Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Eight years ago, he posted pictures of his fellow students online and asked who was hot and who was not. Today he is the self-proclaimed supreme overlord of one of the hottest companies in the world. The cocky 27 year old may not yet be richer than Bill Gates, but he already has a movie to his credit (or discredit)! And with plans of an IPO this summer, that could value his brainchild (supposedly!) “Facebook” between $75 and $100 billion, Mr.Zuckerberg could very well be playing his favorite game “Monopoly” in Silicon Valley. All this for a company that generates around $4 billion in revenues and makes just $1 Billion in net profits! You must be saying that it is a case of extreme Face-bullishness! May be! May be not!

So why is it touted to be a phenomenon or “The Next Big thing”! Why has it become so essential a part of our lives that we are hooked on for hours? Put in simple words, Facebook has just picked up a prehistoric human instinct: the instinct to socialize and has rendered it extinct by making it virtual. It has simply made “Staying in Touch” easy (read that “lazy”)! You don’t have to visit relatives anymore. You don’t have to make that weekly or bi-monthly call to your friends. You don’t have to listen to them rant, boast, brag, crib, complain, reminisce! All you have to do is click a “Like” button without ever knowing what in the hell is happening in their lives! And if you are in the mood, you can actually make an irrelevant comment which in all probability will not be read. You stay in touch and life is good! Forever!

Photo albums and invitation cards will soon go out of business as you will attend functions online without knowing if it is a wedding or a dinner party. Just RSVP and move on. As time goes on, your face will swell with pride as you see your number of friends grow to astronomical proportions. It’s another matter that you would also find it increasingly difficult to put names to faces. But it still gives you a larger than life appeal. You feel omnipresent and omniscient. Which is why a crappy Saturday evening browsing status updates of friends and performing slothful rituals of random likes,  comments and updates feels more satisfying than a fun outing with your best friend or a night at the opera with your loved one!

From a more psychological perspective, Facebook gives us space to express. It gives you an audience which in reality is a vacuum filled with blue and white smoke made up of zeros and ones. But what the heck: we are so desperate to opine and show off that we don’t differentiate a bunch of hay from a ragdoll. We continue to pour in our inner most thoughts, profound ideas, profane feelings and insane deeds with absolute abandon. For all we know, Facebook might have been the CIA’s idea of digging up truckloads of information about all of us, the easier and fun way. You may be laughing your kidneys out, but at least China thinks so! Which is why, despite Mr.Zuckerberg’s lame attempt to learn Mandarin, China is out of reach of his “Social Network”. Talk about being “anti-social”!

But despite the China handicap, Facebook is nearing 1 billion users which would account for 1 in 7 of the world’s population and it accounts for 1 in 7 minutes spent online. Well, if ever Facebook was awarded a “Country” status, it would be the third most populous, just behind our 2 famous “You-know-who”s. It is so heartening to see people waste so much time. Wait a minute! I have only been Face-bearish all this while. 

I am no sacrosanct nor am I friends with Kapil Sibal. I do admit that Facebook indeed has its share of “goods”! It balances our “crazy as hell” life and helps us transcend time and distance to stay reasonably in touch with our close ones. It entertains us; keeps us informed and lets us have some fun. Most importantly it gives us second chances. It puts us back in touch with long forgotten people we wished we had never forgotten. It keeps our friends “within our sights and reach”! But it is up to us to actually reach out to them. You still have to come out of the illusion to make and keep friends.  It may be okay to use Facebook to know what is going on with your relatives or to wish your friend “Happy Birthday”. But when your wife comes to know about your promotion through your Facebook update, you know it’s not good for your health anymore!

Thursday, February 23, 2012


It’s time for another cartoon and guess what: we have a new character! (Literally)

Here’s introducing “Mr. C’mon man”! He is an NRI, smart and ambitious and has just returned home with a huge fortune (which he earned working for a Fortune 500 company) and a rekindled aspiration of “Giving Back” to his country and society!

So, here he is, with an ingenious business idea! From C’mon Man to the “Common Man”!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

EXPO’ 89

On a new moon day, the usually lugubrious football ground was dazzling like a newly polished jewel. The odd bunch of indifferent school kids kicking a deflated football with the only motive of killing time was replaced by masses of humanity that would outnumber the whole town. And more were expected to turn up from neighboring villages. It was a bizarre and incredible new world of buzz, noise, glare, flair, dust, fest, litter and glitter. No! It was not the football world cup, not even the cricket world cup! It was the annual summer exhibition, fashionably christened as Expo 89 by an enterprising and way ahead of its time Municipal Committee. 

Exhibition! Fair! It was the olden day metaphor to a party! It was one hotchpotch of festivities: an all out attack of light and sound on our faculties. Loudspeakers stationed every few yards were mercilessly assaulting passer-by eardrums filling them with a curious amalgam of advertising promotions and item numbers from the latest flop movies. It was a scorching May and the already hot air was brought up to a simmer by the festoon of multi-colored Goliath bulbs and tube lights taller than humans. The unceasing din of the crowd and its hustle-bustle created a pandemonium beyond parallel. And then there was food!

Eating stalls scattered across the ground in a strange zigzag created a crystal maze that trapped passers-by with its scores of mouth-watering delicacies. Potato and onion bajjis fried in oil, fresh jilebis struggling to jump out of the frying pan straight into your mouth, wafer like appalams and pappadams in delightful shapes and exotic colors sizzling in oil and blossoming like flowers, peas seasoned with raw mango, sodas and colors of all types, idlis named after actresses, ice-creams and kulfis that were supposed to melt in your mouth but did so in your hands! Yet no fair is complete without the pinkish fluffy gossamer-like candy which is bigger than the face and sweeter than sugar. And it has always been a medical miracle to me as to how people gorge on all these and then manage to get on the Giant Wheel!

Ah.. the giant wheel! One simply remarkable invention! It is so huge that you can see it from your house in the adjacent village. But it is menacingly slow as it groans and whimpers its way up to the sky and limps back down as kids gasp at the stars with excitement and elders hold on to the railings and their dear lives.  And then there are trains circling the ground, the odd monkey performing better than movie stars, parrot having a ball telling people their karma, wannabe businessmen trying to sell you all kinds of stuff, horse rides, the lost dog looking for its master, child clinging on tight to her father’s finger, all just to spice up an already fascinatingly eventful day.

An added attraction (really!) was everyday a politician graced the fair and gave away exciting prices and a boring speech. It was the last day and so the Chief Minister was expected. Several fabulous prizes were for the taking; the grand prize was a newly refurbished Lambretta scooter which stood majestically in the center of the ground at an elevated pedestal decorated by flowers, lights and patrolling men. Several lucky folks hit the jackpot and walked away with bonanza prizes ranging from hair pins to pencil sharpeners, candy bars to Tiger brand underwear. It always remained a mystery as to who took the Lambretta home. Nevertheless, the excitement lasted a full year until Expo’ 90 came along. Expo’ 89 was my first fair and its memory is still fresh in my mind. Today somehow these things have fallen out of our favor and are on the verge of extinction. I, for one, wish I could go to such a fair and lose myself once again!   

Friday, February 10, 2012


It is again one of those frequently familiar days that just pass by without touching his life in any way. It is a day which he doesn’t live, he doesn’t remember. He just exists or even worse persists to exist.  Bound by commitments, weighed down by expectations, held captive by fear of failure, accentuated by languor and marooned by his own conviction, he lives an ordinary life of real misery and virtual happiness. He seeks a heroic life, but only in the eyes of others. He yearns for a poetic death but dreads its reality every single moment. Everyone sees him as a successful and happy young man. Does he? Well, he has stopped looking into the mirror for good!

He goes through the torturous grind of the week in great expectation of a dull and uneventful weekend. Come this weekend, he will be busy mourning the dreadful week ahead. It is Friday and he is almost there. He walks out of his apartment in a dreary slumber. He wonders if he had a dream last night. That’s right. He stopped dreaming when he became a practical man. The snow flakes falling on his body can’t kindle any emotion in him. Not any more! He has forgotten the pleasure they had in each other’s company. It was a long time ago!

His laborious stroll is brought to a screeching halt by a small boy who rams into him at breakneck speed. The boy was chasing a butterfly which has disappeared into oblivion now. The boy has a grin on his face and he, a frown.

“Watch it son. You don’t have wings like butterflies do.” There is a hint of sarcasm in his tone which camouflages a pain deep inside. 

“But I want to have wings. I want to fly with butterflies and play hide and seek with birds.” The boy has a big smile on his face which irks him even further. It is not fair.

“You ain’t getting them. Now off you go! And don’t run! Go home and study.” He feels the boy lacks discipline.

“No. I am going to play in the rain!” The boy jumps in excitement. “What rain? Are you mad?” He looks to see if there are any clouds. All he sees is white smoke.

“No, you are. Take off those glasses and open your eyes!” The boy runs away into the woods. The boy’s face troubles him. It looks strangely familiar.

He shrugs off the boy’s image from his mind and continues the journey to his daily misery. All of a sudden, snow flakes seem to have changed form to tiny droplets of rain which are kissing the earth and mud and stirring up a refreshing aroma that has filled up the air with magic. He pinches himself to confirm his sanity. A young man is standing in front him, watching him eagerly with a smirk on his face.

“What are you laughing at, pal? Do I look funny?” He barks at the young man in anger.

“No. You look sad. Like you don’t have a life!” The young man’s remark pricks a wound that has been kept concealed for years.

“You don’t know what life is all about. Wait for a few more years and it will teach you all the lessons you need to learn. By the way, where are you going with that cricket bat in hand?” It was his turn to mock at the young man.

“Well, I prefer to learn the life lessons my way. And they can wait. You want to join us for cricket. Do you know how to play?” The smirk is still there in the young man’s face which infuriates him even more.

“Of course I know to play. I was the best at it. But I don’t play anymore. Anyways it is raining now and you want to play cricket?” Meanwhile, his mind had taken a small trip down memory lane and for one long minute, he relived those memorable cricket days of his youth. And the next moment, he came crashing back to reality.

“What is wrong with you? It is bright and sunny.” The young man gives him a “you must be insane” look. He wipes the water droplets from his glasses in disbelief. “Where is the sun? You must be crazy?”

“No, you are. Take off those glasses and open your eyes!” The young man walks off cursing him for wasting 5 minutes of his life.

He is not able to get the young man’s words out of his mind. There is something uniquely familiar about his voice. He looks at his watch. He is getting late and tired. This walk doesn’t seem to end. There is no sign of rain around and he can no more feel the scent of the earth’s freshness in the air. A black smoke fills his nostrils and chokes him. He gasps for breath and settles down in a bench outside a park. An old man sees his misery and offers him water.

“Thank you very much. You look very familiar Sir. Have I seen you before?” He still feels nauseous.

“No. You couldn’t have. Not yet! I have seen you though, long time ago!” The old man’s words leave him bamboozled.

“I don’t quite understand Sir. Anyways... where are you off to? You don’t look very sprite early in the morning!”

“Well, I am probably the only one you have met today who is more miserable than you. But you will get there. I will pray you don’t. I am off to my grave which is just a few paces down the street. Would you like to join me?”

The old man’s words send a shudder through his spine. “You carry on, Sir. I will rest for some more time!”

“Well, in that case, can you lend me an umbrella? It is raining heavily!” The old man’s eyes have seen something in him which makes him feel very uncomfortable.

“What rain? You are crazy. Take off those glasses and open your eyes!” He yells irately. The old man smiles and walks away. He sits there for a while wondering about the strange conversation with the old man. He then gets up and sets off again.

He saunters along carelessly for another 10 minutes uninterrupted and untroubled by any more familiar faces or voices and finally reaches his destination. His office is no longer there. Instead he sees an abandoned graveyard which has a single grave that is yet to be occupied. He looks around for the old man but there is no sight of him anywhere. He looks at the tombstone erected over the grave. He sees his name engraved on it! 

Monday, February 6, 2012


A slender, fragile yet fascinating and beautiful creature! Its wing-span is no more than 4 inches and it weighs less than one-fifth of a pound. How it came to be called the Monarch, I shall leave it to your imagination. But the butterfly has dazzled humans for millennia. The monarch butterflies exist in several parts of the world, but God has been cruel enough to put some of them in Northern parts of America and Canada where even humans almost freeze to death in winters. Well, trees don’t come with room heaters and the market is not yet there for butterfly sweaters or jackets. So a certain death awaits these poor souls come winter. What do they do? They set off on a remarkable transcontinental odyssey that spans 2000 miles over 2 months and culminates in the safe warmth of the mountains of Mexico. And the journey back home is even more mind-blowing as it transcends 3 generations. A year long epic journey indeed that would put Columbus and Sindbad in perspective! 

The monarch migration is one of the most profound mysteries in the natural world. No one knows what exactly triggers the exodus of these newly hatched butterflies from Canada. They have never seen a winter before to know one is coming. I am pretty sure that they haven’t looked up the best travel destinations in the internet to zero in on a small town in Mexico. But yet on one late August morning, a tiny butterfly triggered by a calling of its forefathers coded perhaps in its genomes, sets off on a journey to an unknown land. Alone! Soon there are millions of them! A butterfly’s physiology is worst suited for a long migration. Yet, it travels about 50 miles a day across plains, deserts, oceans and mountains; escaping from, succumbing to and surviving rain storms, lurking enemies, scorching desert sun and tricky winds. A feat of endurance and navigation unlike anything else!

The butterflies don’t own a GPS. They can neither call their friends for directions nor can they read a map. So how exactly do they navigate their way across a continent to end up in the exact same place every year is probably the biggest mystery of all. They may be following the sun; the earth’s magnetic field perhaps provides an orientation guide or they may have special brain cells that are genetically coded to regulate their internal clock and keep them on course. Whatever their secret may be, they cross every geographic hurdle that nature dishes out in one treacherous journey with extreme panache. They fly with imagination!

A butterfly starts its journey alone but it starts bonding with its fellows on the way. As they near Mexico, they gather into huge flocks for the final leg of the journey. In a tiny Mexican village at the foothills of towering mountains, the Mazahua people wait endearingly for the Monarchs to come home. They believe that the spirits of their ancestors return in the form of these butterflies. First week of November, the butterflies arrive. I can only imagine what rapture a child would feel when she sees millions of butterflies fly into the town painting it in a reddish brown tinge. I have played the scene in my head over and over and I would give anything to be that child.

These butterflies inhabit the forests near this tiny Mexican town for about 5 months. The city rejoices. Exhausted by their monumental journey, they rest, huddled together in the warmth of the huge trees. When spring arrives, they bloom again opening their wings to the sun. They bid good bye to their hosts and begin their journey back. They travel to Texas where they make a pit stop and mate. The parents die but the next generation keeps flying north, repeating the stop, mate and die routine. A full year after they started their journey, a fourth generation of butterflies is born in homeland Canada. This generation is special because these butterflies are the chosen ones to retrace the paths of their ancestors and a wonderful planetary cycle beings again!

A spectacular natural phenomenon, this migration is an unparalleled marvel. Philosophically too, it has several underpinnings that can be inferred and interpreted in different ways. But every time I think about this incredible quest of the butterfly, I feel the hands of God. I see an artist at work! I see his Monalisa. And it staggers my mind that he has left his fingerprints in several subtle ways we don’t even realize!

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