parallel thoughts

It takes 21 days to break a habit. It takes 21 days to form a new one.

It is another level of presence when you can realize an increased pulse, when you can give orders to calm your body, one part at a time. I lay in my own puddle of sweat, laser focused on the running fan, and let the scene dissolve before my eyes.

We are in the 21st century and if I don’t like the last sentence, I can aggressively press on the backspace button. I miss the feeling of crushing a thick sheet of paper. I miss the noise of a crispy white sheet. I miss taking an aim at the garbage can and play basketball, thanking the Gods no one is watching.

Old clothes, old cards, old feelings – there is simply no space left.

There should be a flowchart that starts with ‘Are you stupid?’ I want to create one but apparently, Google has this covered.

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the three peddlers

Every once in a while around 3pm exactly, we would get an urge to randomly go say ‘hello.’ And so, the three of us would start pedaling from Raj Nagar towards Kavi Nagar. I remember the very first time. Our dear friend had bunked an entire day of school and we wanted to catch him red-handed. The three of us at 12, 13, and 14, having absolutely nothing to do, decided to pay him a surprise visit. We had his address and used our clever ways to maneuver through the random streets. We finally arrived but couldn’t bring ourselves to ring the bell. We were basically scared of his father – what if he is a grouchy old man and chases us away with a stick? We even spent a good 5 minutes squinting our eyes towards the other two in hopes of finding a brave volunteer. The thought of ringing the bell and then pedaling at the speed at which only Lance would give us competition also crossed our minds. We were full of mischief but had never compromised our safety before.

With a brave heart and naughty eyes, we looked at each other, smirked & giggled, and rang that bell. His mom greeted us with a sparkle in her eyes and a smirk on her face. It was a total embarrassment for each party involved. Once we confirmed that he was indeed sick, we decided to repeat the experience and refine our art. We pedaled some more, this time towards Shastri Nagar to visit another friend. We again looked at each other, smirked & giggled, and rang that bell, only this time with confidence. His sister greeted us at the gate and yelled out his name. He came out, shook his head sideways in total disbelief, and filled up his next few sentences with a lot of silent cuss words. “Oh my holy Lord, why are these three here? These psychos are going to get me killed. What the @#$%!” – just one glance and we could tell the category of thoughts pacing through his mind. We sat on the sofa in the living room and just giggled.

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Our mission to embarrass our friend was yet again, a success. With eyebrows raised in accomplishment and pride in our bravery, we rode back to our respective homes. What seemed like a lifetime of cycling, apparently was just a round trip of 12 kilometers. Next week, again at 3pm exactly, we got an urge to randomly go and say ‘hello.’

a certain uncertainty

After crossing the Atlantic on a 10-hour flight and zig-zagging down winding roads on a 2 hour drive, I forgave myself surprisingly quickly for not having a strong desire to catch up on work emails. The key to flying east is to force yourself to stay awake until the sun sets, otherwise you’ll live like an owl for the rest of the week. Anything in a seated, comfortable, or warm position would be a murder of today with intent, a combination of mens rea – a guilty mind, and actus reus – a guilty act. Jet lag hates fresh air, daylight, exercise, and a strong will. I fought against myself, stood firm, and said, “don’t argue with me, you smart-ass!”

And so, with my hesitant will, I picked up my headphones and changed into my flat shoes. “Let me roam aimlessly outside the hotel,” I said! While listening to the podcast ‘The Overwhelmed Brain,’ I started walking amidst all this fresh oxygen. I became aware of how raw and pure the air feels – it won’t be too bad if I practice what my yoga teacher keeps yelling about – inhale & exhale. I shifted my senses, paused my brain, and activated my vision. I observed the little flowers on the grass and random thoughts invaded my mind. If I start walking on the grass, would I be crushing these little flowers? But if I don’t, how do I get from here to there? Am I being selfish at this very moment? But what about all the little organisms we inhale just by breathing? What about the ants we crush when we walk and the mosquitos we murder?  

Amidst all these thoughts and while trying to focus on the podcast, I experienced an itch to make a U-turn and go back to the hotel; move towards a seated, comfortable, and warm position. I observed and accepted the existence of this itch but it tirelessly returned with an increasing strength every 5 mins. I told myself to keep going, not knowing what lay ahead of me. 

In the back of the hotel by the pool there were a bunch of stairs, but when I looked up to see where it led, I couldn’t see. It reminded me of those moments in our life when we don’t know the end result; we know we are moving, but don’t know where. There is a fear of the unknown, and a certain uncertainty. Within microseconds, my mind filled up with negativity – what if there’s nothing there? What if it’s a waste of my time and effort? Why sacrifice my precious calories? Why leave the comfort of where I am where I can see everything? But I kept going. 

At the top, this is what I found.

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The Hunger Games

When things go our way, when plans fall into place, when we achieve expected results, we feel safe. Any digression from this brings an unease and causes us to doubt. We feel exposed, vulnerable, and unprotected. 

Based on the random theory, we don’t get to pick our environment when we are born. We are stuck with a person who’s supposed to be our mom, our dad, and our sibling. We are stuck with the basics – the community, culture, religion, and capabilities that we are born with. We do however, are given the freedom to select everything else. 

With this set of basics, we are now either Katniss or Peeta, unleashed into the wild to survive, almost like The Hunger Games. The wild consists of the unknown, the surprises, and the challenges that life throws at us. Each person uses a different technique and strategy to bring himself back to safety – a feeling of being in a warm cocoon with a least probability of an attack. To help achieve this mission, we hire an army. In an eclectic manner, we surround ourselves with anything or anyone that brings us instant happiness – clothes, gadgets, money, ambition, working out, adventurous travel – things that bring an adrenaline rush, an instant dose of a happy feeling – serotonin & dopamine. We also hire people who we consider friends – people who are like-minded, people who appreciate us, people who agree with our way of thinking and lifestyle – people who make us feel good about ourselves, make us feel appreciated, accepted, and unconditionally loved.

Anything or anyone else, then becomes an enemy – people who don’t see our point of view, people who challenge our assumptions, people who point out imperfections. While some do it to deliberately hurt us, some do it because they care about us, love us, and only want the best for us. Not all that makes us instantly feel good is necessarily good. And not all that makes us instantly feel bad is necessarily bad. Some medicines don’t taste good, but they are good for us. At times like these, it becomes very important to accurately identify an enemy, so that we don’t shoot everyone in front of us. 

feeling a feeling

The night before, he starts asking questions about when I’ll arrive. He keeps asking the question every hour until I do. When I do, he wants to secretly sneak a peak. He gets shy, hides behind walls and doors, and can’t control giving me more than a glance at a time. Almost always, I have to trick him into talking to me and physically bringing him closer. It’s a process that is gradual and patient. He wants me to catch him, he likes to come find me, and he says yes to everything I feed him.

“I love you Bui!”

When my 3 year old nephew looks at me and says these words, the world stops and all the troubles freeze for a few moments. For those 5 seconds, I become the center of his world, the cynosure of his eyes. I feel entangled in his web and attacked by unconditional love from every angle – love that doesn’t place conditions; love that springs out naturally; love that doesn’t calculate; love that flows freely.

The more I grow up, the more I wish to travel back in time and be a 3 year old. I want to love without boundaries, without dependencies, without expectations. I want to push back on this world that forces us to take up a calculator. I want to be loyal to feeling a feeling. I want to learn to love and I want my 3 year old nephew to become my teacher.

an innocent little potato patty

It was a little over 8 years ago but I remember that Swiss morning quite vividly. It was chilly and while half my brain was trying to forget that I had just eaten beef in the form of what seemed to be an innocent little potato patty, the other half was focusing on the ticket machine. My goal was to purchase a ticket to somehow arrive at the Uetikon station in Mannedorf by 8:00 am. My only challenge at this moment was to understand German since English was not an option. It took me at least 7 minutes to connect the German dots and purchase the ticket. After switching 3 trains and eating 2 croissants, I finally arrived at the Uetikon station. During my 8 minute walk to the office, I stopped at several home gardens and tried to capture the beauty of a flower. This was my best attempt.

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Ae dil hai mushkil

Why is it that tears you miss

Why is it that pain you admire

Is there any truth to a genuine smile

Am I then just a big fat liar

This time, there is time to heal

This time, the love is cure

Why are there these depths of love

Is there enough that we keep wanting more

Is it bound to happen, will it happen

Perhaps a better preparation this time

So easy to become always yours

So difficult to ever be mine

I wish all eyes would go to sleep 

I wish all hearts be calm and still

The beauty of love lies in the end

Ae dil hai mushkil

The Rookery

I am Michael J. Fox and currently starring in the movie ‘Back to the future.’ At least, staying at the Rookery has transported me back 252 years to 1764. It was the time of the British rule across many struggling nations.

In America, the Cherokee Indians were still fighting their battles against the ruthless colonists. The Sugar Act was passed by the British that almost doubled the duties on imported sugar among other items.

In Ireland, the Vikings and Normans had had their share and it was now the British rule. By the mid 70’s, the English Protestants had take over 95% of the Irish land. Gaelic language was banned, trade forbidden, and Catholic Church outlawed.

In India, the British East India Company was ruling large areas of India with its own private armies. The Company rose to account for half of the world’s trade in cotton, silk, indigo, and opium.

While all this was happening elsewhere, some were architecting the Rookery and this very room I’m currently staying in. With old wooden stairs covered in a thick cream carpet, beautiful paintings all around, and chandeliers dangling in the library, I have been transported back to the British empire. 

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“Let no limit bind you.” – Ruhi Rastogi

152 arm pits

The 2016 Yoga expo at the LA convention center was a great example of a well balanced supply & chain. Try fitting at least 76 yoga mats into a 1000 sq. ft. room. I am referring to 152 arm pits – bonding at its very best!

They asked us to bring our yoga mats but I should have prepared more. Thanks to my friend Maria who handed me the black suede lens cleaner by Mark Jacobs, a perfect lining to block away reality. Complete silence. Total darkness. The very first sound of gong filled up the room like a train approaching, showing off the Doppler effect. The mind left the mundane thoughts and got busy focusing on different frequencies, the entrance, and exit points for each gong.

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As soon as the surrounding sounds became the new default, I was able to focus on my vision. it was darkness everywhere. With eyes closed shut, my inner eyes were completely open staring into the darkness. While I was trying to concentrate at my third eye, my eyelids felt heavy and gave into gravity. I closed the eyelids within the eyelids, however there was another set of eyes that gazed into the unknown. Every set I closed, I melted a bit more, I slipped a bit more. All of a sudden, it felt like the movie Inception, entering into layers of extraction, each layer deeper and each layer slower.

Eventually, the teacher got tired, all healing sounds came to an end, and human chattering replaced the train.