Honkless in the city (Learning to drive again)

Last month, I returned home to Delhi having been away for 9 months. One of the things I had been silently worrying about was reviving my “Delhi” driving skills. Arriving at the airport 2 hours late and 1 bag less didn’t lessen the enthusiasm and I chose to take the front passenger seat in the cab; THAT gave me the front seat to the roller coaster ride that driving in Delhi is. The cabbie was my teacher & so that was the first step: Learning by observation. I watched as the driver made the cab twist, turn and squeeze through narrow spaces to get me home.

Next in my agenda was a hands-on session and chose a small car for it, the advantages being that a hatchback is easy to park and of course the maneuverability. The BIG disadvantages of my choice: the car has L (Learners) signs on the front and back [how apt, or so I thought!!!] and the horn wasn’t functioning. I wasn’t sure then what I was getting into. When driving in Delhi, the horn is one of the most important tools in your toolbox, probably even more important than brakes. Being honkless would mean that you’re in a boxing ring with no gloves, or like being on a stock exchange trading floor and not be able to shout, its like being on a fast the day you have a team feast.

Initially, the experience was frustrating, being a mute spectator in the chaos, the hand would reach out & hit the horn with intensity but there would be no sound. Add to that, the Learners sign, and that adds 10X hostility when you’re on the road. People don’t honk when they see a L sign but immediately try to overtake you. But then an interesting thing happened: I started to slow down, give way more and observe a lot (by force rather than choice); it gives you a different perspective and makes you less aggressive. That ring of wisdom didn’t last for long though, and evaporated as soon the horn was repaired. Soon after, I regained my Delhi driving skills and re-graduated to my own car.

And thus returned the sweet sound (ahem!) of the horn, and so I was able to contribute some musical notes to the orchestra on the street.

So here my friends, I give you Top 5 tips for driving in Delhi:

1. Changing Lanes
Active observer: When a car in front signals to change a lane, the driver following in the destination lane shall speed to not let the car change lanes.
Actor: If you need to change lanes, first safely get your car 50% into the destination lane and THEN signal. (Rule of thumb: signal after the remaining space in destination lane &lt width of the car that’s following)

2. The L sign
Active observer: L stands for Loser, not Learner. When you see a car with this sign, speed and get ahead as you need to be the Winner. Be a good citizen: don’t distract the loser by honking, let him drive at his own pace.
Actor: Try and get rid of the L tag ASAP. If you had applied a red plastic tape to draw the L, remove any remanents of it completely. An leftover impression of “L” on your car screams “Fresher”.

3. Overtaking
Active observer: Always drive in the fast lane and never give way to cars behind. If they really want to overtake, its their problem not yours. If you don’t like to be overtaken, speed when cars try to overtake you
Actor: If you’re trying to overtake, do so in a fashion and speed such that the driver you’re overtaking doesn’t notice you. Tip: use blind spots.

4. Traffic Signals
Active observer: If the car in front of you stops at a traffic light, honk repeatedly, the guy has no business stopping like that, the color red is over-rated. Also, research has proven that traffic signals change color in a few minutes if you honk.
Actor: Traffic lights and signs are suggestions really.

5. 2-way streets
Actor: On a 2-way street with no divider, be a leader…start a lane instead of joining one. If the lane you’re creating obstructs traffic coming in the other direction, well…a wider road is needed and should be built.
Active observer: If you’re in the traffic that’s coming from the other direction, relax, there’s nothing much anyone can do. Just utilize the lanes left so that no new lanes get created.

Disclaimer: The above is a work of fiction…..Of course I don’t drive like THAT!

Random chatter on the channel

There are some things that can be categorized and some that cannot be; and then there are these little uncategorizable (I created a new word…Hurray!!!:D) things that have this “Aha” factor about them which tend to not get talked about. Sometimes its an interesting movie, a soulful song, a useful tip from a fellow human being etc. that makes you go “Wow/Gee/Ooh/Mmm/OyeHoye” … somehow these things fall through the cracks when you write, unless you’re writing a review.

My life has been filled with countless such little things (like everyone else’s), and so here I am here trying to share some of these. I decided to call it “Random chatter” because of the randomness that arises from bunching together unrelated things in a bulleted list and also because the phrase sounds nice to my ears. Seems to fit the definition of the word “Arbit” quite well (short for arbitrary, origin: IIT lingo; interesting to see many of the words have been passed on to mainstream language).

-> I came across a series of travel/city books titled “Cheap Bastards guides”, these guides have specific tips on living a free life in cities like Boston, NYC, San Francisco & Chicago. Here’s the website http://www.thecheapbastard.com/, they do mention they even got the website done for free. Pretty Cool! But going by the principle, why would someone want to pay for these guides, shouldn’t they be available for free ๐Ÿ˜€

-> Found this gem of a website for online music. It has all the good ingredients: very user friendly, is free, Minimal ads, no popups, no clutter, no player installation needed and a very very good music collection. May I present http://www.dhingana.com/. Key features: allows you to create & maintain multiple playlists and share playlists, here’s a more exhaustive list. Do visit their About Us page.

->Some movies that I thoroughly enjoyed (and learnt some things too ๐Ÿ˜‰ ):

  • The Notebook (it feels nice to be a hopeless romantic sometimes)
  • The scent of a woman (watched for te 3rd time, am short of words for this movie, I can just say its fantastic)
  • The Shawshank redemption (it’s good to have a short term and long term plan)
  • The story of Us (very realistic movie, liked the idea of thinking about your high and low for the day)
  • Pay it Forward (based on a beautiful idea that works on the honor system)
  • Ahista Ahista (life can be simple & sweet)
  • Swades (watched 2nd time, it isn’t easy to follow your heart, but it can turn out to be the right choice)
  • Good will hunting (See below)
  • Dead Poets Society (See below)

This is the below that was mentioned above: The world likes conformity, it makes it easy for people to categorize people, but is that the purpose of our being…to be categorized? Humans have individuality and are NOT like Cattle! I look around and see that the majority of our systems are built to treat all people and situations alike … rules, company policies … somewhere somehow individuals are forced to conform. The greatest thinkers, inventors, artists, revolutionists weren’t conformists…gotta remember that!

-> Visited New York city a few days back. It was a trip I was looking forward to and I read a lot on the internet to understand the basics. A few key points:

  1. I over-read :, it’s possible to enjoy the city without the weeks of reading that I did. On the other hand, preparation does help and knowledge, as you know, never goes waste. It did help me navigate around the city more efficiently.
  2. NY City and subways aren’t as dangerous as the movies of 90s made us believe.
  3. The city is fast paced, crowded and the city’s character is similar to Mumbai/Bombay’s.
  4. Walking across the Brooklyn bridge is nice, and view is better if you’re walking from Brooklyn to Manhattan rather than in the other direction.
  5. A visit to Empire State building is worth the wait (it has approx. 90 mins of wait) and the view from the 85th floor is amazing. But, it’s really crowded unlike what we see in the movie Sleepless in Seattle.
  6. Walking is the way in NYC, you tend to walk for miles and not know it. Ofcourse you do know later when your feet ache like hell. Good walking shoes help!
  7. NY hotdog & pizza is something you shouldn’t miss.
  8. Taking the one day unlimited use fun pass for the Subway is a good idea.

-> Found two awesome Indian restaurants around Boston to satisfy my Punjabi taste buds and keep me going…(Research has proven that Tandoori chicken contains a chemical that is found to reduce home sickness :D, don’t ask me who the researchers were though)

  1. Punjabi Dhaba @ Cambridge: simple restaurant, self service, the USP of this place is the flavor and price. Flavor is way way better than most Indian places around here and prices are so affordable that makes me wish we could eat there everyday if we lived closer. There’s usually a long queue at this place running right into the street, and its a long wait, but the wait is worth every minute. No cards, only cash.
  2. Kashmir @ Newbury Street: classy 4-star Indian restaurant. USP is food and ambiance, is a little pricey though. There’s also an outdoor seating and the place has flavored hookah, I don’t care much about the hookah as I don’t smoke any more. Here are some reviews.

-> One of my school friends has been working on this India search engine called Dwaar, very interesting website. Give it a shot, it might help you find what you had been looking for … http://www.dwaar.com/

-> To wind up this post, here’s a very interesting article from the Wired magazine that talks about how games can be leveraged to makes machines learn from human behavior.


Places that showcase knowledge

Never been to museums much, atleast in the last few years. Visited a few as a kid and hardly remember anything from those visits, I do have some faint memories of the Nehru Planetarium and Rail Museum in Delhi. Thought let’s give it a shot one more time.

Visited the MIT museum in Cambridge last month. Seemed like going there was a big thing, the kind of thing which becomes an experience that you remember. The place seemed geeky, well that was something I had expected. Stepping through the halls in the museum area, it seemed like you’re leafing through various topics, and running through the chronology of events and milestones in the past decades. Real models, machines, theory explained and a proof of concept demonstrated. Well, that’s what engineering really is: see an issue, identify the problem, devise a solution and provide proof that the solution works. That’s what education does for us, teaching us to solve problems. And each problem we solve conditions the mind for newer problems.

At MIT museum, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics were the halls that mesmerized me the most. Going through the AI & robotics hall, seeing that the greatest challenges are comprised of attempting to solve problems that can be stated simply these are the kind of problems that are most complex to solve. Early models demonstrated on getting machines to do predictable tasks, but tasks that required accurate coordination….making a machine walk, run, perform a somersault. Some of the newer research explored a whole new paradigm, that it’s not just about wiring a machine to do a fixed thing but the future lies in building a machine that is capable to learning and adapting to changing conditions. The robotics hall had some models on display that attempted to solve these problems. AI has the potential of making a huge impact by having humans spend time on tasks that make full use of human faculties and let machines take care of mundane tasks that machines can be taught. In a way, automation is happening all around these days, and is directed towards achieving the same results … reducing manhours spent on performing repetitive work.

The other section that was impressive was the Holography hall. About that, I won’t say much….you have to see it to experience it ๐Ÿ™‚

Science Museum in Boston is another museum that I visited. Massive place, 4 floors and a diverse range of topics, from wildlife to flora fauna to mathematics to computers to engines, a whole day isn’t enough to cover the museum and absorb what it has to offer. From what I got a chance to watch, the best things I liked were the Abacus (finally got to see it after seeing so many pictures of it) and Aibo, the robotic dog from Sony. Aibo sure is an interesting machine, the form and shape makes you forget it’s a robot and not a real dog.

There’s so much to see and learn in these places and it really opens up your eyes wide and mind wide open. Sometimes, it makes you think there’s only a small percentage of people in this world who’re impacting how the rest of us live our lives and to a great degree, the future too. Makes you want to contribute too, in whatever way you can. But for now, I’m back to my usual life with a MIT pen as memorabilia and a T-shirt from the MIT store that reads “There are 10 types of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don’t”. Geeky, eh?

The SQL query that made me smile

A few days back, I filed my income tax online. To many, that may seem like something ordinary but to me, being able to do that online was a milestone in itself. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that when I heard that taxes can be filed online, I started off exploring with a pessimistic outlook … maybe the website would be down … the system might be slow … will it be reliable … will it do what it claims. I had reasons for thinking this way, as over the years I’ve seen that these processes and the bookkeeping behind the curtains has been largely manual and on paper. And I’ve had my shares of experiences that have made me form my opinions … I’ve stood in queues for hours, I’ve visited the IT office(*1) and seen how much time & effort it takes to locate a physical file and have always wished that someday (maybe in 10-15 years), things would get computerized. I wasn’t expecting it to come so soon though.

The experience of filing my tax online was a surprise so pleasant, that I was actually …. QUITE surprised. I entered my name, date of birth and PAN number and the query pulled up my address on record. I’m a programmer myself and have written quite a few queries myself but let me tell you … no other query has given me so much happiness. For this query to be able to fetch data meant that the records existed in digital form and could be queried. That, in itself, opens so many avenues and limitless possibilities.

The overall process including registration, downloading and filling up the form and uploading the data took me less than an hour. The overall workflow was very thoughtfully designed, with a few exceptions which I’ll come to. I was able to file my tax from halfway around the world and there was only one manual leg in the process (since I didn’t have a digital signature).

These were my highs and not-so-highs..

The Highs:

  • Was able to file tax online
  • No attachments (Form-16, investment proofs) required
  • Non-proprietary software for filling the return Form. These days, Adobe Acrobat can be considered a standard software.
  • Query for PAN in registration process boosted confidence, was quite fast too
  • Website has an advanced users option (for programmers) where XML data could be edited manually
  • When filing tax without a digital signature, the acknowledgment form is generated as a downloadable PDF file (which has to be printed, signed and submitted in the IT department). Generating a downloadable PDF was a thoughtful design considering people want to retain acknowledgment in soft copy for their records and also may not have a printer at hand to print immediately.

The Not-So-Highs:

  • The name of IT website in digital signature didn’t match with site name verbatim due to which the browser gave a warning.
  • The completely automated option requires a digital certificate. Only certificates issued by one of the 7 affiliate agencies is accepted, even certificates issued by international issuing agencies aren’t accepted. None of these companies sell digital certificates online, so human interaction is required.
  • The return form gave a prompt for upgrading Adobe acrobat when it was opened in Acrobat version 6. When the upgrade option was chosen, Adobe Acrobat got upgraded to Version 7 and not Version 8.1. As per the IT website, the version needed Adobe 8.1.
  • The document opened up without any prompts/warnings when opened in Acrobat 7. While exporting to XML though, all dates in the form were getting dropped from the XML and was causing validation errors wile uploading. This problem was solved when user upgraded to Acrobat version 8.1.
  • IT department could’ve given a FAX number where the signed acknowledgment could be faxed directly. Or maybe an email address where you could send the scanned copy of signed acknowledgment. This would save a trip to the IT office (*2)

Overall, filing tax was a Breeze; IMO, the process isn’t perfect yet but it definitely a big step forward. Believe it or not, I actually jumped with joy after completing the process in less than an hour. And the SQL query for PAN, that’s brought on an instant Smile!

(*1): The best part about visiting the IT office at Mayur Bhawan in Connaught Place, New Delhi … getting to have the Special Choley Bhature/Rajmah Chawal/Kadi Chawal at Shankar Market…Mmmmm, I can smell those bhaturas from here
(*2): Maybe that trip really is worth it (Refer *1).

My Review: Anwar

I’m glad some film makers still put their money in projects like this. It keeps the non-commercial stream of Cinema alive, the stream in which artistics decisions are backed by artistic reasons, rather than by mass-Junta’s acceptance. In short, Anwar is an artistic expression that doesn’t conform with typical cinema but is a pleasant change from the routine.

The movie is set in Uttar Pradesh and the storyline is a simple one: a muslim youth (Anwar) stops to rest at an old temple and is wrongly perceived to be a terrorist holding up a Hindu place of worship. The narration shuttles between Anwar’s present and past, between which there’s no connection apparently. In snapshots from his past, we see his relationship with a Hindu friend (Udit) and how his friend looks at his community, as an outsider. His past also has a failed love angle, and also his relationship with another friend (Master Pasha), who’s happens to be a struggling actor. His present is focussed on the scene of action: a temple where he’s sought shelter, surrounded by media, politicians and the police who all believe he’s a terrorist. The movie also has some sub-plots going on, in the politician’s, journalist’s and the cop’s lives.

There a sequence in the movie which appears between scenes and shows Anwar dressed as Krishna running behind the girl he loves (Mehru), who’s dressed as Radha. This scene has been shot very artistically and creates a good hand-over between Anwar’s past and present.

But it isn’t these plots (which are simple everyday stories) that make a statement, it’s actually the backdrop against which the film is shot! The movie takes a bird’s eye view of current times, and shows the idiosyncrasies of today’s society. The reflection, in my view, is a tight slap on our faces, well deserved by today’s media, politicians and citizens. Realization is the first step to corrective action, and reflections like these are ugly but most effective.

The movie in its backdrop covers multiple topics:

  • Attitude towards minority communities
  • Politicians and political groups creating News for gaining mileage, making issues where none exist
  • The Media reporting what the perception is, instead of digging up what the reality is
  • The cops who’re puppets in hands of politicians and their goons
  • Moral policing by political groups

Sidharth Koirala, as Anwar, looks more pretty than his sister Manisha Koirala (LOL), who plays the role of the jornalist Anitha in the movie. Sudhir pandey does an OK role as the politician. Vijay Raaz (as Master Pasha) and Yashpal Sharma (as the cop) are brilliant, as always. Nauheed Cyrusi plas the role of Mehru, who’s the girl Anwar loves.The only thing I didn’t like in the movie: certain dialogues and sequences were stretched too much beyond what was required, which was breaking the flow. I expect movies like these to be very concise and crisp, which wasn’t the case at several points in the movie. Also, Rajpal Yadav’s character (Gopinath) wan’t needed at all in the movie and was irritating.

Overall, a beautiful movie, Go watch it!

Festive Blues

Oh it’s a time for joy & happiness
….Of celebrations, parties and letting go
But my heart, it seldom obeys rules
….It wants to let Joy decide when it wants to flow

If joyous times and sad times were in our hands
….We wouldn’t ever want to undergo the latter
But life’s not like that, it’ll give you a taste of all
….To life, your preferences don’t really matter

And now the festive wave has passed
….Souls like me can breathe easy then
Emotions can flow again without guilt
….And I’m free from expectations again

The holiday season is officially over, it’s Jan mid and it’s back to business. And I’m happy to be free again.

“Free? Weren’t you free till now?” โ€ฆ. you may ask.
Well, not quite, I was in shackles for a few weeks.
“What shackles?”
I was in the shackles of people’s expectations.
“What did the people expect from you?”
Well, people expected me to be happy all the time
“What’s wrong with that? Is that too difficult for you?”
Letting people’s expectations drive my emotional state is what’s difficult
“But everyone is happy, you should be happy too”
I “might be” & “can be”, but the problem arises when someone says “should be”
“I don’t get it”
OK, tell me this, who created a second?
I mean, who came up with this concept of a second, a pal, a shahn
Maybe some man long back
And who said 60 secs=1min, 60min=1hour, 24hrs=1day and 365/366 days=1year?
Probably some mathematician long long ago
OK, and why do you think the guy did that?
To divide time into finite parts
And why would someone want to divide time?
To plan better
Plan what?
Hmmm, to plan things better, things like when to wake up and when to sleep, when to plant crop
Ya, but what is the planning with reference to
The Sun?
Yes, and more actually. The sun, the planets, the solar system, the cosmos
Ya, Ok, I’m with you so far
OK, so time was divided to align man with nature, you agree?
Now lets come back to 1 person, any one person. Can you define when he’ll be happy and when he’ll be sad in terms of a formula?
Ok, think of astrology! Astrology is all about finding that formula for each person, based on date and place of birth, and using that formula to predict the future.
And what else is the formula based on?
Planetary positions at time & place of birth and at time & place when you’re predicting.
Right, so we have nature again playing a role here.
OK, based on this, different people will experience phases of joy and sorrow based on the relative planetary positions between their birth time and now.
Now, let’s talk about festivals. Who created festivals?
Our ancestors, and festivals are region-specific.
And what were the festivals based on?
Different things, some season changes, some based on lives of great men who lived centuries ago
And what do u do during festivals?
Different things for different festivals
What’s common between festivals?
Everyone is supposed to be happy?
Now, keeping in mind the (probable) driver behind human destiny (phases) and emotions (fluctuations between those phases) and the fact that man created months, years etc. to divide time, Do you think the entire population of a city or of a religion or of a country can be going through a happy phase at the same time?
But how fair is it to expect everyone to be happy?
I dunno
Most probably, just some of the people in the group are happy
And the rest?
They’re puppets of other peoples’ expectations. They’re happy because everyone is “supposed to be”/”should be” happy.
I get your point.
Some people are artificially happy due to this expectation/pressure. Some others who don’t want to force their emotions go into a shell during festive times
So the festive season is over, I’m free from expectations and it’s time to come out of the shell.
Welcome back.
Hello World!

P.S: Festival blues or Winter blues is a milder form of Seasonal Afflective Disorder (SAD) , which is a psychological disorder in which the patient suffers from extreme depression during the winter/fall season.

Some links:

A matter of respect

Theres always an argument when we compare culture of India with that of the West.

The general perception is “kids in India are taught to respect more than those in the West”. I dont agree; in fact have beliefs to the exact contrary. I believe Indians respect age while in the west, individuality is respected. Indian kids are taught to bow and touch the feet of elders. How many children actually know the reason behind that action? Very few (I didnt)! Still, kids grow up touching elders feet and then they pass on the tradition to their kids, minus the reasoning*. Dont get me wrong here – I dont have anything against age-old customs and am sure there would be valid reason behind the action. What Im against though is respect with too many “where” clauses.

Lets take some examples:
In India, if you meet an elder (outside of the workplace) whos not related to you, you would probably address them as Uncle/Aunty. In the west, you would address them by their first name. By placing elders on a pedestal, we cage them in our expectations. Elders in India are expected to conform to a typical image set by the society. We start setting standards for what an elder should or shouldnt do. In the west, everyones privacy is respected and what they do in their life is no-ones business but theirs.
An example: A person in their fifties remarrying in India would raise quite a few brows in India, whereas in the west, no-one interferes.

Indian society tends to set the norm for “when” people should do “what”. Out here, if youre 30 and still single, your relatives would be very worried and would express their concern at every possible opportunity they get. If you married for a few years without kids, people would be curious about “whats going on”. And you get asked over and over again till you come up with something that satisfies their expectations โ€ฆ for the time being that is.

I once attended a session on cross-cultural sensitivity and was delighted to know that in America, its considered rude to ask someone whether theyre married. Wow, I wanna go to the US of A!

We tend to judge people by their profession and tend to look up to people or look down upon them based on what they do. So, a driver, a steward, a cleaner would be treated like an untouchable, someone inferior whereas an executive as an equal or superior. In the west, people arent judged by what they do, no work is considered low. Its nice to see people interact freely with people they meet in their daily lives with no hang-ups about what they do. People are not afraid to take a break from work or to try a different profession after a few years.

In the west, basic courtesy is shown to even people you dont know. People wait for pedestrians to cross streets, people give way to others in lifts, corridors, even on busy roads. If someone snicked against your arm by mistake, most people would be courteous and apologize.

People are disciplined and respect queues, rules, protocol. Often, youre delighted when strangers smile and say Hi as they walk by. In India, there is major havoc on this front too. Rules are broken without much thought, we jump queues, push our way through anything and everything: buses, lifts, roads, malls, restaurants. Look around consciously and you will see even the so-called-“educated””creme of the society” honking on roads, driving on high-beam, parking in reserved slots, grabbing seats for the handicapped in buses and trains.

Lives are lived selfishly, oblivious to the existence of other people around. We feel pride in saying we are religious but if you go to any popular temple, youll see people pushing other people aside to pay their respects to The Almighty, to reach Him, to touch Him. What about the divinity that lives in each one of us: in you, in me and in the person you pushed aside to speed up your “darshan”?

Then, thinking of all this, arent people in the West more respectful than we are?
Is touching elders feet any good if we dont have an iota of respect for people we work with, live with, travel with? Arent we in shackles of other peoples expectations? Is respect for an elder any good if we cage them with our expectations and refuse to treat them as individuals?

I guess each one has to figure that out on their own!

* http://www.swaminarayan.org/faq/charansparsh.htm

Its raining Chemists

Last week, I was out to buy a few medicines & suddenly realized that in last few weeks, more than 10 chemist stores/pharmacy stores had setup shop around the area where I live. There were four pharmacies in the same market complex itself, one of them newly opened. Well, buying medicines is going to be convenient now, I thought. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

As I walked into the first of the four stores (98.4), I saw a huge rush on the counter, no queue but around 12-13 people ahead of me. There were some people buying prescribed medicines, some others buying shampoos and others buying drugs for common cough and cold. One was stating his membership number so the points he had earned through his purchase could be credited to his account (I still find the concept of credit points at a pharmacy weird). My turn came after about 20 odd minutes and as I handed the prescription to the pharmacist, he declared that he had just 1 of the four medicines. So I walked out, I stepped into the 2nd pharmacy store (Guardian). Same story, huge rush, 8-9 people ahead of me, people buying shampoos, face packs and mouthwash, waited for around 15 minutes and again the guy behind the counter told me he’s got just 2 medicines on the list. Third (newly opened) chemist had just shampoos and soaps but 5 people waiting nonetheless.

And as I was walking into the last medical store in the shopping complex, I got a feeling of deja vu. I realized that it wasn’t just a feeling; the same sequence had happened almost thrice before. I had come to this shopping complex and none of these big, branded, flashy & colorful medical stores had medicines I had been looking for. What good were these glamorized pharmacies if all they stocked were Crocins, Aspirins, Vitamins, Sanitary Napkins & Shampoos.

Flashback……A month & a half ago, I was hunting for health clubs around the place I live, and I had found just 2 of them in a 5Km radius of my home, one of them being a high profile health club which charged a bomb for membership. I had picked up the Yellow pages and started calling the gyms listed; all but these two had closed down. One of the guys I called commented that he was running into losses with the health club, so he had to shut shop.

I find worth mentioning that there are at least 8 full fledged hospitals (not just clinics) in same 5 Kms radius in which there are just two health clubs. What’s the relationship, you might wonder! As I see it, Health clubs signify proactive & preventive while hospitals/chemists mostly signify reactive & remedial, and it makes me wonder how we’re approaching the years ahead. We have more pharmacies than health clubs, more hospitals than recreation centers. Most of the clubs & recreation centers that I see are way out of reach for even the upper middle class; they cater only & only to the rich. Development in healthcare isn’t something bad and medical problems aren’t always caused by things we do; sometimes it’s just destiny. But, some of it IS in our hands, in the way WE live life. Weโ€™re aware of this but we still go-on pushing our system: sleep late, sleep less, wake up late, overeat, gorge on oily food and aerated drinks & live sedentary lifestyles. Then, once in a few months, we de-tox ourselves and find peace for a few days. Of course, the peace is short-lived and we return to our chaotic lives where we continue to constantly abuse our body & system.

Anyways, coming back to where I started from: As I walked to the fourth medical store in the shopping complex, I saw that there were two old men buying medicines there. One of the men had handed the pharmacist a list of toiletries and the guy behind the counter was getting the stuff from the shelf. The second old man was very frail, somewhat yellow and had a disorder because of which he wasn’t able to speak properly. He initially struggled to explain to the chemist, the name of the medicine he wanted. I was getting impatient! Then, after a few minutes, the old man slowly reached into his pocket and brought out a piece of paper which had the name of the medicine written on it. The pharmacist took the piece of paper and went to get the medicine from the rack. The medicine cost 47 rupees and the old man gave the chemist a 100 rupee note. The chemist handed the old man he balance of 53 bucks. But the old man looked puzzled as he looked at the 50 rupee note and three coins that the guy had returned him. He told the chemist that he was expecting 65 bucks back. The guy again tried to explain him that 100 minus 47 was 53 but the old man still couldn’t understand and insisted that the pharmacist return him 65 rupees. The discussion went on for a few minutes and then the other old man offered to help and tried to explain to the person that the drug cost 47 rupees & the pharmacist had returned him the right amount. The thin old man thought hard as he tried to count something on his fingertips and then as he suddenly realized his mistake, he slowly said to the chemist “Sorry beta, pataa nahi mujhe aajkal kya ho gaya hai” (Sorry son, I don’t know what’s happened to me these days). The chemist replied “Koi nahi uncle jee, kya pataa budaape mein humaari aapse bhi buri haalat ho” (No problem uncle, who knows in our old age, we may be in a worse state than you’re in).

When I heard that, something in me snapped. I felt so bad that I instantly felt a strong urge to cry. Then something happened within, and the feeling instantly turned into anger. Right then, I got a phone call from my wife, and for no reason, I snapped at her. I remember driving back home with a heavy heart. I made up to my wife after I reached back home but I continued to feel heavy & sad all day. It’s been quite a few days since that incident happened, but the pharmacist’s words still pierce deep. I don’t know whether it was pity for the old man, or the guilt of my impatience, or was it the agony of imagining myself in the old manโ€™s shoes for that brief instant. Whatever it was, what I saw & heard touched me deep and stayed there. It’s scary visualizing old age, taking into account the increasing life expectancy & the lifestyles that we’re leading today. Maybe the increasing medical stores around us signify preparation for rush hour … as my generation ages!