The Unreluctant Smoker

I usually take stairs from our sixth-floor apartment to go down to the first. I like the walk – it’s healthy – what’s not is the smell of cigarette smoke in the stairwell.

Cigarette smoke might smell different outside as air nudges and splinters the thickness of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. Since the smoke – be it thick or thin – is injurious, most public parks are now no-smoking zones. But, when you smoke in the wrap of a closed structure, the thick white stays, and can commute up and down through the stairwell.

No Smoking is written in faint red – on each floor – on the grainy walls of the stairwells in our high-rise building. Since the faint illegibility might be the excuse for smokers to take their drags, the building management taped a warning on the stairwell doors: It is not permitted to smoke in the stairwells.

There are four stairwell doors on each floor, and 36 floors.

Not permitted? Really?

Some culprits continued to smoke.

Nobody could catch these smokers red-handed for they didn’t know their smoking schedules. And it’s unfortunate, either way, that the odor lingers long after the smoker has stubbed the cigarette butt and left for his abode.

Why don’t they smoke in their abode?

They love their family to death.

Last month, the management issued another warning: It is ILLEGAL to smoke in the building.

ILLEGAL. In caps. A severe step. Two print outs for each door. Double the budget.

Illegal worked. YAY!

Smokers are people, after all. Soon, the smoking zone outside the building swelled. And, there was no smell in the vertical shaft of the building. For a fortnight.

This morning, a strong stench greeted me in the stairwell. The more penetrating the smell, the more probability that the smoker was in action. I slowed my steps down, each foot soft and investigative in its landing. I reached the first floor. At the other end of the corridor was an exit door. I saw him, his back facing me.

He had opened the exit door; his right foot partly out as a door blocker. A cigarette was burning between his fingers; a strong wind rushing the smoke in.

“Excuse me, sir, the stairwell is filled with your smoke,” I said.

He turned around, his big eyes; his foot unmoved. “But I’m smoking outside.” He was wearing a carmine t-shirt.

“The wind’s pushing the smoke in.”

“Not at all.”

“I live on the sixth floor – could smell it there, sir.”

He took a step out, still holding the door. The corridor continued to suck the smoke in. “I’m outside now.”

The last I glimpsed him, he had an awkward posture: right hand on the door, high-strung left fingers holding the cigarette, left foot tapping the concrete, t-shirt ballooning behind him.

The wind was harsh, but for all his hard work, he was still breaking the law.

Superficial life is any addiction (Daily Prompt). Pedestrian sense to use a receptacle (Photo Challenge)

Window To Man’s Soul

There’s something about windows. In the words of Quentin Blake: You see, I don’t draw from life at all, but I do look out of my window a lot.

A window is alluring as it secures and gives us a view. What we access through it may have varied overtones: a life away from life, the blossoming beyond our reach, frightening us as much, high altitude and back.

Our 4-year-old son – isn’t this a tricky phase – doesn’t listen to us much, but when he’s in an institution he conducts himself well. Thank god. Here, I captured him through the window of his Taekwondo class.

 

Racing upwards at 14 miles per hour in a glass-fronted elevator, it took us 59 seconds to reach the observation deck (116th floor) of CN Tower. If I edit this photo, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada may look like a leaflet. For more CN Tower posts, visit CN Tower defies gravity and CN Tower in Toronto.

 

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From atop the CN Tower, and as the sun peeked through clouds, Billy Bishop Toronto city airport (center-right) looked abandoned.

 

I’ve said this several times and am saying it again that we are lucky to be living in an apartment with this view. For almost a decade now. What you see here: Freedom Tower in downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, Brooklyn, Marina yacht club in Jersey City. -It was early morning Sunday; the Norwegian Cruise Line ship was returning to Manhattan from Bahamas. We’d taken this ship for our Bahamas and Florida tour some years prior. See Life on board the Norwegian Gem and Great Stirrup Cay in Bahamas.

 

The window that gave us utmost happiness also worsened our fears during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The effects were severe in NJ and NY: businesses lost billions of dollars, half a million homes were destroyed, around 50 people were killed. I took this picture around 9 pm. Storm surge/strong wind pounded Newport, flooding the walkway up to ten feet. Sustained wind speed: 75 mph. We’d taken this advisory from our building management seriously: “…all windows in the apartment are maintained closed, locked and the blinds in the lowered position…that the wind is not permitted any opening, which if allowed, can potentially result in the further opening of window or, worse yet, ripping out the entire window.” Though we lost electricity and the fire alarm beeped all night, we survived unhurt. -Strange that I remember what Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said: Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?

 

We had fun riding this tramway that spanned the East River and connected Upper East Side to Roosevelt Island. Midway to the island and at its highest elevation of 250 feet, we saw another tramway journey back to Manhattan. The window overlooked East River, the Queensboro Bridge and Roosevelt Island.

 

As we approached the Toronto-Pearson International airport in Canada, the pilot’s reminder to fasten our seat belts matched these bumpy clouds we saw through the window.

 

At Mount-Pleasant station in Brampton, Ontario, the windows of this moving bus reflected the not-so-clear activities behind me. Billy Wilder had said: An actor entering through the door, you’ve got nothing. But if he enters through the window, you’ve got a situation.

 

Mail trucks don’t use window doors in summer. Here, I see the driver’s seat and the bright ambiguity through it.

Windows to a soul (Photo Challenge). Witty and attitude (Daily Prompt).

Confessions Of A Social Media Mind

Some taboos thrived in our home in Delhi. Meeting male friends was fine if they didn’t belong to rogue families; females could be friends only from a distance. Our precious lives mirrored pensive sadness.

As a teenager in the mid-90s, I was a victim of my previous generation’s regressive outlook, which had shown no signs of letting up. Their puerile conduct bound and confined me such that my superficial layers had remained unpeeled, pushing me to maintain the status quo of my limited social interactions.

Then came the dial up connection and world wide web, which turned me inside out.

With an email account on Yahoo in the year 2001, it was easy to sign up on Yahoo messenger. Soon I was in several group chat rooms: abusing Pakistanis and Australians because their teams beat India in cricket matches, flirting with (hopefully) women from Bulgaria and Hungary because they pinged me first, becoming a Slovakian woman myself to excite equally curious chatters. A certain resurgence kept me going and I was everywhere, mitigating melancholy too. One deterrent was the eldritch sound the dial-up made in the middle of the night, waking up my parents in the other room. But they got used to it and which prevented my rebellious bubbles from bursting.

AOL had acquired Instant Messaging Client or ICQ, a simple program that made abusing or flirting user-friendly without pop-ups. My stint with MSN Messenger was brief, using it to fight with a friend who’d only used MSN.

As time passed, I was making friends from as far as Honolulu to as near with a random chatter in Delhi; the fiery virtual world made me poised and assertive; there was nothing to lose. I was meeting my friends in the real world, too, which didn’t appear rosy enough to have the pull of permanence. What then felt permanent were anonymity and ubiquitousness. I chose to leave my aggression for the evenings, post the howl of the dial up.

A friend suggested Orkut, a social networking site that was quietly replacing the few real rendezvous we had. The best of friends were thrilled to be connecting online, sharing their recent profile pictures, which eliminated the need to see one another frequently. The polished stillness of these pictures simply belied the truth of the moment, as what was captured in a flashy edited-version moment was a poor indicator of how a person would appear when in the real world. Instagram deepened this divide.

Skype, which Microsoft acquired for $8.5 billion, brought me closer to family and friends, especially after I’d moved to the US. But Google bought YouTube for $1.65 billion and made sure I was addicted to it. I was on Twitter too, but unaware of how I’d publicize my views since everyone was tweeting.  LinkedIn tempted me, but who cared about professional networking: if the quest for freedom from arrested development was the A of the alphabet, professional networking was Z — was a long psychological stretch.

Facebook changed everything, and after it bought WhatsApp for $19 billion in Feb 2014, we knew that the influence of social media was not disappearing any sooner.

I’ve been a member of a school WhatsApp group for two years. The friend who created it remained the admin for long before he – upon consensus or otherwise – democratized it by making every one of the 50+ members a group administrator. Most members are based out of India, the rest spread across the globe. Meetings among friends became rarer. Two guys (including the one who created the group) who were best friends had a financial tiff. One had allegedly owed the other close to half a million Indian rupees.

When their coffee didn’t brew in person, the lender brought up the matter of his roasted ground beans in group chat. He tried brewing it by way of naming and shaming the borrower and his family, not realizing that using profanity wouldn’t separate liquid coffee from the used grounds. The borrower – with not much as a convincing explanation in his defense to the group – was yet to roast his coffee beans.

Now since everyone was group admin, the two barista protagonists deleted each other, one after the other, and they could repeat this feat because they were being added instantly upon deletion by some friendly group members. Hurt not only by the naming and shaming but also by being deleted, the creator of the group, who’s also the alleged borrower removed everyone from the group before adding them (minus the lender) and becoming the sole group admin, like before.

Their coffee hadn’t brewed in person because the edited glory of their online presence had uncharacteristically replaced flesh and blood of their human presence. The lender’s trust of the borrower had died alongside the death of the humans’ valuing one another; the e-intimidation as opposed to a heart to heart talk became the norm. Nobody was surprised. Weren’t we waiting for this?

In contrast with how it was in the mid-90s when the hunt for freedom stocked up its shares on a single window, the year 2017 has forced open many windows without offering a wholesome view. These rusty and creaking windows are blinding us from any possibility to view, witness, and experience the real. Precious lives still mirror pensive sadness.

Waiting for the connect (Photo Challenge). The Sting of Social Media (Daily Prompt)

How A Vaping Tattoo Artist Felt Insulted When He Was Insulting

My first tattoo – Sagittarius the Archer – at Hoboken Body Art. The artist was friendly, dexterous.

My Yelp/Google review points:

1) My wife and I had two tattoos each, done at Hoboken Body Art over the years. We loved the place.

2) Last week, she got her third tattoo, and yesterday, I was to get my third.

3) For our first four tattoos we paid around $80 each. We had four free touch ups but never used them, saving HBA’s ink and artists’ time.

4) Last week, J – the new/head artist – looked at the design my wife had drawn: her mom and dad’s short signatures, a musical note on either end, and a heartbeat linking them. He said he’d charge $160. Which was double what we’d paid previously for more or less the same work. Also, we’d given him print outs for the design, making his job easier. He was clearly overcharging since my wife’s tattoo was 30% smaller (as requested by her) than originally planned.

5) He said, “I’m a very famous tattoo artist. You know me.” His eyes awash with pride as he let out a squeal of laughter. I smiled without a clue about who he was. I suggested that I too would get a tattoo and we’d pay $125 each ($250 in total). I even said that for my design I was willing to forgo the symbol on either end (like the musical notes my wife had for her) if the total was $250. He said his final price was $300 ($150 each), and it was clearly understood that if he was charging the extra $50 we both would get the same kind of work. (One tattoo = $160, both = $300; same work.) I was not keen, but my wife had made up her mind to get pricked. It was her birthday week.

6) So, last week, she got her tattoo done, and we appreciated the work he did. We paid him $160. I told him that I’d get mine within two weeks. He said he’d charge me $140 referring to the $300 package. All was well.

The reception

7) Last Saturday, I called HBA twice within a span of 5 minutes for a time with J at 12 pm the next day (yesterday/Sunday). Both times A – the front desk manager – confirmed the appointment.

8) When we arrived at HBA at sharp 12 pm yesterday, A said that J was running late due to a Light Rail commute issue and that we would have to wait for 30 minutes. Now, we have a toddler son who accompanies us and it gets difficult when there’s a waiting period. However, as suggested by A, we went out for a walk, grabbing some coffee at Bwe Kafe, and came back half hour later. But it was not before 1 pm that J arrived. No hint of apology from him.

9) J looked at my design and said he’d charge $160 since it had a symbol on either end of heartbeat and parents’ short signatures. I reasoned that we’d agreed on a $300 package (not $250 where I was willing to forgo those) and that I was only getting what my wife had got. $150 each. Nothing extra.

10) J didn’t remember the discussion we had seven days prior. Since A was not party to the discussion he had no clue.

11) J didn’t give me a good vibe even last week, appearing slightly intoxicated. He was a cry baby who kept bragging about his skills.

12) And yesterday, he was obnoxious, rude, and unprofessional. One, he came an hour late. He said people have to wait even at doctor’s. Two, he wanted $320 total. From $250 to $300 to $320.

13) Why weren’t we given an appointment for 1 pm? It turned out that A had tried to reach J on Saturday, but could get hold of him only Sunday morning. If A had informed us Sunday morning not to come before 1 pm, we wouldn’t have wasted an hour.

14) J was smoking indoors in front of our child. A Big No!

15) Forget about apology, he was accusing us of being amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying. He said he’d come all the way from his house for us and that he was being insulted; that each hour of his was worth $160, completely forgetting that all of us value time. My wife and I are professionals and we can’t wait for an hour at a tattoo shop. How are we amateurs, unprofessional, and annoying?

16) A apologized to us three times; he even tried to hand a $20 bill to J for his Uber expenses. Perhaps, J wanted those $20 from us after he made us wait? If he hadn’t taken Uber, he wouldn’t have been at the shop before 2 pm. Apparently, A didn’t want to lose us, but J, a greedy and self-centered blockhead, wouldn’t care. Such a loser! God bless him.

17) It’s unfortunate that our relationship with HBA has ended over $20. They should get rid of artists like J — I say this because HBA used to have professional, well-behaved artists.

18) Appointments should be honored — it’s between HBA and the artists. No apology from J was not only discourteous but ill-bred.

19) Such a waste of our time, energy, and the $25 we Uber-paid for commuting from Newport in Jersey City. There are so many tattoo shops nearby. We paid the price for our HBA loyalty.

20) Three of our friends had been to HBA upon our high recommendation. Not anymore.

The entrance window

Now: it was not that we couldn’t have paid the extra $20. In fact, we were planning to tip him $30. What enraged us – how odious his behavior was: last week, it was a trailer – yesterday, a performance.

Establishing a good vibe between a tattoo artist and his customer is crucial. If there’s a lack of respect, a customer might not trust that his artist would do a good job. Imagine, a tattoo is permanent, and nobody wants to be scarred trying to remove it if the artist messed it up. We’re required to sign a consent form before the procedure, making us legally vulnerable.

The day’s positive was, I went to bed thinking everything happened for the best, convincing my wife in the same breath that she need not worry about her tattoo.

Up To My Head

Our son, 52 months old, began his swimming lessons last month.

When he’s in the pool, he smiles and splashes water on other children, but when they reciprocate, he gazes at me: his eyebrows shrinking together = he’s complaining. From the comforts of the lounge chair, I could only gesture him to focus on his lessons.

When he’s out of the pool, he’s shivering, his teeth clattering, legs struggling to move, feet unsure of the wet concrete.

Last week, as part of the drill, all the kids had to wait in line before they jumped in the water. In the 3-second clip below, it was his turn to jump. But before he did, he said, “Up to my head,” while pointing his finger up and trembling enough to win his master’s empathy. His robust sound, rare in public, echoed off the arched glass ceiling, eliciting laughter.

“Up to your head?” his swim instructor or master retorted.

We knew he was not ready to put his head in the water yet.

After that session, when he was standing under a hot shower in the locker room, he stressed that I should tell the instructor next time that he should always do, “Up to my head.”

Glancing at his face, I saw that the space between his eyebrows shrank, the shower sound muting our silence.

Pret A Manger In Newport Center Mall

Pret A Manger has always impressed me with its offering of healthy, fresh, and seasonal food. I have frequented its shops in New York City and was aware that it’d open its first Jersey City location in Newport Center mall. So, when I received a mail from Newport Center informing that the sandwich chain would not only open today but give away free breakfast/lunch, I was stating-the-obvious thrilled.

Barnstock brick-tile gives the brand a reclaimed finish

I wanted to make it to their 12 pm lunch giveaway, so had set a reminder for 11.45 am (I was in Starbucks working on a story). At 11.50 am, I was standing outside the shop, perhaps the 50th in line. When I glanced behind me, I could see a big crowd: the line snaking down possibly all the way to the entrance of the mall. And since the entrance, which was much beyond my view, was probably jammed with people waiting for freebies, the mall security quickly devised a plan to move the crowd up to line in the opposite direction. This must have eased the regular foot traffic entering and exiting the mall.

The clip here shows the constant movement of people as they line up for giveaways.

​The prospect of eating a fresh bowl of salad and cold pressed juice kept me enthused. When my turn came inside the shop, I picked Chicken and Avocado salad and cold-pressed Watermelon juice.

Chargrilled chicken (antibiotic-free), avocado, grape tomatoes, lemon juice, mesclun, dried cranberries, and roasted walnut.

A seasonal cold-pressed juice made with sun-ripened watermelons and a touch of strawberry puree.

After consuming the delicious freshness, I did a digestion walk, ending up at the front of the chain again. The lunch giveaways had long ended, but two friendly representatives were distributing free fruit cups. I picked a cup each of melon medley and grapes.

Summing up my love for Pret A Manger and its inauguration in Newport Center, I was not expecting to receive a voucher that another representative gave me for a free coffee or tea.

Such a beautiful day! Thank you, Pret A Manger.

 

Sugar’s The Target

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Target, the retailer, announced that it would remove signage that has long communicated separate aisles for boys and girls. Boys’ aisle had toys and action figures, girls’ had dolls and costumes.

Reactions came pouring in post the announcement and were divided among the shoppers. Some complained that the removal of signage was preposterous: that boys and girls would always be boys and girls. I too thought the signage was necessary as it carried forward a long-held tradition, also saving shoppers their time. But, when some shoppers welcomed the announcement and I understood why they did, I scrapped my deep-seated rationale and appreciated Target’s move wholeheartedly.

The belief that boys can’t wear pink or girls can’t play with action figures is a fundamental mistake. If a boy wants to play with a barbie doll or a girl wishes to imitate a superman figure, let them. Let us not decide what they should have or which aisle they must avoid. When we make these decisions we apparently are limiting their evolving worldviews. What let-them-be will do is that when they grow up, they may be far more schooled about gender diversity and complexity.

If a girl loves action figures, her inclination to take up a sport or join the military in the future may be natural. Similarly, a boy’s fascination for dolls may, in later years, put him at ease when caring for a baby as a father. Being natural is effective.

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Sugared drink manufacturers will go to any length to make consumers sip Coke, Pepsi and other sodas. They were covertly funding some scientists to come up with findings that a good exercise could offset a bad diet.

There hasn’t been a single evidence to prove that if we exercise every day, we can eat anything. When food enters our system, it causes metabolic and hormonal changes, and exercise can only do so much. Science says that the more sugar we consume the more pressure we put on the insulin to process it; insulin will gradually lose its power and make way for diabetes and other diseases.

Isn’t this shocking enough that a can of sugared drink has 15-18 teaspoons of sugar?

People drink their coffees and teas without sugar, leading by example of how much they value their health, only to drink a can of sugared soda.

Acceptance, Publication

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I can’t believe that I’ve been away from blogging for almost four months. It’s a long time and yet it’s not, as though a truck whooshed past in slow mo.

I sent a couple of stories out during those months. An online journal accepted a story. I was thrilled.  They publish a new piece every Monday. So I waited to see my fiction appear on their website; I was desperate to write a post here linking it to the piece. I waited.

Eight weeks passed, Mondays continued to be menacing. I considered writing to the Editor to check on the date of publication, but feared that my email query might be perceived as impolite. But, when the story didn’t appear last Monday, I wrote to them and got a response within an hour: that my story would publish on May 23, 2016.

I rubbed my eyes, scratched my head, comforted myself thinking the month of May this year was still away.

No. We’re already in August and the year mentioned in the response was 2016. Huh.

There was a note in the Editor’s reply that though my story would certainly appear on their website, it might also be in print if chosen for their yearly anthology.

I wanted to send a mail seeking clarification on the bewildering year-long gap between the dates of acceptance and publication. But I stopped, and surfed their website. The contributors, whose stories have appeared, are published writers with some having been published in ten other journals. This journal – with categories like fiction, non fiction, academic, poetry, and multimedia – chooses one piece from among these categories every week. The last short story under fiction was published six weeks ago.

Math: 4 pieces per month multiplied by 12 is 48. Since their reading periods – when one can send the stories – are three months in the beginning and three months in the middle of a calendar year, they possibly accepted 45 stories for publication before they accepted mine. They claim that they receive hundreds of submissions every year.

Which means May 23, 2016 is rewarding; a truck whooshing past in slow mo is comforting.

 

CN Tower Defies Gravity

My legs shivered. I feared that the glass would break.

But a note that was written on the wall in bold letters THIS GLASS FLOOR CAN WITHSTAND THE WEIGHT OF 14 LARGE HIPPOS redbulled my limbs. A dozen-plus hippos might not be heavy after all, and tragedy could happen – went the thought in my head. My moist palms.

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It was sunny that morning, but Toronto trembled in the December chill. The observation deck of CN Tower with this straight down view could terrify even those without acrophobia. The glass floor was 1,122 feet above the ground.

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I walked baby steps, but some children ran the length of the floor. I stepped on to a side, and squatted, placing my hand on the glass. My sweaty palm left cold trails on the glass.

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You are safe: 256 square feet of solid glass – five times stronger than the standard required weight – should be the only thought in your head.

Virtues

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She’s quiet, but there’s a flow
of unvoiced thoughts, her glow
has warmth of color, they blend in,
like the bows after the rain.

She smells pure
like the dews of the morning grass
her presence, her lure
seen a gerber in a vase?

She smacks his forehead
might hurt — glad it’s a sign
that she trusts his word
as they toast Mumm Cordon.

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But: like a gazelle, she’s ahead,
in a jungle, as the lion pursues
she finds a cave, is almost dead,
she sees that he sees her virtues.

In a world where happiness is rare,
where pretense is the new care
she loves as he lays bare
his truths, nothing more to share.

Refreshing is the breath of the spring,
when awash in the warmth of the sun,
their shadows are proportional, they grin,
their creating memories, moments of fun.

Now she isn’t quiet
her words sound right
she sees that he sees her,
gives him permission, her.

The Bond Of Brothers

For Day 5 of my B/W Photo Challenge, here’s the proof that I’m not only a proud father but also a proud uncle.

My brother and I are two kids in the family. The elder in the pictures is his son and the younger, mine. Both were born – 5 years and 7 seas apart – on the same day (Indian Standard Time), April 20/21.  They are the Bond of Brothers.

Casual

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Shush

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Observation

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Embrace

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Camaraderie

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The Empire State Building

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Clouds may gather, dusk may approach, people may whisper – the Empire stays true to its name.

For Day 4 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I show you the 360-degree views from the observation deck of the Empire State Building.

Seeking happiness among the concrete?

South view: downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Hudson River, New Jersey. The Freedom Tower stands tall.IMG_3046

North view: midtown, uptown, Central Park (oasis among the concrete).IMG_3078

East view: East River, Queens, Brooklyn.IMG_3148

West view: New Jersey, the Hudson River (a beautiful river separating Manhattan from New Jersey).IMG_3066

A panoramic view encompassing East River, downtown Manhattan, the Hudson River, New Jersey, and a slice of the observation deck itself.IMG_3051

I link Sabiscuit for this challenge. Sabiscuit is an impressive blog.

The Yacht Man

For Day 3 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I present to you the Yacht man. I captured these moments one evening from the living room of our apartment.

He was up on the mast, repairing the halyard. When I was clicking him I wondered: what he’d eaten for lunch, if he’d fought with his family that morning, and weirdly, if he’d added coke or soda to his vodka.

I don’t think he’s checking his phone here. He may want to — the altitude might give him a good reception.DSCN1555

Here, he’s trying to pull a tool out of his repair kit; he’ll have to find it first.DSCN1564

Work has begun, and he’s peering in the direction of Brooklyn.DSCN1553

Is someone calling him from below, or is he gauging the altitude? “Will I survive if I fall, and if I survive, what’ll be left of me?”DSCN1554

He has a good view of downtown Manhattan, and with dusk approaching, the Hudson River traffic will peak.DSCN1562

The full view of the yacht and the man. Way ‘up’ to go.DSCN1545

A wider view.DSCN1559

The widest view the camera could get. Spot the yacht man?DSCN1561

The most zoomed-out click. He looks tired.DSCN1565

I figured by the end of it all that I had forgotten to eat lunch, fought with family in the morning and that, I would’ve added soda to my vodka.

I link Blewbird for this challenge. This blog has several breathtaking pictures.

Kailash Satyarthi, The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Is My Ex-Boss: A Brief Tribute

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I first met him in the fall of 1996 when he, in an ironed kurta-pajama, passed by me, and whooshed the door open to his small office. I was lazing at my desk, waiting for the Director, who I’d been hired to assist. The morning was overcast and light barely filtered through the window at the entrance, but the pure white of his cotton made the day appear brighter. I was young, and it was my first job.

It took a few months before the Director recommended that I work for Kailash Satyarthi – the Chairperson of Bachpan Bachao Andolan/Save The Childhood Movement (BBA) – whom we fondly call “Bhaisahab.”

His costume though it was bright, had an air of intimidation, because we’d witnessed all our lives in India, the white-adorned politicians who would often vanish after they’d won the elections, not delivering on their promises. Though I knew Mr. Satyarthi wasn’t a politician, I’d still braved through, with raised brows and wet palms, the jitteriness of my first formal meeting with him. When a 6-foot man, bespectacled, with black beard and hair neatly parted and slicked to the side, breezed into the room and glanced at me, I stood up, holding out my hand when he did his, to shake, and poor man, he had to wipe his hand with a kerchief, as he advised, “You don’t have to worry at all.”

The softness of his voice belied his domineering posture, and the nicety of his demeanor made it easy for me to want to work with him for next several years. He was a presence of immense hope. If we look at his graph – until the moment he won the Nobel Peace Prize – he had given thousands of voiceless children a smile, touching their hearts and enlightening them with his never-say-die attitude.

In my 9 year stint with him, being responsible for his schedule and travel as well, I’d spent most of my time in the office than at home with my family. And the only reason I could pull that off was that I worked for a man, who I rarely saw in a state of exhaustion. He traveled domestic and international, extensively, with the mission of eliminating child labor; and the success of Global March Against Child Labor, under his leadership, proved that, with partnerships and collaborations, groups and teams, we were cruising along to end the menace.

Way to go. His travel continued for days on end, and yet, one fine morning only a couple of hours after he’d arrived from a trip to the US, he was in the office – fighting jet lag – to meet with a local organization, which had come to him for guidance. He’d welcomed them, and stressed how if everyone involved in the movement displayed the passion the mission demanded, the endeavors would yield results. And he’d also warned that the path to mission’s success faced stiff opposition from more quarters than we could imagine — but so long as we didn’t devalue the power of our collective conscience for the sake of the cause, we were right on course. His philosophy and pragmatism kindled each other in the design of his thoughts, where children became the only focus.

He was running high fever one day, but still wanted to lead a team to raid a factory in North Delhi, where some details earlier had suggested that the brick kiln owner was employing forced child labor. All of us had requested he let somebody else lead the raid so he could recover, but his stubbornness was nonpareil, and he wished to go. I remember I’d handed him some pills of paracetamol for fever. A day later, when he’d returned with his team in a foggy evening, he looked fresh, with dozens of rescued children following him into the conference hall — where he stood in a corner, unattached, smiling at the children, who cheered and celebrated their new-found freedom. His detachment, I thought, was a moment during which he pondered upon the day gone by, when he and his team had conducted another riskier raid, converting its success into the laughter that reverberated in the building. His fever pills were intact, and his fever only worse, and he tossed the first one into his mouth, and informed us that he’d better get rest, and stepped out, into his car and disappeared in the fog.

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I remember he had a couple of meetings in Germany and an important one in London, but his UK visa had expired, and he had to leave within two days. We were not scheduling anything in the UK because we knew we had to renew the visa. I remembered a get-together that BBA had, the previous week, and a senior visa official from the British High Commission had been in attendance, and I remember how he’d admired Mr. Satyarthi and the organization, and had left his visiting card. I called him around 3 pm to check if renewal of the visa was possible at such short notice, and he asked me to meet him in the embassy with Mr. Satyarthi’s passport, and by late evening the same day, his visa was renewed. The next day, I’d written to BBC HARDtalk, a popular show where global leaders are grilled, sending them Mr. Satyarthi and organization’s profile, asking if he could be interviewed – since he had a day to spare in London – and by next morning, I received their confirmation that they’d be pleased to have him.

Later, when I updated Mr. Satyarthi about these two developments, he patted on my back and said that he was proud of me – to which I said that I hadn’t done much, and that he was a known figure fighting for a just cause, and somebody only had to contact the right person at the right time.

Years passed, and his hair and beard turned grey and he began to look weary. One weekend, the entire office went to Bal Ashram, a rehabilitation center for rescued child laborers in Jaipur, to spend time with the children. And I remember we were playing volleyball, during a recreational period, and Mr. Satyarthi looked washed-out, but when somebody lifted the ball for him to smash, his strike had so much power that I had to duck my head on the other side. He has always been too mentally strong to allow fatigue to weaken him, and I know that his commitment for child rights will stay alive till his last breath.

Behind the glitter and glamour of the Nobel Prize are his incredible patience in handling complexities, live-in-the-present motto, taking risks to life, seeking truth, and delivering on the promises – the qualities he was born with, and which made his actions for the children languishing in slavery, be counted.

I left the organization in 2004, but I followed its activities online, and I’m so thrilled that 10 years later, Mr. Satyarthi won the prize after being in the running for it for several years, as per the Nobel Committee. But for me he had won it much earlier, when I’d realized that his passion and mission were noble enough.

Imperfect Shadows At White River State Park

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Isn’t this shadow a sign that all is well? At White River State Park in Indianapolis.

Sad folks may not like their shadows (some may seek perspective in them). Happy folks may brag about their shadows (some may take pictures).

If a shadow (which is immune to being judged) looks imperfect, which is often the case, it’s normal.  What is not normal is when imperfection in some makes the rest think they are bigger or stronger than they really are.

 

Drama At Balzac’s

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This nighttime picture of Balzac’s, which is a sought-after coffeehouse in the Distillery District, Toronto, shows faded brick walls, stylish chandelier, high ceilings, and a lit window; but what transpires below on the first level, among a crowd of people who’re chin-wagging and tittle-tattling while sipping the in-house roasted coffee, may be hard like the brick, classy like the chandelier, empty like the ceiling, and bright like the window.

It may befit the moment that you (a bitter reflection of your past acts) now realize how your egotism scared your friends away; how you were certain that one day you’d sit here and sip alone with no one to talk to. The lone you now glances up hoping that some day things might change, for you wish to maintain the status quo.

Endurance On The Venice Beach

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He strummed tune after tune on the Venice beach boardwalk in Los Angeles.

His shabby attire belied the soulful melodies of his performance. He endured, plucking the strings, reaching the broken hearts with “Careless Whispers” and the confused minds with “Make me Pure.”

I saw a liplocked couple standing by a restroom, never wanting to unlock; and a marijuana addict who smoked another joint with teary eyes.

The performer was a homeless marijuana addict himself and he, after hours of non-stop plucking, hollered, “I haven’t eaten for days,” and went back to strumming.

 

Humanity Outside The Museum Of Royal Houses

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Outside the Museum of Royal Houses in Santo Domingo, though this ice cream vendor was eating his lunch, he was ready to sell his cones and bars as he stood up at the sight of the oncoming steps. He was taking another bite when he heard the click of my camera snapping this photo. He scanned my body language hoping that my steps would lead to him, which they did. I bought a vanilla cone.

Since his food depended on those sales, I asked him if he’d ever eaten his meals in peace. He said, “Sales give peace. One cone, more? please.”

Love Balloons

Since we can take this challenge to an abstract direction, I thought of these two pictures, taken on the day of my son’s first birthday.

Agastya’s confusion doubled when I held the balloon high to click this selfieImage

After I released the balloon and it went up to the ceiling, I clicked this vertical selfie. He’s standing in the play yard and I’m bending enough to be in the image.Image

 

They Say:

You touch the feet of Theodore Dwight Woolsey, and you’ll study at Yale.

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Did I touch his feet when I toured Yale University? Yes

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Could I study at Yale? No

Grab the bull by its balls, and it’ll bring you financial good luck.

Did I grab the balls? Yes, the cold bronze

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Did the grabbing help? No

Lastly, on a Halloween night:

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Do I need that mask to be called a devil? No

So I am a devil? Yes

Do I hate myself? Not yet

Happy Ending or Nappy Ending? Happy ending, hopefully.

Father and Son

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When they had a hearty laugh doing a selfie, and his budding teeth have blossomed.

An Impromptu Poem

Their love’s not strange
Like all fathers and all sons they are,
Their equations can’t change
For how many years there are

A father and a son
They wait for the Sun,
In the middle of the night
When the Moon shines bright

The father tries again
The forecast predicted rain,
Clouds shroud the Moon
The son cries soon

Rain lashes at the windows
Flash, the Moon goes,
The son isn’t sleepy
The father is weepy

Then he croons Little Piggy
The rain’s jiggy jiggy
Clouds clear, the Moon returns
The Sun’s still far, off the light turns

The father and the son
After the day’s fun
Embrace sleep and night
For morning’s first light.

Window

I captured this from the window of my apartment. After Nor’easter and Polar Vortex, icy river has been a common sight.

There was no sun for most part of the day yesterday with temperature hitting 0 F. Then: in the chill and gloom of the evening, the sun appeared out of nowhere, giving the melancholy a glittering break.

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