Bots are the future.

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It’s a well known fact that we have some difficulty making friends as adults. Things aren’t quite as simple as they used to be when we were kids. We are far more cautious, inhibited and judgemental, preventing us from opening ourselves to meaningful friendships. If you are able to get beyond this, it’s still not enough because the other person must be in the same phase as you in order to forge a friendship. Well, this can be artificially curated by using social lubricants such as alcohol but it’s not sustainable. So how do we make way for strong meaningful friendships that last longer?

Honestly, I don’t have an answer but i have my own personal experience to share, which might give you some insight into what type of friendships live and which ones die. I have seen 2 types of friendships (oversimplifying of course) through my adultlife – one where i like to feel needed and another where i need someone and it’s important to figure out early on what’s in the relationship for you.

If you need someone and the other person locked in friendship on the other side is also in need of someone, this is doomed to be a failed relationship. Now if both your needs harmoniously alternate most of the time, that’s one phenomenal friendship, but it takes magic for this to happen and one that needs to nurtured over time.But like me, if you have just moved to a new country, have a young child that doesn’t allow you to have a social life or you are an introvert, chances are this is an exponentially bigger problem for you.

My office had a summer party two days ago, and I just cringed at the thought of being surrounded by thousands of strangers. I couldn’t have hung out with “normal” people (the ones without kids), because I’d be too distracted for them. I couldn’t have hung out with the “parents” as they’d have been too distracted for me. I’ve come to realize (the hard way, that too) that you won’t quite get what I mean unless you are a parent and  you vaguely want the same things as me in life.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love hanging out with people and having a great time but off-late, it’s been very challenging for just too many reasons, and not all of them have something to do with me. For instance, I’ve been trying to make plans for three weeks to go have coffee with our neighbours (yes, the folks who live next door!!!) and it keeps getting pushed. For instance, this would never happen back home, where I come from. The cost of socialising in this country is especially high for an introvert like me, who is also grappling with other life transitions.

Whenever there’s been a high cost of doing business, we have seen instances of machines taking over. So, although I am all for sitting down with someone for a coffee face to face, I think bots should replace humans as friends. I should be able to create my own friend, who will offer me anything and everything I want. Given that all my friendships are virtual and the most widely accepted mode of communication is over text (who the hell calls over phone nowadays, that’s just weird), I think chat bots can be life changing.

People should be able to store all their thoughts, and expected reciprocation and this bought should be able to use ML to become your best friend over time. That way, everybody would have a best friend. The more information you feed the friend, the more effective the friend is. You know what the best part is, there’s no way this bot would ever be moody, or jealous or get away from you after getting married, etc. The only down side with this though is data protection, which is also not a guarantee with friends, anyway because with information parity, there’s been a significant drop in loyalty in the world. Ok no, there’s more – I don’t necessarily want my bot to be sending ads my way, that would be damn annoying.

Well, I know this sounds mad, and sad, but you know what, loneliness is one of the biggest illnesses of our generation and if machines can help cure it like most other things in the world, then why not. So, if you are already trying to build this, let’s talk. I am no programmer, but I am a bit of a dreamer at least.

 

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Turning 31.. Urrgh

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It’s been 10 days since I turned 31, and now, I finally have the time to get started on this post I’ve been meaning to write for what feels like ages. If you read my birthday posts from the last couple of years, you will see that there is a similar theme around adulating and caring less about the “day” itself. I have gone from omg! no one’s bothered that its my birthday to I’m not even bothered myself anymore. It’s just another day, or let’s say a day that just makes you confirms you are ageing. I am definitely not my maternal grandmother, who likes to think otherwise. To be honest, I envy that about her.

How do people make peace with strands of hair getting mysteriously grey? How do people make peace with their body desperately trying to hide fat? How does one make peace with less than 8 hours of sleep everyday? How does one lose 20 years of their life in just few months of being a parent? How does a spouse turn into a logistics partner with whom there is little else to discuss but the amount your child pooped that day? Actually, I’ve made varying degrees of peace with most of them over the years, or months? Okay, I am losing track of time.

The one thing I am struggling to make peace with is my diminishing social circle. I remember celebrating my birthday every year for many many years. This always involved a cake, snacks and some friends. The last time I celebrated my birthday with friends was when the husband threw me a surprise the year we got married. But soon after, all of those friends moved to other cities, including myself. I still talk to my friends but it’s all over texts. I miss the warmth of hanging out with people whose company I genuinely enjoy and vice-versa. It’s so much harder to find this, the older you get and I haven’t quite figured out why.

I miss that constant shoulder to lean on, that ever open ear to whisper secrets into (I still do have a few!) and someone who would conspire with me to conquer the world, or atleast that’s what it felt like when I was younger. I think this craving for constancy, reliability, etc. is surely a sign of adulting. I find myself wanting this consistency even in other parts of my life like what I eat, when I sleep, etc. I have begun to value routine so much more, I no longer feel that urge to be random or spontaneous. I feel like my paternal grandfather, and just like him, I feel strangely content with my limited daily choices.

The husband calls me an old lady with a cat. I have a really good friend at work who thinks the same about himself. This somehow gives me some solace knowing that I am not alone. Something about women and wanting to do hold hands and do things together, including drowning, no?

Anyway, so, in my attempt to bring more discipline and routine into my life, I have decided to spend Wednesday evenings, writing. I literally just made this decision. Okay, I guess I am not as non-random as I thought I have become. But if I don’t keep up my word, believe me, it’s adulting and the responsibilities that come with it. For instance, I spent an hour trying to put my daughter to sleep and failed so miserably. After such a fail, it’s really hard to push yourself to do anything else with life the same evening, hence, this post is a desperate attempt to fight adulting and not meant to be a fine piece of literature.

Now I feel like this awkward person who is trying to leave but has spent so much time saying bye to people around that they’ve missed the bus to leave. So i’ll just go. Bye.

 

Being an NRI with a semi-swollen face

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If you think being an NRI is fancy, look at my semi-swollen face once and you’ll surely reconsider. For most part of my life, I have gotten away with minor ailments without really seeing a doctor. I really only go to a doctor/ dentist when things get really bad and desperately require medical attention. In that sense, UK is a great country for me. From the time you call the NHS and actually see a doctor, your “roga” will likely be fully cured, so you don’t even bother calling the NHS in the first place unless you need to go to the A&E.

Being anti-doctor means, there are only a handful of medical practitioners I trust and hence, wait till I see them to have any issues fixed. So, I usually have a few treatments scheduled every time I come to Bangalore. In the last 4 years that I have been away from Bangalore, I have come back 6 times and about 4/6 times, I have been sick or have had medical treatments scheduled. Out of the 4 times, I have had wisdom tooth extractions twice, which means I have had a semi-swollen face, where I look like a half-hanuman.

So what, you ask? This means, I have to pack all my eating out to a bare minimum since I have to allow enough time to heal before I head back, which means I can’t really have all my cravings satisfied. Screw the cravings, because I can cook most things I feel like eating, thanks to Hebbar Kitchen and the likes. But the family functions!!!! Although I love being able to meet all extended family in one place during a short visit home, I don’t love going in like a half-hanuman.

Given how often I see them with a half-swollen face, they have no reason to believe that I look any other way. They probably think I’ve taken to excessive drinking or lead a shitty life filling fuel at a gas station or running a video rental store (although the latter is kind of true because I run supply chain for Amazon’s movie business in the UK!). They probably think, “Aiyo papa, ille channagidru, alhogi yen kashtano!” (aww, they were fine right here, wonder what troubles they have back there). So, I try to overcompensate for what I believe their doubts might be, by trying to explain what it really is, over and over again.

Despite my hesitation to trust new medical practitioners, I think it’s time to put my private insurance to some use when I go back to London, just so I don’t spend half my time at home getting treated and the other half justifying the treatment.

Crossing milestones, experiencing new pains

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Every time you embark a new milestone in your life, you feel like you are alone. You feel things you have never felt before, you feel things that no one warned you about and while you are struggling to come to terms with what’s happening with you, someone comes along and tells you that what you are feeling is perfectly normal. For instance, when you loose your first milk tooth and you want to bury yourself in shame, people tell you that everyone goes through this and it’s perfectly normal. I suppose people have good intentions and want to ease your pain, but does that really make you feel better? Perhaps not. May be because you don’t care if it’s normal or not, but you just want the feeling to go away.

As a woman, when you start getting menstrual cramps and you think you won’t survive the day and people dismiss it as normal, it doesn’t help because the pain ain’t going anywhere. When you get married and you are squabbling every day with your partner about unimportant stuff, and people say it’s normal, it doesn’t make you feel better because you are so unhappy deep-down. When you have a child and suddenly no one, including your own husband and parents care about you anymore, and people come and tell you this is normal, it doesn’t make you feel better. Because being deeply unsettled is an unfamiliar feeling and people assuring you that you are supposed to be feeling this lousy is NEVER a good thing.

While the experiences feel strange, sometimes painful while we are in the midst of it, looking back, it begins to feel a lot more familiar. This probably causes people to dismiss the newness and strangeness that freshers are experiencing. If possible, we all would like to play a part in preventing someone from getting hurt, however, we can play a pretty significant role in how people perceive pain/ gain in the way we respond to them when they share their stories. When I say that I feel like a mother more often than I feel like a wife or a daughter, you could either say “Oh come on, that’s natural after having a child!” or you could say “Oh, why’d you say that? Tell me more about what you’re thinking?”

Now, depending on who you are, you might prefer one or another, but I definitely prefer the latter, because it indulges me and allows me to own my experience as my own rather than let every other mother on earth take credit for it.

Watching love as it ages

 

IMG_7207A school friend and I were discussing about the point (rather pointlessness) of life and we concluded that it is gene propagation; food and sex are just means to it. Sex is very primal and over the years, we as a society have started making random associations with it such as love, etc. So, love is a man-made concept and like all man-made concepts, it’s quite subjective, fluid and hard to define. Thanks to literature, and now media, we have a nice little template to go with.

If you are 16 (or probably younger today), love is that feeling which gives you the tingle, makes your groin ache and what not. If you are in your 30s, love is that feeling when your husband surprises you with roses even on your 10th anniversary, and you can put that on Instagram. When you are in your 50s, love is that hypothetical feeling when your husband praises your culinary skills in front of your family and friends. Given that the husband would never do such things, your love probably died the day you had kids. When you are in your 70s or 80, it is love when your husband holds your hand while crossing the road. But then you think he is trying to act like he is 16, because love is only for youngsters no?

I’d like to argue that love can be so much more, but we are limiting its potential by trying to confine ourselves to the template thrown at us by a large data set of movies with stereotypical plots of love and it’s implications on our lives. Ask anyone who has lived a long life (I mean like over 40-50 years) with a companion and all they have left of this person is memories, they will tell you what love felt like for them. If we all left love to take over our lives and let it do it’s magic without trying to control it every minute, I am sure we will have so many more stories about love to tell our next generation. Okay, I haven’t asked anyone about love when they are old and withering, and it’s hard to guess either because social conditioning makes us feel like its wrong to feel romantic love as we grow old.

We like to think of love as a short-lived fleeting feeling one only feels once or twice at the most in their entire lives. That’s because we still think of love as being that pain in the groin, and the thing that you feel down there in your 70s is just herpes. But what if love is not just about someone whispering sweet nothings in your ear or running their fingers down your neck. What if love were to walk into your life in a disguise, would you ever know? The problem is we don’t recognise the face of love as it ages, it only feels familiar in retrospect. The same love that you feel for someone when you are 16, grows into a different person as you grow older. This 3rd person called love in your life evolves with you.

What if I told you love is that feeling of exhaustion (or relief) when you walk into a house that looks like a disaster, but your partner has managed to put your toddler to bed by the time you got back home from a tiring day at work. If you are 50, love is that feeling of frustration you feel when your husband won’t let you sleep in late even on a Sunday because he can’t start the day without your home cooked breakfast. If you are 70 or 80, love is that feeling of helplessness you feel when your wife won’t give up on trying to change you even after 40-50 years of marriage.

Most of us have probably been in love once or twice, but watching love as it ages is a whole new experience all together, I think.

Temple Go-ers

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After having lived in West London for nearly a year, we decided to go see South hall to belt some Punjabi food. As soon as we got out of the South hall railway station, we were surrounded by the whiff of mind-blowing food from the neighbouring Gurudhwara. We were no tempted to go inside and check if there’s food for non-Sikh people. We chickened out and made our way to this highly rated restaurant in the area which turned out to have the shittiest service I’ve seen anywhere till date.

Later I learnt that we could have very well gone to the Gurudhwara as there was free lunch being served to everyone. I also learnt about other temples and churches that dole out delicious free food to everyone. I learnt that there is a temple very close to where I live that serves delicious dinner as prasadam on Friday evenings and so we promptly headed there Friday evening. This temple is called Kanaga Turkai Amman kovil, and based on the misplaced ka and ga, I am guessing it’s of tamil origin. Everyone was dressing in very traditional Indian clothes, clad in jewellery, etc. I have never dressed up to go to a temple, so I felt a bit out of place here. I was constantly worried about getting caught. Caught for what, I am not sure.

People started reciting some shloka type thing from laminated sheets with English and tamil writing, that was being passed around to everyone. Sitting amidst all the unfamiliar chanting, I couldn’t help but think of what Yuval Noah Harari had to say about religion and how it is yet another imagined order. The way I’ve understood God, is that he/ she always existed, before all humans and before all animals. And most well respected temples back home are old very old temples that have existed from before our grandparents. Also, most of the time, there is a story like Old Rama stopped here on his way to Lanka, or Ravan dropped this Linga on his way from Kasi and so on, which makes the idol holier than a piece of stone some humans erected. The older the story, the more authentic the temple seems since more generations can vouch for its “powers”.

While finding directions to the temple, I read a review on google that said this temple is great because a lot of senior devotees come here. Now, this Ganesha in Ealing, did he come from India? How did he get past immigration? What visa is he on? How long has he been here? What are his powers? or do people just come here to feel a sense of community? I had so many questions, and I think I would have been more at ease if I knew the back story of this temple. Although, I was floored by these people who had left their lands (myself included), but brought their collective imaginations along.

All of us had our own reasons to be there, some to flaunt their jewellery, some to ask for happiness, some for the food, some out of practice, some to celebrate our collective imagination and some to just scream and run around like Berry. Ok, Berry wasn’t screaming but was surely running around some boy who was screaming and running to get her attention. These kids were truly having a good time, because how often do you scream and run around people who look familiar (people wearing saris and panches), without your parents constantly dragging you to behave in this country where manners matter more than feelings?

But as all good things have to come to an end, one elderly lady kept coming to us and asking us to control this boy who was screaming and running around. One, we didn’t know who this boy was, because his parents were no where in the scene and two, Berry didn’t quite fit the typical temple go-er profile, as it’s people like this lady (senior devotees who celebrate our imagined orders) who drive better google reviews for the temple, we decided to leave. No doubt, Berry screamed being tucked into the shackles of her carrier but stepping out made me break free from the shackles of a collective imagined order I no longer believe in.

P.S – I am not an atheist. I am not a non-believer of idol worship. I am just a sucker for stories. Thank you, Yuval Noah Harari for opening my mind, for allowing me to see the universe from a perspective I hadn’t known for over a third of my life.

“Feeling” homeless

A couple of years ago, I was a resident of Spain (where I didn’t have a home anymore), working in Indonesia (living in an Airbnb) and trying to move to the US for an exchange program (where I was still looking for a house). I was in India for a two week holiday, and technically I should have felt home, on the contrary, I was feeling terribly unsettled for not being able to feel at home anywhere in any of the 4 countries at the intersection of which my life lay.

One of my friends thought it sounded like a first world problem, and may be it was, but a problem it was nevertheless. I was hoping it was a phase, and it would pass. Two years hence, I am once again at the same place. 10 months ago, I moved to London convinced that my real home was always going to be Bangalore despite remembering what my cousin-in-law had once told me about being abroad “As long as you think your home is back in India, you will never make an attempt to make a home outside, grow your social network and so on”. The thing is, for the longest time I believed that I could never live anywhere else but Bangalore, and so despite my best efforts, I can’t feel home anywhere but Bangalore.

I had booked my tickets to Bangalore within a couple of months of moving to London, and so you can imagine, the countdown to this trip felt like forever unlike the actual trip itself which lasted 12 days. I thought I was going to feel at home. I landed in Bangalore, and went straight home, or atleast what used to be home before I moved to London. Although it felt like I’d never left (thanks to my family back home who had helped maintain our house while we were away), I couldn’t feel at home. I thought it was jetlag. I was surrounded by all my close family and friends, shared every meal with someone or the other, yet something was missing.

This has got me questioning on what constitutes a home if not for the people who make up my life? Is it my room? Is it my desk? Is it a definite routine? Or is it just the simple belief that some place (any place really) is actually home? Growing up, every time I felt unsettled and needed a fresh start, I would want to skip school/ college, spend the day re-organizing my room and spending some quality time with myself, penning down my thoughts. I used to feel at home in the confines of my room, rather my solitude. Ever since I’ve been married, and more so since I’ve been a mum, I have traded the option of occasional me-time (in my own room) to being drowned in constant company (read shared bedrooms or study).

Now, while this seems like yet another first world problem, “me time” is super important for all of us, sometimes just to pause, reflect and so on. May be that’s why people have a prayer room instead, because it seems like a legit reason to not be disturbed?