Sunday, August 28, 2016

Em and the Big Hoom

Last couple of months have been a lesson in strength. Of people around me. I speak through this particular book I read six odd months back, because for starters, this book is beautifully written. And sometimes loaned phrases voice your thoughts better than you can.

The book walks through the life of a dysfunctional family, as seen by the son. Em struggles with mental illness, and the entire story revolves around how the two kids and the father (Big Hoom) wrap their lives around it, in a small apartment in Bombay. 

The story starts with a letter from Em. Where she writes to Big Hoom - 

'I miss you terribly. But if you are going to send me a postcard, I shall abstain. I think postcards are for acquaintances and now that we are friends, you should find some nice stationery and write me a proper letter. These scribbles will not do, they are meant for the common masses.'

And right there, you start falling in love with this book. The book does not talk about loving your family. But somewhere through the course of the book, it tells you what you always knew. That families are imperfect. There will always be days where it is hard to like them. After all, parents are just adults who have had a little more experience with life, and every day is a guessing exercise between right and wrong. That can't be easy. But scratch a little under the surface, and there is this irrational amount of love. And this unconditional love is the only thing that lasts. Not the arguments. Not the tears. And not the differences.

The story courses between the past and the present. Quirky courtship days of the parents. Em's multiple suicide attempts. Hospital rooms where the son reads Em's letters to her. To live a little with her in the past and bring her back to the present. The human ability to adjust to a new low and treat it as the new normal. And their strength in smiling through this new normal.

The son writes about Em's illness - 
'Imagine you are walking in a pleasant meadow with someone you love, your mother. It's warm, and there's just enough of a breeze to cool you. You can smell earth and cut grass, and something of a herb garden. Lunch is a happy memory in your stomach and dinner awaits you - a three course meal you have devised - all your comfort foods. The light is golden with a touch of blue, as if the sky were leaking. 

Suddenly, your mother steps into a patch of quicksand. The world continues to be idyllic and inviting for you but your mother is being sucked into the centre of the earth. She makes it worse by smiling bravely, by telling you to go on, to leave her there, the man with the broken leg on the Arctic expedition who says, 'Come back for me; it's my best chance', because the lie allows everyone to believe that they are not abandoning him to die.'

We probably will never know how to deal with losses in the family. There is no handbook with instructions for this. Facing your parents' mortality cannot be taught. Facing your child's mortality is unfathomable. Someone very dear lost her father few months back. I was distraught and then Baba in one of his many conversations said, 'My health keeps getting better. I am going to the gym four days a week.' And in this one factual sentence, I knew he had read my mind. This man who has been at the receiving end of umpteen fights with me, for reasons small and big, knew exactly what to say to make me a feel a little better. And in that moment, I knew that there are no lessons for tomorrow. Today is all you have. For tomorrow, you have faith and prayers. 

Em passes away. And the family sits together in the same small Bombay apartment, after the funeral rituals are over and everyone has left. And the son writes - 

'And now the world expanded as people left the flat. As we opened the door together, I discovered that departures make the world smaller, slighter, less significant. 

The city continued on it way. Boys tried to sell me drumsticks, girls played hopscotch, the Bihari badli worker carried his gathri of ironed clothes to the homes from which they had come, and the buses honked at suicidal cyclists. At one level this was vaguely confusing. Surely, something should acknowledge how much things have changed? At another level, it was oddly comforting.'

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The D750 has been Ordered!

As most of you know, I started a crowdfund to raise money for the D750 a couple of months back. And here I am, with $1800 and a whole lot of gratitude! Yes, I just ordered the base camera! This is what I ordered and I am super excited about it. :) Scheduled to arrive on Thursday, 12th May. Putting this down as a blog post, since this is a big milestone. And when I look back, I want to remember this day and the love that came with it. I am still to figure out the lens bit, but definitely leaning towards a 35mm f1.4. For the ones who know these numbers, I guess the choice will make sense.

Putting this short post out there to thank you. For being there, all the time. This camera is more about you and less about me. So are my photographs. :) See you on the other side of the lens soon!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Love Stories

At the end, you are only left with love stories. That's all you will remember. Rest is just the universe's attempt to make you figure out what snagged a place in your heart and what didn't. I was born with a big black mole on my toe. Baba said I will love to travel. I do. Don't know if this love for travel stemmed from Baba's love for all that I do. Or maybe it was just meant to be. These love stories are not very clear. You figure it out as you grow up. You keep going back to them. These people, a random tune, a habit that keeps you going, some place you think of while you are not thinking of anything in specific. Don't let go of these stories. Of these people who are a part of these stories. As far as I am concerned, I am a hoarder. I retain every scrap of memory that stitches these stories together. That note you had sent. The prayer we said to make things right. We ran up to the rooftop because it rained on a hot summer night. The card you made and the letter I never sent. There was a mixed tape with a voice-over before every song. I think you gave it before we left for college? You said I could tell you anything. I did. You didn't judge and in that moment, you made everything right. There was a princess in your story. The ending was always a happy one. She fought valiantly. Against all odds and all that was evil. Maybe that was your way of teaching life's lessons. We sat with the doctor that day, discussing our options. And he said, if this doesn't work, nothing will. And it worked. Because love and prayers heal. And in that moment, that is all we had. There is no specific point that I am trying to make here. In the humdrum of our daily lives, we get lost in the mundane. And we forget these stories. And how they, in their own way, shaped you to be the person you are. In a world which compels you to be ordinary, these love stories help you to be your best version. It is Mother's Day tomorrow. Ma says be happy in whatever you do. In her daily chit chat, over updates about my lunch and dinner, I should probably let her know that she is one of my favorite stories. :)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Scribbles - Run

I thought I will start with humor. You know, about Bengalis and running. There are quite a few of those. But one shouldn't trivialize the important things. Running has been a game changer for me. And I have been running for barely 6 weeks! Yet, it is turning around my days and weeks. For the better. There is that moment during a run, mid way somewhere, where the muscles start giving up. That is the moment when either you give up or you block out every other thought in your head and keep going. If you did the latter, you probably know what that feels like. In that moment, all I am left with is the music in my ears and incredible happiness. You forget the bad memories and the bad days. And all you are left with is an optimism about well, just about everything! 

I have two races coming up. One I am not well prepared for and another, that I intend to be well prepared for. I do intend to get to the finish line for both. First one is the Golden Gate Relay race, which is similar to the Ragner race. 12 member team, 3 legs each and each leg varies from 3 to 7 miles. In total, the team does 190 miles, starting in the wine country (Calistoga) and ending in Santa Cruz. The other one is the Napa to Sonoma wine country half marathon in July. Yes, it does look like I have a serious affinity to wine. :) 

I am nervous for the upcoming one. Learning a little every time I run another mile. Here's what I know - 
  • Find a running group/running company. They should be people who have been running for a while now and who take this seriously. Because two lazies don't maketh an early morning! I have been lucky on this front, and I could not be happier about it! :) 
  • Figure out if you like to run with or without music. Some like the sound of their footfall. I like Eric Clapton. Each one to his own. 
  • Find the right shoe. As you start running, you will start hearing about all the science in your shoes. Under pronation, over pronation etc. Get your gait analyzed and figure the right shoe. Makes a world of difference. 
  • Get your shit together in terms of food habits. There is a slew of articles on what to eat and what not to eat. Figure out your own needs, based on what you prefer. The right fuel helps a long way. 
  • Find good trails to run on. Do your research or just ask your running friends. Luckily, LA is blessed with beautiful trails. We mix soft trails with concrete paths. It never gets boring. :)
  • Talk about it. Which I guess is what I am doing. :) It helps. I get advice from unexpected corners. I get company too. Adds up well. 
  • Find an app to track your runs. I have been using Runkeeper + FitBit. 
  • The basic rule that everyone knows. Stretch like a cat pre and post run. D told me about this app called Sworkit for personalized workouts. Pretty darned good! 
  • Mix it up. Swim, play, yoga, gym. Whatever is your deal. 
  • Find the right training regime. For my half, I am using Marie's tried and tested training plan. She used it for her first half, and she does Ironman now. Am guessing this should be foolproof. :)
Well, that's all I have right now. Ma is worried that I am being too healthy. Talk about parents worrying about everything! :) As is true for all long lasting relationships, this one with running feels right. Maybe, I won't have commitment issues this one time. See you on the other side, after the Golden Gate Relay!

Footnote - For the relay, we are raising money for the charity Organs R Us. We are 70% done. Looking for your help for the last 30%. To pledge, click here -

Monday, March 28, 2016

Scribbles: Turning 30 (Because I have a deal with God)

For those of you who got the title, you have passed the FRIENDS fanatics test. For others, it is a lost reference. So, last Friday was my birthday and I could not have possibly asked for a nicer weekend! For starters, I got more wishes through the long forgotten method of calling, as compared to social media (which can be so warm). Relationships feel so much more tangible when there is voice or a hug along with the niceties. :)

Going back to Friday. You know a day has started well when a warm cake with walnuts arrives at your doorstep (along with S) at midnight. Now S is a chef par excellence. I get to make ridiculous requests every birthday (and otherwise), and I get it all. This birthday, all I wanted was the plain vanilla cake Ma used to make in her old oven. S was not pleased. Of all the things that I could have asked for! This was underselling her capabilities. But I did get a warm, brown and very yum vanilla cake. Oh I also received a french press, because there was an obvious lack of coffee and related products at home. Not any more! Now if you visit, you get to pick between a fancy tea pot and a french press. :)
The french press :)

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Kiss - Hug - Handshake Dilemma

I grew  up in India. Scratch that. I grew up in Patna. While I have a lot of good things to say about the pseudo gangster town (because it is still home), my wonder years had a few very strong social repercussions. For the uninitiated, Patna in the dark ages (aka the Yadav rule) redefined insecurity. Of the psychological and physical kind. Had written a post few years back which may give you a better insight.

To cut a long story short, maintaining distance was a healthy habit. I mean you really couldn't gauge what a naive handshake could potentially trigger. So, mum said ignore strangers and be polite (from a distance) to the ones you know. Only close friends (after a parental inspection) were allowed in our home and our hugs. Introductions were usually followed by a smile and a 'hey' from a foot away. Or more. And I am not ridiculing this. To a very large extent, you are better off in India with this approach.

Fast forward from Patna to the last six-seven years. Thankfully, the last few years have been interspersed with a fair amount of travel. Traveling with backpacks and staying in hostels. Which meant meeting a lot of people from countries we didn't know too well. This was akin to answering a multiple choice question, where all the choices seemed like valid answers. Some people do the standard handshake, some hug, then there are some who kiss on the cheek and ofcourse there are some who smile from a distance and say 'hey!'. And its not like you get about an hour to evaluate your options. I mean you really don't need to. Its a hello after all! But the thing is, you have a fraction of a second to make the call, and sometimes when you make the wrong call, it can be a little awkward.

I still remember the times I decided to go with the handshake and the recipient wanted to go with the hug. That never ends well. Really. Never.

All I can say is I have gotten better at making a self deprecating joke every time this happens. I still get it wrong. But I get it right too. :) And if I had to go back in time and meet the mini-me growing up in Patna, would have told her that 'Hey kid! World ain't that bad a place. Strangers can genuinely smile at you and a hug is warmer than a handshake. Maybe not here, but you will see.'

Footnote - 'Sup' is not a greeting. No dilemma there. 

Monday, March 07, 2016

Scribbles - JDate, Kim and Boycut

There is a story knit in your life and mine. Just that I don't know about yours and you don't know about mine. And then there are some people who write it down. Beautifully. Read this, if you haven't already.

My Last JDate

I realised today that I don't like rosemary. I keep forgetting, till I get a taste of it. And then I get reminded. Yesterday's garlic bread from the Farmers Market had rosemary. Not good.

One of the books I picked yesterday is almost un-put-down-able. Its a good thing that the author has a sense of humor. Else this would be the darkest book I have ever read. Worse off than Clockwork Orange. Quoting the author - "North Korea feels like Kafka written in an alphabet no one can read". I am reading like a student - pencil, notes et al. Re-reading some parts too. The stuff in the book is too weird to be real. Yet, it is real. Again, quoting the author - "You are left wondering at your own grip on reality, like the moment in The Matrix when Neo sees a black cat walk by, and then another black cat walk by just like the first one causing Trinity to warn him:  A deja vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix. It happens when they change something." I am about 100 pages away from finishing it. Its going to be a late night tonight.
Well written. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Scribbles - Downtown LA on a Sunday

Of late, age and memory have not been best of friends. That doesn't mean I don't remember your name or the address I call home now. But, I find it difficult remembering what life was like ten years back. It is absolutely okay, I guess, to not remember what you were like as a toddler, but I am talking about early twenties! I do remember bits and pieces of it; the highs and the lows, but the mind is missing the mundane pieces. And I thrive on the mundane. The songs that were on loop, the books I read, the forgettable mistakes, the bylanes I walked in and the acquaintances who never became friends. The point being that scribbling on the blog helps in connecting the dots. So, a renewed resolution of penning down day to day trivia.

Okay, so one and a half years down in LA. Let's play catch up. I drive like a boss now. Road rage, multitasking in the car, wrong turns et al. Got slapped with a speeding ticket too, which I am still very sad about. A whopping bill and a very angry cop later, I have mended my ways to stick to +/- 5 of the speed limit. A bit of Californication has happened. I understand 101 jokes now (if you didn't get it, you haven't been here yet). A run of the mill evening conversation is always interspersed with 405, I5 and the dreaded 101. Also, I recognize cars much better now. As in, never drive next to a Maserati/Tesla/Porsche/etc. I will have to sell my car (and my organs) to pay for any damages, if I nick them!