Thursday, March 29, 2012

Urbanisation

The rate at which Delhi is developing is pretty phenomenal. The last two times I've been driven home from the airport - a mere 20 minutes away from my abode - I've struggled to work out where I am and how I got there as we weave our way towards NH8. Sure I know the direction in which I have to go to get home ("it's thataway", I point helpfully to the driver), but there are all these pesky obstacles in the way such as road dividers and roundabouts and flyovers and trains.

There are all these SIGNS in the way now. I didn't need roadsigns to get home 5 years ago. All that this super-development has achieved, I told my mother, is to make it harder for us locals to get anywhere while the tourists and other out-of-towners cruise smoothly around, unhindered by the ancient schemas that are so firmly entrenched in our minds.

SO I just decided to document the pace of development in this city, by mapping (I use the word loosely) out my changing route to the airport over the past 25 years.

I'm very creative and artistic, I know:


I must admit - the last one is actually the way BACK from the airport.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Town That Time Forgot (II)

I’m meant to be doing a million other things involving writing and I don’t want to do any of them and that is why now is the perfect time to complete this round of thought.

So we've established Melbourne’s not exactly the most novel place to be. I have to admit that the issue of change – or the lack thereof – is one I was well aware of even when I first arrived in this town. It just so happens that I conveniently chose to ignore it till the novelty of the place wore off.

The other issue is less obvious but far, far more insidious. It took me a good two or three years to identify it. It’s ‘happiness’ and, like change, the lack thereof.

It’s incredible – it’s awe-some and awe-full. These people are the most negative critters I’ve ever come across. A life spent as an only child means I’ve learned to whine my way through existence, but I make sure even my grumpiest moments are mixed up with a bit of joy, humour and appreciation for what I have. The whining is just a front, I’ve never meant any of it. Even as a child I knew that whining was an entirely ineffective, albeit v. satisfying, strategy when it came to getting what you want. I also knew it annoyed adults no end which is why I had to cut down on it once I left high school (not that my family could tell).

But zomg, I’ve never seen such a genuine lack of happiness in my life! And never such authentic cynicism either. I am yet to locate a single Australian who is not on some sort of medication for a mood/anxiety disorder. I’m sitting here envying them for their non-gated communities, their social welfare, their incredibly (incredibly!) efficient and considerate public administration, their public transport, the abundance of carbohydrates in their food (aksh, this one is more gross than enviable), their endless parks and gardens and trees that are miraculously lush despite most not even belonging to this ecological system (or so I’m told), and my own freedom to – get this – GO FOR A WALK. I can walk down a main street. I can walk to the market. I can walk home at 11 pm after a show (not speaking for zone 2). I can travel almost anywhere I choose all by myself without fear of being gawked, ogled, letched or leered at. I’m just a visitor here, and I have ALL THIS FREEDOM. The main reason I spend so much time exploring this town all by my lonesome is because I’m still shocked that I CAN.

But Melbs isn’t happy. I can’t generalise these findings to all of Australia by any stretch – if anything I find people from the country are substantially ‘nicer’. They seem to have more joy and kindness in them. In Melbs there is so much... angst. It’s bizarre because it doesn’t even have a specific direction. All it needs is a scapegoat – anything can be a trigger. I mean, have you seen twitter? It’s incredible, every week the Melbs (and Syds, I think) based people will find something utterly mundane to be offended about. And d’you know what’s even better? Half those things don’t even concern them - they’re actively SEARCHING for something to have a rant about.

Chiz, what’s the point in getting upset about something you can’t/don't want to fix?

I don’t understand this anger/sadness mentality at all. I know us human beings have a negativity bias but this is ridiculous. God knows I spend more than my fair share of time wallowing in my own gloom and/or getting angry at the simpletons surrounding me, but it’s not the focus of my being. I understand it’s all right to be upset once in a while, but I would never, ever actively (or even passively) hunt for something to be negative about. Sadness and anger are bloody EXHAUSTING. I can’t handle anger for more than an hour or two, and I usually boot sadness out after it’s stayed in my mind for a day (maybe a week, if I’m super bummed). But what about happiness? Savouring the smallest things – animals, the weather, melodies, memories, smells, and the constant contentment that you are loved by many people in different ways. All the anger and sadness I’ve ever experienced feels completely insignificant when the little things take over.

There’s a conversation to recount for this one as well. We were sitting in a park and my friend was idly watching a toddler who was squealing with excitement at the sight of a horse-drawn carriage parked nearby. ‘Ah,' he said, 'don’t you wish we never lost our capacity for amazement?’ Rhetorical question, but yah know, I don’t think I ever did.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Town That Time Forgot (I)

So I'm back in Melbourne about to complete my fourth year here. I turn 25 in 3 days and in the time between then and turning 21 my family has seen me for all of 4 months. Which was fine by me at first - after 21 years I'd had quite enough of Delhi and wanted a bit of a change. I get bored quickly. I can't stand to have the same meal twice in a fortnight (unless it's sabut saalan, obvs). So 21 years in the same place was quite a feat.

I got back last week after five weeks in Delhi and THIS time something happened. I started to see the cracks in Melbourne's pristine facade and the glow in Delhi's grubby personality.

Since I started getting really into my thesis I've been cultivating my tendency to express everything in points because I find it makes things easier for whoever's reading to understand. So here goes - there are really only two major issues that are to be taken into account.

The first is the small issue of change and it is a tricky thing to explain. I don't like it, but it excites me. Change is a sign of progress - it's proof that time elapses, human beings advance and the world becomes a more interesting place. The only discomfort to be felt is in the fact that it disturbs the status quo and adjusting to it can be unpleasant. I also dislike it because of how it makes nostalgia permanent and ensures some events will never happen again because things change, people change, circumstances, economies, abilities and infrastructure, all change.

Change happens in Delhi and its surrounds all the time. In fact, it happens so much that I thought constant change WAS the status quo. Even after I arrived in Melbourne. I lasted this long not quite noticing the lack of change because I was so enamoured with things like trams and a functional, civilised public transport system (that everyone keeps complaining about - I'll get to this in a moment). To me all this was a HUGE change and it was exciting and stressful as expected.

Now I've settled in, I've got used to sharing a house with a couple of friends of mine and having a friendly tram stop at my doorstep and take me to my cafe where I can sit and study. I'm nearly done with the thesis I started 2 years ago.

I was keen on all this for about a year and a half. The routine was pleasant and the repetition made the time zip by. Then I went back home for these five weeks. I knew there'd be a train at my doorstep, and this was delightful enough, but what I didn't expect was the jaw-dropping new international airport terminal PLUS the multilevel parking garage that didn't exist when I left. I also didn't expect construction to have begun on the rapid metro that attaches to the metro that was built and functional in the time I was away. I was there for five weeks - I cannot stress this enough - but I didn't get to do everything I had planned to do. I didn't get to go everywhere I planned, eat everything that I wanted, or meet all the friends I had to as often as I would have.

Now I've been back in Melbourne a week and I've done everything you can possibly do in this town: I've had a cup of coffee, been on a tram, and eaten at a laneway cafe. Had I taken the opportunities offered I would've also gone to the beach and a gig.

Now what?

Now I'm wondering how a town of 3 or 4 million people counts as a city and how those 3-4 million are not only a) not getting bored senseless, b) inviting their friends down to this vibrant land where there's SO MUCH TO DO.

I was sitting with one of my best friends (~17 years now) and sipping kulhar chai at Dilli Haat when she asked me - in the middle of the sights and sounds (those bloody annoying wheely things parents stupidly buy for their children, specifically) and general stimulus overload - 'don't you get bored there?' and while my instant reaction might have been "oh NO! How COULD I when there's so much GREAT COFFEE around?!?!" I decided to hesitate a millisecond longer to think about it. First thing I did was think of the all too representative Twitter sample. What does it talk about? Eating establishments. Best coffee in Melbourne. Getting drunk. TV shows. What phone do I get and when is the new one out. Which politicians are nutcases this week. And oh, the one I share with everyone back home - 'social justice'. I love social justice tweets, I always save them up!

'Kind of...' I found myself saying. And then because I'd thought of the social justice tweets and snickered a bit, I changed the subject to tell her about them. She works with her economics professor doing unglamourous research work in villages while those with smartphones tweet about how unfair the world is and how evil politicians are. I thought she deserved to know how the Australia I'd seen was supporting her through The Power Of Social Media.

I have to be fair and admit there are at least TWO things Melbs has to offer that Delhi doesn't. First, there are the gigs. I wouldn't have seen Alcest and APTBS and SSPU and Spiritualized etc. anywhere else and for that I am eternally grateful. Then, there's education. I don't know where else I would have been able to do a thesis on Online Journalism, but then again I'm not sure how much of it was me being helped to do a thesis and how much was me paying a university to recognise my thesis. I know the most help I got for it was outside of uni, so hm.

The second issue is the larger one of happiness and you can see how long change has gone on so maybe I save up happiness for next time. Give your eyes a break.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

It's not travel anxiety

It's 'Things I Hate About Travelling'

I've been flying alone since I was 19, so that's 6 years of solo travel now. On average it has been about a trip or two a year. Most of those trips have not been direct flights so you could even see that as 4 planes a year for added cred. A normal complete trip is about 13 hours (DEL-MEL or vice versa) not counting stopovers, the most recent of which was 11 hours long. I'm not counting domestic flights, and the 5 hour flight to HK is more than adequately offset by a) the 1.5 hours of panic on the ground prior to takeoff owing to New Passport Dramaz (my first solo flight too - talk about omens) and b) the 24 hours it took to get to Rome (don't ask).

Despite my years of flying experience I cannot get over the overwhelming anxiety that grips me in the days leading up to a trip and that sends my BP through the roof in the hours immediately before leaving for the airport. It's not crippling, but it's pretty bothersome and it doesn't appear to affect anyone else (does it? please say it does!). It is overwhelming enough for me to opt to seek professional help i.e. the internet.

I begin with a search for travel anxiety and am besieged with links offering to help me get over my fear of flying. But therein lies the rub - I'm absolutely fine with the flying. Chiz, that's EASY... I mean getting ON the plane is only the second biggest achievement when travelling internationally. The biggest is, of course, managing to get past immigration and into a first world country on an Indian passport.

But WHERE is the counsel to get you through the REAL tough stuff. Things like working out what to pack, sorting out the stuff you're leaving behind, weighing your luggage (twice I've snuck through with a couple of extra kgs), dealing with suspicious immigration peeps at both ends, and that trick you have to do at security where you pull all your gadgets out of your bag(s) and stuff them back in within 60 seconds - to name a few. Then it's a matter of fine-tuning your arrival time at the airport - you want to have time to spare in case there's any drama with your documents, but if you're early, the wait is excruciating. Arrival time is also dependent on whether you've checked in online and if you have, you are allowed to show up a bit later, but then you're caught in the queue with all the retards (I'm speaking French) and there are plenty of those in this country.Bear in mind, I am talking about solo travel. There's such an exhaustive checklist of things you have to remember to do and bring and fill and have ready and you have to keep track of everything, all the documents, the forms, the bags, the gadgets, the announcements... it's difficult NOT to be anxious when you don't have a backup brain with you.

OH! and add to that, the even more insidious trauma that comes with leaving a place you've lived in for 22 or 4 years (depending on which direction you're flying) and the life you've set up for yourself in both. It isn't a simple geographical swap but an adjustment of lifestyles - one place offers you more freedom and convenience, the other greater comfort and luxury. And you know what, I bet the next thing Dr. Internet offers us the most advice about after 'travel anxiety' aka 'how to sit on a plane for a fixed amount of time and be waited on hand and foot even when travelling economy without stressing' is 'jet lag' aka 'how natural it is to be tired for a couple of days after a long journey by air before your body clock resets itself'.

So my question to the internet is this: what kind of doctor are you when, in all my quests for comfort and solace in a time of much angst, stress and uncertainty, you give me advice for how to handle the easiest part of the trip? And my request to whoever chances upon my woes is this: I'm probably using the wrong search term when seeking online solace so, er, what do you suggest?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Books Don't Need Batteries

Lately, I've been coming across articles - more articles than usual - about the inevitable death of print and how digital is superior in every way. Now, I'm doing an entire thesis on the superiority of digital media over print, so you'd think I would be on their side, but now that I've said that, you know I'm not.

Well, digital is superior to print for a number of reasons. They are all enumerated in my thesis and I will totes spruik it to you once it is a book, but I don't have the patience to go into them here, least of all when my claim is the opposite. I find two things objectively distasteful about this coverage of the death of print. The first is how it is announced with such GLEE. Most of these articles are positively rejoicing over the death of print journalism (they usually discuss journalism, not books, but both count) but I disagree with it all the same. Down with paper, up with screens! - they go. It's a new era! - they go. Well, the 'new' bit was well and truly over by the mid 1990s, so we can scrap that as an argument. As for the death of print... I could rehash the argument about how print has survived more advances in media than any other form of media and each technological change brought with it the same death cry, but there's no point repeating what's already been said.

Now I understand the internet is the first REAL threat because it's the first one to create a different medium by which text can be transmitted (and created, for that matter) and text was so far the source of all print's powers. And you know, MAYBE these articles are right and print doesn't survive this digital landscape, or whatever the new synonym is for CYBERSPACE!!! or THE NET!!!. I'm certainly not doing much to help it at the moment, am I?

But there's one little thing such pieces and the comments beneath them fail to mention. It's an omission that reveals the complacency of the developed world. It's the title of this post.

I didn't grow up in a place with a 24 hour power supply. I didn't grow up with computers, either. When we did get a PC in - I think it was 1996 - we watched out for flickering lightbulbs. Voltage fluctuations were a sign that the power was about to go out so we'd have to initiate shut down as fast as we possible could on Win95. To add insult to injury, the lights may only cut out for a few minutes but if the computer loses power, everything vanishes. Then came the UPS and instead of watching for flickering lightbulbs we'd watch the clock. The UPS would only provide enough power to last half an hour, so at the 15 minute mark, we save everything, and at 20 it's prepare for shut down, 25 it's YES to 'are you sure you want to turn off your computer?' and at 29 the lights are back.

Well, sure the situation's a lot better now, but by bringing up power cuts what I mean to draw attention to is the fact that every single form of media apart from print is dependent on electricity and electricity is dependent on non-renewable resources as are the gadgets that are meant to be responsible for killing print. Print is the only raw, renewable and 'real' medium of communication and a) it is expected to die, b) its death is a reason to celebrate?

How about a little more respect for the medium, a little more gratitude for your infinite power supply, and a little more thought for those places without?

At the moment I'm trying to read the PDF of a book. It is the most uncomfortable thing. What makes it so is not the harshness of words on a screen, or the absence of such romantic things like the sound of the crinkle of old books, and the smell of thumbprints, and the sight of pages the colour of loved yellow. It's the physical markers. I remember parts of a book based on the side of the page they were on, how close to the beginning that page is, whether it's at the top or the bottom and how the paragraphs were structured on that page. It's not photographic memory, it's just an unconscious mnemonic. Reading on a screen leaves me without those indicators of my position within a book. I lose my bearings, I get a bit lost. If I close the file I can't just flip it open to roughly where I was when I last left it and then flick back and forth till I find my spot. Very disorienting. I might be a fuddy-duddy but I can't imagine how I could enjoy a book I couldn't feel my way through.

I should just scrawl this on a flyer and stick it to lampposts around town.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Chowkidar

The things you miss when you're in a foreign land are really quite little. People ask if you miss your city and you agree the holy trinity of family, friends and food is a perpetual void (but really you just miss the food). However, the city itself? God no.

And then little things start to sneak up on you. Last time I spoke about the cool relief that was the reliable power cut. Today I've been reminded of another sensory staple - the chowkidar's seeti.

I don't really know why I miss this one since I barely heard it. It only chirped when I was at my father's house too long like a reminder to start pushing him to take me home so mum could go to bed. Mum's not a night owl like me she's the opposite kind of crazy. Wakes up at 6 am willingly and calls it a sleep-in.

I also heard it at my father's mother's house which was bang in the middle of South Delhi and so needed the reassuring whistle of the security guard to act as some sort of pacifier. No crooks here, guys, you can all sleep peacefully.

Now I don't know how effective the seeti was at keeping the bad guys away, and I've never heard of a chowkidar ever having to DO anything security-y. Who knows, maybe he did when we were all fast asleep and I'm just being unreasonably cynical. I don't know how many of us even know what he looked like. We only know the silhouette on a bicycle, wrapped in a beige shawl in the depth of winter, gliding around keeping us safe. I think that was his purpose. No, really - what do chowkidars do? I've only ever heard them whistle.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bijli

The lights just went out.

There I was tapping away on my laptop as I always do. I'm a compulsive laptoptapper, the tendency has its roots in the summer hols of 1996 when I was 9 years old and spent a month doing nothing but typing on a keyboard that had been separated from a much loved C64. No screen, just keys. Anyway, it's what I've been doing almost non-stop for the last 15 years - I have the luxury of an LCD screen now - and it's what I was doing when the lights went out.

Ah, powercuts. Such a familiar feeling. In high school and college I'd stay up late studying for exams (as you do) and the lights would go out at some post-midnight hour. I'd push my head back against the cushion that was propping me up. I'd close my eyes - or leave them open, it didn't really matter, you saw black either way. Everything was asleep - people, pets, and the pigeons that nested under the air conditioner. It was so quiet. And so dark. You could swear you were the only one awake, if it weren't for the trucks humming on the highway.

The lights would never be out for long. If they weren't back in ten or fifteen minutes, you'd hear the deep, distant sigh of the generator. When I was younger, I'd watch it puff out black smoke clouds. I used to like that polluted smell. It's clean now. You can see it from my bedroom with its little window with the yellow light - and that light miraculously never goes out. Anyway, then the lights would snap back on, sudden and brighter than before. If too many other owls were awake the generator would sigh again - this time precariously. The voltage would dip, the lights would dim and you'd hold your breath. Sometimes they'd go off again and in your pity for the overworked generator you'd reach over and turn something off - the airconditioning, maybe unplug your laptop, or switch off one of the mega-bright energy saving lamps. Then it was more likely to be successful at carrying the weight of electricity. It didn't really matter though, if in those few uncertain moments the lights stayed on or went off. If they came back to life, you'd stretch, moan softly and patter downstairs to brew a cup of tea in a little cauldron. If they didn't, you used the time to breathe. You forget to breathe when you're working hard. Then the 'real' lights would turn back on and you'd patter downstairs to brew a cup of tea in a little cauldron. If it took you less than fifteen minutes to put together that one cup of tea, you did it wrong.