Raspberry ice cream sticks placed in a bowl

Tiny Tale | Melt

The watchman is melting in the May heat. He sees me passing by, licking my ice candy with obvious pleasure. He smacks his lips. I pause. I pull out the other candy from my bag, the one I had planned to have in the comfort of my home, and offer it to him. He flashes me a wide smile – wide enough to fit two ice candies. It’s my turn to melt.

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A Kindle, opened up to the library page, held upright on a table near a waterfront
People at a supermarket line

In Line

Today was their first anniversary – an year since they had first met – and it was apt that they celebrated by coming to where it had started for them: counter 5 of the local supermarket. Only this time, they had one bill between them; they had started living together last month.

She was cute that day in the line just before him, in her kurti and jeans, and he hot in all denim. But they connected over (after he had racked his brains for an opening line) their mostly similar grocery list. Both were single, lived alone, and liked cooking and eating. They had started with the standard movie-and-dinner, then moved to streaming-and-chill, and now, it was more chill than streaming.

In fact, ‘chill’ best described their relationship. No real pressure to head anywhere, whether on weekends or on some conjugal path. The decision to live together was a practical one too: it saved time getting to work and to each other, and he cooked one day and she the other. This ease perhaps comes from finding love late: both were knocking at 40 and survivors of half as many heartbreaks between them.

But actually finding each other wouldn’t have happened if they had both lived inside their smartphones, like everyone seems to these days. Else, they would have been ordering stuff on a groceries app and swiping like crazy on a matchmaking one. And never gotten into this line at counter 5.

A huge tree trunk with exposed roots spreading out

Roots Are Us – Or Are They?

Where do you belong?

Where’s your home town?

What’s your native place?

Ask anyone any version of these questions, and they’ll respond in a heartbeat – showing you its precise location on Google Maps, and including for good measure the closest village, town or city; the exact distance from any of those; and transportation modes, frequencies and times, and alternatives to all of those.

Graphic of a young man with a confused speech bubble above him

Ask me this, and in the past, I’ve been stumped. I was born in one city, spent my childhood in another, came to adulthood and have lived the longest in a third, and spent a few years in yet another, with three of these being in different corners of the country and the fourth right in the centre. The concept of a home town or native place doesn’t work for someone like me. So, my response has been an all-purpose “I am a global citizen.”

While that may come across as progressive or evasive, depending on your school of thought, that may actually be not too far from the truth, or genealogy. My mom has told me the ancestors on her mom’s side came from the Middle East. On inspecting my family and immediate relatives’ physiognomies, I also get a bit of West Asia. Getting more contemporary, in a cultural profiling assessment for a US-based assignment a few years ago, I resulted more as Yankee than desi. And at a bank in one of the cities where I’ve lived, seeing my athleisure wear (when athleisure wasn’t even a term), the manager asked me engagingly, “Are you an NRI?”

However, on hearing the ‘I’m an international citizen’ bit, folk smile indulgently, but remain insistent, “No, really, where are you from?”

So, I’ve started taking the safer route, and have gone with my birthplace. That satisfies people, also because it’s on the passport. That works in the case of my family too. When probed, my parents have shared that their parents, on both sides, were born in cities different from the ones in which my parents were born. So, for convenience, my parents (and brother) too have gone with their respective places of birth. Which means… three of the four of us cite different ‘home towns’.

As cultural definitions go, though, this native place thingamajig has to be on your father’s side, and his father’s, and his father’s father’s, right up to Adam’s time. So, here too, the ladies get a raw deal. Oh, wait, there’s “mother” tongue. Which muddies things up a bit. Or perhaps not. Dad has the home but mom the voice? How (stereo)typical.

Coming back, though, the version of the belonging question that has had me the most tangled is: Where are your roots?

I mean, I get it. ‘Roots’ is meant to stand in for the terrestrial locus that is home. Roots give you support, keep you grounded. There’s also a sense of nostalgia the word evokes, like a sepia-tinted photo, a memory of a simpler time.

But, I also don’t get it. Roots might keep you down-to-earth, but they also keep you fixed – to a place, to a perception, to a philosophy. They are also below the surface, cueing a deep, dank place where the light doesn’t reach. And to get even more matter-of-fact, they are the recipients of much organic waste. Suddenly, ‘roots’ doesn’t convey so warm and comforting a place anymore; and if this is what is meant to give you identity, who would wish to identify with this?

To continue dissecting the metaphor, if using a tree analogy, why only roots? For instance, why…

An illustration of the Tree of LifeCan’t I have shoots, thus moving up, seeking the light, sky and all things higher?

Can’t I be a mighty trunk, sturdy and solid, providing support to the resting and respite for the passerby?

Can’t I be a tender leaf, offering a speck of greenery in a rapidly greying world?

Can’t I be a flower, spreading good cheer with both my appearance and my fragrance?

Can’t I be a fruit, providing sustenance to herbivores and “healthivores”?

Can’t I be a branch, bearing all of the previous three, and offering shelter to itinerant birds and housing for the nesting ones?

In fact, why can’t I eschew the plant analogy altogether, and be one of those birds? Free to rest and roost anywhere, unmindful of borders, and thus, bringing things back to that ‘global citizen’ response.

And even staying within the realm of roots, why should I be only underground roots?

A quote post, around not being fixed like a treeWhy can’t I be the aerial roots of a banyan tree, above the ground and a bit away from the parent tree, eventually becoming my own tree (technically, a trunk) yet remaining a part of the original?

Why can’t I be the exposed roots of a mangrove, delighting in all the elements – sun, sky, air, water, earth – instead of just one or two?

Or best still, why can’t I be the adventitious roots of a money plant, cut at the stem, taken away from its parent, put in a new location, and gradually prospering in this new home too?

But this discourse perhaps is too much for even the most woke millennial. The cynics pause and then sneer, “Bah, you are rootless!” I prefer the term “unrooted”. But by then, their ears are well into the ground. People’s desires to put you in a box are apparently too… deep-rooted.

So, again, I find myself turning to my parents. When I have pushed my dad about his ancestry (because that’s what the traditionalists want, don’t they), after initially obliging me, he has finally dismissed me with, “You know, I was – and still am – busy earning a living. Who had / has the time to think about all this??” Guess that is a response as rooted in truth as any.

I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD

A quizzical-looking friendly ghost

The Ghost Who Doesn’t Talk

As a part of my solutioning process, I send out an initial set of queries to the client. Often, this is in the very early stages of the project, even before I have quoted or asked for an advance. I also do this throughout the project, to ensure the client is aligned and to get their buy-in on various parts of the project.

I have often experienced though that the deck goes to the client and rarely comes back. After two decades of working and a few years of working on my own, I think I finally understand why clients often ghost you.

The client expects you to come up with the answers.

The client doesn’t have the answers.

The client has the answers – but doesn’t like them.

As a corollary to the above, the client is too scared to ask these questions, for fear of what they will find out.

And when you provide the answers, the client usually doesn’t like them, because of any of the above.

Seriously, ghosting is spooky. For the client.

Graphic of a man holding a direction sign with oversized fingers around him, pointing him in different directions

Supermarket

“You know, you’re like that guy in a supermarket, who stands in one queue, then finding that it’s not moving fast enough, moves to one with less people, only to find that the new one is now not moving either. So, he moves to yet another queue. At the end, he realizes he’s not really gotten ahead, but having to start over each time. Finally, he sees that if he had stuck in the first queue, he might even have finished by now…”

The friend tells me. The friend begins looking bigger and bigger as he speaks – like a rapidly increasing line – and I begin feeling smaller and smaller – like your purchases at the end of the month.

The friend has “done well” in life. Two flats, a new car every five years or so, a steady job, kids in a good school, work trips to foreign lands, holidays to domestic haunts in summer and to international shores after the annual bonus. The classic upwardly mobile middle-class life.

I, on the other hand, have been “jumping”. Careers, jobs, cities, gigs, thoughts, choices, dreams… Mid-life crisis? Crises? Neuroses? Let’s just go with “unconventional choices”.

I pause, and reply. “No, I’m like the supermarket shelf, which changes its display every six months or so, based on what’s working or not working.”

The friend looks straight into my eyes. His ivory-tower advice seems to have not met its target. It’s fallen on its face from the tower. The tower is intact, though. It is an ivory tower, after all.

I go on. “I don’t keep moving the goal-post… I just keep evolving my shot to see which scores.”

It’s time to call for the cheque. Of course, Mr Having Done Well in Life is paying. I anyway eat very little. And so, don’t go to supermarkets too often.