Quote-Martialled!

In a world where Internet follows us like a faithful Retriever, the impact of quotes is no longer what it used to be. Quotes come in different shapes and styles, colours and fonts. It’s like a generation awakened to the miracle of speaking their minds through someone else’s words. Better be, shooting one’s gun from someone else’s shoulder. Quotes are trending. Everyone else is either talking about one or sharing one. It is the new ‘selfie’ in town. Every time I scrolled down my friend list, there it was, a thumbnail filled with wise words spoken by a great mind of a bygone era. A quote is no longer a quote. It has become a mass weapon of criticism and silent treatments. We live in a time where people keep their shoulders ‘warm’ but give ‘cold’ quotes instead. Because, let’s face it, discussing an issue can be tiresome. Even worse, I may lose my ground in front of straight facts. Why not establish my point through a quote? That way, I don’t have to talk to the culprit but a glance at my quote and that good-for-nothing knows why I put it there.

Quotified!

If 2015-16 were the years of applying layers and layers of filters on our images to convert them into retro styled bizarre photographs in disguise of “cool effects”, 2017 brought all glory to the #NoFilter hashtag. We suddenly realized that natural lighting in photographs is more attractive than slapping a filter on any photo we take. This is my point (of no return). To understand the value of something, there are times when we need to overdo the exact opposite of that till your brain explodes and you suffer a mental breakdown. In short, you get ‘quotified’ from every nook and corner.

Quote-martialled

I limit my social media penetration to a bare minimum. But, whenever I look around, I get this feeling that I’m being quote-martialled. This trend has been ongoing for quite some time now. People feel the need to express themselves through quotes. With the advent of social media, human behaviour has gone through some serious changes. Famished or not, it has become quite a common sight that people are taking photos of even a simple glass of water at restaurants, ignoring their hunger or social etiquette of not using a device when being with the families or friends. Our photos find a quote even before we start eating. As long as we find a reason, we will post them everywhere till the point has been forcefully established. Look, it’s raining outside, let’s find a quote to share. My partner is not caring enough, let’s put up a quote to make him/her realize what we think of this behaviour. Whoa! There has been a terrorist attack and the government is doing nothing? Let’s search for some political quotes. I feel wise today, let’s use a quote. Life is bringing me down! There has to be a quote for that? I’m deeply bothered because I just saw an Orangutan doing hula hoop in my backyard, let’s find a suitable quote!

Quote Unquote!

It’s like we can no longer remember the joy of expressing our minds without referring to someone else’s words. It’s like there is a quote for every possible action and reaction out there. It’s like saying; hey this is how I feel about this and see who else had to go through a similar situation before? It’s Albert Einstein! See, if Barack Obama felt the way I feel, my feelings must be legit. In short, existential crisis spotted.

Albeit quotes have their immense positive effects – these are messages from enlightened souls that light our inner spirit. Perhaps the only way to find a balance and truce is to chart out a path of existence of our own expressions alongside quotes. There’s no denying that sometimes all it takes is a small paragraph to revolutionise the way we look at the rest of our lives. They inspire us and often make us act on our boldest opportunities! But, whether we can stop overusing quotes or be altered in the process – remains a question unanswered.

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Quote-Martialled!

Keep Calm and Habit On!

Old habits die hard. What about new habits? Do they die easy? Or, do they somehow survive with a dream that someday they might replace the old habits? Lucky me! I have met a few old habits that are in such good health, I’m sure they are going to survive another decade or so. Habits do not live as long as their humans. Well, some do, but most do not. If the veteran broadcaster David Attenborough studied the nature of habits, he would come up in that rich, trustworthy voice with something like, “The average life-expectancy of a human habit in its natural habitat depends on how they learn to adopt with their surroundings. Even at their own risk, most habits are immensely fierce in nature. When they confront a new custom within their natural habitat, they can commonly be observed trying to eliminate the root cause of their uneasiness. In particular, habits are not harmful creatures; in normal state they cocoon themselves in drowsy and unconscious state of human minds.”

One bright afternoon I sat in my office cubicle brooding over an unnecessarily large excel sheet. Beside me sat an old habit in an enormous black recliner. It was a habit that has lived beyond its expected life span. Most habits have a quiet way about them; we forget that they exist until their time comes. This habit has seen me grow up, from a curious kid to a submissive adult, it has always been there, reminding me of its existence whenever it felt the need to establish its territory.

Our habits revolve around us like electrons, surreptitiously making our life choices for us. We don’t always stay focused on our tasks especially when our minds are on something else. “Did you double check all the locks before leaving the house?” or, “early to bed, early to rise…” were something most of us have heard till they became habits that we have passed on to our children. “Double check whether your email is going to the right person”, is another lesson you learned after goofing up multiple times. Well, just in case you would like to know, now there’s a habit for that. As for why it comforts us to pressing the car lock button incessantly or double check that the oven is off, are just the results of mindfulness wrapped in obsession to avoid potential calamities. First lesson, when you take extreme features to avoid mistakes, you are a habitual freak.

As a kid, I have been quite mindful of seemingly minute details but I don’t seem to remember where I picked up a lot of my habits. That’s the thing about habits, when you first meet them they are just another tiny speck in your indifferent conscience but as the days go by, we start to feel their presence build up more intensely in between bouts of grief and despair stepping up occasionally to become our voice in making decisions for us. We begin to sigh. “Had I known?” We look at yesterday trying to find out why we decided to pick them up and wonder why we ever went ahead with this decision.

Thus, comes the second valuable lesson, your journey is to look forward and not backward. You can look back into your rearview mirror for a quick reference, but that should not be your Google Map because every habit has its own make and style. Just like every other aspects of life, people tend to judge habits through their age-old filters of good and bad, evil and virtuous, beneficial and detrimental qualities. But when you oil your “it’s-not-as-simple-as-that” tool, make sure the nuts and bolts are in place and no important parts fall off, you have the option to investigate deeper and do damage control as early in the game as you can. A habit that looks like an attentive first-bencher today can act like a crazy old man yelling at the television set and jumping off the couch tomorrow. In short, something which looks shiny today may lose its luster in the future.

Apparently, when we form a good habit, we are told that the staircase of life is going to promote us to the next level: a better human being! Here your responsibilities, will no doubt, increase. But we can’t stop with this. We, therefore, should strive to better ourselves by forming new habits, habits that will sniff out the trail of more such habits and lure them out of their holes. When hundreds of such habits come out, form long lines and hooves on the brick road of your mind to partake in this tradition, you know you are up for something big that seemed too far away when you were resting on the steps paralyzed in fear of what lies ahead.

And that, my dear reader, is your lesson number three on how old habits die! Really hard.

Keep Calm and Habit On!

Saturday Block-bus-ter

It was a working Saturday. All that was left were me and my timeless romance with performance reports, excel formulas and carefully crafted mails. By lunchtime, I was done mailing some urgent deliverables to a scumbag in disguise of a client. For a change, I decided to return home early.

On normal days, I commute to work by metro to avoid prolonged bus journeys and nagging backaches. Another day and another metro journey to work, but this was no ordinary day.

It seems to me, bus drivers in Kolkata are descendants of Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed, cold-blooded and reckless; all the essential qualities you need to dodge traffic, perform fierce overtakes, speed on bumpers, sneak through political protestors and tolerate passengers who keep banging the body of the vehicle and issue ultimatums to drive the bus like a Formula1 car.

I was in no mood of a toilsome journey that afternoon, but I decided to board a bus anyway. And that turned out to be quite an experience. It was 4:30 PM, the time when the timid sunlight reluctantly touches half of every building in the city and gusts of wind whistle through the roadside trees. The bus stand was deserted; only a vortex of pre-owned bus tickets, dust and a cardboard box were picked up by the curious wind like a tourist strolling aimlessly in an antique shop.

I stood there, thanking my lucky stars; maybe I will manage to find a seat for me. Finding an empty seat is not much of a big deal if you’re not familiar with how the buses here try to roll you like you are a dice, until you come out blue. As somebody who is born and bred in India, I have to tell you that you don’t see people smiling randomly for no reason here. You’ll come across many sarcastic comments and witty one-liners that you quietly chuckle at in your head. But people who tell us to squeeze a smile out on a packed public transport can go kill themselves. Heck, do I have to smile on demand now? If you smile for strangers, you would be considered a jerk or an idiot. It requires strong arms and sticky legs to stand amongst your fellow passengers who are mostly in a bad mood and get involved in a brawl at the first opportunity. If you lose your balance, trip and step on someone’s toe or ‘accidentally’ elbow someone to ‘claim’ an armrest, may the lord lift up His countenance upon you!

A blue dot slowly emerged from the bend in the road and grew bigger and bigger till it began to take a shape. It passed a few signals, rattled down the street, turned and stopped unwillingly a few steps ahead of me. Heaven be my witness! Half the bus was empty! As I climbed up the stairs, a few curious eyes inspected the new arrival for a moment then deiced to turn their gazes outside the window. I took the luxury of selecting a window seat and heaved a sigh of relief.  Some of the passengers were chatting about politics, the most favorite topic since the last few decades.

The bus slowed further as the traffic light turned yellow from green. On such occasions, private cars speed up instead of slowing down and preparing to stop. But, bus drivers utilize every traffic signal to let that extra passenger get on board. No one boarded the bus except a hawker selling local sweets. Some of the passengers glanced at him curiously. That’s what they are supposed to do, scrutinizing everyone and everything that commutes. I overheard two of them whispering to each other about buying some sweets. The hawker was selling them at 5 rupees a piece. As he advanced to the seats, advertising his sweets in a hoarse voice, most of the passengers showed no interest and turned their heads away. My two fellow-passengers, the owners of the whispering voices, asked the hawker to show his stock. The hawker, a young man in his mid-thirties with a bony physique and a large mustache, put down the aluminum bucket from his hand and removed the orange cellophane cover to unveil his stock. While my fellow passengers were busy selecting the sweets, no one noticed that the bus has stopped and another hawker entered through the front door and started selling the same sweets at the same price. His shrill voice made the first hawker aware of his presence.

He noticed the first hawker and his jaws hardened. “You have no business here! This was supposed to be my bus!” he screamed. A verbal battle ensues between the two.

“I will make you regret this by teaching you a lesson!” The first hawker shouted.

“I don’t care if I lose money” blabbers the second man and starts selling his sweets at a bargained price, two for five rupees instead of one. The second hawker was taken aback at this dogged decision, but renewed the strength of his vocal cords and howled abuses at his competitor and said “Five sweets for five rupees, I will ruin you for good!”

The passengers were enjoying this ruckus. A few of them pulled out their wallets and purses to take full advantage of the moment. The word of war continued but the battle stopped at one of the hawkers selling ten pieces for 5 rupees. The other hurled abuses and got off the bus at the next stop.  All the sweets were sold out in a minute. I was, perhaps the only one who could not take advantage of this and regretted for being so clumsy. The conductor came forward to collect cash fares and handed over charming little tickets from assorted bundles. He noticed that I was the only one who did not buy sweets. As he came to my seat, he winked at me, smiled and said in a barely audible voice, “they do this daily, only the regulars are aware of this. Twenty such sweets are not worth of 1 rupee!”

You can take away whatever lesson you must from this tale, but my lesson was this: For the love of everything God stands for, do not underestimate bus journeys!

Saturday Block-bus-ter

A Week with Madame Saucepan

I chose a warm and comfortable corner at the broken-down old pub. But, it’s rather difficult for a cedar tree to fit on a stool that keeps trying to shake you off and at times rolls on the ground to get rid of you. “It’s difficult…” whispered a crabby old witch who had seven black cats on her shoulder sitting so close to each other that any onlooker may have mistaken them as one giant fur ball with ten green eyes. “Yea it’s difficult! Those stools beneath you are allergic to human negativity and are not very fond of a doubtful mind.” She said. I was startled. But, aren’t the wizards supposed to be above the distorting reality?

The witch looked thoughtful for a brief moment. By this time, my eyes had become accustomed to the dimly lit pub, and I noticed, all the cats on her shoulders looked thoughtful too. I have never seen a cat pondering over something before. “Lookie here Cedar, maybe… maybe you have been with humans with messy minds and evil tongues, you still carry that smell which those stools are confusing as yours.” That’s true, I smiled. I have been with all sorts of humans in the last few months and been to places where wizards are not supposed to be. Like… I hesitated for a moment looking at the strange glow in her eyes, as if she was keen and excited to know my whereabouts… so do the cats! “You see Cedar, I’m one from the dark arts department and sometimes I travel beyond the boundaries of the wizardry world to collect ingredients for my potions. You look like someone who can be trusted and to be particular I’m fond of trees with human smells all over them, she winked.” All the cats winked too! I was always cautious about witches, they master the art of riddles and half-truths, make us think the unthinkable by filling a sense of false security in our mind. They do these in stages.

It seems you are not very experienced of our kind, Cedar. The old witch had a friendly smile on her face. The cats looked amused too. Not all witches are like that, just like not every cedar you come across these days lets you pee on them. She burst out laughing. I was dumbfounded and embarrassed at the mention of this. That dog in the park… it was her! “I think… I will look around for a more comfortable and less annoyed seat.” She was laughing hysterically from the look of embarrassment on my face and the seven cats fell down from her shoulders like domino blocks. Her hand gesture seemed to have something to do with: wait up! Finally she managed to put the brakes on her laughter and after a few staggering breaths, she swallowed and heaved a sigh. Her eyes were filled with tears and just as she was catching her breath, she blew her nose into an old embroidered napkin and smiled.

“Don’t worry Cedar.” She made a face slightly chagrined. “Take my words, no more shenanigans.” She put up her fingers in a Girl Scout salute. “Oh how rude of me, I almost forgot to introduce you to my kitties, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.” At the mention of their names, the seven cats crawled up her leg and nestled in where it’s warm and cozy. It’s the best way to travel. “That’s a week you have there.” I smiled. “And wizards here know me as Madame Saucepan. I was given that name because of the way I would stick to a saucepan over low heat, my favorite game as a child.”

A Week with Madame Saucepan

The Wizard is Back

It turns out, the wizard always returns. He dies and he resurrects. Nothing much can be done about it though, most wizards are like that. They love to make dramatic comebacks. They are so obsessed about comebacks that people often overlook that they were gone. Some of them have grown mature with time and are no longer fascinated about dramatic comebacks and letting others know that they have arrived. They rather make a comical entry through the half open windowpanes of the kitchen and step on the furry carpet only to find out it was the sleeping cat. Wizards can be catastrophic sometimes!

What happened to the past then? Asked the stray dog with its hind leg lifted in front of the old cedar tree at the neighborhood park. Shoo dog! Said the tree, don’t pee on me! Don’t you see I’m the wizard? We love to stay low key and hide from people, especially from stray dogs with exceptional bladders. Shoo! “But what happened to the past?” Asked the dog again, sniffing around the cedar tree cautiously. The past, my boy, is never real. It’s long gone and all that is left is me and my wand from the Ollivanders in Diagon Alley. Now, you can close your mouth, stop balancing on three legs and go sniff that chestnut tree over there. I would rather appreciate some solitude at this time. Perhaps later we can rendezvous? Wizards can be dogmatic sometimes!

“Excuse me, Sir would you happen to have these ingredients in your store?” Asked the wizard. The grouchy little man looked over his glasses to the cedar tree in front and started reading the ingredients. “A mandrake root, bubblegum, dragon nails, poison ivy, octopus powder, moondew, syrup of Hellebore… ah so you’re a wizard! Come on in and join us for a drink, you look like someone who’s making a comeback!” The grouchy man had a strange smile on his face and led the old cedar through a shabby lane to a broken-down old pub. “Look here boys; we have another comeback story today!” The cedar was introduced to a dingy room full of weird but friendly people. It’s an ideal spot to catch up with the latest wizarding gossips in town in case you live a long way or making a comeback. “Hey Joe, why don’t you tell us your comeback story?” Asked the storekeeper. “After all, there’s nothing like a butterbeer and a comeback story while it’s raining whales and dragons! Put your money away, gentleman, this round is on the house.” The announcement was followed by a long round of cheers and cries of excitement. Toasts were raised again and again, congratulations were passed. You see, wizards can be unbearable sometimes!

The Wizard is Back