Memories

I thought I saw you yesterday, for an instant, out on the street.  That familiar face in a sea of strangers. And for a few fleeting moments, life was perfect again.

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You were still here, with your crazy ideas and silly jokes, impishly navigating your way out when you knew you were in trouble. Because, let’s face it, no one could stay mad at you for long. That old, now unfamiliar feeling of happiness and warmth, that was your gift to the world. Making everyone in your life feel special, and heard, and perhaps, most important of all, feel loved and accepted.

When I reflect on my life so far and everything I’m grateful for, you are always the first thing on my mind.  We could spend hours together talking or in silence, and still walk away with a lighter heart. You taught me that life is about the simple things, and to take a day at a time. Having a five year plan was well and good, but you are a constant reminder to live in the moment. There really isn’t any point in planning a future if you can’t live in the present.

You aren’t here anymore, and that sucks. You were the best part of me, you still are, but you couldn’t stick around anymore. That hurt more than I thought I could handle, and it’s taken years to accept it. People keep saying that I’ll get over it eventually, but I don’t think I will. I don’t want to. Because even on my darkest days, you make me smile. Just the thought of what you would say makes everything else so insignificant. Maybe it is selfish of me to hold on to the memory of you, but memories are all that I was left with,  when our future together was stolen.

I’m back on that street again looking, but I know it’s not you, just a stranger with a passing resemblance. You were gone a long time ago and I know I won’t see you again. We can all have irrational thoughts sometimes, and wonder, what if. Because for just a few moments, it feels good to know that my world hasn’t crashed all around, and you’re still here with me.

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Yesterday.

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Yesterday was a good day. Not phenomenal, not amazing , not boring. Just a good day. A nice walk through the city experimenting with the manual setting on my ridiculously overpriced and thoroughly underused camera, allowed my mind to wander around and drag my attention to a quite a few essential facts of my life.

I was genuinely surprised with how content I was with my life at that exact moment. Growing up as an actively stressed over-achiever(or at least that’s what I thought), the only constant in my life was the next big thing. The next test, the next assignment, the next competition. My behavior could quite possibly draw parallels with that of a addict waiting for his next fix. In my case, it was probably the adrenaline surge when you’re backed up against the wall and last minute panic is what you need to get you through. The pitiful thing though, is that once I got to whatever it was that I wanted, it lost its appeal and I would be left disenchanted till I got something new to focus on. A lot of it may just have to do with the mindset that is drilled into us at a very young age. The relentless focus on academics which prioritise studying and rote over learning, suppressing natural human curiosity.

Going back to my city stroll, I found myself on a bridge observing two young children, siblings, pointing out landmarks in amazement to their parents. Which took me back quite a few years, to when I’d have a sack full of questions for my parents, everytime some new discovery caught my attention. And a mental montage of the events that got me to where I am today. I always had a plan, but it looked nothing like what happened. If someone were to predict the future ten years ago and tell me what my life would look like, I’d certainly have a massive panic attack. In hindsight, I have to admit, things happened at just the right moment to help me grow and learn and adapt.

I still have goals,  but they’re more flexible now. Every once in a while, I remind myself to take some time off and appreciate what I have. I don’t quite agree with the “Count your blessings” scenario because your “blessings”  are the consequences, good or bad, of the sum of your actions. Sure I could have a more money and a job I can be more passionate about, but that is an ideal world. And an ideal world is boring. Imperfections is what makes life so alluring, and stops us going over the edge. Coming from someone who likes being a perfectionist, that’s quite some compromising on my part.

So maybe I don’t really need to be a top dog to be happy. On most days, curling up to read a good book with a cup of tea is more than enough. I doubt having a lucrative career could give me the same sense of contentment as a walk in the park on a sunny day, or snuggling under a blanket listening to the rain. Happiness, as I’m now beginning to see, is found in the simplest of things. Which is possibly why the rich are usually so poor when it comes to time and contentment.

 

Passing through…

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Cemeteries. Graveyards,  Burial grounds, Memorials, Gardens of Remembrance.

Words that affect people in different ways. And I don’t think I’m the only person on the planet who likes walking through a graveyard. I love the silence, the serenity that comes from a place where (I hope) people are truly at peace. Every Tombstone stands as a testament to a life, sometimes lives lived. Entire generations, who probably never met whilst on their sojourn on this plane of existence, have a final rendezvous.

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There’s a rather large historical cemetery quite near where I live. And it’s one of my favourite places for an afternoon walk, or as of last weekend for a photo op. The weather gods determined it was fit to allow a few hours of blissful sunlight after weeks of cranky, mouldy weather, so I grabbed my camera and sauntered off to explore a part of the cemetery I hadn’t been to before.

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There’s a quaint charm to an old graveyard. You’ve got the newer sections that are relatively well maintained, parts where you have sinking headstones and cracked family vaults. And as you walk along reading names, dates and epitaphs, you could just about visualise what their lives were like. The people they loved, and left behind. Memorials to fallen soldiers, beloved aunts, the women who served during the blitz, the children who were snatched by the reaper long before their time was up.

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A sane person would tell me I should be upset that life is brief. And yet, walking through the tombstones makes me feel more alive than ever. Because all around, I see a celebration of life. Of people cherished and remembered with fondness, with families ensuring their names last long after they’re gone and long after the grandchildren stop visiting. The brevity of our existence is a reminder to cherish and celebrate every second we get. We all live on borrowed time, and if we were to be told just how much time we have left, we’d do a much better job at planning it. But that’s the catch isn’t it? No one knows the magic number. And that perhaps, is for the best.

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When I Think Of Death

When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency, I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors.

I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else.

I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return.

Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.

I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.’

Maya Angelou

P.S: On a cheerier note, a good place for baby names, if anyone was looking…

 

Cool Beans & Frozen Lentils

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One of the many things I love about moving to new places, is the chance to learn a new lingua franca. The colloquial, if you prefer. There are so many nuances to different places, and exploring them is a whole new adventure.

From the blank look on your face when you hear a new phrase to the wonderful highs of explaining phrases you’ve picked up elsewhere to others.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived in a few different places and to have been exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking. From the quiet, respectful glances of the Arabs to the chalta hai – attitude of the Indians to the culture of queuing up in London (this one wasn’t as easy!). Once you learn to keep an eye out and observe the world around you, you begin to notice these little snippets that can tell you so much about people and places, how they are intricately intertwined, and neither can exist without the other.

Getting back to my title, Cool Beans was a new one for me. And new = looking it up on google. It still doesn’t make sense, but at least I don’t look like a total tool when people say it. I did have a conversation with a friend about how odd it sounded and his opinion was that frozen lentils would sound weirder.  There also happens to be vegan restaurant by that name somewhere!!

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How’s tricks? Would be another one. The first time around, I seriously thought someone assumed the fact that I had a dog named Tricks! Had I not been this lazy, I probably would have looked up the history on these, but to be honest, they are hilarious enough to overlook. You don’t always need to know why.

I still haven’t figured out where I’d like this blog to go, but it does seem like a great place to get some thoughts down and more organised. When I first started blogging years ago, whilst in college, the blog was primarily a place for me to publish my short stories and opinion pieces on current events. This one could be similar or take a new direction altogether. I probably need some more time to decide, but then again, I could just leave this as an everything blog. We spend most of our life in daylight masquerading as someone else, maybe this could be my way of making sense of it. Let’s see where this goes!

P.S: If i do get a dog, the name would be a coin toss between Jeeves and Tricks!

A Night at the Station

Uploading a story I’d written a few years ago, because I’m stuck with a case of Writers block.

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Travelling alone by train can be boring, and its worse when the journey’s long. Like last week. I had to attend a friend’s wedding, and another one bites the dust was the song on my mind all the way. But hey, I wish the guy well. Wait a minute, didn’t tell you who I am did I? Name’s Michael Kane, 5’10’’, medium build, late twenties, got me? Good….
So there I was on the train, overnight journey and boy was I tired. The meeting at the office didn’t go too well. All I wanted was some shut eye but sleep eluded me. The train pulled up at some remote station somewhere at round 2 am. Since it didn’t look like we were going to move for a while, I thought I’d stretch my legs for a bit. I’m sea sick so walking on a moving train makes me rail sick I guess. I had to take a leak so I went in search of the restroom. Curse my luck, when I got out I was just in time to see the train disappearing over the bend. I checked the schedule; the next train was at 6 am. I had to wake the station master to inform him about my luggage. That done I had 4 hours to kill. And not a soul awake………
With nothing better to do, I thought I’d take a nap on a bench. I was just about to settle on one when someone startled me.
“Dude, that’s my bench!”
A quick glance around revealed no one, just a stray black dog who seemed unperturbed by any voice. Logic told me my tired mind was imagining things. I needed sleep.
“You deaf?” that voice again. Now I was beginning to get spooked.
“Who’s there?” I asked
“Don’t tell me you’re blind too. Look around dufus who do you see?”
“No one. Just a dog.”
“Just a dog? Excuse me!!”
“You’re telling me you’re a dog? Hog wash!! Dogs can’t talk!!”
“ True, most dogs can’t talk. I can though”
You must be thinking I’m nuts. I thought so too. But I was tired and convinced I was imagining things. A talking dog?!! That’s rubbish. I just needed sleep. I hear voices and I see a black Labrador. So I make a crazy assumption that the dog can talk.
“What’s with the incredulous look on your face?” asked the lab.
“I ‘m talking to a dog. You think I should be excited about it?”
“Ah! Humans….” sighed the lab. “You talk to a bit of plastic, watch glass screens and yet rubbish the thought of a talking dog. Didn’t you watch cartoons? Don’t the animals speak there? Anyhow, what’s your name?”
“Mi…Michael” The hesitation was for fear of going crazy. “What’s yours?”
“The name’s Bond. James Bond”
Yea right, a dog named Bond. By now I was convinced I had to see a shrink ASAP.
“So this is your bench?” I ask Bond.
“Just my favourite seat Michael. You hungry?”
“Umm, yea a little”. A little was an understatement. I hadn’t had anything since lunch so I was famished. But having scraps from the garbage can wasn’t my idea of a meal.
Bond barked twice, as if to summon someone. A genie appearing wouldn’t have surprised me by now but I was expecting too much. A rat came scampering out of a hole in the wall and bowed before the dog!!
“At your service sire!” squeaked the rat.
Bond turned to me.” Michael, meet Max, better known as the rat that inspired the movie Ratatouille. He was a student of the renowned chef Cristan Klumenthal. He’s worked with Mordan Lamsey as well. Max, Michael’s our guest today. Why don’t you cook him something special?”
“Would you like some lasagne?” squeaked Max
Too stunned to reply, I just nodded yes. First a talking dog, now a rat that cooks. Maybe my mother was right. I’m getting too involved in my work. How else do you explain it? Garfield’s just a comic strip right? Max was off to cook. Bond was staring at me intently. And that was giving me the creeps.
“What?” I asked him.
“Oh, nothing. So Michael, what do you do?” This was one inquisitive dog.
“I’m a journalist. I work for The Times.” Feeling bolder now, I asked Bond, “If you guys can speak, then why not do it every time?”
“Some things in life are not meant to be known my friend”, said Bond with a very regal air. I was about to pester him further when out came Max followed by a lively bunch of rats carrying a platter of mouth-watering dishes. Corn soup for starters, followed by lasagne. And to finish it off, a delectable black forest cake. I won’t lie. Rats may have cooked it but it felt like heaven.
“Wow Max! That was totally out of this world” I gushed like an awe struck ten-year-old.
“Now that we’re watered and fed, it’s time for some entertainment”, declared Bond and led me to an alley behind the station. The place looked packed as if for a concert. From what the cat sitting next to me told me (yes, now a talking cat), the Pussycat Dolls were going to play today. Oh and this group had real pussycats no humans.
The concert was awesome but by now I was really tired. Just as I was about to doze off on my seat, Bond nudges me awake and rushes me back to the station.
“Hurry!! Its 6 already. You’ll miss the next train!!” Bond and Max made sure I made it to the train. Just as it started moving Max scrambled atop Bond’s head and thrust a packet into my hand. “It’s the black forest cake. There was some remaining. Thought you’d want some in case you get hungry again”, said Max. “Thanks Max”, was all I could manage. I soon drifted off to sleep thanks to my weariness. By the time I woke up. The train had reached my station. On checking I found my luggage intact. I realized I’d most probably dreamed up the entire episode. I was on the same train after all so there was no way I’d missed my train. I gathered up my luggage and began to make my out. And that’s when I found the packet containing the black forest cake………

Innocence

Happiness, for the vast majority of the human race, is contingent on material possessions. The primal  urge to possess an object, an idea. To savour the sweet hint of victory when you finally own it…….

…..only to move to the next object, as what is owned is no longer desirable.

In simple economic terms, we call it the Law of Diminishing Marginal utility. What can we call it from a human perspective though?

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The photograph above was taken earlier this year, while I was on holiday in Cambodia. I was being a regular tourist, minding my own business and clicking away at the temple ruins. People don’t interest me much as subjects for a photo. But something about these four children captivated me.

Completely oblivious to the rabble around them, four little humans with some rather interesting interactions. They were siblings, perhaps. Maybe, they weren’t. In any case, what they were not, is strangers to one another. And as I watched them there, sharing a snack and all peering into a phone, I felt a smile creep up my face.

I did not know those kids and I did not approach them. Somehow, I knew that would ruin it. Because it was one of those random moments in time, where everything is perfect, and every other point in time is irrelevant.

What held me captive, was the myriad of  emotions expressed by the children. Let me refer to them by the colours of their shirts.

Little White is content sucking on his candy, whilst watching the girls. Red seems curious, while Pink contemplates, if Red should be allowed into whatever secret the phone holds, like most big sisters do. Yellow looks on, as the protective big brother, like he knew he was born to watch over them.

The picture cannot tell you what happened after, but I can. The two little girls got into a squabble and Yellow had to intervene. With no one watching Little White, he wandered a little further away, tripped over a stone and began bawling. The three older children quit the squabble and immediately rushed over to soothe him.

The moral of the story for me, so I don’t drift away from the point of this post, is that we don’t really need much to be happy, do we?  We could always say we’d like the newest phone, or a bigger house, or more money for a holiday. But what we really need, is to be secure in the knowledge that there is someone out there looking out for us, that child like assurance, that everything will be alright, that all we need are the little things to be happy.

We all know it, but wont admit it.  We’ve worked too hard, we deserve more. Do we really? What makes you really happy at the end of the day? Your 30 inch flat screen television? The new DVD player? Or is it someone waiting for you at home? A loved one, a pet, a book a few moments of peace?

We try to complicate our lives and clutter it with what we believe are essentials. What if we just try to strip those away?

Give it a try, and look at the world with the same wondering, curious innocence that you had a long time ago as a child. And maybe, if you give in it to just far enough, you’ll find a part of yourself again.