Part of the reason[1] I have not started reading Killing Commendatore is an embarrassing failure to get into the required Murakami-reading mood. (And I consider myself a Murakami veteran without a hint of modesty or self deprecation. I know I can do much worse.) It isn’t a hard-to-come-by state of mind; I just need to be a little (on the fence) lost in some song—preferably away with words—on repeat for long enough and have strong black tea on the proverbial tap and an unexplained longing for something that on clearheaded review turns out to be a simple, boring, everyday thing, like a black-capped-box of 2B pencil leads. This is easy when you are on the verge of completing yet another decade around the sun and are living out of a (proverbial) backpack around people (much?) younger than your road-worn self pretending to assume you may be wiser/dumber than what your costume gives away.

I started reading Zen and the Art under an RTO office waiting on R waiting in line for taking a Learner’s License test. This (not the RT office, the book) was the one with the pseudopsychedelic cover and neat typesetting (over cheap paperback pages, so it wasn’t all that bad). It made complete sense as I overheard the to-be-drivers of heavy metal objects talking about machine parts the way art-school-dropouts talk about a seventy course meal. I don’t even know enough art school dropouts and the closest I have come to a three-plus-course meal was by accident and was promptly asked to leave for not wearing the right kind of shoes.[2]

I read the Structure-Culture Document first under a sleepless night-sky sandwiched between the Exhibition- and Product-Design studios in Paldi. The Chocolate-Seeng-Sev-Maska-Bun[3] (I am impervious to that kind of judgement) after the event tasted more chalk-like than chocolatey and no amount of post-allnighter banter—with the screwed up intensity that shows its ugly face after hours of out-kerning otherwise perfectly kerned type—could make a chink in my newfound armour of solitude. I’d read the word of HKV and couldn’t help but look at the manual-kerning proletariat in thinly veiled disdain. My glasses were tinted primary colours and misted over by tea fumes.

It was over an ‘all-chocolate’ Chocolate Tart[4] at Baker’s Inn that I bit into Moveable Feast (finishing it over a bottle of flavoured milk under the ANU’s OpenAirTheatre). The point is that each book demands you reenact its making in some tiny simple significant way even when that means lugging around a tome for six weeks and not opening it the tiniest crack. Sometimes this means holding on to a grab-rail in an otherwise packed bus with one hand with two bags in the other and sometimes it means ignoring mosquito bites under a muddy sky off a dimly lit road across a paddy field. (Wear shorts.) The point is that the book rewards you when the tableau is finally set and the first paragraph turns out to be better, sweeter, less strained than the way you have always imagined it, which it always has a way of turning out to be.

1: The other part of the reason is that I’m lazy and reading pocket-penguins marathon-style to put off reading the M till I get back to the hardback. The other other part of the reason is that M is—because I am gullible to cathartic hero-identification—unputdownable and would interfere with the guiding of the already somewhat lost generation of 4th year students I am supposedly helping out of their design education.

2: I consider that a major league affront as a person not used to wearing any kind of shoes till then. But then it turned out to be a life lesson in disguise (the Clark-kent kind, not the MI-X kind), waiting for some (…) hours in a bus shelter along Africa Avenue (near Connaught Place, not Capetown) in peak winter. I know what you are thinking. Winter. No shoes. Yet, the bus shelter was obviously not the coldest thing I encountered that night. Had no book for company either.

3: The ChocolateSeengSevMaska-Bun is a cultural artefact the way Kathakali or a ShajiKailas-Mohanlal movie is. It is the simplest way to describe a microculture, which is a shamefully shallow way of shying away from saying it is a major statement about a bigger demographic unit. It is unapologetic in its diversity and calorific value. In other words, it is the metric unit for measuring unadulterated jouissance. A chocolate tart is a solid 3 CSSMBs. The Baker’s Inn version is 0.4 CSSMBs at its crest.

4: This one had a piece of cake taking up the bulk of the tart. It was more like 10% of the tart, but I get to exaggerate. A 60-rupee tart has no business hiding a piece of bread (brown kek) to save on artificial chocolate. I consider dishing out a longwinded piece of advice on brand values and honesty and optimum fake chocolate amounts to the lady behind the counter in the sweetest way possible inside of a bakery. Then I remember the staff had thus far been unnecessarily nice to me and had not thrown me out even after badly timed chuckles from behind cheap-looking paperbacks and dried-up coffee cups. Then I smile a polite thankyou smile and quietly crawl back behind the coffee cups. I have a feeling they all knew about the bread-in-tart situation and were instructed to be nice to people ordering it anyway.

Reading the Hindu is nostalgic. Too. Often there are phrases and mellow puns—the kind we filled composition books with before we knew irony paired well with an F91W and flannel. Saddened to see them (The Hindu) miss an opportunity to whip out ‘consider the lobster’ for an article on the Swiss mandating stunning them (the lobsters) before boiling them (the stunned lobsters) alive. Maybe their style book doesn’t say ‘what would a 12-year-old you title it?’ in exactly the same words. It is nice (on the verge—not quite—of thirty) to have the morning newspaper put you in canvas shoes whitened with government-issue-toothpaste.

Brands ought to be their own advertisement with the work they do. When a client comes in with a marketing budget (or a request for us to sit with their marketing team) I see red flags. Uttering ‘Social Media Strategy’ before we get into why they think they need to exist, it is a local committee meeting of the communists, sans the confidence. Stretched out on frames allover our city I see people who don’t believe enough; not enough in what they do, not enough in the intelligence of others.

I don’t enjoy looking at the billboards anymore. (Used to be the only people smiling at me were the billboard models. I was in Gurgaon and there all that honking timed my heartbeats.) The good ones (tolerable typography, proper punctuation, oldstyle numerals where they ought to be) are sandwiched among the fairly insecure. The gaudy ones are everywhere. The good ones give way to the absurd too soon. I don’t even enjoy the window-seat on my commute that much anymore.

Sometime last year, my Diwali-gifted smartphone kissed an elevator-floor. The glass shattered, sending proper menus and hamburger menus and notification icons and tiny unsubscribe buttons to corners they weren’t supposed to see. Two generous pieces of cellotape and some craftiness with the surgical blade held it together for a few days.

I am not comfortable in my new interaction-designer shoes. I admire the printed page from the years spent in the screen-printing lab and under the A4 sheet studded wall in the Gurgaon studio and in quiet bookshops and in front of surprisingly good ‘PGs for Boys’ posters[^1] pinned to trees. Something from those years have put this ‘us-versus-them’ notion in place where I think about ‘experience designers’ the way I think about the sixth Hitchiker’s book. I don’t think it (the thinking) is entirely healthy or appropriate.

I have lost the urge to stay up-to-date. How a swipe up is different from a half-hearted swipe up-then-sideways seems trivial, overthought. I didn’t know it was possible to feel any more out of touch when in company of people talking technology. Despite a license, I stay behind on the older version of design software just so I can round corners individually. (No, that is an exaggeration. The X230 sans a battery won’t run like makhkhan anymore with countless updates and a hunger for a decent internet connection.) This is, I tell myself, not a Luddite romancing of older technology; I just find the illusion of control comforting. (There is a physical switch on the laptop that turns on the Vimanam mode. There is a battery I can pull out to make sure the phone is absolutely, positively, switched off, or parts I can put back together after a skirmish with the elevator-floor.) The rejection isn’t based on profound ethical questions or plant product induced lucidity; sometimes I just want to fiddle in the pant-pockets to change an inappropriate track. (This, while holding onto chromed pillars in an overcrowded bus home. The resemblance this exercise has to pole-dancing violates copyright laws. The bus twists and turns and wallops and sings a Metallica song as it comes to a halt, throwing you into a confused dance of limbs and polythene covers and the occasional umbrella. This is what I imagine mosh pits to be.)

Our devices have shrunk-in size and in number-to one portable, all-knowing object we sleep with and wake up to. Mine have, since the elevator incident, grown in number and demand room of their own. Shortly after switching to the Nokia 105, I found a 4th Generation iPod Classic on OLX, a used Fujifilm X-20 in Velacherry and fell back in love with the Kindle. I switch these[^2] the way people switch applications. Mine just involves more hand-chrome-pole-coordination.

[^1]: There was one in front of the sandwich shop along the road next to Ramaiah Institute in Bangalore, where I would stop on my way to (and later, from) the IISc and polish off a black-tea and sandwitch, watching the traffic pause and change colours. The poster was basic, made in MS Word (or so it seemed). That is one thing I respect in those posters-you can’t tell which program they’ve been through. All our 3D rendered, bezier-nudged, pixel-pushed pieces carry that unmistakeable stamp of the program through to the end. To my biased eyes, they are somehow not ‘fully there,’ not honest enough, certainly not ‘loved’ the way someone who uses a tool along and outside its strict margins and bleed-marks loves her work.

[^2]: The Price I Paid: A counter-argument to the many-devices proposition is the amount of money it takes to acquire and maintain these. Here is a cost breakdown for anyone interested. Nokia: Rs. 950 from a shop in Mavoor Road (cheaper than buying it online); iPod 4th Gen: Rs. 2300 off OLX (did not bargain); battery from iFixit: Rs. 860; Fujifilm X-20: Rs. 20,000, from OLX.

Update: KL11 Blog has an article on setting up a frugal design practice.

Come morning, we draw our drinking water from the well next to the old kitchen. Most mallu concrete homes have an extended, appended second kitchen since the one inside, in a bit of cement-tinted fate, starts—right after the paalukaachal—leaving the entire house smelling like roasted chillies after half an hour of frantic cooking. Some say that is a good thing. Our entire extended family disagreed and built the second kitchen in an act of misguided conformity anyway.

It is not that the water pump refuses to run off an absence of electricity. Mallu kids are trained to not trust tap water from a very young age. (Some of our bedtime stories were actually tales of horror from Bolivia. In terror, we would hold tight to our party membership cards pinned to our diapers.) But we would drink off the copper taps at the school or from the heavy, galvanised iron ones that poke a hole through their milestone bases on the road, along the paddy fields we appropriated as playgrounds during the two-three dull months after harvest. At home, we draw water in used rubber-tube-buckets tied to ropes, looped around well oiled wooden rollers, hung from hooks above the wells in various states of disarray. The ropes, yellow plastic ones peppered in ambiguous red markers, twisted and untwisted as our mothers and fathers and feisty grandmothers drew bucket after bucket, craning their necks to see if the clothesline is in any danger of getting soaked in the impending rain.

Drawing from the well is easy during the monsoon months; the water comes up to meet the bucket less than halfway down its usual plight. The rope is tied short and the extra length coiled into a heap on the net that covers the well. Re-purposed mosquito net stocking-s the well, put in place after both of us boys graduated from our hostels with our mosquito nets intact. The water is crystal clear too. On days when all the nocturnal typing leaves me waking up past everybody else and missing the water-drawing deadline, I try hiding my shame commenting on this clarity, obsessively chopping tender elephant-leaf leaves into some semblance of order, for lunch. The misdirection never works; my mother’s notion of the ‘irresponsible elder child’ is too insurmountable a summit that early in the morning. Underslept and out of topics of diversion, I drown her complaints instead in the only radio station that makes sense that side of seven.

As I peer down the well, I am reminded of Lakshadweep-getaway photos behind postcards other people bring home from vacations in other places far from the Dweeps. In the well, the water is a bluish green. The level has climbed up, and is about to breach that one step where snakes shed their skin come summer. The last two summers, we had to remove at least four of those. The year before my grandfather was bedridden, he used freshly upturned soil around our piece of land for one of his tapioca plantation adventures. The oversized rats that year took care of the crop, and laid the underground tunnel system these snakes so readily borrow on their way to the well. We were very calm about the whole plantation business though, since the last one had turned sour, after the local drinking fraternity uprooted fresh stems-along the main road-and stuck them back in, upside down. Tapioca refuses to grow well that way. The alcoholically inclined were protesting his objection to drunken brawls near the bus-stop across the road, refusing to let go of their party membership cards and the diapers. (There is no easy way of telling when the tapioca stems are inverted. During planting, they are marked, or aligned a specific way to make sure they go into the earth the way they came out.) Grandfather was very nice and forgave them their subversion with a smile. He never went back to criticising their ways in public. The snakes were happier last summer.

Early mornings at KL11; light rain, schoolkids hanging onto their umbrellas and their auto drivers. Silence off the lampposts.

Graduating again in a few days. This is what I have learnt in two years. That, and sneaking V for Vendetta references into thesis reports is fun. (Also, that barring my typewriter and the book about typewriters, all life's essentials can fit into a 35L backpack.)

From afar, places are things.

H and G enter a clearing in the woods. They see the daal-chaaval house at the far edge. The children are hungry and the house a promise of a full belly. They approach the door, chained and padlocked. The doorkeeper wouldn't let them in until they tell him their most sacred secrets, most treasured stories. Tthey are baffled by the request. Hungry and out of their depth, they bare their hearts and think nothing of it. The doorkeeper collects their stories in two glass jars, ties a piece of cloth around H's, corks G's.

H and G enter the first room and see other children leave breadcrumbs everywhere as they walk around. The doorkeeper and his friends tread on them, now and then. The children's stories ooze out from the crumbs and fill the room with their scent and wetness. The children look starved, holding on to the perfect golden loaves of bread in their hands. An invisible hand gives H and G two whole loaves soaked in the tales they parted with at the door. As they tear into the perfect golden crust, the invisible hand guides the pieces away from their mouths and onto the ground. Being children, they think nothing of this. Their hunger is now unbearable.

H and G enter the second room. It is wider and the walls are painted a blinding white. The ceiling, set too high to be inside the house they thought they had gotten into, is set high, at-least a hundred leaps into the metric system. They are asked to prove their H-ness and G-ness. Their loaves of bread are now almost all gone, crumbs outlining the paths they walked, leaving only the faintest aroma of the secrets they once held. The children have already forgotten half their stories. An hour or so of fiddling with the leftover pieces later, they are nodded at and declared worthy of staying in the second room. Along the high walls, they now see windows; some open, some not. Squinting, G manages to catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes behind one of the open, veiled windows. A falling loaf of bread distracts her. She may have imagined the eyes. (Nobody would build a daal-chaval house only to spy on the children, would they?)

The children think nothing of it all. Their hunger is now complete.