Tag Archives: blogging

With a cigarette in my hand…


…is how I spent a large part of the last 2 decades. It is also a sentence that was part of a song that played on television in the 90s. It went… “With a cigarette in my hand, I felt like a man”, and was intended to help people quit smoking, hah! While smoking the roughly 73000 cigarettes I must have smoked in my life, I also had immense opportunity to reflect on the thought processes of most smokers. I made the following observations (and broad sweeping generalizations!):

  • Most smokers would tell you that they intend to quit.
  • Soon.
  • Any day now.
  • Most smokers would tell you it is easy to quit; they’ve done it so many times already.
  • Most smokers would tell you that they completely understand that it will kill them. But they would also remind you that life has a 100% mortality rate… everybody dies.
  • Most smokers will also be pedantic about the number of carcinogenic chemicals that constitute cigarette smoke and will probably enthusiastically discuss the ill-effects with their friendly neighbourhood cardiologist… over a smoke.
  • Most smokers would tell you that the gory pictorials on cigarette packaging has only increased their tolerance for disturbing imagery, and the dire but completely useless voice in the movies that drones “Smoking is injurious to health…” is the part where everybody checks their phones for messages before the movie resumes.
  • Most smokers would know exactly how much money they would save if they quit smoking, and exactly what they would buy with that money.
  • Most smokers will never quit.

Way back when, probably some 18 years ago, a well-spoken elderly gentleman accosted me regularly at a bus stop in Sion, where I would be smoking a little way away waiting for the bus, and we would have a conversation that went like…

Him – Hello, can I ask you a question, why do you smoke?

Me – Hmm… never really thought about it.

Him – I’m curious, I ask smokers this question.  You should think about it.

Me – OK, I smoke because I like it.

Him – Does it taste nice?

Me – Kind of…

Him – What does it taste like?

Me – Errr… like something burnt.

Him – How would something like that taste nice?

Me – I don’t know, it smells nice…

Him – No, it doesn’t. I can smell it from here.

Me – I feel better when I smoke.

Him – So how do you feel when you don’t smoke?

Me – I don’t know… not nice.

Him – So why don’t you find a way to feel better that will not kill you?

Me – Because I don’t have anything, or anybody to live long for… (Touché, I thought…) But here’s my bus… good chat, good bye!

Obviously I don’t remember exactly what was spoken, and I paraphrased here and there, but this is pretty much what we said to each other. The next time I saw him there; I ran and caught the wrong bus just to avoid him. But that conversation left me feeling strange… like if I’d carried on talking with him, I would have gotten some kind of closure, some kind of answer. I wouldn’t know then, that it would take me another 18 years to get there… but my curiosity made me seek him out the next time. However, he would always reset to the beginning of the conversation, and not remember that we had already spoken before… it was like a movie that stopped before the end, and always started from the beginning again, only to stop at exactly the same spot, in a weird kind of endless loop…  I never saw the old man again after that, but always remembered that little exchange.

Over time, I became a collector. A collector of reasons (excuses) – for why I could not/don’t need to quit smoking. Talk to a smoker and you’ll hear some or all of this.

  • It helps me think.
  • My job/social circle requires me to be around people who smoke.
  • I can’t go to the loo without smoking.
  • I smoke only when I drink.
  • I can quit any day.
  • I need willpower to quit, and right now my life is too stressful and is taking all of my willpower.
  • I exercise.
  • I don’t smoke too many.
  • I will put on a lot of weight if I quit.
  • My father/neighbour/friend smoked all his life and lived to be a hundred.
  • Who wants to live long?
  • I need a smoke…

Truth is, I had a hundred reasons not to quit, but apparently not even one good reason why I should. This is because I didn’t realize the true answer to the first question the old man asked me so long ago, until recently… the reason I smoked, was because I was addicted to it. My body craved the experience and the chemicals from time to time, and deluded my brain into thinking it was an enjoyable experience. Stark reality was that I was a slave to the habit. For a long time, my biggest fear was running out of smokes and not being able to get them or having to spend a night without being able to smoke. This made me hoard cigarettes, and consequently crave them even more.

Originally, I got hooked when I was dealing with a particularly vulnerable phase in my teens. During this phase, having to cope with anxiety was a challenge, and smoking (along with the social experience with co-smokers) helped me tackle it better. It is only now that I know how tightly it grips you. It is probably one of the strongest addictions in existence. Any smoker will vouch for that, and I kept telling myself and everybody else that I wasn’t strong enough to deal with the experience of de-addiction. There are medical/assistive options like patches, gums and lozenges, hypnosis and even medication that could help, but these assume that you are addicted only to the nicotine. But I assure you, willpower is highly overrated as a factor that helps you quit. At least for somebody like me, I don’t believe ordering myself not to smoke would have worked… My parents, teachers and former bosses will tell you that I am not very good at taking instructions, even from myself!

Nearly 8 years ago, I made two promises to the woman I love… a woman who I first met when I was smoking two packs a day, and despite not approving of the habit, never made purely emotional demands of me to quit smoking. These promises were voluntary, and I suspect also intended to buy me some time. I promised her, when our little princess was born, that I would never smoke in her presence. And secondly and more importantly, if (and when) our daughter brought up the topic of me smoking, and even hinted that I should quit, I would quit… no questions asked.

So, an innocuous comment from our six year old in the middle of June last year, while we walked through a cloud of second-hand smoke blown by a couple of kids hiding out in our apartment parking lot changed my life. She was surprisingly scathing in her opinion of people who made other people suffer because of their smoking, in the typically innocent and endearing way in which a six year old complains about the world around her. And then she said… “But you don’t smoke any more, do you, Papa?”

And through this little conversation, my baby unintentionally called me out on my promise, and I kept it! Wasn’t easy, but it definitely wasn’t as difficult as I told myself it would be, all these years. Almost exactly one year ago, on the 24th of June, 2014, I quit smoking. I like to think I’m over it, but we will see how that goes. How exactly I managed it, and the various changes that I went through deserves its own blog post, especially if it might help others do the same. However long story short – I can smell again, my mouth doesn’t taste like an ashtray, and my lungs are clear for the first time in twenty years. I’m not sure if all of the damage I did to myself can be reversed, and as a matter of fact I know some of it is definitely permanent. The colour of my gums, and the yellowed fingernail on each of my index fingers (I was an ambidextrous smoker) are reminders to my chosen method of slow suicide. But for the moment, I owe my wife and kid a husband and father who is not trying to kill himself, and that, dear reader, is as simple a motivation as that.

I know it’s actually not as corny as this, but it makes for a far better story when I imagine that perhaps the message that old man was trying to get through my thick head at that bus stop 18 years ago was… anything’s possible when you have somebody to do it for!

Being a better human – Two stories – Part 2

Keep Walking!

That smile… it’s tantalizing.. you can’t tell for sure if it’s there or not. But you could feel it in his eyes, the crinkle around the edges, the sparkle in them. It could light up a room, instant therapy for the blues. He could listen for hours, to your happiness, to your sorrow, to your rants, and would never patronize, never advice… but would empathize better than anyone I knew. He would make you feel like he could instantly share in anything you felt, and make it his own.

We called him Walker, and he was one of the nicest guys I knew. Intensely emotional, he was very passionate about family, love and work – in that order. I knew him as a charming colleague I met at a tough job, when both of us were going through a tough time at work. He had a disarming way of dealing with difficult people and situations, and was super-calm when walking through fire, always smiling. Four colleagues who exited one company when it folded up due to management sucking it dry and leaving it’s employees in the lurch, bonded over that tragedy in such a way that we ended up friends for life. Four colleagues who I nicknamed FEW KIDS, an anagram formed from our initials, four colleagues who got together again at what looked like a dream reboot to our careers, but one that also went downhill quite quickly, for the second time. Four friends, 3 of whom had our anniversaries on successive days, not the same year though. Happy or sad, we drank together, nearly every night… always ending up singing the same songs, and sometimes with people from other tables in the pubs and bars we crawled out of. That was his magic, he could get into an argument with somebody, and before the night was out, you would catch them drunk, hugging each other like lifelong friends without even exchanging names. But you would remember him… he was that kind of person. His stories about his father, his mother, his love for his wife and his children, ranged from hilarious to tear-jerking, but there was no drama, no exaggeration in them. Just the sincere truth… the truth of a man for whom family meant everything… absolutely everything. I remember thinking more than once, that when I had kids, I wanted to be “this” kind of father, and I have no shame in admitting I am that kind of parent today. I learnt from him how to be your wife’s lover and friend forever, how to be your kid’s superhero – the picture-perfect family guy – not the movie-hero kind, but the one you want to be in real life. I remember a guy stopping his vehicle in the middle of the road late at night in Pune so he could walk up to him, and ask him if he could touch his feet. This, because he refused to accept fees from the guy for his airline flight crew training course months ago, due to his difficult financial situation. And when he could afford to pay back the fees, Walker asked him to pay it forward and help anybody else he felt like helping. I was amazed, this dude was a rockstar! I didn’t think this kind of thing happened to normal people. We used to teasingly use the slogan “Keep Walking” with him, because he believed in it, and lived up to his name, always smiling!

That same smile, on this balmy May afternoon almost exactly 7 years ago. I still couldn’t guess if that smile was there or not… I wanted to find out from the sparkle in his eyes, but his eyes were closed. His face was beatific, even with all those gory scars, lying in his casket, dead. Those eyes would never open again, I would never know about that smile again. The feeling of immense sadness that was threatening to envelop me since the moment several hours and several hundred kilometres ago, when I first heard about his passing, now took over completely. But somehow I still wasn’t crying, not until I walked past him to the two smaller caskets beside him, holding what was most precious to him, his two children, also dead. Then, when I saw those faces – and there is nothing more painful than to see death in a child’s face – I needed something to hold on to, to stay on my feet. The next few hours went by in a blur, with most of us wondering how something like this had come to pass, as we watched the most devoted father, husband and son we knew, and one of our most treasured friends, being buried along with his two lovely children. I remember not even being able to face his widowed wife that evening, running away from that scene like running would wake me up, but this wasn’t a nightmare. It was real life, at its cruelest, in its most horrifying manifestation -violent death. A reality that was caused by one man… a man called Shyam Ugale.

A “normal” evening

On their way back to Pune from Kolhapur after attending an event, the Walker family of four, and four other relatives – a cousin, her father-in-law and two daughters had stopped at a well known highway restaurant for dinner. One of those classic highway restaurants with a smallish wall separating a garden from the road. Waiting outside the restaurant, most members of the family were standing in and around the garden, when an out of control truck crashed right through the wall into the garden and mowed them all down. Five of them were run over, and most of them died instantly of fatal external and internal injuries. The vehicle did not stop until it hit the building, the driver was grabbed by the crowd, and despite the inescapable smell and obvious influence of alcohol, managed to escape when the crowd moved in to handle the five bloodied bodies lying around. Somehow, with the help of the owner of the restaurant and other nearby establishments, they managed to get them to hospital, where five of them were declared dead and one comatose. The wife and mother, who was a few metres away when all this happened, could do nothing but watch everything and everybody that mattered to her crumble and die before her eyes.

The driver, Shyam Ugale, after sleeping his alcohol off, “surrendered” two days later. With some help, a story of falling asleep at the wheel was agreed upon and spun together, and eventually hardly even warming a prison bench, Mr. Ugale went home to live happily with his family, where he hopefully still wakes up in a cold sweat every once in a while, thinking about the lives he destroyed. How many such Shyams continue to prowl the roads today, would you know? I don’t… what I do know is there are hundreds of hit-and-run killings every month, and all those killers are still behind the wheels driving all around us. Feel safe now? Yes, I know… and that is why I have an opinion about it.

It still hurts to have a friend snatched away like that, but I can’t even imagine what that woman went through every day since that night after her entire family was taken from her, right before her eyes. Can you?

So in our anger at all the unpunished murderers driving happily around, let’s all come together and crucify Salman Khan, shall we? Oh, you’ve moved on to Maggi, you say, I must be slowing down… my apologies. Must be age catching up on me…

What would you do?

A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago…

“What would you do if you had to go to court accused of drunk driving and negligence behind the wheel, adding up to culpable homicide not amounting to murder? What would you do in this country, where the ordinary citizen may spend years waiting for the case to go to trial, and then decades to reach judgement… when you could hire an “accused” and some “witnesses” for a few lakhs, who would happily stand in for you and go through the motions, since nobody will go to prison anyway… when you could pay off the police to “settle the matter”?”

What would you do? Really…

I personally know at least two people who have been in this situation and will never see the inside of a courtroom… Is that fair? I don’t know, but it shakes my faith in my pre-conceived notions around natural justice. And this is why my opinion and my judgement on the American Express bakery accident case is not, and will never be black and white.

Life isn’t black and white. Life is, and is always going to be a shade of grey. So, although it’s nice to jump on the “desktop activist” bandwagon and take a side in the online shaming process, until the next cause comes along, I will desist, thank you. Because like I said in the beginning, I will continue to strive towards being a better human being. And one of the ways I intend to do this, is by not judging a fellow human absolutely or impulsively, irrespective of the hurt, or the sadness that comes along with it. But I will never forget…

As a dear friend would say, drive carefully, and keep walking!

Resurrection… the Phoenix rises again from the ashes…

This post marks my re-entry into the blogosphere after 4 years of blogger’s block.

Yippee! I’m so excited I think I won’t blog for a couple more years…  Just kidding!

The last comment on my last blog… (someday, when I have more courage, I will reveal it, if it’s still there 😉 )

Sorry, I lost focus there… well it’s 1 AM, whaddaya expect… well, there I go again… ok… Focus now.. FOCUS… now where was I? Yep, I was saying that the last comment on my last blog was someone saying… they expect me to rise from the ashes, like the Phoenix! Ashes, I don’t know, but I’m back… from the hole I’d dug myself into.

And I’ll be here the moment I have something new to say, however worthless it might be… heh heh, this time it’s my website, so I can pretty much get away with anything, right? We’ll see…

Agony and Ecstasy

For the first time in my three week long existence in the blogging world, I am about to do something that every blogger is expected to do all the time… I am about to post something without having a real reason to, and believe me, there is an eerie kind of pleasure in doing this.

Today, actually in the next hour or so, I will have completed my assignment here and left Kolkata for home base. I leave with mixed feelings. That, I guess, contributed to the title. On the one hand I’m pleased at completing my mission, acing another assignment, going home… on the other, there’s something about this place, and the bitter-sweet experiences I’ve had while I was here that make me just a little sad…

The uncertainty of what the future holds for me is what gives me wings… I thrive on the rush, the high I feel when I negotiate turn after
unpredictable turn, in life… so going home not knowing what it holds for me does not scare me, in fact it excites me… still, there’s something about these few weeks that have probably changed me forever… and I will always hold Kolkata in memory for this…

Incidentally, last night I experienced something very heartwarming on a cold stormy street, something that’s special because of how unexpected it was… I was in a car in the Salt Lake area, heading towards City Center, a local hangout. Neither the driver nor me had any idea where we were, though we knew we were close to the place. So I did what a lost soul does best… I popped my head out of the car and yelled “City Center?” without looking at whether there was anybody there. Unfortunately, there was a dignified looking old man, wearing a spotless white T-shirt and gray trackpants standing right there… and I hadn’t seen him there. My yell scared the living daylights out of him, and I immediately apologized, though I thought his reaction was funny.

Regaining his composure, he pointed his walking stick back towards the ground (as soon as he jumped back, startled, he’d pointed his stick at me like some kind of shotgun, I think he must be a retired serviceman or something…) and told me, “You have to go right from here”. I looked right and saw there was no break in the divider for us to turn through, but I looked back at him and said “Thank you”, expecting it to be a simple “Go
straight-take-U-turn-go-straight-again-turn-left” affair. But as we drove ahead to take a U-turn, I could see that the old man was looking worried if I’d got the instructions right. I didn’t, in my wildest imagination, expect what he did next… he trotted across to the divider behind us, crossed it and the rest of the road before we turned and reached there, and motioned to me… I got the driver to stop, expecting the man to probably ask for a lift or something. The man just pointed down the road and said, “This way… just keep going straight for a mile and you’ll find it…” and walked back across the road without even waiting for my “Thank you”. Amazing… aint it ?

I know it sounds like an ordinary story, but there’s a reason why it’s special to me… I think one reason why ordinary human beings don’t go out of their way to help other ordinary human beings is because most of the time we don’t appreciate it enough, and what this old man did for me, I wanted to appreciate from the bottom of my cynical heart.

Dear Mr. Good-Samaritan-In-Salt-Lake, Thank you and if you don’t mind me saying it, Cool Trackpants, dude!!!

Bye Bye Kolkata !

Adios, folks… me is off to the home… when I get the connected to the Internet again, I write more post to the blog. Till then, take care… and happy ruminating !

[Disclaimer: This is one of the posts from my first ever blog, that is now defunct. Though amateur, and in some cases silly, I did want to retain an archive of everything I have ever written in the blogosphere. Thank you for your patience]

Somebody up there, likes me… at least for today

I have spent the last week wondering if a human being could actually will something to happen to him. I am not an overtly religious person, but I have always depended on an unknown, unseen force to pull me out of situations I don’t find myself comfortable handling. More often than not, I succeed, but I give credit to the unseen force even if it may have been my efforts that achieved the desired results. It makes me feel more human. And who doesn’t like wishing for something and seeing it come true, even if somehow, secretly, unintentionally, their own actions were, in some way responsible for what happens?
Now in the process of chasing storms for the perfect footage, I was subjecting myself to an overdose of wishing, and hoping… At the same time, my assignment in a city I have not entirely come to like (as yet) was keeping me adequately busy… In my free time, when I wasn’t looking up in the sky for lightning or watching the rain or lying down or watching TV, I was wishing I could get some excuse to go
back to the city I love, for the weekend… My client had just funded a round trip back to my city last weekend and would have thrown a fit if I had so much as hinted at spending another 20k of their money just to spend a couple of days in the place I grew up in… The company I work for had no reason to intervene… If you ask my client, they’d tell you that I’m doing a kick-ass job here, and my company wouldn’t risk that kind of feedback for the world. So I gave up on the wish, well almost… Till today, I received a call from my office back home… asking me what I’m doing for the weekend and if I’d mind coming back for a couple of days and then return back to my assignment on Monday morning. There had been a grave problem at office and my presence was needed in a hurry. God bless problems… what do you think I said? In my head, I was saying “YESSSSSSSSS, YESSSSSSS !!!!” like an east europian pornstar, but I actually put on my best “Let me check my schedule” tone-of-voice and said “Maybe I do mind, you could have given me longer notice… wellllll, anyway, ok… I think I should be able to…”

Jumped on the web, booked a ticket online in about 0.543 seconds flat. Ok, that was a minor exaggeration, it could have taken marginally longer… You know, for a techie, you can’t imagine how much this online-booking concept scares me… anyway at the end of it, guess what…

I AM going home………….. So what if it’s just for a couple of days?
Only tonight, I’m hoping there’s no storm… there you go… that’s another wish… anybody listening up there?

[Disclaimer: This is one of the posts from my first ever blog, that is now defunct. Though amateur, and in some cases silly, I did want to retain an archive of everything I have ever written in the blogosphere. Thank you for your patience]

Lightning never strikes the same place twice(?)

After the euphoria of starting a blog wore off last evening, I looked around me and realized I’m the only person left in my classroom… Strange thing is, it was only then that I became aware of how noisy it was outside. When I parted the blinds, I saw it was pouring… nature in frustration-removal mode replete with visual and audio effects. Weird, I always think thunder sounds different everywhere I go… it has it’s own unique character! All this cheered me up tremendously! I know a lot of people who tend to let their mood dip when the sky clouds over and it rains outside. For some strange reason, rain seems to charge me up big-time, it really, really turns me on…[xt_br][xt_br]
I quickly ran downstairs, found my chauffeur waiting(as usual!), jumped in the car trying to get as wet as possible in the process… and left for my hotel, which is actually a nice little walk away, but why refuse a drop home? On my way, the sky looked like the ceiling of a discotheque… flashes of lightning, at odd angles… coloring the night sky with strange shades of #aaa and #555 and #111… (gray actually!)I remembered that I had brought my camcorder with me and if I hurried, I could grab some footage of this climatic fireworks show from the window of my room. So I did hurry all the way upstairs, even in the super-lethargic elevator, the slowest I have seen in my life.(or was it just tonight?), grabbed my camcorder(Sony Handycam HC20E, it’s been a few months since I bought it and I haven’t gotten over it since… hence the plugging!!) and threw the window open, and there it was… 360 degrees of bad, BAAAD weather to soak in. I was faced with a frustrating problem now… where do I point my camera to get that perfect shot?[xt_br]
I have, for a while now, been obsessed with trying to get some video footage of a jagged bolt of lightning trying to touch something on earth… live, uncensored, as it happens, when it happens. The suddenness and inevitability of this event, as well as the visual splendor of that one split second is fascinating, it shows you how one moment, amongst the millions that pass by, can achieve it’s own special significance. It manages to remain, at least for a while, in memory… (as a person, I want to be like that one moment!)[xt_br][xt_br]
In pursuit of my obsession, I try to position myself in exotic contorted positions at my 6th floor window, trying to get the best angles. At first, I’m simply chasing, wherever I see the last flash, I end up pointing the camera there… it was frustrating, because I’m not a very patient man(that much, I guess, you figured?) Then I started thinking, that sort of detached thinking that you do when you’re actually doing something else. My thinking went from strategy to wild imagination to something very close to enlightenment. I decided to take a breather, actually a smoke 🙂 Have you ever thought of how similar this activity of mine, trying to chase a bolt of lightning to capture it on camera, is to life ? We keep wanting for something, however utopian it may be, to happen… knowing fully well that it may be improbable, but ending up disappointed nevertheless when it doesn’t happen in a while. What do we do then, lose patience and jump right on to our next “want”? Repeat this cycle of wanting and disappointment… ad infinitum?[xt_br][xt_br]
I wasted at least 20 minutes of footage without getting a single good shot, not even a decent flash, then I changed my strategy a bit. I observed, and tried to learn… where opportunity was at its maximum, there were certain parts of the panorama that seemed to be getting more than their fair share of attention from the Gods. I also realized that the frequency at which a good, photogenic bolt of lightning struck at approximately the same spot, was in about every 10 minutes. And how much time have I spent pointing my camera in every possible direction in an attempt to preempt nature, half-believing that I could actually predict where lightning would strike next? over 20 minutes… my lesson was learnt, now it was time to put it to practice… [xt_br][xt_br]
I pointed my camera to a spot on the horizon around which I had seen the most spectacular lightning and at the most regular frequency, it looked like a small hillock some 10km away with a tower of some sort on it, at least with the only light around there being the occasional flash in the sky, that was what I figured… [xt_br][xt_br]
I pointed, and waited, and waited… one beautiful flash, just out of the frame, then another… and another… I felt the familiar pangs of frustration creeping in again, but I kept going… and just when I thought it would never happen, the sky opened a portal of light and a crooked finger shot at the earth and stayed there for an eternity, just to the left of the center of my frame, and I was overjoyed… it felt orgasmic, just 5 minutes 23 seconds after I’d given up once… I’d grabbed the nicest shot of a bolt of lightning I’d seen(in my collection). I played it back, and learnt another lesson, how difficult it is to find 0.5 seconds of footage somewhere in the middle of 26 minutes of digital tape… anyway, found it… and learnt more in these 30 minutes than in several years. [xt_br][xt_br]
Lightning does strike twice in the same place, only if you wait for it long enough and want it badly enough… Opportunity never knocks twice, but if you know where opportunity is heading next, maybe you could wait there? Just maybe…[xt_br][xt_br]


[Disclaimer: This is one of the posts from my first ever blog, that is now defunct. Though amateur, and in some cases silly, I did want to retain an archive of everything I have ever written in the blogosphere. Thank you for your patience]

This is where I plan to leave my worst frustration…

I have written before… but I have always written for the politically correct audience, which has felt good but not for long… the kick never lasts long enough… I have waited 4 years trying to find the right way to start blogging, now I’m done waiting. This is not really a “right” beginning… but I don’t think it’s important for me to be “right” anymore… this is my first blog… and this blog will be my mental toilet. This is where I will punch my fists when I can’t find the right wall… This is where I will air my negativism… This is that real part of my life that I don’t expect people to be amused by or interested in, but it happens to be a need for me to release this somewhere… so here it is…
I’m not sure you’d like to stay here to listen to my rants, but if you do… I appreciate your patience !

[Disclaimer: This is one of the posts from my first ever blog, that is now defunct. Though amateur, and in some cases silly, I did want to retain an archive of everything I have ever written in the blogosphere. Thank you for your patience]