Sandstorm, In A Shower

Where does this thought take birth?
And who is the one that is thinking? And who thought before Him?
And who acts? And who acted before Him?

The highest and clearest thoughts entangle with the fleeting present; and deep in one’s senses resides the past – sometimes clearer than present, many a times visible as scars. There is something electric about it – an arc and a burn mark.

He observes the world through a lens that is coated with the never-settling dust of existence raised by the winds of time. New patterns over new patterns – sometimes information, sometimes knowledge.

He stands still amidst the shifting sands and takes comfort in the change, which is a feeling of movement. He pretends to remember the shape of every dune which He saw until now – attempting to navigate the past. Hopefully chaining these memories he thinks, “Surely, I must be going somewhere.”

But, He forgets that He is also the grain of sand in this desert, like the others living and unliving. This thought extends beyond Him, into all He can touch, hold, think of or name. It’s not His anymore. And in this churning there are sparks; the flashes let Him see briefly, remember and think; of the fleeting present, imprinting a memory or leaving a scar.

He is close to finding out. It must be the desert. It must be the wind.


Into The Last Summer Break

The sun beats down like a hammer on this city, splintered into blades cutting through the gaps in the trees. I see the million moving stabs of light on the pavement, and my shadow moves through them bobbing and pinned to my feet, unaffected and living on a different realm. The afternoon traffic goes past me with its sounds and vapors. Today, I decided not to take the bus home and just walk the mile. Because, there was no other option. I spent all of my bus-money on the twenty rupee feast in the canteen – the worst burger, glass-bottle soda and a bag of chips. It was one last splurge with my friends before I would see them again after the summer.

The energy of the last day of school before the summer break is different from the one before the winter break, and far from the one before the final exams at the end of the academic year. The other days always came with some anxiety about what lay ahead, but the lack of worry today would reflect in everyone’s mood and actions. No amount of holiday homework could faze us, it would all be done the week before the school reopened anyway. I bet the teachers felt the same too, a break from this state-backed madness.

The kids got out of control when the last class of the day would end, and the teacher left hurriedly with the ring of the bell. Some students would just be out of the gates even before the buses started rolling in, the privilege of straight up bunking, or having physical education, or Work-Ex class towards the end of this day. But, the fun awaited those who lingered around the campus – a fight, a dramatic proposal, or some student getting into trouble; no matter how late you left, there would always be something you missed out on. Today, we just threw water on each other and then threw the half-full uncapped plastic coke-bottles at the running ceiling fan. The ceiling fan would shoot it in random directions and someone would score a hit – bonus, if it was an unsuspecting girl. Double bonus if the rickety fan finally gave up and stopped working. It did not make sense, it didn’t have to make sense. By the end of it, the hot and humid classroom would be a minimalist’s art piece on teen-chaos, and we would have to get away from it before the cleaners arrived.

My shirt is still wet from this game, mixed with sweat and sticky-sweet droplets of Coke drying on my skin, now making a shower an absolute necessity when I get home. I can smell my toasted scalp, with wafts of sweaty uniform in between. The nylon-socks are itching, but I would experience the bliss of scratching my calves and shins only after reaching home. Balls would be second in order. The backpack is light, thankfully, as I had planned to not take any books with me today – it was a low-risk gamble for the occasion, so I could afford the being sent out of the class. I would have preferred it, actually, but I guess the teachers too knew of my tricks. The only thing in this beaten up schoolbag, apart from a notebook and a few assignment handouts, is my lunchbox. The half-eaten parantha in it would, on some previous years, be untombed not until the very end of the summer break. I must not forget about it. I hear it interrupt and randomly dampen the rattle of the metal spoon – its coinhabitant in that lunchbox, which was dancing to my strides.

As the local market – too posh for me or my family, comes close, I am grasped by the desire to grab a McAloo Tikki from the McDonald’s there. Then I recall the very reason for which I am walking home. Maybe, some of my friends are already there, maybe she would be there. Not today, though, I just need to get home to a liter of lemonade, a cold shower and rajmah-chawal doused in dahi. I can also catch a glimpse of her (the other one) on one of the school buses now coming back around. There was always one on every bus. There was always one in every class.

I cross the road and I see the window of my home peek through the other houses and trees. The dog knows I am around, and I can hear him bark, the maniac’s voice comes from every window and end of the house, bouncing off walls, as he paces about frantically. In this familiarity, as the sound of cars also fades behind me, I start thinking of the evening. Today, my friends from the neighbourhood (who were also my schoolmates) would stay out till late in the evening. I wonder which computer game did they get, I wonder if my machine would run it, or if I will have to play it at their place in the evenings and skip football. I hope the two girls come out for their evening walk, I would skip football anyway. That reminds me, I need to harass my parents for football shoes, I still play with my old sneakers on and everyone else already has obtained their ‘kits’. My classmate had told me earlier at school that a celebrity was wearing nothing but cauliflower leaves for a PETA photoshoot, which was in the city edition of the papers today – I have to check that out right away, but maybe after my belly is full. Maybe, after I pass out on the couch, to the breezy sprays and hums of the cooler.

The mango tree which shades my house, rustles and welcomes me as I enter the stairwell. He is ready for the summer too – and there will be plenty of pickle for us and the neighbours. And some more for the relatives in Kanpur, Lucknow and Dehradun. Though this routine and this walk has happened before on several such days as today, this was the last one. I run right up the cool stairwell, mother would have already unlocked the door by now because of the dog. I do not think about the significance of the moment, but the last summer break has just begun.

The Natural State Needs No Philosophical Pharmacology

After I had introduced yet another friend to the ideas of UG (what I like to call the dangerous knowledge palatable only to a few), he was instantly hooked and spent hours by himself watching videos of the old man rant and rage at his ‘followers’.

Two weeks later, our conversation gravitated back to the subject and I jokingly said, “So macha, you’ve finally been UG-pilled, eh?”. I used this expression often with other Krishnamurti-enthusiasts but this was probably the last time I would do so. He replied, summarizing the philosophy in the best way possible to this context, “Macha, UG has nothing to do with any pill – that there is no need to eat any pill, the pill is already in you and your body knows when it needs to make one.”

Temporal Moment

Thoughts while waiting in a temple queue.

People from all walks of life are around me, with their own stories and problems in their hearts, the most heart wrenching of complaints and the most miraculous of wishes can be found in this room. Among all this gravity, children run and play. I used to be like them once, this open hall with adults as dynamic obstacles would be the board for countless new games. This temple on a hill in Pennsylvania, though thousands of miles away from the homes of the people who stand here right now, is no different than any other temple in place and time.

And then my gaze goes over the idols, the decorations, the ritual and every step it contains within as the coordinated acts of worship, the chanting, the music, the symbols and everything that makes a religion what it is. Someone must have created it at some point – it was surely conceived by the imagination of a highly creative individual of the time, an imagination cleansing itself of the pride to praising something greater than itself. And now thousands of years later, people do this, parts of it but in a similar spirit – names and titles and facts have faded but there is still a link I see in this moment. What is all religion and tradition but a way to honor the art of one’s ancestors? And, can art even exist without them?

Today, I see the beauty in the lifeless carved rock. There is a lump in my throat, I feel insignificant in front of that unknown sculptor’s patience and belief in something so abstract – that it cuts through time and space and sweeps away my entire existence, something which I have comfortably rationalized to myself even when it stands on a weak and often faltering foundation. This is the truth of the greater abstract within which my lie of a little existence lies.

Time of the year: A Graduating Class

This is the time of the year when the atmosphere on any major American university campus is a fascinating one. The weather decides to become forgiving and the relief of the last exam can be felt in the air, even when you do not have an exam to take. This is the time of the year when you can see movement, in things and lives.

And the most heartwarming of sights, for me, is when I see parents of international students visiting this country to witness their children take the grad walk. Indian parents, waddling around for their evening or morning walks and being given campus tours by their sons and daughters – of a place they had probably not even imagined in their wildest of dreams, maybe even unpronounceable to some, but they still put all their money and trust into it. There is nothing but excitement and pride you can see in their faces – legit and well deserved. And thus, this is also that the time of the year when you can see the movement, in dreams of the great Indian middle class, where they take a tangible and recognizable shape, wings spread and ready to soar.

Advice On Advice

4th lap around Rajiv Chowk, as the hazy December sun sets. Guru HS and I go into life philosophy – beyond the books and the terms. A brief mention of some crossroads and I try to suggest the ways forward – 2018 is coming to an end afterall.

He responds –

Macha, giving advice is like the ultimate (ego) trip for the ego. For that brief moment, your ego finds a position of power and influence over the person seeking the advice.”

This is true. There is so much advice afloat, and it is so tempting to be the one giving advice. I guess it is one of those traps.

Maybe that is why, in the Dharmic ideas, the legendary advisory roles have been allotted to teachers, or literal God-incarnates. The former aims that the student surpasses him, which requires the suspension of one’s ego; the latter functions beyond ego and all of that.

Departures

September 2013

The Ganges roars, a wind above it in this night, dragged along with the torrent that made the hills echo only a few hours back. Nothing to be seen beyond what the floodlights show of this concrete bank, this ghat is like a train station drifting through the night. The platform where the last goodbyes are said. With a vessel in my hand, I step into the cold water – coldest thing to be out there in this summer, my bare feet are pierced by sharp rocks. There is a clinker that can be heard through as my feet drag through the steps. Bones. Thousands of pieces accumulated. The ticket stubs left by countless who left from this spot. I think of them, try to fit all their lives within a moment of closed eyes before I offer the remains to the river. The river swallows them readily into the grander offering which is the garland of bones under these muddy waters.

Of Dogs & Mountains

Whenever I have hiked in any part of the Himalayas, there has always been a dog that tagged along. And this is something everyone experiences – anyone who has taken a trail leaving a village or a town. The reasons will not be known as to why these mountain dogs accompany travelers in their treks from one village to another, only to mysteriously disappear and reappear again. Maybe they do it as a duty or with the hope of getting some food; or for their own sense of security, to have a human to walk along with through these isolated paths that might harbor some danger. These dogs are the much-mentioned, often-photographed but seldom-discussed aspects of everyone’s Himalayan journey. Their stamina will surely surpass yours and they could do the same trek several times in a day, both ways – your challenge is their neighborhood and one should never forget that. Their friendliness comes from seeing this world right from their doorstep – these are wise beings that must be treated with respect.

Climbing right now, my legs hurt and these urban lungs gasp for the very cool air that makes my ears hurt, and I slump down on a rock to rest. If I climbed too fast, the four-legged friend will come trailing along, I ask him whether it was the flower in bloom that slowed him down or if it were the bones in the grass I had quickly glanced over; if I climbed too slow, he will be up there ahead of me, gazing from some vantage point waiting for me to start again.

In the towering silence of the mountains, away from humans, I become aware of this other being’s presence and the trust and familiarity we have in this short duration of knowing each other. Briefly, I understand what Yudhishthira might have felt when asked to let go of the dog at the end of his climb to the heaven. And maybe the dogs that climbed with me (and you) were indeed Yama in disguise – who knows? But anyway, a part of this story about the final test of a demigod repeats in each and every such climb; staying alive as long as there are dogs, mountains and men.

mount_doggo_climb

Old Car Smell

The carcinogenic new car smell is often prized and romanticized, but we never mention the smell of old cars; part motor oil, part petrichor – the smell of the road and the trips it had been on. And now that too is a rarity to come across, because how the design of the vehicle-cabins has evolved.

In the years when cars did not ship at default with an air conditioner and all there was a fan, the body was not designed to seal the environment within the car from the elements, at least not in the same way as it is done today. And as the car would get older, the smell of the road crept in. The lack of comfort compared to the modern car could also be a sign of the machine being closer to its environment than it is now, distant from our range of comforts yet more truthful to what it was and which soaked in everything it had gone through. In these cars, just by the mere smell, one could accurately guess where they had been parked and whether people took care of them or not, or even whether they drove them too much or too little. Car fresheners would also ride the strong foundation of these natural smells, unlike today where they just hit you in the face with the sweaty smell of a closed air conditioned chamber. The only thing I can accurately guess in the modern car is whether someone ate an EggMcMuffin in it in the past two days. And maybe there is a hint of this old car smell on an old public bus, but it still lacks the personal character and lies in public space and use.

But hey, now we are far from that, cars are not cars anymore – just electric carts which you would not even have to drive in a few years. But blessed would be those who saw the automobile at its most raw – a man made machine which was very much a part of its environment, with its own unique smell. Among the various descriptable and undescriptable, tangible and intangible feelings of driving and owning a car, the smell will also be something we will miss when we entirely stop driving as a society.

Seasons

In Rochester, weather is the most easiest-to-converse-about topic between strangers. Everyone and anyone can get started about their own snow and storm story. This post is based on one such discussion I had today with a Lyft driver about it – rather than the “back in ___ we got _ feet of snow”, this conversation was more about appreciating this climate, even with its extremes.

Living in the upper latitudes of the northern hemisphere is way different from where I have spent most of my life. Here, all the four seasons are very salient and each comes with its own intensity and beauty.  This is unlike how it is in the temperate climates, it gets hot or cold but your surroundings pretty much look the same throughout the year. Nature reminds one loudly about time as it passes and a new appreciation develops as each year ends and starts over back again.

For people like me, who arrive here in August, it is almost like starting a biography of someone from somewhere in the middle. You get to see the individual age, shrivel up and die, but you also start the book again to see what you missed. Maybe that is how I will write my autobiography, that might help me know myself better.

Fall

The colors of the summer can be found to be lingering on for a month or two and give one enough time to observe what will soon be gone. It quickly rustles away with the winds, the same omnipresent winds which once felt like a breath of life, now carry with them the remains. Life measures time with decay, but in that decay it puts on a grand show, its last colorful push of reds and yellows – maybe a struggling display that this life, these trees, these leaves and flowers, too existed in this space and time. And then they are gone.

Winter

Winters are long and unforgiving, thus meditative. They bring in that necessary pause our lives require. One can just sit for hours and look out at bare trees, with maybe an animal skipping through quickly gathering the last bits before heading home. A crow would often break the silence bragging probably about how it has braved these winds. I am always fascinated by that one leaf which is dry and dead but still clings on to the tree, as if by some miracle it will revive once again; and maybe it does, and no one notices. Even within this stagnation, one can see decay occur – in the wet ends, at doorsteps and carpets, in what happens under the snow and the salt. Life recedes back to the bare necessities, around the heart and the hearth, and the extremes and excesses are numb so we can only hold the layers tighter to our chest, bent in and closed off from the death that stands at its strongest in this veil of stagnation outside.

Spring

The burst of the spring through the sleet, wind and snow, is that reminder of life’s return which one tends to forget about in the months of the winter. This happens almost by magic, within a week or so, and you see life raise its head once again. It feels like it would only get colder there onward and it often does – the winds and the rains crush and dissolve the large chunks of snow that lay out there for months, the same winds which had suppressed life now destroy what they had set. And then, one can see the grasses rise through the snow and the flowers dot the trees. From that, which one assumes to have been dead and stagnant, comes a sign that life was always there. It only survived in decay.

Summer

Summers are absolutely beautiful here in the flower city. It never gets too hot, and rains cool down the weather whenever it gets too uncomfortable. The days are long and the sunsets at 9 pm with their long shadows and the reds make the whole place look like a few places I have seen in my dreams. There is this laze which sets in even in the life people lead here. Now at its most fertile, this is when humans come out – we are the decay which feeds on this tree from the top.

Why did I ramble about the weather of Rochester? I do not know. Maybe this is my ode to it.

 

Intergalactic Locomotive

au_drawing_loco

I did a re-submission (to improve my grade) of my final for 2D Design & Visualization course over the winter break – the colored rendering is too bad to share over here but I am really happy with how the line drawing turned out.

This is a concept for an intergalactic sleigh meant to pull train-cars full of mail and goods. The idea came to me while I was locked in during the winter break, amidst all the snow through my very solitary first Christmas in America.