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Buffalo Empire

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So I sat there. An inviting glass of wine stood before me, while the scent of scrumptious chicken wafted through the air.

Taking it all in, I rested my hands on the table and smiled at the next unknown friendly face. It’s a strange mix of people you encounter at Indian business lunches abroad. An odd motley bunch is what you see all around.

First, there are the high-powered, suited-up blokes. You never see them without a gadget in hand. Something’s always buzzing around them.

A typical conversation with them generally tends to begin with an energetic greeting. That’s quickly followed by a patronizing nod or two as you introduce yourself – they know that you can never be as awesome as them. And then comes a quick chuckle – perhaps at a joke in their own heads.

But soon after the first two sentences, it all fizzles out. Holding focus, apparently, isn’t a strong suit for them, and so they pass you up for the next fellow. With a polite wave, they let you know that it’s not nice for you to be greedy. There is only little time and only so much of them to go around.

Then come the mystics. These folks are generally found scouring the field for an audience. Apparently, they can smell a spiritually starved soul from a mile away. They are fierce predators, seeking an unsuspecting prey – someone to impart their busting-at-the-seams knowledge. Caught in their trap, you can end up doubting everything you’ve ever learnt.

It can, however, be a real learning experience, in that it does teach you relativity of time. If you focus hard enough during the moments you spend with them, you can hear the billions of clocks around the world ticking and tocking ever so excruciatingly loudly and slowly. It is indeed a spiritual experience; you glimpse eternity, surpass the limitations of time and space.

For all their mysticism, nevertheless, common sense and non-verbal communication seem to be concepts that are a mystery to them. A quick note of caution: colour of hair, wrinkles and attire are useless as guides in such cases. They come in all shapes, sizes, and age groups.

Now if you’ve managed to steer clear of these two, although I highly doubt that you can, you are faced with the third, and far more complex creature. The closest parallel that one can find for them are the shapeshifters of folklore.

Unbelievably cagey, they can seamlessly blend into any environment. Depending on the context, they can move from being Marx to Keynes, Gandhi to Hitler; Dawkins to the Pope; Obama to Osama with frightening ease. At best, these folks are innocuous and entertaining; at worst, they lull you into a false sense of security as you prepare for future engagement.

However, there’s little that you need fear. There’s one sure-fire way to identify these creatures. Like vampires that stand no chance before a mirror, there’s one aspect that can help you discern the modern shapeshifter. Invariably, during your conversation, they will, and I mean will, engage in gloating about an imagined ideal India and its culture while bashing all the vile modernity that exists there.

It starts innocuously. “Did you read this?” “Did you see that?” Or if there isn’t a specific event to talk about, then there’s the “Look at this picture, the Chinese have built such a beautiful bridge. India can never do this.” That’s usually followed by a robust slap on the neighbor’s thigh, or just a smug smirk for everyone’s pleasure. With that, you’re enticed into an orgy of self-flagellation, which eventually glorifies the past cursing everything present and future in India. Well, apart from Bollywood. An increase in pelvic thrusts can only be celebrated; they transcend the generation gap.

Moreover, just like their conversations, they will vainly display every sign of modern consumerist capitalism, but cringe at the thought of the lost ‘purity’ of the homeland.

Anyway, so as I sat between them, sipping my wine, I played the perfect, I-am-too-cool-to-engage-so-I-am-gonna-just-judge-you bloke – another annoying creature. And then something happened. I turned my gaze inward, and decided to let my guard down. ‘There’s a speaker moving to the podium; he seems to have prepared a speech on health and holistic healing and diet. Let’s listen and stop judging,’ I told myself.

Microphone adjusted, the gentleman took the stage. “Good evening, everyone. I am here to talk to you about the ancient science of Ayurveda. But before that, let me ask you one question. Do you all drink milk?”

Mumbles of yes were heard amidst sounds of munching.

“Good,” the speaker continued. “What kind of milk do you drink?” The precise answer to that question should have been: ask the wife or the maid. But silence would do for now.

“I bet it is buffalo milk,” the speaker continued unmoved by the quiet. “You see in ancient times, we in India used to drink only cow’s milk. But then the British came and they forced buffalo milk on us. It was a clever ploy, because buffalo milk makes us slow in the mind and body. So we had buffalo milk, became slow and daft and the British had an easy run at ruling us then,” he completed to an appreciative roar.

‘Oh sweet mother of God’ I winced, demanding a refill. There ain’t enough wine in the world…

Dream Continuum

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Has this ever happened to you? I don’t know what you’d call it, but it was one of the strangest experiences that I’ve had.

Now I am the kind of person who tends to dream a lot – only while sleeping, of course. And often I’ve noticed that my dreams range from the esoteric and weird to being basic and reality based.

There’s hardly any flying around or science fiction, and neither is there a song and dance along the Swiss Alps. But often there are thrills – strange rituals, freakish cults, difficult social situations, exploration of the ancient and lots of traveling and meeting strangers. There was even one incident that I classify as a supernatural encounter, while others call it some sort of temporary sleep paralysis.

Of course, the one ‘mainstream’ dream (I am too embarrassed to admit to the second one) that I can recollect is the Rambo-inspired adventure of taking on the forces of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Guess ‘W’ and I had more in common that I thought.

Anyway back to the point. Recently, I experienced something that I don’t quite know how to classify. A few days ago, I awoke as usual to a hot cup of tea and the memory of a strangely boring dream.

‘Ah the cricket, it’s hurting the movie business,’ I thought, recounting the dream.

It was all pretty mundane; an ordinary day; working at a place that seemed like any other office; colorless walls; long dreary filing cabinets; identical workstations; a new colleague sitting next to me; a little chit, a little chat, and then the clock strikes six; we both drive out and head home.

As dull as the ordinary Monday is what it was.

The only strange thing was that colleague was a new fellow – don’t think he seemed like someone I’ve ever known. And along that the fact he asked me for photocopies of my passport and other identity proof for filing purposes. Strange how that’s a detail I clearly remembered.

Now fast forward to last night. I wake up at 4 in the morning – in cold sweat. Something’s wrong. The lights are out and I stumble out of bed, as though hell-hounds are chasing me. A brief, panic-stricken scanning of the walls and I locate the light switch. Phew!

Seconds ease by and I see that everything’s the way it should be. Eh, the pillow seemed to have been through the wars, but then that’s just me. So I wash my face and return to bed. There’s just one image that’s doing the rounds in my head.

It was a man – a strange man chasing me around the streets of an unknown city. At the other side, there were the cops and dogs, sniffing out my every move.

And I am running; running from both of them through crowded streets and unseen alleys. My feet are battered sore; my lungs are burning with each puff of the cold air that goes in; my face is bruised – a nasty scar oozing blood; yet I can’t stop running.

You can imagine the exhaustion, considering I had slept for about two hours and all I remember is running! That is until I came to a blind turn behind a dusty brick wall.

And there he was. My colleague from the dull dream a few days ago! Imagine the fright, the dream me actually remembered him as the colleague – and I distinctly remember being petrified at the thought.

Well that was that. I think he knocked dream me to the floor then; and held me down as the cops and their pugs came over. Apparently, the colleague had taken the documents and stolen my identity, and I was being imprisoned for something.

The last I remember is being terrorized by the police and their dogs, trying to convince them that I was the real me. But apparently I wasn’t doing a good job at that. Well now that I think of it, thank goodness I awoke when I did. I’d just read a whole chapter on medieval torture and modern interrogation techniques before sleeping!

So while I will get over the scars of the security apparatus’ brutality, what I can’t seem to fathom is how on earth did I have a dream in two parts? So beautifully was I set up by my subconscious that I never got a hint of what lay ahead.

Strange, very strange that a character that bares no resemblance to anyone I know is introduced to me in my dreams and then repeats a few days later – only as a continuation of the original plot.

Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever experienced such a dream continuum?

(PS: Nope, I haven’t seen Inception off late.)

Just “like” this…

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At first, it was just something I did. A picture, a link that you’d put up or just a witty remark, if it made me smile, my finger instinctively ran over the mouse. Click and there it was.

I “liked” it, and you knew that I did.

It was simple. There was just one real rule. It made me smile – either because it was witty and humorous or because it’s nice to see you enjoy life  and this was a way I could partake in your joy.

It was just that innocuous – self-centered (and I don’t mean that negatively) but innocuous.

Or so I thought.

The anatomy of a “like” is apparently far more complex than I would have liked it to have been. And it all began to unravel with a polite “thank you.”

The “like” on Facebook is unlike any other button. It is strangely amorphous – a creature of context.

There’s first the simple ones: the I-enjoyed-it like; the I-enjoyed-your-product like; the compliment like; the I-support-this-company or endorse-this-celebrity-or-product like; and the reciprocal like.

Then there are the more complex ones: the I-am-so-thrilled-for-you like; the sarcastic like; the I-can’t believe-it like; the I-am-too-lazy-to-comment like; the I-am-too-cool-to-comment like; the even-if-you-don’t-I-like-myself like; the I-like-but-don’t-want-to-get-into-a-conversation like; and my personal favorite – the routine like.

It isn’t exhaustive as a list, but it is a starting point.

And just like the “like,” the responses to a “like” are unlike the innocent words that we take them to be.

While it’s not for one to define what the appropriate etiquette would be – after all Facebook is a flat world without hierarchy and rules – looking at responses can often tell you a lot about the reasons behind posting something and that person’s state of mind and intention in doing so.

Barring the compliment “like” and the likes like the I-enjoyed-your-product like; there are few instances where I can see a reason for one to respond to a like.

For example: a “thank you” for a picture of mine, i.e., compliment like, is fair, understood and probably even the polite thing to do, and so is 0the case for a response for liking a product that one has put out – creative or otherwise.

But even in these cases, just a “like” is perhaps the least that one could like it. It smacks of lethargy. There’s a reason why there is a comment somewhere and at other places there’s just a “like.”

But a “thank you” for liking a thought I had; a general wonderment; a statement of fact etc, is just absurd. At its best, it suggests the intent of exhibition – a kind of performance or a show wherein the “likes” are treated as the response of an appreciative audience.

While that may seem harmless, it’s intoxicating. And it would take a strong will to not get engaged in a cycle of performance and related anxiety – you need to keep outdoing yourself or your stock dips.

At its worst, it probably hints at a serious need for acknowledgment; a sense of being thankful for being heard. And it perhaps even suggests a reality that isn’t fulfilling enough, thereby creating a need for deriving gratification from the virtual world.

So the next time you “like” something or respond to a “like,” think again. What’s the real reason? Do you really like it, or is the cycle of “like” concealing far more than it reveals.

Remember, the seemingly innocuous is often a mask for something deeper – and perhaps darker than we’d like it to be.

(BTW: I really hope you “like this” :))

About

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Hi folks,

If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt in life, then it’s that migrations are never easy, be they physical, emotional or technical. But everything has a time and place. You cherish the old but you ring in the new.

And that just what brings me here. For a long time, I’ve been blogging about a range of topics at a number of different places, but never have I been able to bring all of that together under one roof.

It’s a constant complaint that some of you have had and I’ve long promised to act on it. So this right here, manojkewalramani@wordpress.com, is the first step in that direction.

From political writing, my take on the media, updates regarding the market reaction and critical responses to my first book to random musings, you can now find everything here.

Obviously, any major shift is a process, and your patience and suggestions are more than welcome in getting things streamlined further.

Look forward to engaging with you again…

Cheers

Manoj