Monday, September 3, 2012

On Top of the World!

Although this blog is titled "On Top of the World", it is not intended to mean being at the tallest point of this world but rather to describe my first experience of open-air flying. I and Ruta recently did para-sailing over the Atlantic waters near the Ocean City beach in New Jersey.

After much coaxing I agreed to Ruta's dream of joint para-sailing. Ruta has explored the thrills of open air adventures and all its flavors quite a few times in the past but this was my first experience. Hitherto I had never actually experienced open-air flying (apart from air travel which is not really "open-air").

Until we boarded the boat I was relaxed about this adventure. But when the captain began speed-boating to take us into the deep waters and started warning us about the risks involved, I became worried. To be honest, I get terrified with sudden drops and speed changes at high altitudes but not of high altitudes in general. This was my biggest fear moments before we flew, but to my pleasant surprise the entire experience was wonderful especially because it made me think about actually flying through the most expansive fluid on Earth.

When we took off, I momentarily closed my eyes to control my fears but immediately opened them when I realized that the ascent was as smooth as a feather floating in the air! Within a few seconds we were floating at 500 ft over the Atlantic waters. Being able to fathom the shore spread, the tiny New York skyline in the distant North, the clam waters beneath, the birds flying nearby and above all the incredible silence all around us was spectacular. I was able to experience the earth's atmosphere and its vastness in a whole new light. Until now I was “aware” about para-sailing having read, heard and watched it, but now I was “experienced”! I realized some incredible facts about the human perspective at a higher altitude:

  1. The acceptance of the fact that you are at a significantly higher altitude than the objects on earth. Perhaps our thinking is shaped to a large extent by how far and above we physically see the objects around us.
  2. For a moment I actually felt that I had conquered everything that was within my sight when we were at the top. 500 ft is not a very great altitude, but the expanse of your vision in all three dimensions at that altitude is indeed by several hundred kilometers. Perhaps human sight is the prime among all the attributes captured by our sensory organs, for the former guides our very thought process.

I was extremely jealous of the birds flying around me. I dreamt of having huge wings and flying all over the Atlantic until I was tired and then taking a dive into the waters and enjoying a backstroke swim! During this 10 minute ride in the open air I witnessed, experienced and fell in love with the world that lies above us.

A concluding remark about human spirit:

We might be minuscule before the vastness of the universe,
                                             But our thinking can fathom its expanse!”

Sunday, April 26, 2009


It has been quite some time now, that I wrote something. Most of the times, whatever I write is inspired from my observation and the way I interpret the latter and what I feel or think about it. This time too, it is not going to be different.

Today I and my friend Neel had gone to watch the classical concert by Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussein at Zankel Hall, New York. And what more could one expect than a Santoor & Tabla rendition! The following is an account of what I observed and what I felt during this two and a half hour concert.

We were quite early for the show and were eagerly waiting to see the two masters. Finally Zakir came out and gave us the general introduction and welcomed Shivkumar. Shivkumar started playing Santoor with the Alap, which set us all in the mood which he wanted to create. In the initial piece he played raag Rageshwari. After the alap Zakir began playing tabla. After reading the previous sentence you all might have felt that he just started playing tabla, but it wasn't really like that. I guess he had already started playing tabla in his mind, and the fact is, we never realized when he actually started playing. The tabla beats merged with the ragas rendered by santoor so seamlessly that it was as if, tabla was already playing, only its volume was muted until now, and suddenly the volume was switched on again :-) The tabla-santoor merge had already happened, I guess in the minds of the two...

Yesterday while I was reading about Shivkumar Sharma I came across a site where he mentions that he never aims to evoke an ovation from the audience. He fact aims to take the audience to a state of thoughtlessness, which is what he considers the pinnacle achievement of music. Today at some points I felt exactly the same, especially when he was playing raag Rageshwari... It was myself, it was the two maestros, and the raag rendered by the tabla beats and santoor strings. In fact I was not able to distinguish between the two, they were in absolute unison and the result was an integrated vibration, exciting each and every atom of my body, mind and psyche.

At some other points they started performing the crescendo, the tabla beats became so fast, that we literally couldn't see Zakir's fingers! Shivkumar was centre staged and Zakir was on his left. When they reached the climax of the crescendo (the state when the beats were fastest; perhaps fastest may not be the right word as I haven't watched their fastest speeds :-), but fastest from the perspective of the current crescendo), Zakir started looking at some point in space, but in reality his eyes were not actually observing, they got studded to a point and only his mind was controlling his fingers... Apart from this, it was difficult to tell who was following whom. Agreed that the role of tabla in Indian classical music is that of an accompaniment to the main performer. But was it something really like that, today? I don't think so. At some points Shivkumar was challenging Zakir to produce the rythm that he was rendering and I guess Zakir's reply was - forget producing, I'm at a speed beyond your imagination!

It was a site worth watching. Zakir, his focus, his hands and the music were in absolute harmony. It is a state which I guess we all experience at some stage in our life, where our performance in our respective fields is at the pinnacle, at the fountainhead of our success, like a horse running at full speed, where it is only you, your music and your unconquerable velocity. It is a stage where others can only hope to reach. But for you - the performer, there is no audience, its only you and your music - a state called Samadhi, beyond time, beyond frontiers. This state only lasts for a short span of time, but it is so invigorating that you live your entire life in this small state, isn't it?

This entire week was extremely exciting, I had been listening to various artists and instruments and I have tried to compare these musical instruments with our organs, what is the seat of these instruments in the human body? I mean what do you first feel when you hear a particular instrument, where does that emotion arise, what is its organic quality, how do you picturize that sound?

Sitar (my favourite)- When it comes to musical instruments Sitar lives in our throat (kantha), in that it yearns, it longs in absolute earnestness, pleading to spread the message of love and happiness. Sitar can evoke the entire gamut of emotions - smile, laugh, wait (intezaar), memory, tears.

Santoor - Aha, get lost in the woods, get lost in a lake, get lost in Manasarovar, your soul will hear Santoor and only Santoor, the music of peace as vast as an ocean.

Tabla - The beats of tabla are like the beats of our veins (nadi), beats of blood throbbing in elated state in every nerve of our body.

Flute - This sweet, eternal sound can only originate in our heart, and travel through the air captivating every living soul in its trance.

Also I think every kind of music has a time to listen: Shehanai or Suprabhatam by MS Subbalakshmi in the morning, Santoor in the afternoon, Flute or Sarod in the evening, and Sitar in the night.

After watching this concert I have no doubt that music and human body are organically connected in that the musical vibrations directly affect our body molecules and hence our mind and emotions. The nature of effect just depends on the kind of music that you are playing or listening to. And at times this effect could be so dramatic, that it can make you smile, make you laugh, make you cry, make you think or as Panditji says take you to a state of blissful thoughtlessness...

Friday, June 27, 2008


Twilight is my favorite time of the day. But today I shall write something about morning. About the time which begins our day, every day, forever. About the time when we first think about our ambitions, our hopes, our passion.

Over the past 4 weeks now, I have been commuting by the PATH train to Exchange Place - two stations away from my home. This 10 min journey has always something new to offer, there is always some novelty about this trip everyday!! May be I have become more observant!! This article is all about one of my best observations in this path train.

I arrived to the Journal Square station at 8:13. As usual I saw a mix of anxious, lost in time, lost in music, sad, hopeful, and observant (as that of mine) faces!! But I didn't know that I was yet to witness a great sight, a sight seen once in a lifetime, a sight which epitomized the spirit of separation, the tender sorrow of separation, that anxiety that earnestness...All these emotions in just 3 secs.

As soon as I boarded the train a man got in, but his love was still behind, walking with gentle steps. Perhaps she didn't know that destiny had decided to carry her in another train... As soon as she was about to enter, the door closed shut. You all should have seen the rush of emotions flashing across their faces!! It was a Kodak moment :-). The girl should have thought in sequence -

'Oh, I can't believe this', and then
'seen the rest of the platform with shyness if someone is watching her',

(she perhaps didn't know that the whole Journal Square station was watching her, was eager to break open the door and send her in the same train, she was the centre of attraction, she was the queen of this morning, she instantly captured the attention of everyone and also perhaps made them think about their love!! )

And then I saw the same eagerness, sorrow, passion, trust and hope on her face as we see in Meera...

The man in the train should have thought something like - 'Oh no! Oh no yaar, I want to get out of this train, somebody please make this train stop...' His feelings were that of helplessness, but then at exactly the same time they assured each other through their silence and eyes that - 'Dear I'm there for you, can this trivial train separate us, in fact it will now make us think about each other every moment until we meet! See you soon at the next station!! I will wait for you....'

Even this blog is not enough to describe the beauty of that sight! Love is beyond the horizon. Period.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

National Colour

After my usual work I started scanning the Times of India and Hindustan Times. This is my usual routine which keeps me kind of connected with India, its culture, gossip and all the fun!
I happened to hear a lot of the protests happening in Lhasa, Tibet. I had never actually bothered to find out what was really happening there. I thought I should do so, so I started reading more about that matter. Hardly had I read a few things about the protests, some extremely fundamental questions arose in my mind and I stopped reading and started pondering about the questions lingering in my mind. I decided to think with an open mind and this made me think very deep and far into the whole matter.

At the outset I started thinking from the side of the Tibetans who were demanding their sovereignty. This made me think about a similar problem which our country is facing – Kashmir. Then I started asking myself some fundamental questions like –
What constitutes a nation?
When is it that a group of people come together to form and proclaim a nation?
What motivates them to do so?
From a group of people I came down to a family and put forth the same questions considering a family rather than a nation. I was still somehow not getting a meaningful answer. I decided to move further in the same direction. I came down to an individual. I came down to myself. I asked will I allow someone to take my decisions or to influence my decisions. The answer was a resounding “no”! Obviously I as an individual in this world have my own identity (Astitva). I have my own value systems and principles, I am an independent entity. But then I realized that in order to survive I need the help from others. I cannot live by myself. For example, I need someone who makes my clothes; I need someone who grows crops/food which I can buy and similarly a host of several other consumer things. On the same lines I also produce some things (software) which can be used by some companies. In short we all need the help of each other to survive. After all man is a social animal. But I was still not satisfied. Based on the above reasoning it would be mean that there should be just one nation or no nation, just a society of interdependent people, right?

But then why are there so many different nations in this world? Why would a group of people want to identify themselves as a “separate” nation? What is this separateness, uniqueness? What is the subject under consideration? I realized that when a group of people interact there is definitely some scope for disputes. After all no two individuals think similarly. Apart from this there is a need for a common of set of laws which define the rules of the trade and commerce. What is right and what is wrong. But then even the concept of right and wrong is relative, right? But still the interested people do not want a third person to resolve their disputes. Makes sense. Now who is this third person? He is someone who is different from this group of people, who thinks in a fundamentally different way from these men.

This in turn implies that the group of people despite their personal differences over issues has some fundamental things in common. Have some fundamental ways of life which define what is right, what is wrong, what is legitimate, what is good, what is bad and so on. We call this collective set of guidelines as culture or way of life.

But doesn’t religion define culture. May be. But every nation has people from several religions. Still they all have one thing in common. There is something beyond this religious culture. I am not able to find a word, let me call it the national culture, national identity, rule of the “land”.
So we as Indians have our own ways of everything, our own and unique perspective to look at things. But internally we are an extremely diverse lot. Language and culture change over a few hundred kilometers! India is indeed a very delicate nation of highly self esteemed internal groups. And there is nothing wrong in self esteem. Ever Indian state has its own culture, heritage, language, literature, art, architecture and what not. But yet we all have some fundamental things in common. But the irony is these fundamental things are very subtle and difficult to define so as to keep all these groups connected.

I personally feel that we have made some costly mistakes in ignoring these things since we got independence and not taken any emphatic steps to voice loudly the fundamental things which unite us. As such our regional groups never realized these fundamental things which unite us. They have always placed their regional interests above national interest. Sometimes I wonder whether we are really united…

When India was formed we did not define an official religion. So far so good. But we did define a national language. There was actually nothing wrong in it. I personally consider Hindi a great language and admire its eloquent and rich literature. And it was also a great move to have a common national language to aid as an easy means of communication. But I think we ignored the possibility that this assignment to Hindi as a national language status might lead to creating a “social hierarchy” among those whose mother tongue is Hindi and those whose mother tongue is not Hindi and who are very sensitive and esteemed about their mother tongue. I still see many intolerant people whose mother tongue is Hindi and who look down upon those whose mother tongue is not Hindi. They fail to realize the fact that the latter have a different identity and speak a different language (I'm not saying all Hindi speaking people do. No definitely not. In fact I have more North Indian friends!). And their intolerant attitude is just because their mother tongue was accorded the national language status.

And I think this social hierarchy has forced these non Hindi speaking groups to voice their identity more vehemently. In fact their loud voices reflect great hatred and bitterness. But above all this loud voice hides the great insecurity which they feel… Insecurity in their own nation! How sad… I have personally sensed all this when I was in Chennai. At that time I was furious at those people who did not recognize their national language. But after a long time, taking into account all these fundamental things I feel sad for them.

In fact for that matter any individual will act defensive when faced with injustice, when faced with danger, when faced with a social hierarchy, when faced with domination. Speaking about social hierarchy, it is one of the most powerful forces to divide a group. It raises the question of who is superior and who is inferior. But there does exist social hierarchy in many institutions and organizations, right? People over there live and work in harmony. Why is that so? Because it is based on competence, professionalism and responsibility. It is healthy in that it extracts the best out of everyone who wishes to excel and move further in life. It is fair and transparent. But the hierarchy which I am talking about is based on contempt and injustice. It irrationally places one group of people above the rest, just because they are in a majority.

There was in fact a very elegant and simple alternative. Do not recognize any language as a national language. In fact even today, despite Hindi being our national language all the social institutes (buses, government papers, buildings etc) flaunt their names in regional languages. Now as far as government, judicial or political literature is concerned I would say keep it in English.

I think there was another mistake which we made and which has prevented the diverse cultural groups of India from interacting with another. Perhaps it has augmented the already existing diversity. It was forming states on the basis of language. Everyone today represents himself as either belonging to Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka etc. In fact nothing wrong in this. One should be proud of one’s culture. We are one nation, but we do have an enormously rich cultural diversity be it in language, art, music, food, architecture etc. But the point I am trying to make is nobody of us thinks beyond that. India is now a system of highly cohesive and loosely coupled states!! There is a similar concept of highly cohesive and loosely coupled system in software engineering! What it essentially means is that the system comprises several groups which among themselves are extremely united, but when it comes to the overall system there is very little dependency or interaction among the different groups. But when applied to a nation, this concept fails to establish the very significance of a nation. India indeed has very diverse groups. But do these diverse groups form a “team” among themselves?

What is the level of inter-state interaction across the socio-cultural domain? What is the percentage of inter-cultural marriages? How many north Indians can speak a south Indian language? How many south Indians can speak Bengali? How many festivals predominantly celebrated in North India are celebrated in south India? What is the level of migration across the various states not just on the basis of jobs or economic conditions? I’m not trying to say that everyone in India learn every other culture or every other language.

The question I’m asking is, does socio-cultural interaction among Indians happen not because the other person speaks your language or is from your state, but just because he is an Indian? How comfortable is a person when he speaks to a fellow Indian who has a different culture and who speaks a different language? What is the level of their tolerance? Do they recognize the fact that we all have our own identity our own culture but we should also accept and respect other’s culture and language? Does anyone take interest in learning some other Indian language just because of pure interest? May be it could offer great insights into its culture! For the last 60 years the individual cultural groups might have become richer (culturally), might have preserved their heritage, might have become more colorful, but has a national color ever taken shape? Is India still a canvas of areas having their own color? Can we add some water and derive brighter shades out of this canvas? Is this a farfetched dream? It may be difficult, but not impossible.

What we could do is form a set of 5-6 states geographically and not on the basis of language. Each state will hence have people from several cultures and who speak several language. But since they all belong to one state there will be interaction among them. In this way there will be interaction among the diverse cultural groups. After some years we could again form a different set of states to facilitate interactions among groups which had little chance of interacting before. And we carry on until we develop a national identity, a national culture and a national color!
And I strongly believe that this national color which will evolve will be 1000 times brighter!! Jai Hind!!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Picture Perfect

Ek aur Shyam...

After my usual evening tea, I started walking back towards my Packard Lab. I was thinking about the forthcoming DBMS quiz on Mon, normalization, DBMS project and what not. My mind was totally occupied by academic things.

The weather was fantastic. Not very cold, just the right chill to enchant your mood. All of a sudden as if a spark extinguishes the darkness, my attention was captivated by the tall and broad trees around me. I looked at them and then gradually started observing them. Felt as if they were telling me something... These lovely, silent marvels of life have been trying to tell something for the last 200 years. Has anyone listened to them? These trees have been a living witness to the innumerable events of the time bygone. They have been a testimony to everything. Yet silent. I felt as if no language was needed to understand them. I felt them, still gazing upwards at their height, as if touching the sky.
The trees were still leafless, yet they were telling me again and again that the body is just a cover. Even if this cover dies, the spirit of life, the mind will always remain, it is eternal. Even if you are enslaved, nobody, no power in this world can enslave your mind and your thinking. Very soon, the trees will wear a new dress. Throughout our lives we are preoccupied with silly things but do not realize that every sorrow, every pain is just a passing phase. Night is never permanent, neither is day. Joy is never permanent, neither is sorrow. But what is permanent is our spirit, our conscience. The happiness contained in our conscience is the real happiness, the eternal joy. My mind was saying to go inside the lab and get back to DBMS :-), but this time I listened to my heart, and sat in front of the Packard Lab near the fountain. There wasn't any water rising from the fountain, but soon there will be, Spring is on its way!!

Suddenly my attention was captured by some children enjoying this moment. They started climbing a tree and playing with it. This sight took me back to my childhood (I remember clearly 6th/7th standard) when we used to go out in the summer afternoons to get "Jambool" fruits near our home. Our determination was so strong that we used to try rope tricks taught in Scouting to climb the trees and get the tasty "Jambool" fruits. I came back from my nostalgia and started watching the children again. I feel sad for those thousands of children living in the Indian metros who do not see the real childhood. They are born in an artificial world which is very far from the reality, imprisoned by the endowments of technology - Television, Concrete Jungles. I wonder what kind of personalities will they become, who have had no taste of nature, who have had no taste of tolerance, who have had no taste of reality.

The majestic Packard Lab was standing behind me gazing proudly at these trees. The Packard Lab. Yes, which has stood here for the last 150 years and has produced thousands of Engineers. But still the trees were also there. It occurred to me, that in this great land man had achieved a perfect balance between human ambition, human ego and the Nature. Who says that science leads to destruction? Yes, it has the power to, but the control is within our hands isn't it? If we want we can reach to great heights and at the same time to abyss. Where do you want to go?

I also observed that in this scene before my eyes, there was also the Packard Church. Yes the temple of our conscience. The picture was complete.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Evening tea

Now it is evening - 6:40, ya yun kahe ki "Sandhya" ka samay hai!!! The whole day went very well, was studying for exams etc. In the evening the "creative Kida" of my brain started troubling me!! Then thought that, if I'm not able to make the best of the moment using my creativity then what is the use of that creativity. Bas kuch karne ki thani. Kya? Socha nahi tha...Bahut socha, phir decide kiya ki mast chay banate hai :-)

Now you must be wondering what is the creativity in making a cup of tea. But the time was that of twilight, the atmosphere was cold (not chilly, but just the right cold). The tea came up very well. Opened the windows, sat on my chair, started gazing at the blue expanse and started enjoying my tea.

Phir socha kuch gana suna jaye :-), now what was the right song for that moment? There could have been many, actually... But switched on the gazal - "Aaj jane ki zid na karo...." Then realized it wasn't the original (but it was good nevertheless). Then started searching for that song on the Internet...Then suddenly I realized or rather recounted one nice thought which perhaps we all had learnt in childhood - "Try to be happy in whatever you have, and enjoy the moment..." Phir samjha ki chay thandi ho rahi thi... It occurred to me that, in the search for "more" every time, I was losing what I had currently. Bas wapas wahi gana chalaya, jo meri PC mein tha and started enjoying my tea :-).. It is so mesmerizing and the lyrics....Oh my God!! That song, my tea and the twilight made my day!!

Phir socha, ke is sunehere ehsaas ko apni shabdo mein zapt kar liya jaye...Aaj najane kyon shayari bas aise hi ubhar aa rahi hai..Ya yun kaha jaye, ki woh thi to kahi mere dil mein hamesha, bas aaj is waqt jag uthi hai poori tarah :-) So started writing and sharing these thoughts with all of you!!

Is gane ho sun kar aisa laga, ke kabhi hamara bhi aisa koi chahne wala hoga, jo hame kahe ki - Aaj jane ki zid na karoooo....? :-), I guess bahut badi khwaish hai!! Nevertheless, chahne wala ho ya naaho, par hum jaroor chahenge, pyaar karenge :-)