Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Abstract Story..

He was a soldier at heart. The first stroke of his maiden abstract painting was derived from the confluence of three triggers of exceptionally emotional expressions. The first was in the fact that an endearing wife (read life) had persevered upon his justified reluctance, to try his hand at painting ‘something – anything’ on a canvas. Being color blind and never having crossed the C-grade in drawing at school meant that he was as far away from art as thought could imagine. Hence the perseverance felt like a, lovingly romantic, caring and deeply touching thought! The second was an S-like curve stroke portraying the side profile of the father of his nation, which he had been fond of since childhood and grown up with while associating it with values of simplicity, faith, love, commitment, truth, integrity and sacrifice. The last was the color blue that happened to be his most preferred (read favorite) color, but without him ever having any clue - why! Perhaps he identified himself with the blue that spread its calm magnificence and grace across the skies and reflected equally gloriously across the vast oceans of the earth.

As he looked at his first S-like stroke of blue, the hugeness of this first abstract step brought a melancholic pause of disbelief in his thoughts. A solemn tranquil pause devoured in nostalgia. Involuntarily, his hand continued following the instructions of his paused thought, picking up the same color blue from the palette and stroking the same S-like strokes repeatedly, but in parallel, until the white space on the canvas permitted. It was only when the canvas ran out of vertical space for any more of those S-strokes that his mind woke up to consciously gathering itself to reality. When he looked at those parallel S-like blue strokes, it seemed to him as if the canvas now represented his life as well as that of his countrymen and his nation – an ideal serene life of the trio – an illusion of sorts, perhaps. It seemed as if the S-like strokes were waves of positive, energetic, calm, soothing emotions bathed in richly progressive influences, in the existence of these three entities. Like that of an ocean, or a sky or simply that of happy souls at peace and harmony. Was this an abstract illusion of an ideal life?

As he prodded and pushed his thoughts forward through reality, a mild disturbance interrupted itself onto the canvas, without permission – just like that – almost out of nowhere. His hands moved again, this time a bit more hesitatingly, like an unsure evil creeping in silently, wickedly, selfishly on to the canvas, disturbing his peace, as well as that of the rest of his countrymen and their nation. The unexpected change clawed quietly into menacing, cancerous proportions. The waves of blue idealism now had red’s (read strokes of red) of revenge, violence and bloodshed – disturbing the trio’s harmony of tranquil progression, intermittently, but painfully consistently. An enemy whose armory had powerful thought weapons of greed, deceit, betrayal, hatred, and corruption of values. An enemy with an evil heart – exceptional cowards, trained in the evil art of fostering negativity in spaces on the canvas. Like talented artists who had failed in painting their own canvases with colors of love and harmony and who now thought or cared little, while pouring colors dirtied in mud and blood onto gullible, charming, unsuspecting learners and admirers. The dark red evil was completely in contrast to the idealism that he had imagined, or like that his countrymen had aspired or that his nation had envisioned.

Change has the power to fracture your soul, sometimes irreparably. Did he, they and their nation deserve this? Of course not! Did he, they and their nation procrastinate, do nothing to resist and silently suffer their pain? Of course not! The red in the evil was enough for everyone to see red and declare a red alert. He soon covered the canvas of life with strokes of upright resistances, valiantly fighting the negative influences, energetically. Many of the resistances were initially reactive, until pain grew intolerably painful for him, his fellow countrymen and their nation to build up a strong proactive resistance. Seeking to search and destroy the enemy within, as well as the enemy without. Eliminate the enemy seen, as well as the enemy hiding within the abstract. Soon enough, the canvas was littered all over with signs of battle, of victory and defeats, color after color, stroke after stroke, street after street, battle after battle, space after space, time and again.

Everything in life has a price – some find the wealth of bliss within to affordably bear it with the ease of ignorance, while others bear the burden of repayment of these evil monthly installments, for as long as they live, until death brings them an unkind freedom. And there are those who get hurt, deeply hurt, suffer bruises and fractures from their repeated falls into deeper pits in tears, pain and suffering, and yet find themselves rising up and above again and again to breathe, to survive spiritedly, unshakably refusing to give up on their values, conviction and their abstract illusion of an ideal life. He, they and their nation were of third kind, belonging to the third world. They all soon discovered that they had together succeeded in significantly weakening and pushing the enemy with an array of brush strokes from the west coast, right across until the east coast, top to bottom. Eventually, the battles were all won, and the enemy forced to surrender the wars, grudgingly. The price of victory that the enemy extracted in its surrender was in the form of an evil pound of sympathetic existence, clinging and occupying a prickly, unstable country-like dark-green corner space in the neighborhood. The life canvas remained littered with its history of stray strands of red, orange, green and many other colors all across, etched insignificantly yet permanently. Serving as a reminder to him, his countrymen and their nation of the sacrifices paid in their conquest for an ideal abstract story!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The leak in the reservoir !

An Abstract Acrylic on Canvas Painting from Value Art
Once upon a time, there was a village full of happy, contented yet ever progressive villagers. The village was self sufficient in all aspects and even exported many of the niceties it had built, to other neighboring villages and societies. It was one of those ‘darling’ villages that one dreams of being a part of.

Then one day, many a thousand miles away, a region was struck by a devastating earthquake. The loss was gigantic and it took several years to rebuild everything. Our ‘darling’ village, being many a thousand miles away, wasn’t affected and remained a happy region, in this duration of destruction to reconstruction.

After a few months everything seemed nice and beautiful, except that the river that used to flow near the village seemed to have a surprisingly diminished flow of water. The villagers thought that it was just probably, the lack of rain upstream, and the expected monsoon would soon resolve this temporary scratch on a beautiful painting that was their village. Alas, the monsoon came and went away. The water did rise a bit in its level first, but soon depleted to bottoms, the villagers had never seen before. Soon children from the village could literally walk joyously on the river bed, oblivious to the concern writ on the foreheads of elder villagers. It just did not make sense. Was it that distant earthquake?

The villager’s got together and decided that immediate action was required and they all concluded that an artificial water reservoir, sufficient to fulfill the needs of another four to five generations of the future, was required to be built on a war footing. So it was built in three months time – and filled slowly with water flowing slowly from the receding river. It took some months – but the village now had a water reservoir of its own and villagers basking in their latest conquest over nature.

Over a period of time, the villagers started noticing that although the reservoir had sufficient water, the flow of water within the village was not sufficiently strong enough and it took a long time to fill up their buckets and fields with water. Following another discussion, it was decided that the height of the reservoir needed to be raised. And so it was in the next couple of months. Now the force seemed to be better – just sufficient to stop the grumble, but not enough to light up their faces with joy – something that they all were used to when their river was full of flowing glowing water.

Following another discussion, the reservoir height was now raised to significantly higher levels, thus forcefully supplying water to the villagers, but requiring them to install an array of ‘pumps’ driven by solar electricity.

Within a decade, our village prospered magnificently and added many times over to the population of joyous faces that resided in our village. All was well except that the villagers residing further down from the reservoir started to again experience a frustratingly reduced pressure in their water supply. In the discussion that followed, there did not seem to be a solution, except to build another similar reservoir further down from the existing one. This however did not find a unanimous acceptance and many amongst the villagers suggested that it was just a matter of tolerating a little bit of discomfort by a few. Those further away, seemed to think that they were genuinely affected and pretty unhappy that those living closer to the reservoir did not care ‘enough’.

One fine morning, a group of little children walking down to their school, noticed that there seemed to be water leaking from the reservoir. The villagers close to the reservoir got to know soon enough and were shocked to see the amount and extent of leak. On close investigation, no one seemed to have a clue on how such a thing could occur overnight. The needle of suspicion soon started pointing to the villagers located further down from the reservoir. After all, it was certainly feasible that they would have wanted the villagers located closer to the reservoir to also ‘suffer’ the same ordeal that they had started experiencing. Soon enough, the villagers and the village stood divided, miserably facing each other from opposite sides of the reservoir. A divergent perspective that none of them had imagined before. In the weeks that followed, suspicion smoothly transitioned itself into bitter arguments, angry altercations, hatred and outright battle. Eventually our beautiful ‘darling’ village drowned under the weight of the water that emptied itself onto it, from a self destroyed reservoir. The ‘bliss’ build to last for many more generations, did not survive even one.

Soon the frustrations of daily living resulted in migrations that eventually left the village barren and devoid of its beautiful history and geography. The folklore now talks about how it was only years later that an old dying man, who had refused to leave the ‘darling’ village, discovered the real cause of the leak in the reservoir. Unfortunately, he died from the shock of the discovery, never to reveal the truth to anyone.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It's all in the mind - for every'body'! (My 2nd 'unprepared' Marathon Run)

My first marathon of Jan 2011 was a 'successful' attempt (5Hr10min), since it was preceded by months of preparation - tough, painful and sweaty. However, it was just in celebration of a different goal, that I had already achieved. (Read my blogpost but not really the goal. It was a run in celebration of a different goal, already accomplished. It felt great to having experienced the joy of running and completing the marathon and it then seemed as if I had truly stretched myself, tested my limits and 'succeeded'.

Life is enriching. In the months that followed, I thought (and re-thought) about my first marathon experience and if I could relate it to real life of ordinary (as well as extra ordinary) people. To my initial surprise (and a rather uncomfortable disbelief) this opened a pandora's box of newer thoughts, that had nothing to do with running a marathon. I started thinking about how people (just as you and me and everyone) in real life sometimes experience unexpected life-quakes, with after-shocks unfolding over several strenous months of hopelessness, disbelief, anger, frustration, pain, learning and growing up to a different level of existance. Such experiences are very exhausting physically, emotionally, financially, and many other aspects associated with living. Such life-quakes, like our earthly-quakes, do not come with a warning, provide little or no time to prepare and are often durably devastating.

Trying to relate these thoughts to my self-prepared, pre-planned second full marathon training schedule proved to be a dilema. Like a life-quake, what if one had to face a situation of running the full marathon distance - completely unprepared. My second marathon preparations went through several false-starts, postponements, revisions until it reached a point where I could not delay it any further. Eventually, I could not gather myself together to even attempt to begin my second marathon training!

I was trying to understand when nothing at all seemed to make sense. It was in that process that a wild, seemingly senseless thought; pierced through my mind - rather than running away from the full marathon attempt due to lack of practice and preparation (a globally certified recommendation!), rather utilize this "lack of preparedness" as an opportunity to attempt the full marathon without any practice and see what happens - learn from the uncertified experience!

Shared this 'intent' it with a few people (known and unknown) and got the usual (surprisingly expected) advise that ranged from "don't do it, too risky, or,  take it easy or a feeble unsure go for it man". Irrespective, the mind was already committed to action the thought.

On the eve of the marathon, made a quickie plan (out of habit) of how to pace the run. The plan was to complete 10 km by 7am, 18 kms by 8 am, 26 km by 9am, 34 km by 10am and attempt to finish the marathon by 1140 hrs. The race was scheduled to begin at 0540 hrs and 1140am was the 'official' limit for a 'certified maximum
timed finish' - whatever that means.

This time around however, there wasn't any emphasis at all on the running or the timing aspect. It was more about being relaxed, breathing normally, smiling while attempting to run a kilometer and repeating the act about forty-two times, sequentially and see how far the body and mind survived (or which one failed first!). The mind was shyly somewhat silently confident - not about completing the race, but rather in its calm readiness to anytime, during the course of the run, giving up and learning - if need be, without in any manner feeling regretful about it. The distance and time seemed irrelevant vis-a-vis the sheer opportunity of having to experience a 'real' marathon run, without any prior preparation.

Could not sleep very well that night - just a couple of hours. On the scheduled day (rather dawn), got up at 0330 hrs, boarded a local train at 0430 and made it to the start point about 0520 hrs, well in time for a fifteen minutes warm-up and another five minutes relaxation, before the run began, in its usual excitement and euphoria. The weather was not very cool and the sweating started pretty quickly.

To my pleasant surprise, I could continually run the first fifteen kilometers non-stop at a relaxed pace. The 4hr30 min 'bus' is a name given to an 'officially timed pacer' - an 'experienced' runner, who is designed to run and finish the race in 4hr30 min and whom other 'unsure' runners 'targetting' that finishing time, can follow. This 4hr30min 'bus' ran past me sometime during the first fifteen kms. I
was then happy to see myself run-jog-walk and cross the 18 km mark on the Worli-Bandra Sea-Link (the route was changed this time to avoid the 'trecherous' sea-link in the later half of the race, as some runners had experienced in the previous years) at 8am. It intrudingly reminded me that I was on plan (as if I cared) and distracted me from the beauty and joy of running on the sea-link and looking at the beauty of the mumbai sky-line bathing in the early morning sunlight - from a viewing angle usually not available to the citizens to enjoy (since the sea-link is closed for pedestrians and vehicles too cannot halt anywhere on the sea-link).

The 5hr30min 'bus' caught up with me around that distance and that's when I
could feel some muscles around my left knee complaining. Immediately got into the act of applying pain releaving creams (was carrying two little sachets that were kindly included in the runners kit provided by the organizers!). The rest of the run was essentially a run-jog-walk, kilometer after kilometer, occassionally
indulging in preventively applying pain releaving creams/sprays, having lots of water and oranges. Crossed the 24km mark at 9am and then the 30km mark at 10am.

I was EXHAUSTED but quite relaxed and enjoying. It kind of occured to me that I now had just 12kms to the finish and about 100 minutes to go..motivating enough for the mind to self-pep a 'go go go' bugle! My mind was pretty charged and ready to sprint the last one or two kilometers, if necessary! However, the body was unmoved by this enthusiasm and unwilling to join into these early celebrations of the mind. Gradually, the run-jog-walk had translated itself to a jig-jag-jog-walk. Even as the body crossed the 36km mark at 11am, the mind was optimistic and ready to finish the remaining 6+ kms in the remaining 40 min!

It was somewhere between that point and the end of the marathon distance that the mind came to terms with the body and it brought complete harmony to the rest of the jig-jag-jog-walk-jig-jag-jog-walk.I finished the full marathon distance of 42.2kms in 6hrs, 32min; using various forms of moving my two feet including running (mostly forward, occassionally sidewards as well as backwards - just for a change and some fun), jogging, and walking! This experience was real and uncertified - like life!

I had discovered my own range / limits of running the marathon - prepared as well as unprepared and the difference was not the 82 minutes that it took longer, in the unprepared mode. The difference was in the learning that we are all inherently strong enough to face the challenges in our life, prepared or unprepared. It's just that if we have the luxury of being prepared for the challenges, we conquer them quicker.

Now that I am a certified as well as an uncertified marathon finisher, the little precious uncertified learning for me (as well as for you) is - It's all in the mind, for every'body'!