Acrophobia is nothing to be afraid of

I wanted to write about a few songs. But I need to be able to think some things through and I have been feeling too lazy.

Instead of that a short note about a type of dream that I keep having.

But first, you should know that I have severe acrophobia. Those viewing areas in towers with the glass floor, even looking at the pictures of those makes me queasy. It has become less acute as I have grown older, but the fear is still there. I can peep down a stairwell only by gripping the banister, or move towards the edge of the roof only if there is a parapet. However, most banisters and parapet come up to just below where I think my center of gravity is, and I keep imagining myself tipping over like a egg, over the wall.

Twice in my life, I joined a job to find myself shipped off to a corporate training camp run by ex-military personnel. They had this huge rock (I say huge but it was probably just about 10 meters tall) and we had to rappel down its side. Didn’t enjoy it one bit.

And I have claustrophobia. Well, not true claustrophobia, because phobias are irrational and there irrational about being afraid of being trapped. I mean I don’t find being in an enclosed place scary in and of itself (though I haven’t been in one in ages). It is just that I worry I might have a tough time wriggling out of spaces into which I have wriggled into. When I watch people who are spelunking wriggling into a tiny hole that they can’t imagine them wriggling out of, it nearly induces a panic attack.

But back when my age was in single digits, I liked climbing. There were trees right next to our house, and climbing the trees would get me to the horizontal wall extension that the house had right below the ventilators (no idea why, but were common; look at the one here for example). And climbing up the windows (windows had these horizontal bars) would let me climb up to the top of the almirahs and closets.

And I liked enclosed spaces. My favourite place to hide was under the bed. I would take my books and hide there. My second most favourite place to hide was in the closet. It was more comfortable, but I couldn’t read in there. There is a story from my childhood, where a person who had saved my father from drowning as a child, saved me when I hid in a tin storage trunk and accidentally locked myself in it.

Anyway, I outgrew those childish interest and no longer could fit my body in the gap between the bed and the floor. I replaced those with my rational fear of dying horribly. Anyway, it is not as bad as it was in my teens. I regularly dream of picking up mountaineering. Seeing pictures of mountains inspires me, though I haven’t yet tested whether the inspiration will survive the first brush with an actual mountain – with precipices and other dangerous features.

And I dream of living in a small house. One of my favourite channels on youtube is about small houses, and I like the idea of sleeping in a place that is one tiny flight up from the living area, with just about enough headroom so that my head doesn’t hit the roof when I sit.

(aside: I use autos for the ride to work regularly, for reasons too complicated to explain. Anyway, a lot of those autos have extra cushion in the seats – a great idea in theory. Unfortunately, the cushioning means that the headroom is just that bit lesser. The design of autos is such that they have crappy suspension and one of the structural support passes right over the passenger seat. And the the design of the Indian roads is such that many times during each journey I’d be magically transported upwards where the head can meet the structural support.)

Now, my dream. Or dreams. I regularly have dreams in the morning where I am in a cubby hole of sorts. There is no room to stand up. Even with me sitting down I have to keep my head bent forward. I am in a modern building. There is enough light. I can clearly see the exit. There is no immediate floor outside the exits. I know that this place is somewhere at least a few floors up in the building. If I were careless while getting out, I’d fall a long way down.

The only way out is through the exit, where I have to reorient myself in interesting ways to reach a ladder embedded into the wall. However, I am calm. I do not panic. I know that what I need to do is slightly difficult, but I am quietly confident about my ability to do it.

So, that is it. That is what I wanted to write about today. Sometimes this sequence is just one scene in the Lord of the Rings length epic that is my dream. At other times, like today morning, it is the entirety of dream as I remember it when I wake up.

Other things can wait

Since this doesn’t fit in twitter:

At the bus stand, a slightly sozzled man walks up to me, stares incredulously, as if he can’t believe my stupidity, and asks, “Are you leaving Kerala?”

I don’t know him from Jack O’Bedlam, but he acts like we’re old friends. Did I meet him in a Mahé bar? Not too sure, I say “I’m so sorry, but I am.” He smiles, waves sadly as he tightens his lungi which is on half mast, and says “Please come back soon again.”

From an article on eating mussels in North Kerala.

Brain dump – 1

This morning I woke up convinced that the story to tell would be about the flip that happens when you entangled – with a book, a game, a show – and your entire life stops being about your overt life and you just want it – work, study, the working day – to end so that you can pick up the meaningful part of your life where you left it last. Was recently talking to a friend’s friend whose spouse works in developing those ‘escape the room’ games, when they told me about the times when the only wish would be for the day to end so that they could go back to the game they were stuck in the middle of.

But then this flip has been used in a number of stories. For example in Hearts in Atlantis. And in a lot of gambler kind of scenarios (Mahjong/Poker). And in “Ready Player One”.

The central element of “Ready Player One” – the epic quest in a video game – has been done elsewhere. I remember a (slightly badly written) science fiction story from the late 80s (early 90s, it turns out – Piers Anthony’s “Kilobyte”), and then I think there are tons of Manga – the one I remember is “Hunter x Hunter” which had an extended arc about a “Ready Player One” style quest contest in a ‘Video Game’ called “Greed Island”.

Anyway, I liked “Ready Player One” (though it could have been better*). And the Japanese have shortlisted “Ready Player One” for Seiun Award, so some of them agree (though all those dialogues of the Japanese ‘brothers’ must have been drastically improved in translation).

* For one, it over-explains, see ‘Protocol of Science Fiction’ (and I should write about Irandam Ulagam in that context).

In the dark an idiot is as good as a hero

The war is on, as it has been for the longest time. You just haven’t had time to do anything other than fly. No one has. For eight months and a bit more, you, your crew and the dreamliner have stayed on the taxiway and the skies. Carrying people one way, and supplies the other, but all through this time, there hasn’t been the time to stop. No time to hang around, in the hanger.

Maintenance, or what passes for maintenance has been on the fly, though thankfully not during the flights. Those components that have held on with tape and prayer have been allowed to stay, thousands others have been hot swapped and replaced, and your engineer has been driven near tears.

“Captain, it cannae take it any longer”. (well, the engineer is Scottish, as all engineers should be, but I can’t do a Scottish accent even if someone paid me money.)

“Captain, the engines will burn, the generators will stop, and we will fall off the sky!”

“They’ll have to hold on. This beauty has to keep flying, or it is the end not just of us, but everyone around us.” And you pass a loving hand over the dash, that you have spent these 248 days in front of.

And then, bug kicks in, the generators stop and you fall off the sky.

Before I forget: Byomkesh

Watched Detective Byomkesh Bakshy.

  • I seem to have watched a different movie, because I liked it a lot more than other people
  • But then this was the first movie in a hall since Agent Vinod (perhaps), and first complete movie in months
  • I generally tend to whine when the source material is distorted
  • For example, I find that in most Sherlock adaptation, Holmes is completely different – more pit bull than bloodhound
  • But, I’ve been sheltered by limited exposure to original Byomkesh source material
  • On the other hand, I’ve watched the TV series and quite a few of the Bengali movies
  • If our movie awards are any good, should win a lot of technical awards – pretty stuff
  • As Baradwaj Rangan puts it, this is an origin story of sorts, and Ajit was always in Satyanweshi, so he isn’t a surprise
  • But Satyaboti? Well, at least the equation between the two was preserved
  • BTW, I’m always surprised that Satyaboti wasn’t more instrumental in the later stories

Jam jam Jam-K

For a few days now, Youtube has been pushing a lot of TEDx videos at me, one of which is Beatbox Brilliance: TEDxSydney.

I haven’t watched it yet, but Youtube has been doing such a fine job of pushing this, that I had to go and dig out two of my favorite uses of beatboxing for, I guess, comedy.

From Samurai Champaloo:

And from Bombay to Bangkok:

Vijay Maurya (from the Bombay to Bangkok scene) is one of those actors that appear in too few hindi movies given how awesome they are.

This is what I remember

Satya had messaged: “Terry Pratchett is gone.”

It is difficult to explain by what margin Terry Pratchett is my favourite author. On good nights I dream of a world where the dominant religion is based on Terry Pratchett’s books. That feels so wrong — and right, that I hope TP would have found it funny.

By way of starting to explain how obsessed I have been with TP, this is something I had stubbed for a blog post a long time ago, but had made zero progress with.

————–

This story begins with Satya, who once was the rahmaniac who once asked me if I knew what the word beatzophreniac meant.[1]

When we were in college, ever so often, we would ritually take the train to Hyderabad on weekends, and spend hours trying to find, among the tons of old books being offered for sale on the pavement and at second-hand bookstores a few for which we could justify, to ourselves, spending a few tens of rupees on.

In the heat of the Hyderabad day, we would plant ourselves in front of the book seller, eye the books on offer, silently sample the books, silently sample the books, silently sample the books, hide our excitement if we spot a great prize, and eventually shortlist a pile of books to haggle for.

And I swear I remember the heat of the Hyderbad day when I first read Terry Pratchett. We were in front of a seller on the pavement, when Satya passed me a hardcover missing the dust jacket. He might have said something, but I went in unprimed, read to pass my unbiased judgement on the book I had been passed. I opened it to where I figured the story began[2] and read the first page:

They say the world is flat and supported on the back of four elephants who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle.
They say that the elephants, being such huge beasts, have bones of rock and iron, and nerves of gold for better conductivity over long distances.*
They say that the fifth elephant came screaming and trumpeting through the atmosphere of the young world all those years ago and landed hard enough to split continents and raise mountains.
No one actually saw it land, which raised the interesting philosophical question: when millions of tons of angry elephant come spinning through the sky, and there is no one to hear it, does it ‐ philosophically speaking ‐ make a noise?
And if there was no one to see it hit, did it actually hit?
In other words, wasn’t it just a story for children, to explain away some interesting natural occurrences?
As for the dwarfs, whose legend it is, and who mine a lot deeper than other people, they say that there is a grain of truth in it.
*Not rock and iron in their dead form, as they are now, but living rock and iron. The dwarfs have quite an inventive mythology about minerals.

“Buy it, definitely buy it!”

Though Satya would probably have bought it anyway.

There are a lot of things that I want to talk about. I want to talk about the first page I read, about Nation, about women, about Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and DNA, about my crushing addiction to any fantasy work that even promises to be funny, about god(s)3, about the willingness to discuss sewers and nightsoil and snot, about technology, about the characters mentioned in only a couple of passages that I thought deserved a book, about everything.

But, the thing I can talk about now is how for years since, this, the first encounter, has been the proof of magic for me. That you can find pearls on the pavement. That a chance encounter could trap you in forever.

————–
This is, of course, a true and accurate account of things that happened. However, as it happens, a few weeks ago, Satya and I happened to be in the same city after a few years. And, so we met. At that time, I was under some amount of strain, and essentially keeping myself sane by read a TP book every night.

So, I mentioned the first encounter story to him. Except that he was certain that it had happened at the famous Best Book Stall at Lakdi ka Pool. He remembers Ahmed sir, the human recommender algorithm, telling him, “There is this author, Terry Pratchett, you should try reading him.”


  1. As unwilling then, as I am now, to admit ignorance, I said that I had heard the word used somewhere, but I didn’t quite remember the exact meaning at the moment.
  2. I used to think that the title, the author’s name, the introduction, the preface, the acknowledgement, the table of content, the dramatis personæ, everything other than the story were a waste of good story carrying pages. You know how booksellers used to claim refund for unsold (and about to be destroyed) copies by send back the cover page of paperbacks to the publisher, and how in truly Indian style, new but cover pageless paperbacks were available at a discount from the pavement book sellers: I thought those were brilliant! All the story, and less of the unimportant bits. Plus, it was like a mystery gift hamper.
  3. Lack there of, and the games these non-existent entities play.

———–

Orchestra!

I thought I had mentioned my love for Zeb and Haniya’s Laili Jaan during my earlier note on Coke Studio. But I hadn’t.

Anyway, today while watching the Behind the Scene video for the song, I decided to check the original by Ahmad Zahir, the Afghan Elvis. Quite liked it, even though it occasionally feels like an marriage orchestra band is playing the music.

BTW, this is the other song, that I love: the Baloch song, Laila O Laila by Rostam Mirlashari

I could have shared the Youtube link, but there are people arguing whether Sindhis are an ethenic group or not, bringing all the confusing that Indian and Pakistani commentators can bring. And no one needs to read that.

The Coke Studio site had the translation, but one of the really random things that they do when a new season starts is make it impossible to find stuff from the previous seasons.

—-

BTW, IIRC Rohail Hyatt is leaving Coke Studio. Hope it doesn’t implode after he leaves.

Brushing

Many years ago, I watched an interview of, or perhaps a feature on, a couple who had driven around the world in a car, or done some similar thing. The only thing I remember about it is them taking about an incident that happened after they had been on the road for a while. They stopped one morning to have breakfast and found that the things tasted a little weird. Perhaps they suspected the food, moved on and only later did they realize what had happened. Or perhaps they realized what had happened, as they chewed on the weird tasting food.

They had forgotten to brush their teeth.

I always found that story weird. I could never imagine not brushing my teeth, in the morning at least.

Till today. I have been staying out overnight, getting quite a bit less than my usual quota of sleep at night, waking up earlier than I am used to, and then coming home a few hours before noon. At which point in time, I would change, brush my teeth, and then check my mail/newsfeed while having breakfast. Except that today, I had to check something, so, I went ahead and turned to my mail immediately after getting back home. And by the time I was done with my chore, breakfast was ready.

It was only when I woke up in the evening, to shower, that I realized I had forgotten to brush my teeth.