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

"When hell gets full, the dead will walk the Earth!" read this gruesome website that my friend regularly visited. I always wondered how and when he got addicted to that kind of gore, because this was the same guy who let go of a plump medical college offer as he could not stand blood. His nature was like the sand dunes - you couldn't guess what shape it would take next. Then one day, he suddenly left! His family moved.. without leaving much of a trace. Well! the world, today, deals with more insane issues than the cold shoulder of a friend who walks away without turning back.

That morning, the newspaper carried an unusually high number of casualty reports. Death had danced furiously the previous night. Flash rains caused several automobile collisions in one place, while a high speed train crash killed scores somewhere else. One country, constantly ravaged by war, had lost an entire village to an ambush and then military forces took out several suspects in retribution the same night. A stand-off in one country was finally broken with the police snuffing out an entire suspected drug cartel. A suicide bomber had killed dozens at the funeral of a city mayor - and I kept wondering if they counted even the corpse in the casualties - the poor man having died twice in one day!

All this news reminded me of that 'runaway' friend. During his web-foraging, he had once chanced upon a weird article, and that had changed the way I had looked at the developing world. That article had predicted all that we read in newspapers today, albeit using a strange logic. "Oil!" it said, "is our chief source of energy. They say Oil fuels growth and transforms lives. Thats undeniable, but what kind of transformation? Have we looked into the past and compared really objectively? In all our horror movies, terror is unleashed when somebody awakens the dead from their slumber in the deep. Aren't we doing the same thing? Doesn't Oil too come from the deep? And what a coincidence - Science itself confirms that Oil was formed from dead and decayed matter facing millions of years of high temperature and pressure at the bottom of the earth. So when we go and drill for oil, aren't we (atleast rhetorically) bringing back the dead? And why just Oil - take all the things which come from the depths - Coal, Gas, Gold and Diamonds. The spirit of the dead has awakened with all these and they are walking amongst us now - bringing hell with them. Oil fuels wars. Coal and Gas power killing machines which breathe fire upon us. Diamonds fuel our greed and selfishness. Gold fuels inequality amongst fellow-men. And very recently, they digged deeper and found Nuclear fuel! God only knows what hell is waiting for us now.. ". 

In some way, this article had a lasting impression on me and I just could not digest science and technology as boons for humankind. As time passed and the world seemed to be going from bad to worse everyday, it came to dawn that may be some of the monsters have indeed been stoked back from the dead. Maybe hell was slowly descending into the lives around us.  I had started hoping we don't scratch too much out of our dear blue berry, lest the monsters we unleash rain down the armageddon upon us one day!
It was the oldest standing house in our neighborhood. Wind and rain had slapped its facade for ages. Vines had scrambled on its yellow walls every season and fallen off in the next, only to leave muddy trails which looked like splattered grey mass from our brains. Its small courtyard lay conquered in crabgrass and parthenium. Its rusted iron gate had long retired from securing the house. With paint falling off in flakes and bricks dislodged, the outer compound wall resembled the toothless smile of an old woman. Beside the front door hung the mark of its owner, the nameplate which boasted of Greek Renaissance design in its days and barely a piece of scrap today. The name was all but erased, only the first letters - a 'T' and a 'M' - remained. The full name, like our ephemeral lives, was long forgotten. People who noticed the new ways of the old man used to call him - 'Temporary Man'!

For me - Temporary Man lived from time immemorial, or atleast he predated the others I knew. His past wasn't known and it looked like he didn't care much about it either. He always cared about the present, 'live the moment' as he would put it, so much so that even his future didn't bother him at all. His attitude was totally focussed only on surviving the current moment. 'Take care of the minutes and hours will take care of themselves' went a great saying. Temporary Man, probably, never knew the concept of hours. His life was lost in the ticking of minutes itself.

Temporary Man never carved a distinct identity for himself. He was like a slick of oil floating on water. Whatever the society respected and adored, he made that his ambition. When people around him changed their view, his opinions would change too. He consciously developed an awareness to appreciate what people liked to be acknowledged and also to exhibit what people seemed to notice. He would focus more on doing tasks that got him people's attention. Success, for him, was always measured against the yardstick of people's expectations. Truth, always meant that fact which had majority support. It was his way of life to do 'cool' things and all other activities were mere chaff.

Being organized was a burden. His porch was never broomed regularly, clothes were washed only after the dirty linen piled up, books taken out of the shelf were never returned back to its place. When things got out of hand, he would hire a maid for a day and get it all cleaned up. When his bike rattled with a loose silencer, he wrapped a used towel to muffle the sound. The drain leaked outside his gate but why take it seriously when he could just hop, skip and jump over it. The chikoo tree in his courtyard fell one windy night, and he kicked it aside the next morning. It lay by the gate side for years until termites powdered it out. He would buy fashionable gadgets and within months it would be laid to rest as his friends had started talking about newer models. He mended broken windows, oiled his creaking door and replaced burnt bulbs but he never saw the bigger picture. His house had started falling to ruin and he didn't even notice it. Long term solutions were unknown to him. Temporary Man always had temporary fixes and yet he was proud because he had so many of them..

Mr.BB had shared a rapport with Temporary Man during their younger days. Everytime Mr.BB walked by the TM house, he would pause at the gate. Maybe he wanted to nod at Mr.Temporary Man and recall olden days. Little did he know that in this world, friendships can also be temporary and memories of the past are as easily forgotten as temporary fashion trends of the present!
It began as a distant voice outside my window - on a relaxed Sunday morning, while I lay on my back, half-asleep, half-watching the interplay of sun beams on my wall, feeling the surreptitiously drifting in morning breeze and wishing that my room was somewhere in the hills right now. Initially, the uttering was muffled. As it got less vague, i think it went something like..  "Life.. is just a cause to live. Nobody knows where it leads, yet people live! A few aimlessly, a few blissfully, a few passionately, a few scornfully.. they all make their way through the uncertainties of life, where only one thing is certain. Everything will live, and everything will die."

I got curious to investigate. It was strange my folks were not up yet. I walked to the front gate and found the street garnished with a dressing of saffron robes. A wave of seeming volunteers had washed up like those crabs that sea waves bring in. Their dress was plain albeit with a face sketched on each of their chest. They seemed youthful, walked all over the street, gesturing and greeting the bystanders - like one of those holiday parades.

One of them with a coarse looking face walked past me. The sketch on his dress showed a face with long hairs wore in a bandana, quite like that Che Guevara guy. He waved a 'Hi' at me, I waved back. Another one across the street had the sketch of Fidel Castro look alike on his robe. It was no-wonder these guys were walking together. Following them were two very composed youth. One was younger than the other and he had a similar young looking face sketched on his robe. This face had cloth wrapped around its head and broad cheeks like Swami Vivekananda. The older youth had a sketch of a bald headed face with eyes half-closed and in a meditative pose. Now, this guy bent down, picked up a leaf from the pavement and handed it over to me. I gave a questioning glance but couldn't interrupt as a strange hum seemed to be emanating from within him.

A volunteer wearing a turban walked up to Mr.BB. I could not see the sketch on this guy's robe but I heard him proclaim rather loudly, "Ab jaldi hee meri shaadi hai. Meri dulhan azaadi hai!". Mr.BB gave the usual nod signifying he didn't hear a word of it, and the volunteer gaily moved on assuming quite the opposite.

Coffee Annan, the man who didn't recall his own origin, stood in his balcony, eager to know the origin of these guys. "Ahoy! where are you from? what is all this?". They answered him in unison, "We are dew of the morning rays, We come from the valleys, We are smoke that rises from the tormented back-alleys". With this, they created a formation and started walking down the street. As they got to the corner, the coffee shop boys greeted them and they filed into the cafe one-by-one.

A voice summoned me from behind, "Beta! looks like the milkman is late today. I need some milk to make coffee. Can you buy some milk from the cafe please?". I stood there wondering if the cafe would have anything left today..
n.b: This is roughly a continuation of the fiction from previous two posts.

Nobody knew his antecedents. Gossip made him smell like a drifter; like he had a family which he left behind and now lives anonymously. Apparently when asked he would give wayward and inconsistent details. Some felt he was trying to hide his past while some said he was having a bout of Alzheimer's. He visited the coffee joint almost daily and precisely took the corner table overlooking the busy street. He always ordered a refill and kept peeping at the street like he was expecting someone. Strangely though, he never looked at the people entering the cafe! His accent was heavily southern so the waiter boys called him 'Annan'. I whipped a dash of pun on it and called him 'Coffee Annan'.

Coffee Annan had a class about him - his trimmed peppery grey french beard, throaty voice, thoroughbred manners while ordering and always a cashmere shawl wrapped around his neck pointed to some noble ilk that he was brought up into. Though he took two extra spoons of sugar in his coffee, he always stirred it without clinking. If there was a stray leaf being blown around by the street wind, he would watch until it flew out of sight. Excessive honking irritated him, but calm would return on his face with the next sip. Occassionally he would appear in the company of Mr.BB, the almost deaf retired bank manager who would plainly nod at whatever Mr.Annan said to him. It was hard to picture Coffee Annan as a person trying to hide his identity, maybe he was just not sure of it or maybe he was still searching for it... like a wandering cloud that keeps changing its shape and never sure if it is supposed to rain down or just whiff away with the wind.

This morning I had got up with a feeling that I had a task yet to be accomplished. Even after breakfast, the thought would not leave me. Coffee sometimes made me remember things in a flash so I headed straight to the cafe. At the cafe I saw Mr.Annan and Mr.BB again. As usual, there was nothing animated about them. I had to kill this yearning inside me so I decided to seat myself next to Mr.Annan's table so I could hear them speak and hence, forget my nagging thoughts.. 

Coffee Annan spoke in his baritone, "Our minds are our biggest weakness. Though we blame our five senses for distracting us constantly, the mind is their driver, their epicenter. As long as one is a slave of the mind, one will succumb to irresistible thoughts. We cannot live in solitude because our minds are so attached to civilization. Detachment is so required precisely to tame our minds. With the pretext of social living our minds start interconnecting with other minds and create a web of collective intelligence, which keeps our individuality entrapped. I sometimes feel our minds have a life of their own and we are mere puppets. But then if my mind is not me, then who am I? what exactly is my identity then? Do you know Mr.BB?". BB felt Annan was offering him another spoon of sugar and he nodded. Annan continued, "I had recently read a nice article on the three holistic levels of our perception. They called it Intelligence Quotient, Emotional Quotient and Spiritual Quotient. Did you read yesterday's newspaper Mr.BB?"

Alas! At that very moment it flashed right across to me. I was supposed to sift through my newspapers to read the article on Buddha Gautama. I gulped down my coffee and darted back home. While running back I  noticed Coffee Annan looking at me.. with the same look that he watches those leaves drifting aimlessly in the wind!
With the excuse of an evening walk, I hovered around the nonchalant coffee shop again today, using the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans as bribe to convince myself that a-Cappuccino-a-day does not qualify for caffeine addiction. Just when I was looking for a stronger reason to walk into the cafe, I noticed this new poster stuck to their glass wall facing the street. I couldn't read much from that distance, yet through the shimmering glare of the glass I saw in one corner of the poster the stately picture of a saint figure with half closed eyes and an orange halo around his head. He had a beckoning smile and before I realized I was walking towards the shop..

The closer I got, the stranger the poster began to seem. Even after multiple glances I could not figure if it was an advertisement or an announcement, until I decided to go ahead and read everything there was in it.

It read.. "It took me just one trip to realize all this world is just an illusion. And then an entire lifetime to see that truth and its realization are hidden so very far from our reach. I stumbled yet I have reached there now. How many trips are you going to need? Signed B.G."

I walked inside the cafe to inquire about that poster. They asked me to go upstairs and check with the manager. The manager said they introduced a new version of Tiramisu recently. They had a poster for it the whole week and it was removed just that morning. He was sure nothing else was put up in its place. I dragged him downstairs and surprisingly there wasn't any poster in sight. The glass wall was spotlessly clean. The manager joked that maybe I have been overworking and a 'cuppa coffee' would help.

I didn't order any coffee that evening and while I walked back home a strange bell started ringing in my head. That morning I had seen an article on Buddha Gautama in the newspaper. Somehow I was getting an urge to go and read it now...
It was my first time at the coffee joint around the corner. Decided to try it alone as I needed a lonely moment. Funnily, more than the menu I got interested in the couple next table. I managed to order a weird kind of coffee, but couldn't manage to decipher the nature of this couple. They held hands like lovers, but looked at each other like good friends. Their gestures made them look like strangers to each other. From their conversation I overheard, they seemed forlorn buddies regrouped by a common tragedy...

The Boy (fondling a paper napkin) : "Maybe its only us, but it seems like the whole world is crying. How could this happen to both of us? Why did she leave me? Did I screw-up in the beginning or along the way?"

The Girl : "Look at me! I was doing much better than you. I loved him so much. My parents doted on him. Why couldn't he recognize that? Why did he have to be so careless and irresponsible? I was getting suffocated living with that specimen yet I put up with him.. until the wretched fool decided to move on."

Boy (still fondling the napkin) : "I am sad for you. Maybe we should have married each other. I guess this love thing didn't work for both of us. Maybe I could have expressed better to you. I just could not connect with her. Either I am too complicated or just too messed up."

Girl : "I am not sure of you, but he was just silly. I don't know how I got fooled into falling for such dumbo. He didn't like his job, yet he kept slogging at his office. At home, he would get tired and just go to sleep. He was probably not interested in me anymore. And on top of it.. his over-possessive parents"

Boy : "Most of the time I didn't know how to react to her ways. Sometimes I felt I was going too fast and sometimes like I was going nowhere. Every inspiration that I found came with a time-bomb planted inside it. I suppressed my confusion and tried to go with the flow most of the time but when you feel you are losing control of your life, you start getting into depression. I dont know if you felt that anytime.."

Girl : "Why not? I too felt I was losing control. Thankfully my mom opened my eyes just in time.."

The phone rings. While the girl is answering the call, the boy started scribbling something on the napkin.

Girl : "It was my mom. Thank God I have her. She understands me so well. I wish I find a guy just like her very soon.. Please pray for me! Talk to you later bye.."

The girl hurriedly walked out. The guy watched her leave, maybe he expected her to turn back and throw a final glance or wave a bye! A little while later, with a blank look on his face he left too. Before the waiter came to clean up, I dared to stretch myself and pick the napkin that he had been writing on..

It read.. "I know I haven't been a good guy, but with a bit of help I think I could have been one. She tried to help me, but maybe I didn't express myself well enough for her to get me the right medicine. I wish our love hadn't left us before we left each other."

I have always believed that coffee keeps you awake. With that napkin in hand, I kept pondering how this coffee experience is going to awaken me..

with due credit to the true owner of this image copyright
Whenever I travel the train alone, I prefer the upper berth. Maybe to catch a bird's eye view of my compartmentalized world below or may be to just stay aloof in mine own lonely world. Every train journey, though,  is still a mixed bag of experiences for me as it mirrors our lives in the noisy camaraderie of a bustling crowd. Statistically seeing, Indian Railways has mind numbing facts and figures. They also have a hugely popular fan club website, which is meticulously maintained for decades now. One of the most powerful British legacies left behind, trains have shaped our country's image and evolution in many ways. They are the arteries and veins of our economy.

I take a moment to look down from my berth just to see a vivid collage brimming with life. There are families from different cultures and social backgrounds all swimming together into one pool of discussion. Packed lunches  shared, garnished with smiles. Two people, who supposedly have never met before, try to guess each others thoughts in a game of chess - that is slowly building a fan club of passers-by. A newspaper is put to the best use, with both sides being read by many people at the same time. Someone in the corner wears a headphone, seemingly cut-off from the rest of the cabin, suddenly chuckles proving that she is on a call and thanks to air-waves, in a remote social world of her own. I hear people discuss events, politics, sports, weather, mom's recipe and even personal issues. Some even exchange contact information. Finally, the music of bhajans floating from a nearby cabin makes the picture complete. Every train compartment is a miniature India in its own. Come another station and newly made friends separate and a new wave of action washes in.

The first thing we learn in school is that man is a social animal. One needs to travel by Indian Railways to witness overwhelming proof of this simple fact. As I sit pondering over my lonely thoughts, looking deeper and deeper inside myself, I wonder... am I missing something? did I happen to forget my fundamental lessons in life?
2009 will be remembered by lot of us as the year when market economics brought the world down to its knees. In a scientific sense, it was the subprime mortgage crisis that started it all.. but in a more common sense, it was corporate greed that booby trapped multitudes of common people into pompous dreams.The middle class, made vulnerable given their herd mentality, was always an easy target to fox. Like how a fox pushes a herd into the territory it wants them to go..

Recently I was reading an article on CNN written by one of those victims of a loan foreclosure and it was very heartening to see how at the grassroots level losing a home destroys the lives and psyche of families. For those of us who can afford mostly just one house in a lifetime, it means a lot more than just 4 walls. For the bank and real estate guys, it could be just a deal, an investment strategy, a long term returns scheme or a lifelong installment plan. But for the family, its a dream come true, its a nest where they bond with each other, a cradle which provides warmth to their hearts, a temple where they worship their belonging to each other and to their house. For such a family, it would be devastating to lose a house. 

We, the common people, just want to live out our days in harmony and social bliss and suddenly we are made to feel like a crowd - an overburdening population - that is forced to work in a competitive environment, that is forced to always be innovative to survive. There is so much of stress to differentiate oneself in today's world (or in more colloquial terms - to stay ahead of the rest) that a lot of us tend to lose our inbred identities in pursuit of the rat-race.

Why did we have to complicate our lives so much? Why are we moving towards a world where 'Invention is the mother of Necessity'? Is it really so important to possess the latest generation iPod that plays hi-fidelity music downloaded over high-speed mobile network using bluetooth connection built into your car? Can't we appreciate life in its pure and unadultered state?

The CNN article just reiterated how life is still defined by simple pleasures and not by mastering the overly technological grid that we have complicated ourselves into. I don't know when those days of finding peace in communion with nature will come back to us!
with due credit to the true owner of this image copyright
Life, they saw, is sometimes like a jigsaw puzzle. For one, none of us has the big picture that one needs to effectively put the pieces together. But is it really that straight-forward? Do the pieces really pertain to one single image or alternately does one really get hold of all the pieces needed to complete his 'one' image of life? Guess there is more to life's collage than just pieces put together. May be the pieces are like carrots tied to the stick of disillusionment.. May be its all an illusory perception like images on some mental screen and truly there is no picture after all!

Our time immemorial heritage tell us of Destiny and Will-power - the two horns to catch the bull of life with (or maybe the two rails that the train of life runs over). Destiny could make it nearly useless to ponder over life's questions. Will is the intent, passion and courage to act. While Destiny is supposed to be the canvas of life, Will dictates the picture that shades over it. I still don't quite understand this intricate working of Destiny and Will-power, but at the least they bring some order to my mostly chaotic introspection.

Coming to the point (of the picture above), Destiny could be something pre-written and hence have milestones already defined in our life. A lot of things that happen to us and situations that life leads us into are already mapped by our Destiny (that we supposedly carry by virtue of being a soulful entity that partakes onto this lawfully governed universe) but I strongly feel that there is still scope for us to chart out the intricacies. Mostly Destiny works for our benefit but strictly in the long run. Whether we Will or not, the result will be good in the end. But when we power our lives through our own free Will, we achieve those short term successes. When God wills, he creates Destiny. When Man wills, he creates Life. All our lives are destined to be good, we just need the right eye to see the favorable intent of God.

When one gets into 'seemingly' ugly or sad situations, it is just a hurdle that has to be crossed to get to a higher level. Now, if one never acted on with Will but still got into that situation then just grin and bear it. He who brought you to it, will take you through it. Its only under very high pressure and temperature that Carbon becomes Diamond. If one acted with Will and yet got into that ugly situation, then the only key to realize God's grace is Patience. Whatever happens, happens for good. Just wait.. Just Will!

"Hamare filmon ki tarah, hamari zindagi main bhi end main sab kuch theek hi hota hai... Aug agar kuch theek nahi hai toh... kahani abhi khatam nahi hui... picture abhi baaki hai mere dost.."
Intelligence Quotient (IQ) lets you make logical decisions while using reasoning and judgement. Emotional Quotient (EQ) is more powerful as it can make the IQ ineffective during uncontrolled emotional periods. But over and above this all is the Spiritual Quotient (SQ) - the third factor which was recently discovered and is being heavily researched today - as it forms the fundamental basis on which our entire sense of reality rests. SQ provides those reflective and introspective traits to a person through which he looks at life in a primitive way and keeps him intimate with his self. A person with good IQ and EQ but no SQ can be successful in life by virtue of his material accomplishments but he would always have that missing link, that missing something, which will never give him a wholesome feeling until he is convinced that he has achieved what he wanted to. A person with good SQ, no matter his IQ and EQ, always the purpose of his actions, a meaning in his thoughts and as a result he always strives to do what is right and correct for his conscience. This leads him to have a blissful and satisfied life. When IQ and EQ add over the SQ, its the icing on the cake, and such a person can give light to the entire society.

This weekend was far more satisfying than any before. A full-hearted visit to the local ISKCON temple and lucky to get a complimentary pass for a weekend spiritual course. They tell about 'Art of Controlling the Mind', 'Spiritual Quotient', Self-Confidence and Yoga. I wouldn't say it was a transformation but it was something of a kick-start. I am looking for a drastic spiritual change in my life. I am not ready for such penance yet. Purification is what I need. I want my mind to calm down, stop being restless and whimsical. I want it to attain clarity and build focus. I want the mind to work with me and start walking in the right direction. I have always felt the need of a spiritual master or a philosophical guide for this help but as I am only taking the first baby-steps, maybe the courses are the way to go!

They have given us a 7-day challenge. I want to be determined in taking it up. I want to do the mantra chanting 2 times everyday and see how it changes it.. how it helps me! I wont jump to a conclusion on this one. I will first try it out with full heart - suspend all judgement - and just go with the flow. No harm in doing that. Maybe I will see a change that will help me.. Maybe I will start seeing some silver lining in mind covered by grey and dark clouds today.. Maybe I need to do that basic cleansing so I can be ready for my guru who I am very confident is waiting for me somewhere! Amen!
Have thought so much about trekking and hiking, the least I could do was... Biking! Have this gorgeous cruiser thats so well taken care of - it must be itching to go on that long drive.. cruising through our 'nayi naveli' National Highways, out of the bustle and cacophony of city roads, to a treat (I know this is weird) of treaded rubber scrubbing over molten tar. Sadly I didn't have that MP3 player to listen to some invigorating music and instead a partner who kept complaining the rear seat was small and the shocks so hard. But still the poor thing kept struggling to sit pillion all along.. kept shifting from side to side to avoid the 'stiffness of the back, numbness of the bottom'. But what the hell... when the road beckons, the wind howls in your ears, its time to leave reality behind.

Two trips I embarked on recently have served a good warm-up. First was a roundabout trip to Mysore, a total of 350kms over two days. Turned out more fatigue then fun. Maybe because it was the first time. Obviously that was not to deter us at all. Second was a complete road-trip to Belur-Halebid temples, a total of 500 kms over roughly 3 days. This was definitely a treat as it was more interior roads than highways. So the bumpy roads, for a change, did help to keep our bottoms massaged.

The real flavor of these drives is the serenity that engulfs as one enters the countryside. Village roads are so peaceful - either with lush pleasant greenery of both sides or simple sweet village-folk going about their leisure lives. You just cant beat that feeling of taking off the headgear and driving through those by-lanes and driving ever so slowly to take care not to disturb the peace and calm of those paradises in Nature's laps. I am happy Karnataka is one of those states with a size-able green patch left.. especially around those Western Ghats region.

Next trip will be roughly 600 km roundtrip to a tad drier place called Shimoga. Date not decided. Only complaint is it does not touch the ghats which I have grown so fond of by now.