Saturday, 11 November 2017

Why I Feel Virat Kohli, And Not Sachin Tendulkar, Is Indian Cricket's Biggest Inspiration

Sachin Tendulkar never inspired me.

When I started getting into cricket at the age of 9, Sachin was already a nationwide phenomenon.  Cricket fans at the turn of the century were witness to the birth of a contagious, ill-fated cult of personality. Sachin had become omnipresent in Indian pop culture. He could make a nation exult with a pristine straight drive, or make them weep with an early dismissal.

To scrounge some of cricket commentators' favourite buzzwords - by the age of 30 he wasn't a 'rising star', 'talented cricketer' or 'wily veteran'. He wasn't just an exceptional batsman. He wasn't a heavily lauded athlete. Nor was he just a popular celebrity.

Sachin Tendulkar was a phenomenon.

Over the years as my fascination with, and understanding of, the game evolved so did my reverence for him. Yet, for all his incredulous feats, he never inspired me. There is a fundamental, oft-ignored problem with god-given talent - you could only be born with it.

Sachin could never be compared, emulated or replicated. Sachin had broken a national record with Vinod Kambli at an age where other kids were struggling to ride a bicycle. It just seemed too easy - a feeling aided and abetted by the blatant nonchalance with which he describes his freakish knocks in his autobiography Playing It My Way. He made his test debut at the age of 16 and had surpassed most records well before he was on the brink of retiring. Cricketers like him were meant to be prized and even, if I may take the liberty to claim, worshipped.

Worshipped as a fleeting flash of celestial brilliance that might never be glimpsed again; Sachin was unsurpassable.

Sachin was god.

* * *

The Sydney Cricket Ground was ready for a spectacle.

It was the second semi-final of the 2015 World Cup, in the wake of one of the greatest knockout matches in World Cup history between New Zealand and South Africa. Australia had put on a massive score, yet such scores had shed the accompanying intimidation by 2015. India, a self-professed chasing side, had successfully conquered similar targets multiple times by then, led by the supreme master of chases himself.

The stage was set for an iconic chase, and in walked Virat Kohli to a thunderous ovation.

A burst of pace, some inordinate bounce, an aggressive heave and the world was hushed into overbearing, mind-numbingly engulfing silence as Kohli top-edged a bouncer from Mitchell Johnson. The master of all chases, the saviour of Indian cricket had fallen prey to his own idiosyncrasies.

Seven months later, Kohli was to be found facing South Africa at home, after a poor limited overs cricket season. He hadn't crossed a score of 50 in ODI cricket since the World Cup. A pernicious concoction of frustration and desperation was conspicuous in each dismissal.

In the sweltering heat and humidity of Chepauk, Kohli ran and cramped his way past 90. South Africa, often the notorious chokers, sought to choke him in the 90s - hoping to get a few silent overs in the death as Kohli neared his long-awaited century.

A trap Sachin often fell prey to.

The plans were set: spinners would bowl tight lines with long on and long off. Kohli would need to take singles to ensure a century, by which time South Africa would've ensured overs 40-45 were reasonably quiet.

The spinner bowls his line, but the batsman steps out and lofts the ball straight towards long on. There seems to be a trace of disdain in the shot as if to question the gall of the opposition to formulate a specific plan against the creator of the shot. There are a couple of seconds where the batsman watches tentatively as the fielder raises his hands for a catch. But the ball has just a bit more flight, spurted probably by the fragments of disdain it was smacked with to scrape over long on's fingers for a six.

Virat Kohli flings his arms wide and flexes for the crowd.

As I watched it unfold, on a laptop screen in a university lecture hall (as you do), I knew it then. This has never been, and will never be, the story of miraculous ability.

It is a story of evolution.


Kohli's autobiography, by his own admission, would start with the tale of a chubby teenager who used to love adding extra butter on his aloo parathas. A kid who used to stock up on chips and chocolates before every cricket match and ensured he wouldn't be disturbed as he gaped open-mouthed at the heroics of a miraculous man, transfixed by the transience of the magic.

In fact when he finally burst onto the scene, despite being touted as a talented 'rising star', he was never lauded as the man with god-given ability. Those sobriquets were taken by Rohit Sharma, a man who could, or so they claimed, time the ball with both eyes closed.

In a recent interview, Gaurav Kapoor mentioned that Rohit seems to have an extra second to time the ball. Kohli corrects him with 'a second and a half' with a slightly envious, slightly frustrated sigh. It seems that he is perpetually at war - he stands alone in the centre of an ancient duel arena. As he gazes up at the jeering crowd of naysayers, a resounding gong is heard signalling the entrance of his opponent and longstanding nemesis. A crescendo of drum beats, a distant piercing war cry, and the veil is pulled back, revealing his archenemy.

He does not see Jimmy Anderson swinging deliveries away from him. Nor does he see a visual representation of the nation's expectations.

At the opposite end of the arena, ready to lock horns in a fatal battle, he sees himself.

Virat Kohli fights an unceasing battle against his own expectations every day. Regardless of the runs against his name in a match, every dismissal is met with a ruthless volley of common Delhi curses - an intrinsic rage that was probably the manifest of battling the politically oppressive and brutally competitive scene of Delhi cricket.

With this rage spawns hunger. A perpetual, frenzied hunger for winning, scoring runs and improving. A man better than the one yesterday. A hunger so incessant, that it would need divine skills to satiate.

But Virat Kohli never had god-given ability. He was, and still is, like you and me. In his youth he doted obsessively over his cricket heroes. Like you and me. In his early days he gained notoriety for cursing on the field, indulging in revelry off it and adopting every fashion trend in the country. Like you and me. Despite his laurels in ODIs, his place in the Test format was often questioned. As he matured, so did we. Despite his under-19 feats, he still seemed like an above-average individual in his chosen field in life. Just like you and me.

Even his initial IPL performances almost got him dropped from RCB. This is the story of a man who got hit multiple times, and tried to learn from it. The fact that he has built an immortal legacy today is a testament to his hard-work, commitment and drive. In a sport which has seen many potent sportsmen fall prey to indiscipline, complacency, corruption and greed he stands out as a man who has built, Dravid-like, a legacy purely on commitment.

Sachin was never the fittest athlete, but he didn't need to be. At times, it felt (unintentionally, I'm sure) that Sachin was bit detached from the bigger picture. Particularly in his later years, a milestone would bog him down despite the match situation. It would be ignorant, near disrespectful even, to assume that Sachin or Rohit did not put efforts to sustain their magic. But the value of persistence and discipline in comparison to the value in the sustenance of existing skills is up in the air, and I choose the former. Is this why we value a rags-to-riches story more than that of a millionaire who multiplied his wealth?

* * * 

In 2014, I was at the Oval when Kohli edged to the slips. Many cricketers have waned once their shortcomings have been exposed. With each edge it seemed Kohli was losing sense of his own game. A few months later, he took a stance a foot outside his crease to Mitchell Johnson and stroked his way to a career-defining series.

After a series Down Under, in his first Asia Cup match in the subcontinent he pushed too hard on a sluggish pitch against Bangladesh, after having acquainted himself to the pacy pitches of Australia. A rare duck, and in the next match he played the ball later than anyone else to be the only one to combat a formidable Pakistani pace attack.

He wasn't born the best batsman in the world, but he just might have evolved into one today and there is nothing more inspirational than that.

As Virat Kohli has grown, so have we.

* * *

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Saturday, 21 October 2017

An Overview of Bitcoin, Blockchains & Cryptocurrencies In The UAE By A Rookie

Please find below an objective compilation of my perusals through several laborious articles and books - the idea is to promote discussion on technology that has the potential be the 'dot-com boom' (and bubble) of our era. If you find any glaring mistakes in the text below, do drop me a message and I shall happily rectify it. I am a very nascent pupil of this field, with limited academic qualifications and through this blog post wish to encourage more people to get into the discussion of (and not necessarily investment in) blockchains and cryptocurrencies.

If I can understand bits of it, you definitely can get way, way more.

What this is:

- Your one-stop reference pool for diving into the basics, and not the technical details of cryptocurrencies. A lot of technical information has been omitted and ignored for the readability of this nerd-fest, so treat this as the Harry Potter movies in comparison to the novels.

What this not:

- A guide to cryptocurrency investment, because if you really sit and think about it why on earth would you take investment advice from a blatant rookie? (actually if you think even further, you'll find that you should definitely not be taking advice from purported industry experts as well, so I guess that makes my opinion just as valuable as a notorious economist's)

(not that valuable)


What is Blockchain?

A blockchain is a 'chain of blocks' - a series of digital blocks linked to each other to serve as a digital ledger of data. Each block contains within it data relevant to its application - in the case of Bitcoin each block contains transaction history. Additionally, each block contains data linking it to the previous block - consequently creating a chain. It is possible to trace the entire history of one element through its blockchain.

Blockchains are hosted and replicated across millions of systems, thereby decentralising the model and eliminating the possibility of any one person altering the records by hacking into one system.


Source: 'Blockchain Introduction', JWorks Tech Blog (accessible here)

In a future largely controlled by data (with Mukesh Ambani postulating that it is the new oil) the possibilities of blockchains are endless - decentralised network of data that can be applied to medical history, stock management or event history to name a few apart from digital transactions.



Further Reading

'What is Blockchain technology?', Blockgeeks

'What is Blockchain technology?', CoinDesk

Bitcoin, Ethereum & Cryptocurrencies

Bitcoin is a digital currency. Created by the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto, bitcoin was created in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis which saw many people lose millions of dollars and served as a modern testament to the fallibilities of banks. Apart from Ripple and Stellar Lumens, most cryptocurrencies were created to combat the vices of banks - which means that if Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan is threatening to fire employees for investing in bitcoin, it is more out of fear of competition than fear of stupidity.

Bitcoins are stored in digital wallets which can be used for transactions. Currently, bitcoins can be obtained by:
  • purchasing them on trade exchanges
  • as a payment 
  • as a reward for mining blocks in the blockchain.
Bitcoin is based on a public blockchain network. Think of blockchain as the operating system or the underlying technology and bitcoin as one possible application (in this case, a decentralized digital currency).



Ethereum is an open-source blockchain network that allows developers to create any application of their choice using blockchain technology. While 'smart contracts' is the most popular feature yet, the possibilities of expanding this platform are endless.

Smart Contracts
Source: 'What Is Ethereum?', Blockgeeks

Other notable cryptocurrencies: Ripple, Dash, Zcash, Monero, Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin

Further Reading

2008 financial crisis: The Big Short by Michael Lewis (or you can watch the movie, which might be a slightly more enticing option since it stars Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie, inevitably endearing to your tastes no matter which way you flow)

Ethereum: 'What Is Ethereum?', Blockgeeks

Mining

If you care about how exactly bitcoins come into existence, how the number of coins is regulated, the processes ensuring a bitcoin network is secure and what is required to keep the network stable, safe and fast, this video might serve as a good introductory tool. 

The algorithms and hash code encryption techniques that form the core of the mining process might take this compilation of data beyond the realm of comprehensibility. Additionally, I have admittedly come up short in my technical knowledge and interest in the core algorithms defining each and every cryptocurrency, and I shall leave the onus of further research to the reader.


Advantages of Cryptocurrencies

(Bitcoin has been used in several examples but it should be noted that most advantages are not just linked to bitcoin alone - in fact, cryptocurrencies like Ethereum and Ripple have several additional advantages, and consequently, limitations)

Convenience: Imagine being able to instantly transfer money to relatives in a different country, without having to pay Western Union a fee for the service and a higher fee in currency conversion. Imagine not having to deal with change, withered notes and high credit card transaction charges. Imagine not having to wait on a public holiday for a bank to transfer cash the next day. Think about the convenience online banking and payments added to your life, and now expand that to daily transactions.

Counterfeits: With digital currency you combat the possibility of counterfeits as each bitcoin is in essence, an abstraction of digital addresses. Each address is unique and every bitcoin is linked to the blockchain - which means, there is no way to create a counterfeit of a bitcoin.

Identity Theft: The current model of credit card transfers works on a 'pull' mechanism. When you enter your pin at a card machine, you give access to your entire savings to this particular merchant to 'pull' a specific amount. This is analogous to offering your wallet to the merchant and asking them to take exactly the amount you owe them.

This linear bond of trust is susceptible to calamity if your card details fall in the hands of a crook - a crook with access to your entire earnings and the ability pull any amount he or she wishes to. The linearity of this bond of trust is further complicated if you consider that your card details are not just shared with the merchant, as in this process they are also shared with their IT network supplier, the acquiring bank, the issuing bank, any third-party processor, the card network and each employee who works for these entities and handles these transactions.

Suddenly, the argument that cryptocurrencies aren't as safe as current options starts to look ugly, does it not?

Source: 'Are 'Pull' Credit Card Transactions Making You Truly Vulnerable?', CryptoCoin News (accessible here

Bitcoin on the other hand uses a 'push' mechanism - it pushes an amount of your choosing to the merchant. In comparison to the prevalent pull mechanisms, the potential risks are significantly lowered, though not completely eliminated.

Decentralization & Inflation:
"Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman." - Ronald Reagan
"Inflation is when you pay fifteen dollars for the ten-dollar haircut you used to get for five dollars when you had hair." - Sam Ewing 
Say, for example, USA owes China a sum of $1 million dollars (all hypothetical, of course). The logistics of current fiat currency transactions ignore the significance of inflation - on paper USA owes China a million dollars regardless of the current value of the dollar.

Since the government controls the currency, they decide that in order to clear this debt they will print more dollar notes than necessary. While the government has literally conjured a million dollars out of thin air and paid off their debt, they have significantly altered the existent supply-demand value. The current value of the dollar is affected by the influx in supply - tipping the scales towards more supply and less demand. As a result, the value of the dollar starts to drop. Your $10 bill now gets you one burger instead of two - for the same bill.

We often underestimate the dangers of inflation - in this exact same scenario there is your average worker who had just accumulated a lifetime of savings worth $200,000. In a month, he watches his savings get diminished by half - as it now costs double to buy the exact same things he could have bought with the original value. Would you want to give an external authority that much power over your hard-earned money?

Bitcoin takes power away from a single, central authority and splits it over a million users that create, sustain and expand the network - which means that no one person can decide the value of your money overnight. The performance of currencies backed by governments is often parallel with the performance of the government itself. Are you willing to bet your money on your government, especially if you did not vote for the ruling party and have explicitly expressed zero faith in their ideologies?

An even more chilling question might be: do you have any other choice?

Source: 'Inflation The Evillest Theft', The Final Wake Up Call (accessible here)

Further Reading

Identity Theft: Are 'Pull' Credit Card Transactions Making You Truly Vulnerable?', CryptoCoin News

Inflation: Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan

Disadvantages

Double-spend: Initially, due to the small size of the growing network it was possible for a user to gain control of the majority of the hash power - which in turn would allow him to spend the same bitcoin for two transactions. This kind of a scam is known as a double-spend, which gets more and more unlikely as the size of the bitcoin network grows.

Acceptance: We are still months, rather years, away from the day when cryptocurrencies would start getting accepted at your local grocery store. (never forget that one of the first bitcoin transactions was a pizza for 10,000 BTC ~ which would equal $43,000,000 today) The high volatility aspect further results in lack of trust in the currency, but this is expected to stabilise with time.

For a list of top companies that accept bitcoin as payment, click here. Currently, there are over 500 retailers in the UK itself that accept bitcoin as payment, which can be found here.

Deflation & Volatility: Since we will only have a fixed number of coins (21 million for bitcoin), it is possible and already the case that a bunch of investors might hoard up all the coins in hopes of selling when the time is right. The shortage of bitcoin would drive up the price, which would in turn align with the speculative investors' ambitions. This is a serious disadvantage of not having a regulatory body in charge.

The consequences can even be felt in the short term, where the small size of the market comes into play as well. Any multi-millionaire or investment fund can decide to drive the price of a coin up or down by indulging in mass selling or buying of coins. The 'pump and dump' scheme ensures that as an individual investor your coins are in the hands of manipulative traders (and ignorant speculators who simply follow the market blindly, thereby accentuating each swing)

Hacking, Scams & Lost Wallets: If you lose access to your digital wallet you lose your bitcoins. This has been rectified lately with wallets with multiple keys. Since bitcoins are digital, if your network crashes you lose access to your money.

There have been very popular cases of hackers changing the address of the wallet on popular crowdfunding websites - consequently directing all the donations into their personal digital wallets rather than the person or organisation raising the money.

Fuelled by the meteoric rise of bitcoin, there are thousands of cryptocurrencies out there in the market. Amongst them you will also find Dogecoin, which was created as a joke based on the famous dog meme. Despite the blatant mockery, Dogecoin saw bullish trends of around 1500% this year.

Most coins however, are scams, relying on speculators to purchase the sham coin in hopes of it rising 1000% and higher like other popular digital coins. China is the most recent example of governments getting aware of fraudulent ICOs and trying to clean up the mess that follows any promising venture.

Further reading

Pump And Dump: Wikipedia or The Wolf Of Wall Street (also starring Margot Robbie, so I would definitely recommend)

Cryptocurrencies In The UAE & Investment

Currently, one of the safest ways to obtain bitcoins in the UAE would be through BitOasis, a Middle-East centric trading exchange. With a beta trading exchange that allows you to trade bitcoins and ether, along with a digital wallet for storage of currency it can serve as a good starting point for anyone in UAE looking to join the fun. 

Additionally, you could also explore trading the bitcoins from your local wallet into a US-based trading exchange if you wish to deal with even more cryptocurrencies like Ripple. 

Recently, a local coin called OneGram was announced, back by a physical asset - gold. Being touted as the only Sharia-compliant cryptocurrency in a region where this market is still bubbling, it may seem as an easy entry into the world of crypto investment. 

Having read a bit about it and attended a seminar hosted by the founder and CEO, my personal take is that it is definitely not a currency I would be investing in ever, for multiple reasons. However, as with all investment advice, your best bet is form your own understanding based on your own research. Don't let my biased, ill-informed opinion influence your choices!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

In The Alleys And Valleys Of East India



To describe India, to attempt to describe India, to attempt to describe a region of India would in itself be a self-imposed imminent felony. Irrespective of your prowess in expression (of which I remain woefully amateur) the magic is such that words can try but would inevitably fall ridiculously short of expressing the essence of India.

I will still try as it would be another felony to leave these stories untold. You must understand the monsters I battle as I type this - the constant conflict of contrarian desires where I have to tell you about India, and yet cannot willingly destroy its sanctity by attempting to put it in words. You must understand the sacrifice I make in attempting to pen these thoughts, for it eternally puts me in that club of dreamers who could never truly describe India and once you understand that, I welcome you to construct a statue in my memory for posterity to remember my bravery.

I cannot tell you the best way to travel India because (highly pretentious while that may be) it just doesn't exist. India accepts, invites and warrants spontaneity; abhors formulaic wanderings. But we're not here to debate styles of wanderlust; each has their own and none of them are good enough for India.

I want you to look at this piece not as a travel guide (because really, I would not be so obliviously foolish to assume I have even touched the surface) but rather as a young man's outpour of thoughts. I look at you and invite you to take my proffered hand. Take my hand, and come drown with me in this ocean of colours, cultures, languages, history and emotions. See India as I see it and forever become one with the Quest.

Take my hand, and let us drown in the immense beauty of it all.



Before we begin this journey, you and I, writer and reader, before we transiently embark together on the Quest for a few moments, you need my context to see my India. An inherently Indian man with a lineage from the city of Taj, I have spent my entire waking life outside India. I view this country in short bursts, and it helps me to appreciate the abnormalities and not dwell on the shortcomings. The cracked roads and cacophonous traffic are art and music, and not imprecations I would fling to authorities. India is far from perfect, but to a traveller with no foreseen future in this country, the imperfection is the biggest appeal.

As an intrinsic stickler for the underdogs, I found in East India an untold chapter of the Indian story. Incredibly distinctive by South East Asian influences, it seemed to be a world of its own. Of course, when it comes to India every state with its language, culture and history was once upon a time (and still is) a complete world of its own. This family of seven sisters, however, was cut off from the ruckus, and it seemed to have carved valleys of serenity out of its state of national neglect.

It takes a while to get used, I assure you. A shopkeeper I would've initially guessed to be Chinese (without context, of course) grins toothily, flashing blood-red paan-stained teeth while asking for 'pachaas rupaiya'. A pseudo-South-East-Asian kid walks in and asks for a 'phijut spinner', and receives dumbfounded stares.

Surprise is one element of this ride, as we move on to Meghalaya, where the official language is English in a country that is predominantly illiterate. A state that celebrates matrilineality in a nation of female prejudice. Where children under 14 are strictly prohibited from labour. Meghalaya, which translates to 'the abode of clouds', a state that shelters Mawlynnong, one of the cleanest villages in Asia in a country where educated city-dwellers need celebrities to inspire them to keep their streets clean.

The absurdly varied culture of it all.

I shall drag you up and down the sloping roads of Shillong, very San Francisco-esque in layout, very unheard in coverage, to the teeming Police Bazaar where decked out Mahindra Boleros zoom around with young men blasting Eminem. The Khasi tribe with their pimped out Maruti Suzukis and Bajaj Pulsars that adorn the winding roads. Taxi drivers that paste football club decals on their windshields to flaunt their loyalties.

"Yahan ke log apni gaadi ka bada khyaal rakhte hai." (The people here look after their cars really well)

Do you see it?

We trail through villages in the abode of clouds, honking dogs, cows and children out of the way. The little girl skips across the road mischievously and waves at us ecstatically, delighted at the sight of non-native humans. A little boy holds an umbrella for his younger brother as they hold each other and traipse to school. Wizened men sit on rocks watching the cars whiz past, collecting thoughts and memories that would probably die with them.

The profound depth of it all.



They say East India is the Scotland of the East. Having been to both, I wouldn't bring it upon myself to compare either in terms of beauty and history as they have their own individual charms. The Scotland of the East, however, was definitely lighter on the wallet and much harder to scale. I was able to scour the entire actual Scottish Highlands in less than a week, but could hardly journey through more than three of the seven sisters, which happen to be some of the smallest states in India. The might of India, in full display even in its region of seclusion.

Where seclusion lies, there must lie pain also. The pain is an inevitable part of every trip through India. You can only run from it for a while - you can look at the red traffic lights, imploring them to turn green so you can move on and not have to think about the broken families sleeping right under it. Families that live by a timer, a window of sixty seconds when cars stop to obey traffic rules. Their sixty seconds of glory misery, as sticks laden with colourful balloons, toys, trinkets, food and newspapers bob between cars, trying to make a sale as the timer ticks down. Surely this swarm of peddlers would delay the traffic, I wonder, as the cars on the other side of the junction sputter to a stop.

The signal turns green, and there are no peddlers in site. The whimsical circus that lasted a minute.

You can run from it, ignore the beseeching wails and cries as you walk on the streets until you are stopped in your tracks by a child with a bowl, standing right in front and staring right at you.

What do you do then?

There will come a point when you will have to, be forced to, look at their eyes. In that moment, you will understand the consequences of the Quest.

While we stand here, hand in hand, in the middle of the road in Guwahati and watch children with reproachful eyes, eyes that tell stories of dirt, death, poverty and neglect, outstretched hands and missing limbs circle us, I ask you to not ignore this. Don't fight these thoughts, don't suppress these emotions. Feel the pain they feel, fear the horrors they fear and dream the fantasies they dream.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. 

In East India destitutes were replaced by entrepreneurial destitutes - where they don't beg openly but try to survive the day by selling water or crisps to tourists. Huts upon huts, in villages upon villages, lined with Lays and Kurkure packets and tourist hats. Hordes of people trying to scrape their way through life and fighting for means to survive in order to ultimately die a painful, neglected and dissatisfied death.

The unrelenting, inescapable sadness of it all.



I must now gaze into your eyes, and ask you to let go of my hand. This is, after all, my party. Your experience and understanding of India will ultimately be your own. Your inferences of art in the muck and patterns in the aberrations have to be your own. The Quest is your own.

In retrospect, I have expelled thousands of words and yet I feel a certain dissatisfaction with the result. The magic seems elusive, probably fettered by the constraints of prose. I shall then attempt to infuse a bit of poetry; utter the poetic incantation that would summon the aura that seems unattainable.

Of the lands of India, I say this
A hundred thousand words would still not do it justice.

That I guess, is as much an appropriate description as it is a flawed one for the ethereal, mystical lands of India.


-

If you liked what you read, then do help me by sharing this on social media platforms on your choosing. We're all artists somewhere, in some field, and this is just my form of art that would truly find expression if more people get the inclination to read it.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Adding Some Sadness To The Life Of Shyam Prasad



Right now, as he walked off into the sunset (or so to speak) from his latest job, he could conclude that his current circumstance could be equated to that of a hapless, thrashing fish out of water. This fascinating analogy, irrefutably and rather unfortunately, hit a small snag on further reflection: a fish out of water had a purpose - to get back in.

He, however, had none.

Ergo, it would be more fitting to equate himself to a dog chasing cars because much like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, he wouldn't know what to do if he caught one.

That would be it - a canine analogy for the ages. A dog frantically running pell-mell on the street, chasing car after car, each flashier than the one before it.

***

Every story needs context to make you, the reader, understand. To make you feel. To vicariously live out the precedent six months of our protagonist's life in the following words, so you can for a few minutes, until you finish perusing this piece, be our protagonist as he traipses off into the sunset, freshly unburdened from fetters of corporate bureaucracy yet sagging under an unshakable, irremovable load of guilt.

Six months back he was where most young university graduates find themselves - in the undesirable dome of unemployment. Some people find monotony in work, but he found it in his endless application-rejection cycle. The grindstones of hope, earnestness and desperation would whir into life, raucously churning out one job application after another, but to no avail. The din of these grindstones would grow louder with each day, with the grindstone of increasing desperation easily overpowering the faltering grindstone of diminishing hope.

It took multiple sparks, some sputtering and some spitting, to ignite a candle in the dark gloom of the dome of unemployment. The grindstones were silenced and after what seemed like ages, there was peace. The clawing nails had been snipped; the crying, wailing voices were muted. There was purpose. This brings us to a couple of months back as he walked into his new job, finally at peace, where on the threshold of his first task he met Shyam Prasad.

Innocuous, unassuming Shyam Prasad.

Shyam Prasad was as normal as normal could be. While our protagonist walked in with an aura of confidence, a penchant for time management and a desire to shine like a diamond, Shyam Prasad did none of those. Having done his undergraduate from a town in Tamil Nadu, he was unaware of the politics of corporate hierarchy. He should've established himself from day one. He just didn't know how.

Bumbling, inquisitive Shyam Prasad.

Our protagonist helped him in all his tasks, 'guided' him just so he could complete his work on time. Inspired by just good camaraderie, so that fearful, cautious Shyam Prasad could escape the wrath of the head honchos. A little bit of camaraderie to help reduce the woes of Shyam Prasad.

Yet, it seemed on the matter of woes that Shyam Prasad had none, for he seemed to hide every emotion under the widest of smiles. He quickly struck up a bond with all the Tamilians, sharing their food during the lunch break. If one were to simply stare at Shyam Prasad, uninhibited by prejudice, context or perspective, the joyful face of Shyam while he wolfed down balls of rice, content to just listen to the stories of his peers, would paint a serene portrait of satisfaction.

Seemingly satisfied Shyam Prasad.

However, despite managing to carve a niche for himself amidst this throng of employees desperate to shine, our protagonist grew increasingly unsatisfied. As a millennial educated at a globally renowned university and handed opportunities without ever asking for them, he felt entitled to more. Bound by the shackles of unintentional privileges, he felt entitled to more responsibility, more respect and a heavier paycheck.

This false sense of entitlement instigated our protagonist to quit prematurely a job that thousands were vying to secure. In doing so, he spat in the face of all those who sat up all night acquainting themselves with the exemplary etiquettes of immaculate interviewees. A massive, arrogant spit in the face of those who count their savings each day, just so one day they could give their families the comforts that were ruthlessly denied to them.

On his last day, as he was working with Shyam Prasad, Shyam, unaware that this might be his last day of camaraderie with his new friend who had quickly become his support in this confusing, illegible world of corporate bureaucracy, launched into the story of his life.

Shyam Prasad's father had abandoned him when he was in the first grade. He had grown up watching his uncles waste their lives away, succumbed to the vices of alcohol and cigarettes. His mother had valiantly tried to give him a childhood that would remain irreparably torn apart. He was sharing a room with his cousin in Karama, surviving on a broken, run-down phone until he could save enough money to buy a laptop to Skype home. He ate from the plates of fellow Tamilians at work to save some money. His mother had taught him to be a 'decent man', and having grown up engulfed in the apparent weaknesses of men all his life, he vowed to be everything the men supposed to look after him weren't.

He was here in a foreign land, away from his mother. Away from the only person in his life who never gave up on him, never failed him. He was here desperately trying to make her proud by trying to be a 'decent man'.

Strong, heroic Shyam Prasad.

Shyam Prasad had a purpose because he had no options. While our protagonist here mindlessly chased one fancy car after another, Shyam Prasad stood still, fettered by the unrelenting chains of destiny. While our protagonist was a rebellious challenger of fate - happily waltzing to the strings of temptation, Shyam Prasad was a victim of fate.

These were the thoughts plaguing the mind of our protagonist, as he lumbered off into the sunset. The wailing voices had found intensity once again. He did his best to clear his mind, yet somehow he couldn't shake off the image of a lonely Shyam Prasad ticking off days on a paper calendar, counting down the days until he would have saved up enough money to bring his mother to meet him.

He couldn't shake it off, because he just knew that as he broke the news of his resignation to his colleagues today, the saddest and the only genuinely sad person in the crowd was alone, alienated Shyam Prasad. Our protagonist was, while a privileged millennial to boot, now the latest addition to the list of people who had deserted Shyam Prasad, given up on him and ultimately failed him.

This was the baggage that he now carried back - a load of unshakeable, irremovable guilt.

The unshakable, irremovable guilt of adding some sadness to the life of Shyam Prasad.

Based on a true story.

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If you liked what you read, then do help me by sharing this on social media platforms on your choosing. We're all artists somewhere, in some field, and this is just my form of art that would truly find expression if more people get the inclination to read it.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

TVF's Arunabh Kumar, International Women's Day, Buzzfeed And The Growing Business of Feminism


You see, when it comes to India (or just the world in general), sexism isn't uncommon. It's the sad heartbreakingly disgusting state of the nation, but we find solace in feeble and seemingly apparent spurts of progression. The internet today, unfailing comrade of the millennials, is a shining reflection of the people who sustain it. It's largely a progressive medium if you look in the right places. Racism, discrimination, bigotry, sexism, antisemitism - the vicious wyverns of our prejudiced pasts dissected with blatant aplomb in this virtual realm. Them, the harbingers of unattainable justice, trying to change the world one viral post at a time.

It was gratifying to embrace progression on a medium conducive to it. Television soaps still had its women unctuously doting over the men of the house and Bollywood still had its demeaning female acting sensually frolicking roles. The internet, spurned by the emergence of progressive web series creators, was the haven for liberal samaritans.

Or so we thought.

It's a shock to watch The Viral Fever burn in flames of its ignominy because it stood for more than just great content. It was the voice of the progressive youth - with shows that openly challenged antiquated traditions and resonated within the hearts and minds of the hopeful. Resonation is important, for it truly bridges the gap between the audience and the creator. Through Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan and Madhuri Dixit, we vicariously lived out our dormant romanticism, machismo and versatility. They resonated it with us, and we designated them to positions of importance.

So we did with TVF. An entertainment company that was about to launch its women-centric show 'Bisht, Please' this month. It isn't however, as we based on fallacious premises, a belief in progression. A desire to cause change, revamp mindsets and awaken the traditionalists. It isn't even a facade.

It's just business.

A business of feminism. Headed by honchos who openly, lecherously gape at women but jot down the words 'progressive' and 'liberal' on their meeting room bulletin boards when planning themes for shows. These are not progressive men, these are just closet traditionalists who know that progression sells.

What if there was some credibility to Arunabh Kumar's innocence (even though there can't be so much coagulated smoke without some fire) - thereby raising the question why people would find the need to conjure up fake molestation stories and thereby getting it answered by the fact that it sells.

Buzzfeed will happily shame any person found guilty of sexism (and rightly so) but would share a "10 Surprising Porn Habits By Indian Viewers" in a heartbeat. Another similar pseudo-progressive site would defame the photographer who looks to make some sweet rupee by snapping unflattering pictures of Bollywood actresses (and rightly so), but would happily share "20 Times Ranveer Singh Made You Thirsty AF".

Business. Just good ol' business.

On Women's Day, you see less celebrating the existence of women in our lives, without whom we would truly be nowhere, and more comparisons between the genders. Rega Jha, editor of Buzzfeed India tweets out (to paraphrase) "Let's celebrate women's day by appreciating things men do better than us: genocide..."

While I'm sure (positive!) that it was all in jest, a barrage of retweets later the purpose seems to be murky. The trivialisation of issues in the quest for high-impact potentially viral content. It's the decision between wanting to shout "Thank you to all the women" over "All men are dogs!". The decision between what's good appreciation and what's good business.

A trifle of transient fame; a little transitory cyber notoriety. The essence of Women's Day lost to the business of feminism. Somehow, it seems that on days like these it's not the activists who sleep peacefully after spreading awareness but rather the jewellery stores that cashed them ousside howbow dah special promotions. A good day of business.

In midst of it all, us, flitting around from one false mascot of change to another - hoping and praying for progress but somehow, rather surprisingly, getting nowhere.

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If you liked what you read, then dial up help-a-homie-hotline and please assist me in making this writing thing something substantial. If you didn't, k

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The 'Not Bad' Tale Of My Driving Instructor


If I were to promise you a world hitherto unseen, unheard and unfelt by a mere shift in seating position, kind of like the blog version of a red and blue pill, would you believe? Surely, the sights and sounds of this mundane reality are unfazed by angles - my pet monkey (if I had one) would look equally happy devouring a banana (if he had one) if I viewed him from the balcony of my villa (if I had one) or the passenger seat of my car (as you must've guessed, also if I had one).

Yet we wage a constant battle between presumption and reality. I woke up to the vicissitudes of the road in November by changing my regular position in motor vehicles by just one seat. Strapped into the driver seat of a fuming, faltering and clearly-agonised-by-every-movement Nissan Sunny, I was abruptly shunned into a novel perspective. It was a world I was ignorant to, an unspoken dialect that was previously illegible - the gush of gratitude when that toothless truck driver gave me way and the rush of rage when that spineless bus driver flashed his headlights at me. 

A ravenous student was reborn. Taking his place in the passenger seat was an instructor who was perpetually unsatisfied. I was young again - a little child tottering and slipping on his odyssey towards learning to walk. He took my hand and led me on an asphalt path of discovery. The road is a great leveller of fate, I would posit ruefully, as I made a gleaming, whizzing Range Rover Evoque swerve out of the way of my wailing, whining and clearly-in-astronomical-distress Nissan Sunny. 

"So bad." 

My instructor would sigh. He would lean back, close his eyes and soundlessly mutter incantations, leaving me in the driver seat of a faltering, flailing Nissan Sunny under the inarguable impression that he solely relied on higher powers (over my nascent driving skills) to get us out of the cacophony of Oud Metha road. 

I knew - I just knew. My suspicions were confirmed when he added a beaded necklace to the mix, constantly running a finger down the beads, murmuring to himself while I changed lanes. 

"So bad."

These words were all that drowned the radio - the theme song of my tutelage. So bad. I foresaw a 'so bad' before I made the turn. I foresaw another weighted 'so bad' much before I entered the freeway. I would randomly hear those words in the middle of Eminem's greatest tracks. I would hear them before I crossed the road, on foot. I would nonchalantly dismiss the theatrical jitters of horror movies, yet if I were to hear the words 'so' and 'bad' randomly strung together in everyday conversation, I would start to sweat. Trepidation would bend me over, convulsing like a fish out of water (to the horror of the aunty I was just discussing my marriage eligibility with), drowning me in the engulfing terrors of driving ineptitude. 

With time it took the role of an unrelenting impetus. Emboldened by the hunger to seek approval, I would constantly learn, unlearn and practice - until there came a glorious, fateful day when I (in my objectively humble opinion) executed a perfect manoeuvre and glanced hopefully at his placid visage.

"Yallah, so bad."

Preposterous! How could anyone criticise the elegance of that action? I would sputter indignantly; I would bombard him with questions, daring him to 'so bad' my determined efforts once again.

But he did. I spent weeks perfecting my near perfect movements, but 101.6 So Bad FM was all that resonated within my pleading, beseeching Nissan Sunny. There were times when I made a blatant gaffe and abashedly avoided his probing gaze - him soundlessly taunting me to question once again and me trying to reduce the tally of 'so bad's that was a perpetually accumulating glistening heap.


We had our moments in the sun. There was a time when a Chevrolet Corvette tried to bully its way into my lane, and me being the descendent of the regal blood of Mankhool, heir of the nobility of Bur Dubai, would stubbornly assert my priority over my lane with my frantic, frenetic Nissan Sunny. My instructor stepped in, admonishing me to go out of my way to give the Corvette some leeway because in his opinion we were meant to respect a 'good car'.

"Tayeb, but what if it's a Nissan Tiida?"

He made a violent spitting motion and chuckled merrily.

Needless to say, at the next given opportunity, I made no qualms about not giving way to a Tiida, viciously spitting at the startled driver.

Also needless to say, my instructor wasn't pleased.

It took a few weeks (read: months) (truthfully read: years) but there came a day when (once again in my humble opinion) I moved seamlessly through the fumes spittin' bedlam of horns, sirens and thundering engines. My hands blended in with the steering wheel and my foot forged its sweet analogous relationship with the pedals. I twirled my moustache, puffed up my chest and looked at him with burgeoning pride, internally pleading for my first word of praise.

He avoided my gaze and casually ruffled through his papers, determined not to give me the satisfaction of having attained his stamp of approval.

"Not bad."

Not bad? Not bad?! In a frustrating tangle of 'so bad's and 'not bad's, I became a citizen of the road. For one of the last times in my life, I was in the hands of a teacher and I was out to serenade to the swan song of my student life. Yet, I never got my 'good'. 

He would never dote, praise or look mildly happy with my improvement. His temporary lapses in demeanour would occur only when I failed, for it seemed that he restrained a modicum of confidence in his student that would emerge when questioned by an external authority. He would take extra hours and work through a diseased liver to give me classes. Yet, I never got my 'good'. 

Once, to deliberately mess me up into countless sleepless nights (I know, I just know), he uttered 'not bad but not good'.

Alas! Unable to get the didactic nod from my teacher, I passed all tests immune to the vagaries of external examiners. Their certified and publicly valued stamp of approval was nothing compared to the informal and unacknowledged stamp I never got. After years of car lifts, public transport sagas and guilty car rides, I was liberated to be confined in the white lines of the road. Yet, I still never get my 'good'.

I went back to him, one last time, equipped with the plastic card that was the certified fruit of my labour and desire. I asked him one last question, completely unrelated to my tenure as his pupil, expecting another traditional 'not bad' that would set me on my way, away from the last dregs of my student life. Just one more 'not bad' to latch this box of memories, and I would merge silently into the tumultuous tangle of daily traffic.

"Do you like the Mitsubishi Lancer?"

I knew what was coming; I was prepared for it.

"I like you, habibi."

I looked into those eyes to see pure, genuine pride and I knew.

I just knew.

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All characters in this anecdote are purely fictional and any semblance to actual events or people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. 

Saturday, 7 January 2017

The Unheard Voices Of Tehran


"Iran good?"

I'm abruptly distracted from my increasingly ravenous glances at Tajrish square by the mangled and rather limited English of my reticent companion. He i- actually never mind about him just yet, as his time will come near the end of this piece. In retrospect, I take immense satisfaction with my retort since these questioning words were uttered midway through my rendezvous with the historical lands of Persia. Sans several ingredients, the complete concoction of experiences was yet to be stewed and stirred. But I was able to, rather miraculously, accurately encapsulate the taste of the cooked Persian stew (a steaming Kashk-e Bademjan) to my hitherto silent chaperone, and in turn prognosticate the rest of my trip.

In early December, as I tentatively broke the news of my travel to Iran to family, friends and foes alike, I was predictably greeted with histrionic exclamations fraught with dread, despair and denial. A decade of accumulated bias and media-projected negativity had fostered in our minds - even mine, regrettably, as I was the hapless by-product of the what the agenda-driven media wanted to thrust down my gullible gullet.

It seemed to the people to who loved that imminent danger was in my fate, as I was willingly venturing into a pit of peril; consciously acquiescent of an innocuous dance with impending doom!


But who do I blame? Myself or the consistent images I was fed of an Iran caressed with maleficent licks of violence, hatred and prejudice?

"You will get shot."

A decade of projected bias and negativity weighed down upon me, aided and abetted by the baggage of my dear ones.

A decade of projected bias and negativity, and in just two days I had fallen in love, helplessly and irrevocably, with the people of Tehran.

My initial encounters were exacting, as my knowledge of Farsi was negligible and so was their English. Yet there is a certain art of understanding without speaking in common tongue, and I found that when the limitations of spoken word lurk over two individuals, the sublime and elementary language of the heart adopts precedence. The magic of love - immortal, omnipresent and omnipotent - hovers eternally, waiting to be summoned.

In a day, with my laudable amelioration of rudimentary Farsi, our conversations start to sustain. I have also, to my mild surprise, found an unlikely icebreaker - Bollywood. Young and old, rich and poor - the magnetic power of an excessively extravagant genre of cinema was palpable. Hungry for some form of communication, I break out some of my choicest Salman Khan impressions to delighted chuckles. A youth from the land of Hindustan romping to Bollywood classics! My exoticism tantamount to theirs for me. 

An intriguing union of cultures, and hearts.

Several middle-aged men tip their hats to Amitabh Bachchan, while a cigar-enamoured cabbie is flummoxed when I inform him that Salman Khan had just turned 51. I’m guilty of ruining his life at that moment, as he stutters incoherence amidst the unrelenting Tehran traffic, now aware that the newfound knowledge that his supposedly timeless icon was double his age would effectively result in transient insomnia. 

The fanaticism is unbound by age, I tell you, as a wizened veteran limps up to me and croaks, “Vyjayanthimala!”, his finger quivering with the antiquated theatrical fantasies of his yesteryears.
A towering security guard whose face crinkles into a smile as wide as Talbiat bridge and he booms, “Govinda!” (at which point we both high-five) and then croons, 

“Aishwarya Rai!” 

At which point, both of us put our hands on our hearts, collectively and momentarily losing ourselves in lustful fantasies of a classical beauty, as you do. 

Danger and prejudice is what I feared, hospitality and love is what I found. Not a gun pointed to my head, but a cupid's arrow aimed at my heart. I was welcomed a brother, an exotic traveller that had graced their doorstep. In a quest for the Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini, Google Maps decided to forsake our bond of trust, having not acquainted itself with the alleys of Persia, and led me dead centre at the end of my journey in a jewellery store. The chuckling, sadistically amused jeweller (once again in the magical language of unspoken word) beckoned me to stay, rest and feel at home. 

Feel at home! Ensconced in the shadow of Talbiat bridge, Khoone restaurant welcomed me into its homely interiors, replete with fancy teapots, dishevelled bookshelves and flowery curtains. I asked for a menu and was blatantly refused because as the waiter assured me, ‘Khoone’ meant ‘home’ in Farsi and I was to feel completely at home. No one asks for a menu at home, and hence I didn’t get one. 

I must say, I did resist the insurmountable urge to point out no one asks for the bill at the end of the meal at home either, but such impudence was unwarranted in a haven where prejudice was shed at the doorstep.

As I wandered through the bazaars of Tehran, drowning myself in the musical cadence of verbal Farsi, there were sights, colours, sounds, smells and mostly, voices, that the world paid no attention to. In the family of nations, Iran had been boycotted because it refused to comply with a certain domineering uncle's whims. 

An entire nation left behind at the orders of Uncle Sam.

Hatred.

Blatant, steaming hot hatred. Found in just one place - a den of darkness. 

As I walked past a skeletal simulacrum of the Statue of Liberty, it was evident that Uncle Sam was no longer welcome in what was once his home - the former US Embassy in Tehran, now commonly referred to as the Den of Espionage.




Scalding, coagulated hatred. 

The former Embassy, now a miniature museum, welcomed visitors to view rows of contraptions intended for decoding, transmitting and pulverising confidential documents. A machine which they touted tapped into all the telephone lines in Iran, including the government’s. Walls now covered with anti-American murals, painting corridors that once nurtured surreptitious whispers. 

A covert, devious den of espionage. An affirmation that none of the hostages were harmed in the Iran Hostage Crisis. Wistful reminiscence of the lives Uncle Sam had taken in vengeance. 

On a huge canvas, a lifeless corpse of a bloodied child. Crude symbolism for the lives lost in the Iran Air Flight 655, which Uncle Sam impassively shot down without apology. The words below the dripping blood of the lifeless corpse, as haunting as death itself -

‘What sin did he commit?’

Who am I to comment on right and wrong? Good and evil? Ben Affleck’s Argo depicted the same event with different filters, and I’m being asked to discern one bias from another? All I know is that, in this particular tussle and all others, poor men suffered the brunt of rich men’s quarrels. This eclectic motley of Iranian humanity, bullied and ostracised from the world at large, had a voice no one wanted to hear anymore. 

Uncle Sam runs the house and Uncle Sam decides who stays in the family.

One of my newly acquired Iranian friends with whom I gelled with over a mutual love for rap music (and who was also an underground DJ) said tha-

Actually, stop. 

Are you struck by a thought? 

I was.

Did you ever think of an Iranian DJ? In fact if you jump back a couple of paragraphs, was it minutely fathomable to imagine a homely restaurant, amused jeweller, Bollywood fanatics, rap aficionados or a clandestine DJ in the purported war zone of Iran? Yet, here they were in their hugging, kissing, laughing, welcoming, Govinda-mimicking, Tupac-extolling and remixing glory. 

An eclectic motley of Iranian humanity that has remained unheard; painted a dark shadow of bigoted hatred.




"Iran good?"

…all of which brings me back to the question in the beginning of this piece, the mildly curious eyes of my laconic friend and the answer I unknowingly, yet truthfully, ended up giving. His face, gruff yet affable, bears the resigned look of a man succumbed to the monotony of life. He seems well-off and judging by the briefcase and suit he’s heading to work. He would have headed to work, uninterrupted, had I not approached him a couple of minutes earlier asking directions to the Tajrish Metro Station. His English vocabulary was on par with my Farsi, and the magical wands of unspoken words were brandished once again. 

He took a detour from his usual path to guide me to my destination, even though it might’ve made him slightly late for work. I was engulfed in the dynamic colours and rich cacophony of Tajrish, and as a result, our journey was primarily marked with silence, until I was reminded of his presence by that fateful trip-defining question.

I gaze into his eyes, and maybe it was just the gratitude of a helpless astray man guided to light or a prophecy for the ages, but there was no other word I could’ve uttered but -

"زیبا!"      

(“Beautiful!”)

A question he asked in English and an answer I give in Farsi. A consummation of the cultures of Hindustan and Persia, one step towards Tajrish square at a time.

He grins. Heads bow down once again, and we continue our mute odyssey. I have an inkling he had more to say on the topic but was limited by more than just the impediment of spoken word. His voice, much like the desolated ruins of Takht-e-Jamshid, the unearthly murmurs at Naqsh-e Rustam and the innocence of the 66 children on board Iran Air 655, would remain perennially to the world at large - ignored, ostracised and unheard. 



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