New Year’s Eve

 It is New Year’s Eve.  I am sitting by the side of the window of my flat overlooking the most modern hub of Mumbai, the Bandra Kurla Complex contemplating whether to go out to celebrate the New Year’s Eve in a restaurant or sit at home and watch the television. My son and daughter-in-law in any case have decided to party out. My wife and me finally decide to stay at home and have a quiet dinner. We are getting old, we don’t like going out too much and generally avoid outside food. The world outside has changed. When we moved into this flat, through the same window I could see a long stretch of Mithi river and the entire expanse of sky scrappers of BKC. Today, few ugly buildings have come in between curtailing the view and the sunlight, which we had enjoyed for over a decade. The Mithi River that is supposedly cleaned every year has started giving foul smell even during the non-monsoon period. Added to all this is the constant noise of tunnel-drilling coming from the site of metro station ( coming up for last many years) next door adds to the misery of the residents of the locality. The dust in the air and inside the flat has increased- pollution is increasing and the pulmonary problems are on the rise in Mumbai city.But we have no option but to be patient and tolerant.

 All roads around our locality are either dug up or partly occupied by the Metro-workers. Walking on the roads is no longer safe. Senior citizens are scared to go out for a walk. The two old men ( of the light weight category) acting as traffic cops at the free flowing red-light junction are themselves scared to step ahead to stop the speeding vehicles. They whistle though, which is never heard in the din of the honking cars and speeding auto rickshaws. They have been especially chosen for this job, because they are peace loving non-interfering types. Sometimes I say hello to them as I venture to cross the road in order to go to the post office to speed-post my books or film-DVDs to various people.

Driving a car on Mumbai roads has become the riskiest thing. Every morning one reads about pedestrians being knocked down by the rash drivers. Bikers are toppling over the permanent potholes on the roads landing under the wheels of the speeding trucks or buses. I am scared of driving on Mumbai roads not knowing which pothole or man-hole has been designed for me.

Water logging on the roads during the unusually long monsoon period has become a permanent feature of Mumbaikar’s life. Commuters are falling off the local trains losing hands, legs sometimes their life. None of this makes any difference to anyone in this city of dreams. Life goes on as usual, even if people get buried under the collapsing bridges and inside the debris of falling buildings. Their photos provide the content for the newspapers and television channels for a few days and then get replaced by new set of images. Human life is not so important, business is. And so is the business of politics. After all it is the business capital of India. Commerce must rule the city.

The safest way to live in this city is to close the windows of your flat, lock the door from inside and watch television. But the news on TV is also not good. India just lost a match in T20. I switch off the TV and pick up my pen.

Mumbai Meri Jaan

For me coming to Mumbai was like leaving the safe heaven of a Public sector job and jumping into the unpredictable world of the Private sector. I had heard stories about the ruthless dog-eats-dog world of private sector jobs and how difficult it was to survive in a private sector bank, where one had to prove one’s utility on day-to-day basis in order to survive in the system. All these notions largely turned out to be true. From the slow paced routinised world of public sector banking, the private sector demanded hard work, results and the ability to meet new challenges every day. It was the survival of the fittest in an environment, where your peers were ready to dislodge you any moment you slowed down your speed or lowered your guards. However, there was a positive effect of all these challenges. Once I started taking up these demands seriously, it brought out the best in me. It kicked the best of my elements and helped me sharpen and hone my  skills professionally as well as personally. The constant stream of challenges forced me to learn new things on day-to-day basis and keep expanding my domain of knowledge and expertise. Looking back, I think, this habit of incremental learning has kept me going in my life and helped me in exploring new dimensions in my life. It has made me happier, more confident and also improved me as a person. Suddenly, this demanding new world of challenges, allowed me to uncover the latent creative instincts inside me and lo the life exploded !. So much so that my deep-rooted desire to become a filmmaker came to surface, which helped me to finally discover the calling of my life. All this thanks to the gruelling and glittering world of Mumbai.

The Joy of Anonymity

As destined I did not make it to IAS in spite of my best efforts and joined a bank, which took me to the city of Delhi and then finally with the change of bank in mid nineties I landed in the city of Mumbai.  The smell of Mumbai city was very different from the dry smell of Lucknow or Delhi.  The dampness in Mumbai air generates a smell which is unique, more so in South Mumbai, where my office was situated. Getting a cabin in the office that gave an unrestricted view of the deep blue sea was a kind of a milestone in my mental journey towards the high point of my professional career. Due to family circumstances for about an year I stayed in Mumbai alone. Everyday after office hours, I took a leisurely walk beside the sprinting sea waves, holding roasted peanuts in hand and watching the colourful crowd around that was glued into their own world without bothering to know what the person sitting next was doing . It was pleasantly a new experience for me. I felt part of an exalted world yet all by my self. For the first time in my life I experienced the joy of anonymity. This was bliss for a small town boy -the joy of doing what you wanted to do without bothering about the gaze of the prying eyes. Sitting alone on the edge of the boulders watching the setting sun and dreaming to make it big in this city became an evening routine. The sea soaked breeze splashing my face with its intoxicating smell, further invigorated my dreams. The huge expanse of blue sea in front of me seemed to invite me into its fold. The big and beautiful world of dreams was beckoning at me, calling me, challenging me. I fell in love with Mumbai.

Small dreams of a small town boy

In the mid seventies, Lucknow was a small peaceful town and walking on the streets or the footpath used to be an enjoyable activity. While going to school , I used to walk past the majestic street of Hazratganj ( walking up and down this stretch of half a km used to be called ‘ganjing’ ). However , while walking alone on the streets of Hazratganj I used to be apprehensive of one danger , which was always lurking around .The danger of ‘ganjing’ was that someone, who knew me directly or indirectly could spot me there and derive his or her own interpretations about my character. So even while browsing old books at the pavement shops, I used to look around over my shoulders to make sure that I was not being observed before flipping through the coloured pages of the magazines. Such was the case while looking at the posters of English films in Mayfair or Besant talkies also. Once in a while driven by my fascination for cinema, I used to quietly slip into the darkness of Mayfair theatre to watch films like Sara Aakash, Garam Hawa, Bhuvashome, Ka Purush Maha Purush and Ankur. All these films not only created a latent desire in me to become a filmmaker, but also made me dream of the city of Mumbai.

The main activity that occupied the mind space at that age was only to become something in life and migrate to a world of power, money and prestige. Therefore, focus on academics was nearly a full time activity so much so that there was a hand written weekly calendar pasted on the wall over my study table designating how many minutes were to be wasted on daily chores including eating and bathing. As my father was in the employment of the state government, his dream of seeing his son as an IAS officer was drilled into my consciousness day in and day out, without ever bothering to know what was lying beneath the upper layer of my porous consciousness.

 So much was the pressure to get into IAS that I landed up renting a room in the University hostel, to live separately so that I could devote my entire time to studies. One day, my father along with an ex-army friend of his decided to do a check on me and dropped into the hostel for a surprise visit. It so happened that at that time, I was studying with a friend of mine sitting in his room. Infuriated at not finding me in my room, he assumed that I had gone for watching a film and left after slipping a long piece of lecture written on the inside cover of a used envelop and declaring that I had gone astray and my future was doomed. His anger was reflected in the unusually large size of the letters he used in that piece of admonition and advice. Then one day when I had come out of the hostel to have a cup of tea at a restaurant, which for no fault of mine, happened to be located near a girl’s hostel, one of my relatives happened to pass by and he dutifully informed my parents that I was loafing around a girl’s hostel whistling at girls coming out of the hostel. So much for the small town and its invisible prying eyes.

Down the lover’s lane

I was born and brought up in Lucknow, a small town or a city, as the same was referred to in sixties and seventies. Today it is classified as an A class city with Metro service running across the city and has become the nerve centre of national politics. In early seventies when I was growing up in this town, life used to be slow placed and walking on the roads alone while going and coming from school used to be an enjoyable activity, specially if one had to pass through the most fashionable high street of Lucknow called Hazratganj. We were lucky to stay at a house that was close to Hazratganj and while going and coming to school I had to pass through the street of Hazratganj ,particularly its narrowest lane called the lover’s lane. I never saw any ‘lovers’ there but the narrow lane had few interesting shops and many youngsters, male and female, used to loiter around those shops to browse through the magazines and old books that were on display. One of these shops, besides selling old books, used to sell curios and old postal stamps . Collecting postal stamps of different countries used to be a hobby of the youngsters of my generation. In order to buy those stamps, I used to walk up and down from my home at Narhi to Queen’s college- a distance of about 3 kilometres. This walk was not only an exploration of life around (it passed through narrow by lanes as well as cinema theatres like Mayfair and Besant) but also helped me save the daily ‘bus fare’, which was then used to buy those smelly stamps. Some times I saved enough to buy a magazine called Junior Statesman or JS as it was called by the trendy lot of my generation. Reading and contributing small articles in JS made me feel as if I was more stylish and ‘hep’ ( whatever it means) than the rest of my friends. Besides carrying news and articles focused on youth affairs, JS used to carry a cartoon by the name of ‘ Love is…’ wherein a teenaged boy and girl were depicted coyly exchanging cupid glances with blurbs like…’Love is. …Using the same bus stop as hers.’ Inspired by these cupid cartoons, I started making my own version of the cartoon by imitating the figures of the boy and girl and inventing my own blurbs. For quite some time, I used to write my name as ‘ Omi ‘, wherein ‘O’ was configured as the face of the boy depicted in the cartoon. So much for the smell of those old magazines ( given on rent), postal stamps and the popcorns, coming out of the machine kept at the entrance of the shop.

Orbit of Life

Our journey of life is similar to the journey of a satellite orbiting around the Earth. Fitted with a camera constantly focused at Earth, the satellite goes around the orbit getting a 360* view of the Earth. Similarly as we age, we move on a trajectory getting a 360* view of the central object called ‘Life.’

While our journeys have individual trajectories, we all rotate around the same object called Earth or Life leaving different footprints and scripting different stories. Though our individual journeys in our own satellites continue one after the other, depending on the time of our arrival on Earth , the central object of focus called ‘Life’ remains unmoved just rotating at its own axis ad infinitum.

Logically, therefore, those who travelled in their satellites in the orbit around the Earth ahead of us ‘experienced’ it ‘earlier’ & ‘more’ than those of us who followed. Simply put our seniors in age  have a better view of Life, than those of  us who followed them.

Age, as they say, gives you experience or insight or wisdom, which the younger ones would get only after orbiting the Earth for their share of time.

Hey Google, what’s my name ?

Google has become an integral part of our life, especially the life of the millennial. Every few minutes we refer to Google to figure out something or the other- the way to reach a destination, traffic on the road, weather forecast, location of nearest petrol station, destination for our next vacation, review of the hotel we want to stay, time for the flight to catch, clarification on new income tax rule, review of a book or a film and so on.

Goggle has become our friend, advisor and mentor for practically everything in life. There is no need to visit libraries, banks, malls, cinema halls or borrow a book from a friend. There is no need to remember anything now. Scholars in ancient times used to memorise entire books and histories. Now we are reduced to even checking a 8-digit telephone number on our cell phone.  We just do not want to remember any thing. Every information is available on a click of a button 24×7.

The Google Effect

Online access to information is changing the social power dynamics also. We are on our own. It gives us a sense of empowerment as well.

As the technology advances and our dependence on Google or online information increases, we are experiencing what is called digital amnesia-the experience of forgetting information that we trust a digital device to store and remember for us. People don’t want to waste their brain cells on remembering a phone number or a password ; they would rather use that grey matter to keep track of the latest twist on their favourite TV serial or think about the theme of the next party they need to throw for their friends.

After all, isn’t that the idea behind so many of today’s computing concepts, ranging from enterprise content management systems to the big data, that the computer can keep much more of this stuff in its brain than we can? That way we can spend our time using information instead of remembering it? The ability to ‘outsource’ our memory function to external devices simply means we start using our minds in a new way, anthropologically speaking. People can now even begin to adopt the auxiliary brains. A research by Harvard and the Universities of Columbia and Wisconsin showed that the way young people in the US remembered information was changing as a result of being able to find information on line, they would rather recall where the information was stored. The researchers called this ‘the Google effect’

The flip side

Doom mongers warn that increasing levels of big data, automation and artificial intelligence could create disruptions in life beyond what we could think of.  We can see signs of a smombie sensation  (smombie is a combo of smartphone and zombie) that is developing across the world. Its ramifications are widespread, but nothing more chilling than South Korea’s example where trials are in progress for traffic lights to be put on the ground so that busy-on smart-phone people don’t end up running over each other.

Brain- processor & server

According  to American Researcher Paul Reber our brain has the capacity to remember approximately 2.5 Petabytes- that is 2500,00 GB or 300 years of worth of TV. While long-term capacity is almost unlimited short-term memory lasts for about 20 seconds and an average person can hold in working memory only two to seven objects of information. (Miller’s Law).

Think of our brain as a shell or a processing centre, where all the information that we receive is dumped and processed as per the directives given by our brain cells.  In earlier times, most of the information dumped into the brain shell was allowed to stay there and processed or mulled over a period of time. We had the need to keep it there and recall it again and again till we reached a decision. Today, the brain does not feel the need to store or process most of the information as the same is supposed to be readily available any time required and ,therefore , the same information is allowed to get dissolved or dissipated or erased without getting processed and transferred to the ‘memory compartment’.  This is analogous to saying that our brain processor used to be working harder earlier and the memory compartment had ‘much more to store’ than what is required in the Internet times. Additionally, as larger quantity of information was required to be processed earlier the RAM (random access memory) the power of the processor required was much higher as compared to what is required in the Google times. In a way, the hard work, which the brain was required to do earlier for processing or converting the information into the memory has come down drastically. This means the RAM required for our brains is lower today than what was required in pre-Google times.

With other technologies like artificial intelligence in the speeding up, the use of brainpower is expected to further go down causing the digital amnesia to grow. Studies have shown that people are more likely to forget information that can be found online. That means as information becomes more easily available our short memory might be negatively impacted.

The Internet may well be making us think we are smarter than we really are, but this could be a serious trend to watch. Sadly, the number of people, who can think for themselves, is declining.

No wonder, if one day, we wake up in the morning and ask Google, Hey Google, what’s my name?