Splash

He was halfway there and in no real hurry, so Raman walked as he had for the last few kilometers – leisurely and easily. It had been a bumpy start to the day, what with his vehicle’s engine seizing on the way to work and needing to be dropped off at the service center and his tripping on a loose brick on the pavement on his way home and landing face down with his palm attempting and failing to break his fall. He’d taken the day off, rested and on receiving a call from the service center a few hours later, decided he’d walk back and fetch his vehicle. Things were looking up now. And as he continued on his way, so did he. But the clear sky that had welcomed him out the door was now a shade of grey. He quickened his pace, but he could not outrun the clouds that seemingly instantaneously, growled and burst into lightning, thunder and a downpour that had seemed impossible just a few minutes ago. Raman was flat out running now. Had he paused to think, he might have taken shelter at a nearby shop or under a bus stand. But in his mind, all he wanted to do was reach the service center. So he ran, taking care to jump over puddles and loose stones, not wanting to trip a second time that day.

In his urgency however, he didn’t notice that he’d run off the pavement and was now running on the side of the road. Bikes and cars sped past him, just as eager to get to wherever they were going. After about a kilometer of running, he stopped and panted for breath. The weight of the wet clothes coupled with the stress of running left him gasping a little and he waited to regain his composure, still unmistakably getting drenched however. Just then a car, a blue sedan came speeding past him and mindless of the puddle next to him, splashed into and out of it, leaving an extremely brown pair of pants and shoes and an extremely angry wearer of said attire. He yelled pointlessly at the car that was long gone and then stopped, disappointment and rage lingering on his face. When he’d regained his composure, he wondered if he should just return home, change into some dry clothes and come back for the vehicle later. But he was almost there and he’d have to get drenched to go back anyway. Might as well power through and complete the mission at hand, he told himself and forged on. Soon he found himself at the mechanic’s shop where a burly man and a young boy were hard at work, tightening screws and fixing things that probably never fixing. At the sight of this dripping, disheveled man, the owner immediately dropped his screwdriver and beckoned Raman to sit on the stool he’d just gotten off of. Looking at his state, he whispered something to the little boy and the latter ran off into a small room in the shop. It took the owner a few more seconds to recognize the customer that had dropped off his vehicle in the morning. He listened to Raman’s day of woes, entries that had come pouring out the man with very little poking and meanwhile the little boy had returned, two hot cups of tea in his small hands that he offered both the men gingerly, but with a wide smile. It was only when the kid sat down on the floor next to him that Raman noticed the kid had a prosthetic leg. He looked at the mechanic, questioningly and was told about the accident at the shop a few years ago that had left the child maimed. They’d explored a few options before deciding the child needed to have a way to walk again and found a sympathetic doctor who had treated the child free of charge. The once ever-cheerful boy had spent months in pain and teary struggle, adapting to this new appendage. Raman listened to it all in silence, his eyes locked on the boy who had now resumed tightening a few smaller screws on a part of a vehicle, humming a tune from a familiar song.

Once they’d finished drinking their hot beverages, the mechanic took Raman to his vehicle, showed him the estimate and gave him the sign off. Raman was only half listening now, his mind still on the cheerful disposition of the boy who had apparently gone through so much at such a young age and had somehow managed to find a way to smile despite it all.

Before he left the shop, he shook the owner’s hand and then went over to the boy and thanked him for the best tea he’d ever had. The boy gave him a glowing smile and Raman patted him on the head.

As he rode back, the clouds having cleared up, he was still full of thoughts, a mixed bag of shame, pride, gratitude and contentment. The roads were still a mess though, he noted amid these thoughts, and slowed down as he saw an old man walking off the pavement by the side of the road and in the opposite direction.

He gently rode into and out of the puddle directly next to the old man, taking care not to splash on him even a little.

The Jhalmuriwaala

He walked slowly, pushing his cycle that carried his means of livelihood. As he passed every second house, he’d announce his presence, making sure to advertise his offerings as lip-smacking & delicious as in possible. Onions, carrots, groundnuts and more. He took particular care to slow down in front of his regular patrons’ houses & call out a little extra loudly.  He stopped at the door of the local iron-wallah, one of the regulars, and cried –

“Bitiyaaa! Aapke Jhalmuriwaale uncle aa gye hain!! 🙂 “.

And as if on cue, a little girl came bounding out the door, “Jhalmuri uncle aa gye!”. And as he made a show of dishing out her favorite components in just the right quantities into a paper cone, he asked her – “Toh aaj aapne kya seekha ischool me?”

And the girl told him. Her teacher had scolded her for not completing her homework. But it wasn’t her fault. Her mother had fallen ill the previous day. Was she alright today?, he enquired. She was, he was assured.

She went on and on and he patiently listened and watched her devour his preparation.

Finally, as he always did, he packed up his bag, waved goodbye to her and left.

Not everyone engaged him the way this little girl did every other day. No one paused for longer than a transaction’s worth of time. Few even registered his face

Not this girl though. He’d forgotten how she’d started talking to him. But now it’d become a part of his route. A part of his routine. 

He’d stopped charging her for the jhalmuri weeks ago.

Her stories were payment enough for him.

Mainstream

The crack on the pavement had begun yawning at some point and had never closed its mouth. Unfortunately, Ramana was too lost in his thoughts to notice it and his right leg sank into it, tripping him enough to lose his balance and fall onto the surface, which he had the presence of mind to try and break with his hands. Unfortunately, one of these hands held a milk packet and the other clutched a newspaper roll of the day (14 Feb 1994), both of which he had just procured, and the result was two scraped palms, a mildly twisted foot, a very wet newspaper and one lost milk packet. “Great”, he muttered once he’d picked himself back up and examined the damage, “Just great.”. Perhaps, at this point, I should tell you a little about Ramana. He was 23 years old, a college-dropout at the age of 19 and a filler of job applications for a 3-year period, a pursuit at which he was yet to be successful. It was around the last qualification that he had been deep in thought about when he’d stuck his foot into the pavement crack. His father, Dr. Sapthagiri, [“M.D”, he’d made a point of announcing everytime he introduced himself] was not so quietly disappointed with the credentials of his non-Dr., non-MD son and made no attempts at hiding said disappointment everytime Ramana was within earshot. “40000 Rubees per annum!”, the good doctor had called out to Ramana’s mother, Lakshmi, that very morning. It seemed as if within the last few days, all of Sapthagiri’s friends’ sons and daughters had started their respective employments with salaries greater than Ramana’s current income of 0 INR. After the 5th day of hearing numbers in the morning in lieu of a “Good morning”, he started suspecting that his father was just inventing friends and their children at this point. Dr. Lakshmi (Ph.D) would merely sigh at her husband’s not-so-subtle mocking and cast a look of pity mixed with concern in the direction of Ramana’s room. It’s not as if the boy wasn’t trying. He just hadn’t had the good fortune of being one of those offsprings that got the best genes of both parents. Here it seemed as if he’d gotten neither. But he Was still trying.

Ramana had left the house to carry out his daily routine of bringing the day’s newspaper and a packet of milk, the number his father had called out still ringing in his ears and the train of thoughts that stemmed from his here had culminated in his crashing onto the pavement, milk and all. He’d just about dusted himself off and was searching for a hotel or something he could wash his hands at, when the propreitor of the store near where he’d fallen came rushing out – “Ayyoo, I keep telling these Municipality fellows to do something about this pavement, but do they listen! Never! Vaa vaa, come inside and clean yourself up”, he beckoned Ramana inside his shop and led him to a small sink at the back. Once he’d washed himself off and disposed of the wet milk packet and the useless newspaper roll, his eyes lingered on the rest of the store that was filled with pictures of locations that were decidedly not where they were. The store owner was a photographer, he decided, and asked incredulously- “So, you’ve been to alllll these places?”. The owner laughed and said – “No no, I’m a travel agent, the first one in the town! We’ve opened only a few months ago!”, he said proudly. Ramana had to take his word for it. It was the first time in his life that he was hearing about this sort of a profession. “So, what does a travel agent do? You’ve already denied travelling to these places”, he asked wisely. The owner, Satish, explained that he had contractors in all the places in the pictures and that they served as guides. The guides took people in the town to different places, showed them around and brought them back to the town. How many people and how many places so far, Ramana had wondered and Satish had admitted that they had only taken 2 people so far to another town 50 kms from there, but it was a start. Some of the photos had been sent to him by rich relatives by post, but that is where they wanted to go eventually, he had confided in the boy, once he’d decided that Ramana was not a prospective customer and just a curious fellow albeit a somewhat dim one from the looks of it. He did not voice this last bit of opinion. Ramana, after a few more smart sounding dialogues left Satish’s shop, thankful and filled with admiration. Here was a chap, creating an occupation out of nothing and he on the other hand had spent the last 3 years merely applying to mainstream occupations – many typing establishments (even though his typing speed was yet to be determined), some banks and one post office.

As he walked back, he thought about the last thing Satish had told him in response to what he had asked. “I started this because I wanted to travel the world but I had no money, so I thought I’d atleast try to make other people travel the world and give me money to help them do it.”. Ramana thought about what he wanted most in the world. “I want a job”, he said loudly and a resting dog stood up suddenly. By the time he reached home, he’d made up his mind. He would start a job agency for people searching for jobs. He had filled up so many forms, surely there was some merit to that, wasn’t there? What if he couldn’t get a job himself? He would help others and that would be his job. He didn’t know everything that it would take to start such an establishment, but he’d figure it out. He’d show his father that he too could make thousands of rubees. Hmph.

He walked in the door, a new man. Determined.

He washed his legs and prepared to go to his room to write up the initial plan to set up a job agency when his father’s voice rang out – “Where is the paper da Ramana?

Show your Work!

Author: Austin Kleon

When I read books like these, the reaction is as I expect to have going in – very little surprise overall. But what I do get out of them are reminders. In this case, to “Show your work”. Austin Kleon is compelling with his ten tips on what he believes are different ways in which you can show your work. Work that is tangible, work that is an act of constant progress and work that while humble, is effective. Both, from a sense that demonstrates your growing skill in any field that you choose to show your work in, and in a sense that you have the satisfaction of having journaled work sufficiently to look back on time well spent.
Now much of what I’ve said above are what I interpretively took away from the book. and not what was exactly said in it. And I think that is the job of the book well done. In fact, at this point in time I cannot even remember the ten tips that he’s provided. I think there is one that relates to social media, one that tells you that if you show your work, people will find you, a couple of quotes and …I don’t know. More stuff. But the point is, it made me remember to work on sharing my work but more importantly, Doing the work. Work isn’t meant to be done to be shared. The sharing should be a natural action that follows the doing, but the doing is not an option. And while I don’t remember much of the Content of the book, I do remember that I found myself disagreeing with very little of what he said.
This was a good book for simply reminding me about things I knew but hadn’t taken consciously seriously.
I will likely read it again.

Subjective rating : 4.5/5

Anxious People – The Netflix Show

I wrote a little about the book this show is based on, earlier this year. I’d absolutely loved it and ever since a dear friend, Reema, told me that the trailer for the Netflix show was out, I’d been excitedly awaiting its release, slated for December 29, 2021, which if you’ve still managed to keep track of time, was yesterday.

It was a little late in the day that I realised that it was here and I waited for meeting after meeting to get over so I could start watching the show.

I started episode one with a mixture of expectations – prepared for, but dreading disappointment, but hopeful that somehow it just might turn out to be a good adaptation. Because you know, in a book, it’s easy to leave out a lot of details chapter after chapter, and perform reveals slowly. I won’t tell you what can be left out because the smallest of hints are enough to ruin the experience of both reading and watching this book/show if you haven’t yet. But I digress. Episode one turned out to be extremely promising. Both the policemen grow on you – the father seems perfectly cast as I imagined him in my head but the son, enhhh, not so much. But eventually even he seems to be a good fit as the dynamics between them play out per expectations. And yes, my benchmark for the show (as all adaptations are) is the book 🙂

I made myself a cup of Maggi and settled down for episode two, deciding to turn in after that but somehow I’ve completed Episode three as well! Speaks to the well-made-ness of the show I suppose. Now, so far, there Has been some divergence from the book. Right from the beginning. Well, of Course there has. Like I said earlier, the sleight of hand that’s possible in a book can’t be transferred to the show in totality. But I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed. Lennart. His goofiness is extremely heartening to watch and the chemistry between Lennart and Zarah is beautiful. As is how they’re setting up Ro and Julia to be in Episode 4 that I’ve just started. Anna-Lena is also an excellent cast although I can’t really say if the husband couldn’t have been played a little better. But I’ll reserve harsher judgement for when I’ve seen a little more of him in the upcoming episodes.

For now, my first impression, I’m glad to say, has been one of relief.

3 episodes down. 3 to go 🙂 And yes, I will be rereading the book.

The Xerox Shop of J.P.Nagar

I do a lot of stupid things. And more often than not, they end up with acceptable, pleasant and sometimes even desirable results*. The most recent one was today, in getting a 600 page textbook printed** online but, forgetfully, not spiral bound as intended. So when the courier arrived with a cover enclosing a sheaf of 600 sheets, unbound and loose (but thankfully in order), I was puzzled and indignant, initially at the printers and then upon realization, at myself. The next 20 or so minutes were spent in wondering how best to collate the sheets.

Many experiments were done – Stapling chapter 1 separately was attempted. I had overestimated the common stapler. Then I segregated each chapter and arranged the 12 chapters in a neat row and congratulated myself on how good the arrangement looked. I briefly considered reading the book page by page. This idea was quickly dismissed. I also considered tagging them but maintaining a tagged set of 100-120 pages at a time is quite a chore as evidenced by past experiences. Finally I decided I’d undo my initial mistake and get the book spiral bound from a shop nearby. It would come at a price perhaps greater than I would have got it at if I’d remembered to do it the first time but oh well. It was the only way, I reasoned.

As I got ready to assemble the neat set of sheets, I wondered if I really wanted a bulky spiral bound book to carry around everytime I was reading a chapter or worse, a couple of pages. No. God had wanted me to make this mistake so I would have a choice, after looking at the number of sheets, of a combination of chapters to spiral bind per my liking. And when the Divine interfere in man-made plans, who are we to disagree? I decided I’d get the book spiral bound , two chapters per mini-book – 6 mini-books in total.

This new arrangement with intermediate separators for chapter-markers in place, I went to the Xerox shop. Now, bear in mind that I’m already hoping to reduce my overall cost to minimize my initial errors, so I’d decided to get the best deal for this additional-cost-incurring spiral binding. I approached the man at the counter and assumed a tone of what I hoped was familiarity – “Hello!! Isn’t your owner around?”, I asked placing my Queen’s pawn two steps forward (1.e5), the opening move of every chess player around the globe. My opponent showed no sense of expected affability, an individual obviously very used to dealing with potential bargainers. “Gone out. Tell me”, he parried (1.d5 ). My chance at an early advantage lost, I decided the only way forward was friendly aggression. “Heh, I’d like these pages spiral bound.”, and without leaving a gap for a dialogue, I continued – “I come here all the time. How much will you charge for these?”. The man scratched his forehead – “If you come here all the time, don’t you know how much a spiral bind costs?”, he sniggered, as if to say – “Dei, if you are bad, I am your dad“. He had me stumped, I admit. But not one to give up, fueled by skills gained over years of cheapness, I said, “Hehe, I meant, I used to come here all the time. Studied right here”, I thumbed at the school behind me. Never mind the fact that this shop hadn’t existed at the time I studied there, but he wouldn’t know. He seemed satisfied. His tone turned genial – “Saar 30 rupees per copy. 180 kodi“. I recognized the shift in tone but I still felt entitled for an enhanced discount. Not my best moment. “150 madkoli“. There was some friendly heheh-ing, a promise of future sales and referrals on my part, some head shaking and eventual hesitant nodding on his and he began the task at hand. “Mission: Bargaining – Accomplished”, I rejoiced.

And I waited. And watched.

The man separated the sheets I’d placed in order of chapters (thanks to my markers) and deftly took out a few sheets at a time and ran them through a punching machine before setting them aside. He repeated this task over and over untiring and with an air of someone who’d done this hundreds of times. A master at work. As I saw him run the punch through the sheets, I noticed the work it took. Even though he seemed to do it effortlessly, there was obviously some energy being expended with every downward motion. When someone skillful is at work, the sight of it is beautiful. Like a potter with his hands shaping a pot out of what was just minutes ago, mud. Like a carpenter slicing through wood as if it were butter. Like a man at a Xerox shop spiralling a coil of plastic through a vertical array of newly created holes as if it were just a nut around a bolt.

In less than twenty minutes, he placed the 6 mini-books in front of me and said – “Done saar.”. I gave him 200 rupees, waved to say I didn’t want the change and mouthed “Thank you”. He smiled and said “Thank you” in return.

I walked away, with 6 spiral bound books and a glum feeling of shame which was now being enveloped by a blanket of satisfaction.


*We will not talk about the times they resulted in disasters here.

**The textbook’s name will remain unnamed because while I’ve contributed to the brimming coffers of textbook sellers everywhere for a long time, sometimes the textbooks in the Indian subcontinent are overly heavy on the pockets as this one was.

The Impermanence of the Internet..?

Let’s assume I die tomorrow.

Alright, let’s not be quite so morbid to start off.

Let’s assume I die the day before this website is to be renewed. They will probably give me a warning of a deferred payment for 30 days. Perhaps 60. Then the website is deactivated. And after another 60 days, this website will have been deleted. I haven’t put this on an auto-renewal plan. There will be no one paying for the website if I don’t do it.

In such a situation, this website will cease to exist. More importantly, (as if anything we do has importance; let’s humor ourselves that it does) everything I’ve written so far will evaporate as if it never existed. As if it were never written. Some of it might linger on in some people’s memories, those of who have read some of it. But eventually it’ll all be gone. If there is a future generation that could have tripped over some sign of my existence by way of my thoughts, this medium of storage, the Internet, the blogosphere, doesn’t offer for that possibility at all. Then again, why does it matter for anyone in a future where new memories will be created to ever read the ramblings of mine from 2021? I think even in my most cynical of states, I know the answer to this question is that it does matter. Because as meaningless as someone’s (yours, mine) day today is for a future that might be unrecognizable from today, it might just open up someone’s imagination to wonder about a time they never knew. A time they were never told about. After all, it’s only because of scientists of generations past noting down all their findings that science and technology has made the progress it has today.

There are definitely many points of failure that need to fail before the aforementioned apocalypse sets in. My payment to WordPress has to stop. Failing which, my website will probably be demoted to a x.wordpress.com domain with the characteristic branding of a freeloader by way of the website hosting this page – which is not so bad. Then at some point, WordPress itself has to stop existing, which is not all that farfetched a scenario. Businesses are sunset all the time. The point is, there can be a situation in which the passing-down of thoughts to the next generations can fail if continued in this medium.

Then what medium is foolproof? Or rather, deathproof? Is there such a way? Is the actual practice of writing on paper better? I’m inclined to say – Yes. I’ve seen written notes from 3 generations prior to mine, which, while in Tamil, are still present. But as I “write” this, I realize I’m at a cusp-ish-generation that will be the first to leave behind thoughts in a digital format i.e. in a cloud-based form. So I have no real yardstick by which to brand this form of journaling an inferior one.

I guess time will tell.

But I won’t be around to find out.

Social Media Sucks – Part 1 of ∞

This article about Facebook’s history of weighing reactions differently overly time culminating in uniformity for all reactions except for the “like” and the “care” reaction was published in October this year, 2021 – https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/tech-news/emoji-reactions-cute-addition-facebook-became-headache-rcna3747

I’ve hated the concept of social media while being a grudging yet more-than-active participant in it for years now. And what gnaws on me day in and day out is the fact that this is all very dystopian and unnatural – the concept of assigning points to every little thing we say. every thought we have that we choose to put out there. This is not normal and definitely can’t be healthy. We weigh things in real life in relative terms already. Now for years, we’ve started getting conditioned to weigh every statement we make as well, wanting each to perform better than the last.

If Facebook was being shitty assigning multiple points to Emojis vs 1 for likes etc, Twitter is no better – the only difference is here we’re in a pre-reactions world letting everyone else’s judgement measure if Each thought of ours was “Good” or not, if it resonated with them enough to “Retweet” or not. And for some inexplicable reason, Retweets (that are not endorsements) have become extremely appealing to us, perhaps giving us reason to revel privately that somehow we are not alone in having this thought. This is obviously not leaving Instagram out by any means. Each photo we put out receives meaningless “likes” from friends and families who, for all we know, are double tapping out of nothing more than habit. And we know this. And YET, there’s a hit of dopamine that we crave and go back for to check the number of likes we’ve recieved on the egotistic photos we posted.

While all this is disgusting, it probably shouldn’t surprise us. The concept of attention-seeking isn’t new. As Humans, it’s almost primal that most of us seek attention for the things we do. It’s how a baby starts off, receiving attention for the absolutely most mundane things he/she does – standing, walking, reading for the first time – all of which are praised heavily by the doting family, if we were lucky to have one. And we should count ourselves lucky for having it. Cut to school when we participate in events that make us “stand out” – extempores, debates, quizzes, races. Followed by events at work that “award” you for outperforming everyone else in your salaried role in that quarter or the year – the entire society is designed to make you want to stand out, simply because you already are, one among many. So so many.

Then it would seem that really, all the technological giants have done really is exploit this desire we have for attention and make it work For them. And make no mistake, it really is for Them.

I cannot offer a solution here. Being a part of the problem and being afflicted by it still, I cannot proffer one.

All I can do it write pieces about it with my thoughts on the topic over and over till I hammer it home for myself and never visit my “profiles” again.

And hopefully, just…live.


Needless to say, none of the posts in this series will ever be posted on any form of social media – Not Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and not even Whatsapp.

Minnal Murali

I watched Minnal Murali 🌩 day before yesterday and absolutely loved it. Tovino Thomas’s character development from a selfish everyday guy to a hero who understands what a hero means is so well done and you can’t help feeling a little sympathy for his nemesis either! Guru Somasundaram in the villain role absolutely kills it, his obsession in place, his motivations for doing what he’s doing, eventually transforming into rogue revenge is a treat to watch. If you’re looking for One movie to end this year with, let Minnal Murali, directed by Basil Joseph be the one.
And do watch it in Malayalam. With subtitles if you need them. It’s a bloody delight ♥

I just want to blog/write on the Internet. What platform should I use?

A friend recently asked me what he should use if his usecase is that he just wants to pen down some thoughts on the Internet. I thought I’d list all the different ways I host my different websites that I have for different usecases. Maybe one of these will help someone else stumbling across this page as well –

I initially started off with Static Site Generators and later adopted Medium, WordPress and Substack over time. I’ve abandoned Medium now.

Regarding the ease of usage, I find WordPress (abhiwrites.com) to be the most dependable – from a long-life perspective because Automattic (the company behind WP) has been around for a looong time and I feel like I can rely on it. Add to that, the convenience factor is unbeatable. Even the latest post, I just typed it up on my phone and posted. I pay around 3200 INR for the domain name and hosting per year.

The second most convenient is the Substack website. But I’m wary of it (Like I was with Medium) because it’s new and I don’t know if they might pivot to something else at some point. I’m using them cautiously but they’re also ridiculously easy to post on. The block structure of usage and what formatting you can do on Substack is limited as compared to WordPress but it works. It is fully free as of now because I haven’t paid for a custom domain. I haven’t even looked into what a paid plan offers.

The third most convenient is my Hugo website for BBB. Go gets easily installed and deploying the site once you’ve put in the initial work of choosing a theme is minimal. I like that there’s flexibility there in terms of how I want my structure to be etc. Being a programmer, there’s some lee-way there. But the limitation there for me is I am not very good with UI. So if you check the website, the roughness will show. The plus point though is that I only pay for the domain name on Bigrock and hosting is on Github pages . Approx 1.6k per year for the domain name , security etc.

The last and most tedious is my Jekyll website. While it’s posh-er than the BBB website, Ruby is a pain to work with on some machines. So I don’t like it much. I will migrate this eventually.

I used to use Medium and some of my friends still do. There is a lot of discovery that’s possible for your articles because of related “Medium publishers” picking up your writing based on the content, tags etc, but the reason I stopped using it is because I started seeing articles being put under a Premium paywall even when the content was sub-par. An elitist’s garden that doesn’t let most people smell the flowers. That didn’t sit well with me and I’ve since migrated all my content to one of the above mentioned sites. But if you want to use it, that’s up to you. It is convenient to publish on Medium akin to Substack.

tl;dr –
If all you want is to pick up a place to write on and just …write, WordPress/Substack are your best options.
If you feel like you’d like to take up the technical challenges of setting up your Static Page Generator, Hugo or Jekyll or Ghost are good alternatives!

The end goal however shouldn’t be lost in all this hungama Writing.