Can You Recall The Five Faces You Saw Today?



Last Friday, as I was rushing for work and walking into the subway station on East 86th street, I was so lost in my own world and thoughts that I did not see a man coming from the opposite side at the same turnstile where I was about to swipe my card.  I noticed that only after swiping my metro card. Not even after swiping,  I actually saw that when I had moved turnstile in to enter the station and came in less than an arm’s distance from that man. Now I saw that he was blind and that he was now inching back to make room for me to move forward. I could not feel more shamed of myself, of my absentmindedness. This was so not mindful living. That man began doing without having any eyes, what I could not do, with two perfectly functioning eyes. A woman now assisted him in making the exit. She gave me a look of contempt, which I clearly deserved. These few seconds now were the moments of very high awareness and consciousness for me. I can never forget the faces of that man and the woman who assisted him.

Feeling awful about this, I got into thinking about the cloud of our personal thoughts that surrounds us, ALL the time when we walk around in New York City. The things that are allowed to be a part of this cloud are devices – our cell phones, our e-readers, our music players. We don’t really lift our heads up or take our eyes off our devices or books to make an eye contact. Even when neither of the devices are engaging, our thoughts are still elsewhere. We say New York is a melting pot of cultures, but we don’t even know the language of the person sitting next to us in the subway because Spotify is streaming into our ears, screening off any linguistic treat from commuters. From the time we leave our apartment in the morning, till the time we hit the bed in the night, we must be coming across at least 30 new faces ( no Maths done), but can we recall even five of those faces when our head lands on pillow for a good night sleep?

There was another face I will never forget. Few days ago, I was taking a cross town bus from west side to east side ( I don’t take buses otherwise ) and the seat to next to me was empty. A noticed a really old woman approaching towards this seat. I just smiled, which I usually do when I see someone coming towards me. Not a big wide grin, but just a moderate smile of acknowledgement. And I resumed reading the Metro News. The woman took seat and said, “Thank you for your smile”. I can’t even forget the tone and warmth of that voice. There are many people of her age who probably didn’t grow up in a time of wired humans. For them, it’s hard to comprehend this new generation that is wired in an individual virtual cloud. So possibly, it was a pleasant surprise for her to receive smiling acknowledgment of her existence from a random stranger. And it was a surprise for me, for I did nothing extraordinarily out of my way to please here, I did what I usually did.

I know that it might be too much to ask from urban dwellers to always stay in the present and notice every human they see and make eye contact with everyone. That will be a lot of visual information to process each day. But that done in moderation might make each day a more pleasant one as the researchers Nicholas Epley and and Juliana Schroeder found in their research at University of Chicago, which I still believe is nothing earth shattering. Often, the clouds are full of thoughts about past and present. Engaging with strangers help us distract from them and get back in present, at least for time. Looking in other’s eyes and seeing their faces make us more empathetic towards them because we begin to see them as humans and not as objects dotting our way to some destination. Who knows, you might not need to go to or OkCupid, because the person you were looking for was sitting right next to you on the Q train to Times Square, if only you two had allowed each other in your virtual clouds.

So, will you try to recall five faces tonight?


Eastern Purity

It all triggered with the morning visit to Mother Dairy today. I saw a gentle man putting a white hanky on his head as he approached a small gurudwara. A very small gurudwara which might as well resemble a house. He closed his eyes and stood there at the gate for few moments. The faith that I saw he had in god, and the faith in that minute he spent there was overwhelming. I have waited many times outside temples for my friends offering prayer inside, or waiting in queue [temples around Jama Masjid attract huge crowd] for their turn to offer prayer. Generally this happens on Tuesdays. I don’t have any issue getting inside an have a word with almighty, but I enjoy more waiting outside, I get the delight to watch! Last Tuesday, I saw Prateek standing quietly with closed eyes and folded hands, as I waited outside. The innocence on his face and the faith that the situation exhibited was enough for me get that rare standard emotion, “I wanna die here.” That’s how I felt when I saw Darjeeling for the first time or when I saw river Ganga in Rishikesh. These feelings are inexplicable by a word but I would like to coin a phrase, “eastern purity”. This is what I find most appealing about Asia and more so about India. The mandir, the masjid, the ganga, the flute, the Hindustani classical music, the morning, the sitar, the feminism – all these go into formation of ‘eastern purity’. Everyday, I see some lacunae around me to crib about India. But whenever this sense of ‘eastern purity’ prevails over my head, all cribbing fade away.

When rain rains

It is raining here at a time when winters were supposed to have arrived. This might be a welcome gesture of Mother Nature to receive winters in this part of the country. Clouds are intensely dark. They have enveloped the entire sky above our campus. Looking above gives a feeling that the world is going to end.

It now begins raining so hard, that I feel like going out and get soaked. But tomorrow is Diwali, and there is a fair chance of me catching cold. But these rainy winds are truly seducing, I feel as if they are calling me at the loudest pitch. And how unfortunate I am, I have to close the windows of my room today for the first time in this semester, that too when rain , my most beautiful gal friend is knocking my door. But as human, I also have erected walls to insulate myself from nature. The window when kept opened allows the rains to enter my room sousing my belongings. But I want to somehow capture these intense moments of the rage of Mother Nature. I try to capture it on the lens of the camera of my mobile, but rain doesn’t want anyone else to come between me and her, she souses the lens as well. God, I also want to be with her, but the price might be too high to pay, I am perhaps too weak for that. Perhaps that is why rain is so angry that her dearest lover proved to be so weak. I won’t say sorry for that will bring even bigger disgrace to our love. Only way I can capture this beautiful time is by writing.