Clean Slate

A couple of days ago, I found a name for my unnamed design practice (so far called Pulkit Soni Architects for communication). Black White Grey Design Studio was born. Name had changed, the way of working hadn’t. I have been wanting to put a better working paradigm in place at my office. I wasn’t satisfied with the way in which the work was being done. Given the deadlines and deliverables that a design house have in the pipelines, it rarely allows for a complete overhaul of the way it functions. Catastrophes on the other hand have an uncanny ability to bring about radical changes. In my case too, it was a catastrophe that changed everything and brought on a much needed, albeit painful, clean slate.

Yesterday was an eventful day, my office was under attack, a ransomware (malicious computer virus seeking ransom) spread on my office workstations. All data, all the work of last 4 years was encrypted(locked) by an unknown cyber-terrorist sitting somewhere on the face of the Earth. A pop-up appeared on the desktop, the popup was a ransom note. The only way to decrypt (unlock) the data was to pay the hefty ransom and get a key which may or may not work after all. For someone who isn’t used to keeping backups, it was quite the ordeal. 

Everything was going on like usual and out of the blue this ransomware called Masok was all over my work. Well the attack was probably caused by downloading a unit converter software by one of the staffers from an untrusted source. I say ‘probably’ because there wasn’t a definitive answer and blaming someone wouldn’t make the situation any better. I should have been shattered upon the discovery but I found myself eerily calm. A sort of numbness took over. I tried to analyse the situation. One of the good approaches although of no technical help is to call up the geekiest people you know or can reach out to (friends of friends). This doesn’t help you out of a ransomware attack but it definitely helps you with mental peace. Remember the explanation that Rancho (3 Idiots) gives for saying “Aal izz well” during a stressful situation? The two are somewhat the same. 

Now with all inputs taken, there were only two outcomes:

  1. Pay the ransom and face what is there to come.
  2. Lose the data and move ahead in life.

Well if data is too important to lose, there is no other way out. Cyber crime division of the police can’t help you. Ethical hackers can’t help you. You have to pay, that is your only hope. Some people may advise you that a payment is not a guarantee of getting back the data, which in theory is true but you have to trust the market instincts for that. Capitalist society does have its benefits, it is more predictable. The point being, no cyber terrorist would kill their own future market by not releasing the key on payment. Once the news is out that keys in such attacks aren’t released even on payment nobody would pay in the future. 

Now keeping that in mind, moving towards payment, check that the key that the hacker/ attacker promises to release is in fact a working one. They always allow a test run. They’d ask to send over a locked file and get back an unlocked version. Don’t act smart by sending the file with crucial information on it. They always are smarter. Send a dummy only. This is no rocket science, they even write the cautionary note with the ransom demand.

After establishing that the key is working, begin negotiating. Negotiate, do not infuriate.Finally, pay up and get done with it.

One important thing to mention here is that some people believe that paying once makes you more susceptible to attacks in the future. Personally, I don’t support this theory as people who are attacked once are more likely to put robust measures in place making it difficult for another breach to happen. 

Moving on to the outcome number two. It is always a difficult choice, to lose your work, to lose a part of yourself to some geeky teenager(mere speculation) who has chosen to make a quick buck out of looting innocent people behind the cover of computer sorcery. 

How does one decide that its okay to lose all the data? To be honest that is a very personal decision and nobody can help you with that. I can tell you what led me to make the decision. I’d break it down into two parts: the significant and the insignificant part. 

I have grown up deeply influence by powerful lines, irrespective of the place they come out from be it movies, poetries, songs, quotes by great people and the one from within. This may sound absolutely bizarre but these were the lines that were in my head when I was numb otherwise. So here is the significant part:

  1. “The United States of America does not negotiate with terrorists.” A line most common in many action thrillers including Airforce One, White House among others.
  2. “Humko mita sake yeh zamane mein dum nahi, zamana khud hum se hai hum zamane se nahi.” Rajkumaar fandom, of course. And not to mention the fandom is an inheritance, all the more deeper.
  3. “Sach hai, vipatti jab aati hai, kayar ko hi dehlati hai, surma nahi vichalit hote.” Rashmirathi, my go to manual on life.
  4. “In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced , nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeoning of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.” Invictus, well because Invictus.
  5. “Koi #$%@^@#% button daba ke mere liye yeh faisla nahi karega ki mujhe kab marna hai.” The amazing dialogue from A Wednesday, you can notice the similarity of the circumstance.

There were a few things that I managed to assimilate before I clicked the button to format the office computers and forever losing the data. So here is the insignificant part of the equation:

  1. Completed works are the legacy, not the drawings.
  2. A small yet significant portion of the work could be downloaded from the mail. 
  3. One of the project was backed up on cloud.
  4. Design proposals lost were a good way to start on a clean slate for some of the projects.

And before my mind could regain total sanity or succumb to fear of any kind, I began the process of cleaning up the house. By the evening when my family was informed, the decisions were already made, the panic didn’t find any oxygen to live on. I do not find any solace in nazarbattus or nimbu-mirchi (India’s go to weapon). Things were done and dusted before my mom got into a frenzy. She forced me to reach out to the police and every other resource that she could think of. It was as futile as expected. The great positive from reaching out to those people was the reinforcement that what was done was the best way out. The point here isn’t about being a rationalist and away from superstition, but not letting the panic set foot in your head. 

Over the coming days the team would be rebuilding the office, like the phoenix we would be taking re-birth from our own ashes. Although the internet is full of knowledge in this regard, here are a few measures that we are taking up to fight such attacks in future:

  1. Moving the office to cloud servers.
  2. Creating a protocol to have external backups weekly.
  3. Banning direct download of media or software on the workstations.
  4. Prohibiting access of personal email on office computers.
  5. Encouraging safe internet access for the staff.
  6. Denouncing the use of personal USB storage drives. 
  7. Corresponding and communicating on email more than WhatsApp or other social media messengers. 

From what I have learnt in my tryst with Masok, such ransomware are looking for small businesses/ professional practices who are dependant on computers for their work but aren’t tech savvy enough to have the most robust cyber-security protocols in place. 

Masok came, Masok saw, but Masok couldn’t conquer. 

Open Letter to Elon Musk

Dear Mr Musk,
Let me begin by telling you that October of 2011 left a void in my life, I lost a person whom I would look up to and be mesmerized with. It was the death of Steve Jobs that triggered a search for a new role model, and I discovered someone whom people would call ‘real’ Tony Stark. For an Iron Man fan-boy, real Tony Stark is something difficult to digest. Having said that, the more I read about you, I began to discover some truth in those claims.
PayPal was great, Tesla motors is amazing, Solar City even better, Hyper loop is a cool thing, SpacEx was fantastic until last Monday, and well OpenAI is something I wouldn’t like to talk about much. The most inspiring thing that you have done with each of your endeavours is committing personal assets to the cause, every single time. It is this dedication and belief that changes the world, which quite a few of your companies have been able to do.

Elon Musk: image credits OnInnovation
Elon Musk: image credits OnInnovation

Last Tuesday, you unveiled a plan (of sorts) to colonize Mars. It was a breath taking presentation, a moment that would be put on a timeline in the books of history marking significant events in the field of space exploration (a conservative term). The presentation ran numbers on screen all through, though space exploration require much more complicated mathematics and scientific calculations than there are words in the English dictionary. Numbers on screen appeared to be simplified for dummies like myself but, I could easily understand that simplification could be done only when compelling numbers have already been dealt with. There was a computer rendered video demonstrating various components of your ambitious project. You emphasized on the fact that those weren’t artist’s impression but close to reality rendered based on scientific design process. Trust me I would be better off had those been artistic impressions. I understand humanity is under threat, we always have been but, I never imagined that a day would come we would have to flee the planet. Mr Musk, I know problems on Earth exist and continue to swell, day in day out, can we not look for solutions without having to move out (move out is going to assume a new meaning altogether)? It is a question, a question for you to ponder upon and find a new muse maybe. Not so surprising yet again you committed your personal funds for the development of the project. I read a lot of coverage of the event by the American media houses; especially the tech media, most of them were sceptical about the numbers that you presented or the funding and to my utter surprise and disbelief ‘technical’ challenges facing your dream. For dummies like me, your presentations are closest cousin of what in our fan world is called the Reality Distortion Field. I am usually excited about things that you have behind the veil but, this time around I was terrified. Even scarier was the timeline of the project, where trials of the proposed technologies begin in a couple of years. If everything goes well you could be on Mars even before the world (or should I always specify planet Earth now on) phases out fossil fuel powered vehicles, or even before a ‘Hyper loop’ comes to India. It’s totally understandable that you might be fed up with the people on this planet but, taking your chosen ones on to a different planet just doesn’t sound right. I wish all this were a sci-fi book that you authored, with no numbers around and no history of success in ‘space exploration’. During the presentation, you mentioned that you didn’t have a dooms day prophecy yet, nevertheless you do believe in an eventual extinction of the human race from planet Earth. I do not know what to tell you, I guess you should get yourself a translated version of a popular Indian song called “Duniya mein hum aaye hain to jeena hi padega”, the opening line translates to “If we have come to the world (read Earth) we will have to live”.

We have always been made to believe that we have to choose ‘one path’ and excel, you are the icon when it comes to excelling across fields be it finance, automotive, transportation, sustainable energy generation and most important of all, entrepreneurship. Steve Jobs used to say, “All I want to do is create a ding in the universe”, I guess you have taken it far too literally and have made it your life’s motto. Let me tell you that our country is on a threat of war with our neighbours at the moment, we aren’t worried a tiny bit about it but, the thought of having to desert the planet is scary. I think you may have run out of muses to have taken upon such an unconventional dream. Mr Musk just to mention a few, you could work on electricity for all, or healthcare for all, or internet connectivity for the world (Earth). Be the cool kid on the block, and let the definition of block be limited to the beautiful blue planet of our solar system.

A resident of planet Earth

रद्दी कागज़

कल रात एक साफ़ सफाई अभियान चलाया, कॉलेज प्रवेश के वक़्त जमा कराए गए कुछ दस्तावेज़ों की प्रतियां मिली| देखते ही देखते चेहरे पे एक अजीब मुस्कुराहट थी, शायद इस वजह से की इन कागज़ों के बारे में बचपन में कुछ सोच थी, उस सोच को आज असल जीवन में सच होते देख रहा था|

एक कागज़ पर अंग्रेजी में लिखा था ‘कैरक्टर सर्टिफिकेट’ , बड़ा ही हास्यास्पद कागज़ है, विद्यालय की प्रधानाचार्या महोदया ने मेरे अच्छे चरित्र की जिम्मेदारी ली है| इस कागज़ को देख कर यह एहसास होता है की भरोसा करना कितना आसान है , मेरी प्रधानाचार्या न मुझे पहचानती है न कोई व्यक्तिगत मुलाकात हुई है , बस पीढ़ियों से चलती आ रही एक परंपरा के नाम पर उन्होंने मुझे यह कागज़ थमा दिया| आज अगर मैं उनसे ऐसा ही एक और कागज़ मांगने जाऊँ तो शायद मुझे कुछ हासिल ना हो| पूर्व प्रधानाचार्या को छोडिए आज अगर मैं अपने दोस्तों से भी ऐसा कोई कागज़ मांगू तो उन्हें हिचिकचाहट होगी| खैर यह हसी-मज़ाक की बात है , यारी दोस्ती में चलते रहना चाहिए|

एक और अत्यधिक विचित्र कागज़ मिला जिसे मूल निवास प्रमाण पत्र कहते है , यह कागज़ इस बात का प्रमाण है की मैं राजस्थान प्रदेश का मूल निवासी हूँ , भारतीय होना कई बार पर्याप्त नहीं होता , डेमोक्रेसी भी एक नायाब चीज़ है , इसके रंग निराले| इसी कागज़ के सलग्न है एक कागज़ जिसपे एक बड़े अधिकारी ने सत्यापित किया है की मेरे पिताजी भी यहीं के निवासी हैं और राजस्थान सरकार को अपनी सेवाएं प्रदान कर रहे हैं| सत्यापन भी एक बड़ी ही खोखली क्रिया है , किसी तीसरे व्यक्ति का मेरे लिए जिम्मेदारी लेना बहुत महत्वपूर्ण है , सारा मूल्य सत्यापित करने वाले की मोहर में है| मोहर है तो सच है, मोहर नहीं तो सच नहीं| यह सत्यापन का ही तो खेल है की हज़ारों लाखों घोटाले होते होते बच गए , यह तीसरे व्यक्ति का जिम्मेदारी लेना ही तो है जो आपराधिक दिमाग को सच्चाई का मार्ग दिखता है| फिर भी न जाने क्यों आजकल सत्यापन को धीरे धीरे सिस्टम से हटाया जा रहा है , व्यक्ति स्वयं अपनी जिम्मेदारी ले सकता है|

फिर कुछ कागज़ हैं जिन्हें हम मार्कशीट कहते हैं| यह कागज़ मेरी योग्यता बताते हैं , जी हाँ एक छोटा कागज़ का टुकड़ा मेरी योग्यता बताता है , प्रतियोगिता के इस ज़माने में मेरी औकात बताता है| यूँ तो कई मामलों में भ्रामक बातें करना अपराध है , जब यह अपराध संगठित तौर पर किया जाये तो इसे शिक्षा प्रणाली कहते हैं| बताइए मुझे की कागज़ पे लिखे गए कुछ अंक एक व्यक्ति के बारे में पैदा किया भ्रम नहीं है तो और क्या है| बेहतर शिक्षा एक ऐसा जुमला है जिसे हम सदियों से चलाते आ रहे है| बेहतर शिक्षा के अवसर उसे प्राप्त होते हैं जो समाज के पैमानों पर पहले से होशियार है , उसे नहीं जो कमजोर है , नामचीन शिक्षण संसथान उन्हें शिक्षा देते हैं जो कमज़ोरों को हरा कर आगे आये हैं , उन्हें नहीं जो पीछे छूट गए| क्या यह वाकई बेहतर संसथान हैं? समाज ने तो यही बताया है, होते ही होंगे , मान लेते हैं| इसमें उन संस्थानों का कोई दोष नहीं , हम बराबरी की बात करते हैं , पर असल में बराबरी से भरा समाज हम बनना ही नहीं चाहते , बुराई भी क्या है , अगर काम प्रतिभाशाली लोगों को आगे लाने का बोझ समाज उठा लेगा तो हम आगे बढ़ेंगे कैसे|

बचपन में ही यह बात समझ आ गयी थी की इन कागज़ों का कोई मोल नहीं है, ना तो यह मेरे जीवन को दिशा देंगे ना ही मेरे व्यक्तित्व के बारे में कुछ बता पाएंगे| सब कुछ समझने के बावजूद भी एक सपना आज भी अधूरा है| स्कूल से विदा लेते वक़्त यह सोचा था की इन कागज़ों को एक दिन अग्नि के हवाले कर दूंगा , पहचान बताने वाले उन अंकों को खाक कर दूंगा , पर हमारे बनाए इस लाइसेंस राज ने दसवीं और बारहवीं की उन अंकतालिकाओं को बेतुका महत्व दे रखा है , जलाने से सिर्फ सरकारी दफ्तरों के फ़िज़ूल चक्कर बढ़ेंगे|

इस दौड़ भाग में एक छोटा बैग भर गया है जिसमें ऐसे कागज़ों का भंडार है , जिन्हे सर्टिफिकेट कहते है| वैसे तो बैग चीख चीख कर स्वाहा होने की बात कह रहा है , पर उनमें से कुछ टुकड़ों के साथ कुछ यादें कैद हैं| मैं बता दूँ की उन यादों का कठोर परिश्रम , या प्रतिस्पर्धा से कोई लेना देना नहीं है , बस दिमाग ने कुछ वाकियों को उन कागज़ों से जोड़ रखा है|

उम्मीद करता हूँ की एक दिन उस बैग के अग्नि में विलीन होने की तस्वीर इस वेबसाइट पे ज़रूर होगी , तब तक यह रद्दी कागज़ों का पुलिंदा एक अलमारी के किसी कोने में तन्हा पड़ा है|

Open letter to Border Roads Organization

Dear BROthers,

It is May the 7th, what better day to write to you than today, your foundation day. This day in 1960, the Border Roads Organization (BRO) was established.
July last year, I got a chance to make a trip of the lifetime, a trip to Leh. The trip only happened because we were able to book airline tickets with the prices almost on the floor.

At the very outset, I must say, hats off! You are doing what people wouldn’t dare to do in their most adventurous of dreams. It doesn’t just take skill but enormous courage to create roads where none should exist. For more than 60% of the commuters on the roads in Leh, it’s difficult to even look down, I can’t even imagine what building them must have been. To be honest, I don’t know what you guys are up to in the rest of India, but project Himank and project Vijayak are a different ball game which a private player wouldn’t be able to play. This is for the men in uniform only.
Creating roads, is just one bit and you didn’t stop there, keeping them going in rains, snow and landslides, is godly. Prodigious sons of the motherland, you. The most treacherous of the landslides could engage you only for a few hours at best. In an adventure on the verge of a total misadventure, I took the Wari La pass road to get back to Leh from Pangong and I was surprised, surprised to find the men of your fraternity clearing the almost uninhibited and rarely traversed the route. A convoy of almost 30-35 bikers couldn’t stop themselves from raising the hands to salute the man operating the bulldozer. The happiness, pride and joy on the face of that guy was magical. Maybe that’s the only food that keeps you going in terrains like these. I am almost certain that you people possess supernatural powers, making your dozers and blasting machines ready before the boulders could even make up their mind to fall. I don’t think that any amount of money could make you do this, only total devotion and complete allegiance to the tri-color would make it possible.

One of the BRO roads, in its full glory.
One of the BRO roads, in its full glory.

And with your crazy roadside slogans you steal the show with that sense of humor. I’ll share some of them; hope they don’t offend the right wingers around.

Words of Wisdom
Words of Wisdom

Uh Well. Caption says it all.
Uh Well. Caption says it all.

Though Khardungla is talked about too much yet I would like to recognize again, the hard-work and the guts that it takes to create the world’s highest motor-able road at more than 18000ft above the sea level.

Just standing there, we felt as if we conquered the world.
Just standing there, we felt as if we conquered the world.

I am sure you people are on your job, as I write this, building and maintaining roads on the toughest terrains of the world, conquering our hearts and giving us critical infrastructure that the enemy forces would envy. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, for doing your job so well.


Revisiting the Dream

Almost two and a half score years ago, a great American, under whose symbolic shadow of equality we stand today, enunciated the famous speech. And today when the time of graduation has come, I feel like re-visiting the dream. “Having a dream” takes a new dimension at this stage of life. Dreams mean jobs, dreams mean higher education, dreams mean starting up, dreams mean relaxing and figuring out what dreams mean. As kids we were taught to dream, to dream big and to work hard in the direction of realizing those dreams but, from what I have seen growing up is about learning to systematically kill those dreams and be the slaves of education as we know. The terrible pleasure in the entire transition from being a school kid to a college graduate is the eternal hope, the never dying spirit that one day everything will fall in place. So yes I still have a dream.

I have a dream that one day the human race will rise up and live out the true meaning of education: “Freedom”.

I have a dream that one day people would be accepted not for what they are but, what they could be. The day the world would wake up to the potential of every human being.

I have a dream that one day the ink on paper wouldn’t represent the strength that rests within us.

I have a dream that one day you wouldn’t be judged by your LinkedIn profile, but the content in your character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day people would be hired for the humility with which they handle success and the courage with which they face failure.

That would be the day when progress would be marked by liberation of the soul and not the enslavement of the mind.

Let freedom ring from the University of Delhi.

Let freedom ring from the IITs and IIMs.

Let freedom ring from the VITs and the Manipals.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every college and every university, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, engineers and doctors, managers and architects, civil servants and entrepreneurs, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!

Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

PS: Based on the famous I Have a Dream Speech by Martin Luther King

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata

Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, a verse from one of the most rousing hymns for most Indians. It’s the verse that has received and continues to receive a fair share of controversy and meaningless skepticism. Some conspiracy theorists believe that it was written in the praise of King George the fifth, Gurudev himself attributed it to the lord almighty, the Supreme creator, as discovered through some letters that he wrote to his friends. Bharat Bhagya Vidhata translates to Creator of India’s destiny, a very coercive thing to say. Who is the creator of India’s destiny?
Is it the almighty? Or is it the athlete who represents India in a sporting event? Is it the PM at a UN convention? Or is it the people who take India to Mars? Is it the dancer who seems to have preserved the cultural identity of this great nation?

Before that, here is a short why I got to talking about this in the first place. Sometime back, I shared the news about a friend’s placement at a great firm in the US with another friend working here in a social enterprise. His reaction was a moving one. He said that while people could fill their pockets with cash in the US, it’s people like him who bring the real change. And all that I could think about was the phrase Bharat Bhagya Vidhata. I was mesmerized at first, but got to the state of pondering a little later. And the question at large was who the creator of India’s destiny is? My idea wasn’t and isn’t to undermine the effort of my friend in shaping the nation, but, what good is an inspiring statement that doesn’t make the listener ponder at a later stage.

Coming back to the question, here is what I believe Bharat Bhagya Vidhata refers to: a sweeper who cleans the street, a teacher who channelizes the young blood, a cobbler who mends footwear to feed his family, a woman who works as a maid so that she could educate her children, a man working for the ISRO, a soldier stationed at the frontier, a rickshaw puller, a mason who is essential to the construction of the dam across our rivers, a man working for an NGO, a woman working as a nurse in the middle east so that she could feed her family in Kerala, a businessman who pays the taxes on time and also an engineer working in a company in the US which changes the world. For what changes the world also changes us, moreover as a civilization, we believe in Vasudev Kutumbakam meaning that the world is one family. Every single Indian who does what his/her job well is the creator. And there couldn’t be a better thing or person or power to hail in a national anthem than your own self. Bharat Bhagya Vidhata isn’t just praise, it is a reminder of the responsibility that each one of us has, the responsibility to do what we are meant to do, no matter where we come from or where we are located.

In the end all I want to say is “Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, Jai He” (Oh Creator of India’s destiny, praise be on you).

Unsung Heroes

This note is a tribute to the unsung heroes in my life. No legendary stuff, just everyday people in my life.

Heroics go beyond fighting wars for the nation, heroics go beyond saving people in a disaster, no doubt that these are heroics of the highest order yet heroics aren’t limited to these. There are people and times that are etched in your memory forever. These events may not be something big or something really significant, but they are there. These seemingly insignificant acts left an indelible impression on the soul. For them, it’s not a great thing or a one time thing, it’s there in the nature of the people. It makes them who they are. It’s in the shadow of the greatness of these people that I have grown as a person. Many of these people may have forgotten who I am or what they did for me, but I won’t ever forget them. One thing that is common in all these people is the fact that grandness lies in the heart. No fancy, material thing could ever buy that grandness. The other thing is that they laugh and they smile, come what may. May be it is this laughter on the world and its ways that these people find their strength in. To an extent I have learned to laugh too. These people won’t ever ask for any credits because they never think that they did something extraordinary, for them it is the way of life for them it is doing what is right, for them it is simply an extension of the self.

Though each one of us cannot be great or be a hero in someone’s life, but there is one thing that all of us can do. And that is acknowledging somebody’s existence when the world has given up on that person. I can’t proclaim that I do it myself, but I am trying to learn.

Lastly, I wish I could name the people I am grateful to in this note, but, that would take away all the glory from those people. Their glory is in remaining anonymous, remaining away from the limelight and being the everyday person that they are.

The missed lesson

A missed lesson at school or college wouldn’t make much difference to your life. Rather more you miss, more you learn, because you get to see the world outside the classroom. The world is the true laboratory of learning, learning that comes from people, learning that comes from experiences. Remember the old man with a stick? He has got much more to teach you than those Ph.D professors. The old man is none other than your grandfather. I have been fortunate to learn enough from my father and I continue to learn from him, what I miss is the old man. We didn’t stay with our grandparents; the only glimpse of my grandfather was a few days in the summer holidays. Before I could get over the image of his as the head of the family, a person of authority and a person of discipline, he was no more. I never got to learn anything from him; I never got to hear his stories. My father was born in the sixties so the stories that he has got begin in the late 70s. I miss that bit of history of my family from the 30s-70s, the days of the British Raj, the struggle for Independence, the free India and more importantly the childhood of my father from the perspective that he himself isn’t aware of. Though I am very fortunate to be born with privileges that most people in the world do not get, but I am not lucky enough to know what a grandmother is, she passed away before I could see the light of the world. I don’t remember my time with my grandfather much, what I do remember are just a handful of things that he did. He used to eat his food in a fashion that was unique to him; his arm would be aligned to the surface of the table, with the elbow projecting out. In winters he would always have a vacuum flask with warm water, he would never drink normal water in the winter. In the not so old days earthen pots would quench the thirst, now those pots have almost been taken over by the PET bottles in the refrigerator. He would keep a small container of water with a small cup near the earthen vessel and everybody was supposed to wash their hands with that water before pouring out water from the pot. He would yell if somebody missed cleaning their hands. Organization and hygiene were his way of life. Papa often tells me about him, usually it’s about the modern/reformist of a person that he was. I spent my time playing with my cousins while he would be retiring in his room, at times I feel miserable to have missed his story, to have missed the lesson that he must have had for me. I wanted to know about politics, about social customs, religion, education and what not. He is not there, nor are the stories, what is there is a young man who has warm water in winters, a sub conscious memory that he has of his grandfather.

Many of you are fortunate to have grandparents alive and living with you, spend time with them, engage them into stories and experiences and engage into learning. They have what would take a lifetime for you to acquire. Don’t let them live a secluded life. And for me, I live on stories that I overhear from elderly people in the local trains.

Open letter to Daniel Libeskind

Revered sir,

Some 3.5 years ago I chose to take up architecture as the course of my study if not a profession. I joined the school with enthusiasm and a unique fascination for the field, but with the passage of time the curiosity and excitement dwindled and started fading away. And to the best I have observed it is not the problem with architecture, but the state of architecture education here. I started questioning whether to continue or not, it was in those days of despair that a miracle happened. We had a rendezvous with the Jewish History Museum in Berlin as a part of the history of the architecture curriculum. Though physically the rendezvous was limited to a video lecture but in reality it went deep inside. That building is something that reinstates the lost faith. That building is something that brings pride to be associated with architecture. That building inspires awe. That building stirs the soul. That building gives meaning to architecture. I have read that Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead, inspired generations of young minds to get trained as architects (though I haven’t read the book myself), then this museum in Berlin probably sustained generations of frustrated students of architecture.

We have been made to believe that architecture is about designing spaces keeping in mind the needs of the occupants/users. It may not be true or even logical but after coming across this masterpiece I sense that beyond ‘designing for the needs’ architecture is also about ‘designing the needs’. But once that realization happens, the mind doesn’t just stop there. I went through the video once again and saw the grand thing, that moment was the moment of zen, the building almost made the needs seem insignificant, needs are for lesser mortals. This building talks to the visitors on an entirely different plane and the grandness of this conversation is marvelous. The building is like the earth and the person like a dot on it. This exemplifies the scale that architecture could achieve in a socio-cultural and spiritual setup.

The building questions what architecture is and simultaneously answers what it needs to be. It underlines that stories are a finely woven fabric of the tangible and the intangible. And architecture needs to tell that story. Maybe nobody can ever feel what life of a Jew could be in the 20th century Germany, but this is the closest that one could ever get. The name may fade away with time, but the building would remain there, etched in the memories of the people who knowingly or unknowingly became a part of the story. Architecture teaches us to question, to question constantly, but this once as Pablo Neruda had said “For once on the face of the earth, let’s not speak in any language”. Honestly, I haven’t studied any other work of yours, I didn’t even try and I don’t wish to do so in the near future either. The image of this building is so powerful and moving that I do not wish to raise any questions, I do not wish to know a Daniel Libeskind other than the one who designed just this building. Maybe I am a bad student of architecture, but that’s okay. The sheer thought of walking on steel skulls send a chill up the spine. I can ignore all the reality and stay in the space-time warp that this building has created.

The museum, for me stands at the end of the illuminated path of architecture. It is only this destination that gets me walking on the path.

Devotedly yours,

Of stars and ice creams

There was an era, an era long gone when stars and ice creams were much more valuable than billions of dollars. Unimaginable? Well rewind your life around 15-17 years (if you are in your 20s) and you might remember that indeed stars and ice creams were priceless. They were the joy that money could never buy, they were the motivation to excel that no preacher can match, they were gifts that sophisticated electronics could never surpass. Yea those stars and ice creams that marked our copies of nursery and kindergarten classes. They were, in true sense a remarkable feat in instilling an unparalleled competitive spirit. A more humane and more compassionate one. All this might look stupid but then I have my right to speak up to my heart’s content. Wondering what was so remarkable about those senseless things from the past?
Think about it this way. They were a reflection of nature and the human instinct. They were the most subtle display of art, unique to the teacher. Each one different from the others, different kind of stars, varying numbers, Ice creams with different toppings, different shapes, hearts, smiley, suns and what not, making a unique permutation every time. Believe me they were far more beautiful than the monotonous, ugly and seeming dull number system that we graduated to.
We strived to get that work of art marked on our copies much more than we sweated to get a perfect 10. One more thing about these art works was that they were incomparable unlike those numbers or grades. We do realise that all human progress is a result of a tiny belief that each one of us carries in our hearts, a belief that there is still something left to conquer. While numbers defined what’s achievable example there is nothing beyond a 10/10 but ice creams and stars like real stars were unconquerable. There was always something that was left to achieve.
While getting a star on the notebook set a aflame a fire to get more the next time, getting a 10 only increased expectations from the people around.
Well this just one side of the story, the joy of achieving. There is another to it as well, the joy of giving. If you have a sharp memory, or if you find time just look into the face of a kindergarten teacher while she is scribing the art work on a notebook. It’s like she is putting her heart on that notebook. The endless joy with every movement of the pen, the multitude of ‘V’ in front of good and the exclamation marks that follow is a splendid sight. You’ll never see that expression on the face of someone who is dealing with those numbers. Why? That’s what people call growing up?

Creating hype about ‘real’ world and doing away with all the beautiful things in life? Well everything that marks a dot on the axis of time is real. The stars and the ice creams are very much real irrespective of your belief. For me the stars would remain beautiful, unconquerable and inspirational.