Wednesday, December 30, 2015


I don't completely understand the concept of the social media (read as Facebook) year in review. My definition of Facebook is a forum to post/share stuff in a whim when you're in that sweet spot between excitement and sugar rush or frustration and ferocity or doubt and totally clueless. Our daily life demands a lot of our intelligence, clarity in thought and patience, makes us very tired and has a lot of reality in it, at least my life does. Looking at a bunch of funny lines, places checked in, profile/cover photos changed every three or so months and meaningless hashtags shouldn't be the year in review exactly. If those are the only things that made my year, Man! I'm living a pathetic life.

The last time I wrote year end posts were in 2009 and 2010. I read those before I started writing this one and realized how tacky they are. The 2009 post was tackier than the 2010. That says something, isn't it? No matter what I had or wanted to say, I was writing regularly back then. Yes, it was a simpler "empty vessels make more noise" time. Today, when I read those posts, I can't but wonder how different life is. The definition of what is important and what makes me happy/sad/angry etc is completely obsolete now. The people in my day-to-day, the people who read my blogs and the priorities of who have all changed. It's definitely embarrassing to think about the person I used to be, but there are no regrets.

Given a choice, I'd pick the lifestyle of 2010 at the blink of an eye. Yes, I was naive, I was a tacky blogger, I was blurting out stuff on Facebook, I had no direction in life (please don't ask me what's my direction now), but I remember being happier, I remember having more fun. My life was definitely more eventful and I definitely had more people around me. I can think of 5 different people who would read this and tell me to "get married soon". But, that's not at all what I'm talking about. That nearly perfect gang or a like minded, non-busy friend/sibling/cousin to whom you can fallback at all situations can never be replaced by a marriage. I'm neither complaining nor blaming anyone for moving on. Unfortunately, I'm mature enough to understand that everything has a time and place and people have no other choice than to move on and that's the right thing to do as well. Enough said about why I'd rather pick 2010.

This year has been a different kind of mixed bag. I can fill about 1000 pages of cliche to talk about 2015. The most important aspect of this year is that I have learned to live with myself. Couple of years ago, a very wise soul mentioned to me that learning to live with oneself is the first step in learning to live with others. It did not hit me then, but, over time I realized that half of the problems we have with other people are actually problems we have with ourselves. So, my main motto (I like this word better than resolution) at the beginning of the year was to fall in love with myself. I wouldn't claim that I'm fully there yet, but, I can feel that I'm somewhere on the way.

Materially speaking - For the first time in life, I'm a car owner (February) and home owner (in India - July). These were definitely the best things in the material side of life. An annoyingly practical way to look at it is that I'm in more debt compared to 2014 (when I was in zero debt).

The good son of Vegas - I took my dad to Las Vegas. My dad has traveled a lot during his youth, but being the one to take him to Vegas meant a lot to me. Just to top off that feeling of growing up.

The uncle becomes the uncle - On April 12th, my sister gave birth to Diya, her second daughter. Unlike when Diksha (Diya's elder sister) was born, I haven't been able to see Diya in person yet. That's definitely a regret for 2015. Coming soon, hopefully.

I, Driver - Most of the fun times I have had in 2015 are in the driver seat of the black beauty below. The first thing I do when I get in to the car is turning the music on. Driving around the silicon valley and amidst the hills listening to Rahman and Ilaiyaraja have by far been the best moments of 2015.

14000 miles in 10 months says something, doesn't it?

From hog to hug -  I have become a pure vegetarian since September. I have always wanted to be one, but, egg and chicken are too tasty. I'm usually on and off in this area, but I feel it this time and it may be the real deal.

Walkathon - I've taken to brisk walking as an activity. Yes, it sounds like a 'thaatha' (grandpa) exercise, but I'm really astounded by how beneficial it has been for me. Having a job that's mentally draining and physically futile, walking has helped me in both areas. I've clocked around 350 miles of 15-16 min/mile dedicated walking activity in the past 100 odd days. Apart from the benefits, I'm actually keeping at it which is a great deal.

Chiju Sings - I performed in the PayPal Risk Diwali party this year. After 3 long years, I went up that stage and sang a classical number. And with that a band (tentatively named as Swaralaya) was formed. It wasn't the cleanest of performances. I did mess up a lot of notes, but, I enjoyed as hell.

Happy Toasting - This has been the another very productive part of my year. I've been progressing rapidly in my Toastmasters journey. I've been the VP-Education of my club since January and I'm really loving it every bit. I finished my Competent Communicator (CC), Competent Leadership (CL) and Advanced Leadership Bronze (ALB) in 2015 and I'm five speeches away from my Advanced Communicator Bronze (ACB).

Intimacy at its best - Since I came to the US, I've been wishing for Rahman to visit for a LIVE concert tour. I missed it when (a mini version of ) it happened in Boston last year. Finally in June, Rahman toured North America with a new concept called "The Intimate Tour". True to it's name, it was fresh, intimate and real. He performed in the San Jose Civic Center with a minimal band. We got the perfect seats with a straight line of sight. I couldn't ask for more when it came to watching him LIVE.

Line of sight to witness magic

I'm looking at the W.E.N.U.S and I'm not happy - In the work front, things have been really fruitless. It has been that kind of year where the results have been in reach of the eyes, but, the hands almost always keeps grabbing at nothing. 2016 is definitely going to be interesting in this front and I'm excited about it.

Movies I loved: OK Kanmani, Thani Oruvan, Tamasha, Premam, The Martian, Baahubali
Albums most looped: OK Kanmani, Uttama Villan, Naanum Rowdy Thaan, Yennai Arindhal
Favorite Book: Conversations with Mani Ratnam (I read it only this year)

Hoping to write more in 2016. Looking forward to an exciting 2016. Wish you all a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Don't be a stranger

There was once a time,
To forget it, would be a crime.
The stage has now by gone,
The play though, is still on.

To recount this over and again,
My voice takes quite a strain.
You know this little quirky tale,
Lived long it has, and become stale.

To erase the past, safe it's not,
Spoken words, have become what?
The present, my friend, is all we have,
Forget not, we carry that we carve.

This strange new face, about I wonder.
Shades it has, makes my mind wander.
Is this grey mask newly worn?
Or the old mask, now thrown away torn.

Beauty and strength there to see
Are like green leaves on a tall tree.
Drained off color, they will fall,
To be stamped and crushed by all.

Success, my friend, is so strange.
Formless it is, and can change.
Character, you can shape only once.
Build it well, while still there a chance.

Oh my friend, you're in a dream,
And you will wake up with a scream!
For a world you paint, dear artist,
Has never been known to exist.

Oh my friend, you fly high.
Wings - you have, I don't deny.
But, a bird, away you fly past,
Is a bird less that's left to last.

Flap and fly, and go farther
And higher, and even further.
May you grow taller and stronger,
But, my dear friend, don't be a stranger.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Thirteen years and counting

It's strange how casual conversations can induce long and serious thoughts. It's not stranger than realizing how I made it 13 years without something that I'd not have dreamed of living for 13 days. That's about the best sentence structure I could come up with after hundreds of revisions.

Taking the train back to 2001...
Date: 26th March
Time: Around 2:15 PM

My hands were shivering. I was almost about to cry (and after about 2 mins I did). My body was visibly trembling. The worst nightmare I had convinced my paranoid self that wouldn't happen was unraveling before me. All the smart ass quirks and the happy-go-lucky nature that I had always enjoyed weren't going to help me. I did not know the phrase back then, but if it had happened today, I'd have exasperated, "I'm screwed". As the first round of tears rolled down my cheeks, I could feel the heat. I was probably running a slight temperature. I was scared. Drops of tears blotted parts of the text on the paper lying on the desk. I looked again. Nothing! The day had come finally when I did not have a clue about anything in the Biology question paper.

Throughout my school days the only subjects I liked were Maths and English. I'd have read my English books completely within two days of receiving the text books (even before school started), had killer instincts (not knowledge) when it came to English grammar, loved to write my own essays for the non-detail courses and I was allowed to listen to music or watch television when I practiced Maths (which I was prepared to do all day/whenever). I had the charm of sneaking my way through exams even though I never paid attention to any classes in school. How? I'd choose a few topics picked out mostly as samples, read and understand them in a made up way I can remember. I would be able to answer enough to pass and the moment I had the confidence of scoring 60-70 marks (out of 100) in the exam or if someone else was on the verge of finishing the exam (whichever happened first), I'd stop writing even if there were more questions I could answer. I never failed an exam in school (even if it was a class test). Until then!

My mom was a teacher and used to conduct tuition for around 40 students. Her students comprised of the brightest Rank 1 holders to the precious Mark 1 holders (scoring only 1 mark out of 100). She had a terrific record as a teacher. She had enormous success in terms of progress. The progress was not just about marks. It was methodical. She literally created career paths for many of her students. However, there was one student who always failed her. No prizes for guessing - ME! She had tried force, patience, sending me to another teacher, nice words, beatings, shaming etc. I was just not interested. I always thought she was feeling ashamed that her son was not standing up among her super stars. I also thought it was not fair to think that and most importantly, I neither tried nor cared to try. As long as I passed and went on to the next class, I gave myself an "Exceeded Expectations" rating.

But, it was all coming to an end. There I was, sitting for the first annual exam (biology) in my 9th standard. Even if I wrote stories, I wouldn't be able to write 10 terms in biology w.r.t the question paper. There was no doubt I was going to fail that paper, which meant I was going to have to repeat 9th standard. I was sobbing at the thought of this. The invigilator (Mr. Senram) noticed this and patted on my back. He was sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do. He quietly said, "Don't worry ra! Write what you know". It did not help that he had asked the absentees to stand up (for taking count) before the exam started. Even that was not going to help elate me. I did not know anything. My classmates (those who noticed my sobbing) were looking at me, some staring and some amused. After a while, I just filled a few pages (that would have hardly fetched me 20 marks out of 100 as against the 50 marks needed to pass).

Few hours later...

I was riding my cycle home. I was late by 2 hours than usual. I was just sitting by the basketball court trying to find words to explain to my mom that I was going to have to repeat 9th standard again. I was a bit surprised that my mom hadn't come to school by then looking for me. But, I was sure that she'd be standing outside the gate waiting for me. And as I turned in to my street almost 2 blocks away from my house, I saw her waiting. As I came nearer, I noticed her usual body language of when she's tensed, restless and waiting. Her hands clasped behind her, and though I couldn't see them I was sure that her fingers would be moving against and across each other. Her eyes - a bit red and they'd emote that perfect blend of worry and anger. She had expressive little eyes (probably picked them up from being a Bharatanatyam dancer as a teenager), the expression she has passed on to her grand daughters and something that I prominently notice in the opposite sex. Her entire body would scream that she's feeling unsettled. She'd be standing still though, but not straight, she'd lean a bit towards one side. Her foot - the one on the opposite side towards which she's leaning would be tapping incessantly on the ground.

I was confident that it was going to be a double bonanza that day - for being very late without any communication and for coming with the promise of failing an exam.

As soon as I reached she asked softly, "Yen kanna ithara late?" (why are you so late dear). Her worry took precedence over her anger. I quickly explained my situation without the least remorse in my voice. But, she knew right away that I was scared to death. As I prepared to brace for a furious reaction, she ushered me in to the house, took my bag and put in the sofa and went in to the bedroom. Few minutes later, she called me in there and handed me the phone. My dad (who was out of town that day) was on the line. I was taken by surprise because my dad never interfered in my sister's and my education. It was mom's department. On the other end, my dad sounded very concerned. He told me not to worry and to focus on the other exams. Even if I had to repeat a year he said that it was fine. There was no fury or anger. It was pure concern. After I hung up, she told me to change and start preparing for the next exam. It was English.

I was unusually quiet that evening. I did not bother my sister nor did I move around like I always do. I just sat at my study table and kept reading the same line again and again. It just did not register. I was just reading. I was not sure if it was doing so bad in the exam or my mom's silence that was bothering me. It was all very confusing and sad.

After a while my mom broke her silence. The moment she started to speak, I started crying and started apologizing over and over. She did not say much (which was unusual too). She just told me that if I sincerely prepared for all the other 9 exams and gave my best shot, she'd do everything in her power to request my school management to push me in to the next class. She absolutely had no way to do it, but on that day I'd have believed anything she said. The next two weeks were like a movie scene set on a montage. For the first time in my life I cared about studying. I was frightened about exams. I was determined to pull through. And since it was the first time it was too much for me to take. I created the first of many a havoc for not having performed in the exams to my expectations. It was the most difficult two weeks of my life until then. A month later the results were announced and I was promoted to 10th standard. The most surprising event for me was when I requested for my 9th standard annual exam mark sheet (which is not usually published for annual exams) and saw that I had scored a whopping 63 in Biology (I hardly had written for 40 marks). And I had scored very well in all the other papers.

A year and two months later...

I came sixth (among 150 odd students) in my school in the 10th standard board exams. It was the proudest moment for her, as my mother and as my teacher. I can still hear the screeching sound made by the break of the sunny scooter she rode, as she pulled up in front of my school. I was waiting inside for the results and I ran out as soon I heard the sound. She had looked it up online was telling my score to my cousin who was waiting outside as well. The moment I heard the number I blanked out again. All those reactions from March 26th 2001 came back, only this time they were because of happiness.

That day made a huge difference to who I turned out to be. I started believing in hard work and that it can turn around a lot of things that wouldn't have come your way. I realized that my mom never really cared about the results. With her students, it was different - she was being paid to bring about progress which she did diligently and sincerely. She gave it her best shot. With me, it was always about the effort. Her only expectation from me was that I tried my best, gave life my best shot and that's about it.

I've come a long way from that 10th board exam results. But, that would always be my greatest hit because that was the first, only and last proud moment I gave my mom. She passed away a month later.

It's easy to claim our character during times of glory. Whether that character helps during tougher times is something we'll probably never find out. The real test of character comes during harder times and claiming our character then will tell us who we are and what we are capable of. I learnt this from my mom and I'm still struggling everyday to learn the art with which she lived her life. If I turn out to be half as determined, courageous and strong as her, I'd not have anything more to achieve. It's been 13 years says the calendar, it just seems all very fast, doesn't it?

Miss you ma!