Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Life really can be stranger than fiction

Another experience which merits documenting.

This was going to be Mithila’s first trip with her friends over at Columbus. They were to go to Amish Country, a drive of about two and a half hours. During the chat over the phone the night before, she mentioned that she was a little unwell, but nothing that should stop her from going. I asked her to call me the next day before she left, to assure me that she could really go. Early next morning she roused me from my slumber, and said that she was feeling good. Great! Out of habit, I asked her to give me a call sometime in the middle of the day. And then, she went on her way and I back to my Saturday morning sleep. Middle of the day came, and rolled by, without any calls and I didn’t think much of it, imagining her to be busy having fun.

At 2 PM, however, I had a fleeting thought of casually checking up on her. Not wanting to interrupt her while having fun, I told myself I’ll call her the next time I have that thought and went away to cook. During a break in the cooking, I came back to my room to check my phone. And, sure enough,there was a message. It ran, “Sorry I havent been calling you, I was in a bad accidentM”. It was sent at 2.20 PM from a number I didn’t recognise. The time now was 2.35 PM. A number of thoughts went through my mind immediately, in succession,

It’s probably a minor one as she could message me

But she said “bad accident” and sent it from some other phone which meant it was probably really bad

Though she usually didn’t use ‘M’ to sign off, we did call her M among close circles. So, the situation must be tense enough for her to use it while ensuring that I’ll understand it

And, the way the message went, acknowledging our morning chat plan, it had to be her messaging

My immediate reaction was to message back on the same number, “How can I contact you, Mithila? – Santosh”. I wrote out both names to make sure that whoever read that message understood it clearly. I waited for 10 minutes but got no reply. I then tried Mithila’s number. It rang and rang but no one answered. I waited for another 10 minutes giving her time to potentially notice the call and call me back. Meanwhile, the realization of the magnitude of a “bad accident” was taking hold of me. I was playing out various scenarios in my head trying to see how I could help her. I then realised, I did not have the phone numbers of her closest friends who were with her on the trip. Inspite of my obsession about travel precautions, I was in a position where I had no way of contacting her except on her phone! Having still not received a call and being out of options, I called up the unknown number from which I had received the message.

A tired-sounding lady picks up,


“Hello, May I speak to Mithila please?”, trying to sound as calm as possible so as not to alarm the other person.

“Err… I think you got the wrong number”. I was dumbstruck for a second. I ventured, “..but I got a text from this number…??”

“I sent it by mistake. Sorry…”. I say it’s ok and hang up while wondering whether she was the one who was actually involved in the accident (?). But, I couldn’t make sense out of this seemingly unrealistic coincidence.

It was signed by M – Well, matching initials can be an easy coincidence

It came on the day that she was travelling – Ok.. even that is acceptable

It comes at the right time of the day when I have started noticing that she hasn’t called me yet. – again acceptable

It comes to me by mistake of all the people in the world. – Now we are pushing limits of acceptable coincidences

And, how could the message be constructed that way, seemingly in sync with what Mithila and I had spoken that morning. – Outright Unbelievable!

I spend the next hour or so trying to get hold of Mithila just to make sure that this was really a coincidence and she is in fact alright. But she just wouldn’t pick up. I scoured Facebook to find her friends’ phone numbers but to no avail. (Well, it’s good to see everyone is aware of the privacy issues.) In desperation, I message her “Call me ASAP”. Finally, she calls me at 3:45 PM in response to my desperate plea for a call back. Apparently, she was out of  cellphone range and did not get any of my calls. I bombarded her with questions about how she was doing. She just managed to say “I’m alright..” before the line disconnected. But, that was enough. I heaved a deep sigh of relief, and gratefully, went back to my otherwise mundane Saturday, but couldn’t help reflecting on the incident for the rest of the day. I think I prefer mundane over this kind of excitement.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The serenity of an evening

Pan copy

It was one of those evenings. You know... the ones, where everything seems to slow down and take a deep breath. When everything seems to be moving at just the right pace, everything seems to be revelling in the moment. A cool breeze flowed through, so gentle,... that when it flowed over you, you felt like you were being caressed with barely touching fingertips. Every breath seemed to add a new vigour, new life. It was really a rejuvenating feeling. The clarity of the evening all around reflected in my thoughts as well .... I already had a spring in my step by now.

I was out with my new toy, my camera, excited to try it out. Boy, was I glad to be outdoors. I reached the hill behind my university in hope of getting some good shots of the setting sun. And there I was, completely captivated by the serenity of it all. It was the whole setting that made the magic and I knew immediately that I was never going to capture in just photographs.

This is what I saw... no, experienced. The sun was setting in brilliant colours. I imagined that if it was a real person, it would be giving out a sigh after being satisfied with a hard day's work, sigh of thinking about reclining with a hot cup of coffee. A little distance away, a young couple were leaning against a tree on the hill slope. The nice evening, and being in IMG_0273 each other's company had evidently lifted up their spirits. They were all playful and smiling and completely engrossed in their own world of two. A guy was sitting on the hill-top, not far from where I stood, and was strumming away smoothly on his guitar. He was simply playing his favourite tunes. And coincidentally, a guy farther down the hill was taking stroll singing a soft, chinese song, completely oblivious to his contribution to the evening.

Now, how was I ever going to capture the whole mood with just my camera. I never could have. It is the blending of all these small, nice things that adds taste to the delicacy, called life. The singer was too far away downhill, and I dared not approach the couple and spoil their moment. So, I approached the guitarist of the evening for a photograph. He readily agreed. So I did manage to capture something of the evening's essence other than just scenery.

Thus, feeling triumphant of approaching a stranger for a photograph successfully and having experienced the unique blend of a moment of life, I was reminded of the line from the movie American Beauty -

You can't be mad for long because there is so much beauty out there.


Images: Santosh

Sunday, November 1, 2009

This is it

November 1996. Michael Jackson had come for a concert in Mumbai. I was an ardent fan, all of 10 years old. Cursed everything in sight for why wouldn't he do a concert where I was - Chennai. That's a big city, isn't it? No cable TV - so couldn't see the concert on TV either (did Doordarshan cover it?)

Well, next time. Somewhere, I'll attend his concert. I consoled myself.

I came to the US. Passing thought was - "I maybe a little closer to that elusive MJ concert". Then, MJ announces his London concerts. Aargh.... why not where I am?! But I hoped, that since he's starting concerts again, he might do one or two in the US. Alas, it was never meant to be....

One of the things I'm proud of about myself is I can dance pretty well. And Michael Jackson was my role model for my dancing. I copied his moves as a kid. (Also, Prabhu Deva -  who also idolized MJ!) I grew up, moved onto other kinds of music but MJ was still the childhood fascination. Just last week, I was at a soiree and the DJ played "The way you make me feel". I felt myself moving to the dance floor spontaneously. The DJ played a few more MJ hits, "Thriller", "Billie Jean" and "Beat it" during the night and I danced to all of them. After years.... it was childish satisfaction.

November 2009. Thirteen years after. I read about "This is it". A film made with rehearsal footages. I watched it today. Watched MJ make the same moves as he did years ago. Listened to those childhood songs again performed "live". He truly was, King of Pop.

The closest I'll ever get to a Michael Jackson concert. This is it.

- An MJ fan.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Storm Chasing

It was just another stint of returning home from lab. But, it rained and I was on my bike (read bicycle). Something snapped. Probably buried under too many restraints and thoughts of late, the spirit within awakened. Just yesterday, it had strained at its leash and sent me on a 12-mile bike ride. Today, the weakened leash just gave way.
I was nearing my home and the rain was threatening to stop. How dare the rain stop?.... Reached home, ran upstairs, dropped off my backpack and rushed back down, grabbed the bike and set off. I started in a direction I hadn't explored much and then, I saw them. The ominous looking clouds looming over the horizon. "Yes, I am coming for you!"
The rain had thinned down to a drizzle. But, I rode on. No sign of the rain intensifying. I was starting to give up on trying to chase down the storm and was settling down to "just a ride in the rain". At that moment, the road slanted downhill. I shifted up on the gears, and was  gathering speed. And I felt it. The rain. Splattering me on the face like pinpricks. {Hear hear, you owners of bikes (read motorbikes)}. I had caught up with the storm .... or it had come for me. I rode faster and the rain pounded me. It was like a staring game. There was lightning, thunder and the storm blinked. It was exhilarating, relieving. Ahh!
Now I'm back in my room, muscles aching with sweet pain, with a hot cup of coffee writing this experience. Some experience.......
Now I know what drives those storm chasers. I did my first storm chasing...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Problem is Choice

As Neo says in The Matrix Reloaded, the problem really is choice. At every instant, as we go by our lives, we make a choice. "Its time to get up" or "Just a few minutes more"...Coffee or tea...Wear jeans or shorts.... But ever so often, we come face to face with a potentially life-changing choice. What do we do then?

I have always had the life-changing kind of choices made for me by circumstances. One of the potential choices usually just dropped out of contention and I was left with a clear path. Maybe it was just escapism on my part to let the choice drop out. Or maybe, I had already made up my mind subconsciously and thus, let the rejected option drop out. Either way, I don't regret any of the "decisions" (well...almost). But, recently I was faced with an important choice.

"There are two doors. The door to your right leads both to The Source and salvation of Zion. The door to your left leads back to the Matrix....The problem is choice". -Architect, The Matrix Reloaded.

Neither door was perfect in its promise but both opened equally wide. While one lead to a tough path that went through lot of new places, the smooth door lead to the comparatively simpler path in the backyard but well-made.I made the choice to take the door onto the tough path to the Matrix.

"Hope...It is the quintessential human delusion, simultaneously the source of your greatest strength and your greatest weakness" -Architect, The Matrix Reloaded.

Having gone through this, I wonder how are we able to decide at all when we can never be sure of what the future holds for us. It is always a risk, a law of probability. Is there really anything called a "safe-choice"? Or is it just SAFER? But, I just contradicted this by choosing the riskier path. Is it just me being dumb?

“The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing." - Leo F. Buscaglia (Not from The Matrix trilogy!)

"As you adequately put, the problem is choice". Architect, The Matrix Reloaded.

Or ..... its just an illusion. The Grand Unified Theory of Everything predicts exactly what your life is like. So you don't really have a choice as, in this universe, you couldn't have ever chosen that which you didn't choose.

"....You've already made your choice. You are here to understand it" - Oracle, The Matrix Reloaded.

P.S. : Something related to this....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Are we going the right way?

It finally hits home after two months. I'm in the most powerful nation in the world and it just elected a new leader, practically for the whole world. I can't help compare (forgive me for this impudence).

America has come a long way. From slavery to its first black president, this is a remarkable journey. While American people said "Yes, We Can", back home our notorious MNS said "No, We Won't". I read an article in the New York Times and came to know that, Mr. Raj Thackerey has been the centre-point of yet another furore. We cannot stand a person just from another state, let alone another religion, and we say "India, poised"...Poised with weapons to lunge at each others throats (?). (The article quoted someone saying, "Our own people are betraying us")!!

I'm not singing praises of USA as everybody else does. True, US society isn't all silver-lined. But, is it wrong to appreciate something that's genuinely good? With so many foreigners making a bee-line to this country, its really amazes me how tolerant the legal citizens are, especially after being exposed to the incidents of lathi charges back home. Compared to the MNS, the Americans seem to be angels. Of course there are lot of other factors, especially the availability of all resources here but still, the crux is we are being sensitive to petty issues. How should it matter who finds a job in which state? Aren't we all legal citizens of India? Some of my dearest friends are Maharashtrians and now are in various other states. I pray that they don't cross the path of some fanatic seeking revenge for all these incidents.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, one will be foolish to separate religion and politics. But, things are getting out of control. Instead of the spirit of nationalism (that we once read about in school textbooks), there's the spirit of regionalism and communalism. All these things are for the ultimate prize - regional vote banks. Petty things are now our breaking news while we say, "India is a growing super-power".

It really is upto us what we should choose to be concerned about. Obviously, "they" are doing all these "things" as they perceive that they stand to gain something. Are we all set to be influenced by such regional and "religional" fanatics? Are we all set to be wooed by them to make them our next leaders? Are we going the "right way"?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another Experience

Its been sometime again. But, this time I have not been procrastinating. I'm now in another country!! The USA. Sometimes it fails to sink in and sometimes it hits you head on! Finally, I made it. After all the hiccups since I planned to take the GRE more than a year back.

Anyway, during the holidays, the 'Lights Out' Campaign came to Chennai. So I thought that I should propagate the message atleast to the people in my locality. So, I hung up a notice board on the tree outside my house.


I could see that atleast 6-7 people read the notice while walking down the road. But, when the time to switch off the lights came, even my closest neighbour (who could read the notice even from his balcony) did not switch off is lights. Of course, I don't how many actually did switch them off, but I sure did. Its really amusing how indifferent people can be. Agreed that everybody can't remember about Global Warming and stuff in everything they do. But, when there is a plea for your participation right underneath your nose, its difficult to ignore it, isn't it?

In fact, many people just walked right past the notice without even a glance. On the other hand, the kids who come to my Mom for tuitions noticed it right away even though it was way above their height and they should have walked right below it without noticing it. Kids are real observant!!

Anyway, the next day, the newspaper carried a report that the campaign was a huge success.

Good. There is a substantial crowd who are aware of their surroundings.