Saturday, May 22, 2010

99 years of invincible spirit

This appeared in The SA Times today.

If there's one thing that's hard to digest at 8am on a Sunday besides Cheese Danish, it's varying degrees of nudity. But one doesn't have a choice if one wants to be a part of this 99 year old tradition in San Francisco. Bay to Breakers baby! It's an annual footrace that happens on the third Sunday of May, is about 7.5 miles and started as a way to lift the city's spirits after the disastrous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, it is the longest consecutively run footrace in the world. Oh and you wanna know how many people run it every year? Just about 60-80,000!

The funnest part is, runners and walkers dress up in elaborate costumes. It's like Halloween on steroids. Boys being bacon, women with massive amount of fruit on their hats, people being everything from animals to birds to fantasy characters to eatables to technology pieces like telephone and keyboards. And you can never be creative enough for it. I saw this couple dressed as x-box, this man dressed as a driver's license and this woman dressed as a pink slip! Yeah it gets quite innovative. Then there are those who wear nothing at all except footwear although it ain't legal… and not just those with embarrassing bodies but beautiful people. It's bound to give the uninitiated quite a jhatka. It's also the only event where participants can walk with beer cans and throw tortillas on one another to pass timed.

It was my 2nd year attending the race past Sunday. The narrow lanes of this beautiful fog lined city with an otherwise spectacular view was filled with heads as far as one could see. It seemed like everyone had come out of their dwellings, either to partake or to cheer. And within 2 hours, soon as the race was over, the streets were sweeped, opened and life was back to normal. Quite an amazing experience.

Think you missed out? Be sure to be in the city next year.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Futuristic moms

Ahmedabad. 2002. A small house with worn out blue paint, ethnic furniture and a giant swing in the living room. A woman in her 70s in a cream bandhani sari worn in gujarati style sitting on the swing cutting veggies and indulging in afternoon soaps for women. A fashionable woman in early 50s wearing designer shades walking in with pencil heels. Pencil heels approaches woman on the swing, greets, ferrets out what looks like a Hallmark card from her giant purse, hands it to the old woman and says "Happy Mothers Day". The look on the old woman's face, priceless. The look on my face, even more priceless. p.s. Does Hallmark make gujju cards?

Think I must have been behind on life because it tends to shock me every step of the way. The invasion of a variety of international days in India might have been an old story but the adaptation of it has left little doubt that we're flexible and eager to incorporate new concepts in our already saturated lives. I for one believed the Indian social framework needed no special days to remind people how much they appreciated their folks. But my argument for or against is irrelevant at this point because its adaptation has more to do with marketing gimmicks than emotions behind it. Or may be not. Either way, it's too late to do anything about it.

The world celebrated Mother's Day on May 8th. At brunch with my mom and all the new moms in the family, looking at the beautiful floral bouquets we'd all received, I had a thought. If I gather a heterogeneous sample of moms across the world, chances are 8/10 would be struggling with it. It's an incredibly tuff job that doesn't come predefined with a set job description. In fact the job description is all encompassing. And the underlying threat for those who can spot it is to kiss good bye to your own life. It’s incredibly rewarding as well but lets save that for later. The much hyped concept of urban moms who's able to magically strike a beautiful work-life balance is an oxymoron. At least in theory. I bet some execute it flawlessly but it isn’t the norm. If you take that one step further and think about futuristic moms, it makes the case for being an oxymoron even stronger.

Of the many conclusions I’ve come to since my first born, an important one is to ensure that a child falls into the parent's world and not the other way round where parent’s lives revolve around their child’s. This is especially applicable to the moms who often treat themselves to a series of sacrifices to treat her kids with love, care, education and security. Any species in the world can provide their kids with love and care but in this day and age, if one wants to impart the best education and make her kids feel secure, confident and ambitious, one often has to set that example. Security, confidence and ambition are deeply interlinked and are a function of each other. Setting goals other than things that involve household and child related chores and accomplishing them is vital to one’s own growth as well as the growth of the family. If a man is dynamic and self-motivated, it’ll take him ahead in life but if a woman is the same, her entire family will thrive. For it might be the man who makes financial decisions but it is her who takes every tiny decision every step of the way in her child’s life and the difference in her perspective will create the difference between the earth and the sky in her child’s life. Primary education, now being compulsory in India is a step in the right direction but it is every family’s responsibility to ensure this goes a few steps further to ensure every girl is independent in her life.

Moms, lets pick up the pace shall we? And dads, mind making us those specials meals once in a while coz we need all the strength and support we can get. Yay for mommy power!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The sound of silence

This appeared in The SA Times on Saturday.

Sounds of everything. Or those of nothingness. Noises of things man-made meant to aide or entertain, entering my world without consent. People. Lots of people. Loud chatter, soft whisper, superimposed laughs, screams, grunts and howls filling the space. Constant distractions beckoning from all angles. Decibels making unpredictable waves on a graph. Applause at a slam dunk on the big screen. Turn tabling by a DJ with a pink bandana. Heart thumping beats from massive speakers. Tapping of heels on the dance floor. A colorless drink spilling. A fancy glass breaking. A careless teen slipping. Urban entertainment unleashed. Sounds of everything. Or those of nothingness? It's everything I love until I start craving some natural quiet.

I think what I might be craving is a still place. Like a canyon. Or a glacier. Or a dense forest. Some place that gives an illusion of remarkable stillness and tranquility. Some place where mechanized intrusions are rare as snow on a tropical island. Some place where I can guess if a cricket is infuriated or rejoicing by the emotion in its sound. Some place where I can hear ice melting. Some place where I can hear the echo of my own thoughts.

The closest semblance to silence I can get during routine life is when I lay motionless in my bed trying to fall asleep late at night but my brain is completely out of fuel at that point to bask in the quiet. To breathe it in. To absorb it. I heard once that the longest one can experience natural quiet is about fifteen minutes in certain secluded parts of the world. Not sure I would need more. Not sure if I can survive more. May be its just what I need to recharge my batteries, to fight stress and to clear my head. But it could potentially do more than provide some rejuvenation therapy. It could perhaps aid in identifying the profound questions that I’ll need to answer at some juncture. It could perhaps assist in dismissing the trivial issues that remotely threaten daily equilibrium. It could perhaps provide ultimate gratification that materialism can never.

No points for guessing that soon as I sign off, I'll be back to an evening of ipod entertainment, some unconvincing young reporter blurting out news in the background and a squealing kid, but I'll leave you with this. "There was in this immensity… a silence so profound that soon all the noises from the life around us on the Rim were lost in it, as if our ears had been captured forever, drowned in these deeps of quiet.”
Never experienced it, have you? Me neither. And yet, it sounds so attainable!