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White Villa

Outside the Park

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Escaping the City

I’m returning from a weekend trip out of the city. The air has begun to lose it’s freshness. I begin to wonder. When we think of heading out of the city, what we are looking to do is escape the limits of the city. As the years have gone on however, I realize that we need to travel farther and farther to escape the city. As even more years pass us by I wonder if the limits of city will ever end. Will we ever be able to escape it’s confines.

What is the reason for this? Am I the only one who feels this way?

Is our burgeoning population finding it harder to secure a place to live within the city. Is there truly no place left in our city? The vast number of homes lying vacant in the city would indicate otherwise. Is the average family being priced out of the city?

Or is it the desire to have a house to call your own, no matter how much it burdens us for the rest of our lives. Is this collective fever dream actually turning the city into a nightmare?

Young Sheldon

Despite what many people feel about The Big Bang Theory, it still has the highest viewership among sitcoms even today. Young Sheldon is a spin off series that I had heard about sometime back. I initially assumed that it was simply a series that was trying to bank off the popularity of it’s parent show.

I came across an article talking about the most watched shows of 2017 and I wasn’t surprised to see Young Sheldon ranking high. I decided give it a shot when I saw that it was available on Amazon Prime Video.

The show is about the life of Sheldon from the original show when he was a child living in Texas with his parents and siblings. Meemaw his grandmother who gets mentioned often in the Big Bang Theory is a primary cast member here. Jim Parsons the adult Sheldon serves as the narrator for the show.

I expected the show to be very much like The Big Bang Theory with Sheldon being a snarky, sarcastic and obsessive compulsive child as well. While some aspects of his adult personality are present here, overall Young Sheldon is a show that feels very different from The Big Bang Theory.

9 year old Sheldon is still a genius and he can be sarcastic but he is also rather sweet and innocent at the same time. Every facet of his behavior whether a portrayal of his intelligence or his sarcasm is encompassed by the innocence with which he speaks his words. That is why the show feels so different from The Big Bang Theory. At the heart of it, its a show about family and the trials and tribulations of growing up as a boy genius in a very traditional family. Every other member of his family is equally well cast. Especially his mother who feels very different from the character she plays as his adult mother. The only common thread is their deep religious beliefs. Meemaw the grandmother is one of the best characters of the show. She is very different from the rest of the family and turned out very different from the overly sweet sounding Meemaw that the adult Sheldon always mentions.

The biggest change fans might notice going in though is that unlike The Big Bang Theory , Young Sheldon does not have a laugh track accompanying it. It’s hard to describe what kind of show it really is. To put it a bit obliquely it’s a relaxing, family friendly show for everyone. If you have grown to hate the adult Sheldon you just might ending feeling the complete opposite about him in this one.

The Luminaries

The Luminaries was the most fun I have had reading a book in ages. It’s a sprawling 832 page novel that starts out slow. It uses a very interesting conceit to structure the narrative and it’s characters. It’s also written like a book from another era yet thoroughly appealing to modern sensibilities. After a measured start it picks up the pace and I found myself racing towards it’s incredibly satisfying denouement. Set in 18th century New Zealand during it’s own gold rush The Luminaries is an intricately plotted mystery novel first. Secondly is witty and funny and it’s eclectic cast of characters remain entertaining throughout. If I had to sum it up it was both, the fastest I have managed finish a novel and the longest novel I have read in recent times.

Remembering Grandfather

For most children who grew up in India in the 20th century, their grandparents were always a huge part of their lives. Since women move to their husband’s place after marriage, in most cases it is the father’s side grandparents that children interact with the most.

My situation was the opposite. As the only child of divorced parents I moved when I was only two ,back to my Mom’s parents house. At that tender age it was both innocent obliviousness and my Mom’s tireless sacrifices that kept me shielded from the worst aspects of the separation. From that point on the only father figure in my house was my grandfather.

This was never truer than when my Mom told me about a little incident from my childhood. In kindergarten a teacher once asked me ‘What does your father do?’. I promptly replied “He sits at home and reads the newspaper”.

Ajja as we used to call him in Kannada was a voracious reader and a big tennis fan. He spent hours poring over every page of The Times of India and I spent hours watching tennis matches with him in front of the television. He was a pretty big history buff too regaling me with stories of a different time. It always fascinated me to think that my grandfather was born 25 years before our country gained independence. We only read about that time in our history books while he actually lived through that time.

He was also a rather straight forward man. Discipline and integrity were of utmost importance to him. When my Mom and uncles were younger, grandfather was an extremely strict father. As the years went by and the responsibility of taking care of part of my life also fell to him, his demeanor towards people had changed almost completely.

He never denied me anything in life. From books to my very first computer he never said no to anything. While computers are a part of every child’s life right from school it wasn’t the case back then. In the year 2000 when I got my first computer, Rs 50000 was a huge sum. He got me a spanking new Pentium 3 no questions asked. All because he thought it would help me. While the educational aspects of owning a computer quickly fell by the wayside it’s what got me into video games something I am lucky to now call a career.

Somebody once called my grandfather a very stoic man. Since he was from a time before gyms became fashionable, his secret to good health was a combination of good genes and regular physical activity. That meant, him running at least 5 km every morning for as long as his age permitted him to. He was also headstrong when it came to anything that required even thinking about a doctor. I remember him, once coming home from his morning jog with a bleeding leg from a dog bite. No matter how hard we insisted that he get an injection from a doctor he simply refused to go.

The only time he finally relented was towards the end of his life. Nothing on earth could bring him down. He was the strongest man I ever knew. A habit that he had quit 10 years previously had come back to haunt him. It was painful to watch a man who had never known weakness all his life, wither away from the inside. He weathered the sessions of radiotherapy without exhibiting any outwards signs of discomfort. It was only when the cancer had progressed to a point where he was unable to speak and bear the pain, did I see any signs of him having given up on life.

He passed away at the age of 82 silently into the night. I always believe, how one leaves this earth is of little consequence as compared to how one lives when he is on earth.

Grandfather was honest to a fault, stubborn as hell, well read like no one else I knew, disciplined but fair, strong as an ox, gentle as a lamb, more caring towards me than his own children and the closest I ever had to a father in my life.

The Price of Admission to God

“Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.” ― Madalyn Murray O’Hair

Ever since I was old enough to form my own opinion on religion and God I have been a non-believer and a staunch atheist. However, I never come in the way of believers or advocated for them to see things my way. Religion has a huge significance in every aspect of life, for a vast majority of the generation my Indian parents were a part of. Religion for me, is simply a subset of culture which is something that I have tremendous joy in learning about. Churches, temples, mosques, gurudwaras and other holy structures are some of the most spectacular testaments to the ancient cultures and civilisations of yore. Why so many different religions were created is a mystery to me.

I personally believe that at the time of inception religion was created to give an ever growing civilisation a semblance of peace, structure and hope in their day to day lives. What it has grown into as the centuries have passed would probably shock even their creators. I love to travel even though I never travel as often as I should. Holy places don’t usually form a part of my itinerary but on the rare occasion that I do stop at any such place the ones that stick in mind are the ones that were uncrowded, peaceful, clean and nestled a midst nature. A soothing balm for a chaotic mind.

On a recent trip to Solapur with my family we took a side trip to a place called Tuljapur which was about an hr’s drive away. Squeezed into the car were me and my wife, our mothers and their mothers both in their 70’s. On arriving at Tuljapur one thing I instantly realised was that it wasn’t going to be calm or peaceful. What should have been a 3 hour side trip, took atleast 6 hours of an entirely good day.

Photography was prohibited on the inside and no sooner had we descended the steps into the main temple courtyard than I noticed people prostating themselves and someone else touching their feet when they were doing this. I don’t really get the meaning behind this but I think it’s a common practice in many cultures. I noticed someone else spit randomly even in this sacred space. I’m sure someone might have chastized him but no one seemed to notice him in the hustle and bustle.

All that people were interested in, was getting in to see the face of God. What made that difficult was the sheer number of people waiting to do the same. Most famous temples in India have 2 viewing options

  • Mukh Darshan – Which means to see the idol from afar
  • Regular Darshan – Which means to be able to see the idol from up close

When we asked one of the many pandits walking about the place he very non – chalantly told us. Mukh Darshan – 1 hr, Regular Darshan – 3 hrs. If it was up to me I would have chosen a third option which was get going the moment I heard this. Our grandmothers wouldn’t haven’t it any other way though. They hinted to us that they were too old and fragile and wouldn’t know if they would ever be able to make a trip like this again in their lives.

While I just stood around blankly we heard some people with raised voices in a particular section of the temple structure. It turned out that there was a locked gate that allowed you to skip the long queue and and get a jump on your chance to see the idol. What had happened was that the gate had been briefly opened by the security guys and several people milling about the gate were also trying to squeeze through. By the time we approched the gate it had already been locked up and we could sense the tension in the air. A tall man, who seemed to be sweating profusely began screaming at the security guard that his father had been waiting to get in since an hour and couldn’t he see that the guy was paralysed. Apparently this special gate was meant only for the disabled.

I quietly sidled away to let the other people of my family decide what they really wanted to do in this situation. They did try to sneak in our grandmothers through the disabled gate owing to their advanced age. When that didn’t work one of the many swamis milling about saw their hapless faces and unashamedly offered us a direct darshan service for the very reasonable sum of Rs 3100. Apparently for this small price we could all have the privilege of seeing God directly while skipping the lines of ordirnary wordshippers. Paying a little attention to the people around I realised that there were several swami’s offering the same service to anyone they thought could probably pay the price. I just stood quietly observing all this, my emotions alternating between amusement and despair.

The family finally decided that they would wait in line for the Mukh Darshan with a very reasonable waiting time of 1 hr. That was too much time for me, but my wife even though she wasn’t too keen on it decided to wait in line anyway. Since I would end up alone for an hr with nothing to do I tagged along. The entry point to this line was through some sort of building. The line moved upwards floor by floor. An hr and 20 mins later we had only moved up one floor with God nowhere in sight. Asking around we quickly realised that the line we had joined was the Regular Darshan line which always took a minimum of 3hrs. The rest of my family were a few places ahead of us in the line. I asked them once if they were really gonna wait it out. When they said yes, with an incredulous look on my face told that me and my wife were getting out of there that very instant. We quickly stepped over the railings that were placed for the lines and exited the building via the stairs and settled ourselves in a small resto outside the temple.

While we sat and gorged on some snacks and sipped on some refreshing drinks, they emerged 2 hrs later not looking very enlightened or blessed but red, drained and with an expression that could only be read as I don’t think I am ever going to do that again.