Sunday, September 11, 2011

So much has changed, yet it's all the same

I was shocked to see how much time has passed since my last post. I think it is the longest gap ever. Normally time away from this important outlet in my life is accompanied by guilt, but on this occasion I have to say it wasn't -- simply because I didn't have a sense of how much time had passed and how quickly.

The title of the post reflects my thinking, having been back in New York just about two months now. Having moved from my old places (NYC and Boston) into one place containing all of me -- well, at least my wordly possessions, as wanderlust remains an ineluctable part of my being (I've already been to India for two weeks, and any of my friends who happen to be reading this from interesting locations, don't be too surprised to find me on your doorstop some time soon...)

Being back under one roof, in this city that I love to live in, part of me feels as though it's taking up where I left off, from however far in the past you measure my exodus from New York. (For me, and hence for this blog, it was 2007, when I went off to London, but the Boston commute had begun as far back as 2005, although I didn't know then that it would become a feature of my life for so many years). But the other part of me feels that everything has changed. Of my best friends, only a few still live here (still many good friends, but you know what I mean - the friends with whom you feel at liberty to invite yourself over, to crash whatever they are doing, and likewise appreciate whenever they treat you the same way). With its constant reinvention, even my favorite streets and blocks have changed in their own ways (in many cases, for the better I should add).

But it does make we wonder what defines this blog, and what should define my writing efforts going forward. I started the blog as a way to record and communicate my thoughts on being an Indian living in New York dis/placed in London, and as a way to join part of a community not define by the boundaries of place. And in this we have succeed beyond all expectations. The blog itself, and all of you, have become friends, lifelines and moorings at the same time.

While I wrestle with what the next direction in my writing should be, it's also true that the Flugelbindery has welcomed me back with a double-wide inbox, if you know what I mean. I'm grateful, of course, because the one greatest pleasure of the last two months has been the sensation of waking up in the morning, knowing exactly where I am and knowing that the farthest I have to go for the day is a 15 minute walk over to the office.

Well, thank goodness for the RSS readers and e-mail subscriptions (the latter a new feature on the right). If you're not subscribed to one of these, and you're interested in updates as they come, do sign up, in case my updates become a little irregular over this period.

Even though it's not back to school for most us, it still feels that way, doesn't it? The crisp autumn air (except for our readers in the Southern Hemisphere...). Some people feel like going apple picking or grape stomping around now. Me, personally, I feel compelled to visit a stationery store. So I wish you all a great back-to-school period, and more soon...

It's how I feel these days...


P.S. I can't write about New York on 11 September and not note the date. Perhaps some other time I'll write about my own experiences, which were trivial compared to what was going on that day but are, as for many people, nonetheless etched in my memory. But it's a day to remember and honor the joy and the suffering of this beautiful city.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Getting there by being there

It has been one of those summers where you get there by being there (if that makes any sense). My last 5 years seem to have been motivated by getting somewhere, and that somewhere four times out of five was New York. Well, now that I am here, I feel I am getting there -- There, that sense of being settled, of enjoying idleness, stillness if not quietude.

One of the renewed pleasures of this lifestyle is sitting on the balcony, drinking a cappuccino, and reading (wrestling with) the Sunday New York Times.

I couldn't resist smiling at this...

Snacks of the Great Scribblers

Sketchbook | Wendy MacNaughton | New York Times
Hope you are all enjoying a leisurely Sunday.



Thursday, July 14, 2011

In the middle


Sorry for the long silence, but I'm in the middle of a move. Will get back with more soon...



Friday, June 10, 2011

It's beautiful

It's noisy.

    I walk to work. 

It's grimy.

   Feels like home. 


   It's beautiful.



Monday, June 6, 2011


Lionel Cironneau/AP
The only sport I ever watch, and that too rarely, is tennis. But I do read up on the news of my favorite player, Roger Federer, and his great Spanish rival, Rafael Nadal. What I love about this relationship is the symbiosis: one could not be himself without the other. While it began initially as a rivalry, what you can see in these pictures is the great mutual respect, camaraderie, and that special kind of friendship which exists only between sportspersons. We fight, because we must - that is what we do, but in the end we are the ones who understand each other best.

When I read John McEnroe's very entertaining autobiography, naturally entitled "You cannot be serious", the one thing I walked away with was his admiration of, and off-court friendship, with Borg.

Perhaps sports is the most evanescent and authentic art form these days. It is performed once, with no aids, body or voice doubles, and when it's done, it is left behind, perhaps for the record books or not, living only in memory, like memories of watching Borg vs. McEnroe as a child.



For your Monday morning smile...



Wednesday, June 1, 2011

You decide (11)

The same, quite different, or similar?

Naga sadhus along the Ganges

Nude sunbathers, Englischer Garten, Munich (what's English about this you ask?)


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Learning the facts of life (again)

When you spend some time in a new country, you sometimes find yourself relearning the facts of life. No, not those facts of life, but I mean the little social conventions which if observed smooth daily interactions and which if ignored (perhaps because you didn't know) cause small frictions.

I've been to Germany before, many times, but never for quite this long. When the office offered me a month's worth of work here, after checking the weather charts I grabbed it. As I settled in, I began noticing (or was reminded of) some of these little facts of life. So in case you are ever visiting Germany here is my list so far:
  • Always close the door! In Germany (but for that matter in most places other than the US?) all doors don't automatically shut behind you. Or that is they do, because if you find a door closed then after you pass through you must reclose it. Simple enough. But I realize how used we are in the US to doors automatically shutting behind you. One tends to forget. No worries, your kind hosts will remind you!
  • To stay or take away? In the US many places automatically serve you in paper cups. But in Germany, when they ask you "to stay or take away?" they really mean it, for two reasons. First, to stay and to go may have different prices (again, the same as many countries other than the US), and second because of recycling. If you're staying in, often even at a sidewalk cart, they will serve you in ceramic or glass and with real cutlery, so everything can be washed and reused.
  • Stick to your lane! Most streets have designated lanes for bicycles. Pedestrians straying into these zones will be offered as much mercy as a pigeon wandering across the I-95. An important subtlety, as I've discovered, is that when bicycle lanes are on the street rather than the sidewalk they often go in the opposite direction of car flow. So you really must look both ways before crossing.
  • May I take your coat? It is considered impolite to sit in your coat in indoor situations (restaurants, concert halls, offices). Someone will offer to take your coat, and you give it to them.
  • Recycle. Every situation seems to have its own recycling code, but you must follow it strictly. At the office, it's plastic / glass and metal / other waste. At home, for some reason it is glass, paper, and everything else. In the park, it's mostly just one trash receptacle.
  • Related to this, bring your own bags to the grocery store. You will not be offered bags. If you are disorganized enough to shop without them (ahem), then you can buy bags, but since you are buying them as you check out you need to guess in advance exactly how many you will need.
  • Water is a human right. Offices in Germany all provide bottled water to their staff (I'm told, but haven't been able to confirm that it is required by law). Lightly or heavily carbonated, your choice.
  • The correct serving size for a beer is 1L. I was in the park with a few friends, and asked for a small beer (really, I'm a wine person). "That's for children," the bartender snorted in somehow a friendly way, and served me 1L instead.  (But wait, park, beer, wine? Yes, you read correctly. Beer is apparently also a human right, which you have the right to access in the park. For that matter, in Austria I have seen construction workers having it for breakfast.)
  • Tipping and restaurant bills. Again, like many countries other than the US, they will ask whether you want to pay together or separately. And as such, it is quite normal, even when dining with a friend that everyone gets their own bill, rather than trying pay your share. However, you do have to remember what you had, because when your bill is being prepared, you tell the waiter what you had. After you know  the amount, you add around 10 percent, try to figure out the nearest whole number to that amount, and then ask for the amount of change you need back, leaving the tip implied. Very classy, if you can pull off the math.
  • The hidden code of jay walking. Here I'm still figuring it out. Germans are famous for always waiting for the crossing light, and by and large this is true. But there are some occasions where I will people crossing if there is no one coming. I wish I could figure out the hidden code. It has something to do with the size of the street, but there's more that I haven't figured out.
If I think of more, I'll post them in the comments. The weather has turned fine the last day or so. I'm hoping to finish early and head out to enjoy it! Hope there's a hint of summer where you are.



Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting back on my feet (after being swept off them!)

Well it wasn't that kind of sweeping (i.e., not the flutter-of-the-heart variety), but more sweeping the floor in an empty apartment one minute, standing on my soon-to-be balcony in New York the next day, to boarding a flight to Europe and arriving to find that my bag with two months' of clothes is lost (you read correctly -- not delayed, lost).

But I should backtrack. My original plan was to start looking for a New York apartment after returning from my European sojourn. I was touring some apartments with an agent just as a way to introduce myself to her for when I really need her in July. But she offered to show me some apartments, so I agreed. The first three were exactly what I was expecting: depressing! But I was expecting that, so I used them as a way to explain what I was looking for, and even mentioned that I might come back to New York for a few days just to view apartments. But then she mentioned something that had just become available and took me over to see it. And there it was! Apartment love at first sight: south facing, a second western exposure, an actual bedroom (recall, my Boston place was a quasi-loft my New York place a studio -- no real bedrooms), and a small balcony where I can watch the sunset (and breathe New York's wonderful pollution). I said yes on the spot. And there, by a TKO in the first round, the twelve-round apartment search was over. Even better, the lease doesn't have to start for another two months... just when I get back.

I was on this high that I landed in Europe, imagining all the wonderful ways I would spend my summer, now that I knew what I was going back to. So happy was I that I didn't notice that almost everyone had left with their suitcases and I was still waiting. I was in such a good mood that I cheerfully filed my delayed baggage claim, expecting that it would be delivered in the afternoon. That was last week. Now they have unofficially declared it lost (officially they have to wait three weeks). Fortunately, I wasn't traveling with anything I really love, but when I started to add what it would cost to buy enough clothes for the next two months, I began to feel a little wobbly.

In the end,  I replaced about half the things, enough to get me through two months, albeit in a little less style than I would liked. You might imagine (as I sort of did) some kind of glorious shopping spree. Instead it was more like having blood drawn, one pint at a time. No matter, I've digested it, and am ready to move on with my summer.

Hope you are feeling summer in the air wherever you are -- I am!



Thursday, April 28, 2011

The next chapter

Chapter 1: Exile: The protagonist leaves New York and tries to settle into London. Initial nostalgia gives way to life with a new and satisfying rhythm. But then one day the protagonist confesses to London: "London, I like you. I really like you. But my heart belongs to another... [cue the Gerswin and Woody Allen's voice over introduction to Manhattan]

Chapter 2: The Grand Compromise: The protagonist makes a joyous return to New York, but in exchange accepts a grand, pragmatic compromise with these words: "New York I love you. But in exchange for weekends and telecommuting days (even months), I have promised my days to Boston." New York, used to being anything and everything for anyone and everyone, takes this in stride. The protagonist instead finds the bargain increasingly heavy.

Chapter 3: The Return: The protagonist has come to like Boston. Some days pass quickly, others slowly. [Overlay a shot here of the pages of the calendar fluttering by: 1 year, 2 years, 3 years...] But at last the protagonist has served out the partial separation for the agreed-upon period. At the appointed hour on the appointed day, packs books and bags and furniture and flies to New York with these words: "New York, I am yours. All yours."

Alternative treatment (or the Bollywood remix)
Chapter 1: The protagonist is wildly in love with New York. But the future father-in-law, who also happens to be the protagonist's boss (as happens in Bollywood films), says, "Life is not all about love. We need you, I need you, in our London office." Following duty, the protagonist settles in London, trying to learn to love the city. But arranged love proves impossible. The protagonist's heart still belongs to New York.

Chapter 2: The father-figure finally gives in, saying if it's New York you want, it's New York you'll get. But... ah the but. To prove your love of the city, you must spend your weeks in our Boston office for a period of two to five years. If you still love New York after spending all that time apart, then I'll we'll see. While growing to respect and admire Boston, love remains elusive. And every weekend, the protagonist journeys to New York and leaves with the words, "I'll come back to you one day... to stay."

Chapter 3: One Sunday the father-figure is driving by Central Park in his limousine when he sees the protagonist seated on a park bench (I know this seems unlikely, but it is a Bollywood film after all), looking downcast. "What is it child/ trusted employee?" he asks, "It's New York," the protagonist replies. "I've done what you've asked. I've tried, but every day I love New York the same as always, more if possible." The father-in-law/boss, by now sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee, puts a hand on the protagonist's shoulder saying, "You've passed the test my child/trusted employee. You'll move back to New York this summer. And to make up for the hardship we've put you through, we'll send you to Europe for two months..." [Cue the Bollywood dancers in Central Park...]



P.S. Yes, loyal readers. I'm back, back in New York. Of course, I do leave for Europe on Sunday for a couple of months, but come the summer New York will be my destination, not Boston. I did really, really like my stays in London and Boston, but New York has always been where I've wanted to live, so I'm happy, thrilled really, to be home. I suppose I'll have to change the header of the blog! Now there's a task that I'll enjoy.

It's been a source of great strength having you along with me for the journey thus far. And I look forward to more adventures together in the months and years ahead...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Becoming my father (or Paying the price)

I've been back from India since Saturday afternoon. Since then I have slept a grand total of 12 hours -- over three days. I should be feeling dead tired. I'm not. Just a little dazed, but otherwise quite functional. Though I'm not usually afflicted by jet lag, this time I seem to be affected by half of the syndrome (early rising), while the other half (delicious daytime naps) remains elusive.

My early rising (5 am Sunday, 4.30 am Monday, 3.45 am Tuesday -- noticing a trend?) somehow makes me feel like my father. Like many Indian men and women he is an early riser. For him, there is nothing more spiritual than greeting the rising sun (although not from having been out all night; that's something my father never managed to see the romance of). When we were young, he would rise early (4 am or so), and work for several hours while everyone was asleep. Since he's a doctor, it wasn't his day job that he was working on, but instead coursework from classes he would take at the university. All of those early mornings eventually got him to a Ph.D.

I wonder if he felt in those morning hours as I feel now: slightly tired, but fully alert mentally. Every now and then, my father would wake either my brother or me earlier than usual (ahem, 5 am), and would make us a cup of tea (in India, even children drink it). We would chat a bit, and then both get to work. I'm pretty good in the mornings, so, although this sounds like torture, for me it was a delicious pleasure to spend those early, intimate morning hours with my father.

They say that as you age you become your parents. Well, I'm paying the price for my travels. It's happening.



P.S. In keeping with house rules, the flugelbindery is applying its usual 2:1 ratio: for every week I've been away (whether for holidays or work travel), two weeks' worth of work is waiting for me on my return. As soon as I dig myself out from under the mountain of work, I look forward to being back at your blogs (and back to my usual sleep habits).

Monday, March 28, 2011

A confession or Guilty pleasures or I blog therefore I am



p.s. caught you by surprise, didn't i, in the last frame. the essence of the guilty pleasure is of course guilt. knowing me, you know the guilt is not that i didn't attempt to bake these from scratch (don't have the skill or patience), but is instead eating something from a box when i have a baker around the corner. but while the local boys are magicians with muffins and even brioches, they have not mastered the croissant.

p.p.s. speaking of guilty, i have been very remiss at posting and reading your blogs. i'll be back to it soon! the fluguelbindery made me an offer i couldn't refuse - a one week work trip to india in exchange for a week of holidays, all decided at short notice. i've just finished the holiday, and now i have to pay the bills...

Friday, March 11, 2011

If you listen very carefully...

... you will hear the sound of spring tiptoeing toward us...



Saturday, March 5, 2011

You decide (10)

Disturbing or fascinating? (Don't be afraid: click on the picture for an extra-large view.) You decide.



P.S. Sorry for the long silence in my posts. It's been one of those periods. Busy? Yes. But the kind of busy that saps your energy to do anything. It might well have to do with gyrations of temperature that we've been experiencing.

P.P.S. Though the spirit of "You decide" is that, well, you decide, in this case it is almost an "Explain, if you can". There was something about this that fascinated me. Yes, I'll admit (to you and my shrink): there was a beauty, pathos, don't-want-to-look-but-can't-look-away. I can't quite explain it. Perhaps you can...

You decide (9)

I went from this...

... to this...

Upgrade, downgrade, or apples and oranges? You decide.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Mirror

I keep having the same dream.
It seems to be forcing me to return
to the bittersweet site
of my grandfather's house,
where I was born on the table
Forty years ago.

Something always prevents me from entering.
I keep having this dream.

When I dream of the log walls
and dark pantry
I sense that it's only a dream.

Then the joy is clouded
for I know I'll wake up.

Sometimes something happens
and I stop dreaming
of the house
and the pines by the house of my childhood.

Then I grieve
and wait for the dream
that will make me a child again
and I'll be happy again, knowing
that all still lies ahead
and nothing is impossible.

from The Mirror, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, written by Aleksandr Misharin and Andrei Tarkovsky



P.S. I'm on a quest. Perhaps I can plant its seed in your mind. Through Tarkovsky's films I've come to admire his father's poetry. But so far I haven't managed to find a book of Arseny Tarkovsky's poetry translated into English. If you're browsing in a used bookstore somewhere someday and see such a volume, do buy it for me.

P.P.S. My first experience of such a viral, vicarious quest was through a friend of mine, who asked me to keep an eye out for a frig magnet of a cow. Silly enough. But whenever I would see frig magnets for sale I would think of him and look for a magnet of a cow. His quest had become mine...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A moment

A moment (over here) inspired me to post this moment. I felt strangely voyeuristic snapping this picture. Though it was the subway, it was so tender and intimate.



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Brrr.... or A New York Weekend

It's snowy and cold in New York. You can see some strange and wonderful sights...

Some people are too cool to button their overcoats, no matter what the weather...

Others completely wrap themselves in blankets.

To me it looked vaguely like a large single-celled organism...

But it was still Madison Park.
I couldn't agree more.

I've always enjoyed looking down between the banisters...
This weekend I'm in Boston, and the "brrrrr" applies here too...



Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I stayed in (or The Methodical Sound of Ripping)

In the end I stayed in Boston this last weekend, really stayed in, leaving the house only once in the entire weekend.  It was cold; there was snow on the ground; I had just bought four very nice wedges of cheese from my cheese monger and taken the precaution of buying a few bottles of red and a baguette as well. I was well stocked to wait it out.

While I was waiting, I decided to embark on the long overdue project of clearing through some accumulated papers. If I had known what I was starting I might opted for a television-induced coma instead. You see, the last time I had deep-cleaned my papers was somewhere between 10 and 20 years ago. Now I don't want to convey the wrong impression. I'm not one of those people who collects coasters, packets of sugar, TV guide, or just any old thing. Nor was it that I was living in chaos. Instead, I have perfected the art of ordered chaos. I take a chaotic situation, break it into semi-coherent pieces, put it into a box, and then forget about it for a decade. Everything looks tidy, and with some twisted logic might be.

For example, one box contained papers that used to be on the upper left corner of my desk c. 1995. Given the strange way memory works, as soon as I opened the box, I knew exactly what to expect.  And despite expecting it, I was still surprised by how small things triggered such powerful memories: old address books; postcards from friends; the study calendars I used to make for myself in the month leading up to an exam; a fax I had received from a friend. Some of the memories were just small moments remembered vividly, and others were large, dramatic moments in life that had become like genies in the bottles of these little scraps.

When I said that I don't collect just any old thing, it's true. But it's also true that I do (or did) collect a few things that I thought would be worth hanging on to:
  • Long ago I used to keep all my correspondence. It became impossible to move around with so many papers, no matter how well filed, so I stopped doing this many years ago and hung on to just a fraction of this old correspondence. The hard part is deciding what to keep and what to discard, a sometimes random, sometimes thoughtful process.
  • Then after I began traveling, I would collect postcards from every art museum I would go to. Just a few each time, but it was like my own visual reference library, except that I never filed them in any way. They were just stuck in bags. So I finally took them out of their bags, and put them in a stack, like a deck of cards, appending the receipts when I had them. It was like a visual flashback -- paintings I had seen, places I had been, with whom, when, in what weather, all coming back in a jumbled but exhilarating mass.
  • For even longer I have been hanging onto concert programs, as a kind of personal musical archive. But again, there were so many by now (10-15 concerts a year x my age - 5 years = an impossible number). so I made the painful decision  to keep only the program page from each. Suddenly 15 boxes was boiled into one. And though I didn't remember all of the concerts and operas, some came back so vividly all these years later. The process of ripping off the program page reminded me of something my father used to do every Sunday -- rip through the week's correspondence, keeping only what he needed.
  • And finally I had the scraps. The problem with any system is what you do with something that doesn't fit anywhere. A receipt from a cafĂ© in Paris in 1997 reminded me right away of the cashier who was flirting with me (or was it the other way? or was it only in my mind?) Actually I have the spot in the Marais imprinted on my mental map, and whenever I'm in Paris and happen to be walking by I always remember that small episode. Surely that's a receipt worth keeping. And so I did, in a scrapbook, another habit I picked up from my father.
In curating all these documents of my life I realized that I stopped keeping and collecting  a number of years ago, of necessity. But it's a pity. Though it took me literally 18 hours to sort through these things, it was a sample of my life -- beautiful, bizarre, happy, melancholy, sad, joyous. While I have e-mails and digital images from recent years, will those bring back feelings in the same way a decade from now? I'm not sure. Let's talk then.



Friday, January 21, 2011



  • Truman Capote had had his way, Breakfast at Tiffany's would have starred Marilyn Monroe and if Blake Edwards had had his way the co-star would have been Steve McQueen. Now imagine that film!
  • I were in London this weekend, I would go to see Breakfast at Tiffany's on the big screen.
  • I were in New York this weekend, I would go to a party at my friend Montse's place; she's a jazz aficionado (and knows how correctly to pronounce that word), and has invited a number of jazz musician friends and relatives who in my imagination will start jamming after suitable intoxication has been achieved.
  • I am unable to invent (or find some wizard at MIT who has invented) a transporter before this evening, I'm going to stay in Boston this weekend. It has just snowed another 15 cm. I planned for this contingency by buying several bottles of wine, much cheese, and a few veggies. Maybe this is the weekend I'll finally watch The Mirror and Kagemusha.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

I was wondering why...

I like this picture, even though it didn't work out as intended. Then I popped in over here (#2), and it made some sense...

A post-New Year's walk in New York

It reminds me of images, none of which I can precisely pin down.



Friday, January 7, 2011

I should get back to words, but...

I was strolling through Central Park, the snow gone, the leaves many months away, and there was a delicate beauty to the canopy of bare branches.

...sometime images are so compelling.... I'm from a verbal (indeed, perhaps verbose) family, and since around age 14 I've inherited my family's predilection for using words to frame images, to harness emotions, and to play the beautiful game with ideas. This my excuse for the stunting of any visual talents I might have had (though truly, not sure I did).

But over the last few years my brain seems to have rewired itself so that some pathways now directly connect my eyes to my feelings, though some feelings not all, wonder (adbhuta) in particular. This has pushed my travel a little bit toward nature, and not only to looking for spectacular vistas and vastness but also toward intimate nature, cozy ambiguous light that makes things feel close.

And yes it has even begun to allow me to enjoy moments of winter, a season that I used to dread. I'm still not enthusiastic about it, but I can see that it has its moments.


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