"A profound unmitigated loneliness is the only truth of life"
- R.K. Narayan

I see "4" everywhere. I see it on everyone's 'four'head - its at the 'four'front of all my thoughts. All  four quarters of the day in all four corners of my mind there is just one aim - how do I bring 'four'th the "4" to the fore!!

This is really just a very casual light-hearted post. I would type this as I think along and probably would not visit back to correct or refine. It was just one of those usual competitions they announced at office. A short story writing contest to mark some 4th anniversary (hence the "4" based theme). I have pondered over such stuff in the past and have wanted to jump in but lethargy just got the better of me. This time round I am doing this as I desperately need to overcome my writer's block. I haven't even wondered what the prize for the winner is. Probably winning is a long shot for me.. or probably price (of not trying) matters more than the prize. I hope not to fail myself this time!

Should I weave something involving four friends going in four directions, or maybe something around 4th of July and independence, or maybe something like the Four Muscateers - four things not to do in Muscat, or what about the 4 a.m. paranormal activity in the 4th house on 4th street of 24 Paraganas? Go figure...

01/31 Update : The usual stuff. Writers block!
"Yaar! I have told you two thousand twelve times by now not to dwell on those doomsday prophecies."
"Yah but just think.. there is still some time left and its so strange that I can't even think of two thousand and twelve fun things to do by then.."

Its a mixed bag. Even without any prediction its quite obvious to common sense that our society is heading towards some kind of disaster. Our holy scriptures too indicate how the current eon (yuga) will finally cycle on to the next phase. A transition of the very reality of our survival is imminent yet how the turnover will actually happen is something thats fun to know through prophecies.

Reality stings me when I see so much corruption all around. Greed, short-sightedness, narrow frame of mind, lack of civilized prudent decision making - all ingredients leading up to a multiple fractured society, as we know it. When I see glimpses of pure and pristine world in the freshness of early morning dew, in the vibrancy of a rainbow, in the austere silence of the mountains, in the innocence of an infant's smile, in the serenity of soft wind rustling through dried leaves on a quiet sunday afternoon, I can't help but wonder why these cannot linger on forever. Why do I get thrust back into the big bad world of crowds, garbage, dog-eat-dog competition, unnecessary hurry, unreasonable ambitions, meaningless rituals? Is God playing video game with the world (some ultimate doom kind of game) and we all are merely puppets in it? Is God being a shepherd, ushering us all sheep together, mutely overseeing us without worrying about our nature as our destiny will be to end being dead meat someday? or Is God focusing on each one of us, showing us both sides of the coin so we can choose the one that suits us? Is the end of the world so real? Frustrated moods sometimes make me think its necessary.

It was certainly not these thoughts why I went to the movie 2012, maybe it was the funny curiosity towards prophecies. If its was a Ron Howard or Robert Zemeckis movie then I could claim I saw it just for its director. This one did not have enticing reviews either, yet I couldn't fathom why all weekend shows were sold out all over Hyderabad. The gang of wifey's folks I set out with was hell bent to watch it on that Saturday and hence we did something totally 'out of the box' (even the rest of the gang wouldn't guess it). We watched the movie dubbed in Telugu (and sadly for me - without subtitles) as those were the only tickets we could grab. Once inside, it was something of an experience to see the white-skins and red-necks mouthing the Andhra language. Not sure of the English version, but with Telugu I suddenly felt so much cackle around that I wasn't surprised the earth began to shake under such heavy lingo. The US President suddenly appeared like a local leader doling out a state assembly speech. No offense to the language or its people, but the end of the world seemed so welcoming because I felt it brought in a much needed silence. I guess I would have felt the same had I seen the movie in any Indian language. Indians have become so noisy lately... If they want you to listen to them, they wouldn't mind telling the same thing two thousand and twelve times, if needed!
Call it the erstwhile capital of the British empire, Call it a bustling and bristling metro, Call it a foodie's paradise, Call it a grand megalopolis - nothing summarizes it better than simply calling it 'Calcutta'! The very place that we decided 'on-the-spur' to visit on behalf of our third anniversary on the independence day weekend. It is no tourist hot-spot; before this trip it was just another city where my wife had  incidentally lived a figment of her childhood! But I was to discover how those days shaped the rest of her life.. her personality.. and how much more Calcutta has been a part of her life than she has been a part of it.

We had already had a satisfying trip of Konark-Puri the previous day, and setting foot into the bustle of Howrah Junction wouldn't even hint at what lay beyond its walls. Calcutta, even with Durga Puja still a long way off, amazed us with its pulsating vibrancy blended inextricably with its charming antiquity. Though  famous for its Howrah bridge, Calcutta showed us another significant bridge... one that  incorrigibly stretched from an antediluvian past to an inescapable present.

First impression on the ground : the city is saturated! I read that one-fifth of the world's population lives on the bank of river Ganga - the city's streets were already proving this. It didn't look like there was any bandwidth for growth. The streets are packed to capacity. The city has all means of transport that can be conceived of - buses, autos, cabs, cycle-rickshaws, underground metro, local trains and the 'endangered' trams -  and all are conveniently crowded. The dilapidated British-era buildings present a forlorn facade of the city's bygone glory but even in those broken glass windows you could see faces peeping out. Even in the torn-down meshes of forgotten nooks there are dirty urchins reliving a Calcutta of their own. Even on the narrow pavements that need oodles of repair, there are delicately balanced push-carts selling fried noodles.

The city (like the other metros) seems constipated with its denizens but it still doesn't throw you up. There's something that gives a feel the city is still growing somehow.. maybe in the hearts of its people.

We didn't want  to devour the city with one hired taxi ride and wanted to explore it street by street... footstep by footstep. This, we realized later, was the best way to taste what Calcutta had to offer. Ably assisted by a slight drizzle (which never let the humidity get to us) we tread around breathing in not only the city's air but also its smells, its noises, its chaos, its poises. They say the means are sometimes as important as the ends - the foot journey proved it. The smiling faces that gave us directions, the stopping at every street corner for a quick jalebi or chowmein or samosa, the tea served in cute looking earthern pots or matkas, the haunting presence of victorian architecture and the general sweetness of the Bengali language was so satisfying that it quelched any frustration of missing key targets - even when we missed Thakurbari (Tagore House) reaching there barely 5 minutes after its closing, even when Marble House turned out to be just a ghetto, even when the glorious India Museum turned out to be closed on Mondays.

The food needs a special mention. The variety of cuisines the city had to offer is nothing short of a celebration. We treated ourselves to such delightful melange of dishes that I wonder if my stomach felt like we traveled the entire world in one day! And its not just food... even the explosion of colors in their garb is second to none. But what makes a mark is the balance of life and maturity in exhibition that Bengalis seems to have cultured themselves into. They are pompous yet bourgeoisie. Their capacity for intellectual debate, their disinclination towards insane adoption of technology, their appreciation of an unhurried lifestyle all go on to show that Bengalis savor every passing moment to the fullest and thus gives us outsiders an insight to how our fast paced lives can be so demeaning to the native spirit of the innate soul. Calcutta is neither old nor shining new.. its just ageless!

As if this was not enough, there was a notable icing on the cake in the last few hours of our trip.

We managed to get in touch with Mr.Vinayak Lohani, the convener of Parivaar, and he graciously arranged for us a trip of his abode for the destitute children. Several campuses on small patches of land throughout 24-Paraganas is where Mr.Lohani and his team of zealous social workers tend to the children that are on the 'downside of advantage'. The children are housed, fed and schooled in their in-house facility. The spark in the eyes of the children when they greeted us was proof enough of the divine journey that the Parivaar is set upon.

This was just yet another endearing aspect of a city which would leave a strong and indelible imprint in our hearts forever. We may go on to visit other great cities but there would be none with the poise and steadfastness matching Calcutta.

On a flip note, we could say that...
(from an ad displayed behind one of the municipal buses)

01-Sep-2012 : Revised after proof-reading with Nivedita (Diventa).
"... the search for lost things is hindered by routine habits and that is why it is so difficult to find them." - One hundred years of solitude (so-called classic by Gabriel Marquez)

This book came into my purview as part of my 'Bucket List'. I have been interested in Mr. Marquez's writing ever since I bumped into him in the list of Literature Nobel Laureates. They told me this was his best novel. Having read about his Latin American background, his journo profession and finally his connection with the revolutionary Fidel Castro - I never expected the book to be what it turned out to be. The book heightened my respect for Mr.Marquez as a brilliant narrator with an exquisite skill at creating magical sense of reality but being contrary to my expectations, it finally ended up being just an item scratched out of my list.

Magic Realism - that was a new genre for me even though I felt I had already tasted it in the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. But seems Marquez's realism is not so much to entertain as it is to psyche. It sometimes becomes so much of a dense collage of such innumerable facets that the reader is bound to lose his grip on reasonable reality (if not his mind) for one snap of a moment. But there is more spaghetti code to it - with the intermingling of both cyclic and linear chronology of events (never affixing a date to things), repetition of names across generations (and characteristics with names) and creating a geography where only Macondo is absolute and everything relative to it (though Macondo itself loses shape and identity over the course). Overall, starting from a castle built in the air the plot ends up being a labyrinth in the haze. I was left questioning when and how did the 100 years pass and more importantly where exactly was the solitude?
I can say that my interest in reading - and more precisely reading history and biographies - started with this book. This was the first book that I picked from my client's corporate library when I flew to Portland, Maine in Sep, 2004. I was not interested in the usual business, administration, finance, retail domain, stores operations books and this one stood out. The plain look on Sam's face (wearing a Wal-Mart cap) belied the spirit - the steely spirit behind that simple face - the unrelenting simpleton yet ferocious businessman that hid behind those glassy eyes.

The book portrays nothing less. Sam Walton was not a man of noble birth nor was he gifted with out-of-the-Earth qualities. It does not even appear he was a visionary. Yet his restlessness in being the best always bore fruit. His attitude of ‘take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves’ worked for him. There also does not seem to be an innovativeness about him - he accepts that he used to visit the stores of his competitors (mainly K-Mart) to get his ideas. He used to borrow the best out of all of them and get it running in his stores.

Once deep into the book – one can feel the real spirit of the man. As it becomes him, he gets straight onto business right from the word go. This is also evident from the fact that he starts abruptly with his first days in retailing – about the couple of stores that he experiments with and even has to close down his ‘only’ store reluctantly just to move to Bentonville, Ark and start off a juggernaut of an empire that none has been able to stop till-date. Though he moves from one store to a handful to a score and eventually to hundreds - he is still reluctant to abandon his older ways of working - giving importance to the smallest of aspects like building a store with his own associates, procuring the goods from local markets while working out deals himself, etc.

Wal-Mart today is the biggest private employer and right there at the top of the Fortune list. Though Wal-Mart stands out in every respect of its ballgame, Sam Walton stands out for something different. He stands for the simplistic nature of building formidable business empires, for valuing family life and personal time in the face of growing professional responsibilities, for always being one with the community and preserving communal identities, for building a foundation of a core group of values and standing by it always. The book flows through with such panache that I felt a part of the Walton family all the while – and mourned the death of Sam at the very end.

Truly an inspirational read. Truly... ‘Made in America’!
First of all - this is not a book review. Its just a small vent of thoughts before I get on to the more serious book that I had abandoned in between. Given the mystery storyline, I obviously cannot delve into the story per se. Its certainly a mean thing to leak crucial details and spoil the fun for rest of the readers. Being an aspiring author myself, I always have two resolutions. Always acknowledge the hard-work and focus that goes into a literary creation; And NEVER buy pirated prints - it is an insult to the art of writing-publishing itself.

I picked up this Sidney Sheldon novel as a break from what I had been reading for sometime. I was actually in the middle of 'Freedom at Midnight' when I took this break. I was so eager to get back to the latter, that I completed this book in two solar days. A personal record at that time. But I should admit that the gripping nature of the novel also held me in its sway.

The book reminded me of a movie that I had seen, but am not sure which of them came out first. I did not find any particularly informative details in it and I also felt that at most parts I could pretty well guess what lay around the next corner (the next twist!). I could even guess the climax which left me a very satisfied reader. A nice lingering taste in the mouth.:)

All in all a nice book to read ONCE. Am sure will be a treat to Sidney Sheldon fans. About me - I dont seem to get into the groove with thrillers/sci-fi novels. For now, I would get back to reading real life events and biographies.I am sure the next time I pick up a Sidney Sheldon novel will be when I totally forget that I had ever read a novel of his before. I just hope it will not be a 'Tell me your dreams" again!
When I started reading, what struck me at once was the style of narration. It is quite contrary to what I had normally read upto then. Phrases like "He thinks he is big and all", "He thinks he is good or something"... reminds me of our school lingo; except that there was no "Simp-simply", "me-me-only", "go man, I will not show" or "go ya" in the book. I felt Salinger could have been the harbinger of new narrative styles but it was probably not to be - as this was his only published novel. Yet the novel remains controversial and popular to this day...

It is a first hand account of Holden Caulfield, a premature teenager sorts who is just about to be expelled from school. The storyline just happens across a couple of days and is based in New York City. It starts when Holden's semester is coming to a close and Christmas vacations are just about to begin.
Holden is portrayed to be a nonconformist - trying not to appreciate the usual sense of the world; ending up being under-mature while trying to be over-mature for his age. Getting a false sense of adulthood by being over-protective over his sister and also attempting to live out in the big bad world of NYC on his own.
Some touching points of this novel (for me) was the way he recounts events or people in his life and they way he feels about them. The lamenting to meet up with his childhood flame - a girlfriend that he had gotten so intimate with. Not able to forget school buddies and bullies alike. Trying to pick at people - ranting about their shortcomings and getting a false sense of novelty about himself. Seeing everything in this world, other than himself, to be phony or artificial. Some very valid emotions that any typical city-bred teenager goes through during the course of sexual and mental maturity.

I count this book in the same league as Million Mutinies by Naipaul or Last Day of a Condemned Man by Victor Hugo. Its strange as these books are all so varied but what matters to me is what touched me and in all three books there is a profound speculation aspect (of questioning various aspects of existence) that just strikes a chord with me. I can relate to it so well that sometimes its not a book.. it becomes a mirror!
The sky never comes crashing down. Though some feel the human race would not see the end of this century it is never too late to start (or restart!) something new. Life will go on irrespective of whether it is routine or innovative. Not everyone is ready to fly their kite when the winds of change blow. Monotony is not passe - the sun performs the same rise-burn-set routine everyday and yet is worshipped. The mountain endures rain bearing clouds and snow capped peaks all year- and yet retains its magnificence. The lake has been hiding slimy eels in its belly for ages - yet its serenity is so disquieting.
Life - nevertheless - is running out. Age is catching up like an 'Indian Taxi meter'. Time casts irreversible scars on my persona and psyche. I can choose to follow tradition and meet a conventional death. Maybe I will.. only time will tell. But for now... let me blog through my life..
"I felt really alive only when I was closest to death.."

Sometimes Science gives me a fake sense of happiness. According to it, I am alive and kicking. I have a healthy lifestyle, I eat well, make merry with friends.. or in biological words.. I have a perfect metabolism, right hormonal balance and a fully functional brain. But does that make me alive? or like believed vastly in our country, is there a spiritual aspect to living? Something that originates in the soul or self and propagates through the levels of our existence?

Sri Sri from Art of Living gives 7 levels at which each of us lives - body, breath, mind, intellect, memory, ego and being (the self)

I think I qualify for all those 7 levels (memory being the smallest and ego, the most significant). But why is there still a vacuum? an emptiness? a feeling of a fruit that has either not ripened yet or is ripe with a rotting core (confused in giving the analogy too!). Is there really something called Satisfaction and Happiness that count so much as to make a difference between savoring Life and feeling Lifeless (or Helpless or even Hopeless). Or is it just confusion that is not letting me appreciate life? a blinding confusion that takes the color out of small beautiful joys of life.. a deafening confusion that distracts me away from the divine lessons of nature...

If its confusion, then only patience, time and a strong will can clarify it. Panic or haste doesn't help. Murky water was never cleared by unsettling it more. But if there is a genuine discomfort at the heart of my depression, then it just needs more introspection (Guru, where are you?). Guess its some long rope of fate that is pulling me into a direction that I can sense but not make sense out of... not yet! (Again, patience..)

I know I need to act, but in what direction? Do I just go ahead and test the depth of water with both feet? Do I take the plunge in whatever seems fit or sounds good? They say I am too late to do anything like that. But I say its never too late as long as I am not Mr.Late (like - Late Vikas Prabhu). They say I dont have the liberty to experiment anymore.

Maybe its right that I have approached the 'now or never' stage. Probably it won't be too bad if I even cross that line.. but I do pray my destiny unravels itself soon so I don't waste precious moments staring at a blank wall. So I start feeling the beat of my heart in whatever I do. So I feel like my life is making sense after all. So I not only start living but also start feeling alive... while there is still some life left!
Over many tribulations and turbulences of life, many of which ended in failures and passing depressions, I have started appreciating the importance of one's will power. If a step is taken without the will behind it, then only luck can make it materialize. With a strong will, any obstacle can be worked around. A goal may have to be compromised sometime, but the will behind it shall not leave the journey unfinished.

"Where there is will.. there is always a way.. out!"

If only I had the will to move myself into a niche.. maybe I would not have just ripened (read: rotten) lying down. I should confidently say its purely by luck (read: destiny) that I am still living the good life. I never remember taking any strong decision.. never did I will to change anything around me... never did I even have to hold fort against an opposition. Probably that is why at the core of my seemingly successful and ideal life beats the heart of emptiness. Some vaccuum within me that is, unfortunately (read: helplessness blamed on bad fortune), not letting any sowed seed of will power to germinate... making it sound like its too late for me now!

"Jab tum dil se kisi ko chaho.. tho poori kayanaath usey tumse milaane ki koshish main lag jaati hai"

More than one instance points to the need to have a strong will power. A strong will shall bring so much clarity of thought. Something that will be a flu shot for my wavering, tempestuous and whimsical mind. Great seers have spoken about how will power controls the entire world around us.. How it connects our soul to our creator and sustains the life energy. Its a much investigated (yet not acknowledged by Science) fact that various manifestations can be materialized just by willing them strongly. Two examples for this came to me via books that I encountered.. Autobiography of a Yogi and The Secret. Ironically these books were also read by sheer chance (read: lack of choice to do anything else) and not really with a will to do so..

Can I massage my overpowering ego and mould it into a strong will power? A will power that gives me the ability to be flexible yet steadfast.. to enable my mind to stand its ground for what it believes in... more so, to first have faith in its ability to believe in what is right.

Maybe I always failed because I try to achieve it from inside. Maybe God's ways are outside bound. Maybe advice, guidance or mentoring can help me in this? Will a guru come forth some day and make a deserving pupil out of me? Will my will come to be (before I disappear into eternity... without even writing a will!)