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I belong to the roads!

I started my fieldwork in January 2014 and I halfway through. Since then I have travelled to two countries and more than 25 cities, close to 12,000km. The best part is, all of this is by road. Not even a single flight.

Yes, travelling by road takes time but gives you back a unique experience. Time allows to absorb the landscape around you, observe your fellow passengers, see the world where you really belong to, up close!

I prefer waiting on a railway platform to waiting in an airport. In an airport, I am surrounded by snobs who are upset with flight delays, long check-in lines, and cumbersome security checks. In an airport I am surrounded by disappointment. But on a train platform, I see hope, I see support. When I travel by road, I see how 90% of India really lives. On an aircraft, people wear earphones to avoid conversations with fellow passengers. On a train, people share food and tea with fellow passengers.

Trains - The lifeline of India

Trains – The lifeline of India

I usually travel alone. That pushes me to trust people. I leave bags with strangers when I go to use restrooms or buy something to eat. There are still trustworthy people out there. World has always been bad and cunning. In the recent days, media is more focussed than ever on highlighting crime. This has made every traveller suspicious in in the eyes of other travellers. As long as we can trust people, there is joy left in living, and there is peace left is breathing.

I have six more months left. More travelling and bonding with the earth and its people. I am grateful that my fieldwork has given me ample opportunities to travel by road and interact with people who keep this country going. Every mile I travel, I get to know India a little better.

India, I LOVE you!

What is it that I would miss?

When I go back to India for good, what is it that I will miss the most? It is the public library system. I am very attached to Berkeley Public Library(BPL). I go there at least once a week, sometimes just to ogle at the stacks of books! It is nothing compared to the Gardner Main Stacks at UC Berkeley library, but BPL is still a great public library. I can check out up to 50 items. Through Link+, I have access to all California public library books. I choose the book online and it is delivered to BPL for pick up  I can now borrow audio books and ebooks too. With a valid California ID, one can walk into any public library, become a member instantly, and borrow books that moment.

This reminds me of my childhood days back in Chitradurga, my visits to the public library named as (Sri Krishna Rajendra Library). The library was attached to my preschool – Rotary Bal Bhavan. On Saturdays we were allowed to play in the shared compound. I was not too curious about the library then. When I was in 7th grade, I became more observant of the reading habits of my cousins from Bangalore. During their visit, I went to my public library where they borrowed books under my father’s name. I also decided to try out a book. If I remember correctly, it must have been some Hardy Boys book. I looked at the last page, some 223 pages in all, 14 days borrowing period. That means I had to read 223/14 = 16 pages everyday!

Reading English books was a torture. My medium of instruction was English but that did not help me much with my spoken English or the ease of reading English books. I was good with basic grammar (we were taught eight parts of speech, and few tenses, nothing more). But my vocabulary sucked and I was not familiar with the writing style of English novels. Each page took me close to 15 minutes. I forgot the names of the characters. Names confused me as the author would use first or last name depending upon the situation. It was hard for me to relate the names with gender. I wrote down all the names of the character, the mutual relationships on a paper and frequently referred to them. I never finished a single book till I reached college.

When I was in Bangalore for my 11th and 12th grade education, I visited Shankar Circulation Library, a private library near 8th cross, Malleswaram, with my cousins. My first English book I read end to end was some Tintin comic book. I don’t remember  its name. I was 16 and I did not understand that comic fully. My classmate VIkas Raykar was a great inspiration. He had many but different books at his place and no television. I was very surprised to find someone who liked books more than television.

It’s been 12 years since I stopped watching television. I commuted for two years on my bicycle to Arghyam listening to podcasts and audio books everyday! Daniel Bachhuber introduced me to Radiolab and Google Reader! I soon got hooked to podcasts and RSS feeds! My life is filled with books and podcasts now. I read when I have free time. I read to procrastinate my research. My reading interest has now expanded to  fiction, non fiction, humour, history, and comics! Ever since I have discovered audio books, my life is filled with more joy! BTW the book “How to read a book” has been amazingly helpful!

As you can see, I have a lot of catching up to do! If you started reading at a very early age, you are fortunate. But I don’t envy you. There are many people in my country who will die without reading even a word their entire life! (30% of Indian population is still illiterate). I now have friends on campus and outside who keep inspiring me with their reading zeal. I find goodreads more interesting than facebook for that reason.

I am in love with Beyondpod and Poweramp apps on my android. Beyondpod allows me to download all my podcast subscriptions (link my podcast subscription here). Poweramp provides me with a great interface to play my audio books and audio files. Coolreader is my favourite ebook reading app on my android tablet.

There is one other important aspect of my current life in Berkeley which I will miss a lot, may be the most. It is the conversations I get to have with people here.  I am almost afraid to go back to India for this reason. What if I don’t find similar set of people back in India? May be that is what life is all about! Trying to find familiar things in unfamiliar places! Even if I decide to stay in USA, my social circle will dissolve soon after grad school! I should learn to cope with change!

Any Human Heart – A great book about the realities of life!

I was weeping yesterday while biking to campus listening to “Any Human Heart“. I finished reading the book today. I must admit that this is one of the amazing books I have read in my life. I was moved by almost every situation of the life of Logan Mountstuart (LMS), the protagonist of the novel. I empathized with LMS. The writing style of William Boyd brings out a very true self of LMS which is more or less a reflection of most human beings.

I want to mention two things from his journal. First, the scene when he looks at the pictures of Stella and Freya, LMS’ dead daughter and wife, and thinks about all the happy moments of his past. He is happy that his life was filled with such joy and happiness. At the same time he feels he will never be that happy again in future. It made me wonder, what is it like to reach a point in life where future is just a constant decline of everything – health, wealth, love, happiness, and friendship! I am living my life with a huge hope of a better tomorrow. I am not sure what it is to live a life of utter hopelessness!

Second, LMS talks about his vision of future – had he imagined his old age to be this way? I am now thinking about my vision of my own future. What do I see? May be I should give it some serious thought and see whether I can align my actions to reach the place where I want to me. Sending email to myself or creating time capsules is a good way to link my past and future. I will soon start working on that!

In any case, the book was melancholic! I felt privileged to have access to someone’s intimate thoughts, thoughts that are very similar to mine. I wish I had the courage to write them all down with the rawness the author has done! Love, friendship, betrayal, conceit, deceit – the main ingredients of life, are usually tempered by opportunity, kindness, and empathy to form a life story worth telling! Death of LMS seemed like the death of a close friend, the death of my inner self!

If I consider the average life expectancy of an Indian, I am through 40% of my life. My 33rd birthday is not faraway! May be it is time to take stock of my blessings, my goals, and start acting on them! It is amazing how a book, a story can inspire us all. I will be more committed to my journal writing. I will try to keep my blog posted with my thoughts about life and my struggle to fix myself! I don’t want to look back at life and repent. Yes, I may not be able to take right decisions at every point in my life. But I want the sum of my good and bad decisions to be positive towards the end. But as we all know, Life has a will of its own!

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi