Sunday, July 31, 2016

Alphabet Quotes: O is for Opportunity

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work."
— Thomas Alva Edison

"To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities."
— Bruce Lee

"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity."
— Ayn Rand
"I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one."
— Mark Twain
"Summing up, it is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o'clock."
— Woody Allen

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Hanuman in the driver's seat

This morning I went to the west side of my suburb in northwest Mumbai on a personal errand. I took an autorickshaw in torrential rains and was instantly caught in a traffic jam. Nothing new about that. Auto riders don't take kindly to passengers getting off midway and walking the distance. They are stuck and they lose out on the metered fare. So I just sat there watching the rain, listening to the cacophony of multiple horns, watching the back of the owner's head, occasionally fiddling with my phone.

© Prashant C. Trikannad
And then I saw Hanuman, the much-venerated Hindu monkey god and ardent devotee of Lord Rama, with his mighty mace.

I wondered if India's own Super-deity might not give us a lift and fly us to our destination. Hanuman, known for his great strength, heroism and veracity, can fly faster than the speed of light, possibly faster than Superman and the hammer-propelled Thor. Well, he didn't fly us out. Instead, he opened a tiny corridor between screaming cars, enough for my man to take a sharp right and deposit me in a lane close to my goal. 

Incidentally, Hindus worship Lord Hanuman, one of the main characters in the great Indian epic Ramayana, every Saturday, a fact I realised only as I was typing out this piece. Jai Hanuman!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Musings from my Facebook page

Jobs on the wall
June 25: Restaurant guards, babysitters, office boys and girls, bike riders, part-time and full-time workers...and while you're looking up these jobs, you can find someone to file your tax returns and fix your phones at a decent rate.

Meanwhile, the Met has issued a July 26-like storm warning over the next 48 hours, which usually means clear skies and bright sunshine and kite-flying, and dance and cheer... as soon as the rains let up.

Monsoon philharmonic orchestra

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 22: The sky over Elphinstone-Parel in central Bombay at 7.30 am, hours after the Hindu god of thunder, Indra, led his Norse and Greek counterparts, Thor and Zeus, in the great Indian monsoon philharmonic orchestra. The inaugural concert was held in open air and was a sight and sound to behold. It was spectacular. But people were not impressed. Most had gone to bed at 3 after a heady night of revelry with Whatsapp.

Age loves a good yarn

June 22: At what stage of life are you when you hurriedly look at the time on your phone, forget it the moment you walk away, and go back to check again; when you turn the page of a book only to go to the previous page to see where you were; when you go to the grocer and buy everything but the one thing you were supposed to; when you log out of Gmail, come back after a while, and forget the password... Now if I can remember all of that then I guess there is nothing wrong with me. Or is there? I think I'll wear one of De Bono's "colourful" hats. Just in case I'm losing it. Now where did I leave them? Moral of the story: write down everything. Age loves a good yarn.

Copy desk or coffee desk?


June 21: This eye-catching news report, which appeared in an inside page of this morning's Times of India, should have been on front page, second lead or at least anchor. I guess, the copy desk—once the sanctum sanctorum of a newspaper office—is now only a coffee desk.

The dawn of thunder
June 21: 4.15 am — lightning and thunder woke me up and not my alarm. Watched rain dance and silver streaks in the pre-dawn sky. First day, first show. Back to earth station. Water-logged roads, crowded buses and reluctant autorickshaws, crawling and cancelled trains, a resilient and tolerant race. How bad will it be? Hopefully, not too bad. I'm hoping to hitch a ride to work with the Silver Surfer. Welcome, Mumbai Monsoon!

Songs we grew up with

June 19: Behind every father there's a wonderful mother. Bet you haven't listened to Scottish singer Neil Reid's famous solo "Mother of Mine," 1971, in a long time. It's one of several songs I grew up listening to but didn't know who sang. These were songs that brought the family together, in a melody of love and happiness.

What's in the egg basket?

June 18: I have no idea who's laying the eggs but at Rs.60 a dozen, almost a dollar, they are freakin' expensive. And it's summer too. Egg prices usually come down in summertime. Hen-flation! I suppose it's a good thing—the price and not the yolk is keeping my cholesterol in check. While you decide what to do when the "iddawalla"—or "andawalla" if you like—rings your doorbell, you might want to check out my review of Lee Child's Killing Floor on my other blog. Incidentally, eggs without yolk is like a pair of oxen without the yoke. The white of an egg tastes insipid no matter what you garnish it with, pepper, chilli, cheese or ketchup ("sauce" in India). Do you like egg white? Don’t forget to read my review.

Hell on wheels

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 16: This is how an empty suburban train looks at 7.35 am. An hour from now the broad aisle that you see will have disappeared and only the red lines indicating first class will be visible. I took this picture from Platform 2 looking through to Platforms 1, 6 & 7 at Andheri station, a western suburb in north Bombay. Doesn't look like hell on wheels, does it? Let the hour pass and the place will be teeming with humanoids. I, Robot had an early start.

Eureka moments with books

June 14: I have had "eureka" moments with several of my books and comics. I found them in the unlikeliest of places, on broken footpaths in bylanes and hole-in-the-wall raddiwallahs, or scrap dealers. For example, I discovered a treasure of twenty secondhand Indrajal Comics at an old papermart in a suburban area I seldom visit. Then, a few years ago, I found two rare and near-mint editions of Sudden, the western series by Oliver Strange, in a bargain sale at Home for the Aged behind my house. I can scan any place for priceless books in a jiffy. I can actually sniff them out. If only reading were as easy and instinctive.

Men and sentiment

June 12: Not long ago, a friend and I were talking about old Hindi films set in Bombay in the 70s & 80s, our growing up years. We discussed several films and finally homed in on two that both of us instantly felt nostalgic and wistful about—noted director Basu Chatterjee's Chhoti Si Baat and Rajnigandha starring Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha (above). I get goosebumps every time I watch scenes from these and other romantic films from that era, including Chhatterjee's Baton Baton Mein and Khatta Meetha. What we remembered most about these films were the clean and empty roads of Bombay, some very memorable songs, and the abundance of simplicity. Looking back now, I feel like I'm in another place and time—not one I particularly like. Just what is it with men and sentiment?

One Across, Four Down

June 12: Suburban train travails—to each his own and all that. With the disclaimer out of the way, how can Temple Run, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush be a substitute for the good old crossword, or even Sudoku for that matter (I have a genetic hatred of numbers)? I can't imagine any mobile game offering the satisfaction that a beautiful cryptic crossword does. Yes, a crossword CAN be beautiful. It's such a gratifying diversion. There is a sense of elation when you crack a particularly tough but intelligent clue or set a 15-word anagram on its feet. You do a mental fist pump—"Yes!" I don't see myself doing that every time I twist, skid, turn, and jump my way through Temple Run. It has no instructive value. In fact, it's not even a game—it's an app! Up comes the disclaimer: Like I said, to each his own. I don't want to "cross-swords" with anyone.

Happiness, a synonym for family

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 11: Here's a cliché to "rain in" the weekend. "The rains are here...finally!" Most people have nice things to say about the rains except when they have to take a crowded train to work. I like this quote by Kate Winslet: "One thing I love about being back is English rain. Looking out of the window now, it's raining, and the sky is dark; I love it. To me, those are reassuringly English things. I love it when it rains." It reminds me of the time my children were in school. There was something wonderful and reassuring about being at home with the family on a dark and rainy Saturday evening, knowing that next day was a holiday for everyone. The four of us watched the rains, snacked, and had fun. Happiness is a good synonym for family. Few things make you happier.

Autorickshaws, Mumbai's FI

June 10: I take an autorickshaw to the station every morning. As I near the station I instruct the rider, "Turn right" and he promptly veers to the left. This happens at least once a week. So now I lean forward and whisper into his right ear in the hope he'll get a sense of direction. Sometimes he jumps when I do that. Kidding. Maybe, it's the rear-view mirror: my right is his left. I hold on tight because most autowallahs ride as if they are competing in the Andheri F1. We have one for every suburb. Fortunately, the stretch to the station is less than 3 km and I usually emerge shaken but unscathed. From there it's a train, a bus, and a pair of legs to the office. In the evening, I take a bus home from the station partly because it's safer and I like to watch the driver towering in his seat bullying puny autos off the road. Bombay's famous red buses are Hulks on wheels.

A start to the day

June 9: Reading in the 7.35—a few pages each of a crime-mystery on my tab, an espionage-thriller on my phone, and a bestselling fiction of a paper book. A start to the day with someone else's imagination.

Alien giraffe

© Prashant C. Trikannad
June 2: This is what happens when a giraffe sticks his neck out in 34C—he's cooked. Maybe he's from outer space, a War of the Worlds type of alien giraffe. What is he doing outside Andheri station at 7.20 in the evening? Oh god, he's coming this way. Run!

Driving my way to a good story

May 27: Things to write this weekend: A newspaper article, short story, blog posts, spiritual newsletter, a nonfiction work, and a piece for LinkedIn. I know I can't do all that if I drive myself around like this.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, Brexitism

I have been following Brexit. I read about yesterday's agonising vote and this morning watched the shock results live on BBC News. My heart skipped a Brexit beat every time "Leave" widened its lead over "Remain." For some reason I found myself rooting for the pro-EU. I felt an affinity towards Londoners and the rest of the 48 per cent who voted "Remain." It felt like the proper thing to do. Nobody likes a deserter. In the army you are court-martialled if you run away.

I looked out of the window to see if the referendum was taking place in my backyard, like the great Indian election. I found that it was taking place in everyone's backyard, in the global neighbourhood. Brexit was everyone's moment of reckoning. 

Until the referendum, Britain looked better inside the EU. Now it looks like a pariah, the black sheep of the family. Sad and lonely on the world map. An island of desolation. 

In spite of reading a lot on the issue, I only have a vague idea how Brexit will impact our world even as it threatens Brexit-like sentiments in London, Northern Ireland, and among EU countries. Right-wing authoritarians in Europe are emboldened to try something similar. Now all we need is a Trump triumph in November, and we know where all this is going.  
But things have a way of never seeming to be as bad as they are.

If I had to figure out why Brexit happened or narrow down Brexitism, Noun, it'd be this—fear, anger, frustration, pent-up fury, confusion, loathing, a means to hit out at something, anything.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A few stray crumbs

This evening I read a nice piece on the ephemeral state of things, the transitory nature of life. It's not a new thought, of course. Mystics have long said, "Nothing is permanent" to which Charlie Chaplin added, "Not even our troubles." Still, there is at least one constant in our life—our family. Everything else is just a passing cloud, a parade of ghostly shadows. It's a pleasant feeling to be able to return home every evening and be with people you have been with all your life. It's a privilege not given to many. Is there anything, any place, that you'd rather cherish more?

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The monk who gave up his books and sold his soul

Photo: DC Comics
I have decided to change my life. Start with a clean slate. Make a complete break from the past. Turn over a new leaf. I'm going to stop buying new books and instead read from my half-a-century collection of books and comics, and give them all away to libraries and charities. I will boldly go where no reader has gone before. In this way I hope to become a literary ascetic and experience a lifetime of peace and tranquility. The monk who gave up his books and sold his soul. Wait a minute... The hallucinations have stopped!

Friday, June 3, 2016

Anonymity is a wonderful gift

I'm currently writing a few things. Here is a short passage from one of my semi-fictional works in progress. I have no idea where this is going but now that it has boarded the bus, it'll hopefully reach somewhere nice.

I looked down at my shoes and wished I were somewhere else. Maybe in a bookstore, sitting in a quiet corner between tall bookcases, preferably wedged between humour and horror, and leafing through a book anonymously. It’s a wonderful gift, anonymity. Nearly all of humanity has it. And yet, everyone is constantly struggling to climb out of obscurity. I looked at my shoes again, at the ring of grey dust—I will have to give them a good shine tonight. Better a shoe, if not life. Aruna’s voice cut into my thoughts.

Alphabet Quotes: M is for Make

"Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read."
— Leo Burnett

"Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success."
— Swami Vivekananda

"Make voyages! Attempt them... there's nothing else."
— Tennessee Williams

"I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person."

— Audrey Hepburn

"In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. That means we have 1,440 daily opportunities to make a positive impact."
— Les Brown

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A few stray crumbs

One of the surest ways of preventing anxiety and panic attacks, and related depression, is to practice positive thinking when NOT having one. Be conscious of positive thought at all times, let it seep into the subconscious, and reap the benefits of a happy disposition.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Musings from my Facebook page

Meditation is like cycling

I have not been meditating for nearly a year, not since I allowed myself to be sucked into the pretentious world of social media. It was one of the reasons why I stopped. Talk about priorities, or lack of it. Sunday morning I sat down to meditate on an impulse and it worked like a tweet. There I go again! I didn't want to stop and that's a good sign. There was just one problem—as I sat with my eyes closed, my mind was filled with all sorts of ideas for a status update, a tweet or two, a blog post. It didn't bother me. You are supposed to let the thoughts, whatever they be, come and go. Be a silent witness to your thoughts, say the mystics. Meditation is like cycling. Once you learn to ride a bicycle, you'll never forget your balance. Whether your meditation helps you to balance your life is a different matter.

Show me the way

Weekends should have extended hours so that we spend less time at work on Mondays, and on all other days. I spent an hour or two watching all kinds of videos on YouTube—from President Obama and Jim Carrey on David Letterman (Obama is witty) to tsunamis in Japan, from acceptance speeches to zebras butt-kicking lions in the face, and from poltergeists spooking hotel guests to Peter Frampton belting out Show Me the Way. The highlight was Rowan Atkinson's nineties live show, particularly one where he is a priest and compares Jesus to a magician and another where he plays the devil and welcomes people, including lawyers and fornicators, to hell. All quite hilarious. Bean wasted Atkinson. And I wasted my time.

No paper for purists

My morning paper is a flap, a semi false cover. I have to flip the flap to read what's beneath. Usually it's another ad. When you finally get to the front page you're thrown by some of the headlines, like the one which read, "Engg courses galore, but no data on how many engineers of what kind."

"Of what kind"? That’s not a headline, that’s colloquial. The copy desk is just a desk, I think. And "galore"? How I hate that word, spoken or written. Clearly, Thesaurus is a forgotten word-hero.

Fast-food for the pigeons 

© Prashant C. Trikannad


Kabutarkhana on Hanuman Road, Vile Parle East, Mumbai: fast food for the pigeons. "Three multi-grain burgers. No extra cheese. Flyaway!"

OCD in the 7.45 local

A commuter getting some well-needed shuteye suddenly gets up from his seat, moves his bag from one end of the rack to the other, steps into the aisle, and stares at it for half a minute. He then goes and stands near the door from where he keeps an eye on the bag. He's going to need a collar very soon. I feel like tapping him on the shoulder, "I think your bag just moved!" Who am I kidding? We are all neurotics in some form or other. It's what keeps us sane and mentally agile.

Thank god for the school bell 

© Bill Watterson
If ever anything sounded like music to my ears in school, it was the final bell. Whoever rang the bell for ten years has my gratitude.

‘You don’t like my sister?’
© Hodder Dargaud

This used to be such an Indian thing. In fact, it still is in some communities. Bollywood thrived on the protective brother. Here, an eyeballing Corsican is letting a Roman soldier have it in Asterix in Corsica even though the poor optio wasn't even looking at his sister. The expressions on the faces of Uderzo's characters in Asterix are brilliant; as was the late Goscinny's script and dialogue, translated superbly by Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, who incidentally also translated all of Georges "Hergé" Remi's Tintin. Feeling low? Read the comics and snap out of it.

Dilemma of rewarding honesty

One evening, as I got off my Batrickshaw (as I like to call the black-and-yellow autorickshaws), I gave the driver a hundred rupee note instead of fifty rupees and walked off. He promptly called me back and returned the note. I gave him the correct fare, thanked him, and walked away, I saw a don't-I-get-a-reward-for-my-honesty look on his face. Frankly, I didn't know what to do. If I gave him a little "baksheesh," wouldn't it be tantamount to bribing him for honest behaviour? Besides, how much would be good enough? He probably wouldn't have cared as long as he made a few extra bucks. I know he deserved it but I didn't think it was right. The thing is, honesty is more than being honourable, just as Gandhi's ahimsa was more than being non-violent. Both go far and beyond mere acts of good conduct, however noble and righteous they may seem at the time. Talk of moral dilemma.

A little perspective

I read my first book at age eleven. I was doing nothing up until then. And I wonder why he has such deep pockets and I have gaping holes in mine.

Noises in the 6.38

"Next station Marine Lines. It is dangerous to travel on the footboard or lean out of a running train. Next station Churchgate. It is dangerous to travel on the footboard..." Imagine hearing that repeatedly in three different languages, all the way to your destination and back every single day, Monday through Friday. I'm almost tempted to play it in my car! And then you've the ridiculously silly jingles that are, quite frankly, embarrassing. All this cacophony, courtesy Western Railway, has screwed up my reading. I have been flipping back and forth pages 180-181 since morning. I mean you can't possibly read about murder by arson to jarring noises about condiments.

Relative matters

Our parents' generation: Cousins! We were 45 of us, brothers and sisters, and we lived happily together in one big house. "Hey, my mom's calling." "No, that's mine!"

Our generation: Cousins! Yay! Five on one side, six on the other. We used to have so much fun, didn't we? We didn't need friends.

Our children's generation: Cou...cous...cousins! Mom, do I have any? We do! Where? How many? Oh!

Their generation: Cousins—the children of an uncle or aunt. Now almost extinct.

Body count
© Prashant C. Trikannad

The local train comes to an abrupt halt outside Santa Cruz and the motorman bears down on the horn, once, twice, thrice. Looks like someone pulled the chain. Minutes later you see a railway constable, four porters and a stretcher ambling past the window. Someone has come under. Minutes later they walk past again, a figure in green lying prone on the stained stretcher, the policeman scribbling in a long book. A few curious faces crane their necks for the morning's breaking news. The rest are oblivious. Some instinctively look at the time, ticking off seconds and minutes of their own existence.

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