Friday, June 16, 2017

Why I Write

Subtracting the dates, I have been blogging for more than 9 years as of now. That is not a big number considering how blogging was mainstream years before I began. Neither have I written a lot by quantity.

But I have been writing. I do not remember if I had any specific idea in mind on what to write about when I began. I was pretty new to the internet when I began. And I thought everyone who used internet maintained a blog for their personal ruminations.

I always had things to write about. Be it my take on things happening in the world, be it something new that I learned that day, be it a travelogue, be it a simple new thought. There has been times I was so engrossed in life outside that I have forgotten to write. Or times when I was too tired that I could not write. But never have I not written because I didn't have anything to write about.

For a long time, I did not care about the audience. My writings were mostly for myself and addressed at random strangers on the internet. I did not worry about who would be or would not be reading my posts. I was never concerned about the relevance of my posts. Because it was always relevant to me.
Not much has changed. I now regularly post updates from me on Telegram and WhatsApp (check the sidebar on details how to join) but I am not worried about people not reading what I write. Because even today, I write for myself.

I consider blogging to be documentation of one's mind. In addition, I think writing helps clarify ideas for oneself. That clarity of mind is very important for me.

A simple image I drew in Krita because without illustrations, people tend to get bored with long blog posts.
I have been inspired by others writing. My favourite blogs had been zen habits, Scott H. Young, Study Hacks, BetterExplained, LifeHacker, Dumb Little Man, PluginID, etc. After my dad and My Experiments With Truth, I think these blogs have exerted the most influence on shaping what I am today.

Unlike books, a blog keeps coming back at you. You read a book, you are deeply affected by it, and sometimes it stays with you throughout your life. But you start following a blog, the author keeps coming back to you with their ideas and influences forever (till you stop following). For those who read, what they read shapes them.

And I read. I have read on the internet much more than I have read books. This could be bad. Because to write a book needs much more deliberation and therefore books by definition have more concrete ideas. But that is also a good point for blogs. Blogs are direct unfiltered thoughts from a person's mind. They do not go through the censorship of acceptability or merchantability.

And therefore multitudes of raw, sometimes radical, nevertheless vibrant and different ideas have entered my mind and some have stayed back.

It is in the same spirit that I write. What use is a thought if it has not been shared? I may be redundant and be writing what others have already written about. But the collection of thoughts that I represent in my writings is unique.

That's the truth. I write to influence. Thoughts that aren't expressed simply do not exist. If you care for something, you need to show that you care. And writing is my way of doing it.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rekindling Ambitions

On the eve of independence day in 2013, I wrote this post which was about keeping ourselves safe from getting involved in situations where doing good might be bad. I grew more and more pessimistic about life and people around me since then. Going through the comments section of any news item would put me in a state of teeth clenching aversion towards fellow country men.

I was not like this. I was patriotic. I called myself ASD of India. I believed in people like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam when they said that it's possible to do anything if we have a desire strong enough. Swami Vivekananda's words "Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached!" would make me determined to succeed.

My schools were the best. They never taught me the meaning of impossible. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed interesting. Everyone was involved with the same spirit.

But college was something entirely different. Suddenly, I was exposed to the bad, and sad sides of humanity. Not just in the immediate surrounding. Newspapers suddenly became sources of bad news. In fact, I quit reading newspapers entirely. They were becoming too negative for me. Or was it that I was too weak to face the reality? Maybe. But I could imagine alternate realities (or fantasies) in which people are far less corrupt and far more content. I could imagine spirited colleagues. I could imagine living in a better society.

For some reason, I assumed that those were just fantasies. I grew too pessimistic. I assumed that honesty will never win and that as time goes on, things will get only worse. I figured that we were doomed. I knew that there was no future for humanity.

This negativity has contributed more than a little to my decision not to run behind a post graduate seat. I had already grown sick of the education system much before I grew sick of the entire system. I was not going to spend any more time in that toxic environment that's called "college". Any college.

I was clueless on what to do when I joined Vivekananda Memorial Hospital. It took me more than a month, but now I'm finally beginning to understand.

Yesterday, there was an orientation session here. VMH is run by Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. The CEO of SVYM, Dr MA Balasubramanya gave a speech in the orientation session. He ran through the history of the organization. The values of SVYM is "Satya, Ahimsa, Seva, and Tyaga". SVYM does an incredible amount of good work in Karnataka. And it started from two batches of students of MMC. It has taken 32 years for this organization to become what it is right now. And it hasn't paid a single rupee in bribe to reach where it is.

The most important thing that he spoke yesterday and that hit me hard was that it was indeed possible for honest people to survive. That it was indeed possible to do good things. That good people do, in fact, exist.

I have a theory of love. When you fall in love with a person the first time, there is a component of infatuation. Once you grow beyond that, you start to see imperfections in your partner and stop loving them as much. But there is a certain moment in the relationship where you fall in love with the same person again. The difference is that this time, you know all the positives and negatives of your partner and you are loving the whole person. This newfound love is unbreakable. Because you have accepted all the bads of your partner, there is nothing new that can change your love.

I think I should now apply the same theory to ambitions. Initially we go through the rosy feeling of the entire world being full of possibilities and unlimited potentials. Then there is a rough patch in which you grow tired and weary, and forced to give up. It was only when I had given up and threw my hands in despair that I got help.

If I had ever been able to believe in mythical spirituality, I'd have called it Swami Vivekananda's infinite power. Otherwise, what can explain the coincidence of my first love of the world be propelled by Swami Vivekananda's books and now, my rekindled love of the world be propelled by an organization that lives by his name and values?

Positive thoughts come to you when you are surrounded by positive people. Fortunately, I've come to such a place. Now is the time to ride the wave. Expect more.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Why would Kashmir want to stay with India when they don’t even get access to internet like the rest of Indians?

India is brutally restricting access to internet in Kashmir. And like marital rape, suppressing a citizen’s basic rights this way is legal in India.

There are complex geopolitical issues in Kashmir. But, what wrong did internet in Kashmir do to be treated like trade with an enemy state?

There is a class of Indians who conflates the cloud with clouds in the sky and internet with Pandora’s box. They know internet only as a replacement for their porn CDs and a medium for terrorists to coordinate their strikes. It is probably the same people who banned internet in Kashmir and keep it that way.

Internet is a wormhole in your basement which lets you explore and experience places and cultures that you can never otherwise in your life. Internet is full of opportunities that are limited only by one’s imagination. Internet gives answers that you can find nowhere else. Internet can teach you anything from cooking to neuroscience.

Internet is a great equalizer. It empowers the disempowered. It does not care whether you are rich or urban middle class, Muslim or atheist, gay or bi, left-winged or religious fanatic, above 18 or just lying to be; you are what you say you are. And when Twitter is down, it is down for everyone.

Also, internet is so huge and powerful that knowing how to wield it is a skill (called “web literacy”) in itself. There are problem areas inside internet that one needs to be aware and careful of. One needs to learn a great deal while using internet to be using it effectively. Internet is not for the ones who give up easily.

Perhaps, India has a huge bunch of web illiterates. Perhaps, that is why they think blocking internet in Kashmir can be of any good. For, little do they realize the value of the greatest innovation of mankind (after the wheel, of course) that they so comfortably withhold from Kashmir.

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Haridwar

This notorious place. Do anything you want, but never eat a thing from here. They are probably taking all their water from the E-coli filled dirty sacred holy river Ganga. We had no plan to eat at the bank of the river, but it rained and we got trapped near a place and we ate some and the story turns worse.
But before that, we had some nice time walking by the side of the river. We had reached the Haridwar railway station by afternoon. And the Russian would leave for Delhi in the 18:15 Shatabdi Express. He was particular that he goes in an air conditioned train because of what had happened on our journey from Delhi to Dehradun. All of us had something to cover ourselves with, except him. We were in sleeper compartment. He went to his berth like a Russian and we assumed Russians were resistant to cold. Turns out they aren't. They just have excellent warming systems in their place. So, the outside temperatures might go below zero, but inside the homes are warm. And in the morning all of us had woken up from a good night's sleep except him. So he couldn't miss this AC train to Delhi.

But we still had some time to pass before the train would arrive. There were so many police officers deployed in the railway station. Turns out it was indeed a special occasion and we would have cursed ourselves if we had reached there a day later. It was going to be an 'ardh kumbh mela' next day. Means a lot of devotees running to the river. Anyhow, we walked perpendicularly towards the river.

The banks were surprisingly calm. There were a few devotee groups sitting here and there. People dressed like Lord Shiva kept walking by us. The river was mighty, filled to the brim. We walked more than a kilometer like that and took enough photos on the way. After all, the river is a river.

Panorama

We were walking towards a huge Shiva statue. But it was too far for us to walk to and it appeared to be on an island all by itself. Instead we decided to go to this part of the river where they would float lamps on. We were there, but it wasn't time yet for the devotees to come in masses with the lamps. So we decided to check out the shops on the parallel road. This is where it rained and we got charmed into eating thalis and kesari from a dhaba.

When the rain subsided, it was time for the Russian to leave. We dropped him back at the station waving him goodbye. On the way to the station we had nice warm tea at another shop too. And then we came back to the place where the lamps would float.

The lamps had started floating. There was a small mandir on the bank where people would fetch these from. There also was a monkey on its roof trying to steal the bananas offered to the God there being rattled away by the priest. Then there was this set of people standing in the river with water up till their knees. They would use a piece of glass (or transparent plastic?) to look through the surface of the river on to the bottom and pick something from the bottom using their long magnetic stick. Turns out, coins. Look, pick, transfer. Repeat.

We observed them and the floating lamps for a while and then walked around the city. There was a Chinese corner where we had noodles and soup. Night had fallen and that would be our dinner. We then walked to the riverbank again. There were cold seats to sit on. We sat with the breeze hitting us hard and the mighty river tempting me to jump into and die.

After a while, we went back to the railway station. They had a waiting room upstairs. Filled with people though. We spread a newspaper and sat outside. Our train was coming only after midnight. I slowly drifted into sleep.

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Mussoorie

We reached Mussoorie around 4 o'clock. Although we saw the youth hostel on the way we weren't sure if they provided accommodation and it was a bit far from all the places we wanted to trek to. At the bus stand an agent approached us asking if we wanted rooms and then led us to a nearby hotel where we got a large room where the 4 of us could stay. The Russian asked if a room warmer was available. It was, at ₹200 extra. We went for it and that decision was a lifesaver as you will soon come to know.

By then the Sun was going to go down and we didn't want to waste that day by not going anywhere. I calculated the distance to various places we could go to and settled on going to Everest house. The distance could be covered on foot in about an hour said Google Maps. But that hour easily stretched into two. I'll write about how GPS-enabled/dependent our treks were in a later post.

We did get lost once and reached a high-security hotel with dogs that would look like they could rip you apart. But we retraced, walked, and stomped our way forward. At about 800m to Sir George Everest House you reach this cafe called Seagreen. It was really dark by then and so we decided to go to the Everest House first and then go to the cafe on return even though we were really hungry and hadn't had any food (I had promised my travel mates that there were so many restaurants on the way where we could eat from, but turns out the map is different from reality). Here, two dogs joined us on the upward climb.

The climb is steep but there is a clear unpaved path upwards and although it was dark we had enough moonlight to see our way. The dogs - we named them Schwanan (Malayalam for dog) and Hillary. We were so late that the tiny shops on the sides which would sell soft drinks and noodles were closing down one by one. It was still wonderful how there were people running such shops everywhere. Schwanan was leading the way at times and at other times slowing down to catch up with Hillary who was trailing. But I realized that day that these were probably the descendants of those very same dogs which gave Sir George Everest company when he climbed that hill to set up his house on top.

And then we reached the house, quite literally at the top of the hill and at the edge of the land. But to call it a house would be a mistake because all that remained were a few walls which have now been written over with names of couples inside huge ❤ symbols.

And then there was a surprise. There was light! There were the Himalayan mountains far away glistening in red, orange, and all the colours of the setting Sun. The horizon was a rainbow between the starlit dark sky and the snowy white mountains. We were the only people there, the last trekkers of the day. The 4 of us and Schwanan. Hillary had gone away somewhere else.

We spent only about 15 minutes on the top because we were hungry, it was getting cold, it was getting darker, and we had taken enough panoramas and selfies and timer shots. On the way back, we had to intermittently shine a fridge market torch one of us had to make sure there were no snakes or holes. And we did stop here and there to look at the stars and make out random constellations that didn't even exist.

As we had decided we took a break at Seagreen Cafe where we had a large pizza and hot coffee. More importantly they had a room warmer which worked on coal maybe and we took a lot of warmth from it. Working on his tablet was a fellow traveller who was spending some time in North India before flying to Scotland to meet his girlfriend. We waved him goodbye and walked back, trying and failing to hitchhike. On the long way back which felt shorter, the 3 of us who were Malayalis sang some of our boat racing songs to keep us going faster. When we got tired, the Russian taught us his marching songs too. We reached our rooms and slept peacefully with the warmer first on, and then off.

This is where warmth comes from
For next day, I had decided that we would trek to a "Tibetan Buddhist Temple" which looked good in photos on Google Maps. We woke up early, had breakfast and started walking. We weren't even a kilometer down when it started to drizzle slightly. We walked on till the rain got heavier and we had to find shelter in a building on the roadside. As we stood there we tried to find a hike to the temple but unfortunately it was too early in the morning and there were no vehicles going that side. The rain gave in slightly and we continued to walk. checking off landmarks to make sure we were on the right path. But then, all of a sudden there was heavy downpour and our woollen clothes were absorbing all the water like a camel at an oasis. We tried taking cover again, but by then we were so wet and so close to the temple on the map that we decided to brave the rain.

There was ice on the road. It was a hailstorm. There was water everywhere. Our shoes were wet despite our best attempts to not step on water. And the hail was hitting us hard too. Anyhow we reached the Buddhist temple. Like the rain wasn't enough, the temple was closed that morning. We could not go inside, but we could take photos from outside and see the valley. As I was trying to take a picture of the temple, I realized to my horror that my fingers were getting so cold that I could not bend them to click. It was the case with everyone. We were going to die probably while still searching for an open cafe to buy some warmth.
This was everywhere!
But there was a saviour. The language teacher of a Tibetan school there was going to Chandigarh in his car. And after removing all the hailstones from his car's windshield he was willing to drop us back to the city. We jumped in and he turned the AC on to full heat, dropped us near our hotel, and we ran to our rooms after thanking him and wishing him a happy journey. When we reached room we were drenched and shivering. The only warm thing in the room was the warmer and we sat around it warming our clothes and body in turns. The wet socks were fuming. Shoes definitely had to be dried. The room service brought cups of tea and we had bought some bananas on the way. After about an hour we were dry enough to pack up and leave.

We had brunch at a nice warm restaurant just above the bus stand. It was still raining. The Mussoorie Library were Ruskin Bond is known to frequent was right next to us but we were in no mood for reading. The buses to Dehradun are the same buses that come from Dehradun. We waited for about half an hour and got our seats back to Dehradun.

As soon as we reached the bus stand I realized there was a train about to leave from the station - the Dehradun Allahabad Link Express. We ran to the station and made sure the train hadn't left and then ran to the ticket counter which is outside the platform and took tickets and ran back to the train and got in to the general compartment and the train started, all within a span of ten minutes. The compartment was full and the Russian got the taste of general compartment journey and we alighted at Haridwar.

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Dehradun

The Delhi Dehradun express stops for long time at various places and reaches Dehradun by 9 in the morning. We woke up by the time the train reached Haridwar and saw dried Ganga on the way.

At Dehradun railway station, you can walk outside to the Dehradun bus stand where there are half hourly buses to Mussoorie from 6 in the morning to 9 in the night. We walked further, had breakfast, and walked through the market to reach clock tower. From the clock tower a small bus took us to Forest Research Institute at ₹10.

There were a couple of other tourists waiting in the electric cart at the entrance. We quickly bought entry tickets and sat on it. I was at the tail, looking back when the cart went forward. The straight road cut at right angles to several buildings, all in lush green plots.

The cart dropped us at one end of a large, imperial building built of red bricks. This was the Forest Research Institute. Some of the corridors reminded us of Hogwarts.
See?

There were multiple "exhibitions" inside the building. The entry ticket would cover all of them. But the exhibitions were rather the various departments of the Forest Research Institute. For example, there was this pathology exhibition, in which the pathophysiology of all the plant diseases were shown (with pathological specimens just like our medical college). Siviculture exhibition was about cultivating forests and there were tiny models of forests showing how the trees looked at different height. In another room, there were cross sections of 800 year old trees showing tree rings that corresponded to different years in the history. One of these rooms, I heard about cordyceps sinensis which is a fungus that parasitically grows out of worms apparently more expensive than gold and extremely difficult to procure.

A nearby school had come for picnic there and when we got outside the Institute's garden was full of kids playing different games in their own little groups. This is also where our Russian friend saw someone posing in one of the classic Bollywood hero poses and imitated those himself. We started walking back and got on to the electric cart about a minute down the path. Then we took a vehicle back to the Dehradun city back to where we started from.

At the bus stand, there were regular and frequent buses to Mussoorie. All we had to do was stand in queue and reserve seats in the next bus that was going up. The ride is just under a couple of hours but the road is winding and uphill.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Delhi - my city

I love cities. And I love them more when they are big and when they do not sleep at night. Maybe it is my love of nights that make me love cities which never sleep. But the fact is, I love cities. Cities are full of life - schools, offices, markets, hospitals, shops, malls, movies, parks, high speed Internet, opportunities, energy, technology, people, government, facilities, sound, lights, and did I miss nightlife? I love it when all the action is around you. And Delhi is the capital of all action. That is why I love Delhi.

This was my second time in Delhi. The last time too when I was in Delhi I loved it, albeit a lot less. This time I was talking to my friend who lives in Delhi as if he came to my city and not the other way round. But I am digressing a lot. I need to write about my trip. And it is about time that I finished the entire series. From this point onwards I might not maintain the chronological order of events in my posts, more because I have begun forgetting details and sequences than because the rest of the journey involves me visiting the same places multiple times with different people.

We stopped at NOIDA and stayed at my friend's house where we had nice mutton specialities.

Next day morning we took to the metro. Got a ₹150 tourist ticket to travel throughout the day.

First stop at Akshardham temple (which did exist the last time I came to Delhi, but I didn't know). This is a huge temple built after AD 2000 with "donations" of a large number of devotees. There was marble and gold all over and the story of Swaminarayan. But, because of a previous bomb blast here, to get inside is a huge task. First, you put your mobile phones, ear phones, non-transparent water bottles, etc in your bag. Then you fill a form with your details. Then one person from the whole group should carry all these inside to the baggage counter where they keep the bags "safe". There, this person is supposed to take out all the mobiles and lay them down to count (which is very stupid because in our group we had a lot of phones and I didn't even know where in the bag the phones were when I went to the counter). After showing your face, etc into the camera you get a metal token number. Now, you can all walk to the body checking counter where you have to remove your belt, wallet, etc which will go through a metal detector kind of thing and then get frisked.

All this for walking through some marble. I don't know why, but religion immediately colours my view of magnificent structures in a bad shade of greenish-pink.

There are many "dwars" (holes) you have to pass through before reaching the central shrine which has very elaborate designs all around. There is water surrounding these areas. Next to the shrine is a statue of Swaminarayan which hosts the lights and sound show in the night.

Near the way out I found the most fascinating thing in the whole place. A very large solar panel that moves with the sun such that it gets the maximum sunlight all day! That thing probably powers the entire place. We also had some snacks in the restaurant at the exit. The toilets here are great too!

I did come back to Akshardham a second time a few days later. This time we saw the water show. It was splendid, with laser lights being used (unlike just lights in Amber). The laser allowed showing much more delicate things and even animated videos.

From Akshardham two of us had gone to Qutb Minar while the rest went to Sarojini Nagar market for shopping. Aeroplanes were constantly trying to hit the Minar and missing it. There was a plaque at the bottom that specified Qutb Minar was shorter than Taj Mahal by 5 feet. We saw the iron pillar that never rusts nearby too. I wanted to send a picture postcard to a friend back in Kerala but couldn't find a post office nearby.

Misses it every time.

We then went to Sarojini Nagar Market where you could buy all things original or all things duplicate as you prefer at costs you decide. We learned bargaining skills, and fell for tricks too. Had nice coffee there. Did a lot of window shopping. Almost got bitten by a dog. Heard a person say "these are stolen items and you get these at unbelievable discounts. No guarantee these will be here tomorrow". Saw so many clothes that you would never buy clothes from anywhere else.

That night as I was chatting on my phone my friends came up with a cake singing happy birthday with "Happy Birthday ASD" written on it. I had turned 23. Quite a wonderful birthday this one.

Next day I split from this group I was travelling with till now and went to join another set of friends in Delhi, near Jasola Apollo. We had food and by evening went to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Saw the red soil at Raisina Hill, the canons, etc. up close. Looked at the long Raj Path till India gate choosing not to walk it with our heavy bags.

That night we would leave for Uttarakhand, reaching back 5 days later.

After returning we had brief visits to Chandini Chowk market, Akshardham (lights & sound show), etc. At Chandini Chowk market we had Dahi Bhalles. But by then, as you will soon learn, our stomachs wouldn't accept most food items.

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