Paying back my friends

Living in a hostel taught me quite a few things, and lead to some memorable incidents. It is one thing to have people as friends, but yet another to live with them. When you spend enough time living in the immediate presence of someone else, you get to see different shades of them you normally cannot. In the same manner, when you have some highs or lows in your life, you get to see a different part of people in the manner to which they react to your situation.

Hostel usually involved commuting weekly. We would leave from the college on Friday or Saturday to reach home by dinner time, and spend the rest of the weekend at home. Depending on which schedule our lectures were, we would leave back for hostel on Sunday evening or early Monday morning. This happened on one such Sunday evening when a bunch of us were heading back to the hostel. The evening commute train came in, and instead of patiently waiting for it stop and the passengers to get off, I ran along with the coach. Keeping pace with the door, I threw my bag in and slowed down as people started to get off. Moments later when I got on to the train with a grin, I found that my bag was not there. Someone had taken it with themselves.

After trying to search the train, and running around on the platform, I came to accept that my stuff was stolen. The loss of the bag in itself wasn’t that hurtful as that of its contents. Two of my favorite sets of clothes were in it, along with 700 INR. At that point, 700 INR was a BIG Deal for me. It meant nearly a month’s food. There was no point in waiting at the station, and I left with my friends in the train. I lodged a police complaint at the railway police station after getting down at my station and went to the hostel with my friends. I didn’t do anything that night, at once falling asleep on reaching my room.

700 INR meant a lot of things. First it was nearly the amount I would have spent on eating dinner for an entire month. I used up some of the allowances I had saved up to buy new underwear and socks. I had some of them in the bag as well. I didn’t even feel like asking mom for money (for it was no fault of hers), and planned on how little I would have to spend on eating, or what my new dinner options would be. In hindsight, all of it seems a very stupid thing to do. Nobody gets on a train like that, but that wasn’t something that I could take back.

The next day two of my friends offered me close to 500 INR so that I wouldn’t skimp out on my meals.  I was too proud to ask any one for the money, on account of how I had lost it. They simply told me to give it back to them a month or so later when I would be in a better position to do so. I almost cried when I had dinner that night.

In the same week, we found out that there would be an inter college technical fest and competition at a college in Ahmedabad. Being organized by one of the most reputed colleges of the state, many people wanted to attend it. It had events that I was looking to take part in, but being short on cash (the sign up cost was 500 INR), I just walked back from their kiosk in our college atrium. Another friend asked me about it and I told him about not signing up for it. As if my luck in good friends wasn’t run out, he quietly offered to pay my amount, while he himself wasn’t attending himself.

Later that month, when I did participate in some of the competitions, I managed to get an unexpected 2nd place with a cash prize enough to pay back all of the friends who had helped me out in my time of need.

Inspired by Housing.com about a memorable time my friends gave me the strength to go on with optimism.

Starting a new life after school

There have been some very educational changes in my life. It would be false to say that I had full control over the circumstances that lead to these changes. While the changes that I couldn’t control taught me loads, I will tell you about two changes that I did have control. Changes that I chose and executed, while in themselves seem to be something very normal/common place but hold great value as to how I had to start a new life on their account.

The first change that I want to talk about is college. I had an option between two colleges. One in my hometown where I was pursuing my Bachelor’s in Science, and another in a different city for Engineering. While both the colleges are equally good, I chose to study in a city different from home. After the initial misty eyes when I did leave for hostel, and the first night away from home, things began to feel pretty normal. The routine of the college seemed to help too.

While the routine of everyday was distracting in itself, small changes began to feel big. Back then, Debit Cards were not yet so common. This meant that one had to either control the money spent, or keep extra money as backup. While keeping extra money in itself wasn’t something of note, what made a difference was the temptation to spend it. Temptation showed up in innocent things like wanting to have a slice of the chocolate cake after college, or go catch up on the latest movie with friends (Cola & a tub of popcorn). But this also meant that money was needed for extra stationery, or to buy medicines, it wasn’t there.

Money aside, things we take for granted became more profound. Home food felt dearer compared to what we had in the hostel mess. While it is common to feel so for the taste, but for me it was a different reason. At home, food is made keeping the likes and mood in mind. If I felt a craving for mushrooms, then mushrooms would be made. If I feel like having dinner late in the night, it can always be reheated. Such aspects became a comfort instead of something being taken for granted.

 

The next major change that happened was moving out for a job. In itself, this was a chance to start a new life. AN independent life. Living away from the family wasn’t new, but living by myself was. Now that I was fully responsible for myself, it was up to me to do things as I wanted. Things like rent were not that much of an issue since I was earning, but other aspects of the house were. Since I was the one who would choose where I lived, I began to look at houses with a new insight.

How far would the place be from the bus stop? How much difference would it make in the daily commute? Are there traffic jams nearby during rush hours? Where does the water go when it rains? Is there a vegetable market nearby? If the week was hectic, clothes and undies would pile up. I would need a space to keep a laundry basket, and a larger cupboard to keep my fresh sets of clothes. I generally like to sleep on the floor with just a mattress below me and a bed sheet to cover myself. It became a different situation when I would have friends or family over. Mother would need a cot, and more storage space for extra mattresses for friends to sit on.

The house would need a gallery to hang my clothes out to dry after washing. I had tried doing that inside under the fan with a clothes rack, and the room ended up feeling damp and smelling of soap. While books were initially kept in a simple carton box, I ended up needing a dedicated rack for storing the extra ones. While I had started with a simple platform for cooking, I had to look for a new house with a kitchen that would allow me to store my vessels and vegetables. One cannot live on Maggi forever.

These are two times in my life where I have had to start a new life, a different life.

 

Inspired by this video of housing.com:

Changing my approach towards drawing

I personally believe that one of the most defining times for a person is that spent in school/college. The experiences one has during the same end up giving shape to the outlook they have towards life in general. Apart from the person themselves, two sets of people add (or remove) filters to our views. These are our parents and teachers. What I am about to share with you is how my lecturers in college gave me a more positive approach to learning in general.

I have generally been a good learner. I was able to grasp most aspects of what I had been taught in school/college, struggling only in mathematics. Of course with more time and practice, mathematics would become something I could wrap my head around. One aspect that I would often neglect was drawing. Since I had opted for Science after my Tenth Exams, I had to study Biology which involved generous amounts of drawings. I confess to taking mom’s help in doing most of the tougher drawings, and opting for a different question to answer in the exams.

However when it came to Engineering, I literally had no way out. I managed to scrape through my first year’s drawing exams with average grades, but received a probationary pass grade in the second year. Honestly speaking, that was my lowest point in college. It wasn’t a subject like Mathematics, where I knew that with more practice and better understanding I could cover up. Drawing required a different approach to it, while mine was that of neglect, and in most parts fear.

When my faculty advisor called me for counselling after the grades were out, I was fully expecting to be rebuked. I had spent most of semester not preparing for the subject. During the exams, I had completed my drawing sheet in nearly half an hour, in a three hour exam slot. I had drawn what I could, but that was not enough to get me even passing marks. When I did attempt to finish the remaining of the questions, I ended up using the eraser so much that I had large smudge and small tear on the sheet.

Instead of bemoaning how miserably I had performed, she and another lecturer first asked me as to what I felt the reason was. When I explained that I felt that I didn’t find it useful, and considered a rote activity. After letting me say my side of the problem, they showed how a different approach was required. In a previous counselling session she had appreciated my logical & problem solving skills in programming. I was asked to approach drawing in a similar manner. While I did have to memorize some of the drawings, the larger part of the syllabus didn’t require rote memorization. Instead, if one approached it as a problem as to how the views of an object if viewed from a different angle, then I would have to process those changes. I would have to factor in which surfaces would get hidden, which would now become visible, and how these will interact with the change in viewing plane.

I will not get in to more technicalities of it. What I do appreciate is that instead of asking me to do what every other student does, or just go by rote memorization, they changed my approach towards the subject in a manner that would make it more interesting, and in turn challenging. I retook the subject in the next semester, and was able to get above average scores in the exam. To be honest, more than the exams, I was able to use the drawing skills in my projects in much more useful manner (than just clearing exams). For this, I will remain thankful to these two lecturers who took out time to change how I approached drawing in general.

This post was inspired from Housing.com, for how optimism  & positiviry can be found in any aspect of life.

A mouthful of paan

Have you ever had a Paan? Typically it is made from the Betel leaf with all sorts of pastes and mouth fresheners slathered in. While it is common to have Betel nuts & tobacco in the stuffing (making it carcinogenic), one gets safer and tastier versions too. In fact it is not uncommon in this part of the world, to have the occasional paan to finish off the meal. In fact, paan has kept up with the modern times to incorporate chocolate, dry fruits, and other ingredients which were not available to us years ago.

A picture of paan by Charles Haynes @ Wikimedia

I am all about enjoying this occasional paan, but one of worst things associated with betel based paans is that after enough chewing one only has to spit it all out. Areca nuts and lime lead to a distinct red saliva. While many people are civil enough to spit in gutters, bins, & such, there are so many more people who just spit it out on the road.

 

Paan spit captured by Anna Frodesiak

It‘s common to see such red stains in the country, where people who are paan addicts spit out the quid remnants. The other day when I was waiting to cross the road and minding my own business, a bus sped by. A man stuck his face out the window and spat out the paan he was chewing, a large ball of red, disgusting, quid laden spit that hit me smack on the face.

Ugghh! I spent fifteen minutes washing and cleaning my face.

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Envy

How does one process the feeling of envy? Within itself, envy is very simple. Typically envy is the emotion one feels when somebody has something that they desire. There have been times that I have been envious of people, and typically those are times that make more sense. Sense in the manner that I can work the means out about. Things like people having a better phone, a car, a lovely set of jeans, a lovely spacious home, and such are easy.

I mean all things come for a price. If one is envious of people having things, one works out the price and the effort that goes into obtaining them. If you can, you make a transaction. If you can’t, you work a little extra for ‘x’ amount of days and then make the transaction. Those in want of instant gratification can utilize a loan, or credit and work it off later. The point I am trying to make is that if you’re envious for something you usually know what you’re going to have to do.

Of course there are things that one can’t work out the price of. When I am envious of someone being in the company of someone else, when the sense of longing for someone mutates into a feeling of envy on their being with someone else, how does one know what the ‘x’ is? How does one know what to do? How does one process that?

When strangers came together for a grieving family

Compassion is an important emotion. Compassion for our fellow humans is at times what brings us together. People identify with the pain and sorrow of others and go out of their way to be there for them. While friends and family do these the most, it is the compassion of strangers that touches us the most. These are people who we don’t know, and who could mind their own life, but make a choice to do something for us.

One of my most memorable incidents is something that happened on Reddit last year. Nathan Steffel made a Photoshop Request at the Pics subreddit, regarding his daughter. Nathan’s daughter Sophia had passed away at the age of six weeks, suffering from complications in her liver. Since she had been in the hospital her entire life, the only pictures her family had had of hers were with her medical tubes. Nathan simply requested if someone could give his family a picture of Sophia, by digitally removing (or Photoshopping as it is known) the tubes from the picture.

The picture shared by Nathan Steffel

 

It is one of those rare moments where people felt his pain, and sent him photoshopped pictures and drawings of Sophia without the medical tubes and other equipment. Here are some of them (click on them to take you to the source):

 

by Reddit user /u/funkybrewster

 

by Reddit user /u/ChangingYang

 

by Reddit user /u/jloooong

by Reddit user /u/izzyzzi

by Reddit user /u/Markaes4

It was later revealed on Buzzfeed that he and his wife knew of their daughter’s condition from an ultrasound, but didn’t know the extent of it. Sophia was on the waiting list for a new liver but passed away due to complications. The pictures of Sophia show how many lives she has touched, and how some of these people cared enough for her family. This is why it is one my most memorable acts of compassion, when strangers who haven’t even met this person, or know him, pulled out all stops to give his family some peace.

 

Written for #1000speak, where bloggers all over the world wrote together about compassion and what it means to them.

1000voicesspeak

Catching a few winks

When I am coming back from work, tired from the day’s work, or when I wake up all groggy from having slept late previous night; the best thing is catching some winks. Years ago when I had started working in shifts, it would be common for me to fall asleep in the company bus. My commute takes around an hour, enough time to doze off.

It is an entirely different matter, that I would fall asleep within few minutes. Sleeping in buses has always felt so comfortable. So comfortable that I would sleep long post my stop and wake up in a further part of the city. One particular night I woke up at almost the last stop of the route, and had to walk for half an hour before I could get an auto to reach home.

I get these winks more often now, and I am not one to complain it :D

A mini post, because I am just too tired right now.

Propped up

Kindling in new times

As much as I love to read, I love buying books in advance more. If I read about a book online (Flavorwire and Buzzfeed), or receive a recommendation from a friend, I end up buying the book for a later read. It reached a point that I had used up all my shelves, racks and cupboard space for books. There were thinly veiled threats from the mother to do something nasty to the overflowing books.

Even after giving away some of my books, I still had many books left. Having read ebooks before, the transition seemed to be the natural conclusion. For a brief amount of time I did use my laptop for it, but long runs made it hard on the eye. It seemed that I would either have to cut down on the books future-me would purchase. A post by The Sister and another by a dear friend, made me smack my head real hard. A Kindle E-reader was the solution to all my woes.

While it was a simple solution, I tried to wait for some time to check if I realllllly wanted to buy one. The want to buy one persisted, but I would find some excuse or another to not end up with one. I even passed through 2 sales on Amazon without a purchase. When the year end was near, and the final sale was on, I couldn’t let the opportunity sleep. 2014 ended with the purchase of a Kindle Paperwhite and a beautiful brown cover

mykindle

My Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle with cover closed

Kindle with the cover closed

The cover flips open to also become a stand so that I don’t have to hold the kindle when I am reading. The strap goes on the reverse, and gives the option to slide my hand in it and hold should I want to.

Propped up

Propped up

This is going to be so much fun.

Mushroom and Paneer, with a dash of Jeera

I love cooking. If I didn’t have to do the dishes, I would end up cooking every other night. But, my tiredness from when I return from work, and said dislike for doing the dishes lends an air of purpose to my cooking sessions. These are the times when I don’t limit myself to something as simple as pasta or rice. Some of my favorite ingredients to use are mushrooms, tofu, and paneer (Indian cottage cheese). This is about one such time when I ended up with a surprise rendition of paneer.

When I used to share an apartment with the roommate, our joint grocery sessions would always involve generous stocking of the refrigerator with these. A particularly tiring day and a fully stocked refrigerator made me want to try out a spicy paneer and mushroom dish to accompany boiled brown rice. While the rice itself was very plain and easy to make, I went all ahead with the paneer. I took out spices from the racks that I hadn’t used in a while, cut up mushrooms into really thin slices, and used the stems to make stock instead of just throwing them away. The fact that fresh paneer was brought from the dairy instead of the frozen cubes made me warm. It’s not that I don’t like the frozen paneer we so easily get in the supermarkets, they just don’t stand on the same level as soft, fresh paneer straight from the dairy.

Slightly less than hour later, I was at the dining table staring at the dinner spread. A plate of cut vegetables with lemon juice sprinkled upon it, a small pot of starchy steaming hot brown rice, and a pan of the best damn paneer and mushroom gravy that I could have made. I picked the lid off the pan and just stared at it. I confess that it looked beautiful. A thick, brown, liquid broth in which swam tiny pieces of onions and tomatoes, as chunks of soft paneer gently floated to the top, joined by thin slices of button mushrooms. Thin wafts of steam were coming off the surface as a handful of cumin seeds (jeera) stood in abandon.

The cumin seeds were a nice touch. Their presence added more substance to a picture that would have otherwise felt incomplete. I remember to not have planned on using them, but it felt a very happy accident to have them. Something felt different about them though. Not just that I wouldn’t normally use them, they didn’t seem to look like normal cumin seeds. They were missing the multiple ridges that run across their length.

I then realized that I actually did not have cumin in the house, having finished my stock in the previous week. A brought a spoon full of it up to examine, only to realize that they were little beetles. The pests had infested a particular old batch of spice that I hadn’t used for quite some time. My feeling of joy at having made such a wonderful dish, was soon turned to disgust. I had almost ended up having bug broth for dinner. With Gusto.

With a feeling of relief that I had observed it before eating, I threw away the star item of my dinner. I made do with mixing a large spoonful of Chinese sauce with the rice, and a lesson to pay more attention to how I store and handle my spices.

Review: The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

What would you do when the family who you cannot be with anymore, comes back to you? What will you do when their ghosts join you in the garden for a conversation? Will you flee them, or will you think that you need medical attention? The ghosts of Thomas Eapen’s family came to him, and he sat down to have a chat. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob has an interesting premise to say the least.

sleepwalkersguidetodancing

When Amina’s mother tells her of her father’s conversations with his dead mother, she flies home to Albuquerque to check on him. Life at home is not easy. It’s difficult to convince Thomas, a brain surgeon, that his hallucinations are enough cause to not put the lives of patients in his hands. Her mother Kamala however has better things on her mind, like the long pending marriage of her daughter. However when Thomas begins to become consumed with visions of their dead son Akhil in their garden, even Kamala is forced to make decisions.

Life has not always been easy for the Eapens. When Thomas brought Kamala and Akhil to America for a better future, his polarized his mother and brother. A family visit to India for a vacation leaves sour taste as the differences between them only seem to grow larger with the amount of time spent away from each other. A violent outburst leads to early departure for the Eapens, but comes back to haunt Thomas when a fire razes down the house with the family in it. His last memory of the family is the fight that made him leave mid-vacation.

Akhil is a headstrong teen who cannot come to terms with how things are. He continues to grow emotionally detached from the family, and finds comfort in his girlfriend, who sees the caring heart in him. Good times however are not long lived as an accident takes Akhil away from the family. His death becomes the start of the transformation of the family members.

The story jumps between three different times, with Amina being the constant point of view through them all, a reference through which we can see how the family members change. Amina is however not without demons of her own. A professional photographer, her claim to fame was a perfectly timed picture of a man jumping to his death. Her dealing with this brings back memories of her dealing with Akhil’s death when she had started to learn photography.

The story interweaves the three times intricately. Which is why when the story moves from Thomas and his brother Sunil’s fights in 1970’s to present day hallucinations of Thomas in the 90’s, and back to Akhil’s death because of Narcolepsy in the 80’s; it seems like a natural interweaving of story arcs. A river breaking into different branches, which along its length continue to meet and move away on their paths.

The book is an emotional telling about family. One of the key emotions in the book is that of regret. The regret of not being able to be a brother or son’s keeper, of not being able to pursue something of passion, and even the regret of not being understood. The reader goes through the same emotional turmoil as the characters in the book. A turmoil that takes seed and slowly grows till it begins to throttle them slowly.

The slow descent of Thomas into rejecting medical cure and accepting his hallucinations as a cure to his personal demons is moving. Within itself it is a moving tale of what a straight thinking person is willing to give up, but to look at how his decisions affect those of his family, and peel away the layers to their core, is nothing short of brilliant.

I will leave you with some select quotes from the book:

“We are all we have here. Do you understand? That is it. And we can all talk about old times and Campa Cola and wouldn’t it be nice if we could go back, but none of us ever want to go back. To what? To who? Our own families can’t even stand us for longer than a few days! No, we are home already, like it or not,”

“Weddings are about fantasies—you understand? Your job is to photograph the fantasy, not the reality. Never the reality. If I ever see another picture like that, you’re fired.”

“He’s fine,” Kamala said. “It’s not like that. You’re not listening.” “I am listening! You just told me he’s delusional, and I’m asking—” “I DID NOT SAY HE IS DELUSIONAL. I SAID HE WAS TALKING TO HIS MOTHER.” “Who is dead,” Amina said gently. “Obvious.” “And that’s not delusional?”