The Third Place

Author – Vignesh

Everyone likes to lament about how life was simple when they were a child and how it only got more complicated as they turned into an adult. All of us would have come across someone saying ‘It was just me studying in school, playing cricket in the playground and then back to home! Ah, wish I could go back to the simpler times!’. Truth is life is still the same three things. Like the school, the playground and the house, all of our life still falls into three categories. We just don’t bother to sort them into three distinct parts and project it to be too obscure when it truly isn’t.
Town planning principles and urban designers have to rely on a basic concept that dictates how people use space. All of us live in just three places.

The first being workplace where you spend your time exercising your skills in exchange for money that enables you to make a living. Horrible bosses, and dirty politics between team mates or simply hating the job you got could make you hate this place. It’s very important that you choose a field of work that you have a reasonable interest on and work in it whole heartedly. Choosing such field is not difficult in this age when you have source of inspiration everywhere! Inspiration to become a sports player, a car racer or even a cop are plenty out there from movies to coaching centre advertisements. What you do and how you feel in your workplace gives you a sense of purpose in life, and it keeps it going.

Second place is your home. It’s the place where you don’t have to put on a mask, a place where you can put no effort towards anything and feel comfortable lying in bed, eating the usual food thinking about nothing at all. It’s your bed, your room, the place where you sleep sound, the kitchen where you cook while listening to your playlist worrying about, of course, your next day at work. Horrible neighbours, rodents and the wrong person you’re married to could make this part of your life undesirable. Sure, it is common to hate your workplace. Its common to stare at the calendar and inch your way towards the weekend but it’s highly uncommon to detest your home, the second place.

Birds mate and build nest. So do mammals. They all get territorial and sexual. We are no different. These two things are all your parents talk about. ‘What job are you going to get? How much will you earn? How soon should you marry? What kind of family should you marry into?’ You’ve heard of all this. These two places of your life are hence very important. Hospitals, railway stations, school, college campus, banks, any government or private organisation buildings where people go to work and those that make up a developing city falls under ‘the first place’. The residential zones on the other hand, the nest we build for ourselves and live inside with our family like a pair of birds protecting their eggs will come under ‘the second place’.

Well, the most overlooked part that is facing major challenges nowadays is ‘the third place’. The cricket ground of our adult lives. What’s the third placed that you go to other than the classroom and your hostel? It is the café, the restaurant, the cinema or the newly opened Max or the usual spot for the fashion shopping spree that you go to. It’s the mall where you meet up with your friends, the park or the beach depending on where you live. It’s the tea shop, the cafeteria in the first floor of your office where you talk about your favourite movie star or about who’s dating whom or what Modi did was right or wrong. It’s the central perk from FRIENDS. Whatever you talk in this place usually dictates your social life. Think about it. The most important fights, realizations and reconciliations you had with your friends and even your ex must have happened in some public recreational place.
What defines a third place? If a person from Chennai enjoys having the beach as the go to meeting spot with his/her friends and a person from Bangalore has parks or malls, what makes the third place? The one thing that’s common between all third places is that you go there and spend money. Malls, cinema theatres and parks all have small shops for snack food, right? Going by that logic any place you go for shopping is a third place. Even the super market where you buy your groceries, the market where you neither work nor sleep qualifies to be the third place. If no one in your family is a doctor and you visit the clinic or the dentist, it becomes ‘the third place’. It’s basically everything else other than your work place or home. The age of the internet has now become a serious threat to this part of our lives. How? Silk and cotton traders used to bring the latest clothes they made to the market, greet their customers with a ears wide smile, offer complimentary foods, gifts and what not. For consumers, visiting clothing stores for Sarees and Dhotis before Diwali in on itself was a one-day trip with family. Both meet up in one location: The market street. These streets were the locations where sellers and consumers meet each other and exchange goods and money. You see where I’m going with this. Online fashion sites removed this place from existence. From theatre chain owners’ growing concern and fear over online streaming services to every other apps like BYJU, ZOMATO, FACEBOOK and other fitness-based applications removing the needs of cinema theatres, schools, restaurants and gyms, we can see the pattern. Although, that’s the virtual world the internet promised us. There will be teachers and students but no schools, and there will be doctors and patients but no hospitals. The USA and many other western countries are facing a massive closing down of a large number of malls in a short period just like how commercial markets and bazaars in India are recently observing dull crowds even during the Diwali week with disappointment. These ‘third places’ are put into question as to their purpose of existence, thus in a way the existence of a city or the urban culture itself. All of this is just an observation. Clearly, these kinds of online sites and apps generate revenue, so no one’s complaining. But is it comforting? Is it comforting to be one of the hunter-gatherer species and receive food on delivery without moving? Is it comforting to not go shopping for a whole day with your family as a pre-Diwali or pre-Christmas ritual but simply scroll down pictures on your phone?
Steam engine trains enabled mass transportation of goods thus encouraging large scale production, thereby kick-starting the first industrial revolution through transportation. Electricity meant that we could make machines to do the mass production and so we got conveyor belts and robots taking away the jobs of the daily wage workers. The third industrial revolution is the beginning of the digital era. This revolution that came rushing to the early 90’s India was the reason why we got banks. Can you imagine a bank lending home loans and maintaining your account safely without computers? These banks lending loans for most of India is the reason why we grew as an economy without mismanaging information of such a large number of participants. The challenge to the existence of ‘the third place’ discussed so far is only the effect of the fourth industrial revolution. Digital era is not the same as the age of internet that we have now. Back then you had to sit on a desk and wait for minutes to have the CPU boot. The amount of time an average person spends in front of the screen was limited to a couple of hours. Now we spend the whole day in front of the phone screen, so it’s not the same. This time, the jobs are not only taken away, the whole of infrastructure is threatened. Should we stop it? No. Is it the right direction that we are going? Only time can tell.

VueModel: an example of technology taking away jobs? 

Author: Aditi Chandrasekar

It is hard to believe that there was a time when e-commerce seemed like a shaky concept-today, online shopping is the way to go. Retailers and brands are pushing in enormous amounts of labour and money in digital marketing, and it is only increasing by the day. Vue.ai, an artificial intelligence company in the retail industry, launched VueModel in 2018. VueModel is the world’s first artificial intelligence-based human model generator. It studies the images of the product that has been uploaded, and mainly analyses the image of the garment laid out on a completely flat surface. Using AI, it then generated an on-model image, predicting how the garment would fit. Unlike pre-existing solutions in the industry, which uses 3D body scanners that require special hardware, Vue.ai uses generative adversarial network (GAN) which is a class of machine learning systems that’s extremely efficient when it comes to generating realistic images. Once the image is generated, it can be downloaded and used as required. Clearly, this is a highly cost-effective method that generates high quality and consistent product catalogue images allowing retailers to scale their businesses while saving time. It also offers customisations to enhance the process include personalising the model’s pose, body type and accessories to cater to every customer. Other products like VueTag, VueStyle and VueFind are offered by the company to automate product tagging, personalised recommendations, customised product delivery etc. With increasing revenue, the company plans to further build its team and expand itself in terms of locations and development areas like advertising. This would lead to human workers for these jobs getting eventually replaced, and this puts forth the bigger question-can the quickly advancing technology and humankind co-exist? As the domains of robotics and AI see giant leaps taken everyday, automation is increasingly taking over what we typically viewed as human jobs. Anuj Bihani, the managing director of Alstrut India Private Limited which is a company that is coming up with automation solutions for manufacturing companies, weighed in on the debate by saying, “Every machine that has been introduced to automate mundane and tedious manual jobs has been treated with scepticism-automobiles replacing horses; mechanised-looms replacing artisans; computerised accounting software replacing conventional book-keeping. However, historically it has been established, each ‘robot’ or automated machine/process has only lead to creation of multiple new jobs.” Similarly, the deployment of Vue.ai’s products and services does not imply curators would lose their jobs. Their work will be managerial as manually performed functions switch to automation. Seeing the demand and the growing trust of sellers and buyers alike, it would not be inaccurate to say that the future of retail and garment industry lies in consumer experience and AI is out of the labs to prove it.

Losing sleep

Author – Afreen Ahmed

The scream, the purest song of the soul
Unconquered monsters in your mind
Can’t bury your demons, a twist of the blade
Gets under your skin, a tempest wild.

Run away, there’s no calm before the storm
You won’t see, your reflection looks back at you
The song of sirens, a dirge of a million voices
Pulls you down into the darkness of the blue.

Fire burn, cauldron bubble, the blood moon rises
Fear, your imagination plays tricks on you
The trees bleed, the sky turns scarlet
More than just shadows, they come for you.

Save your tears, open eyes seek you out
Scratches on the wall, caged inside
Tear down the ceiling, must make it out alive
Your worst nightmares, buy a ticket, join the ride.

A RANT ABOUT RANT RECEIVERS

Author: Saumyaa Sinha

What is UP with people and their freakin’ annoying, excruciatingly irritating responses to everything ever. Like. Stop. Please, just cease to exist if you do not have the basic human sense to differentiate between the tone of somebody’s voice and realise when to actually open your mouth for words of (not so helpful but still laudable for the attempt) comfort and when to just shut the fuck up and let the aggrieved talk. They have probably come to you with a (stupid, a very stupid) rough idea of you willing to listen to them, because one, you probably have in the past, two you have a magical bond (no) and three they look like they’ve been kissing death, so your usual vain, sugar-coated caked self would have the decency and ‘human’ ability to have some pity on them, perhaps do what most humans are capable of doing: LISTEN.

It’s really not that hard. Okay look, try it now. Just SHUT your mouth, don’t hum, don’t smack you lips and make engine noises like a 5 year old, and don’t even think about clicking your tongue to the inside of your mouth to resemble the ticking of the clock. I believe in you. Shh. It’s okay. Just try, TRY to keep your beautiful, plush, oh so ardent pair of lips in ONE PLACE, meaning don’t move them, meaning JUST SHUT UP. Next, this is the tricky part. OPEN your daft ear to the sufferings of the world *patriotic theme song*. Do you hear it, do you hear it now? Even your conscience is whispering about you being a treacherous listener. Shame. Feel it. Let it burn your soul. The final part, the hardest, if you do this wrong you shall rot in the pit fire of hell. Direct your eyes/head/ATTENTION, to the person TALKING. Not to the pile of unfinished homework/projects/things you know you’re never actually going to do, not to your phone, and DEFINITELY not to any device which tells you the time.

The last bit has some issues. Don’t stare into the soul of the speaker as though you’re pulling an Elsa. Don’t keep scanning their faces, looking for the shame you’ve just lost a paragraph ago. Don’t be on the edge of your seat, salivating eagerly for more info into their sob story, nobody likes a scandalmonger. Just casually cross your arms, or keep them by your sides, even one on your chin for more of an ‘I’m genuinly interested, please keep talking’ look. DO NOT touch them for consolation if they’re not the type to take hugs easily and it has taken a lot of stuff for them to finally open up to a fellow homo sapien. Occasional ‘hmms’ and ‘that must be hard’, or a ‘that’s understandable’ would be a huge YES. However, don’t and I mean this one, please please PLEASE for the love of cheese and barbecue fries, DO NOT jump into your own story about how you’ve had it 574.8890 times harder. Be a devoted listener please. *sighs*.

If you’re on the PHONE and a person decides to rant to you, follow the listening and speaking part to the tea, as for the looking part, you are excused, however please try to stay attentive lest face humiliation, confusion, guilt when they ask ‘what would you have done in this situation?’. They are talking to you, with a cellular device, wholly dependent on the transmission of radio waves from their phone to yours, travelling through the ionosphere, where it could be lost in a million other such rant signals, in the hope that in this galaxy, they are somehow able to connect to you. Don’t screw it up please.

On TEXT, hold your emotions. Don’t send emojis to express your undying care for them, send them heart warming words. Trust me. It is much more effective and changes the mental state of the ranter big time. If you see them sending their rants line by line, DO NOT type something in between, let them complete. If it bugs you to infinity and beyond, tell them to take their time and just type up everything together so you can read it and respond accordingly. Meanwhile, do whatever you need to do to have a meaningful existence. Or watch PewDiePie, it honestly doesn’t matter. After they have completed, and you’re on the type of chat where they have the option of seeing if you’ve read the message or not, then PLEASE don’t just read the message and NOT RESPOND. If you’re suddenly busy, say you’ll respond in a few minutes. But understand, this person has poured out their heart to you, with the flicker of hope that you’ll somehow magically clear their foggy, misted paths of life. At least pretend you have such abilities. You don’t have to be right, you just have to BE there for them.

That’s the guide for you then.

On a more serious note though, and I hate to make it serious, but most of the times I’m not only writing to be funny or for entertainment, but also because I have chosen to address a purposeful topic, really think about the person who has chosen to speak to you about their problems. From personal experience of being a ranter and a receiver, I can positively tell you, if somebody is in a fix, having a really bad day, has been having a grotesque phase of life, whose gravity may seem minute to you, trust me, what will come out of your mouth will mean a lot to them. When I say rants, I mean anything which emotionally charges up a person. While in an emotional high, if somebody possibly with feelings of intense hatred/sadness/hopelessness regarding the stimuli in question, decides they need to speak to you, please don’t ridicule their story. Don’t say it’s in their head. Don’t say they need to get over it, they ONE HUNDRED PERCENT know, for sure, they need to get over it. THIS IS THEM TRYING TO GET OVER IT. If they are TALKING to you about it, they are obviously are failing. Don’t stab their wounds the second time by being insensitive. I’ll tell you why:

They’re emotionally charged up, they decide you’d understand/listen/empathise/’be there for them’, they speak, pour out their heart, talk about the damage. Then you, being the little snubbing King/Queen you are, treat them like a peasant and are extremely insensitive and over do the ‘hmms’ without any actual response, or worse, say ‘lol’ (how do you even have the audacity to use that dammed three letter abbreviation), ‘lol, you need to jam the hype and stop being so dramatic’. No. No. No, no, no, no, no, nonononono. NO. Does your inexplicably, tiny, incapable, mockery of a brain have ANY DAMN CLUE, what kind of impact that can have on a person? You do that, and you’ve done it. You’ve done it honey. You have pushed them so deep into disconnect that they’ll probably stop abruptly, scoop up their feelings and completely forget that they’re still holding it. And this is the UNHEALTHY way of forgetting. You’ve shut them down, tired and drained them out. There will be about 5 seconds of shock, 30 seconds of sadness and then? No feelings at all. They’ll be so worn out (because they’ve given their 100% trying to explain), that they’re probably not going to share their story with anybody else right away, with the fear of similar rejection or because they’re simply incapable of being expressive anymore. Don’t be one of those people please.

All humans ever do is experience, share, experience and repeat. You, as a part of the human race, can make the sharing bit of the whole cycle, either shitty or spiffing. Do the latter. It’s easier being nice, trust me. I can understand if you genuinely don’t care. Be polite, use that thing in the inside of your skull to say ‘hey, I appreciate what you’ve been through, it’ll all be okay’. This gives out the message that you think their problem isn’t shitty. They’ll get the message to leave you alone and probably say something like ‘hmm, hope it works out’. If you genuinely care, ask them questions, get them to repeat the not so painful parts (hey, all this is coming from two years of psych and well, LOGIC, I’m sure you can do it too), let them know you care. If they’re the frivolous kind who will peel down their 9 layers of sadness in front of you and wake up tomorrow with sparkles and fairy dust, then ignore this bullshit of an article thingy, and just RUN as fast as your feet shall allow. They don’t deserve your time if they’re going to fake 3 hours of heart break. The other kind though. The kind who look tough on the outside, but you see them break down, and you know it’s killing them to be so vulnerable, respect them, commend their bravery for accepting their feelings and ACTUALLY letting another living soul in on them. Be the ideal listener for them. I assure you, a considerable, serious amount of mayhem is making them do this.

THE PACKAGE

Author: Rahul Srinivas

 “So that’s how I end huh. Never imagined I’d go out this way. Well, I should’ve seen this coming, I suppose, given my condition.”, Trevor thought to himself as he was on his knees and a could feel the hand from behind, holding the sharp knife near his neck, ready to slice him up any second. 

Trevor developed a condition since his small ages. Being an orphan, alone in the streets, he used to get lonely. A child with no companion, nobody to play with. This loneliness had caused him to develop an imaginary friend with whom he could play, talk and share things. He always knew that Joshua was just a fragment of his imagination. But for Trevor, he was real. He was an escape from the cruel world. 

Not long after this, he was found by a nun and was taken to an orphanage. Here, he grew up with other kids, laughing and playing, like the child that he was. But never once did he forget Joshua. Even though he was just an imagination, Joshua was there for him when he needed him and he did not want him to feel alone like he once did. So he grew up with Joshua. 

He was happy to be more fortunate than some other street kids who were guided into wrong paths. He grew up in a loving place, with friends who became a family. He left the orphanage at the age of 17, for his studies. He graduated and became an electrical engineer.

Throughout all this, he always continued talking with Joshua. Joshua even helped out Trevor at times. Whenever Trevor forgot the answer to a question, or got nervous on a date or was having any problem, Joshua would come to him and help him out and would pat on his right shoulder and say “Don’t think too much.”, and walk away.

 

2 DAYS EARLIER:

 

The notification sound on Trevor’s phone went off. He opened the message just to see a random number send a location to him. He dismissed it thinking it’s a wrong number. He switches off the phone and sees the time. 14:00 displayed the phone’s clock. “Another three long hours. I am already sleepy.”, he said to himself as he got back to work. 

After a long day’s work, Trevor goes back to his home and sleeps.

 

SAME NIGHT, 21:30 HOURS

Trevor wakes up and opens the message of the location. 

“That idiot! Trevor opened the message. I asked him specifically, not to text me before eleven!”, said Joshua to himself, as he left the house.

 

00:30 HOURS

“I told you not to text me. What were you thinking?!”, shouted Joshua.

“You know the location of the pickup point changes every night.”

“And the pickup does not happen before one. Can’t you text me two hours before?”

“Jeez, sorry man. It won’t happen again. What’s the big deal though?”

“That’s none of your business. You work for me. Now give the package and bounce.”

“Whatever, man”, said Dev to Joshua, as he gave the package to him. Then Joshua delivered the package to another guy and went back to Trevor’s home. 

“Better delete this.”, said Joshua as he deleted the message of the location, before going to sleep.

 

THE NEXT DAY:

Trevor wakes up and goes through his daily morning routine. He checks his phone. 13:50 displayed the phone’s clock. 

“Three more hours”, Trevor said to himself as he let out a big yawn. He opened his messages.

“That’ weird. I remember it being there yesterday.”, Trevor thought to himself as he saw that the message of the location was deleted. 

Right then, Joshua comes to him and says “Don’t think too much”, and tapped on his left shoulder.

 

That night, Trevor goes to his home and decides not to sleep. At 11’o clock, he got a message of a location in his phone and decides to go to that location.

“Don’t go there. Trust me you don’t want to”, said Joshua to Trevor as he was about to leave.

“I knew you were upto something! You always taped my right shoulder. But today, you taped the left. You panicked. What’s there? What is in that place? What are you doing with my body?!” shouted Trevor.

“I can’t tell you”, said Joshua.

“Then I guess I just have to find it out myself huh” said Trevor as he walked away, and left his home.

 

PRESENT DAY, 00:20 HOURS:

“Here’s your package man”, said Dev to Trevor, thinking he was Joshua.

“Package? What package? What’s in this?”

“What do you mean what’s in this man? It’s the stuff. The whole drug chain?”

“Drug chain?”

“Yeah man. Did you forget? I coo. You transport. Your guys distribute?”

“WHAT?!”

“It was all your idea man. What happened? You alright?”

“Listen up. I don’t know who the heck you are, but if you don’t leave this place now, you’re gonna be in trouble. I called the cops and they’ll be here any minute.”

“Joshua, you did what?”

“I’m not bluffing. And don’t ever call me Joshua again.”

“You’re crazy man”, said Dev as he ran away.

 

Trevor sat on the side of the road as Joshua came and sat next to him.

“I know the cop thing was a bluff”, said Joshua.

“Well, you know everything about me. Same doesn’t go for me does it?”

“Told you you didn’t wanna know”

“When did you do all this? How long has this been going for? How did I never know about this?”

“Well, it started long back and I’ve been working on this in the nights. Ever wondered why you always felt so tired in the afternoons?”

“Well, now I know what you do with your mind and my body. All I have to do now is get rid of you.” 

“And how exactly do you plan on doing that?”

“You’re just a fragment of my imagination after all”

“Well, Trevor. Think again”

 

That’s when Trevor realised who he is, and who Joshua really was.

Joshua was a disturbed child who murdered his own parents when he was just 12. He was admitted in a psychiatric ward and tried to convince the people there. But whenever he lied about him changing, the polygraph told the truth. So, in order to convince them , he decided to tell the same lies, but this time he’ll mean it. At least, a part of him will. He created a whole story, a whole new personality, a whole new part of him in his mind- Trevor. He created another orphan just like him and gave him a life and used him whenever he wanted to. He started leading a normal life as Trevor and continued his crime life as Joshua. This had been happening for more than 7 years and now he was no more watched by prying eyes of the state and was free of anymore psychiatric checkups. He had no more use for Trevor.

 

“You are a fragment of my imagination, Trevor. You never really existed. And now, you never will.”, said Joshua as he took a knife and took it near Trevor’s neck.

“So that’s how I end huh. Never imagined I’d go out this way. Well, I should’ve seen this coming, I suppose, given my condition.”, Trevor thought to himself as he was on his knees and could feel the hand from behind, holding the sharp knife near his neck, ready to slice him up any second. 

“Goodbye my friend”, said Joshua as he slice up Trevor and was free, once again.

BEHIND THE CURTAINS

Author: Nikita Suryawanshi

 

Whenever we go to see a movie or a play, we generally do not hang around until the credits roll. At the end we are critics to the actors, the artists, the directors, sometimes maybe the story writer or the choreographer. Whatever praise or criticism we shower, it is on them. But how very often do we forget the work of those thousands of people who put this masterpiece together. These are the people who let the main stars take the praise and revel in their success, but when it comes to a bad review, they take it on themselves to make the amends. And just like this off screen crew in any movie, we fail to realise the importance of the backstage artists in our lives.

They say that every person is a portrait of the efforts of someone who believed in him, someone who pushed him on. There are a lot of people one encounters in their journey. Some stay with us, some don’t, some we have to let go. But at the end of the day, it is the people who truly believe in you that count. And many a times, we don’t give them enough credit. These people let you own all your success despite the fact they always picked you up. They will always prefer to stay away from the limelight, trying to give you theirs too, if possible. You may ask who people. Well, starting from the basics, our family, our best friends, our partners, that one friend we text or call at 3 a.m. when we feel low, a secretary; anyone who is willing to invest in us.

For some bizarre reason, human psychology makes us feel more appreciative about the people who are always there in the happy days and disappear when life hits a low. They somehow manage to pop up and claim that they never lost faith in us and then go about whispering behind our backs. It is not until that their masks slide off that we start feeling eternally thankful for our off camera crew who are ever ready with a net to catch us when we fall. Maybe that is where it goes wrong. Maybe we are not grateful enough for them; maybe we don’t appreciate them as much as we should. At the heart of it, our experiences in particular call us to see people with the deepest appreciation for the gifts they’ve given us.

The problem starts when we don’t even notice how we slipped into the habit of taking each other for granted and stopped caring for, and appreciating each other. I feel, as human beings, we constantly crave for positive attention. And appreciating someone is the best way to go about doing it. Feeling genuinely appreciated lifts people up. At the most basic level, it makes us feel safe. so maybe we might feel a bit awkward openly praising someone, but these are the least of the efforts we can make to hold on to the people that genuinely have faith in us. As William Arthur Ward says, feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.

GRAFFITI

Author: Afreed Ahmed

Escaping from my rush-hour routine
I mark upon the concrete walls
Making what’s unseen seen
Aware that it’s just riding for a fall

Memories, of which I’m the designer
Rhymes and reasons, a work in progress
I feel the adrenaline rushing wilder
When my spray can runs reckless

The sirens in the distance excite us vandals
The rattling of the can, the blues and purples
Littered words and spray painted tantrums
Parade in jagged lines and circles

I lean against the colourful wall and grin
I don’t want to give up on this feeling
Little parts of my story on my skin
The blues and red of the police closing

There’s a storm I’ve started and let loose
I’m a wanderess, I pull on my hoodie and flee
For what I’ve done, there’s no excuse
I figure out my next graffiti.

THE HILLS OF MUNNAR: A LIFE-DEFINING JOURNEY

Author: Saumyaa Sinha

It came about the same time as my mind started shutting off, possibly and most probably even because of it. The incredible thing about college is it helps you lose all expectations, so clearly, I was expecting nothing out of my trip to Munnar.

The dark doom gloomy cynicism ceases to exist the second I agree for impulsive trips, sheer energy and no planning, I am aware, but sometimes the breeze shows you a direction and you follow it. Munnar is an underrated little hill station in the Idukki District in Kerala, obviously at the time I didn’t care for the geography as much as I did for the thrill factor. Brushing up on the knowledge came much later when my mind could perceive beyond the feeling of liberation. Getting into Kerala was the easy part, then came the real stuff, the gold dust, the je ne sais quoi. Spiralling to the top of the mountain with curves sharper than the ones in engineering graphs, we made it alive at 11pm.

The sunlight broke into my life, playing hide and seek with the curtains, and when I drew the curtains, I was drenched; in the warm soft glow of the sun, in complete awe, in overwhelming ecstasy. The balcony opened to the full frame of the Sun and the sky. Living in apartments and high-rise cities, I only ever got little pieces of the sky puzzle, but standing there, experiencing the sunrise, the sky as though finger painted with rich orange and yellow hues. A little bit of blue there, a tinge of red here. Everything was so close, I felt small and tremendously tall at the same time. I’d say it was as though tasting the whole universe at once. As though the wind was trying to slap me awake, as though in the grand scheme of events, little things moved us and became us.

The chaiwaala at the end of our guest house road believed in nothing else other than making people smile. He didn’t say much, brought us his speciality, adarak ki chai (ginger tea), and perhaps it was the strong force of the hot tea down my throat or the awakening by the ginger, that it finally hit me: happiness is where you want it to be. The wrinkles on the old man’s face spoke of years in front of a stove, the flames lapping up his youth, yet that smile…that smile melted all those years into a seamless journey of insights gained. Munnar is a chai-lover’s paradise. The smell of tea is everywhere, practically owing to the rows and rows of endless plantations. The entirety of Munnar spills out of a teaspoon, the whole hill station is a tea plantation and factory miracle, the leaves glow, they glint like pearls in the sunlight. Shy little leaves stay their ground, covering every patch of the hills seen by the eyes.

We hired a Safari jeep, especially to soak in the tea gardens, everything else we experienced was a plus. We were told to hold onto the frame bar tightly; I don’t think I realised how tightly I was supposed to hold it because the jeep rode over rocks and slopes and jagged cut hills and for the first fifteen seconds I was just tossing in the vehicle, dangerously close to propelling out. It felt like the last eighteen years of my life being described physically. But I found my hold, very proud to say, that I found my grip. We kept travelling uphill, the sun was throwing soft shadows and the dust danced a ballet like blown away dandelion petals. The closer we got to the top, the more women we saw between the tea shrubs, clad in a thick lower long skirt and a full sleeve wrap around, heads covered with the same thick and dull fabric, their backs bent with the endlessly long jute jholas, their skin tanned and smooth, glistening with sweat. Their work was tedious, plucking leaves, one at a time and filling up the jute bag up to the brim, they then walked the rest of the journey upwards and delivered these bags to the tea factory. The number of bags and their dedication both seemed too much to comprehend, I smiled at a woman, and she returned the warmest one I had ever seen.

The tea factory and museum weren’t the most extra-ordinary or awe-struck thing you’d see, but it was a place where you could enjoy the success of a tea-worker’s day vicariously. The simplicity was its charm. We were guided through the entire process of tea preparation, right from the plantation to the packaging, each process infused with the hard work of a thousand workers. Perhaps I dithered to think too much then, but I felt so much at once, sitting on an earthen chair, sipping chai, realising that the intricacy of life was so much more than work, projects and deadlines; it was simple things like tasting the journey of each tea leaf as the warm sips touched my lips.

We clambered onto a mountain peak, the jeep left us off at a wooden gate, we walked the rest of the way. A narrow path, only ascending with no railings at the height of 8661 ft above the sea level, made way for us into the breath-taking view of mountains, lush greenery, all hazily lying under a layer of thin misty fog. Maybe I had slumbered through the mellow ticking of time, but right then, that was all that mattered. It was too much to take in, standing there, one tiny homo sapien, looking onto a slice of this Earth, just handed out to the eyes. It was overwhelming, soul gratifying and completely numbing to the point where I couldn’t peel myself away from the peak. Everything felt right. That night in the guest house, when I lay down on the deck chair, I realised I loved the night as much as I loved the day. For the first time in my life I found clarity, both up there- the stars glistened playing lights out against the black buttery sky, and in my heart. The unfathomable thing was that our thoughts and the stars- both constitute of the same number.

To embark on a self-recovery and soul-searching journey, the go to place, most certainly is Munnar. The breeze will touch you deeply and the sunrise will move you. You’ll find yourself alright, but what you’ll also find is that the subtle beauty of travelling will change your perspective. With this new found drishtikon, fill up your backpack, pull up your socks and tie your laces- there is a long journey waiting, the hills of Munnar are calling, the world is screaming your name- keep moving forward.

A small dose of art

Author – Aditi Chandrasekar

Art ,in its traditional sense, can sometimes be conspicuous by its absence in our daily lives. So it can be pleasant to stumble across some thought-provoking pieces occasionally. Here are two interesting art pieces I came across today.

Conviction by Gigi Scaria

This was one of the pieces put up in Gigi Scaria’s art exhibition ‘Ecce Homo’. This exhibition presented a bleak future that is, in some ways, already in our present-the whole exhibition itself felt like a bunch of singular pieces that didn’t quite come together for a larger narrative which portrayed a feeling of anxiety. In his book ‘Ecce home’, German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche addresses the necessity to create ‘redemptive’ men-this comes to mind when we look at Scaria’s conviction, a set of three paintings depicting torsos. The protagonists open up their shirts to expose their chests possibly imitating Hanuman’s episode in the Ramayana where he rips his heart to reveal the image of Lord Ram and Sita. Scaria shows up no gods in his work but we are instead confronted by the symbols for pause and play-the figures require external forces to activate their beliefs.

That quiet corner by Yardena Kurulkar

This art piece in Yardena Kurulkar’s installation ‘So it goes’, consists of a cast iron structure that looks like a tomb pretending to be a bed. That quiet corner was born out of an attempt to capture the effect of death in the spaces that surround it. Yardena laid down amongst the tombstones in a Jewish cemetery to capture the world around her. While she did point the camera up at the sky, the lens bent the world around her allowing the tombstones to peek into the picture. Instead of a mattress on the “bed”, there is a 3D form of her skull unraveled to be laid flat on a 2D surface, superimposed on the image she captured at the cemetery. This is a piece that embodies Kurulkar’s whole show as it is a bit overwhelming, and leads to interrogations about death.

She let herself burn.

Author: Divyang Arora

 

As she cooked the rotis, the heat from the flames made her sweat. It was deemed an unnecessary luxury, so there was no fan in the kitchen to provide for comfort against her hardship.

It was a dark and dingy place, made of bricks, which were damaged at places in between their beehive-like structure, and a tin roof. The house, if you can call it that, was a single room. There were a few pieces of furniture and it looked its inhabitants slept on the cold hard floor, which was caked with dust, with clean patches looking like silhouettes spread on the floor. There was no room for ventilation, so the heat got trapped inside. The only door had sunlight seeping from below it, but the sunlight had not managed to expand its territory to even half an inch from the main entrance. A particular spot quite near the roof, however, was damaged enough to let the sunlight come through. The beam of light fell on her, making a natural spot light.

She sat there, in her lumpy and colourful clothes. She had three white dots on each of her cheeks and wore a simple yet elegant nose ring. She wore moderately long, cheap earrings that had lots of smooth glittery stones which reflected some light from her spotlight and formed a cluster of tiny flash lights. The skin on her face was starting to sag. She wore a cheap, plain saree that was devoid of any trinkets or decorations but was an extremely bright hue of red. The sunlight filled the cluster of bangles on her hands with light, brightening them up but fading the depth of their colour at the same time.

The heat waves from her cauldrons shimmered and made everything around and beyond seem hazy.

The smell of food she had made enticed her nostrils. In one corner, there was a small area dedicated to her gods and the agarbattis she had burned mixed their essence with that of the dinner in making. It gave the house a very misty look. It made the very place stricken with dire poverty and helplessness look serene and gave her a very peaceful look.

Someone better off may come along and call the scene aesthetic, but it couldn’t have been comfortable.

She looked around like she was taking this all in for the first time and in her eyes, it seemed like heaven. Maybe that’s why she didn’t leave, even though her saree was laced with sweat.

She was hungry, but could eat only after her family, to ensure that everybody got their fill, much like mothers creating the society and its laborers but not getting to eat its fruit of productivity till much later, when everyone else is done with it.

The heat from her own creation stung her eyes and the oil that came spurting out threatened to burn her clothes and rob her off her dignity.

She brought out a plate to transfer the chapattis from the tava with her naked fingers. Picking them up would bring her fingers in contact with the steaming tava, but she didn’t seem to care. She could have stretched out her hand. She could have picked the cloth lying not so far. Not out of her reach. She could have used it. But she didn’t bother. She had done this for years now. She didn’t mind taking the brunt of the heat.

Her hands did not swell or become red, not any more.
She had to feed her family. She had to achieve what she had been told was her aim and dharma, her whole life, and be the ideal wife.

She let herself burn.