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Sharing an in-class exercise from “Memoir Writing” : the prompt was to use excessive detail for a routine daily activity. The sample reading was a journalist’s account of a Federer Agassi point described in great detail. https://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html?auth=login-google1tap&login=google1tap

We were given 15 minutes to pen the essay, and had to include one reference to popular culture.  I used the song, “Morning has Broken” by Cat Stevens; my first and last lines are from the song. 

Whether I am in Menlo Park or at home in Singapore, this is one ritual that remains the same.

The Morning Cuppa

Morning has just broken. It is absolutely the best time of the day. Nowadays, I rarely hum Cat Stevens, but if I was to have a conversation with him, he would croon “ This one is for you, Amit”. I am often told that I do not multitask well, and am normally happy to not share my blissful solitude.

The kettle is filled with tap water and placed on the stove. At the same time, milk is taken from the refrigerator and a tiny amount poured into the white porcelain milk jug. I do this very carefully because the little piece of crockery has come from Gauri’s parental home, where it used to be part of her father’s tea set. The little porcelain cow had a befitting role in his elaborate ritual.

Did I mention that the amount of milk has to be exactly one horizontal finger high? As the petite jug goes into the microwave, the 30 seconds button is pressed twice and I dish the nuts out from the pantry. From four different packets, to be resealed carefully – walnuts, almonds and cashews, five of each and four Brazil nuts. No more, no less. There was that one time, before I was enlightened, when I had helped myself to a fistful of Brazil nuts. I did not know the existence of Selenium poisoning and the potency of a Brazil nut. It is a big one, but you would be nuts to believe that consuming eight of them could kill you. Well, I had lived to see another day but never again! As the nuts go into the glass bowl, my eye goes to the microwave timer. With 20 seconds to go, I open the oven door. The milk requires heating for 40 seconds, no more no less. The water in the kettle is about to beckon me with a shrill whistle, so I have to keep the tea cup ready. A big one embellished with “Papa’s : Do not take❤️!” In the cup, I dangle two teabags, one each of Yellow Label Black Tea, and Twining’s Darjeeling Tea. When properly brewed, the latter yields a thin-bodied, light-coloured infusion with a floral aroma. The Yellow label tea contrasts with its ‘wake-up’ ability. My brewing time is three minutes for the strength and four minutes for the flavour, the two working simultaneously.

The boiling water gets poured into the waiting teacup as my eye goes to the clock. It registers 5:56 AM. The milk can be poured into the cup at any stage now. The tray with the brewing cup, ‘Moo’ the little cow, the bowl of nuts and my IPad, is ready to be carried out. 

As I open the balcony door, the cuckoo bird tweets her morning greeting. And then hops and flies to a higher branch, to observe me from a safe distance. I pause to reflect on the strangeness of the hybrid moment – I am in California while the cuckoo is in Singapore. The tea bags come out and I am ready to take my first sip.

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning!

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An Unfamiliar Flashback !

Gauri cunningly circulated this photo on our family group chat on Father’s Day. I was so proud of our eldest daughter, the girl kneeling on the right. Except for her first cousin next to her, I did not recognise the other children. I was puzzled, so I looked closely at the faces. Now, our second daughter smiled back at me, instead of the eldest! But the age difference did not make sense. Seeds of doubt sown, questions began to pop like kernels in my addled brain: “Which of the two daughters is it? Why is only one of them in the photo? Who are the other kids? Why is the photo in black-and-white? Hang on, isn’t the girl in the centre not cousin Aparna, but her mother Radha, Gauri’s older sister? And if that is so, could that mystery girl on the right actually be Gauri? As a 10-year old!”

The power of genetic make up had me engulfed. I was truly lost in a maze of disorientation. It took several conversations and some time to convince myself that I had, as usual, been wrong on my first assessment. Gauri confirmed that it was indeed her as a ten year old, kneeling beside her sister. 

As is her wont, Gauri could recollect vivid details about the occasion, a family wedding held four decades ago. Zestful, she started off to tell me precisely what all she was up to that evening. I kept my interview rather clinical because I had a suspicion that her creative juices were starting to flow and had to be ebbed. Gauri has a fascination, actually more an obsession, for nostalgically reliving such celebrations. She has not attended many in the last three decades, since we have lived abroad after marriage, far from her parental home. Also, she is rather particular that she will not attend abridged festivities. It has to be the whole nine yards – a week of rituals and ceremonies with days mingling into nights – of singing and dancing traditional vernacular compositions, creatively curated for each occasion. A traditional Indian wedding is a complex and arduous event. Merely thinking about one makes my head swim. Gauri, on the other hand, has an impassioned penchant for them. She could pen an anthology on the subject. Given a chance, she can recount every dress worn, meal eaten, ceremony performed, conversation had and song sung frame by frame. 

But I digress. This specific gathering was for an uncle’s wedding reception in Gwalior, a small town in Central India. Gauri’s family, her parents, grandmother and sister had started from their home in Calcutta, travelled west across the country by an overnight train to Delhi to rendezvous with some other branches of the family tree . A larger, more festive group had then made another overnight locomotive journey south for this reception. 

Gauri’s eyes lit up as she reminisced on the clothes she wore. Her sister’s green and her own orange dress – the sharara – had been the latest fashion styles, and were debuted for the wedding. Haute couture was a rare indulgence for the sisters. It was their grandmother’s preserve, and over the preceding month, she had specially instructed the family darzee to come home and create the designs. I could picture Basheer Mia, hunched over his sewing machine in their backyard, under Dadi’s eagle eyes, with the tailor’s apprentice running errands and probably playing truant. The cloth was sourced from Dadi’s old silk saris and the ornamental buttons and old zari thread had special significance too. The twinkle in little Gauri’s eyes was just reward for the labour of love and craftsmanship. 

I dutifully complimented her on the fancy clothes and observed an uncharacteristic absence of ornaments on her neck. I was wistfully informed that the ornate necklace embellishing her sister had been a shared commodity. Gauri had been either outranked or bullied out of it for this customary photograph. She has since set off on a mission to trace and locate a bigger family photograph. She remains optimistic it may have been taken on a different day. I have not expressed my reservation at this implausible conjecture, and wish her the best in her futile endeavour. I was also sensitively silent (‘habitually unobservant’) and oblivious to the bracelet I spotted on Radha’s wrist. Let sleeping dogs lie!

The less said the better of the other children posing for the photograph. They are distant cousins, a dangerous territory for me to venture into, given that knowing their names would certainly not trigger in me any emotions. I will simply be accused of senility, even worse, of dereliction, since I would not be able to even recall how they are related to her. It did take a lot of effort for me to not quiz Gauri on the smart young gentleman behind her, who did a sterling job of extricating himself from the camera lens, though leaving behind half a watchful eye.

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Father’s Day Musings

This particular photograph resurfaced on Father’s Day and its significance should be rather self-evident. It is both light and heavy – so much so that my three daughters keep me grounded till today. The mirth and joy on their faces is reinvigorating and the photograph never fails to open a flood of warm and blissful memories from their childhood.

There is a backstory here. A keen observer may notice that I am wincing from the vigorous activity being performed on an injured back. But horses could not have dragged me away from the moment. The girls were customarily employed as a ‘wake-up alarm’ to stir me into action on a post-prandial moment on Sunday afternoons. The activity may have been contrary to medical advice, but you would get diametrically opposite diagnosis from an orthopaedic and a cardiovascular professional. 

I would be negligent if I did not pay tribute to the photographer who captured this gratifying moment, though her intentions were probably to garner evidence for a potential ‘I told you so’ reprimand in the near future. I was never found culpable.

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Louis Kahn Architecture IIM Ahmedabad

An Alumnus Perspective after 30 years

It is a salubrious spring morning with gorgeous blue North California skies, bright sunshine and a crisp 12 degrees Celsius. I take a deep yoga breath and imbue fresh oxygen and dollops of Vitamin D. I am standing on Palm Drive overlooking Stanford Oval, watching young men and women scurry in various directions. Some are headed towards their class in Jordan Hall, others rush to Cubberley Auditorium. Many precariously perched on bicycles and skateboards, zoom to Gates Building or the School of Medicine. Purposeful, brimming with youthful energy and completely oblivious to the ephemeral nature of the moment, without a foreboding clue of the looming shutdown. 

My memory flashes back 30 years to February 1990 as I walk up Stanford ramp at Vastrapur. To my college days at IIM Ahmedabad, to the times of yore, to the beautiful campus designed by American Architect Louis Isador Kahn.

The architecture both reflected and influenced the tastes of our times. It represented our temple of learning, unfinished yet concrete, antique yet modern – an icon of high stress, enigmatic yet aesthetic.

Looking back on it with rose tinted glasses, the ‘unfinished’ campus look was symbolic of young student lives being shaped in the two years we spent at IIM. Akin to an artist’s use of a kiln to harden ceramic objects and finish them into items of value (note I did not say beauty).

Back at the resplendent LKP for the 25th Reunion (December 2014)

Ancient civilisations like the Romans used rounded arches extensively to span large, open areas. As an innovative variation, Gothic architecture used pointed arches for taller, more closed spaces. The arches of Louis Kahn in the campus corridors represented long tunnels – symbolizing our escape as we burrowed for two years of our lives, unsure if we would ever make it through. Almost miraculously, each one of us did – hardened, standing tall and ready to take on the world!

For the engineering students, the geometric shaped buildings were familiar and welcoming. Harvard Steps and the Stanford ramp were apt symbols of higher education, an important gradient towards a life long successful career. 

But during the two years we spent at IIM, we had no such appreciation. More realistically, the brick walls in our dormitories were a furnace in the hot Ahmedabad weather for over 9 months of the year. That certainly served to intensify the academic pressure, so much so that the starkness of the architecture gave us plenty of ideas to bang our head against the wall in desperation and frustration. Nights seemed very short and often I would wake up perspiring profusely and hallucinating about the walls of my room closing in on me. On some days, the feeling was worse than being cloistered in a small prison cell. While we were there, we knew the architecture was distinctive but it did not appear particularly appealing.

For me, the only exceptions were the large lush green lawns where I played a lot of frisbee, the quaint and pretty mounds of grass around the dorms and the grandeur of Louis Kahn Plaza. The majestic convocation ceremony at the pristine LKP was certainly the denouement of our two years.

Three decades later, after a long and rewarding corporate career, I am privileged to be back to school to another great Institution – for renewing purpose and personal Renaissance.

Relishing the quest for knowledge, Second Innings at Stanford University
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Life – Stranger than fiction but less fun

It is truly a surreal world we are living in. I would think that you, my fellow travellers on this blog, are the privileged lot, in a slightly inconvenienced but hopefully safe place. With time on our hands, creativity is flourishing, as are human connections. Philosophy has gone mainstream as we are forced to ruminate on the meaning and purpose of life. Like most of you, I have had the time to ponder on how the new normal will emerge from our current situation.

Some ongoing macro trends seem to be getting crystalised for our descendants to look back on. 2020: the year when the global geo-political shift – the resurgence of Asia – was sealed; globalisation was reversed even as adoption of technology became ubiquitous. Data is very much the new oil, both subject to judicious extraction and now virtually free. We are seeing an extinction of phrases from the lexicon like ‘Monday to Friday’, ‘9 to 5’ , ‘rush hour’, even ‘serendipity’ in this lockdown world : surely our great grandchildren will ask their parents what these concepts even were. On many of these, it looks like the pendulum has swung to the other side during the lockdown, but it may defy laws of motion and not go all the way back. Currently, people do not have a choice, but wfh , hbl (home based learning) and the like are here to stay, and increasingly feasible, for a significant portion of our lives,

Personally, I am using this sheltered existence next to Stanford campus to continue my renaissance. There is plenty on offer this Spring Quarter to Zoom into and I have packed in a lot of engrossing courses. Be warned, with so much time on my hands, I will likely take two editions of this blog to share my enrichment experience.

Germany in 5 Words” is organized around five German words (most of them barely translatable) central to German culture, concepts that have retained their power into the present moment.  German history, literature, philosophy, etc. to modern political questions that Germany has answered quite differently from its neighbors. For instance: Why is nuclear power seen as deeply problematic in Germany and given little thought to in France? Why is Germany’s relationship to its war crimes so different from Japan’s? Why are immigration debates in Germany so different from those in other European nations?  

The five words are “Kultur”, “Ausland”, “Deutschland”, “Vergangenheits-bewältigung” and “Umwelt”. These do not exactly mean the following but roughly translate into “Culture”, “Foreign”, “Germany”, “Coping with the past” and “Environment”. Each word is to be covered in 4 lectures over ten weeks.

We have completed a few captivating sessions around the role of music in German culture with focus on Wagner. Beyond listening to symphonies and viewing operas on our own time, the Prof Zoomed us a video excerpt from the Tom Cruise film Valkyrie, where he plays Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the key plotters selected to assassinate Hitler. We watch the scene where Wagner’s opera piece Valkyrie (from his music drama The Ring of the Nibelung) is playing on a gramophone in the Colonel’s home, as his young children frolic around. The Colonel is enjoying the stylistic melody and getting  into a trance when in the midst of the dramatic music, there is a moment where his youngest daughter, a toddler, playfully adorns a Nazi peaked cap. Just then, there is the sound of an air raid – serving as a leitmotif for him. The ephemeral innocence in the scene vanishes and the expression on Tom Cruise’s face changes as he rudely reckons with the stark reality of war, and his own role-to-be in ending it. I had enjoyed the movie several years ago, but had probably missed this subtle appreciation. 

In these lectures, I have had a profound realisation: Music and the Holocaust come together in that shadow: one of the most beautiful things created by man, and one of the worst things human beings have ever done. Wagner, the mad genius, was more than a composer. He also influenced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, even though he was already dead when the 12-year-old Hitler heard his music live for the first time. Describing the experience, during which he stood in a standing-room-only section of the theater, Hitler wrote: “I was captivated immediately.”

A question that gets raised is: “Should we allow ourselves to listen to Wagner’s works with pleasure, even though we know that he was an anti-Semite?” There’s a bigger issue behind this question: “Can Germans enjoy any part of their history in a carefree way?”. This is thought-provoking for each of us with our diverse world experiences and history. We still have a few more weeks for Word 4 and I will likely expand my personal reflections later.

The course “Dangerous Ideas” is offered by the Humanities Department. Ideas matter. Concepts such as revolution, tradition and hell have inspired social movements, shaped political systems, and dramatically influenced the lives of individuals. Others, like immigration, universal basic income, and youth play an important role in contemporary debates. All of these ideas are contested, and they have real power to change lives, for better and for worse. Each week is an idea presented by a different faculty member.

The first lecture was “Tradition: The Enemy of Progress?” by Mark Applebaum, a music professor, virtuoso composer and jazz pianist. He judged tradition and progress as being both good and bad. He talked of the role of improvisation (he has created electroacoustic instruments like the “Mouseketier” consisting of threaded rods, nails, combs, springs, squeaky wheels, and a toilet tank flotation bulb) and having the courage to “move away from a good thing”. Some quotes that stayed with me: 

    1. “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” – Pablo Picasso. To me, this lucidly explains Federer’s artistry.

2. “You know why I quit playing ballads, because I love playing ballads.” – Miles Davis. To me, this is M.S Dhoni. 

The two quotes above immediately made me reflect on my learning in the previous Quarter Neuroscience class on Brain Plasticity. We studied how our Brain (specifically the motor cortex) is wired to facilitate ‘practice makes perfect’; and the release of dopamine in the amygdala as a reward motivator for pleasure. My brain is still fine and is connecting the dots.

3 “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” – Arthur Schopenhauer. To me, this is disruption in a nutshell. 

The professor talked about unlearning – how sometimes to move forward, you have to move back (to me, a wise way to get out of a steep bunker is by chipping in a direction away from the flag; something I rarely do). In the context of change, there was a fun discussion on the Beatles (they bridged the generation gap) and The Who (go back and listen to “My Generation”- I did).

He shared the dangerous social idea : the power of Me vs. we: How, in a jazz ensemble, each time the soloist breaks out from the ensemble, it enhances both the other players’ individual freedom and the cohesion of the group.

He ended with “Progress: the Enemy of Tradition?An old joke came to mind about the sports-philistine who arrives a few hours late to watch a Wimbledon match, looks at the score at ‘1 set all’ and nonchalantly remarks “Good, no one is ahead, I haven’t missed anything!”

This lecture was three weeks ago and I am still reeling!

My favourite and most stressful course is the Fiction Writing Workshop. I am in class along with 10 undergraduates who, of course, are fantastic writers. Their writing fills me with awe, respect and joy but does not intimidate me. On the contrary, it inspires me to try and keep up – hang in there. After all, I have much more life content than them. Or so I thought. I got a setback in the second class where the reading was “Don’t Write What You Know”. The author Bret Anthony Johnston writes in this essay ”…for people who believe they have rich life experiences. Encouraging them not to write what they know sounds as wrongheaded as a football coach telling a quarterback with a bazooka of a right arm to ride the bench. For them, the advice is confusing and heartbreaking, maybe even insulting. For me, it’s the difference between fiction that matters only to those who know the author and fiction that, well, matters.”

Essentially, he recommends to use your experiences as scaffolding that is used to build a story but is then brought down until finally it does not exist. Use your story not to express yourself but to escape yourself. Upon reading this sagacious advice, my confidence waned, but my curiosity sprawled. I have put away my baggage and am now learning some great new skills – concepts like point of view, narrative distance (my distance from you; but in fiction, between the reader and the character!), shape of a story etc.

A 1000 words short story took a lot of effort, but here it is – sharing below my first stab at Fiction Writing.

Faith

A tall man leaned somewhat precariously over the knee high parapet. The unfinished brick wall on the roof was less of a protection and more a cautionary reminder that he was three floors above street level. He peered down to the lane below as he heard some raised voices. It seemed to be just a loud argument with a few people on the street joining in. The rays of the hot afternoon sun struggled to reach the narrow lane some 50 feet below – the fracas was not worth putting under a spotlight. The man went back to looking up at the cumulonimbus clouds in the clear blue sky, his mind conjuring animal shapes – a bear jumping on a mountain lion, playfully not menacingly. His eyes caught some smoke on the horizon rising from the Himalayas. But this was nothing out of the ordinary so they moved on to scout the surroundings. The view of the picturesque landscape was interrupted by laundry hanging on clotheslines on adjacent rooftops, the clothes fluttering peacefully in the breeze. He could see Shikaras float in Dal lake in the distance, its water deep blue and partially covered with water lilies and hyacinth. Spring was still in the air, but the heat of the overhead sun belied this fact. A seasonal change was coming.

There was a sudden loud noise from the road. Was it a gunshot or a burst tyre? Hari’s brain raced as he tried to guess what might have gone wrong. A knot tightened in his stomach and he hoped that his instinct was incorrect. With a quick gesture up at the sky to say a silent prayer, Hari leaned further out from the parapet and craned his neck down the road to investigate any unusual activity in the direction of the mosque. The sun was still too high for the 3 pm congregation. And he could not have missed the call for prayer – the azaan. He whisked out the phone from his kurta pocket to confirm there was no alert or change in plan. A blank screen drew a sharp sigh of relief. Would Ameen live up to his word?- After all, this had been a swiftly crafted plan with little time to rehearse. A mere 100 feet from here, three key ISIS operatives were due for a rendezvous with their Commander. Hari’s covert operation to encounter them was barely 90 minutes away. The valuable information had come from Hari’s source Ameen who was going to be attending the clandestine meeting as the Commander’s confidant.

Hari had total trust in Ameen and was confident about the intelligence. He had assured Ameen safe passage for his wife and infant children out of Syria. It was a well deserved reward since the information was priceless. It was also perfect leverage because the family had that morning been shifted to refuge under the Indian Mission in Syria. Hari had known Ameen intimately since childhood. Growing up as neighbours in Kashmir, they had played together and often had meals at each other’s homes. Each relished the other’s distinctly different cuisine. Hari loved Ammi’s lamb Biryani and mince samosas and was teased at his own home about his conversion – to becoming a meat-lover. They had together pursued countless quaint hobbies like kite flying and collecting match box covers. They had run up and down small streets in Srinagar, jumping in and out of gutters, rummaging through grubby dumpsters and trash cans in search of unique artifacts to add to their coveted collection. Both were proud that their younger sister Ameena had been delivered at home by Hari’s mother, while the boys had assisted by boiling and carrying pails of water. The strength of their bond had not weakened even though Ameen, upon turning 18, had mysteriously disappeared. It was a turbulent time of insurgency and rumours abounded, but Hari’s family could not imagine that the sweet young boy would have become misguided. Twelve years would pass before Hari, by then a Major in the Indian Army, would hear from Ameen again. He had filled in Hari on his arduous journey – forced radicalisation and induction into a jihadist faction – and was now eager to return. He had been tasked by the militant group to arrange a meeting in his hometown due to his intimate knowledge of Kashmir, and thought it was a perfect opportunity to escape the clutches of the insidious web he had got woven into.

Hari needed to stay vigilant and snapped back from his childhood memories. He awaited a text message from Ameen to give the final signal to his team to storm the building and neutralise the terrorists. The Commando team was positioned in the building down the road from the rendezvous and would enter simultaneously from the street and the roof. His phone beeped, it was a terse “Now”. The moment was here. He typed “Now” and sent his own message. He exhaled slowly and deeply, looking in the direction of the building in the distance. His ears were alert though he knew he was too far to hear or see any activity. It was an excruciating wait for an update from his team, it seemed an eternity before the next beep sounded. Hari’s face turned ashen white as he read his screen “ Fail. Ambush. 9 dead”.

A shadow came over the man as the sun went behind some clouds. He seemed to slouch and then kneel on to the floor of the roof. The Muezzin’s call for prayer resounded from the loudspeaker atop the mosque. The only other sound was of chirping birds returning to their roost in the evening.

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A Divine Intervention

This is a memory from 4 years ago which I have attempted to faithfully reproduce (pun unintended, this is a serious matter).

During this intense period of tribulation in my life, I received precious support and love from several of you – for which I will be eternally grateful.

I am not a religious person and do not believe that there is a God. Yet, I have met Him. Actually, it will be wrong for me to make both assertions.

It’s probably best I start my story at the very beginning.

1

My father was a devout worshiper of Hanuman and visited our small neighbourhood temple every week. I therefore have an association of Tuesdays with temples, but that was virtually the only ritual I remember being followed in our home. An extra sweet from the temple was the reason for me to join him, which I seldom did since he would in any case bring the temple laddoos home. 

The other religious childhood memory that is imprinted in my mind is of the one occasion when I, at age 10, had a high fever. We were on a car trip on vacation, and my father took a route diversion for me to take a dip in the Ganga, the Holy river. Normally, this was a treat for me as a young boy, but feeling feverishly cold that afternoon, I reluctantly approached the water. Miraculously, the immersion made my fever disappear and my father’s faith was vindicated. It is a story he narrated often.

I went on to study Engineering and developed pride in being of a strong scientific bent. When we studied the Big Bang creation of the Universe, I found it rather convenient that Cosmologists introduced the concept of Dark Energy in order to explain anomalies in observable phenomena. To justify mysterious occurrences, my own belief has been in the existence of some superior force. I have stated this emphatically on several occasions through life. So I simply do not know if there is a God. Essentially, I am an agnostic, not so much a non-believer.

2

My divine encounter took place nearly four years ago. Even though I have hazy memories of the adjacent time period,  I remember that night vividly since I spent many hours with not one, but several Gods.

It was at the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur at Montmartre in Paris. A light rain pitter-pattered outside the church. Sporadically, I could see a flash of lightning reflect against the high stained-glass windows illuminating alluring Biblical characters. Each time this happened, I found myself counting down from eight to anticipate the rumble of thunder. While the building was beautiful, the stone walls and floors made it cold and damp.

In the church, I was acting as a chaperone to a group of people huddled in a corner. I recognised them and maintained a reverential distance. The congregation was small and consisted of a woman in white along with three men. The lady was Mother Mary. One of the men was Jesus Christ and the other the prophet Mohammed. There shone a bright light behind the fourth person so I could not see his face. But to me, it was clear that it was Lord Ganesh, the Hindu elephant God. I bowed towards him with folded hands and under my breath whispered “Namaste”. I was in the midst of a Trinity from across religions, who seemed to be in a conference.

I could not hear their complete conversation, but heard Mary proclaim, softly but firmly, “I am the one who is really in charge”. There was a quiet nod of acceptance from Jesus, who was standing beside her. I realised she was addressing him and seemed oblivious to my presence. Meanwhile, Mohammed was bending over a bench and purposefully arranging some things inside his cloth bundle, and tying it together. Lord Ganesh seemed to be playfully engaged in some task with what looked to be clay, almost like playdough. All of them seemed harmonious and comfortable in a group, while doing their own thing. I was quiet, submissive and very observant, fully alert.

The building had giant wooden doors, which swung open noiselessly and with ease. The floor at the entrance was wet.  I was worried that the large marble slabs could be perilously slippery. From time to time, I would rush to mop the floor and squeeze the water into a metallic bucket, that made a clanging noise which would echo and disturb the peace of the Romano-Byzantine structure. 

At the doorway, a small crowd of eager gazers and onlookers was slowly but surely building up. The first few people were probably those seeking refuge from the inclement weather and others religiously followed them to the shelter. I felt responsible that I had to manage the situation in case it got out of hand. While the spectators were curious, they did not have the concrete knowledge that I did – that there were divine entities present that evening and I was the chosen one to look after them.

I took the initiative to go to the entrance and address the congregating observers to inform them that the church was closed at night-time. I politely asked them to depart since the storm had abated and they needed to venture back out.

I decided to be prudent and urged the divinities to move a bit inside the building. This somewhat shielded them from the front door by a big marble staircase, a double helical structure in the centre of the large hall. They gathered their meagre belongings as I guided them in a procession to the rear. Through the night, I remained active scurrying around the church, ready to serve and please as asked. I was brimming with a sense of excitement and importance. 

The ambience remained serene and peaceful so, after a few hours, I settled myself over some gunny sacks on the floor in a corner. The hard floor strangely felt cozy and comfortable. I guess I was exhausted and overwhelmed by all the activity. I closed my eyes.

3

A few hours later, light on my face woke me, in a strange place that felt, instantly, nothing like the church. I seemed to be reclining at an angle and as I opened my eyes, I saw my wife Gauri bending over me with a rather anxious look on her face. She put her hand gingerly on my face. She had tears streaming down her face, but she was also beaming.

 “What was going on?” I thought, very confused. 

I noticed a huge bandage on my head. I was in a hospital bed with lots of tubes and wires protruding from my body. There was a nurse by my side, checking my blood pressure. Another was adjusting a drip by my bedside, which suddenly made me feel very thirsty. To my shock, I realised that I could not sit up or even move. People in the room seemed to look at me strangely. 

I heard Gauri say to me “Thank God you’re back!” and thought I detected a tinge of anger in her tone.

“Why was she scolding me? Back from where?” As a maelstrom of thoughts swirled through my head, I heard her continue, this time in a more gentle voice. “You had a stroke and have been in a coma for a week… thank God you are back.”

Stunned and in a very weak voice, I attempted to whisper “Yes, I met God”. 

As I tried to continue to speak, I realised that I was not coherent. I could not feel anything on the right side of my face and my speech was slurred. But I wanted to tell her everything about my encounter. Gauri knew that I never had any innate desire to meet God. She would help me understand why they came to me.

For the next half hour, with a combination of charades and staccato speech, I endeavored to narrate the events of the previous night, but without much success. I was frustrated by my inability to be expressive and articulate.

4

I could recall the migraine on that fateful Sunday afternoon a week ago, when I had my stroke. We had attributed the nausea to an unusually early and heavy dinner of mutton curry. By 8 pm, I had begun to vomit and thought I had ejected the problem from the system, so it would be fine. But the headache had got worse. My last memory was of me lying down in my bed at home, sweating and writhing in discomfort.

My monthly chemotherapy cycles, as part of my treatment for Lymphoma, had been ongoing for 5 months. That Sunday, I had been preparing for my penultimate cycle to begin the next morning. Mutton was an essential part of my protein-rich diet in the week before each cycle. After all, I needed to build reserves of strength before another onslaught of the drugs infusion battered my body. I liked to call it ‘fattening the lamb before the slaughter’. Given how sick I frequently had felt since chemotherapy started, we didn’t think the headache was unusual. But this time was different. 

Gauri narrated her dreadful memory on how the worsening headache had led me to black-out and collapse on our bedroom floor at around 10 pm. She happened to have been on the telephone with the oncologist at that moment to update him, and immediately dialed for an ambulance. I can only wonder how they carried me two floors down our bungalow staircase, to rush me to the National University Hospital (NUH), nearest to our residence, as per protocol. A 6 hour long brain surgery followed, which saved my life. It was a week later when I uttered my first words, about meeting God.

5

For the next three weeks, I remained in ICU. I was very weak, with low blood counts, since the stroke had virtually destroyed my immunity and body functions, already enfeebled by chemotherapy. In these weeks, hospital nurses were so much a part of my life, and their white uniform gave me flashbacks of my meeting with Mother Mary. 

I underwent daily physiotherapy, speech therapy, visits from neurosurgeons, my oncologist and a host of other medical professionals, who were all very caring, concerned and professional. Gradually, my ingestion improved from liquid to semi-solid food, I gained some strength and was moved out of ICU into a regular hospital room. 

Gauri knew I was eager to communicate and share my divine encounter with her in detail. I had made several unsuccessful attempts, but it was only when I got out of ICU that I was coherent enough to tell her my story of the night in Montmartre. While I was muddled, I estimated that my rendezvous had most likely happened on the night of my brain surgery.

As we talked, Gauri helped with several insightful observations. The first time I had tried to narrate the story, I had been incoherent but repeatedly named Ganpathy for Lord Ganesh and also ‘Rasool’ to refer to Prophet Mohammed. She insisted then, as she does today, that I was unaware that ‘Rasool’ was the Prophet’s name. It is a rarely used reference for Him, though it may be common knowledge to practicing devout Muslims and Islamic scholars.

She also noted that the one time I had been at Montmartre was in 2010, on a family vacation during Easter school holidays. The weather then had indeed been cold and rainy. She recalled that we had spent several hours that Easter Sunday morning touring the Basilica, that I had been insistent we return to the site after sunset, so we had our dinner in the neighbourhood. My detailed description of the church was faithfully reproduced from that memory.

The several weeks spent in hospital remains a blur. Several close friends and family visited me. While I did have long, animated and hearty conversations, they later observed that I would quickly forget these interactions and greet returning visitors afresh to repeat earlier conversations. They were patient with me but I must have been a real bore.

6

The vision of that fateful night remains crystal clear in my mind even today, four years later. It’s not that I have repeated the story several times. Besides telling Gauri in great detail, I have narrated this momentous episode briefly to my mother and to one of our three daughters. This has not been a deliberate act, but I have, for some reason, refrained from talking about it. In the past, I was aware of people sharing their out-of-body experiences and used to be quite disbelieving, almost dismissive of these stories. But now that I have myself been ‘to the other side’, I am rather bemused and often mull over my experience. I did not ever think that such a divine encounter would happen to me. But neither did I ever believe that I would be diagnosed with cancer, to be followed shortly by an aneurysm induced paralytic stroke. 

With these recent experiences, it is easy to reflect on the vicissitudes of life. Dark energy may indeed be playing a powerful mysterious role to control observable events , and we do encounter the Superior Force in the shape and form of familiar persona. The question comes back to haunt me periodically: “Did I have a meeting with the Creator or had my addled brain created the meeting?!”  I guess I will never know the answer for sure, but I don’t really care. I feel blessed just to be around.

7

In a month, I was allowed to leave the hospital for home in a wheelchair. As I slid into our car seat, my eyes went to the dashboard where Lord Ganpathy sat cross-legged, as protector of our family. The Elephant God, Ganpathy, can be found in several Hindu homes and symbolises safeguarding us from life’s obstacles. My wife has always kept a large collection of small statues of Ganesh, as he is fondly called, at home. Every car we have owned over thirty years has had Ganesh majestically adorning its dashboard.

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A Family Secret

Sharing below a recent class assignment with the following prompt “Write about a secret, lie or mystery related to a person or place you know well (500-600 words).”

I could well have penned something related to most of you, my dear readers, but decided to be discreet and keep it about the immediate family – it’s a memory from 2016.

It was the first time we had concealed anything of significance from our daughters. Our family is closely knit and Gauri and I have been proud of the mature and open relationships we have fostered over the years as our little twin babies became adults. But that summer, it was to change.

It was the month of May, fast approaching a time of joy as the twins were to return to our empty nest from University for their first summer. Excitement was in the air and the house was being cleaned in preparation. Meg’s roommate at college, Elizabeth, was accompanying her to be our guest for a couple of weeks. Elizabeth was from Nashville, it was her first overseas flight and she had got her new Passport issued for this trip. They were flying in from LAX to Singapore on Saturday along with the twin sister, Maddie. 

In Singapore, I vividly remember that Friday afternoon in the doctor’s office. Dr Lim stood beside me and I heard his voice though did not fully digest the import of his words. Gauri and I were definitely in a daze. He put his hand firmly and supportively on my shoulder and gently said, “ Young man, you are taking the news bravely”. He had misread my emotions! I was reeling from the shock of his announcement – “The MRI and other test results clearly point to an advanced stage of Lymphoma.”

In a couple of hours, Gauri and I were evaluating and discussing immediate treatment which involved a combination of steroids and chemotherapy. Waiting in the Oncologist’s Reception, we tried to collect our thoughts, our lives overtaken by the whirlwind and a raging storm! We looked at each other with similar thoughts swirling in our heads “What do we tell the girls? They will be here in 48 hours. We cannot wipe the smiles from their faces.”

On early Monday morning, when we received the three girls at Changi Airport, they were chirping like little birds excited to be home, to introduce Elizabeth to us and show her their home city. They did not seem to notice the slightly tense, somewhat subdued welcome but did realize that I was not loading the bags in the car and that their mother took the driver’s seat. They showed quick concern over my “low viral fever” and lovingly threatened to exclude me from the fun time ahead unless I recovered immediately! Gauri and I glanced at each other, our hearts sinking but smiles affixed on our faces.

The next few days, Gauri and I would slip out of home to go to the hospital for more scans and treatment at the clinic. Ostensibly, we were going out for meetings and were trying to finish work while the girls recovered from their jet lag. It was a period through which I was constantly racked with guilt, as one lie led to another. I could not fulfil the promises to take the family for meals to our favorite joints, but encouraged the girls to go out and have a good time. Doubts were constantly gnawing at my soul with the sinking feeling that we were deceiving our loved ones, and would be exposed at some stage.

In blissful oblivion, the girls had a fun few weeks. The day after Elizabeth left for her home, the side-effects of my chemotherapy caused me to be admitted to the ER, and our secret tumbled out!

The twins at their High School Graduation (2015)
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Literary Pursuits

My last blog at the turn of this year was invaluable as I gained an insightful self-realisation. I have since taken Amit’s Renaissance path seriously and am loving this Winter Quarter with a primary course concentration in Art, History and Language. Appreciation of art is helping me capture the sense of the moment. I studied quintessentially Impressionist paintings and have since travelled further to Seurat & Pointillism, Van Gogh, then on to Matisse & Fauvism and further on to Picasso, Braque & Cubism. All this is greatly helping me gain perspectives and myriad points of view. I had a delightful Saturday Museum class trip, my first such visit where I actually lamented at how short the day was!

While this post seems to be shaping out to be one, it will be a relief to the readers that it is not an exposition on my newly gained high-brow knowledge. That may be for another day.

I am also enjoying learning techniques for Memoir Writing from an erudite scholar. This activity is both skill-enriching as well as hugely cathartic as I retrieve memories locked deep within the recesses of the mind, or pen more recent ones! We write in class in addition to regular homework assignments. Given my limited writing prowess, these weekly submissions have been threatening to cannibalise this blog. Instead, this morning, a brainwave hit me. I share below one such class submission. It is penned at Stanford and therefore contemporary enough to qualify as a musing, I trust.

PORTRAIT : My Little Star

The week before she arrived on this earth, the heavens had opened up and we had witnessed the most frightening thunderstorms of the season. It was the end of June and the monsoon had set in with unquiet determination. Fierce waves from the Arabian Sea lashed the seashore by the side of Breach Candy hospital. Hours before she was born, suddenly the storm subsided. Looking back, I am convinced it was Sharmishtha’s birth that played a role in abating the tempest. In the ancient Sanskrit language, ‘Sharmishtha’ means ‘serene tranquility’ and its also the name of a constellation.

A few decades later, the young lady still exudes tranquility and brings a calming presence to people in her life. In fact, she has found her calling in helping people fight and resolve storms in their minds.

As a baby, she was cherubic and mostly full of toothless smiles. She was a mischievous toddler, always full of life. I remember her regularly breaking into peals of giggles which were music to my ears. Now, her face lights up with her smile which extends to her eyes that twinkle behind Potteresque glasses. I am proud of her fashionable hairstyles and marvel at how she manages to so regularly match its color with her outfits.

She has very good judgement about most things although sometimes I am left scratching my head at her movie recommendations. Normally level headed, she has her dramatic moments. She has stormed out of family conversations in a huff leaving everyone nonplussed and a little taken aback. A scene not dissimilar to the headstrong days of her childhood when she would threaten to hold her breath when her demands were not met. 

Sharmishtha has been a protective elder sister always ready to jump in and face any fires. The baby twins came near her fifth birthday and she has always treated them as her most cherished gift. She matured well beyond her years to be like a parent who became a confidante in their teenage years. She has always been a responsible friend, philosopher and guide to them.

She has been fiercely independent making her own decisions in life. She selected her path for higher education and self financed her Masters at Columbia University. Since she had left home several years ago, we thought she had flown the nest for good. When our stable and secure world was rocked by me getting diagnosed with a life threatening ailment, Sharmishtha spontaneously announced that she would come back to look after me for however long the treatment took. She quit her new job, packed up her New York life and flew across 6000 miles to be a support to her parents. The cherubic smile and twinkling eyes were back and helped see me though the storms in my life!

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Traditions

It is 4PM on the last day of 2019. I sit down to pen this much-procrastinated blog with a determination, but get swiftly distracted by an incoming email. I am soon immersed in doing something which is certainly not, and never has been, a tradition of mine. I eagerly browse through the newly arrived syllabi for next quarter’s enrolled courses and am tempted to download textbooks and reading material. As my IIT college friends will willingly testify, this was not something I did till almost the end of an academic term – it was usually as a last ditch attempt to scrape through a course. My approach to education then was like a second order differential equation such that ‘time spent in academic activity’ was minimised (to near zero). This study-model was finely optimised to cross the threshold of a passing grade…. But I digress. I do need to get down to my musings and finish the blog post before the earth finishes its revolution in its solar system. So here goes…

As a family we have our traditions. Once a year, we have a dinner of fried pooris with aaloo rasadaar and kaddu (pumpkin) sabzi. This is after our Diwali Puja. It is a bit of a challenge to maintain traditions in a new place. The unavailability of appropriate utensils made poori frying unviable. The California fires rendered illegal any notions we harboured of lighting Diwali firecrackers. But we did enjoy a hearty weekend of extended festive celebrations. An old IIT batchmate hosted their annual Diwali party, where I ended up having a reunion with a host of college and hostel friends, meeting many after several decades. Half of our class seems to be settled in the Bay Area! It was indeed very therapeutic as it tested my brain cells to recall faces, names – actual and pet – and fun times from the days of yore. On another evening, at our own home, we had some current college classmates – all American – join us for a semi-traditional Diwali meal which gave us the opportunity to share our traditions. Yet another evening, the Office of Religious Studies at Stanford hosted a beautiful cultural ceremony – replete with lights and classical Hindustani dance and music at the gorgeous University Memorial Church. This was followed by a fun student-led Bollywood style evening of dance, music and delicious snacks – samosas et al. Each event of the Diwali weekend, although different, was rich and truly memorable.

Traditional Diwali Party hosted by Madan or a Bay Area IIT mini reunion!?

This year we also enjoyed a few American traditions: friendsgiving and the turkey, tailgating, watching college football (sitting in the Stadium’s Red Zone – the students’ section), as well as Black Friday in the land of consumerism! I feel it’s best to use a photo montage to depict these traditional activities that have been highlights of the past few months.

My first ever football game
A Big One: Stanford v/S Berkeley traditionally called “Beat Cal”
Tailgating party with DCI cohort before the football game
The family was reunited for our first ever Thanksgiving

There are also a couple of notable, inspiring and memorable academic experiences which are worth narrating.

One of my favorite courses in the Fall Quarter was Artificial Intelligence, Entrepreneurship and Society in the 21st Century and Beyond. The course provided insights on the current state of the art capabilities of existing artificial intelligence systems, as well as economic challenges and opportunities in early stage startups and large companies that could leverage AI. There were regular guest lectures from leading technologists and entrepreneurs who employ AI in a variety of fields, raising issues at the intersection of AI and healthcare, education, computer security, AI bias, natural language processing, government and regulation, and finance. The class format was typically a 20 minute presentation by the guest followed by a lively and engaging hour long discussion with the class. Each of these was a superb learning experience and uniquely thought-provoking .

One such guest was Sal Khan, founder of Khan Academy. While I was very familiar with his product, I had never used or even visited his site, so I knew very little about him. From his initial remarks, I found his self-deprecating humor very endearing, and the story of Khan Academy very appealing and impressive. He had funny anecdotes of his previous life as a hedge fund analyst, a job he said he loved and found intellectually stimulating. He also had a hilarious and modest narrative of how Bill Gates acknowledged his early work.

When Sal opened up the session to Q&A, I saw the youngster sitting in front of me put his hand up and begin hesitatingly “I apologise if I do not speak clearly….”. I was a bit surprised since the student (let’s call him ‘J’) had always seemed both articulate and confident. As J went on, I realised the import of his message. He shared that he had been in prison for a drug related misdemeanour, where his mother had brought him transcripts of Khan Academy’s tutorials. These had enabled J to stay on the right path and in fact help pave his way into Stanford! “I owe my life to you, Sal” As he said this, there was hardly a dry eye in the class. I appreciated the way Salman took this gratitude with grace, asking J if he would be willing to visit his office in Mountain View at his own convenience ‘to repeat the message to 200 colleagues to whom it would mean a lot’. The rest of the discussion was also uplifting, around the venture being a not-for-profit with an impactful ability to reach those who needed it. I found it stunning that Sal still manages to remain fully connected as he tutors and influences over 85 million active users globally. In fact, he is one of only 5 video lecturers for the Academy.

There was also a discussion about the rich data his website gathers relating to the caliber and subject competencies of individuals as they rigorously use the site over months. I would think this data is more revealing than a 3 hour Aptitude Test. I was very impressed by his reaction when asked about the privacy issues of this data. He was quite clear that immense value could be harnessed by sharing this data with universities or employers seeking potential talent. He categorically stated he would be very keen to share this, with the consent of the individual. Overall, I have so many exhilarating takeaways from that one session.

Another Fall Quarter course that I did not enrol in (due to conflict with a Venture Capital class) was Art History. A lot of our DCI cohort had taken it and regularly waxed eloquent about the class. Prof Nemerov is widely considered as a marquee scholar of Art History and through the quarter I had misgivings that I was missing out on something significant. I did fully recognise that, being a complete philistine, I would not really appreciate either Art or History! This information is contextually important to the reader to understand my state of mind as I made the decision to skip my Finance lectures in the last two weeks of term to instead attend Art History.

This decision to switch has been a transformational one. I am a neophyte – a new convert! I have decided to evade all Business/Finance/Management/ Strategy/ Policy courses in my remaining three quarters at Stanford. Been there, done that! This time is to be substituted by the study of Art, History, Literature, Linguistics, Philosophy. It is to be my Renaissance!

Let me elaborate on the reasons for this profound self-realization. The aforementioned course explores the relation of art to life, how and why works of art, even from hundreds of years ago, matter in a person’s life. It trains students to find the words to share their thoughts about art with their peers, friends, and family. Some fundamental questions the course considers: How do we go beyond the idea that the study and making of art are elite, privileged activities apart from the real world? How do we develop a sense of discernment, of deciding for ourselves which artists matter, and which don’t, without being a snob?

I got rich insights and revelations on all this and more as I sat in Prof Nemerov’s class in a reverie listening to him beautifully articulate about Van Gogh and Cezanne, Art and Realism, phenomenology, poetry….

Appreciating the Best of Art with the Master
(Extra curricular activity)

I enjoyed picking up fun facts and connecting trivia : The Starry Night is a view from Van Gogh’s asylum room at Saint-Remy-de-Provenance and reflects his state of mind post self-mutilation of his ear. That act itself may have been inspired by Jack the Ripper (someone I have always known was most likely a left hander like myself!). Also, I had never thought about the art of that period and Charles Dickens’ literature reflecting zeitgeist or spirit of the times.

I have been trained in life thus far as an engineer, an economist and a finance professional and have thus relished and indeed thrived on an analytical and quantitative vocation. There is evidently a latent side to me which needs to reveal itself and is clamouring to be fed, nurtured and developed. I do feel I am capable, maybe not of fully appreciating Impressionist paintings (or Maurizio Cattelan’s ‘The Comedian’), but of at least understanding nuances of the words ‘unconcealed’ versus ‘revealed’; ‘falsehood’ versus ‘fiction’! 

Also, I do need to better educate myself on the other side of the brain as there is a continuum of science and art, madness and genius, the schizo…..so my added courses to the list above would be in Neuroscience and Psychology. It does look like I am slowly but surely moving away from my favorite subjects. Not always a bad thing to renounce tradition, is it?!

Happy 2020 to all
May the tides bring good fortune and health in the New Decade
From Gupta family in sunny California 🌞✨
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The Times They Are A Changin’….

It is quite incredible how time flies by so quickly here at Stanford. Maybe it’s the Quarter Academic system or simply the fact that we are having a lot of fun. It certainly is a very packed time and we are learning new things every single day. Beyond the classes that we are enrolled in, we have the opportunity to attend everything that is happening on campus. In fact, this deep immersion into the Stanford Community is expected of us and our own keenness to do exactly that may well have been a factor in our securing admission to the DCI Fellowship. Let me share two recent highlights of the events calendar that I have relished, even while there remains so much more I have not yet had the bandwidth to attend.

One such amazing event was a Colloquium curated by our Dean about recent innovations and discoveries in medicine. The lineup of speakers was from multidisciplinary specialisations ranging from Neurology, Biochemistry & Bioengineering, Genomics, Regenerative Medicine and Law. Each of these giant minds was incredibly passionate, articulate and hugely inspiring. Listening to the speakers and the discussion was a surreal experience for me, kind of like being in a parallel universe. Once again, I felt that I was discovering another frontier. 

The session on aging started poetically with a quote from Shakespeare’s “As you Like it”:

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;

As this morbid description seeped in and the presentations progressed, I introspected on the important distinction between life-span and health-span: Do we really want to live a 100-year life without physical capability and mental alertness?  A related profound question posed was: Can the aging clock be reset? Several speakers presented and explained different ways to extend the health span (reverse aging). Beyond diet and exercise, these include single gene mutation, anti-aging drugs (that facilitate DNA repair), medical procedures such as heterochronic parabiosis, and stem cell transplant. As my brain soaked in these wondrous medical developments to renew life, I ruminated on how mankind is attempting to mimic nature. Computer architecture and neural networks are being inspired by the human brain.  Medical innovations are copying the simple but miraculous process of human birth, when an adult sperm fertilises an ovum to form an embryo! 

This colloquium was particularly fascinating to me due to my personal experience with some of these medical wonders just a couple of years ago. In fact, during my autologous stem cell transplant, I was actually used as a teaching example! This was when the doctors harvested my WBCs (to be frozen outside for a week, while I underwent intense chemotherapy, before being transplanted back into me). While I lay in a special hospital room in Singapore in a semi-comatose, highly drugged state, I could sense high energy chattering and excitement around me. Earlier in the week, I had willingly given permission to be used as a specimen not realising exactly what it entailed. My eldest daughter was with me, having taken a half-year sabbatical from her life in New York to look after me during my treatment. 

Later that day, she enlightened me that the usually quite spacious room was rather cramped with half a dozen enthusiastic medical interns watching the apheresis procedure (akin to a dialysis machine with a centrifugal process to spin out the WBCs from my blood). I missed witnessing a good ‘event’ even though Sharmishtha regaled me for several days with stories about the wonderment in the students’ reactions and other medical critique as they observed me. Given the rich content of the entertainment over the next several weeks of my daughter’s nursing care, I am rather suspicious that there was considerable fiction in her confabulation. But I needed the rejuvenation and she needed content – guess all’s well that ends well! 

It is certainly a privilege to be surrounded by brilliance. The university is home to 17 living Nobel laureates, all in the field of Science and Economics. So when there was an opportunity to listen to a Nobel Literature winner, even a philistine like me grabbed it with both hands. Bob Dylan was to perform at Stanford. On a nippy October evening, escorted by the youngest daughter, I was sprawled on the sloping tree-lined lawn of Frost Amphitheater eagerly awaiting my youth idol. The excitement was palpable and I recognized a certain skunky smell blowin’ in the wind (not out of place at a rock concert in California, I’m sure…). I looked knowingly at Madhulika, and imagined her reply: “It ain’t me, Babe.”

Impersonating my idol circa 1984 (@ IIT Powai)

The music started off with a gruff voice, one I struggled to recognise. Was this wizened ol’ Zimmerman really the soul I had spent countless waking hours adulating, imitating, getting stoned to in my IIT hostel room? Listening to Dylan’s croaks, I couldn’t help but ruminate on the sad and inverse relationship between the deteriorating quality of his voice (I was an expert in aging!) and the vastly improved technology with which it can now be captured. We have come a long way since the rudimentary TDK cassette. 

Soon enough, the familiar baritone set in with unmistakable timbre and remarkable voice control. The band, too, was excellent and had the audience enthralled. As the evening progressed, I felt there was a lot of harmonica, perhaps to give his vocal chords a rest. Disappointingly, he brought out too few songs recognisable to me.

Anyhow, his poetry and music remain timeless. I bow to the genius and imagine his response to my rather harsh observations:

“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin….
The Times They Are a-Changin’!”

I implored him, “Hey Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me……

Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time….
….Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.”

Overall, it was an amazing performance and a memorable evening, transporting me back several decades. Was it the college environment or the power of his music & lyrics that made me do the heady time-travel?

The answer, my friend, is…

…in the next edition of the memoir. Stay tuned!