Friday, December 9, 2016

Beautiful

Radio in India was stuck in limbo for the longest time.
 
All India Radio, more popularly known as Akashvani-the national broadcaster dominated the air-waves for nearly half a century.
 
Although both my parents recount listening to their respective Murphy radios amongst their most precious childhood memories, growing up I rarely tuned in, except of course for those 'once a blue moon' occasions when the TV wouldn't work and a cricket match was being played somewhere.





Not to discount anything from the station whose line-up was unique and entertaining in its own way, there was something missing. New music was rarely played and upcoming breakthrough artists were never featured.
 
Then in 2001, Radio City came to town.
 
I kid you not, the days that followed were dominated by an unprecedented newfound interest in FM radio.
 
Newer stations blossomed throughout the country, on-air advertising became the norm of the day and Nokia literally seized the day by stepping in and releasing phones with built-in radio tuners that went off the shelves sooner than they arrived.
 
Since there were millions of people listening in each day, it was hard for Radio City to serve everyone's best interests.
 
Requests for all kinds of songs were pouring in from every nook and corner of the city.
 
Sadly for me, it so turned out that not many people liked the kind of music I listened to and thus, the shows that I liked got pushed to the later hours of the day.
 
But that didn't matter, I was up all night listening.
 
Bangalore's very own Rohit Barker soon became my favorite RJ.
 
Mr Barker knew exactly how to enhance his audience's listening experience. He mixed the new with the old, the classics with the fresh hits with such finesse that it was hard not to be impressed.
 


I remember very clearly how he brought James Blunt into our lives. 
 
He shared a true story of how James overheard a group of girls singing his song in preparation for his concert scheduled for the next day, He happened to be living in the same hotel as them that night.
 
After patiently listening to their rendition of his song through the walls he tapped on their door and walked in to a room full of unsuspecting teenage fans and gave them a personalized performance of 'You're Beautiful' on his guitar.
 
Apparently the girls screamed till the next morning after he walked out.
 
Rohit then played the song for me to listen, and it blew my mind away.



The next morning I was more than eager to rush to my musically inclined and recently 'head over heels in love' friend Gajanan Babu and asked him if he too was listening in the previous night.
 
"Off course man, I absolutely loved it". He said, his voice trying to match the excitement in mine.
 
"So are you going to try and get Barker to dedicate it to your girlfriend tonight"? I asked him.
 
"Off course not". He snapped back at me.
 
"Haven't you paid attention to the lyrics, the guy in the song doesn't get the girl at the end".
 
That's when it hit me.
 
It was a beautiful song, but it wasn't exactly a happy one.
 
If you were inside my mind at that exact point of time you would have heard the loud sound of glass breaking.
 
I couldn't listen to the song again, at least not with the same joy as before.
 
The next song of Mr. Blunt that would hit the air waves about a month later was 'Goodbye My Lover'.
 
That was pretty much it for me.
 
I realized that regular listening to James Blunts songs could be potentially injurious to my health and so I voluntarily checked myself into music rehab for a few days, detoxed with the help of some heavy metal and all was well again, for some time.
 
For some reason, a few weeks ago this image randomly just appeared on my Facebook newsfeed. 



I laughed so hard I nearly fell off the couch in my living room.
 

Growing up I was never really been a big fan of graffiti.
 
Most of the images I saw on the walls were obscenities spread across my neighbors walls or under flyovers and bridges on the road, making an already dirty wall even more appalling to the bystander.
 
To change the prevailing pattern, the government back home made a smart move of giving talented artists statewide the opportunity to use these walls as a canvas to express themselves in a more appealing and pleasing way.
 
The programme was moderately successful.
 
Dingy unkempt walls across the city were slowly but surely replaced by stunning art work.

What was once an eyesore was now something to behold.
Chicago has an amazing art scene.

Add to an already large list of museums, galleries, the art institute and innumerable exhibits, an impressive array of graffiti and murals spread all across town. 
Riding around in the bus as much as I do, I have seen my fair share of freestyle art often so impressive, it has at times taken my breath away.

 
In the past six months that I have lived here there is one particular mural and a fascinating message written on the iron fence right next to it that grabs my attention almost every Friday when I head out to the clinic.


The message, 3 words.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.

Its funny, I must have seen it at least 50 times now, but on every single occasion it both surprises and uplifts me in equal measure.

As I explored the city further I started seeing the same message sprawled across several walls, billboards and sign posts. I went back recently to see if there was a connection and Voila! I discovered the 'You are Beautiful' project.
 
What began as an idea in the mind of a young artist named Mathew Hoffman and 100 stickers, has now blossomed into a global phenomenon.

All Matt wanted to do was send out some positive vibes into the world, and to just say that he succeeded is a gross understatement.

I remember reading a short story about a young man in a train who was distracted by an elderly co-passenger travelling with him. This other person constantly changed his seat, put his hand out of the window and appeared to be dropping what seemed to be seeds on either side of the tracks.

Annoyed by the constant disturbance he eventually confronted the man and asked him for an explanation.

The man just smiled back at him and continued doing what he was doing.

When the journey ended he headed to the station master's office to file a complaint against his co-passenger.

It broke his heart to learn that the man he fought with was actually a deaf mute who frequently travelled on that train route.

"What was he doing with the seeds"? The young man asked the station master.

"When are you heading back home"?

"2 months from now". he replied.

"You'll see", the station master replied. "You'll see".

The man left the train station somewhat perplexed.

Life continued and he got over his guilt surrounding the incident.

When time came for him to head home, he found himself alone in the train headed in the opposite direction. He was reminded of the old man, and he tried to distract himself by looking out of the window.


What he saw nearly drew him to tears.


Both sides of the tracks were now lined with beautiful flowers of all sizes and shapes that had grown out of the seeds planted by his co-passenger earlier.
Image result for train tracks flowers
I have learnt over the years not to take the little things for granted. A smile, a pat on the back, a hug when you are feeling down, a 'Keep Going, you're gonna make it', or a 'Don't worry, it gets better'. Not just because I think it is a good thing to do, but because I have often found myself at the receiving end of these gestures and it has pushed me forward in ways I cant explain.
Such is the power of the little, random, everyday acts of kindness.

And whether it is James Blunt serenading a bunch of his fans, or an old person trying to add a little beauty to the world, an unknown painter turning a bland wall into an alluring work of art or a young Matt Hoffman walking around the city with stickers reminding people how beautiful they are in their own way, in the words of the great Mark Twain, No act of kindness is ever Wasted.   

Until Next Time

TGV

Monday, October 31, 2016

677 Runs

Skinny Shakeel & Stout Tom, that’s what they called us in school.

It’s all our Sanskrit professors’ fault.

Mr. Upadhyay, the tall, lanky, perpetually unkempt language expert whose mannerisms very closely resembled the zombies from the walking dead.

Most of us were hearing the word stout for the first time when he pointed at Shakeel and then me saying “You are so skinny, and he is so stout”.

He wasn’t wrong, I was pretty rotund back then, but there was no need for him to give a bunch of primary school kids another word to make fun of a nice round fellow.

I usually sat next to Shakeel because he was the only one in class who could fit in the same bench as me.

Avinash thought it was the funniest word ever to have come out of a person’s mouth. 

That little rascal didn’t even know what ‘Stout’ meant, but for the next 3 years he wouldn’t stop calling me ‘Stout Tom’. It would have gone on for years,  but then one day the very same Mr. Upadhyay caught him without his homework and after giving him a sound thrashing, yes, I mean a really sound thrashing that included slamming a notebook on his flat skull repeatedly, he made Avi sit on the floor next to him using his head as a makeshift stand to balance the chalk box and duster.

After that incident we started calling him ‘Chalk Avi’ and all of a sudden ‘Stout Thomas’ wasn’t that funny anymore.

Setting aside the differences in our physical dimensions, Shakeel and I were really good friends.

We were an odd couple maybe that’s why we got along so well. The two of us were always on the same side, in the same team, and on the same page.
Pretty Much The Same!
Don’t ask me the rules of the game, but to this day Shakeel and I hold the record for most runs scored in a single innings of leg cricket at our school and maybe even the world. 

677 runs, (Yes Sachin and Yes Vinod Kambli I know you are not reading this, but we beat your record).

It hurts me to say that things fell apart 5 years later, just before I changed schools. The two of us had made plans to host a great party for our class but barely a week before it could happen someone broke into the class and stole all our supplies, stuff we had collected over several weeks pooling our highly limited funds.

It was my idea to keep everything inside the classroom which I thought was the safest place in the world, Shakeel never wanted that, but I figured nobody would do something like steal from a bunch of kids.

I was wrong.

Eventually, our parents and the teachers got involved and the party did happen, but after the arguments and finger pointing ended, both Shakeel and I were short of one really good friend.

This was a time when social networking and high speed internet didn’t exist, after I changed schools I never saw Shakeel again.

Not for 17 years.
If you are married or in a relationship and you have had the pleasure of knowing me, you have most likely been asked the question, So how did you meet your special someone?

At first, your reaction would have been – "Dude, that’s a very personal question you know"? But then you see the puppy eyes through my rimless spectacles take a deep breath and go, “Well Thomas, this is how it happened”.

I love these stories, people meet each other in the craziest of ways, and its something they never forget, something they hold very dear to their hearts.

In the course of my life I have heard some truly fascinating tales, from instant connections to I couldn’t stand him/her at first and one of my favorites - he begged and pleaded with me for years till I agreed to go out with him and now we have 3 kids with the fourth one on the way.

And just when I thought I had heard them all I ran into Shakeel again.

I did not recognize him at first.

In fact, I was scared to the bone when this large figure grabbed me all of a sudden, lifted me off the ground and started shaking me violently, on an unsuspecting afternoon in Bangalore.
When I realized it was him I shouted so loudly it startled the people on the street more than it did when this giant assaulted me.

It was a very emotional moment.

After I caught me breath again and we sat down to eat and drink something for the first time in nearly two decades, I unleashed on him a barrage of questions.

His longitudinal and radial expansion he attributed to genes and a timely growth spurt, as for his classy hairstyle, he gave credit to the barbershop in his neighborhood that only charged him 50 rupees and as far his 20/20 vision went, he was honest enough to admit to the fact that he wore contact lenses.

I was more interested in his explanation for the wedding ring on his finger.

He paused for a second and took a deep breath.

“We met in an elevator” he told me.

"Are you serious"? I asked him, sounding surprised.

"I went into the wrong building and got on the wrong elevator and on the 10th floor, lo and behold the most beautiful girl I have ever seen walks in".
"And then what happened"?

"I rode the elevator with her till the 32nd floor and walked with her till we got to her office".

"Get out of here". I said trying not to disturb the other patrons at the restaurant.

"I did".

"And"?

"I asked her out".

At this point in the conversation, I got up from my chair and started walking away.

"Come back Stout Tom" He shouted without a care in the world.

I smiled awkwardly at returned to my seat trying to hide my embarrassment.

"You asked a girl out whom you saw for the first time, in an elevator, in the wrong building, after following her to the 32nd floor? That’s too much for to believe, especially coming from a guy who was legitimately scared to talk to girls in school".

"It's true man".

"And then what happened"?

"We got married in the next 2 months".

"Just like that"? I asked him.

"Just like that". He said grinning, his face reminding me of my little buddy from school.
I do not believe in co-incidence.

I don’t.

To think that everything is random and without purpose is something I just cannot do.

At the same time, it is also not easy looking for meaning in every little detail in every little thing that we go through, it can be very exasperating and exhausting.

Then you hear stories like that of Shakeel and his wife, and you realize how beautiful life really is.

Just think about the circumstances in which these 2 people met each other.

If one thing in their entire life had gone differently, this probably wouldn't have happened.

Tell me I’m wrong. Go ahead.

You and I both have taken several elevator rides in our lives, and we know how much of a difference a few seconds can make, but we don’t think about it because if we miss one lift, another one will soon come down.

But if Shakeel or his wife had missed meeting each other that morning, who is to say that they would have ever known that the other person even existed?
Every stupid little thing that he ever did in his life for the last 28 years was bringing him to that moment.

Even if it was to stop and pick up a coin lying on the street, miss the bus that took him to school, go to sleep early, wake up 10 minutes late, turn around and head back home because he was doubtful if he turned off the lights before he walked out, every wrong turn, every happy and sad event, every delay, every fight, every insult, every traffic light, every bend, every break, every bruise, let me make this very simple, even if one seemingly minuscule detail of his life had gone differently, he would’ve missed out something he considers a defining moment in his existence

Come to think of it, had we both scored even one more run in that epic game of cricket at school, his life would've been very different. 677 runs, that was how it was always meant to be.

You may not agree with me but just think of the odds involved, when you consider the sheer magnitude of all that it took for them to meet, it’s pretty staggering.

Coincidence? I think not, that is too simple an explanation.

We are all heading towards something beautiful.

It's going to happen.

The simplest of things you and I do are taking us there, we just don’t know when or where.

It's all part of a plan, you have to trust the process.

What can you and I do in the meantime? 

Let go a little, allow the author of life to take the wheel.

Sit back, enjoy the ride including the occasional bumps along the way, reminding yourself every now and then that there really aren’t any wrong turns, and everything happens for a reason.

Until Next Time

TGV


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Feel

I’m about to do something I’ve never done before.

Its been a while since I started thinking about it and I’m finally doing it.

Today, I’m going to blog on the move.

This won’t be easy, for one thing my laptop (which I happen to love a lot) is kinda big, its battery is sorta weak, I also feel a little crammed up in my seat at the back of the bus.

But that’s not going to keep me from trying.
Normally, for me the whole process of writing a blog post begins with an idea. The inspiration for which often comes in weird forms and in unexpected ways. I let the idea gestate in my head and over time it slowly takes shape. When I feel I have enough content in my hands, I start putting the words down.

That’s when things get complicated.

Because now, the challenge of invoking the same reaction in you that prompted me to write about an experience in the first place becomes very real.

Which is why, this is going to be tough for you as well.

I’m going to need you to tug much harder on your imagination than usual because I’m hoping to recreate the live environment that I’m in right now using just my words and hopefully, with a little help from singer-songwriter Robbie Williams, you and I might just make that special connection that I am trying to pull off here.

Why Robbie Williams you ask?

Well, one of his biggest hit singles ‘Feel’ is kind of the basis of this months blog post.

I told you, inspiration often comes in weird ways and forms.

Let me give you a little background first.

Ajay Prakash, my friend from medical school, and I were the boldest people in the graduating class of 2011 .

Why were you two the boldest people in the class you ask?

Well, the two of us always sat right at the front of the class, for almost 5 years in a row.

Quite impressive right?

The truth is, we had no choice.

Those were often the only two seats left when we arrived to class, we were usually late and the best seats i.e. the back benches, were always taken.

Where you see tardy I see courage……Please don’t judge me :-)
Dr. Prakash was responsible for re-invigorating my interest in Robbie Williams.

It was our second day at the college and the two of us were just getting to know each other.

He nearly got us both into trouble from not being able to control his laughter earlier that morning.

I don’t blame him.

Our physiology professor kept comparing the human nervous system to something he repeatedly referred to as a ‘CAMP-BUTTER’. When Ajay realized that he professor was talking about a computer and no some exotic type of butter used exclusively in camps he almost fell out of his chair laughing.

“What kind of music do you listen to”? I asked him.

This question usually serves as a segue for me to understand someone better.

You can say a lot about a person depending on the kind of music they like, trust me on this.

“I’m not much into any specific type of music”. He replied honestly.

I was a little disappointed.

“Wait, but there is this one song by Robbie Williams called Feel that I really, really like”.  He said.

I lightened up a bit.

It was not that I hadn’t heard the song before, ‘Feel’ was a big hit in India too, but now I decided to listen to it more carefully when I got back home. I was really curious to see why Ajay liked the song as much as he did.

After about the fifth time in a row that I listened to it, the song started to grow on me.

I’m not sure if it was Robbie’s raspy voice or the melodious sound of the piano playing in the background, but I found myself getting fascinated by the tune.

‘Feel’ is one of those rare songs that creates an atmosphere around itself as it goes along. It strikes a near perfect balance between unbridled joy and absolute melancholy, while keeping a constant hold on the listener at the same time, not letting you drift to either side of the scale.
11 years ago when it came to liking a song, it was a lot more about the music than the lyrics to me.

But now that I’m older and somewhat wiser (atleast mom seems to think so), the words of the song make so much more sense to me.

So, where exactly am I headed today? And why did I choose the bus to blog on the move, when I could have easily done the same in the backseat of a nice cab.

I’m not really headed anywhere, sometimes I just ride the bus and I’ll tell you why in a moment but before that let me introduce you to my co-passengers.

It’s about 3 in the afternoon right now.

There’s a girl in sky blue scrubs sitting up front looking at her phone (If you frequent public transportation in Chicago you know there’s always someone dressed in their scrubs travelling with you :)

A young man seated to my right across the aisle who is looking out of the window, a mother with a large bag of grocery in one hand and a stroller in the other struggling to balance everything and an elderly gentleman wearing a fedora sitting behind the driver.

That’s all of us, but don’t worry we’ll pick up more people along the way.

Route no 151 of the CTA in Chicago is a very pleasant bus ride. Before entering the downtown region, for a few miles the bus goes parallel to Lake Michigan. On day like this the wide expanse of blue water can be mesmerizing to say the least.

I am more focused on the people in the bus though, this post is also about them.

Magic is about to happen.
10 minutes go by.

The mother with the baby still seems a little uncomfortable trying to keep things from moving around, the girl in the scrubs is leaning on the window with her eyes closed and the young man sitting nearby seems to be staring at his hand now lost in deep thought.

We stop for a few seconds extra at the intersection between Michigan and Erie, the driver is lowering the entrance of the bus so that someone using a cane can get in.

A few seconds later as the bus begins to move, the woman who got in trips on the cane.

The man with the hat is the first one to respond. He leaps to his feet and grabs hold of her, the mother too leans to her right to try and break her fall.

The bus slows down and everyone within an arms reach of the woman have make sure that she is doing okay and help her find a place to sit.

A few stops later the elderly gentleman gets up from his seat, before he leaves though he takes his hat off, gently nods his head at the woman he saved from falling down, gives everyone a curt smile and disappears into  the crowd outside.

I turn my attention now to the young lady in the blue scrubs upfront.

She has her eyes fixed on her phone again, but now she is smiling, I don’t know what she sees on her phone, but she looks so genuinely happy.

The man across the aisle to my right, is still looking at his hand but now I notice whats going on, every few seconds he is taking the ring off his left hand and then putting it back on. Maybe it just me but it seems as though he misses someone a lot.

I am most moved however by the mother with the bag of grocery who seemed so frazzled at first when she got into the bus, now she is staring at her baby sleeping in the stroller, and she looks so peaceful.
I don’t know how much of what we say, do or feel in the world today is genuine.

Real is rare in our lives.

Raw emotions, genuine laughter, honest opinions are so hard to come by.

You may have felt this before, quite often in fact, at the end of the day, like a lot of the food we eat,  even our feelings and reactions to things can seem so processed.

Have you ever wondered why people do extreme things?
Intentionally jump out of a plane flying thousands of feet above, leap off a cliff tethered to reality by nothing but a thin elastic cord?

I might be wrong but I guess why people indulge in these activities is because experiencing such a massive adrenaline rush is the only opportunity they have to feel something real.

Maybe that’s what Robbie Williams was trying to say in the song.

I know riding a bus or train can’t be equated to bungee jumping or skydiving, but it is what I resort to when life seems too plastic or made up.

I see real everyday people, some of them superheroes in their own way, like the man in the hat who rescued the elderly lady who almost fell down, Simple people dealing with real everyday stuff, their faces reflecting real emotions, some happy some sad, but real nonetheless. People I know are headed back to their homes, who like me are not sure about the future but are willing to wake up the next morning and try again.

The bus is turning around now at union station, which reminds me, its time I headed back home myself.

Until Next Time.


TGV

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Fischer King

June 25, 2009. The day that Michael Jackson died.

Some memories are hard to erase.

I had just woken up and stepped out of my room when my brother told me the news. If it was anyone else I wouldn’t have believed them, but my brother, he isn’t the kind of person who would spread a hoax.

My reaction was organic, I felt sick to my stomach.

Back then, Michael Jackson was almost always in the news for all the wrong reasons. Steadfast fans like me finally had something to smile about when he announced the ‘This Is It’ concert series at the O2 arena and the new album which was to accompany it. Now all of a sudden with less than a month left for the first show, he was gone.

My only consolation was the thought that he was finally done with all the suffering and pain that being one of the most popular faces on the planet had brought him. But yeah, to this day, I miss the king of pop, and new album or not, I wish he were still alive.
5 years later I would have a similar experience.

I was at work this time around when I read about Robin William’s passing on the internet. I just sat on my chair frozen for a long time wondering what possibly went wrong.

After I got back home I rummaged through my collection of movies and pulled out every single DVD that had a Robin Williams movie in it. 
Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, Jack, Patch Adams, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam, Bicentennial Man, I watched them all.
But this wasn’t enough; I had to find out if there were others that I had missed.

I turned to imdb for help and that was how I found out about ‘The Fischer King’.

At first, I couldn’t believe that I was yet to see a film featuring both Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams in it.

How did I miss it when I absolutely loved both these actors?

That’s when I saw the directors name, and I knew why.
Terry Gillem's films are not for everyone.

I have nothing against the man but many of films deal with hard to digest themes that are set in dystopic universes which are often hard to comprehend.

In case you missed it the first time I mentioned it,this film had BOTH Jeff Bridges AND Robin Williams in it. I just had to watch it.

While it wouldn’t be my first recommendation to someone who casually goes to the movies, it is an off-beat film with some excellent performances that might just impress you.

The basic plot of the movie is in itself kind of a major spoiler, so I will restrict myself to only those parts of it that are relevant to this blog post.

Jack (Jeff bridges) is a washed up suicidal, radio jockey who is almost killed one night before being rescued by Parry (Robin Williams) a homeless, schizophrenic man.

Jack tries to repay Parry’s favor by  throwing him some money the next day, and when that doesn’t work he very reluctantly decides to try and help Parry put his life back together. He starts by following him around to get to know him better.
It may seem to the rest of the world based on his disposition that Parry’s life is in shambles. But in spite of his crippling hallucinations and delusions he has a routine that is quite impressive. 

That’s where the part I love the most about the movie comes in.

Parry is smitten by one particular woman whom he follows on a daily basis, Lydia, an accountant at a publishing house. Lydia is a very shy woman, who struggles with day to day stuff and has trouble with social interaction, he knows that about her. Every morning he stands at a distance cheering for her, hoping that she overcomes her challenges and faces her fears.

I was very moved by this scene in the film.

It brought back to me memories of all the times when I derived inspiration from people around me just watching them live their life, times when I felt comforted by just listening to their conversations. I was reminded of occasions  when I rooted for people quietly and hoped that they would make it and rejoiced when they eventually did without them even having the slightest clue that I was in their corner vouching for them, which kind of made it all the more special to me.

It is indeed a beautiful feeling  to think that people around us are actually being affected by our seemingly simplistic lives.

But herein lies the problem. We live in a world where there is a constant pressure to be someone else. Our quirks and eccentricities may seem like a hindrance to our own success, I believe that these are the little things that make us special.

Even as you are reading this blog, there is probably someone out there who can’t wait to see you in the morning because your smile which you are so quick to label as ‘awkward’ lightens their soul.

Your work ethic which you feel is obsessive and demanding at times might be what inspires a colleague to do better.

Like in the movie, everything that Lydia wishes she can change about herself is what Parry absolutely adores and loves about her. 

While she may think that her life is just a waste of time, without her even knowing it she is giving someone something to hold on to, in Parry’s case, a reason to live.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it's not just advisable to be yourself, it's absolutely necessary.

There are people counting on you, every single day for you to just show up and do your thing. 

It’s the same people who are cheering you on in every struggle you face, and though you may never know who they are, every now and then just remind yourself to smile for them, trust me when I say this, they love that about you.

Until Next Time

TGV