Pick Your Battles. Sure. But Why Is Access to Park No One’s Battle?

The first public park that I ever accessed in my life is the one in front of Indira Ideal School in Janak Puri, New Delhi. My parents took us to that park ever since we could walk. Even when we had to cross two big sewage drains to get there. We never lived in Janak Puri. It was unaffordable. Probably still is. Perhaps even more. But that did not deter us.

This is also the park where boys went to play cricket on Sundays, where women went in groups to socialize, and where men went joined groups to do laughter yoga, or do group morning walks. This is also the park that girls from our part of the world went through on their way to the government school from their homes, which were again across one or two wide open sewage drains.

Fortunately, most of the time, the drains did not come in the way of friendship between the people from ourside and those from theirs. My mother too was welcome in the group of women that included richer aunties from Janak Puri. The difference in affluence was not made blatantly explicit. People knew about it, and that was it. They still exercised together, sang together, yoga together, and occasionally ate together.

Something changed in over last two years – beginning around the time of covid. The Janak Puri Community decided to categorically deny access to the Indira Ideal School Park to anyone outside Janak Puri. And more specifically to those from Raghu Nagar, Sagar Pur, Vashish Park, Dabri – essentially all the ones from this side of the drains. Walls were raised and gates were locked. The fact that sewage drains are not as ugly as a decade ago and that the hideousness of those open sewage drains has been covered by concrete roads did not counter the doubts and fears of Janak Puri people when it came to life and death situation created by covid. Adversity often clouds the judgment of people and fear takes over. They strongly believed that we from this side of the road (not drain anymore) are more likely the carriers of coronavirus because we were less hygienic. We are a threat to their lives.

For almost two years, my mother and father had no access to those parks. Even when lockdowns were eased off and some movement was allowed, my parents still were home-bound. No wonder they admired the harsh Canadian cold more than warmer Delhi winters because in Toronto, they were free to go anywhere and their Pincode or income status did not determine where they would be welcome. There was already loneliness for them during covid because of less home or indoor visits of neighbors and relatives. It got only worse by this denial of access to open space of the park where my parents could still meet others in a covid safe space. For old and retired people like my parents, parks really are their daily social haven. But somehow, people in Janak Puri were ignorant of this social, mental, and physical need of many like my parents or probably felt that these needs mattered more to them.

Now, when many people in Delhi are vaccinated and people are less worried, the seniors of our part of the world are even more eager to come. Seeing this demand, the people of Janak Puri melted their hearts as much as allowing them to come to the park only between 5AM and 7AM. They want them gone by 7. Their hearts are swelling with the pride for this favor they have done. Around 7AM, one Sikh guy, who claims to be “Mayor of Janak Puri” or some Pradhan, begins to hound the women away. Then women go to some other makeshift park to talk more and count their beads or do their chanting. In fact, the physical access in terms of unlocking the gates or dropping the walls has not been put in place. Some patches of Janak Puri boundary have naturally crumbled and my mother’s friends climb the crushed boundary wall to get in there.

How have countless men, women, and youth of our area just accepted this? Public parks come under municipal government, which in this case is MCD and I am not aware of any law that defines access to these parks based on the pin codes of the visitors. Some Janak Puri folks claim that they pay maintenance fees for the parks and these dirty people from Sagar Pur and Dabri come to enjoy the benefits. How have my parents’ friends, neighbors, and relatives, who otherwise want to nuke Pakistan or Muslims through their WhatsApp forwards, not questioned this access denial?

From so far away, here in Toronto, I feel helpless and despaired when I hear these stories from my mother. One of the key reasons I left India was the frustration I got in fighting so many battles with governments and just hitting the wall. I have been advised countless times to pick my battles for my own sanity and focus on a few. But why has no one on the ground picked up this battle? It’s been almost three years now that I have been hearing of the access suspension, can someone please pick up this battle, please?

Contactless Greeting for a Post Covid World

When Covid hit the world, one of the earliest and most immediate changes was how people greeted each other. It was not a conclusive change, but more of an exploratory change at that time. The most common business greeting of a handshake was questioned because of fear of the spread of infections. Let alone the less formal and warmer greeting of a hug. Humans had paused the handshakes but were still exploring an alternate. I guess it was awkward, more so in the western world, to meet someone and say those niceties of “Hello” or “Nice to meet you” without any touch.

Some alternates that were tried out were touching the heels or ankles or feet. Fist bumps from colleges also found their way into professional and corporate settings, perhaps with the assumption that the back of the hand is likely to touch our eyes or face or food. The one that stayed on was touching elbows. I hit my elbow with my colleagues. Joe Biden did the same with Kamala Harrison. It wasn’t a hit on day one. Sometimes I would miss the target and elbows would slide or graze past each other or just go into the air tangentially. But we all got a hang of it.

It wasn’t contactless nevertheless. Albeit, that point of contact was least likely to be used for anything else. So, Covid safe. But did it have any meaning? Humans arrived at a handshake after several millennia of their existence. An elbow greeting seemed very unnatural and made up to me. Well, who said changes come easy!

Let’s explore another contact-less greeting, that is way older than even a handshake and definitely way more meaningful than an ankle or an elbow exchange.


For the uninitiated, the physical aspect is really straightforward — fold your hands, bring the folded hands close to the center of your chest, bow a bit with humility, take a deep mindful breath and say the word Namaste.

But it is much deeper than that. The thing that you are greeting and whose existence you are acknowledging is not just the physical human body that your eyes are seeing or other senses are observing. You are using your physical body to allow your inner consciousness to acknowledge the existence of and connection to the inner consciousness of another living being.

Little too dense? Let me unpack.

As per the Hindu wisdom and I like to believe in that, this entire world is made of one big giant ball of energy. It goes by other poetic names too — consciousness or divinity. Every piece of matter in the universe contains a piece of that same energy. Externally, we may look different. Something is a little green plant. Another thing is an animal with black and yellow lines on its skin. Another thing is a human walking with two legs. Another thing is that human with brown skin. Another one is a human with Mongolian features. All these external features of appearance might distinguish us for the purpose of identity, but inside all of us is really the same consciousness.

And really — the same. Prime Minister Modi or erstwhile President Trump or your barista in the cafe down the street or you or myself — we all have the same consciousness. We take birth, get a piece of that, and die return to that big ball. Nothing new is getting created and nothing is lost. Somewhat similar to high school physics — Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed.

Imagine a lake of pristine water. A cattle comes gulps some water to quench her thirst. And then you come and drink some water from that lake. The three of you — the lake, the cattle, and you — would look different, but you got the same water in you.

Where does Namaste come into the picture? Well, when we are doing a genuine Namaste, we ought to, for a moment, however shortlived that moment is, sincerely acknowledge that we are related and that we are the same, and really get past the differences that our minds and thoughts create every day. That applies to even the people that our minds and thinking brains tell us to despise. We create the feeling of otherness every day unknowingly. Some coworker said something hurtful, and that person becomes an other. Some neighbor or friend has political beliefs different from ours and they become other. Just imagine the amount of disdain we have for some political leaders.

But Namaste encourages us to get past that and focus on the connection and ignore the differences for a moment. Even if politically conservative fella meets a liberal political leader, when they are doing Namaste, then in their hearts, they are offering reverence for the divine energies of each other. In that beautiful profound moment, the exchange really is not between a Frankie Smith and a President Obama, it is an exchange between two little forms of consciousness.

Namaste is a Sanskrit word that literally is made of Namah + Te, translating into “I bow to you”. The divine energy in me is bowing to the divine energy in you. In that moment, identities and identifiers of thoughts, beliefs, appearances, race, class, and every other label or category that humans have invented — disappear.

So what say, do you want to try this covid safe, contactless and very deeply profound and meaningful greeting? It offers you a brief moment for being present and breaking away from the stress before the moment and the ones that might come afterward. It allows you to reset the relationship with another person if that was going downhill a second ago. It can really bring the world closer by reinforcing the connections over differences.

Exercise in the times of Corona!

With gyms closing down, and temperature dipping way below zero, where does one get an opportunity to move and sweat? I had just gotten a trainer to finally learn to lift correctly when gyms began to close down due to the rise in Omicron in Canada – not the note I was looking to begin this year with.

Yet, I wanted to keep my resolution of a new year of staying healthy mentally and physically through exercise. So I took to stairs. I can very well do exercises of HIIT anywhere, including inside my condo unit. But now I live with my parents. I just feel that exercise is a private time. Either alone or amidst a group of anonymous strangers feel the right setting for exercising. Further, with sweat dripping around and three people in a not-so-large condo, it just becomes a mess.

So this morning, I decided to do a stairs exercise, which is simply climbing down and up the stairs. But I wanted to put my brains too to work and not do plain exercise. So, I climbed up and down in a pattern similar to alankars of Hindustani classical music.


Sa Re Sa

Sa Re Ga Re Sa

I am progressively adding a new note and marching back from the new note.

Similarly, I started with the 43rd floor. I went down to the 42nd floor and climbed back up. I then went to the 41st floor and climbed back up.


43rd 42nd 43rd

43rd 42nd 41st 42nd 43rd

But I noted the inability of the brain to remember such short-term information. Many times, when I would be coming down, I would not remember if I was supposed to climb down until this floor or the floor further down. Because the mind was regardlessly distracting. Either way, it probably did not matter much. The goal was to do this pattern till I reach 33rd. And once I would reach 33rd, I was to do 5 rounds of 43rd to 33rd and back.

As I had finished the first pattern completed one round of the next pattern, I could hear sounds which is surprising because usually, I do not see anybody on the stairs. I noted a member of cleaning staff in the staircase cleaning the stairs. I had reached the 42nd floor in the upward direction. So instantly I did a pivot in my strategy. Instead of continuing to move up, I turned around and went down till the 23rd floor this time and resumed the rest of the pattern between the 23rd and 33rd floor.

I wanted to spice up the upward climb. So on some floors, I would run and climb every stair and on some floors, I would skip alternate stairs.

Finally, as I was completing the fifth round and nearing the 33rd floor, I saw another man doing the same exercise!

I guess I ain’t the only one finding creative ways to continue to move amidst the pandemic.

The Journey from Emails to Slack (and others)

Workforces moved from emails to more real-time communication tools like slack hoping to reduce emails. But we tried to fix only the symptom and rarely the cause. Now instead of a large number of emails, we have a large number of unread chats on Slack and Microsoft Teams. The problem remains the same and we continue to miss important messages and files.

The root problem was the volume of communication. It is like how municipalities are trying to fix the problem of garbage through recycling.

Well – why have that volume of either garbage or emails or communication in the first place? Did we ever think about that? Companies try to sound green by adding this in the footer of business communication – “Think before printing this email”.

How about – “Think before sending this email!”

Is every email or chat we send out absolutely necessary? Before asking for information via these platforms, do we check if we already know where to find that information? Before pressing the send button, do we try to think if I could combine a few other related information or asks in this same communication instead of multiplying the chats or messages in the recipient’s inbox?

Just because it is free, we use the platform liberally and many times mindlessly. Even though it is not costing paper or trees, it is causing mental overload! And all the same, problems that existed with emails.

A visit to Bobcaygeon on the Birthday weekend

A good friend of mine in Toronto had been encouraging me to explore nature in Canada and spend time in her cottage. So, on my birthday weekend, I headed to Bobcaygeon. I hadn’t written much in the past few years. Just like any other muscle or machine, writing skills too can become dull and rusted if not exercised or used. Hence, I really wanted to spend time documenting my experience and to just write without paying attention to the inner critic. What follows below is what I experienced in the land of Kawartha over a period of three days. Its original version was the letter I wrote to her for introducing to me the cottage country life.

This note is being drafted from the porch of her cottage during the early hours of Sunday morning. My writing pad is too cold. Let me go back in and get some gloves.

Yesterday, my day began with a rush to get the car rental place to pick the car. On the streetcar to Queen and Parliament, I had a very profound experience. A woman was trying to get on to the streetcar along with her little daughter in a crib. So many passengers in the streetcar, including myself, were so busy with our services, gadgets, thoughts and several other engagements, that we did not notice that the mother was trying to push the crib up on to the streetcar. The person who sprang into action to help was the one I judged to be troublesome because he was talking to himself. It was a good lesson for me. First, I should be more aware and present and not be lost. Second, anyone, regardless of their problems or state of mind, is still capable of human empathy and compassion and therefore they themselves deserve the same respect and empathy from me, instead of judgments or scorn.

What followed was a little rollercoaster of emotions. Mother gave the very young daughter, probably two or three-year-old, her due place in the coach by treating her like an individual who could have her own likes and preferences. She asked her where she would like to sit – on her lap or on a separate seat by her side, instead of deciding that for her – something I do not observer often in parenting. Then she pointed the daughter to the leaves that were falling from trees with every blow of wind as if they were tied delicately only waiting to fall. She asked what colors those leaves were. She explained to her that that is why it was called FALL. Watching and hearing all this against the backdrop of trees swinging with wind and dropping their leaves with every swing was very emotional and profound. I felt that what she was encouraging her child to do was what even adults should do – be present and observe the changing weather. This fall won’t come for another year. One doesn’t need to drive to places to enjoy the fall. That tiny toddler could have all her share of Fall amusements in a Toronto streetcar because she was observing all that with bewilderment in her wide excited eyes. My eyes had tears watching and thinking of all this. I cannot forget the dreamy face of that child.

My drive to the cottage was wonderful. I stopped at a farm in New Market and picked some early Gala apples, some peaches and a hot cup of apple cider.  I realized that I hadn’t had apple cider since my time in Indiana five years ago. This was freshly prepared and had no preservatives and therefore had a shorter best before date. That’s my favorite thing to do in small towns – consume things closest to their sources in the least adulterated state before they undergo processing on their way to the city. Apples indeed looked different from their way to the ones in the Loblaws in the city. They weren’t shiny for sure! Also, I learned about the different varieties of apples in Ontario and about their tartness and sweetness through the chart prepared by Apple Growers of Ontario.

My next stop wasn’t too far away either – it was called Rose Farm. I saw a board saying fresh home potato fries. I do not know exactly where this was. It was a beautiful cute place with kids and pumpkins all around. Clouds had lifted away, so it was bright, slightly chilly and cheerfully sunny. I queued up at the Fries counter. Apparently, they grow these potatoes there and I think they fry fresh batch for every order – no wonder the queue moved slowly. There was a nice polite kind couple behind me. Perhaps in their 50’s. I asked them how far up north they planned to go. They replied, “probably not too far, just a day trip, since the weather was nice” . When I shared that I was going to Bobcaygeon, he said, ‘Oh boy! the land of Kawarthas! You still have some ways to go up before you get there! When I was ordering fries, he insisted that I ordered gravy too. And if I did not like the gravy, he would buy that from me. Indeed, I did not regret it – gravy was delicious!


The rest of the drive was gorgeous too. But at one point, I became anxious. Probably in Peterborough, when I was seeing the word Kawartha all around. I was feeling that I already passed the cottage. From my friend’s details instructions about how to get there, I was under the impression that the place might not be on the google map, at least not accurately yet. That’s why those instructions because otherwise, people might be likely to miss the cottage. Hence at this point, I decided just to follow the google map without stopping anywhere and figure once google says I had arrived. I could check the rest of the farms and interesting places on the way back to the city.

Thankfully, Google brought me straight to the cottage and I noted my friend’s last name! I had printed the instructions, just in case. So, the first step before I stepped out of the car was to pull out those instructions. I was really excited to walk upon the fallen pine and maple leaves on the ground and realize that I was finally here! When I walked behind the house and saw the lake, it was really breathtaking. Quiet, with occasional ripples. The place itself overall was very quiet – just what I needed in order to hear myself.


I had reached here around 3:30 p. I spent some time in logistics. Then I changed into winter boots – glad I remembered to pack them and then I left the cottage to walk and explore around. I walked in every direction and would turn around at the end of any path like I was on some depth-first search. I had some exchange of greetings with some of neighbors. I got back to the cottage and found the lake very inviting. So, I picked up the book, ‘Lost in translation’ to read by the lake. The booked seemed a bit difficult to read. Perhaps because of several foreign-sounding Chinese words and also lack of context since I knew so little about Beijing and China. The sounds of passing vehicles weren’t helping either. So, I decided to write instead. I wrote a long letter to a friend in India. I kept writing till it became too cold and I decided to walk back in. Inside the cottage, I think I spend significant time just standing and observing. I could spend several minutes standing in front of every corner and wall of the cottage, admiring how thoughtfully every inch of the space here had been designed and developed. All the modern amenities were present here but in an eccentric way! The ‘vacant’ or ‘in-use’ sign in front of the toilet was the first example of the ingenuity of the art in this place that I noted. Very simple tools and means had been used to tell a story on every wall. A piece of wood with an interesting pattern and cuts. The countless New Yorkers in the bedroom. I still haven’t gotten to check out all the covers yet. How did they get that idea? Lamps that have a cover of cloth or Canadian flags to provide just the right light. How did they think of all this? The sign that points to the lake, the paintings on the stools, the world map of experiences – everything was so eclectic here that I could not help thinking who was the brain behind all this. I mean art on stool tops – which are often ignored because their only use is for people to place their bums! But I found the art of clouds and maps on those too! This place indeed was a visual treat to my eyes.

I tried to make a fire. I couldn’t. I am not so skilled in these survivor skills and outdoor processes. Perhaps I should come next time with friends that are much more confident in that stuff. But I remembered the warm cozy feeling I got when, on phone, my friend told me that fire was also a nice company. I never thought about that! Hence, I tried anyway.

I had carried a few eggs and onion in an empty beer crate. So, I made an omelet and ate by the little flow of a ‘fire’ that I could make. After cleaning up, I tucked myself up in bed by around 8:30 pm with my book Maurice which I was surprised to find in my bag!

I was woken up by a phone call at around 11. After I finished the call, I noted light at several places inside the cottage. I wondered if I had left some lights on? I walked into those bright patches and looked up. I could not believe that it was moonlight! It probably was full moon night. It actually was because that morning I spoke with my mother and she told me that she had fasted. Well, I had a new admiration for moonlight. There was some moonlight on the pillow too, where I slept. It wasn’t disturbing. It was diffused. I remembered that she had told me about stars that could be much more visible in this town. It was quite cold so I was a little hesitant in stepping out at this hour of the night. But I did not want to miss the stars, so I got hold of a cap and gloves and another jacket from my bag and slowly stepped out. When I saw what I saw, it was jaw-dropping. The sky was full of stars. And stars so near. Stars in the sky and in the lake. It was beautiful. I have the picture but only in my mind.

I got back in and went back to sleep. Those extra layers proved useful as the temperature started dipping fast.

In the morning, when I woke up, it was still very dark. There wasn’t much moonlight either. It was hard to know what time that was. But I wondered if I really needed to know that to make the decision of leaving the bed or sleeping more, considering that I was on vacation and not on any timeline or schedule. I did look at the clock, which by then I knew was an hour ahead in time. I left the bed and came to the porch area to write some. I noted outside some smoke. It was a bit bright by now. I came out. It was majestic. There was water, a layer of mist and trees. It was spooky and mystical. Reminded me of the Redwood forests of California. Since it was early morning, there were no vehicles zipping by. I took a picture, but that picture could barely capture the scenic moment that my five senses witnessed.



I got back in to write more. Inside the cottage, I often found myself fixated on one part of the cottage, studying the wall and then without moving the body, studying the objects around. Then a realization would dawn upon me that I had not moved in a while. So I very slowly and intentionally took a few steps to grab my writing pad and to settle this time in the relaxing chair by the fireplace. I wondered what caused this careful calibrated slow movement because it was not so in Toronto. First, there was this pervasive silence in there that I did not want to disturb. As I wrote, the only I sound I heard was that of me scribbling on paper. Second, even though there was no one inside, but it felt like every object and piece in here was telling a story and the cottage was full of storytellers who are just napping waiting to be woken up to tell their tale when I was near them. So, I wouldn’t walk up to them unless I am ready to hear them.

After a while, I wanted to do something else. It was hard to decide between reading, doing exercise, making breakfast or taking a walk. I ended up choosing none of those, instead took the car keys and headed out. I decided to do walking meditation and my friend had told me about a long railroad trail near Fenelon Falls. The car was freezing, but once I hit the road, it began to warm up. I anyway was bundled up heavily.

On the way, I saw a small stationed vehicle and some fruits and two humans. Even though I took this trip to get away from the city, but an almost complete absence of human interactions made the sight of another human an exciting moment. So, I took a pause there. It was an old couple just setting up their farm produce cart. I was the first person to stop by.  It was just interesting to see them doing what they were doing. Both husband and wife wore flannel shirts and the man wore a hat too. They had corn, apples and several other seasonal farm produce. I asked them how long they had been living here, doing that and how they spent their days. They shared that they moved there only three years ago, from Markham where the man was still a grower (he was a sixth-generation farmer) but the woman was a supply manager at a farm. I just realized that we did not even exchange names. The man lamented that farming wasn’t the same anymore. The government had messed it up by turning this into an agri-business and they had no clue about farming. They spent their days attending that several acre farms and ‘feeding chickens, feeding pigs, feeding whatever’! 😊 . I was curious if they missed the city life of Markham which they referred to as ‘huge city’ and if they had found friends and community there. She shared that one could find that anywhere if one wanted. She found really nice neighbors there. They often trade goods and services. They needed some help with a machine and wondered where they could hire some help. But their neighbor offered to help fix and said, ‘hey those eggs look good, I could use some’. It was so interesting to note that the barter system was still existing in this day and age barely a few hours from Toronto! They had several churches there. After chickens were done giving eggs, they would just take the chickens to the foodbank that they supported. Hence, they had found a community and support system there. They just loved this life living close to nature and their son and daughter who lived close by, so they got to be with their grandkids, ‘which is a lot of fun’.

I did not want to get a full basket of apples. I asked if I could get just two. ‘Yes, you may, and that would be fifty cents’, she replied. I purchased two and headed to my car. On the way when I took one big bite, it was sweet as honey!

In another 10 minutes, I reached Fenlon Falls or so google said. I thought it was a place for real falls. I found out that it was actually a town. Like Sioux Falls in Dakotas! Most places were closed. As I waited for the walk sign on my way to the Tourist Information Center in the ‘downtown Fenelon Falls’, At the next traffic light, I exchanged greetings with an old lady who complained that that walk signal took forever to turn ON. The information center was closed too. Thankfully one health food shop was open and they told me the way to that endless railroad walk.


As I began to walk, I once again thought that I should put some time. I set forty minutes and then silently rebuked myself again for being subservient to time and machines – ‘why can you not stop when you do not want to walk any further or when you are tired? Why do you need a clock to tell you that’? I decided to walk as far as I could in forty minutes and run on the way back. I tried to be aware of the fullness of breath and its emptiness. I had expected dense foliage and woods, but this turned out to be a paved path with a lake on the left side and houses or cottages on the right. The day began to warm up or perhaps this place was warmer than the cottage anyway because it was a few kilometers south. I wondered if I could really complete the walk because my feet were melting in those woolen socks and winter boots. I saw a big green farm. So, I decided to deviate for a bit and stormed into the farm and continued my stampede on this bright sunny pasture till I reached the end and then I stormed back to the trail to continue. There was no music. Only me, my thoughts and my breath. And of course, the occasional passing of ATVs, bikers, walkers, dogs, lake, houses and green. Once the timer was up, I had to prepare for running. I was also curious to know how far I’ve come. I censured myself again – is that important? Is anyone counting miles?

Well, I had to lighten up, both figuratively and literally. Metaphorically, I needed to stop judging myself and perhaps lighten a load of thoughts and more important my reactions to them. Literally, I had way too many layers that bundled me up when I left the cottage in the cold morning. It would be hard to run. So, I removed one jacket and tied it around the neck, zipped up all essentials in a pocket lest they should fall when I ran and then I put some music on. As I began to run, I might have looked like a walking shop of winter wear. It was so not how I ran in the city. I was still wearing three layers on legs and carrying plenty of paraphernalia in the pants’ pockets. Those winter boots were heavy as well. To my surprise, I reached back the beginning of the trail rather sooner! It was bright and beautiful. I threw away all jackets and music machines on green grass and felt so light. I tried to do sun salutations but felt weird doing them with shoes on. So, I threw off the shoes and one layer of lowers too. It felt like summer, with a mild sweet cold. I thought of doing 12 sun salutations, but after a few, when I was distracted by my thoughts, I went easy on myself and did something else. I sang a bit. I was probably like a puppy who just rolled in the joy of sun, trees, and grass. Then I stretched some more and then laid flat under the tree and observed the leaves dancing with winds, shining in the sun. Every branch would bend and sway and yet not break and would keep its leaves intact with all the strength it had. As I enjoyed the green earth beneath me, and admired the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and the dance of nature all around me, I felt grateful that I was able to experience all this with help in different forms and shapes, such as that friend’s friendship, my good health and so many resources that universe has shared with me. I felt life was good!

I stretched some more and then spent some time staring into the lake. Nearby, a little girl ran around a tree. After each round, she would wave at her mom and resumed her revolving. Once she was done, she would do the same around a smaller tree. Once I was done the observing, I got back to my tree where I had thrown away my belongings and did some rapid exhalation exercise. I felt hungry so I wrapped up and got back to my car. When my friend recommended me the Kawartha Coffee Company, I found my next destination. On the way at the same intersection, I saw the same old lady who also recognized me and retorted this time, “Are we doing this again!”. What a small town this was!

What a huge patio! Patio probably was bigger than the restaurant.


Initially, I sat outside with my caramel apple cider and pumpkin apple crumbles but I found it a bit inconvenient to share them with the stubborn honeybees on the patio, so I went inside. I walked on the Bolton street till the end where I saw the lake again.


On the way back, I checked out a store of British clothes. What could I say, those clothes and that fashion were just that – British?

I was tired from all the moving around, so I got back to the cottage and settled myself by the lake to resume the book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ by Viktor E Frankl. Surprisingly, It was very warm and sunny here at the lake too. In fact, I had to go inside and get sunglasses to read. I might have read a few pages when the tiredness and pleasant warmth of the sun and perhaps the content of those pages served as a lullaby. I came inside the porch and laid down there with the book and a blanket. I do not recall when I might have dozed off, but I was several pages ahead now in the book when I woke up. It was a bit cold now, still bright but not sunny anymore. Probably 7:30p. I came in and bundled up again. I made a cup of tea and turned my tanpura ON to do some music practice. Around 9pm, I tucked in with the book Maurice again and soon slipped into dreams.

Monday morning was rather clear, perhaps since it rained the whole night, hence no mist on the lake. I began the day with more writing. It was still cold, so I stayed indoors. After some time, I decided to have my breakfast by the lake. It was quite an experience to have a hot breakfast in the little chilly windy surroundings of the lake. Then I bundled myself up for a quick walk upon the foliage of fallen maple leaves on the little silver lake road.


There were some patches of the bright sun where I tried to breathe in some warmth. I got home, made tea and settled to finish writing. I decide to ignore the clock. By the time I finished, it was close to noon. So, I began the winding down exercise to conclude my stay. After clearing up, I finally decided to brave the cold and test that outdoor shower! I could not open the door.  So, I went outside the cottage with limited clothes and entered the shower from around the house. The wind was sending chills down my body but as soon as the first drops of hot water fell on me, I began to collect myself. I hadn’t had this experience in a long while. An outdoor shower of a house – probably in a small town in India. It was incredible!

I packed up everything and hit the road again. While driving back, I reminisced about the past few days in the cottage country. I cannot thank my friend enough for opening her home to me. That was very generous of her. I also noted her generosity in encouraging artwork of everyone who visited the cottage – whether kids or adults. She had put up drawings, sketches, paintings, carvings of so many people who had spent time there, regardless of how simple or sophisticated those were. That art captured a slice of the memory they created during their stay there. I saw some artwork from 1993. No wonder every corner narrated some stay in the cottage.






सामाजिक औपचारिकताएं

अब एक हो तो कहूँ । यहाँ तो कभी कभी साँस लेने में सोचना पड़ता है की लोगों को कैसा लगेगा । कहीं आस पास बैठे लोगों को कष्ट ना हो जाए । अब मेट्रो में ही ले लो । हूडा सिटी सेंटर पे जब गाड़ी आयी तो मैं लपक के बैठ गया। जैसे आपने देखा ही होगा के कैसे ख़ाली ट्रेन का दरवाज़ा खुलने पे बाहर खड़े लोगों में ऐसे हड़कम्प मचती है जैसे मलयाली लोग २ दिन की छुट्टी के बाद शराब की दुकान के बाहर बेचैन से खड़े होते हैं और दुकान का दरवाज़ा खुलते ही स्टैम्पीड ही कर डालते हैं।

मैं कौनसा रोज़ जाता हुँ गुड गाँव । जैसे किसी अन्य स्टेशन पे भीड़ ही भीड़, मुझे लगेगा यहाँ भी सीट की मारा मारी होगी। बड़ी बेशर्मी से भागता हुआ सीट पे धरा गया मैं । बैठने के बाद देखा सीटें तो कई ख़ाली थीं ।  फिर ख़याल आया की अब तो  दिन डूबने को है। इसलिए धूप मेरी गर्दन पे पड़ेगी अगर में यहाँ बैठा तो। काले होने का इतना डर नहीं था जितना वहाँ बैठे गरमी कचोटने सी लगी १-२ मिनट में ही। सामने सीट खाली देखी थी तो मन  था कि उठ के वहाँ बैठ जाऊँ । अब यहाँ जिस धर्म संकट में मैं पड़ा , मुझे ख़ुद भी बताते हुए झेंप से होती है। मैं इस दुविधा में पड़ गया कि बग़ल वाला क्या सोचेगा ! हे भगवान , मैंने तो शायद उसकी अब तक शक्ल भी नहीं देखी थी। फिर भी ऐसा संकोच ! बड़ी हिम्मत करके सामान उठाया और सामने जाकर बैठा और बैठते ही उस आदमी का चेहरा चोर नज़रों से देखने कि कोशिश की कहीं वो भून्नाया हुआ तो नहीं । देखा और पाया , वह तो सो रहा था ।

अब लगी भूख । सुबह साढ़े आठ बजे नाश्ता करके घर से निकला था।  जहाँ इंटर्व्यू देने गया था, उन हरामखोरों ने लंच तक ना ऑफ़र किया। ख़ैर करते भी तो मैं कौनसा खाया ही बैठा था। अपने दफ़्तर जाने के लिए भी तो देर हुई जा रही थी। लंच के डिब्बे की सोची तो ट्रेन में खाने योग्य कटे हुए ख़रबूज़े ही लगे । मम्मी ने संग में सीख भी रखी थी । ना हाथ गंदे होने का झंझट ना ही कोई एम्बैरस्मेंट । कान में राग पहाड़ी ताकि आस पास की निगाहों की तरफ़ ध्यान भी न जाए । आइ मीन, कुछ लोग ख़रबूज़ा खाना या ट्रेन में कुछ भी खाना सही नहीं समझते। क़ायदे से तो नहीं खाना चाहिए, पर भूख भी तो थी। और उससे अधिक महत्वपूर्ण बात यह की घर से तय्यार लंच यूँ ज़ाया होना बहुत बुरी बात होती।   ख़रबूज़े ख़त्म हुए । ढाई तो बज ही चुके थे । अपने दफ़्तर पहुँच कर समय  मिल पाए या नहीं । दही तो तब तक शायद ख़राब हो हो जाए । पूरे दिन से बेचारा खाने का डिब्बा मेरे साथ लगा लगा फिर रहा था । इतनी गरमी कि आदमी सड़ रहे थे, तो दही चीज़ ही  क्या थी ।  दही का डिब्बा निकाल के देखा तो माथा ठनक गया । हर बार की तरह आज भी एक तरफ़ से खुला हुआ और पन्नी में दही गिरी हुई थी । दिमाग़ में बस एक ही ख़याल आया – ‘आइ काँट डील विध दिस मेस्स नाउ’ । डिब्बा जैसे निकाला था वैसे ही वापस रख दिया । ना चम्मच थी, ऊपर से दही खिन – बिन और फिर दिन भर की गरमी से थोड़ी खट्टी भी हो गई थी –  उस बबाल से इस समय उलझना मतलब संकोच और औपचारिकताओं के सारे पहाड़ लाँग जाना ।

५ मिनट हो गए थे। फिर ख़याल आया – टू हैल विथ दीज़ स्ट्रेनजर्स, दही पी तो सकता ही हूँ। उसमें क्या चम्मच। मूछें बन भी गईं तो क्या फ़र्क़ पड़ता है – इन अजंबियों ने बड़ा याद रखना है मुझे । और रूमाल तो था ही मेरे पास, अगर कोई आपात्कालीन स्थिति होती भी तो।

मैंने कान में राग और तेज़ कर दिए ताकि लोगों की काल्पनिक नज़रें इन आवाज़ों में दब जाएँ । डिब्बा फिर बाहर निकाला , पन्नी हटाई, धीरे से ढक्कन खोला,   आँख बंद करके ४-५ बड़े घूँट में पूरी दही पी गया। रूमाल से साफ़ पोंछ करने के बाद फिर अपनी किताब ‘सीट नम्बर ६’ में रम गया मैं ।

Tale of Printed Prices

Recently I came across a ‘meme’ that accused the ‘liberals’ of negotiating prices with vegetable sellers in the street but buying fancy items in malls and stores at face value and then tweeting the grief on farmers’ suicide. On its face, the meme seemed logical. But somehow it didn’t seem to connect the dots. The thoughts of finding why we negotiate had been visiting and revisiting me for a long time. We end up negotiating the cost of the grocery with the vendors in the streets. We bargain with rickshaw persons for a better fare. We do that even for manual rickshaw which requires human muscle strength to pull another human. Often some section of society judges the section of negotiators and bargainers. I wanted to dig deeper instead of dumping judgments and labels.

We don’t do this bargaining when the price is printed. Even when that is handwritten on a piece of paper like in the farmers market or artisans market or trade fair, we hesitate in any form of negotiation.  In the fancy malls or stores or hotels, we again have only two options – take it or leave it. When the price tags are seen digitally on Amazon or Flipkart, we would have no control again. There might be sale or deals, whose control again sits with the sellers or the platform.

Somehow, when the price is written down,  it puts mental blocks towards the direction of negotiations. Those printed or written digits discourage us from asking for a better price. Of course, the motivation for this discouragement works differently in different situations.   

Sometimes the class difference between buyer and seller plays a role. Street hawkers or rickshaw pullers fall in much lower classes than buyers. So buyers exercise some power in extracting a better price. But the power of class differences dilutes if the price is printed.

When we buy a house or buy media or software subscription for our company or ourselves, we negotiate to the last drop. Big money involved there. In essence, those negotiations are a thousand times bloodier than the ones on the street with grocery sellers.

Thus, ground for negotiation is not as simple as it is portrayed to be. Many factors play into this.

Why I Would NEVER Vote for BJP (or Congress) .. unless..

This evening, I was going for my music class. As I turned onto the Janak Puri Road, the one I take every day, I saw it blocked. I was already late for the class. It was quite a nuisance to see this tent pitched in the middle. I went around it and noticed two police men. Turned out that some BJP meeting was planned to take place in that pandal. I asked the beat officers if the organizers had  permission to hold this assembly in the middle of the road. He said that he did not know. I went up near the stage. The meeting had not started yet. Few people were seated in the chairs. I enquired with one of the guys in the front to learn who the organizer was. He said, “I am the organizer, tell me”. I said, “Do you have the required permission to hold this event at this place?”. He asked why I wanted to know that. I told him that I am a citizen and if a road that I use every day, and specially the one I pay tax for, is used for purposes other than vehicles or pedestrians, then I had every right to know that. He pulled out a paper, and told me that that was the permission letter. As I began to read that, some other saffron clad man snatched that from my hands and asked me who I was. I tried to tell him the same. He asked me to leave and kept asking who I was. The organizer told me to come with him to the beat officers, they would show me the permission letter. I told him that they didn’t have that, that was why I came to him in the first place. Regardless, he brought me back to the constables. As we got there, some other men reached there and told the officer that I was disturbing their assembly. I explained the situation. Some guys hit me. The two constables did nothing. When they tried to charge at me again, constables tried to intervene, one of the men succeeded anyway. Police officers asked me to leave. I asked officers if they were going to press charges against those goons. He asked why I was talking inappropriately. I couldn’t believe this, a group of men just punched me in front of them and they are not saying a word of censure. There was some verbal duel. I asked him if this was why he wore uniform, to just watch? An offense of culpable homicide happened just happened in front of so many eye witnesses. He asked where the eye witnesses were and told me that he would arrest me if I spoke further.

This was a meeting to ask for votes. This is the foundation of electoral democracy in a city – municipal elections. If the idea of ‘development’ is founded on violence and injustice, do we want such ‘development’ ?

One Modi, if at all he genuinely wants to fix this high headedness, cannot fix this arrogance and sense of impunity across the party and supporters. Manoj Tiwari, the head of Delhi BJP already has been seen showing the same attitude of hierarchy. Unless this intolerance of questions goes away, unless these political parties begin to respect ordinary voter and his questions, there is no way I can vote for them.

PS: Not voting for BJP or Congress does not simply translate to a vote for AAP. Any voter can dislike or like more than one political party or leader. Not to forget that there is always the option of ‘None of the above.

PPS: I went to a similar assembly some weekends ago, where AAP candidate was going door to door with his supporters. I asked him questions. Sure enough, he was visibly discomforted. But not once did him or his supporters dare to even touch me. And there was no police there. Rather, I got him to sign an undertaking that if he failed to deliver, he would quit.


Could we be missing something in the conflict issues of African nationals in India?

Like every other evening, I took the e-Rickshaw on Friday evening from Uttam Nagar east to Dabdi. The driver was a young man , 23, from Begusarai, Bihar and his name was Aman.  As usual, I took the shotgun seat next to the driver because the drivers have amusing stories to tell. Therefore, while looking ahead and talking to this cheerful gentleman, I didn’t know who all were sitting in the 4 seats behind us. Aman amused me by telling the story of how his girlfriend from last 5 years turned bewafa! And he got married at 21 and became a father at 22.

At C 1 Janak Puri signal, some passengers deboarded. My pleasant evening mood was suddenly disturbed by the sound of a rather violent pat that I found was on Aman’s hand. There was a passenger, apparently of African origin, who had given Rs. 100 and Aman didn’t notice that as he was busy narrating his stories to me and assumed it was Rs. 10 note, which is what passengers often gave because the ride was priced flat at Rs. 10.

Aman apologized, of course in Hindi. And gave him the rest of the change. He again made some mistake in counting and there was one Rs. 10 note less in the change. The passenger yelled again, this time rather more loudly and hit his arm. Aman realized his mistake, apologized again and gave the Rs. 10 note. The man left talking to himself.

I don’t know if that is how that man or other people of his community usually talked or he was high on something, but I found this demeanor very disturbing. I can tell from my gut feeling, and not because Aman and I have common identity – Indian, that it was an honest mistake. Incidentally, this happened, just when he was telling me that he does not like Delhi because people are very rude to him.

I do not know where that man is from. If it’s Nigeria or some other place. I don’t want to believe that all people of his country or continent behave like that. For all I know, on his part, it might as well be very natural. His talking to himself could also be natural – we also do that in anger.

But the only point I am making is that there is a possibility of another side in each of such cases of conflict. Before jumping to any conclusion, we may want to hold our judgments and keep our mind open, absorb information, if we absolutely have to ( we can always have the option of not going to facebook or avoiding news of any kind!) and later have any opinion. Each conflict is different. Assuming that all Nigerians in India are into drug peddling or all Indians are racists is quite a dangerous proposition.

Interestingly, when I told that man that he should not have hit Aman, the lone woman in the rear seat, an Indian, advised us that we should stop harassing Nigerians.



Political Warfare

In politics, there are two ways to impress the people you govern. Words and Actions. Ideally one would expect words to be a short term ploy and actions to be instrumental in creating long lasting impression. Empty vessels are known for making more noise. Actions are assumed to be louder than words. Sometimes, it works out like that. Often it doesn’t. More so, in the times when social media shapes national opinions. Surprising as it sounds even in the case of nations like India where population active on social media is negligible compared to the total population.

In the spring of 2014, if my memory isn’t failing me, I met Dr Gayatri C Spivak at a seminar at Columbia University. During a group discussion, I asked her why Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal was doing populist things like chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai when he was supposed to lift political conversation above any rhetoric. ( I’ll leave the discussion on Bharat Mata ki Jai for another conversation. )

What she replied  shaped my way of looking at political words. She explained that he was up against Modi! The amount of resources that BJP had, including Modi’s brand was exorbitant. So, Kejriwal would do all that he could, hopefully in ethical limits, to fight this out.

I interpreted that in this manner. Political parties or leaders should not be taken seriously on what they say. They need to be judged on what they do. Their saying is more or less inconsequential. They do that for short term political gains to get power or to sustain power .

In the US elections last year, or even in the past, so much dirt was thrown by all, including Democrats. I witnessed same madness in Loksabha Elections in India 2014. At that time I used to wonder how would Modi and Kejriwal would ever meet in person when they have poured so much of bitterness for each other in public. Incidentally, in India, we still don’t see top political leaders debating directly. So we don’t see the nasty talk that Trump and Hillary engaged in directly with each other on national TV. Can you imagine Modi directly saying to Kejriwal – तुम मूर्ख हो। . I was aghast though when during a debate Trump so effortlessly called Hillary ‘stupid’ !

So many things that Kejriwal says like an uncontrolled stereo are to sustain a public opinion against BJP and keep it in his favor. These are the need of the hour because we live in times when just DOING good work or even SPEAKING about the good work done isn’t enough. All parties engage in trash talk, in putting allegations (false or true), in belittling other parties’ belief and in many other kinds of toxic things. Different political parties or leaders have different methods to engage in this. While Kejriwal does it himself,  Modi has a fleet of people and technology and police to do it so that his image stays clean. Around the world, general people aren’t objective enough to see through this. Yet. Simple example – imagine a teacher who gives quality education in a school in an Indian village. A simple way to bring the teacher down is spread such information in public as the teacher eats beef or he is gay or is having a love affair with an upper caste girl or any such things that are considered ‘blasphemous’.  And that might be true too. In the knowledge of such information, all the good teaching work would vaporize.

Thankfully, we haven’t gone that dirty yet in political narratives. We still try to respect private lives. But we are not far from there. If the current pace and intensity of dirt continues, we shall soon be there!

So the point I am trying to make is that when Kejriwal alleges that Modi is corrupt or when BJP says Kejriwal is a liar and takes frequent U-turn or when parties make such allegations, remarks or tweets, which by the way are golden for media, then we needn’t take these seriously. They do it to balance the amount of trash against each other. It’s unfortunate but true. Apart from competing in who does better work for public welfare, they also need to compete in who says more stupid fictitious things or dumps more trash. I must clarify that some of this trash might as well be true. But they come out in an unstructured way without any serious intention to follow through. No wonder these disappear as soon as they come. There are never follow-up actions. If AAP claims that Modi takes bribe, then apart from making #ModiTakesBribe trend, why don’t they file a complaint with Vigilance or FIR and follow-up and keep people informed about progress and ultimately take it to a conclusion? If BJP and its supporters believe Kejriwal is corrupt, then arrange to get him convicted. They even have police and CBI under their influence. Why do you think they arrested AAP MLA’s when they ultimately found nothing. They too probably knew that nothing could be found. Doesn’t hurt to book them. It would fan the public sentiment against them and keep the toxicity against AAP at the optimal level.

What should ultimately matter are the decisions and executions. The projects for public welfare or even against public welfare. Those are what everyone, including news media, should focus, discuss and debate.

Why would media not report on work carried by an MLA in his constituency? When a government decides to start a mining project and auction frequency spectrum, that needs to be discussed. When education minister in Delhi starts a new project, that needs to be reported. When union government brings out a blueprint for fighting corruption, that should be debated and discussed.

But Kejriwal living in X house or Y house or Modi wearing a shirt with his name – how consequential are those on regular people’s lives? If Modi or BJP says AAP people are Naxalite and should go back to forests, are those comments important? When Delhi CM constantly claims that BJP and INC are in cahoots, is that important when not a single conviction is happening? These things are at least not worth producing hundreds of articles and telecast five thousand debates on TV.

Of course, these are of great consequence for page views and TRPs. That’s why I often observe that in media business you end up doing what is profitable and not necessarily what is right. Sure, sometimes the right thing to do also happens to be profitable.

Now there has to be a line that should not be crossed in the crossfires of allegations and comments. Case in point is politicians and influential leaders saying things that have a potential to cause violence or rift in society. Those should be reported and reported again. General people, lacking objectivity will believe such things as well and resort to violence. Comments on religion, faith, gau raksha, and fatwa can cause serious problems to peace in society.

In short, if us people start seeing through words and filter out the noise and pay attention to only the relevant information, that can encourage politicians to engage less in trash talk because they would see that those efforts aren’t bearing fruits. We need to stop liking, retweeting and sharing irrelevant sound bytes and videos to help reduce this madness.