Punekars and Two-wheelers

Punekars are fantastic drivers. From dodging potholes quicker than one dodges trains in Subway Surfers to going over speed-breakers so fast that you cannot even feel the bump – we are the embodiment of the saying “Ignorance is bliss”.

Every Punekar, irrespective of which bike, scooter or bicycle they have, drives it like Batman’s bike. Anything that comes in the way is an obstacle. Woman crossing the road? Obstacle. Red signal? Obstacle.
We are Pune’s “Batmen”, vigilantes in a city of vigilantes – ever watchful, ever ready to break any rule that defies our logic. Because we are special.
(So special that we don’t even need Morgan Freeman to help us out.)

Of course, we cannot “just drive”. Does Batman “just drive”? No. He talks to people, shoots bullets at enemies and flies on rooftops.
Similarly, an anonymous group in Pune (Established – 1610AD*) has taken up the extremely time-consuming task of spraying tobacco all over Pune’s dividers while driving. These men (and women) have taken the phrase “Paint the town red” to a whole new level.

1610AD* - Introduction of tobacco in India by the Portuguese

Sometimes, the Government does its job (sometimes), and repaints the dividers with the standard colors (yellow and black). But our Anonymous group manages to repaint the walls within a few days. Wouldn’t it have been great if tobacco had been yellow and black in color? You know, just for convenience.

But bike riders are alright. It’s the people who drive four-wheelers that don’t know how to drive.

Here are the rules for driving a four-wheeler in Pune
(Written by bike-riders aka Batmen)

1) Never disrespect Batman
2) Batman is allowed to cut you off in traffic
3) Batman will always take the faster lane. You should drive on the sides
4) If Batman hits your car – you will pay for all damages (and take a public beating if you are rude about it). Additionally, read Rule 1.
5) If Batman hits your car and you are a woman, it will always be your fault irrespective of what happened. Additionally, read Rule 1.
6) Batman reserves the right to scratch your car and damage any components.

Four-wheeler drivers fail miserably at following the above rules. They will always take the fast lane, always curse you when you cut them off in traffic, and always disrespect you when you hit them. How is Batman supposed to help such a city then?
But when these same four-wheeler drivers drive a two-wheeler, they become one of Pune’s own Batmen. Every ready, ever watchful. Vigilantes.

Pune has evolved a lot as a city of two-wheelers. In other cities of India, people usually drive in the same direction in a lane. Punekars have devised a bi-directional lane method, wherein driving in any direction is allowed as long as traffic police are absent. Batman needs convenience for his quick errands – and no lane is small enough to not be divided.

That isn’t all. We have scientifically analyzed the art of driving and created some special driving tactics, such as “Bus Blocking”, “Divider Kissing”, “Traffic Signal Color Blindness Technique”, “Roundabout Reinvention”, “Middle lane Sprawling”, and when everything else fails, “Beat Up that Person who dared to talk back when you shouted at them” Technique. A detailed explanation of these tactics is beyond the scope of this post.

Driving in Pune is an art. It is a sport, where reaching home alive is considered the highest form of achievement. We have achieved perfection in our art form, created a culture out of it, and revolutionized the simple task of “driving”.

We are Punekars. We are Batmen…

This is for TEDxPICT

I don’t know how I’m even getting time to write this right now. It’s less than 72 hours to go till Saturday, 1 October dawns. The Saturday we’ve all been waiting for.

For the last two months, I’ve learned a lot, right from understanding the basics of who knows what to understanding who DOES what.

Sometimes, I’ve felt like I didn’t really help in anything, like I was just there for support, but when I look at the grand scheme of things, it becomes clearer. It was my dream since I was 14 – to organize a TEDx event, to work towards making it a success, to make sure that people would remember it for the experience that it was. And that happens in less than 72 hours from now.

Today, a professor walked up to us and asked us, “Why are you doing this? This TEDxPICT thing? What do you get from it? How does it develop you? You are to-be engineers… you shouldn’t even be doing such small things.”

But the ocean is made up of small drops. Does it mean that all raindrops should just give up because they’re too small to make a difference by themselves?

I am doing this because I dreamed of organizing a TEDx event before I even knew I wanted to be an engineer. I am doing this because when I work with everybody, there is a sense of teamwork and belonging that doesn’t exist in any classroom anywhere. I am doing this because when I look back a few years later at this, I will not remember the exams that I gave or the lectures that I attended. I will remember the hard work and the perseverance that got me past some of the rough patches in my life.
What do I get from this?
Money? No.
Glory? As a team, yes.

But more importantly, what I get from it is that when I decide to do something, I won’t stop until I get it done. It teaches me what no communication skill class ever will, it teaches me to be the best at who I am, to survive on 3 to 4 hours of sleep everyday for a week and manage studies at the same time.

And these lessons will stay till I die (unless I become forgetful or something), because I did those things actively. I loved it, every second, every minute, every hour of it, even when some people doubted us at the worst of times.

And everybody on the team learned it too. Because everyone worked as hard, nay, harder and better and propelled me to be a better person over the weeks.
And now, it’s just 72 hours left.

This is for the final stretch. The big breath. This is for all the days when we worked hard. This is for the first and the last talk of that day. The first claps to echo off the walls. The last light to fade out and the last voice to trail off.

This is for TEDxPICT

Shoes and the Seven Year Old

Throughout school in Seychelles, I wore tons of weird shoes. From pointy, black shiny ones to brown, loose flat ones. Everyone else usually just wore sandals. Me? I had certain “standards” to maintain as a kid. So for the first year of school I wore the spick and span black shoes that I had bought in India.

When they wore out, I got a pair of weird brown shoes. They were a little too large for my feet, a little too loose to play football in and a little too much like a grown man’s shoes. And although I was proud of them when I got them, things turned around pretty quickly when I got to school on the first day of wearing them.

The shoes spelled out the perfect recipe for disaster. Football would usually consist more of flying shoes than the actual ball, and eventually even the heftiest of attackers would stay away from me for fear of getting “the boot”.

JustLegs
That wasn’t all. I would be the “barefoot” runner in running competitions, since my shoes would fly off at odd angles. The only good thing it did was distract the other runners just long enough for me to finish ahead of others. (Pro strategy if you ask me).

Seychelles was a sandy island. You could be on top of a mountain, and sand would still be there. It was no surprise then that the first ritual after coming home was removing sand from my shoes. So, I decided to throw away my “standards” (and my shoes) and switch to sandals instead after they wore out.

But the shoes weren’t done with me yet. A few people from Seychelles national TV were filming on our school grounds for some documentary. We were playing a football match, with me kicking my legs all over the place in a frantic attempt to clear the ball from the defensive area.

The camera could’ve captured any of a hundred thousand things about me, but when the documentary finally aired, there I was – not my face or my body – but my legs and my flying shoes. Of course, I didn’t know then that they were filming for a documentary and I had no clue when it would air, so I didn’t watch it.

Nonetheless I was a sensation in school the day after it aired. I felt like Harry Potter because I had no clue why I was famous.
“We saw your shoes on TV,” someone told me.
“My shoes?” I asked.
“Yeah, you were kicking wildly in the air and then the scene changed.”
So I finally became the “Shoe guy” for everybody.

ShoeGuy

 

That was the end of the brown shoes. I put them in the shoe cupboard and refused to wear them, no matter what happened. That was followed by a huge discussion at home about how I shouldn’t let the opinions of others affect who I am (which ended with me sulking and firmly deciding that I didn’t want those shoes after all).

For the next few weeks, I was the “Shoe guy” who wore sandals to school. Come to think of it, it could’ve stayed that way for years, if it hadn’t been for a guy who started wearing the most fluorescent pink shoes one could buy.
I gladly handed over the title of “Shoe guy” to him, and stepped back to my old tag of “Malabar” (which meant Indian in the Kreol language).

Of course, nothing really ends on the perfect note and I got teased for many other things. But what I learned was, if you were weird, you weren’t accepted but you could still be famous even if you weren’t accepted but you could easily lose all that infamy if someone did something that was more embarrassing.

Since that day, whenever I did anything embarrassing, I just pointed out someone famous who had done it worse. That way, I would be a style statement.  As the years passed, I erased all the “Xyz guy” tags, until I just became the “guy”.

And trust me, life was much easier.


[Check out my previous adventures in Seychelles here]

The Friday Evening Dilemma

Friday evening comes with its own emotions. The ecstasy of finally reaching the end of the week, the knowledge that this weekend will flash by like all others do and the realization that all grand plans you make for the weekend are seldom implemented.

Then comes into view the larger picture – of all the “Friday evenings” and of all the grand plans you’ve ever made. It’s as if all decisions come with their own “let’s give up” factor. Here’s what they look like…

slepdude2

 

Take for example this blog post. I thought of writing it at 4PM. I ended up eating a kiwi, listening to a song on loop 22 times (and kept a count of how many times I listened to it), tried fumbling with the feel of my blog by customizing it (and realized I was making it worse), had a coffee, and almost four hours later, I decided to give up on it (until I realized what I was writing about).

But come to think of it, does it really have anything to do with Friday evenings? I asked myself.
After thinking for some time, it dawned on me…it has everything to do with Friday evenings!

Because, isn’t every day like a “Friday evening”?
There’s the inspiration, there’s the want to be awesome, there’s the will to become somebody, and then it just goes away, all of a sudden. Poof.

poof

For young people like me, the drive to be somebody is rooted deep inside, but it has obviously dwindled from when I was a kid. I hate looking back at all the Friday evenings I lost trying to wanting to become somebody.

It’s true that we all become somebody some day. And we all have that “weekend” where we do implement our plans. But then again, how well do we do it?
In the grand scheme of things, how many Friday evenings have you spent being who you are instead of being who you wanted to be?

And what about today? What’s your plan this “Friday evening”?

 

 

Football and the seven year old

I was clumsy as a kid. Skinny legs, short height, round spectacles and an undying obsession for books. Seychelles wasn’t exactly the place you wanted to be if you were any of those things. Seychelles was a place to play football, swim, run and dance – everything I absolutely sucked at.
When it came to football, the usual order of things was like this:

  1.  Go into the school ground during lunch
  2.  Get picked last during team creation
  3.  Screw up in the most horrendous of ways (or better, make a self-goal)
  4.  Resort to reading during lunch-times
  5.  Feel bad about not being any good and repeating step 1 …

angryfoot
As if that wasn’t enough, the teachers would stand up for me and help me out whenever I had a problem (since I was new and foreign and didn’t know Créole at all). That alienated me even more.

Sometimes, I’d feel like bringing a cricket bat and ball and showing everyone that I could play cricket twice as better as they played football, but I was half afraid of someone stealing the bat, and half afraid of someone hitting me on the head with it.

So I decided to play football in the least destructive of ways. I would stay back near the goalkeeper, swing my legs at the passing attacker (usually miss) and pretend to have tried really really hard by showing the required amount of emotion. Watching Bollywood movies helped a lot with the acting part.footdrama
That served my purpose and I began getting picked more often during team creation (on the premise that I would at least try).
Life would have been all nice and peachy if it hadn’t been for a particularly aggressive kid on the opposite team. He would fly in with the football, shove me aside and score his goals. Who was going to spot a skinny little Indian lying in the dust anyways? Tick-tock.

Then began the days of watching football matches on TV. Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Chelsea. People watched successful goals. I watched failed goals. I watched why they failed. I learned.

On a fateful day, I put my logic to use and resorted to swerving out of his way, going behind him and diving with my legs forward to tackle him.

When it failed the first time, I tried again, faster, sneakier, tighter. Before long, I had blocked two definite goals and turned from a trier to a performer.
Of course, it didn’t always work, and I never had the potential to defend any more than a fellow seven year old’s tactics, but I did learn not to absolutely suck at football.

Eventually I came to the realization that just brute force wouldn’t get you anywhere in the world. No matter how hefty and strong the attacker was, all that mattered was reading his movements.

Things weren’t all peachy and fun after that either, because nothing ever ends with “and everything was fine“. There was the “high jump” incident and the “guava stealing” incident. There was also that one time I came on Seychelles national TV ‘by mistake’ (and everyone except me saw the footage, of course). But that’s a story for next time.

[Continue reading further adventures…]

Aliens and the seven year old

Discovery channel used to have this show on “Close alien encounters”. Being a space freak and having the usual curiosity of a seven year old, I used to watch these episodes with bated breath and half-closed eyes.
Although the show would be pretty enjoyable, sleeping alone at night would usually mean pulling the blanket over and pretending to be in a huge orb of “unkidnappable” steel. I was sure I would be safe, because people in the show who got abducted usually lived in some remote area or were alone at the time of being abducted.

 

AlienLogic
So everything was fine until that one freaky day when they showed the aliens abducting a kid of my age, right from her bedroom in a city. Then all hell broke loose.
I’d spend half the night staring at the curtains for the tiniest hint of light (which meant that a spaceship was landing) or glancing below my bed to see if there were fingers trying to pull me down. I’d eventually fall asleep and wake up cursing myself for not being more attentive.

After I fell asleep in class a couple times and got scolded, I decided to stop watching the show. After a few weeks, I’d forgotten all about it. At least I thought so.
‘No one has really seen aliens,’ mom told me when I asked her about it.
‘Yeah, that’s all made up stories,’ I chirruped.
And aliens always went to America anyways.

On an eventful night, just as I was about to fall asleep, I saw some lights and heard a rattling noise. I pushed myself against the back of the bed and waited. In the show, the aliens would sedate the people before taking them away. I pulled out a pencil and paper from the nearest drawer and wrote down “Aliens” on it as fast as I could. At least my parents would know what happened.

The light became stronger and stronger and I decided I had to scream.
So there I was, screaming at the top of my voice. My father rushed out from his room and opened the door with panicky hands.
‘What happened?’ he shouted.
The lights outside dimmed suddenly.
‘Outside!’ I whispered.

My dad parted open the curtains. A pickup van was parking itself on the lawn next to the house, making an awful lot of noise.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked me, closing the curtains.
‘Of course, of course!’ I croaked, pulling the blanket over my head again.

The aliens had deceived me this time by changing their spaceship into a van. Whatever it was, I now knew the trick to keeping them away.

I just had to call dad.

[Continue reading further adventures…]

Swimming and the seven year old

I was a bit of a fraidy-cat when it came to swimming. To be honest, that wouldn’t have mattered much if my family had shifted to a landlocked nation. But instead, here I was on an island on a stormy Wednesday evening in my swimsuit. I stood at the edge of the ocean and prepared for the “Physical Education” class to follow.

The ocean might’ve been Indian, but I feared it wouldn’t waste much time deciding whether I was to die or just be “imprisoned”. So, as the thirty odd seven year old boys and girls waded into the rough waves, I avoided the teacher’s glance and tried hiding behind a bunch of rocks.

The teacher spotted me and called me over to stand in line (in the water) and swim from one rock to the other. Teeth chattering and stomach rumbling, I realized a few seconds later that my feet weren’t touching the ocean floor, and quick as a cat, I scampered out of the water. That was probably the one time I prayed with utmost reverence to whatever superpower was watching over me.

trajectory

When everyone started laughing at me, I sheepishly told the teacher that I couldn’t swim (let alone go across freestyle from one rock to the other). The Seychellois were born islanders who probably learned to swim before they could walk. It was no wonder then, that I was made fun of for the next few days over my “skinny legs” and “inability to swim”.

When my sister found out about it, she decided to teach me how to swim.
‘Do you know some swimming pool?’ I asked innocently.
‘Yeah,’ she said.
The next day we were at the beach, and I was half-crying, half dragging my ass out of the water for all it was worth. Eventually, my sister and I adapted to each other’s method of teaching and learning.

When I still didn’t get the hang of it after an hour, my mom called out from the shore, ‘Just let yourself float!’ Livid, with salt water in my eyes, I shouted out in frustration, ‘Well, if it’s so easy, why don’t you try it?’

That sent both of them into fits of laughter. I waded out of the knee deep water, angry at being so slow. It took a few days of decent practice and I eventually went from “Hey, I am floating,” to “Look at me, swimming on my back!” And not just me, my mom learned too.

A few weeks later during a Physical Education lecture, I waded into the water to the surprise of my classmates and “butterflied” around them. When the strongest swimmer in class joined me to swim around and talk, I realized I wasn’t just a “skinny Indian boy” anymore.

I was one of them.

[Continue reading further adventures…]


(Here’s what happened when I first landed in Seychelles…)
Seychelles And the Seven Year old