could take a few steps more, I could somehow feel the same about our myths.  Have you ever felt that when reading/seeing anything?

Perhaps it is that way in every age, when some things that were history move into legend and then on to a myth status. I am still debating in my mind whether the layering that happens, adds or subtracts.

until next time, history repeats?

Gene-rational

Sometime back, there was a debate on Samadooram, a talk show on Mazhavil Manorama. The topic was the changing nature of colleges in Kerala, specifically the waning influence of arts and creativity in general. Panelists included a student politician, a regular student, a college professor, a socio-cultural commentator, a literary figure, among others. Among the various sub-topics discussed were the rapid increase in number of colleges, the pressure on students, the internet revolution, the effects of changing societal and familial conditions, with several aggressive comments on how the earlier generation should give way to the new, rebutted well by the older panelists. All the panelists, and many in the audience gave varying perspectives on the subject and it became a very interesting albeit noisy debate, which brought out several moments of generational difference.

When the Roadies spoof became a rage and a discussion topic, I remembered tuning out after Season 1 because I just couldn’t understand the entire exercise. I also understood that for some reason, it meant a lot for a section of the 18-25 audience, and that it was a big deal.

It made me think of what has changed, beyond the passage of time  and why. I realised that the entire ‘intent’ of various phases in our lives had changed. The innocence of childhood, the new found freedom and the process of evolving a world view during college have all given way to a single point agenda for the child from the time it is born. The intent is to mould a creature that can survive the peer competition and whatever else the world can throw at it. The changes in education and the college atmosphere are IMO, by-products of this.

The paradox is that thanks to the internet, this is probably the best time for an individual to explore and make the most of his interests in life. It gives you the freedom and the tools to be the person you want to be. Unfortunately, it is quite possible that at a young age, they don’t have the confidence (or even the clarity of thought) to choose a path. They are guided by society’s norms, norms which have a benchmark of ‘success’ that rarely accommodates the individuality perspective. The ones who break these shackles get to live a life.

until next time, grown down

Book values

Sometime back, a colleague excitedly pointed me to Bookshelf P0rn, and I remembered bookmarking it a year back. The room with massive bookshelves has been one of the key attractions of the ‘when we buy our final home’ thoughts. (‘buying homes for life stages’ is another post :) )

Yes, I’m still one of those who religiously visit Blossoms on Church Street, and get a high when I walk around shelves that house a musty smell of old books, when I run my hand through ridges and pages and discover stories within stories, when I read words that reach out to me from across time and space. And yet, with the reader and tablet explosion, I wonder how long these books will be around. Even if I stubbornly resisted e-books, would there be a market to support it? The economics just might not work out. These thoughts crossed my mind when I read this wonderful article on the process of book publishing – its past, present and future.

On Brain Pickings, one of my favourite sites, I caught these words from Carl Sagan that completely resonate with me

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.

I’m just getting familiar with the idea of a book community thanks to Goodreads. The idea of reading books and seeing annotations left by those who have read it before me, ‘browsing their thoughts’, including, probably the author’s, and thus ‘traveling’ across time and space does seem fascinating, something that is provided by the current form of reading only to some measure.

In the interim, I wish someone would build a white label e-book, that looks and feels just like a real book, one which I can really bookmark, flip pages etc, but one in which I can download a book and it would automatically change the cover, re-paginate and bring in all the benefits of technology. Best of both worlds to help me evolve! Maybe it already exists. :)

until next time, booking the future

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” (Bill Gates)