Saturday, September 12, 2009

30000 Feet above the U.S. of A!!

On a recent flight, I was pondering over a friend's question.  It led me to delve deep and discover anew and hence this article!!

I have always loved heights - and I am never happier than when I am in a plane accelerating for take off. I guess it is to do with being able to see more of the world; a bigger picture. The higher the altitude, the better the picture. It is a time to let go of petty thoughts and elevate yourself. It is a place where it's quiet, where you can seek harmony and where you can be alone. Back home in India, I had a favorite spot on the top of my building where I would retreat to, to think, to dream and to soar above reality. Often times I would get there in the evening and then lie on my back, until all sky was changed and amidst its changing colors I'd get to befriend the stars, once again.  And as the eager wind played with my hair, I would just sit back and listen to the city, the myriad of sounds and little specks of light in the distance - windows to the life beyond.

Often times tired of fighting the school, parents and everything in between, it was the one place where I was truly at peace.  In retrospect, at the time, it was only the roof top and a teacher that saved me from total ruin. As the city grew quieter in the growing night, I knew I had to go home soon and my thoughts would return to the life at hand. Almost always dejected, I would find inspiration by reminding myself of my mentor's words - "Go to America - Don't stay here. You are meant to go abroad!!" And like the sugar sleep of a cold morning, the rooftop would make me stay five more minutes and beckon me to imagine of possibilities yet to come.


Prophetically enough, it was in the zeniths above North America that I found the azure of my life. What began as a fascination for the west, swelled to a powerful ambition and saw me fly out of my nest, over vast seas and onto foreign shores.  Over the years, the U.S. guarded my individuality and revitalized every creative instinct I carried. What began as a temporary abode for my graduate studies grew to be a new home for me.

Deriding my promiscuity and labeling me as a 'Non Returning Indian', an old friend asked me 'What is it about America that anyone going there  does not wish to return?' It was a banal question, one that is asked many times,  but coming from a close friend, it made me think ... "How could I best explain my affection for America?" And I realized, that often times the true reason why U.S. is so loved is rarely within guess of outsiders.

[ Image used under public license - www.wikipedia.org ]

The appeal of America does not lie in any one aspect of its nature, it is the whole experience and what it implies that makes the U.S. hard to leave. It isn't about it's copious wealth, or the carefree attitude towards sex. Neither is it about convenient infrastructure nor about the standard of living it offers. What people truly treasure about America is different for every person and is hardly ever encapsulated in one characteristic.

As for me, The United States has come to represent the only place on earth where you can be genuinely free and accomplish anything you want solely upon your merit. It has come to represent what a fully vibrant democracy looks like. The true allure of America lies in its core ideas. The belief that every citizen is equal and that every person has a birth right to pursue his/her happiness. It is freedom in the real sense of the term. Freedom to choose ones profession, to choose ones religion, freedom to wear what you want, to speak what you want, to love whom you want and to be yourself in every breath of your life. It lies in the honesty and fairness innate to almost every American. The real allure lies in the desire to be good, to be virtuous and to be rewarded for it. It lies in the certainty that your individual freedom is guarded at all costs and in the relish that your life is preciously valued.

It is a great country, it is a beautiful country. Even from a height of 30000 feet, it betrays a linearity of thought that is hard to miss.  It is blessed with a remarkable landscape. Sweeping fields of green and gold that caress the sunshine touching them. Breathtaking mountains and dazzling valleys revealing chaotic fractals of nature's geometry. Vast cities neatly laid out and complex man-made structures complimenting the landscape. Awe-inspiring networks of highways like ever flowing streams of human traffic evincing the nation's foresight. It is a land tended to with love and diligently nursed by its people, people who know they will be loved back. It is a house made into a home.

Day in and day out, it is this endearing warmth that thaws even the most frigid cynicism and makes you hope.  Its immigrant origins make it welcome and embrace you. Its patchwork culture gives it a unique sense of humor and makes you smile. Its belief in itself gives you confidence and becomes your strength. And  sure enough, like a flawed human being, it can sometimes be imperfect, but its heart is in the right place. It is people as people should be, mankind the way it ought to be. It is the one place its founders sought, the one place aspirations still seek. It makes you shun the unneeded and choose only the best to keep. It is an idea. It is a dream.

You can not understand why people love the U.S. if you are blinded by prejudice. Its an answer not to be sought on the floor with your nose to the ground, its an answer to be found in the transcending heights above.  


It is what I'd tell my friend, what I would tell my teacher, if only!!

- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When time does not.


There is pain that cannot be known, except by those who already know it. And it is hard to explain.  The impact is sudden, the initiation abrupt and its presence violent.  Its true nature - shrouded in suffering. And time only heals its symptoms - the venom left for later.

It is a cacophony of screams. And you shut your eyes to blackness, and then it begins...

All of your nightmares and past wounds come alive with malice, and attack at random will without relevance. As you are made to relive every single horror of your past - like you have travelled back in time - like the incidents are happening to you again. Its agony is beyond defiance, and you feel as if you were born and killed and born and killed over and over again. And suddenly you know - what hell feels like.


An experience reserved to be felt only once, you are made to live it again and again. And you begin to recognize what death looks like.  The blackness in your eyes shifts, and you realize it is just too dark a shade of red. It is a red  you have never seen before. 

And you begin to lose track. There is no orientation, no logic, no functionality left untouched, and no sense of time or place, no motive nor purpose, just blinding anguish. You forget hunger, you do not feel awake, you do not feel asleep.  There is no veil between you and your pain, no distance, no shield, no excuse nor escape.

It is a pain that penetrates all defenses. Of ego and pride, of apathy and arrogance, of assurance and confidence and pierces right to the core changing that most scared defining element in you; 'How you look at yourself?' It is a pain that changes your soul.

You are left with a distinct before and after memory of yourself, a person and a constellation of characteristics you can never return to. The recovery is not repairing, it is remaking. And it takes its own time with many failures and little to cheer.

And you realize that some wounds never really heal. That you have to find a way to live with them. It is a pain that cannot be known, except by those who already know it. And it is hard to explain. 

- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Childhood Flights !!

Anyone who is familiar with the story of Mahabharat would recall the 'Warrior Tournament'. After what seemed to be an appropriate training period when Guru Dronacharya thought it was time to test the warriors for their battle skills, he organized an elaborate competition designed to ascertain the best combatant in all of Hastinapur. Karna (the first son of Kunti and an heir of the Sun God himself) was the most superior warrior in all the land, virtually indestructible and naturally gifted with superior skills, he was the assured winner. Except, on the day of the competition the Sun God was veiled in clouds and Karna couldn't get his father's blessings. Frustrated and impatient Karna paced to and fro outside the gates of the arena as the crowds cheered on Arjun and declared him the winner. As the story goes, the Sun God eventually did reveal himself and Karna proceeded to set the record straight.

I could always feel for Karna - and tried to imagine just how hard it must be for him to wallow in the shadows outside, knowing he could dazzle all if only he was given a chance. Of late I have been feeling exactly like he must have, and I have to confess it is no fun.  As most of you would know and agree,  inspiration comes from sources unknown and there is no concrete rationale as to why one piece turns out cohesive and sparkling while another is found lacking. For the past month or so, my heavenly deity and the font of all my inspiration has been veiled in the clouds. For I have not been able to write despite try, and indeed it seemed as though the Gods were unhappy and hesitant in their blessings. Alas! I am glad to report the clouds have passed, the sun is shining and God willing, you should see the color return to my words soon.


***********

It was the October of '92, the school semester had ended and I was enjoying my Diwali vacations. If mangoes were the luring attraction of summer, then fire crackers and kites were the pleasures of Diwali. This vacation was especially important to me, for it was my initiation into some serious kite flying. Every year in the months of September to November, the kids in our neighborhood would switch affection and dote upon kite flying as the favorite sport. The month of September used to be particularly difficult to deal with, for just as I returned home from school every day, the sky would fill up with kites of all sizes and colors and make me go into a frenzy of excitement. However, returning home, homework was the first order of business, all sport and play followed later. In retrospect I think, this strategy was extremely detrimental to learning, as I could never concentrate on the boring study at hand and would constantly dream of kites dancing wonderful acrobatics in the sky right above.


The real world, to me was a far more interesting place to discover things. Filled with the most unpredictable surprises and mysterious dangers - it was clearly a school I was more likely to learn from. The education system at the time though, did not tolerate this line of thought and so, for the most part, I rebelled against anyone trying to impose rules and restrictions upon me. Vacations was the only time when I was truly free to learn what I really wanted to learn. I used to fill my mornings with quixotic experiments and record all my findings in a little lab notebook.

Filled with observations of chaotic rhyme, they are fragrant with humor to this date. 

1) Concave lens used to concentrate sunlight .... did light fire like the textbook stated .... very useful tool ........ to be used to make a gun for He-Man ...... will defeat Piyush's skeletor. Questions: What other rays can the lens concentrate? Is there really a gun with giant glasses?

2) Stolen sulphuric acid .... grade 8 textbook claims to be extremely dangerous ... hence stolen from lab .... causes bad smell when poured on pencil eraser .... to be used only when alone ...... caused annoying burn .... this must be corrosion. Very nice!

Extremely jealous of all hero figures that the books described, I carved elaborate ambitions of deed and fame and carried purest hopes that the scribblings of my little notebook would make history one day.

Afternoons were occupied with kite training. It is a special class of kites that can bear lanterns into the sky. Locally called 'Kandil Patang', they remain my favorite kites. Usually large in size and considerably more difficult to handle, these kites have an ability to bear astonishing weight. Flying them is a coveted skill and I was to learn it this semester break. However, the right to fly a 'Kandil Patang' had to be earned. It started with a bigger boy showing how to select the right kite, and buy the right 'manja' - string to go with it. Then he would proceed to fly the kite and send it as high as possible - I was to be the spool handler, designated to observe and learn. When the kite reached the right height, it was nothing more than a mere speck in the sky. At this point the bigger boy would let go of the string, and command the trainee to care for the kite until sunset.

I soon learned; 'Kandil Patang's' need a lot of altitude to be able to bear paper lanterns. The lower a kite is, the more vulnerable it is to wind shifts and predator attacks from other kites. 'Kandil Patang's', while great for flying lights, make for a poor fighter kite, clumsy and difficult to maneuver, they are often times easy targets. Because of their altitude, the sharp abrasion line usually used in engagement is out of effective range and as such they are extremely vulnerable to low level attacks. To guard from such  a tragedy, we used to usually fly these kites in scathing afternoon heat when no one dared to venture out. Once at the right altitude, the kite was often invisible to its own handler, let alone predators. If deployed properly and diligently cared for, the kite would remain in the sky for days unnoticed, capable of bearing lamps at will. It was the responsibility of the trainee to ensure that the kite remained stable, undetected and safe until sunset.

While initially difficult and a burden, the job of guarding the 'Kandil Patang' did become easier with time. I remember spending endless hours sitting in the nearby shade watching my  little speck in the sky, and willing it to stay quiet and calm. As a sport, I used to spray the terrace floor with wheat grain to attract pigeons. At times the warm lazy midday breeze would bring with it tunes of popular songs of the time, 'Dheere Dheere se...' and Kumar Sanu used to be frequent visitors. A reminder of some restless youth anxious over his girl, unable to sleep with unaccounted lust. And every once in a while, pigeons used to take my bait, and I would get to watch magnificent birds of grey, brown and white. I would take this as a sign of luck and smile happily at my friend above, thinking ..... tonight you will hold 12 lanterns - wait and watch!!!

If a trainee successfully guarded the kite until sunset, he would get 30 minutes with the 'Debonair' magazine that the bigger boys had hidden on the water tank above. Also part of the lure, was the assured promise that successfully deploying 12 lanterns was a sure shot claim to fame and was to make the boy irresistibly popular amongst the women. I was too young to understand that women in fact never cared for; who mastered the 'Kandil Patang'  and for the most part, were completely oblivious. For the moment, I was content to relish myself upon the nude and semi-nude girls of 'Debonair'.

In this school of choice - I was resoundingly the top student. I successfully burnt a small black spot on Piyush's skeletor and thus claimed victory. I mastered the huge kite and marveled at the dancing lights in sky. I learnt many 'Adult' things from the Debonair and came to love the girls. And when Piyush was cheated out of his 'recreational time' with the magazine, I rejoiced in exacting fitting revenge on the bigger boy that had foxed him. Sulphuric acid (although diluted) was put to good use and the elders learnt to respect the potent terrorist element in little ones.

Like the thousand kites of that evening sky, childhood imagination carried the lanterns of my ambitions and took them higher and high. I remember telling my grandma - that one day like the kite, I will go faaaaar and be just a speck, at which she reprimanded in motherly instinct and prayed - I never leave her side.

On some unfortunate nights, one of the candles used to fall in its paper lamp causing it to catch fire and thus break the string. And we had to endure the sadness of watching our beloved kite fly out of sight. Watching the dancing lights disappear used to be one of the hardest sights for a new trainee who had spent hours guarding his kite. Even the big boys used to show a rare glimpse of compassion in such times and assure us, that the kite was safe and that because it was tended with love it would go to a better place and one day be reunited with us again.

Battling the US recession, I often times feel as if a cruel and uncaring wind has snatched my floating lights. And like I did as a child, I sure hope that one day soon, the wind will cede and I will be reunited again. After all dreams are just like Kites, it is their destiny to fly.

- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The lonely road

He walked alone upon the feared road, deserted and discarded,
Toward the forbidden, where the night was black, the day been grey
His footsteps unspeaking, for the sound reached no ear,
His shadow one with the body, 
For even the moon dithered to come near 
The air stagnant except for a wolf's warn
It grew cold, till all warmth was but a memory 
He walked toward hell, he walked to the Satan
He walked without fear, for fear would not stay,
Where hope abandoned
At last he reached his quarry,
In front of him came an abyss


And, into this dark he spoke,
'I come today, to sell my soul

Thus, the Satan was called forth
'Souls are not to be sold, they are fared anew, or taken in a claw, he said
His voice was harsh, though the words, a hiss

'I have made up my mind, and have traveled afar,
Come take my soul, said the man

And so the Satan held his soul, 
'This soul is fair, there is much yet left, why do you wish it to sell?

'I sell, for its cost I can't bear, said the man

'Its not enough to despair,
'Virtue is rare, it is not forfeit at will, replied the Satan


At this the man saddened

'There is a sorrow, tears can't shed
'Some shards of memory, don't lose edge with time
'Few echoes do not fade with distance 
'Such a person sells his virtue, a soul such as mine , cried the man
  
'Even if I wanted to, there isn't a wealth that would buy
'For with every moral inside, suffering is certain
'Go back to the living, and forgive your soul - said the Satan

At this the man smiled, a smile upon his own, the most painful smile
'What use is the good, if it can't even fetch a dime - cried he

'Think not this way, said the Satan
'Pain alone can burnish a soul
'And only the worthy are given the pain
'Such a soul does not fetch a price
'For its value, is beyond any price

And so the man walked again
Back from the dark and into the light 
Upon him, a new wisdom dawned
He made peace with his pain and embraced hope
The one whose soul won't fetch a price
Priceless was his soul!

 - Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Purani Jeans - The Chaos of Engineering.


Its been five years since I graduated from Father Agnels; my Engineering college. Of recently, there have been talks about a reunion, and so it seemed fit that there be an article on our days in Engineering. This post has been a long time coming, but it took a final push from a fellow classmate for me, to overcome my laziness and pen down my thoughts. Its a challenge to write such a piece. Its very easy to write an entire book on the subject, but to be able to condense it all into one post, thats a tricky needle to thread. So here is my attempt, and it is dedicated to the class of '04. I truly hope you like it.



Engineering is a testing experience for every person who graduates from Mumbai University. But I speak of a very specific one when I write about my batch of '04 from Agnels, Vashi. It is easy and indeed very tempting, to narrate the whole experience as horror stories akin to those of Nazi concentration camps. And it is easier to turn the whole thing into a teacher-bashing exercise that my fellow class mates would throughly enjoy. But deep inside, we know, it wouldn't be right. For, not all teachers in my college were bad. And so, I am not going to dwell on that unpleasant topic, except to say this; as I look back now, I have nothing but pure sympathy for the few teachers who relished in torturing us. Surely any person who derives such sadist pleasure in the abuse of power and wrongful punishment of helpless students - must have had a rather traumatic childhood.




My story begins in the fall of 2000. I was as naive and green as the rain soaked trees of sector-9A Vashi. Like most recent 12th pass-outs, I was hyper-excited and nervous that first day approaching my college campus. As I neared the iron gates, I saw a group of students to my left, they were laughing and looked happy, and I relaxed, thinking .... this doesn't seem too bad after all. It turned out those students were in fact not from my college, they were from our neighbor's. The mood inside campus was far less jovial, with gaunt, haggard looking students wearing a perpetual expression of distress. Their fervent glances pleading a silent warning: 'This is not for everyone, leave while you can!!' Call it 'Destiny' but I stuck to the place, and to - what would be - the best and the worst times of my student life!


Once the course has started, and the formalities done, you quickly begin to realize, you are in this on your own, the only friendly people you have in the world - are your class mates. And it fosters an intense, duty-bound sense of loyalty and friendship, one that is unique to the stream of Engineering. In just one month, you learn the unwritten survival law, that says, "You may not like your class mates personally, but you WILL help them in every way you can!" There are very few people you can relate to, once your training has started, your friends from before wonder, where is it that you go to - to come back so exhausted, and your parents do not recognize the frustrated individual returning home.


As far as I was concerned, the campus was to be my home. It was my social life, it was my academic, it was the place to study and it was the place for fun. In the middle of our chaos, I found a harmony. It was here that I learnt how to speak in front of a crowd and not flinch. It was here that I leant, how to prioritize and make decisions real-time. It was here, that I laid the foundational concepts of my career. It was here, that I learned to endure stress beyond my limits. And it was in this period that I enjoyed my most untroubled sleep.


There is a distinct quality to Engineers; given any situation, they immediately come to realize what is doable and what is not, they make calls without second guess and they handle events as the situation unfolds. It comes to them naturally. Any person can evaluate and take practical measures, except, Engineers do not feel guilty about the compromises they make. It instills a defiant confidence that remains with you for the rest of your life. And, it has saved me many many times.


At a research meeting, when my professor wanted a paper completed - he gathered my lab mates for a meeting and asked "How much time do you guys need?" My American counterparts answered - two weeks, I simply asked "When is it due??" I did not know how much time would I need, but it was the Agnel-instilled confidence that said - It doesn't matter how much time you need - All that matters is how much time you have!






It is hard to encapsulate the essence of my college and the experience I had, mainly because it doesn't lie in academic transcripts or the courses I studied. It doesn't lie in the concepts I absorbed or the ones I didn't. It is amorphous yet potent. It lies in endless cups of hot coffee over the front steps. It lies in the jokes we wrote and the chits we passed - while we sat day-dreaming and distracted in classes of theory. It lies in the time we spent sitting on stairs, 'bird-watching'. It lies in the distinct sound of that dot-matrix printer on the first floor, which was to us, nothing short of beautiful music. It lies in the intoxicating smell of kerosene and xerox copies. It lies in the suffocating air of notes-littered hallways, as we waited our turn for a viva. It lies in the euphoria of watching all required signatures on our submission sheet. It lies in painful aches and cuts from the workshop of first year - to the carpal tunnel from excessive coding. It lies in our convoluted sense of humor and in our tacit arrogance screaming ... "Yes, we did!"


It is the sum of all parts, greater than the entirety.


It is in the enduring qualities I learnt from my class mates. Every single one of whom - taught me something. They were my team, and I was theirs. Our victories were sweeter because we rejoiced together and our sorrows less painful because we suffered together. They were the support and they were the hope, they were the gems and they were the jewels. They formed the identity of my class, and in some way will always remain a part of me.


The class of '04 and the paragons of my memories! With a salute to all, I offer you these. Come, share a glimpse of my class room, the people who formed me....


Some are not so obvious, they are the silent geniuses like Unmesh Kulkarni.

Some are tall, athletic and capable like Sushant Kadam.

Some are whimsical, albeit pervert in their brilliance, like our very own Ajit.

Some are beautiful, compassionate, generous and have it all, like the beloved Sushma.

Some are the heart of a crowd wherever they go, unmistakably Manavi.

Some are fiery and feisty in everything they did, like Roshan and Nadeem.

Some are flamboyant and larger than life, like Maulik.

Some wont say a lot, but perform proudly, like Amol Gawli.

Some are painfully virtuous, like Tushar.

Some have kept me company and made me smile, Pritam and Priyata.

Some are always up to something, like Sandeep Kaul.

Some you just can't miss, like Divya and Richa.

Some are incredibly talented, like Kripa.

Some are touchingly simple, like Apoorva and Harshada.

And some, will give you a run for your money, like Pankaj.


That is Engineering, these are the people, the paragons of my memories and the best parts of me!


- 100026 (Sanket)


- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How Long ?

How long will winter last for the young seed
As it dies alive, its spring denied

How long will the storm rage for the bird on edge
Waiting, for its wings to fly

How long should the capers halt before they lose step
As the child grows up and the boy dies

How long should the strings bear stretch
Their tunes mute, craving a master's hand

How long do the corks stay shut, as the wine waits
For a celebration to come by

How long should the secrets search a ear
Before they lose scent, And their mystery spoils

How long do the eyes fight sleep, their lust longing a touch
And desire succumbs to its own cries

How long do the lips hold shut, And silence the screams
Before they forget how to smile

How long should a heart seek love
Before it fills itself with ungiving sand

How long will the winter last, for the frosted seed
Why was its spring denied ??

- Sanket






Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The First Journey Home

A close friend of mine left for India today. Its his first trip since he came as a student into the United States, and it has taken him three years. It reminded me of my own, first journey home, and so this post is written as a dedication to my friend, and in the hope of capturing that magic which grips and enthralls the international student upon his virgin flight home.

[Image used in accordance to Terms and Conditions per www.maharashtra.gov.in]

The first voyage, is, in every possible way, a surreal experience and for the most part while its happening, you feel as though you are some place else. The reality is so intense that initially your mind refuses to accept it. Superstitions arise where logic ruled before - and you begin to wonder, Is it possible to ruin your happiness just by thinking about it ? Are you really tempting fate?? This is especially true if you haven't gone home for more than two years and if you have never stayed away from home before. There is a price you pay - when you leave to pursue a career abroad, a sacrifice you make. And its enormity cannot and is not, initially comprehended.


The moment you land, you realize that you have left everyone you knew, you are thousands of miles away, that even a simple phone call has suddenly become complicated. That you are in a continent whose culture and customs, smells and tastes, cost and currency, weather and warmth, and even time is as different from your home as it possibly can be. As you stand at the revolving carousel, hoping your luggage isn't lost, it dawns upon you - that against all instinct, you really did pack your life into suitcases and left the familiar - and you begin to seriously question your sanity. A sickening anxiety starts to grow in you, its shape: undefined, its origins: unknown and its length: uncertain.

After wonders of the first-world have worn off their fascination, after the charm of novelty has become stale in growing stress, the reality of your world sinks into your bones and its parameters stabilize. As you become busy with studies and are sheared beyond normal, as you juggle between a job and academics, between expense and incessant search for fund, you become pragmatic about your ability and even the thoughts of your country become too expensive to afford.

There is a price you pay, a sacrifice you make, and its magnitude cannot be read - at the time you make it.

Only after you have spent days and months and years in longing - Only after you have budgeted your phone calls and timed your cravings - Only after you have post dated your tears and hung by a memory, do you come to understand what was asked of you. You do know beforehand, that you are going to miss home. But you do not know that you will miss your best friend's wedding, or your sister's birthdays, movies and music releases or new trains and roadways. You do not conceive that the place you were born and raised in - will move on without you. That the mangoes of summer would bloom and crackers of Diwali would sound - with or without you.

And on some days, some horrible days, news comes that your city was bombed. That Mumbai is on fire, and you can not be there to help. That your loved ones, friends and family, the places you are from, rock, stone and buildings are left vulnerable - and there is nothing you have done, nor can you do, to protect them. How can someone deprive you of the right to defend everything you love and are made of ?? And you realize that - that someone is you - and you marvel at your selfishness and loathe every breath you undeservingly take. You realize you can drown without water and be suffocated even as you live.

But adversity builds character and sacrifice renders reward - and this does hold true, on some magical evening the forces of nature submit, and circumstances relent. The constellations in the sky are aligned just right, and you find that the miracle of miracles, you actually have enough savings to buy a ticket home. And so you make the purchase, eager yet defiant, and you count. Count the months and moments, the nights and minutes and days after painful days and everything inbetween. And you cross your calendar, you cross your fingers, you find a friend - and cross his fingers - and you wait.

And so I did, and I waited on the flight home, willing it to fly faster, land earlier and travel safer than it was supposed to. And on a December night, I heard the most melodious voice - that my plane was going to land. And I fastened my seat belt and pressed my face to the window, and on my cue, the clouds parted to reveal my India beneath - magnificent and majestic. And in that hour of the night, I beheld my city like the lover who turns to bride and through the moist of my eyes I saw those shimmering lights and braced my heart - for the Mumbai I missed, every single night. I surrendered tear after saved tear - and with the friction of those tires on home soil, I earned that - which was rightfully mine.

Home sweet home, you can travel the farthest corners and revel in riches beyond, yet there is no place - absolutely no place that can compare to your home. The first journey back - its special - its magical - its beautiful and its spectacular. It is worthy of the price you paid - of the sacrifice you made. It is afterall home sweet home.
- Sanket



Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Paper Boat Little

As a little kid, I never studied in school. I hated tests and exams and never scored. In fact, whenever I used to get a graded test back, I would neatly fold the papers into quarters and twist the corners to make a paper boat! We loved our boats. You could throw away a dozen paper planes with no care nor worry, but a boat had to be watched and helped and nurtured for it to sail the distance.


[Image credit - http://moonmaid.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/paper-boat.jpg ]



Call it a sign from above, but the lower I scored on a test, the better of a boat it would make. For the most part, out of sheer compassion, I never told my parents and teachers where and how did I lose my test scores. My partner in crime, 'Bunty' - the ideal student boy next door, never uttered a word either. We thought it was better this way ...


Within the limited confines of our society compound, was a shallow canal made to drive rain water out of the premises. At the end of the canal, the water went into an underground drain and we never knew what happened of it. Bunty had heard from the old watchman that it all went to the sea. And thats what I believed in, one never questioned the old watchman.


During the months of monsoon, I came home only on weekends, and Bunty and I would beg, borrow and steal all the umbrellas from our homes and neighbors, open them up in my living room and cover them all with bed sheets. This would be our make shift tent. Under the tent is where we dwelled, every once in a while we would surface to civilization and ask my mother for more food. It was a good system and we stuck to it. Occasionally when a neighbor had to venture outside, he would find his umbrella missing and come knocking straight to my house. These were troublesome times, as our neighbors umbrella could very well be in the very middle of our tent establishment, returning it would mean a whole lot of trouble, so we would take out an umbrella from the fringe and ask the uncle to exchange it later.


Every so often, when we were busy enacting our adventures under the tent, we would hear loud thunder and rain drops on tin roofs. And I would grab Bunty's arm and say ... " Suuussh, Listen!! " And as soon as Bunty would hear the rain, his eyes would lit up, and we knew fun times lay ahead. And up the tent would go, sheets pushed apart and we would scramble away out the door! Often times without bothering to wear shoes. We would rush into Bunty's room, grab some old papers, and my test results and run to the water canal. We would take turns to shelter the paper while the other made a boat, and on the count of three set our boats lose in the running water.


As the boats took off, we would follow them eagerly around the building - till they reached the drain grill, the boat to touch the grill first, won. It was simple, it was fair, and it was the most fun I remember. As our skill at boat making grew we got more creative with our canal, and place tree branches and bricks in the canal to make it interesting for our boats to navigate around. When we ran out of things to put in, we used our watchman's shoes! On one occasion, our watchman came in to work wearing rubber flip flops, as we tried to set up our obstacle course, to our delight, the slipper itself went floating all the way to drain grill. Knowing we couldn't use the flip flops for our course, we promptly returned them to the watchman - "These are no good, but your chappal won the competition today!" We offered our sympathies as best as we could. Needless to say, the watchman wasn't impressed.


On one such fun routine, as we set our boats to sail and ran around the building compound, we were particularly thrilled, this was going to be a close race, usually one of our boats used to get stuck on the obstacles, but today, luck seemed to be on our side and both our boats were clearing the hurdles - ever so gracefully. The rain was picking up, too much rain and it could flood the boat and it would never float again. There was only a limited window for our race to take place. As we rounded the last corner - running excitedly towards the finish line, I was positive, my boat would have no trouble clearing the last obstacle. I was right, my boat sailed through, Bunty's got stuck. And as we headed for the finish line, I relaxed and beamed up at Bunty with pride, as if to say .... "Hail the victorious!" Though when I looked, I saw panic in Bunty's eyes, "The drain! The drain isn't covered!! "


I immediately jumped to the ground, clawing in a last ditch effort to save my winner boat, but alas! It was too late, the boat had sailed through into the mysterious drain. As the realization hit me, I looked up at Bunty with moist eyes, "Where does this drain go! Come we might still be able to save the boat"


We did not know where the drain went, we had tried before. But Bunty being the gentleman he was, still followed me outside the building and across the street, to see where the canal might be connected. To our expected dismay we only found one open groove in the ground, this one filled with ugly drain water. Surely our canal did not socialize with such filthy structures. Dejected, with a head hanging low, I returned to the building.


"Don't worry", Bunty said patting my shoulder, "Your boat was brave, I am sure it will find the sea."

"I hope it does." I said, "My paper boat little!!"


"How much did you score on that test ?? "

"7/10 " I answered.

"You really aren't meant to study and score, its unlucky for you!" Bunty concluded.


*******


Often times, when it rains heavy enough, and forms rivers on the road, I am reminded of that day, and of that boat. Shortly after that incident, I lost touch with Bunty, his family moved out of our building. As the wet sprays of water drops hit my face, and the scent of moist soil fills the air, I remember our little game.


There is an innocence to childhood that does not breathe without honesty. No matter what the facts, as kids we had unquestionable faith in what was told. Perhaps its the part of childhood I miss the most.


Come to think of it, aren't all of our lives little paper boats. Fragile - with a ticking life span. Like the canal course, we do not know what hurdle our boat is going to encounter, nor what will come of it when it does. As dejected as I may be at times, I convince myself, I will find the sea. Bunty says so. And Bunty got it from the watchman, you don't question the watchman.


Made of paper, pretty and thin, floating away always, a branch and a spin. See my paper boat ... My paper boat little!!


- Sanket


Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, May 17, 2009

KARMA ROCKS!!

I have an affinity toward trouble. In that if I do not get into trouble, trouble finds me ! And in a recent spot of trouble I had to accept help from friends. Be it a place to stay or an airport pick up - I had to rely on friends to get things done. What I found, truly surprised me. Assuming the negative, I was pleasantly proven wrong when my friends insisted upon bestowing me favor after favor. And when I resisted, saying I really could not accept - a friend simply said - "Its what you would do for me". At that, I rested my case, caved in and accepted their generosity - ever so gratefully.

It led me to believe that my good 'Karma' was actually coming to rescue. I am a science person, firmly grounded and rooted in the annals of logic, thus an abstract concept like 'Karma' - remained a purely theoretical idea for me. Until, as I mentioned, I was rescued and was forced to concede the possibility that there might be something more to it. Hence my attempt to encapsulate Karma into a logical albeit flawed theory - and thus this post.


I believe a person's 'Karma' begins the minute he starts to take conscious decisions. Given the ethics of each situation and a person's awareness of them, each action leads to good or bad 'Karma'. Sooner or later, people start to associate you with your choice of actions and what they mean. Call it a 'character-score' (c-score) if you will. Like a credit score that tells how financially reliable a person is, the 'c-score' reflects how trustworthy he is. If you keep a promise made to a friend, that friend bolsters your 'c-score'. If you lie/cheat on a person, your c-score is lowered.

Try to visualize your friends, as you see each face, you will realize you already have an established label to go along with it - trusty, selfish, arrogant, supportive ... etc We may not actually quantify what we think about a person, but we can certainly tell if we trust a person or not. When you go to a bank and ask for a loan, the bank looks at your credit score to determine - what are the chances you will pay back? Similarly, when you approach a friend and ask for a favor, the person intrinsically asks, what are the chances you will repay the favor? If your c-score is good, chances are, more friends will do you favors when you need them. Hence the immediate effects of good Karma.

However, I believe 'Karma' in fact does influence more than how your immediate friends respond. In fact one can safely say, Karma influences your chances of success in almost everything you undertake. Barring the essential ingredients of success: hard work, discipline and dedication, when all factors are accounted for and success hinges on pure luck, it is Karma that affects the outcome. Acting acts as your guardian angel - it knows how good you are as a person, and how much do you really deserve success. When all logical reasons are exhausted, it is Karma that bends the arch of opportunity and gifts you happiness.

Skeptics may find this explanation lacking in proof. I offer no proof, just a theory. Every so often, the outcome we hope for, depends on factors we do not control. It may depend on the whim of a person we do not know, who has the deciding power to grant or deny you. I felt this way when I was nearing the end of my Visa interview. There is no way of telling which way the pieces are going to fall and if you will get what you want. Yet, if you have good 'Karma' - the pieces just might trickle down in the order you are pining for.

Consider for a moment, the entire living human population. You make friends, your friends make friends and so on. Thus, a stranger you meet, might be a stranger to you, in that you haven't personally interacted with this individual yet, but you can rest assured that you have touched this person through a chain/network of people you have built. Like they say, we are all connected to each other. A cliche, more veritable today than one might have thought in the past. Thus when you build good Karma - i.e. behave ethically when there is no immediate gain for you, you influence a whole network of people positively. It might take years and decades to reach back to you. And thus the anonymous old woman I helped cross the road years ago, might trickle down a positive influence that led my Visa officer to grant me my dream. 'Karma', often has latent effects.

Yet, in all fairness, this explanation is a long shot from what one might call 'complete'. Is it ever possible to completely capture the reasons of every bad/good thing happened to you? I think not. May be - we will never know - if our Karma patted us on the back, or bit us in the ass. Still it simply makes sense, to be on the good side of Karma.

It is the all important one percent after you have put in your 99 cents of hard work. A self accurate system of cause and effect - which decides if its your turn or not. At the end of the line, you have to account for everything you have done. Some say, if Karma does not catch up to you in this life time, it will surely do so in the next. Who can wisely contemplate on what happens after death? Is it Karma that decides if we go to heaven or hell? I do not know, and I am certainly not going to die just to find out.

For what its worth, I might add, being a good guy really really sucks, you don't have the luxury to make your choices on what's convenient for you - but rather have to base your choice on what's right - which more often than not - is a harder path to choose. Yet, if you do, and if you believe you have built good Karma, I think it really does come to rescue when you need it the most.

In a roof over my head as shelter against a cruel night, in the warm smile of a friend when I was spent and fortune had turned aside. I have felt the existence of my guardian angel. In that moment when I had closed my eyes, and despite disbelief in prayer, prayed so hard - God please please please, just this one time. I have felt life soften in a dimple and seen Karma, save my Life.

- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Friday, May 08, 2009

Beauty

Its amorphous, its abstract, its simple and yet not
It lies in the eyes of the beholder, some say ...
What is Beauty? Who can define ??


In the strange delusions of my mind,
I seek the answers, one step forward and two steps back
I find the answers, or just call them that


And I see Beauty,
In soft sounds of waterfalls,
When water hits itself
From just the right height
Its innocent clarity, powerful and fragile

Or in the muddled light from clouds
Grey and cool, before a rain
Neither evening nor night or day
Just clouds making their way
Yet claiming a piece of time
Making it their own, distinct and aloof
I see Beauty, in clouds of grey

And sometimes it springs, so hard to miss
I seek and find Beauty
In sunlight upon lips of red
Or the scent of wind caressing a waist

As a lover so often can
Walk across a room in flowing grace
And in a moment , the thousand thoughts of your mind
She can make you forget.

When I am sad, it does go away
Yet always comes back like a good friend
In derivations of math, or in notes of music
In the warmth of a touch, Or the wet of a kiss

What is Beauty? Who can define??
No one can tell, Yet its yours to find
If you keep an eye.

- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Whispers in the dark ..

Oh Sleep, O dear Sleep
‘Tis been a while, I last heard you talk
I know what happened, I know it’s hard
Dreams lost color, Dreams went mute
My heart longs to hear again
Your whispers in the dark

Oh Sleep, O dear Sleep
So bitter, So sweet
You have been a friend for long
You have heard the screams
The Nightmares, And seen it all

O Sleep so bitter sweet
Do you remember me?
The little boy you cared for
And the sweet lies you told me
I never let know, I knew
I knew they were lies, the truth concealed

Oh Sleep O dear Sleep
Don’t get me wrong,
Would you rather have me pretend
That you never lied
Tell the sheets, I never cried
Truth hurt the day enough
Lest my nights be spared
I needed your lies

Oh Sleep, My dear Sleep
Remember me
I am a Man now, It’s ok
We know it was thrust upon
A rude harsh day without morn
Such a cold winter without the fall

My dear Sleep
Long have you cared me
‘Tis time I repay now
I fell in love and relinquished you
I’m not na├»ve now
The guard is set and the resolve strong

O Sleep so bitter sweet
Do you believe in God?
Run along and tell him
I call him a myth
With no use nor excuse
I am now my own God

My dearest Sleep
‘Tis the price I pay for a good heart
The bad ones go to hell they say
Why all the worry, Why all the bother
The good ones are punished alive
Enough is Enough

O Sleep, Hear me well
By Heart, Nerve and Sinew
I will bend this Destiny to my Will
And take what is rightfully mine
I deny the Fate, neither aid nor abide

O Sleep, Don’t be alarmed
That my words lose rhyme
Rhythm has many paths
Some walk on built ones
I just choose to build mine

O Sleep, My Dear Sleep
‘Tis been a while, I last heard you talk
Lets hear them again...
Your whispers in the dark

- Sanket

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Monograph on Driving!!

When I was learning to drive - a friend told me - "Touch the car as you would touch a woman - You will never drive bad!!" Its a piece of advice that I have gingerly treasured. Indeed I have found that when you keep this in mind, your driving becomes a whole lot smoother.

Unfortunately I lost touch with driving after that - and for almost two years did not drive again. Eventually when I got my own car - I had lost the finesse I was once taught. Yet, slowly and surely as I got to know my machine better, the old lessons returned. I had a particularly pleasurable drive today - and I thought of sharing my lessons - hence this post.


First the basics. This has to be your own car, does not have to be a spanking shining BMW, it can be an old honda accord - doesn't make a difference, but the car has to be yours, in that if you damage the car, you should have to pay from your own pocket. I have found, with this monetary connection comes unswerving loyalty and love. Next you need to find a route that you would enjoy driving. This can be an interstate or a country road - through a desert or through hills. I personally prefer canyons and would strongly suggest country roads. The lesser the traffic, the lonelier the road - the better are your chances of a real connection with the surroundings and your car. Next find a playlist of your most favorite songs that will complement your mood for the evening. Those are the basics, after that you just need to find a good 3 hours of time to enjoy your drive.

Pre Drive:- At (t-30 mins) do take your car to a car wash and give it a thorough rinse. Please make sure your car is as clean as it can be. Then take your clean car to the starting point of your chosen route and park on the curb. Ensure that you have selected your opening song - turn the volume of your audio system to a minimum mute and start your car. Apart from the guidance with the steering wheel, driving quality is mostly determined by how well you can control the pressure on your accelerator and brakes - so pay close attention to this aspect. Ensure that your seat is at the right height and position. Once this is done, I prefer to rest my right leg on at least two spots. One with my knee against the mid column and another with my heel on the floor of the car. You should be able to hold your foot parallel, slightly touching the accelerator once you have found the heel spot. This may take a little experimentation because everyones height is different - but with a few lateral trials, you should be able to get your car to this setting.

Next comes control over your motor nerves. For you to be able to precisely control pressure, you need your nerves to respond to exacting instructions from your brain - this state is better accomplished if you are relatively stress free and relaxed before you drive. Some breathing techniques might help - but the idea is to be able to control the accelerator and the brake to extremely micro alterations. So do whatever it is you need to do to enable that.

Once you have gotten into your sweet spot and your heel is comfortable, it is time to tune your hearing, there is a reason why I asked the volume to be muted on the audio system. You have to caress your accelerator and learn to identify the engine sound of your car. This is a highly personal attribute, in that very few people other than yourself would be able to communicate with your car via sound. A car's engine sound is your car talking to you - if there is anything wrong - thats what your car is going to use to tell you - so learn to LISTEN to your car.

Ensure that you are in park mode and rev up the engine. You should be able to identify your car's normal heart rate and also its EHR. If you have the cranial room, do pay attention to the various pitches and corresponding RPMs of your car. This will enable you to judge a gear shift or a brake call without actually having to distract yourself from the surroundings. After sufficient practice, this usually gets embedded in your muscle memory and you will be making changes without ever having to think about it. If you are really a perfectionist - test yourself by closing your eyes, listening to the engine and guessing the RPM. I haven't done this - but I know when my car is hitting red without looking.
When this exercise is done correctly, it establishes a supreme communication medium with your car. You can take pride in knowing that when it comes to your car - no one knows it better than you.

When a car is used by one person consistently, it adapts to that person's driving habits. No - this is no technology feature, it is basic mechanics. A person's wheel pressure, lock assurance check force, door checks, mirror and seat handling and in general driving style determine how every moving part of the car will wear and tear - this wear and tear is different for every car and every handler. It determines the health of your car over a long term and it also determines what mileage you can get off a full tank. So, it pays to treat your car well.

Ok, by now you have got to be aching to go. Open your eyes, adjust the windows, the sun roof, check your mirrors and ease the car onto the road.

There is a misconception that I want to address here. Many people think a guy's machismo is determined by how fast he can drive - this is utter bullshit. If you are a believer of this - you are on the wrong page and what I am saying here can not be comprehended by you. I define machismo by how precisely you can control your car - and how quickly can you understand subtle hints. So when you start on your road, do take due notice of the speed limit. A speed limit is no random number, if a road shows a certain speed limit - please be assured there is sound logic and science behind that number. Although you may not be aware of this - A group of engineers had to go through road drawings - determine the curvature of the road, the angle of elevation and determine a critical centrifugal velocity at which your car would be thrown tangential. Those engineers have been kind enough to include a safety buffer and that is how the number on the speed board is arrived at. Not paying attention to this fine piece of engineering is not only physically dangerous and mentally retarded, it is also an insult of pure aesthetics.

Having said that driving below or at the speed limit just because the board says so is equally lame. You need to practice a route to understand how fast you can take a curve - in addition to which you need to account for local law enforcement tolerance and arrive at your own comfort margin. I usually drive 5 miles above the speed limit. It is within engineering safety margins and also within cop endurance levels - in addition if pulled over you can always explain it away as human error. I hate when my deliberate, artistically cognitive derived speed has to labeled 'Human Error' - but trust me it works!!

Alright - so at this point, your car is clean, your tank is full, you are in the right frame of mind - your girl friend is back home - the windows and roof are in sync with the wind - and you are driving at a beautiful speed and you are on your favorite route. But wait - things are about to get better!!

Do take a moment to listen to your engine - if you find five minutes of consistent pattern, you can safely place this sound in the background - please bear in mind that you have to factor in the wind noise ( I am assuming you are driving on a lonely road ) - with that - you can switch on the song and bring up the volume. Again - the volume of a song is direct function of its genre, intent, lyrics and equalizer settings - do not be the stupid brawn that just blears out music. Learn to enjoy the notes - someone spent a lifetime perfecting voice and instrument for you to listen to what you are listening.

All that and more ... when done correctly, driving can be a most sensuous expression of independence and can become a rewarding celebration of ones success.

Zoom Zoom .....

- Sanket
(Quote credit: Sachin Deokar. cc Creative common license - Sanket Korgaonkar 2009 - All rights reserved)

Read More...

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Homosexuality...

I have a confession to make. I am a former homophobic. Being born and raised in India in a conservative family, homosexuality was a concept that I learned in theory - and quite late in the day at that. Considering the concept purely theoretical, I never really worried about it. That is until I stepped into the United States. Public affection, open talk, gay, lesbian, bisexuals - I was exposed - full on - to a world and a reality that most Indians prefer to sweep under the carpet. Being a straight guy, I had no qualms with two women kissing, but the idea of two men kissing - Eeeeww!! Well - it still makes me avert.

And for the first time in my life - I was biased against something without rationality. The reality of watching two same sex people make out in public was too much for me to digest - and I labeled all homosexuals - 'Weird'. It was one of the rarer occasions when I had decided to circumvent than confront.

There is a lovely tradition at Utah State University. On a pedestal in front of the main campus building - couples gather every once in a while - and under a full moon kiss each other to be pronounced 'Aggies' - or certified - Utah State material. It was here that I actually saw two guys kiss through out the entire length - in part because the whole crowd was cheering madly and in part because I was intrigued. I let go of the weirdness for a moment and tried to analyze what I was seeing - and well - I have to admit - there was no doubt and no mistake - this was a genuine, passionate kiss. And - I - for the life of me - could not understand - 'How can the same sex - evoke such strong and true emotions???' And so I decided to turn around and confront my beliefs.

I became friends with a girl who was openly lesbian. And slowly but surely, I started to dismantle my prejudice asking - what I am sure must have felt like - childish questions. What I learned completely changed my attitude. Other than the fact that they are attracted to the same sex, in every other way - these people were exactly the same. They were equally crazy and vulnerable in love. A break up hurt just as much if not more. They fought over the same issues - They hated Bush. Yep! They were perfectly normal people!! And I have to admit, I felt quite stupid for being so pig-headed about the whole issue.

The flash point for me, however, came when my friend missed work for a few days - I asked around and found out - that her partner was in an accident and that she had been working different hours. Shortly after, I went to see her. She was torn in concern and sheared by stress. Having to take care of her partner and keep up with daily duties, she was exhausted - every single day. And thats when I truly understood the real deal. That love TRULY - does not accept nor abides by any rules. Oh! And it is a beaaautiful thing. The world would be a poorer place if the nature of love was any different.

When we got to talking, she showed me a bunch of hate mail that she had been receiving since she spoke at a Gay/Lesbian function. I read the mail - This guy hated her!! I mean - plain and simple - hated her!! This guy - had probably never met her - or talked to her - and here he was - hating her!! I felt like asking this guy a few abrupt questions - "Do you even know this girl?? How can you hate her??? She is the sweetest thing I have ever met. How can anyone hate her???" And I felt so uncontrollably mad with anger that I totally forgot for a second - that may be a year back - I wouldn't have seen anything wrong with this guy's letter. The realization ashamed me.

And so I decided to write. If anyone reading this article hates homosexuals - or thinks they are weird. Folks please! I completely respect your opinion. But do me a favor - take the time to understand the other point of view - and then decide - if you still hold to your opinion - well thats your choice (And you are a pig - by the way )

They love the same - they care the same - their interpretations and expectations of loyalty are the same - they can lust for a body just as much - they are different only in the way the rest of the world treats them.

There is something to be said about the tendency of human behavior to acquire prejudices when confronted against the norm. Too often than not I have found the core debate over opinions shrouded by religious beliefs and unsubstantiated dogma. Too often have I found people forgetting our very origins. Man evolved through dwelling the caves - and we came out and discovered fire - we invented the wheel and learnt to move - we deciphered the weather and mastered agriculture. In deed Man's existence and definition are inseparably tied to Scientific progress.

Science evolved out of necessity. And religion evolved as a means to control. A tool for common harmony - so that Science can move forward without hinder. Too often have we come to block Science by holding on to religion. Homosexuality when looked at - from a pure scientific view - is as normal as a child being left handed - it is observed in tons of animals other than humans.

In the last century - we have split the atom and spliced the gene. Surely we can come up enough reasoning to understand and embrace homosexuality. Aand sooner rather than later - learn to live in our planet in consideration of all that lives.

I have observed - laws of nature have a reason of their own. It is not our place to deem wrong - what we do not yet understand. No great person ever invented true discoveries on the arrogant pretense that we understand Nature completely. So let us not forget our fundamentals. And if we can not sufficiently qualify to define nature/love - we are certainly not qualified to ill-define it.

So heres an apology and a toast to all homosexuals. May you find it in your hearts to forgive and may you continue spread love - for now more than ever - we all need it. ROCK ON!!

- Sanket

P:S:: Forgive any generalizations folks!! I was just driving home a point.

(cc Creative common license - Sanket Korgaonkar 2009 - All rights reserved)

Read More...

Bookmark and Share