Saturday, December 24, 2016

It's Almost the End of the Year (Guest Post)

“I have shed my skin so many times.
The graveyards must be full of all the people I used to be”

It’s almost the end of the year. Can you feel it yet?
The tip of my nose goes pink sometimes and my eyebrows are so frozen I can’t even be surprised. Literally. Everyone’s getting their red and shimmer out. Buble’s singing out of every nook and cranny, his fondue voice making you mentally sway as you make your way to yet another get-together. Every house has a Christmas tree outside, its plastic branches decorated with leftover disco balls and little figurines collected by children too young to have memories. Everyone’s slacking just a bit more at work; eating just a bit more dessert, drinking just a bit more wine, feeling just a bit more in love or just a whole lot more alone. It’s almost the end of the year. Can you feel it yet?
It’s nearly time to decide who the new you will be. Walls are coming down and being built everywhere; some more quietly than others. People are talking to people, eager to rewrite beginnings or endings, looking for peace of mind like it was promised. We sit with our bundles of painful memories, not letting them roll out of our eyes and onto our cheeks, ready to learn from them and dispose them off like soiled items, only to realize that we barely even remember the things we never thought we’d forget. As someone famously said, the future is really that forgiving. Can you feel it yet?
There’s suddenly more cookies and rum cake and adipose tissue in life than there is intent. We all have these plan-less goals for ourselves, neatly tucked away in corners of our subservient minds, waiting for a fresh calendar to fix ourselves top down because right now we’re too busy treating our hearts as metaphors. When’s the last time you actually put your hand to your chest and felt your heartbeat? It’s a powerful thing. It makes you so aware of every passing second, so awake to the urgency of accomplishment. You begin to wonder what it was that made you think you had time. Can you feel it yet?
You think back to the times you used to think back to those moments. From another time, another place. It doesn’t make you smile and it doesn’t make you sad. It just makes you look away now. Love left your body, momentarily, yet long enough for you to realize that you need to leave some people behind in this year. We’ve spent too much time decorating our lives with leftover disco balls and little figurines, collected over time in more ways than one, as day by day we grow a bit more envious of those children too young to have memories. Can you feel it yet?
It’s almost the end of the year and you’re praying that by the end of the next you’ll have that job. That waistline. That girl. It’s what you prayed for the last year and the year before last. It’s what you’ll pray for the next year and the year after that. A different job. A smaller waistline. Another girl. Another cliché.
This year, I want to read a bucket list through. I want to really understand the colour purple. I want to cook pad thai and a mean little key lime pie. I want to swim in a new sea. I want to be an art parasite. I want to be everyone I used to be and more. There’s just so much room, now that it’s empty. I want to be the people I wanted to be with, because I always believed in forever.
I wish all of you peace and so much love. I hope you bask in happy vibes and drink mellow dreams and if you must break, I pray his kisses gave you butterflies as they came and strong art as they left.
Zen. 2016.
This piece has been contributed by a friend whose writing inspires me to hone my skills every day. Ayeesha Khanna at Lazy and The Overthinker.
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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Love, Maths aur Dhokha 2

There were a lot of things I wanted to be while growing up. I wanted to be an ice-cream man, the Police, Shahrukh Khan, and an astronaut… And, if I were five years old today, Elon Musk. Which, what-the-heck, I want to be even at the age of twenty-six.

I received a pat on the back when I spoke about ambitious career goals, like Police, maybe. But this one fine day, I mentioned “Chartered Accountant” and the pat on the back turned into a chocolate-in-hand or two. To my CA parents, they no longer had a son to raise, but a Partner. *percussion beat for impact*

To become a CA required academic rigor and training. Mine started while I was in KG-C of Mrs. Marie Chaturvedi’s class at St. Columba’s School. While Mrs. Chaturvedi would be teaching us how to count on our fingers, The Mother had started her off-site curriculum on math tables. It was like the real-life version of Khan Academy, where Khan would bear linkages with all the incorrect stereotypes it has been associated with in the past decade. Third-degree at the Ahujastan Base Camp meant one thappad for every half-mark deduction on a test. Even though my mum never executed it with the kind of religiousness she said she would, the mere fact that you know there is a third-degree which could be unleashed on you can make you pee your pants, or lose your hair (in my case, the latter).

Such was the terror of scoring a ten-on-ten that I remember rushing back home one day, crying inconsolably because I had scored just a six-on-six. On being told that it was just the same as a 10/10, I was confused why the teacher would be so mean as to mess with the children’s heads by giving just a 6/6. It was quite like the fanatic’s version of fighting for a ten-on-ten because another religion somewhere deserved just a six-on-six to satiate his false sense of entitlement.

To become a good CA required one to be good with numbers, and The Maatey would leave no stone unturned to up my math game. It would start with post-dinner, late-night saer when my parents would walk with me in the middle, holding one of my hands on either side. I quite felt a sense of pride when I would see other kids with only one of their hands held by a parent as they walked on the edge of their parents-and-child late-night walking trio. It was only when a few math puzzles were thrown at me that I realized I was more of Dharmendra in Sholay, with both his hands tied up by Gabbar Singh and Sambha. The ‘Kitney Aadmi The’ question would no longer be that simple.

‘If fourteen people went on a trip to Vaishno Devi and only four could fit into an auto-rickshaw from Katra to the Darbar, how many men fit into the last auto-rickshaw in that fleet?’

As a few stray dogs would pass us by during those walks, I wish I had watched Sholay in time to use a reference like, “In kutton ke aage mat poochhna” to get away. But I was not just tied up like Dharmendra but also expected to perform the Basanti dance. Double jeopardy. Or as I call it, Two-CA-Parents.

Other modules of the training curriculum included asking the subject to recite tables from twelve to nineteen while the subject was in second grade. If I could express my feelings as openly as I would want to, I would tell you that I hate the tables of thirteen and seventeen to this age. Maybe Gauri Shinde could make a Dear Zindagi 2 on my life as well.

Among many other things from my childhood, I fondly remember the weekend trips we took to nearby hill-stations and Rishikesh with my cousins. Operations Research and its application became a part of my life since Circa 1999. The objective function to optimize was making the road-trip as enjoyable as possible. The constraints I worked with were whether to travel in my maasi’s car and listen to her latest collection of Bhajan Kirtan Volume 2.0, or have my cousins travel with us and have Maatey-shree throw us googlies like ‘If it takes us 4 hours to get to Haridwar by car and it takes maasi 4.5, for how long should we stop at Cheetal Grand for a plate of pakode so that maasi can catch up in time even if she drives with a twenty-percent increase in speed.’

To this, my cousins and I would respond with silence and The Maternal Supreme would turn around to see all of us sleeping in the back seat. She would turn to my dad and complain about how we’re all ‘chaalu’ and just acting like we’ve dozed off only to get away with answering such ‘fun’ questions. I would hear that and still not budge. If at all, I would just open my mouth a little to add drama to the act. Only till the AC’s direct airflow would parch my lips and I would have to carefully close my mouth to take a big gulp of saliva, hoping father dearest wouldn’t notice the change in the rear view mirror. Such were the risks of breaking the act.

Enter ninth grade and CBSE slapped my face with trigonometry, geometry and more such Math-ke-haath-mein-Sarthak-Ahuja-ki-puppetry. By then, The Mother was proud to have raised a child who did not need any coaching or supervision to make him study math. Apparently.

I was left to the misery of dealing with finding the degree of an angle in the drawing of a heptapod in an octagon using theta or some such, only to be followed by calculus two years later. The trick of converting math problems into monetary terms and solving, something that my mum had trained me to do over the years, didn’t help anymore. Apparently, you can’t assume the integration symbol to be the one for dollar and run simple arithmetic over it.

Picking commerce in high school over the sciences came as a messiah. I can only imagine what it would be like if I were the age of five today. Apparently, IIT-JEE coaching now begins at the age of seven. Thankfully, with all my fear and consequent hatred for math, the only mathematical challenge I had to deal with at age seven was summing the digits on the number-plate of every car zooming by in less than two seconds. As a horcrux of Shakuntala Devi, I now do arithmetic for a living.

Now just so that all of you engineers who come for an MBA program know, a CA is not a mathematical genius. He is just someone who did not want to prepare for IIT-JEE, who does simple addition, subtraction, division, multiplication on a Casio calculator and then comes up with ways for you to save taxes, run audit assignments and go to knowledge building seminars only because if a man pays Rs. 1100 for attending a seminar, how will he maximize his return if the speaker is boring and there is more than just Dal Makhni in the main course? The only mathematics trick we can offer apart from the Rule of 72 is to think in money terms and units of Dal Makhni. Fine, thank you.

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