Friday, June 12, 2015

The FitBit Chronicles

I have been fond of walking from as far as I can remember. I moved three houses in Mumbai when I was studying and my school as well as my engineering college were always a thirty minute walking distance from my house. Just in range for a quick stroll. My friends and I would gather and walk to the beach each evening of our engineering days, spending a good two hours exercising our feet, walking in rugged chappals.
That of course was a different life. Responsibilities were sparse but free time was abundant. My current life is the exact opposite. I spend time driving my kids to school and classes, spend my time sitting through meetings or in my office near a computer. There is limited time I have for going to the gym and while I occasionally run and play tennis, it is fair to say that I don’t make enough time for focused excercise.
Enter the FitBit.
Why the FitBit?
I guess I should start by saying what FitBit is. It is essentially a fitness tracker. Depending upon which FitBit you get, you can track everything from measuring the number of steps you take to the amount of hours of sleep you get to the number of stairs you climb. The FitBit seemed to be well reviewed and met the requirements I had, so I went with it. No intense research was done.
How did I start?
The first few days of FitBit gave me some idea of where I was. The recommended minimum number of steps a day is 10,000. I was fluctuating between 8–10K depending upon the day. Just meeting the bar. Wearing the FitBit tapped into my intense statistic driven part of me. If you would have told me that a fitness tracker can be more addictive than FaceBook, I’d have laughed at you, but that has been the case. I checked my steps very often. I kept a track of when I walked, how much I walked. I began noting how it was 78 steps to the restroom from my office, 430 steps from my standard parking space to my office, so on and so forth. Slowly, my number started going up. Weekends were at 17–20K without effort (with summer and kids), but it was the weekdays where the effect was felt the most. I slowly inched from 10K to 12K on average. It was good, but something better was around the corner.
How did I go to the next level?
My good friend Suhel who is a statistic fiend himself was running a “walk cartel”. FitBit allows for grouping your friends and starting a contest. He joined me up in the Weekday Hustle where steps were tracked from Monday-Friday. If you thought fitness could not be a competitive sport, think again. The moment the competitions started, my 10K steps a day jumped to 15K steps a day. I was now walking 25000 steps more than I used to during normal weekdays. The competitions every week were intense, with people constantly pushing the bar up. The urge to sync my phone to my FitBit to check my steps and see where others were upto was irresistible. Slowly but surely, I was getting back to my old days of walking.
Where did the extra 5ooo steps come from?
My day’s routine was fixed. My free time was limited. I had to find ways to go from 10000 to 15000 without sacrificing any additional time. That required some ingenuity. I basically found every little excuse to move. I started moving during meetings when long winded discussions were on (to little consternation from my colleagues). I dragged a new colleague each day for a post lunch short walk. I took up every single excuse within the house to pick up things, to put them in the right place, to walk around the kitchen island while beatings eggs, or walk to the post box even when there was no chance of a new letter each day. I would feed my younger one a spoon of rice, take a walk around the floor while he slowly chewed it and come back for the next one. In short, I went to being the anti-sedentary guy I needed to be in order to make this happen.
Is this all worth it?
It has been nearly two months of doing this and it is hard to tell what the actual health benefits are. Most of my walking is in short bursts and I don’t know whether just having a large total matches up the benefits of doing a really long walk. I don’t believe walking alone can lead to weight loss, neither am I feeling perceptibly fitter (though I am sure my cardiovascular health is improving). What I do notice is the complete absence of lethargy now. I don’t want to slouch onto a couch and do nothing. If I have free time, I move. If I have two minutes while my coffee is heating, I move. Towards a competitive goal that has nothing to do with the drudgery of exercise. And therein lies the great benefit. Walking was always a joy to me and I have rediscovered it from an unexpected medium. Until the point where I take some of this effort and energy and direct it towards some other form of excercise that doesn’t involve steps, I intend to try and maintain this scale of walking. As the tagline of this year’s hit Hindi movie ‘Piku’ suggested, ‘Motion se hi emotion’ :)

Friday, June 05, 2015

Heaven and Earth

My latest short story published in the Spark magazine is a love story that you might like. Read on.

Original link is the following

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=9187 


Heaven and Earth


“Chotu, take one cutting chai for the sahib”, the owner of the tea-stall announced loudly for his new customer to hear.

A tiny boy of pleasant disposition scurried over to Uday, who was steadying himself on the base of the old tree near the chai stall. Someone had made a makeshift temple out of it by installing an idol of Ganesha on one side. People respectfully removed their footwear to pay obeisance to the Lord of good tidings. On the other side, chai flowed with full freedom.

Uday always picked that spot. Wearing his thick glasses and an intense expression, he let his wiry frame down on that base made out of brick and set his bag aside. It was nearing 4 pm. It was about time.

The sun could set his clock by looking at him. He was there at the same time every day including the weekends. During the week, these were the three hours he had at his disposal. He spent the morning taking classes at an arts college and spent the evenings giving tuition to Mr. Ishwar’s son.

“Steady, Raghav. The lines need to be straight,” he’d always tell that boy, who, despite his parents’ best efforts, was more interested in playing video games than sketching. At least they paid good money, Uday thought, as he took the chai from Chotu and kept it beside him. He took out his large sketchbook and his quixotic collection of pencils, watching the clock tick over.

It was about time.

The wind was gentle but persuasive. The curls of her hair gave up their obstinacy within moments of the breeze touching her face. They fluttered ever so slightly, parting away the gentle clouds covering her ears. A smiling face now beheld the city through her window.

From the second floor of her building, from a narrow window that overlooked a busy street, Tanvi surveyed a throbbing slice of the metropolis. The world was playing out its own agenda. Vendors were busy trying to sell their wares with a mind cast back to their hungry families. Kids were playing a game of cricket with a chair as a makeshift stump, and with little license to hit anywhere other than a straight line. The cars honked incessantly as if carrying on a mild conversation in blaring tones.
“Tanvi beta, did you drink your tea?” asked a booming voice from the kitchen.

“Yes, Ma!”,Tanvi responded, her dulcet tones barely making it across the house.

She had finished her tea alright. Before that, she had washed her face, scrubbing the blemishes away, selected a new pair of earrings, handpicked the bindi that would adorn the center of her forehead. She didn’t need the tea to freshen up. She was wide awake. As the clock ticked closer to 4 pm, her heart beat a little quicker and a sense of anticipation flooded her.

It was about time. Uday had always thought of himself to be the observer of life’s little accidents. His spot under the tree gave him the perfect platform to sit and observe, to spot the absurdities and the pleasantries, the cruelties and the compassions that flooded the world around him. He would sit and sketch, filling up pages with what he saw. However, a month ago, all of that had changed. He no longer cared for the vegetable vendor pushing his cart down the street, his sinews straining against the weight of the potatoes and the onions. He no longer wanted to draw the picture of the street urchins trying to catch each other, oblivious to the sudden dangers of an incoming car.

No, Uday did not care for all that anymore. He had spotted her once, her face peeking through the window on the second floor. That girl with the curls, who seemed to be taking in the world with the same hunger that he seemed to have. She had an innocence about her, an eagerness tinged with sadness which he could not put a finger on. He could not peel his eyes away from her.

From that moment on, Uday was in love with Tanvi.

No words were exchanged, but as the days passed, Tanvi became aware of Uday’s presence. Her reaction went from annoyance to curiosity. In a few days, she knew that she had an admirer who was firmly besotted by her. Tanvi would not make any eye contact with him, yet she never once shied away from making an appearance.

Today was no different.

Fifty feet away from him, Uday’s muse had shown her face. She, of the delicate expression and the gentle smile. He knew that Tanvi would come and silently observe the world beneath her, ignoring him. He would ignore the rest of her world and set his sights on her. His hands would furiously animate his expression of admiration on paper. The collection of portraits he made of her were enough to publish a book.

Uday made no attempt to hide his love, but kept a respectful distance. An artist’s hardest quest is that of a muse, and nothing would be worse than handing over the reality back to an illusion. The delicate balance could not be disturbed. He knew that he would never bridge those fifty feet, though he harbored a fleeting hope that someday she would turn and see him, that someday she would descend from her private heaven and meet him.

Tanvi spent her routine thirty minutes at the window. She knew his rhythms, knew how much time he needed to draw a new version of her, and she gave him that time. She wondered what it would take for him to venture forth, to walk those fifty feet, to leave the world for a while and join her in her isolation. She dared to dream the dream and castigated herself immediately. Nothing would be worse than handing over

She turned back, scanned around her heaven, and with gentle arms, pushed her wheelchair back into the house.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

When I Dismantled The Crib And Assembled The Future

Six and a half years since we first purchased it, my wife and I disassembled our crib. It was bought from IKEA before our older son was born, a product of copious research and guarded certainty. My older son used it for a couple of years and now my younger one has also graduated from it after nearly three years of occupancy.

We dismantled it tonight. Piece by piece of the carefully constructed frame, into which we put our children night after night for many years, when they weren't pouring out into our beds out of the desire to cozy up, feel good during sickness, or put it simply, check that their parents are indeed there.

We dismantled it tonight, triggering a glut of memories about the first time their tiny frames were put in that seemingly gargantuan crib. Where crib mobiles were put to entertain them and hypnotize them to sleep. Where soft toys and softer blankets gave them company through the night. Where they occasionally stood and cried while teaching themselves how to sleep alone. And us too. What they tried to climb out of. What they later learned to climb into. Where we said a million goodbyes before finally leaving the room, telling them how much we loved them, as if they did not know.

It is a cliche that time flies and kids grow up faster than we want them to. Today we dismantled the crib and assembled that cliche. The boys are ready for the next stage. Sleeping together as brothers, neither now requiring the confined protection of the crib to keep them company. I'll miss the click of the crib when I would raise it to bring the night to notice. The million goodbyes and kisses and hugs before bed will continue, but a bittersweet feeling lingers as one chapter closes and another starts. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Parent's Onus

Does being a parent ever get easier? Here's a poem, straight from the heart. This was published in the Spark magazine. If you are a parent, this might resonate with you.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=9109

A Parent's Onus

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
When you brought home
A piece of your heart
And fretted over his tender body
Holding him gently like a feather

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he started to crawl around
And bawled and babbled and
Gobbled your home around him
Holding hostage your anxious breaths

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he grew and grew like the waxing moon,
Often eclipsing away in sickness
And found his own two feet holding him up
While you readied yourself, lest he fall

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he found himself, no more an extension of you
With ego and opinion and logic and reason
And radiant limbs that took him places
While you stroked his head through nightmares

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he ran like the wind was yesterday’s dirt
But pottered into school unsure of its turf
His eyes staring at the door in eager wait
While you rushed through your work to pick him up

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he needed you not to hold him
But to tell him things to guide his days
Right, wrong, fallacy, faith, character, power
While you ponder if the job ever gets easier

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Cup Of Misery

Are you still moping over India's loss at the World Cup? Here's something to add to that feeling smile emoticon While India has done well by winning to World Cups, the losses tend to linger. This is my write up in the Spark magazine, mirroring my cricket watching journey with India's losses at the World Cup over the years. Read on.

http://www.sparkthemagazine.com/?p=9039 

The Cup of Misery

The 2015 cricket World Cup has wound down. There is a new champion in town. India kept saying ‘we won’t give it back’ until they did, to Australia. Some heartaches somehow stay longer and affect you deeper, like a breakup that refuses to leave you. Indian fans have had it good and Indian fans have had it rough in World Cups. This story is not about the successes. This story is about the quintessential Indian cricket fan’s heartaches.

1983 was when the World Cup appeared on the Indian horizon. This was a dream that was undreamt. An against–the-odds story of how a team with no dramatic presence in the one day international (ODI) sphere denied the all-conquering West Indians the chance to win a third consecutive World Cup. Kapil Dev’s catch off Viv Richards, running backwards, against the grain, summed up how an impossible task was suddenly made real. What this win did was to kick start a revolution in the cricket world. A billion people came onboard with a lot of passion. Kapil’s Devils raised expectations among an Indian populace that expected very little until then. Nothing short of a win each time would satisfy them now.

1987 was the first test of that expectation. It was a World Cup that was held in India and its neighbouring countries. India was a favourite to defend its title. The team gave an outstanding performance in the league stage against New Zealand with Sunny Gavaskar scoring his first (and only) ODI century and Chetan Sharma taking the first-ever hat-trick in a World Cup match, and the first one by an Indian bowler. Although I was witness to some celebrations during the 1983 World Cup, this was the first World Cup that I have strong memories of. India’s march to the semi-finals was strong and India was expected to romp through against England to meet Pakistan. It was hoped that Pakistan would beat Australia to setup a dream final. But Gooch and Gatting had other ideas. Gooch in particular swept the Indian bowlers out of the Wankhede dustbowl. The sound of Phil Defreitas’s delivery crashing into the off stump of Sunil Gavaskar in what turned out to be his final ODI innings deflated the crowd and India’s title defence. The dream lay in tatters.

If 1987 was a dream shattered, 1992 was a nightmare fulfilled. India wasn’t a favourite for the tournament and rightly so. They struggled throughout in the round robin format of the tournament (where each team met each other), and only managed to win two games, losing five (with one abandoned). Indian cricketers playing in the first World Cup with coloured clothing brought little by way of cheer. The only exception was a victory against Pakistan, never mind that they went onto win the World Cup. I remember throwing my hands up in frustration watching India lose to Australia by one run in one of the closest finishes at that time in a ODI game.

1996 brought the World Cup back to Indian shores and with it, buckets of expectations. India had, after all, a decent bowling line-up in their backyard, a strong batting line-up and a certain talismanic cricketer who by now was the best batsman in the world. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the pitch in Eden Gardens, Calcutta, for the semi-finals, had different ideas. After Sri Lanka had recovered their way to 251/8, it was always going to be tough. Tendulkar led the way with a quick half century, but once he got out stumped, the rest of the team fell like a rack of bicycles. This enraged the Bengali crowd so much that their anger boiled into a dangerous riot. It was also the day the results of my first semester of engineering were announced. Torn between my sense of loyalty to the Indian team and my desire to know if I had passed the exams, I had hung around till Tendulkar got out and then went to my college. By the time I called home to relay my score, effigies were burning in the stadium. Needless to say, India’s loss stung more than my below-par marks.

1999 was a blur barring Tendulkar’s little gulp-inducing return from India after cremating his father. The World Cup, held in cold England, had a bunch of good performances from India, including the now mandatory win over Pakistan. Their loss to Zimbabwe would hurt them later in the Super Sixes stage. Between the last World Cup and this one, I had gotten myself an engineering degree. India’s wait to regain the World Cup would be longer. At this point, having religiously followed the game for nearly 16 years, I suppose I could have looked at my firecrackers and asked “kab phodenge?” (when will I light them up?)

2003 was an uplifting experience. Recovering from a poor start to the tournament, team India discovered the kind of streak that they had never before encountered in World Cup cricket. They found strength within themselves, huddling and befuddling the opponents. Nothing exemplified this more than the upper cut that Sachin Tendulkar hit off Shoaib Akhtar, lifting all of India to a higher plane. All the promise of a second World Cup win, all the potential came down to a final hurdle: the Aussies. I remember watching that game in Seattle, along with a thousand crazy India cricket fans. A gentleman who accompanied me had not seen an Indian cricket game since migrating to the US in 1966. He had shown up to see what the fuss was about, particularly around Tendulkar. India would go on to lose badly. Nay, crushed, bruised, demolished, steamrolled, all in the course of a Seattle night. Till date, I blame my companion for India’s loss. Perhaps his exile from cricket would have served us well.

If 2003 was heartbreak, 2007 was heartache. Watching cricket in the US is never easy and I – and countless others like me – spent 200 dollars and some small change to buy the package for watching the World Cup. Little did we know that India’s challenge wouldn’t be worth a tenth of that money. Beat Bermuda, were shocked by Bangladesh and then lost to Sri Lanka in a must-win game. Nothing about the campaign was right. The Indian players were unhappy, the audience was unhappy and the whole campaign seemed out of focus. It was exemplified by the singular moment when I went to answer the doorbell to receive my renewed passport only to miss the moment when Tendulkar was castled by Dilhara Fernando.

2011 was the moment of truth. The crowning moment of Tendulkar’s career and Dhoni’s captaining mastery. But let me not dwell on the positives. After all, this is about the crushing distresses of the Indian cricket fan.

Which brings us to 2015, the last chapter in this series thus far. No one expected India to do well after the pounding in the Australian tour. The bowlers were bad, the batsmen were iffy and the chances of winning on Australian soil bleak. But they turned it around, shockingly well. Beat Pakistan, beat South Africa, gave rise to the Mauka jingle, and cruised into the semi-finals, taking 70 wickets in 7 games. And alas, just like the 2003 juggernaut ground to a halt against Aussie might, so did the 2015 speeding bullet. Everyone from Anushka to Dhoni was blamed, ignoring the fact that they were beaten by a superior team.

And so it is, the story of the Indian supporter. The agony and ecstasy of supporting a team that tries its best, raises hopes, occasionally delivers, but mostly leaves the supporter with a bitter sweet feeling after putting its hope in eleven men and a shiny object they call the World Cup. Here’s hoping that in the future years to come, there will be more chances for them to call themselves the World Champions.

Friday, March 06, 2015

A Singular Loss

Movies in multiplexes are the new reality in India. But somewhere, the charm of the single screen theater is being lost. That's the offbeat topic I pursued for this month's publication.
My commentary on the romance of the single screen theater in this month's Spark magazine. Read on!


A Singular Loss


Picture this: You enter an extravagantly designed and elegantly lit space that promises you an out-of-the-world experience with all the comforts that it can offer – from huge, plush seats to sturdy carpets to heartwarming fragrances. As you stand and look around, to your left you find a screen playing an action movie where the hero leaps into the air, kicks three baddies at one time, and in slow motion, descends back to earth, all the while achieving the improbable goal of keeping his sunglasses on. To your right is a movie by an auteur where drops of water drip one by one to the floor while the heroine who couldn't care less about water conservation, keeps staring vacantly outside the window for no apparent reason. Walk straight and you run into the latest Hollywood blockbuster, transferring precious money to studios abroad. Well, it doesn't take long to realise that this is the place for movies of all ranges, for all ages.
Welcome to the world of the multiplex theater in India – a large complex with a honeycomb of theaters or screens, as they are fashionably referred to, showing a movie for each palate.
Clearly, we are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution in the movie-watching experience. But every revolution has its casualties. Where multiplexes are becoming the norm, single screen theaters have been pushed under the bus.
Ah, yes, the single screen theater. The long-standing bastion of cinema-viewing experience. The church where cinemaphiles of all classes would congregate to immerse themselves in a world alien to them. Those landmarks in cities, those modes of escape from the real world that held sway in India for over eight decades. Yes, the single screen theater.
A movie theater from the olden days would have concepts alien to the modern-day movie-goer. A single screen theater in India of  reasonable size would come with a categorization of seats that you don’t find anymore. There would be the stalls – lower and upper, closer to the screen. A more expensive choice would be the balcony, a raised seating platform. Some used to come equipped with dress circle seats and then there was always the box.
Unlike the modern-day multiplex, which, more often than not, is part of a bigger mall, one would go to the single screen theater with the express intent of doing nothing else but watching the movie. Near the entrance would be a ticket window, often separate ones, depending upon whether you had the big bucks to buy a balcony seat, or were content to ogle at your stars from the neck-straining proximity of the lower stall. When a new movie would release, serpentine lines would form in front of the theater. A small atrium would offer protection from the elements while you jostled with the person behind and in front of you, in the manner that lines in India often make you do. The tickets would usually be printed on pink-colored papers, perforated in the center. The person selling the ticket would circle the seat number on it and give it to you. If the movie Gods weren’t going to oblige you, a big “House Full” board, with a white background and red lettering, would be put in front. That invariably would lead to the crowd dissipating. Some would even shake their heads in disbelief. Some may resort to fatalism and decide to come another day. And then the rest, the small minority of smart, adventurous, passionate folks would seek out the only source of salvation left – the famous men in “black”. Those rescuers of trauma, who, for a little price can still let you into that theater. Never mind that you may end up in lower stall if you had balcony in your sights. Never mind that you may have gone as a couple but may find two different seats to watch the movie from. If you desperately wanted to get in, no matter what, you went through them.
Once the time for the movie was nigh, you walked in through those majestic structures.  Ranging from the baroque to the very ordinary, the theaters would invariably have a choices of architectural styles on offer. Long staircases leading to your seat, an usher, plainly dressed, unlike the smartly-dressed-in-suit ones found in multiplexes, shining his torchlight to make sure you get to your moderately-comfortable viewing spot, and after the riff-raff has settled down, the dimming of lights and the shining screen – ah, the memories! And how can one forget the advertisements, the trailers of upcoming movies and the inevitable shaking of the screen till the projectionist gets it right?
Intervals would typically see a mad scramble to get some food and cold drinks. You need to remember that the capacity of a single screen theater far exceeds that of a screen in a multiplex. This meant swelling crowds everywhere during the interval, whether it was the line for ‘batata wada’ or the restrooms. When the movie got over, an unending stream of people would accompany you through the exit. If you ever exited out to a busy street, reality would wake you up with honking horns and glaring lights, unlike the glitz and glamour of the mall. Like a social leveler, the single screen theater had tickets that all members of society could afford to purchase. A family could have an outing without emptying their pockets, unlike the multiplex prices that may not be within reach for all.
That would be your experience in a big single screen theater. The Metros and Maratha Mandirs of Mumbai. But, at the other end of the spectrum, with a different setting altogether are the teeny tiny theaters. Nestled in a small nook of the old part of a city. Playing a Hindi movie from the 70s or a C grade movie made by Kanti Shah. Some were adept enough to have the promise of air conditioning. Where men fatigued by their daily labours would go inside for a three-hour nap, stretching their legs across the seats.
But these experiences are on their way out. Movie watching is not the same anymore, with the sanitized, contained world of the multiplex. The single screen theaters are losing their way in this modern world. This is typically true for the larger cities. Take Mumbai, for instance. Iconic theaters that once existed now no longer dot the landscape. Hindmata, Imperial, Dreamland, Novelty, Strand have been torn down and reused to serve some other purpose. Apsara, which had premiered with Sangam in 1964, has also passed us by. This malaise has also spread to smaller cities. Majestic Talkies in Ajmer, Rajasthan’s oldest cinema, which began in 1929, is packing up.
It is a poignant commentary of transformation, this move towards tearing the old and introducing the new. Modernism may swoop in to take the movie experience to a better place but it remains a fact that every time a big theater packs up, a little part of the city’s history dies along with it.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Audio Interview for r2idreams

Written interviews are so old fashioned smile emoticon Audio interviews are in!
Our book just got reviewed by Indian Moms Connect on their site and was accompanied by an audio interview as well. We are grateful to them for the kind words and a chance to get our mellifluous voices on the internet smile emoticon

Hear on!

http://www.indianmomsconnect.com/2015/03/05/book-review-r2i-dreams-go/