Take A Walk

Yep, the title of this post bears resemblance to the Passion Pit song. I’m sensing a theme with my writing in the sense that I tend to get into the rhythm of things whenever the story I’m writing about has a connection to music. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the song, the memory of the song, or even something as simple as the fact that this song is now playing on loop while I write this blog entry. Whatever it is, it works, and today, I’m grateful for it.

The thing I’ve been most disappointed by as a result of not writing regularly is how there’s no physical record of how I’ve spent each day in the last month. I love that about writing – about documenting. It helps me remember each day distinctly. I know I’ve been productive, there’s been a lot happening: spring cleaning, house repairs, a lot of thinking, and a fair amount of learning at the end of each day. It’s unfortunate not all of it was succesfully documented. Nonetheless, it’s integral that I look forward to all the things I will get to document soon.

Over the last two months, something I missed was the freedom of walking to places. I enjoy walking. When we visited New York, and when I took a trip through Netherlands and Germany, I was amazed by the amount I ended up learning about the city and the feel/vibe of the place by walking along the footpath and following a map till I reached my destination. I equally enjoyed exploring places with just the informational booklet and maybe an audio-guide with me, instead of tour guides showing me around. It just felt more organic, like my interaction with the environment I was surrounded by was not limited by how much another individual was willing to part with. So over the last two months, I’ve just missed the freedom of vast expanses I could explore – even paths I’ve tread on before.

Earlier this week, I had the first opportunity to step out. To do chores, no less, but step outside of my community by foot – to explore my neighbourhood once more, while taking the necessary precautions of course. I’ve never walked this stretch before in my life. Usually, I walk bits and pieces of the entire stretch – to get to a bus stop, or even go to the bakery outside the complex with my friends when they’re all around. I stepped out of the house to do bank work, and it was on that walk that I thought about how much the neighbourhood had changed since we first moved in. 

It’s getting closer and closer to 12 years since we relocated from Dubai to Bangalore, and something I’ve been quite vocal about is how protected I’ve been inside my gated community. When we first moved here, the place I live in pretty much had nothing surrounding it. The closest proper grocery shop was about 7 kilometers away, and you had to plan really carefully while stepping out so you finished all your work before getting back, just because of how inconvenient it was. The walk I took showed me the reality of today. Literally anything I could imagine or ever need was within the walking distance: from necessities like electrical supplies and staples (for which there are multiple vendors) to luxuries like bakery goods and fast food. I could walk and get everything I wanted.

I generally use my time in Bangalore to bring to  my parents’ attention that I wish I could drive our old Toyota Liva. I miss that car dearly. In the current circumstances with the coronavirus and the lack of public transport especially, I think the ease of access with a vehicle to move around (I could do with a scooter too!) was something I’ve brought up a couple of times, much to my parents’ dismay. It’s all a big joke – I’m very pleased they disposed of the car when they did, we had no immediate, urgent use for it. The thing I realized on the walk though, is that if we did indeed have a vehicle with us, I’d never take a walk like that.

It’s been a whole week since I took that walk, and a week since I started writing this blogpost. It’s the first post I left in my drafts for far too long, but actually completed, instead of trashing because it lost it’s relevance in my life. Since last Monday, I’ve taken these long walks every evening.

I love these walks. They get me out of the house, and they give me one hour to listen to an audiobook in peace, catch up on phone calls, and finish a bunch of other things I’d feel like procrastinating if I was in the house. Obviously there’s the fresh air and all that good stuff too.

The one thing I have mixed feelings about is that I’m becoming a pakka Bangalorean again. Three months can change you so much. Given the trope, I’ve generally resisted talking about Bangalore weather with people, even though I do boast about how wonderful it is on occassion. My roommate from college loves Bangalore weather far too much because of what his other friends have told him about it. Now, I can’t stop talking about it. I begin conversations with my parents every evening telling them how wonderful it is right now, how pleasant, how airy. My friend from Gurgaon tells me he’s suffering in some 40 degree heat, and I’m so grateful I escaped from Ahmedabad’s summer because here, the weather is the perfect representation of the Goldilocks principle. It isn’t too bright nor too gloomy. It isn’t too hot nor too cold. It’s bloody breezy, but it isn’t raining. 

It’s just right. 

The Writing Habit

This writing habit of mine is a funny thing. I say habit, but I break it every once in a while and end up coming to the same conclusions. At this point, this is probably the tenth time on the blog that I’m writing about breaking my writing habit and the kind of things it has made me think about. However, each time, although the conclusion is the same (that I need to write), I find that it is a different thing that triggers the break. Recognizing those triggers for me is as important as anything else I do, because if, one-day, I ever read my own blogs again, I’ll be able to understand why there was a random gap between posts when I considered myself to be a daily blogger.

So, why’d I end up on this break? Three things happened all at once in the past two weeks:

  1. Fear: I was talking to a high school friend of mine when I first vocalized this fear building up inside of me that I would run out of stories to tell, particularly given that most of my stories, and most of my writing revolves entirely on observations I make in a given day. During this lockdown I’ve been really fortunate to have found a routine that works for me, and I’ve stuck to it almost religiously, but being slightly confined, I began to get scared that my writing would reflect a broken tape-recorder, with the same observations about the kitchen, or maybe something else I found in the house, but not much else. My friend told me this wouldn’t be the case, especially because I notice new things so frequently, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by that. The realization I’ve come to now is that life will go on, and this blog has essentially always been a chronicling of the things I find fascinating on the day to day. Letting that fear stop me from writing, and this is something I’ve felt before as well, is premeditating that nothing story-worthy will happen in my life henceforth, which is simply not true. Life goes on, things will keep happening, so I shall continue to weave stories out of them.
  2. Longer conversations with parents: My parents and my family are the most ardent readers of this blog. It’s weird to think that now, especially given the kind of things I write about, but I’ve never been conscious of my audience while writing here – given that I am not writing for an audience in particular, so there’s never been a filter on content. Over the last few weeks, my parents and I have spoken for longer durations each evening. It’s a combination of things again, but they are free-er at the end of the day, as am I, and we have these free-wheeling conversations about everything under the sun. I usually end up telling them my stories, and they’re the best private audience to observations I’ve made throughout the day. Writing about them almost feels repetitive. In short, I became lazy. If a story is good enough, there’s no harm in saying it twice. In fact, I think my parents will get the preview to all future blog posts, because it’ll probably be one strand of the conversation that ends up making it here.
  3. Lull: The last two weeks have been a lull for me in terms of actual productive output. There’s been a blip. I’ve been consuming more content, but I’ve not reflected or written about it. In some ways, that’s because I’ve been changing up my routine – which has tired me out a lot. In other ways, it’s because I’ve not noticed where the time has gone. For example, it actually only occurred to me yesterday that I hadn’t written for over 10 days now. Inconsistency is easy to cultivate I think, especially without fixed, tangible deadlines. Hobbies don’t have those unless you really want to set them. Lulls seem a part of life as well, you know, but I think the ambition moving forward is to have stories in reserve – those longer stories that deserve telling when there is time on our sides.

Time to write away.

Any way the wind blows

Doesn’t really matter to me (but it did).

My house is situated right across from the sewage treatment plant (STP) that is located within my community. As a result, I grew up with a foul stench emerging and wafting into my kitchen premises, or into my bedroom – the two rooms that faced the STP directly. To avoid that, we often shut windows earlier than normal, or just didn’t open up some windows – these big ones in our hall, for example. I refused to open two windows that faced the STP out of the fear that the smell would just diminish all my senses. It was actually horrendous. My father tried encouraging me to do this quite a few times, because of the cross-ventilation it offered when the other windows were opened up as well. I did not think the risk was worth the reward.

In fact, this STP business became a community-wide issue when I was younger. My mother was involved in a lot of the community politics, but basically, the STP issue, and any decisions made on the STP directly affected residents that resided in our row, particularly 4-5 houses, but benefited the entire community without impacting their living environment as much [because people consider their living environment to be limited to the things next to their house, and not as far away]. A lot of financial and egotistical challenges later, things ended up getting better because the community pulled through and under some able guidance and direction, ended up implementing a solution that helped us all live better lives.

As a result, the stench is pretty non-existent these days. From time to time, I get a whiff of the old sewage smell and I think that not much has changed in my life. Other times though, I’m more appreciative that my kitchen windows can now be left open and I can actually smell the food that I’m cooking, as opposed to the food that’s been processed first by a human body and then by a plant. I even opened up the hall windows a couple of times.

However, in an extremely selfish sense, I refused to take any chances with my bedroom. Till this morning, that is. There was a lovely breeze blowing all through this area today, and I could hear the breeze hitting the windows in other rooms. Its rare that we have warm, sunny days with this level of breeze. Usually breezy days are typical non-sunny days in this city. This felt like summer though, so I really did want to try the cross-ventilation stuff my father had told me about.

I took the plunge and opened up one of the windows that faced the STP, because I was not confident enough to try out two.

Throughout the day, I have had the most wonderful breeze in my room. In comic strips, breeze behind individuals or objects is represented through these wispy, curled lines to represent a natural force that moves them around. I felt those wispy lines behind me as  I walked around the house today. That, with the added positive of a lack of smell, has made me grateful to the wind-powers today.

I do wish Bangalore had more wind-power plants though. Today would have been a good electricity day. Another set of reflections though, is how temporary all this wind, and smell, and such is. They were a fixture of my childhood – I used to get so angry about some decisions the community took, and the kind of odour that pored into my home and confounded me daily. I look back today and whenever I think about opening windows, I can only think about the smell and the correlated, consequential anger. Nothing else. Wind moves around though, and emotions do too. I no longer breathe the same air I breathed ten years ago.

So any way the wind blows, shouldn’t really matter to me.

Vacuum Cleaners

The first house I properly remember living in is a perfectly-sized apartment for a young one and two adults. It’s the house I remember having my first sleepovers in, where we folded out the green sofa we had and my friends and I slept there. It’s where I remember spilling milk on the wall because I accidentally knocked down an entire glass with my right hand, and it’s where I first remember eating my mother’s pizzas. Aside from these memories and more, including a bunk-bed surprise, my first tryst with a vacuum cleaner comes in this house.

We had a vacuum cleaner at all of the houses we lived in when I was younger. Now I’m not sure what brand it was – and whether we had only one vacuum for all those years or not, but I’ll explain whatever I remember of it. Memory is a fabulous thing, but it’s likely that the vacuum cleaner I describe is a blend of two vacuum cleaners we had. The only things I’m certain of is that it was either a Hoover or an Aftron, and it was either red, or silver.

The rest is honestly a whirr. Quite literally, a whirr – the most powerful whirr you’ve heard. Biswa has this lovely segment on the irritating sound that motorbikes make, and my vacuum cleaner hit that frequency and more. It was not possible to live in peace in that household when the vacuum cleaner was on. The size of the house made everything echo so you heard the vacuum whirring about 4 times for 1 whirr. While we moved across the corridor to a new house, I think that was the thing I was looking forward to the most – the fact that there was an extended passageway and multiple rooms made it almost certain that in the hall, the television would be protected from the vacuum cleaner’s engine.

That was not to be.

I disagree with this Physics principle on emotional grounds, but I learned that sound travels fastest in solids. Never was that more true than when one wall separated me from the vacuum cleaner. I was in the hall, watching television, eating food, while the house-help that assisted us with maintenance vacuumed the rooms. But the sound traveled through the walls and pierced my ears like nothing else.

I knew I would love living in India when we moved here and didn’t have a vacuum cleaner. The jadu did all the jadoo and swept away all sound. For years, I lived in silence, yet a clean surrounding at all points. Till I went to live in France for 6 weeks. The vacuum returned, and with it, all the trauma of my childhood. I was really grateful for a small house and a roommate, because I had to vacuum only half the time, and I could stay outside and far away from the sound when vacuuming was being done, but oh man – on the days I vacuumed, how I wished that these things made less sound.

I thought my saga with the vacuum cleaner had come to a close. Till this lockdown happened and I was home alone. Remember how I said we didn’t have a vacuum? Turns out, our vacuum was in hiding all along. My parents told me where it was to make my life easier, and the convenience of everything has made me love cleaning up the house and doing the chores every day. Vacuuming is a joy because you can see dirt disappear. Dust vanishes before your eyes revealing smooth surfaces. I am no longer scared to make a mess because I can vacuum it away.

I’ve learned how to deal with the sound. My solution so far has been to vacuum quick. It’s worked. My ears can tolerate short bursts of this (and the mixer), so I try not to expose myself to it for too much time on any given day.

However, I’ve made another discovery about the vacuum cleaner, a discovery that has changed my life – and is the sole reason I wrote this post.

You see, my assumption about the vacuum cleaner is that it sucked dust up into the unknown; a void where all dust disappeared never to be seen again. This morning, after finishing up my vacuuming I noticed the vacuum felt considerably more heavy than it did at the start of the month. Then I noticed some flaps. Naturally, I opened them. Lo and behold, the vacuum had an interior!

First, I examined the source of my pain, the vacuum’s motor. After which I found the vacuum’s dust bag where I saw a collection of all the dust and hair the vacuum had sucked up over the past month. I gagged.

Turns out, dust isn’t decimated by the vacuum cleaner. It’s collected and stored for us to clean out. For it’s convenience this machine really sucks, I must say. First it makes that horrible sound, then I have to see and clean the dust it collects? We need a vacuum cleaner that instantly burns all the dust it collects and leaves ash or something. Some technology advancements are owed to society after this medical crisis blows over.

That’s been my adventure of the day.

Open-Ness

There are several things I’ve taken up during this lockdown: things I’m finding helpful to give me a sense of routine, as well as mini-goals to look forward to each day to keep busy while being away from University and sitting at home. So far, I’m enjoying all of them. For the most part, each day feels distinct from the last (on occasions I don’t write, the days sort of meld together). I start each day clearly knowing what I’m trying to do through the day, which I find particularly helpful, and I end each day feeling grateful for having the day to spend the way I’ve wanted to – without University pressures or anything of the sort.

I have, however, noticed one thing. Most of this, whether it’s the research I’m working on, or the new skills I’m trying to learn, or even the reading I’m doing – it’s all happening on open-source software systems, or openly accessible sources that are not behind a paywall. Paywalls are prohibitive, and that argument stands, and yes, of course, I could get behind the paywall by paying a fee and breaking it down. However, most of the things I’m enjoying at the moment, including plays and concerts are happening on software that doesn’t contain paywalled content – take Twitch, or YouTube.

This is an incredible thing.

I fully understand neither Twitch or YouTube are fully free, but you get my point. The content I’m accessing is free, and for the majority part, most content is. Select portions of content are behind the paywall.

Now, I’m conservative with the money I spend, so it takes me a while to commit to spending on something, including books and resources. I usually turn to open source stuff anyway, since they’re almost at par with their paid compatriots.

However, the current success of openly accessible things is telling me one thing. After this coronavirus pandemic ends, I’m joining the open-access brigade with more passion and fervour. I understand the economics of things, but I think the open-access model can be made viable if people chip in and actually contribute to things, and financial backers end up backing these open-access things. And opening up access opens up a world to the person creating whatever media is being consumed because more people will consume the good.

Atleast go freemium.

And not barebones freemium.