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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Treading on Toes

The trouble with being a writer is that your output is out there for the whole world to see. In other jobs, you’re part of a larger collective set of cogs and clockwork and somewhat detached from the end product. But as a writer (or a journalist or even worse, a blogger) your work is you and you are your work; you pour your soul into cyberspace or printed pages and hope for the best. More often than not, I find, the responses are overwhelmingly positive and it makes the risk all worth it. Many people will write messages of solidarity and congratulations and many more silently resonate. In some cases, strangers will respond negatively and you have to take it on the chin and learn for next time. But sometimes, people who are close to you will change their opinion of you and worse yet, get hurt personally.

I only write when something inspires me enough to affect my emotions so much that I can’t do anything until I’ve articulated them. Those initial few seconds after you hit publish are fantastic because a great weight is off your chest and for a moment, you are totally self assured. But if the piece is serious or emotional (or seriously emotional) then you start to worry and second guess yourself.

“What if _____ reads it? What will they think of me?”
“Will ______ still like me after they’ve read what I’ve written about them? Or will they appreciate the guts it took to share those feelings?”
“Should I have shared something that personal?”

I think you always live in fear that, while 5 people may love your post there will be one whose perception of you will be dramatically altered even if he/she may not tell you. For example, my family inspires me to write. I wonder how they feel when they’re the subjects of a piece of writing that’s out there for the whole world to see. Am I allowed to write about anyone? No one has written about me so I don’t know what that feeling is - the feeling of seeing your name or your character being picked apart and observed by someone else. But there have been times when I’ve written things about them and it has affected small parts of how we interact.

I remember writing an email to my parents (who are followers of this blog anyway) which I thought was really from the heart. To me it seemed like any of the long emails I’d sent them once in a while, detailing my position on things. But this time it ended up causing a lot of pain to them and on hearing about their reaction, immense pain within me. I think one of the hallmarks of our family is our ability to share things – but is it OK if I share those feelings with the entire internet?

It’s the similar situation with my impressions and skits in my stand-up routine; people who I’ve impersonated have stopped the little idiosyncrasies that I picked up on and I feel awful. But at the same time, everyone wants me to impersonate them – I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.

I’d like to believe that the people who really care about me will continue to treat me the same way regardless because they know that the need to express myself is something I can’t fight. It’s a trade off: do you release something into the public domain that could benefit many, at the risk of alienating a few? Maybe this inertia is what holds most people back from expressing themselves artistically.

That’s why I think it takes a tremendous amount of courage to be a creative person who shares his or her work. Getting up on that soapbox isn’t easy and I think audiences/readers take it for granted. Unless you have put yourself out there, you have no idea how hard it is and how easy it is to criticise from the back of the room. When I see a comedian on stage or a blogger really writing from the heart, I immediately empathise because I know how long they must have struggled with themselves: wouldn’t it be more convenient to not express anything?

Stuck in the Middle with You

I’ve become an old man. Or at least, I’ve started thinking and acting like one. Maybe that’s natural; when you start working I guess you instinctively feel like you ought to be more responsible. What I’ve found is that I am vastly more uptight and conscious about how others will feel than most people my age. It has resulted in me being stuck in a weird place between my parents and my younger sister.

I think my parents treat me like an adult but don’t yet treat my sister the same way. I don’t know whether this is to do with age, gender, life-stage or what. But as a result, I’ve got one foot in each camp: trying to be a both a stoic, responsible adult and a carefree, fun young person is tough.  I don’t know if all older siblings feel this way.

What happens is that in trying to be “everyone’s friend” I am neither a kid nor a grown up. I don’t intentionally test boundaries or challenge authority or have fun for no reason like I did when I was at high school or university. Like my sister does now. At the same time, I cannot hang out with my parents all the time as my views and interests are very different.

When we come together as a family I find myself trying to be this bridge between them and her. This is a weird position to be in because I instinctively defend her if they decide to pull her leg or discipline her. Perhaps it’s not my place to interfere at all. But then when she’s out of line and there’s full-fledged conflict, I find myself “taking my parents' side" and trying to explain their logic to her. This makes things worse. As someone who has been there before, I try to get her to see their point of view but often I guess she wants a friend rather than an older brother/guest-lecturer.

My personality type is that of the peace-maker and so my tendency is to try and mediate. I guess I could use my “unique position” to try and get both sides to recognise the similarities they share with me and then through me, see the other side’s point of view.

I find myself lecturing my sister like I’m our dad and I don’t know what to make of it. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Survival of the Fittest

When men enter a gym, we go back 100,000 years. We stop being polite, modern human beings and turn into prehistoric hunter gatherers. Or in the case of those who oil themselves up for Mr ______ contests, punter latherers. Do you even lift bro? ROAR.

I've heard from lots of people - especially girls - how intimidating they found gyms and for the longest time I couldn't understand it. I've been going to the gym regularly and really enjoyed myself. After a long, shitty day, channeling your anger and frustration into an uphill bike ride is a great way of saying "fuck you" to the world. I find myself feeling lousy and bloated if I don't do some kind of physical activity by the end of the day - no matter how tiring my day has been. I love the post work-out high: the feeling of lightness and energy that gives you a great night's sleep.

But today at my beloved Gold's Gym at Elphinstone Road, I found that the entire bottom floor had been rearranged. The rowing machine - a piece of equipment I really love - was gone. The steppers had been moved and weren't plugged in for some reason; on battery power they restart each time you stop pumping your legs. The only two good cross trainers were taken. I was faced with only one option: leave the civility of the cardio floor and go upstairs to the weight room.

The weight room is an incredible place. It's a metal obstacle course full of giant pulsating limbs with bits of hair and human jammed between them. If you're not ripped like Arnold Schwarzenegger then you're not welcome. The guys look at you with a mixture of pity (and hunger because you're probably decent sized for an evening snack).

And God forbid a girl stumble into there. It's like the Serengeti. Imagine David Attenborough narrating a scene where a young gazelle has strayed too close to the lions. 20 pairs of sweaty eyes track her as she tip toes nervously across the floor. But they only look at her for a second before their return their attention to the mirror and the glistening contours reflected in it.

The trainers are generally nice but I've seen them hitting on girls shamelessly. I've heard this from girls too. I think the best course of action if you're an unfit writer (who has experienced one moon-landing too many) is to walk in like a flaming diva and tell the trainer you know absolutely nothing about doing weights and have the upper body strength of a wilting daisy. Then they kind of take you under their wing. Even then, as you strain under the weight of the dumbbells, the juiced up guys continue to look over in your direction before glancing at the (much higher) number on their weights.

The neanderthals come in all shapes and sizes: some are short, some are tall, some have wide shoulders and some are just ugly as sin. You can tell that some of them were pot bellied accountants a few years ago. The only remnant of their love handled past is, in fact, their face. There is one guy who, if you saw from the neck up, would imagine is a retired milk man or something. He is balding, wears glasses and generally looks like an IT worker who got lost in the H1B visa queue. Yet he has the huge chest and biceps that pins back every torso in the weight room.

What is it about gyms that makes guys need to compete against each other? It is the last bastion of male narcissism - the macho men's version of "selfies". The atmosphere is generally one of "I am stronger than you, let me prove it by picking this heavy thing up and putting it down again several times".

Please, Gold's Gym, fix the damn rowing machine.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Shivaji Park Messi

Every morning I take a taxi to work. It's usually an uneventful ride. There's not much traffic going North and the journey is quiet and cool. I make it a point to explain the location to the driver thoroughly when I get in so I don't need to keep telling him. I want to zone out. The taxi ride is a great time in my day: when no one can talk to me and I can just empty my mind.

But one thing does interrupt my day dream. As I take the turn after Tamnak Thai, at Shivaji Park towards Dadar, I get a ten second glimpse of the people in the park. There are old men walking purposefully, taking life a step at a time, a day at a time. The drunks haven't yet woken and still lay sprawled across stone benches. There is usually a group of would-be cadets being put through their paces by a drill sergeant. Whether they are actual recruits or just a bunch of lads getting whipped into shape by an enthusiastic ex-armed forced uncle (we all have one), I'll never know. But the highlight of it all is the football game that the tiny little local school kids have going.

Because of the speed at which I pass the sliver of park, I get to see just a few moments of their game. The pitch is totally muddy because of the monsoon rains and the standard, if it could be any worse, is lowered further. There are 12 kids who look around 9 or 10 years old. Their are dark skinned and skinny and their uniforms are faded white-brown. They aren't wearing shoes, only modest sandals. The ball looks so big next to their little feet; it must hurt when they kick it. What I usually see is all 12 kids running towards the ball, screaming in excitement, with great big smiles on their faces. When any of them get near the ball, they boot it as hard as they can towards where they think the goal is. I passed a number of such vignettes and often wondered if they were ever able to score a goal. But one day, something new happened.

As I took the turn, the group of kids were spread out across the pitch and they were all looking towards the goal nearest to me. Bearing down was a thin little girl in a tattered skirt and pig tailed with white flowers in them. The ball must have broken her way because she was one on one with the goal keeper. She pumped her arms and managed to catch up to the bouncing ball about 5 yards away from the now terrified keeper. The ball was bouncing knee height, away from her and towards the goal. She cocked back her right leg and pulled the trigger. I don't know if it was because I was passing perpendicular to her run and the ball's trajectory, but it all seemed to happen in slow motion.

She walloped the ball (off her shin) and it flew in. She had done it! She threw her arms in the air and screamed and jumped with joy. It was the greatest 5 seconds of my life. I passed the park at exactly the right 10 seconds that morning. Had I taken longer to wear my socks, I'd have missed it. But I saw that girl's delight that day and it has filled me with joy ever since. I will never forget the happiness and satisfaction in her beautiful voice. She had done it! I don't presume to know what the troubles in her life are, but for those 5 seconds they didn't matter. She was the best. She had conquered everything. She must have kicked the ball and chased after it so many times without success. But for this moment, it was all worth it. She had won.

And then, I was gone - whisked away in an indifferent yellow and black cab. The taxi driver and the city had taken no notice and gotten on with their lives. But I saw her joy and a little piece of it will live in my mind forever and that's all that counts.

Thank You, Palladium Mall Mumbai

To the good folks at Palladium Mall,

This weekend I took my elderly grandparents to Gajalee at Phoenix Mills. My grandfather is partially disabled on his left side and moving around is not easy for him. It goes without saying that most private buildings in India are not well equipped to provide comfortable access to the disabled, forget public spaces. And I think most residents of Indian cities have come to expect nothing at all from staff, as far as service goes. When we do get something more than the minimum, we are pleasantly surprised.

This Sunday, I was more than pleasantly surprised. From start to finish, the staff at Palladium went out of their way to aid me and my grandparents. From the lift-man to the person coordinating pick up and drops near the parking lot, all the staff spoke perfect English, held doors for us and generally did their best to make the afternoon as painless as possible. 

Even though I have to hold my grandfather's hand at all times when he's outside the house, I didn't feel as helpless as I sometimes do. It was the level of service that I would have expected from a Taj or an office building where I'm expected for a meeting. 

The person at the car drop-off point, on hearing that we were standing at the wrong spot, offered to move the temporary barriers and allow the car to come directly to where my grandparents were seated. Every lift-operator stood and held the door open for us from 20 yards away and waited as we slowly approached. Perhaps it was the least they could do - but I wasn't used to it. 

Whatever training you had put your staff through, definitely worked on Sunday August 4th 2013 and I commend you. I've noticed a lot of disguised unemployment in India: superfluous house keeping and security personnel are par for the course. But for the first time, I found the staff at a shopping mall actually adding value. 

So thank you, Palladium. Keep up the good work.