[Editor’s Note: I’ve been meaning to write this post for sometime. This needs mention because this post has the rare distinction of having only a 2 week gestation period (the median post is more like 3-6 months). On a flight back from Delhi, I started writing. The battery went kaput after two paragraphs. Undeterred, I pulled out my trusty ‘paper’ notebook and continued. An hour later I was done with 95%. The remaining 5% I finished this evening.]
I once had a farm in Africa.
Remember that Meryl Streep movie where she talked about farms and donderstorms? Her nostalgic recollections of a bygone era were always prefaced with I once had a farm in Africa.
For the past six years, I’ve been having my own I once had a farm moment. Every time I’d near a bookstore, I’d wistfully mutter to a companion: I was pathologically incapable of passing one of these without buying at least one book.
I have finally made peace with the fact that my best reading years are behind me.
As a kid with a voracious appetite for reading, I dreamed of being in a house full of books or someday having the “largest collection of books”. After acquiring a formidable collection of books across genres in my 16 years in US, I unexpectedly reached a point where I stopped buying books. When we sold our house in California, we sold (or gave away to Salvation Army) practically everything except four suitcases and an Apple Mac G4.
There were also sixteen boxes of books that remained with us! These sixteen boxes contained our “Noah’s Ark of books”. I surprised myself by selling at least 40-50 pulp fiction titles (Ludlum, Cussler, Jeffrey Archer, etc.). Selling ANY book would have been anathema in a former life but here I was doing it with ease.
What about them sixteen boxes? Half of them were stowed away in my sister’s garage and the other half in my cousin’s attic. Over the years, my friends and family have kindly shipped a subset (maybe 30%) of those books as they made trips to Bangalore.
And here was my next surprising learning… I had not missed my books all those years!
In our first year in Bangalore, we made it to the annual Book Fair at Palace Grounds. Returned with a dozen books. The damage could have been more if our younger son didn’t need to go to the bathroom. Twice.
Turns out that book fair binge (a mere dozen!) is the high water mark of my Bangalore years.
Wow. How things changed in the past 8 years. Not buying books anymore. Selling books. Stowing away my precious books in people’s attics for a seemingly eternal duration. And NOT MISSING THEM!
When I bought my first set of books from Amazon.com, they sent a purple-blue fridge magnet with this quote from Cicero – A room without books is like a body without a soul.
Had I become soulless?
Sometime last year, as I sauntered into a friend’s study, I was struck by the eerie resemblance to one of my childhood dreams – two (or was it three?) walls adorned with book cases from floor to ceiling and stacked cheek-to-jowls with books. You’d need a ladder to access half the books (even if you were Hakeem Olajuwon).
My instinctive reaction was ‘Wow!’ but as I walked back to my apartment, I thought to myself, that’s SO not me anymore!
I was a packrat no more. I was a hoarder no more. I was a book collector no more.
I still remember that chap (during my Arlington Heights, Chicago years) who borrowed Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and never returned it but that’s a whole different story.
Squash was the love of my sporting life… until I moved to Bangalore and (through a strange combination of circumstances) switched to running.
I played two games of squash in 2009 and spent the next 5 years harboring illusions of ‘returning to squash’. I finally exorcised that illusion last year when a squash marker (from a local club) came over to pick up my complete squash gear – 1 Black Knight titanium racquet, 1 Dunlop graphite racquet, a dozen Dunlop balls, a tournament bag, a pair of well-maintained Prince non-marking sole shoes. The only thing I retained as a keepsake was a pair of protective eyewear (outdated prescription if I may add!)
Last month I attended a runner couple’s wedding reception at the Koramangala Club. Mahindra had recently released this e2o testimonial video (featuring me) and my friends very well and truly tickled. One of my friends was particularly curious. Here’s how that conversation went:
(Fr)iend: So how did that video come about? How did they ‘find’ you?
Me: Well, I’ve been active on Twitter for a while. Every now and then I’d tweet something delightful about the Reva-i (owned it for 3 years) and eventually about the e2o (we sold our petrol car also in the process). As you know, I’ve also been blogging and tweeting about barefoot running and minimalism. So I popped up on Mahindra’s social media agency’s radar. They contacted me… one thing led to another and before I knew it the e2o marketing team was in my office interviewing me about all things e2o, minimalism and sundry. It eventually led to a photoshoot (at their factory in Bommanahalli) and later to the video shoot that became this video.
Fr: So what is this minimalism thing all about?
Me: Basically consume less. In every possible way. The Reduce. Reuse. Recycle mantra applied to every facet of your life. Eat less food, preferably plant-based. Buy less clothes. Use them longer. Reduce gadget purchases and make them last longer.
Me: (just about warming up) You know Gandhi was a minimalist, right?
Fr: Yeah sure but that was for a purpose. To secure freedom for India. What is the point of minimalism for minimalism’s sake?
Me: But what is wrong with minimalism as an end in itself?
I reckon my friend either tuned out by this time or we got interrupted because I don’t recall what else I added. I know I invoked Dhruva (the world’s original and baddest minimalist stud) but that’s a separate blog post.
Here’s how I’d have continued…
We are living in a bad ass maximal world. You lift a rock, move a twig, open your Facebook page or scan your Twitter feed, and it’s hard to miss the Type A go-getters (are there any non-Type A’rs left in this world?) emoting some version of the following:
- One life. Do MORE.
- Just DO it!
- Why run a marathon when you can run an ultra?
- Why run a triathlon when you can run an Ironman?
- Bucket lists and BUCKET LISTS!
- I have traveled to 52 countries but I HAVE to check off 25 more dream destinations before I f@#$# die!
- I HAVE to see every movie that gets released on the FIRST weekend (however crappy the reviews might be) otherwise my life wouldn’t be complete.
- I HAVE to checkout that new restaurant that’s trending on Zomato.
- I want EVERY dine-out to be the most magical and gourmet experience ever.
- I HAVE to watch EVERY match of the FIFA World Cup AND the Cricket World Cup AND every Tennis Grand Slam match AND every golf tournament that McIllroy (or Tiger or whoever) is playing AND live-tweet/FB every f@#$#$ ‘notable’ moment.
- I HAVE to take at least two annual vacations and post 62 pictures of glorious vistas and breathtakingly ecstatic family visages
- I HAVE to be at the heart of an all-consuming startup AND be a model father AND spend quality time with my family
I have thought long and hard on why minimalism has captured my imagination. Picture the ultimate minimalist and the ultimate maximalist as two extremes on the multi-dimensional experience spectrum. The former needs nothing (not even breath) and there’s no greater personification than the sage Dhruva. The latter has experienced everything and either desires more or (maybe) sees the wisdom of the other extreme.
The path to maximalism is a cycle of consumption experiences that keep spawning never-ending Hydras of new consumption patterns that can only end when you die. My maximalist friends will present as Exhibit A a Facebook infographic on the lines of live life to the fullest and crash land into your coffin.
I rather fancy walking towards a point. Peeling and shedding along the way. Crazy for sure. Painful for sure. But in the theoretical realm of probability, no?
Last Friday night, I was on MG Road. I had some time to kill so wandered into the iconic bookstore Book Worm. My last visit was around six years ago but it might as well have been yesterday. My nonchalant gaze caught a few new titles, classics like Bronte and Hardy, a few beat-up Biggles, a stack of Wodehouses. Normally the last would bring a smile to my face and I would invariably reach for ONE of them – it didn’t matter whether it was the Psmith title I had somehow not read or the Lord Elmsworth story I had read a dozen times. But this day was different. My scan went uninterrupted like the inexorable lighthouse beam. I finally picked up one book to set it right on the shelf (can you believe I forgot what it was already?)
I started walking out and glanced one last time at the row of books close to the exit. It was the Murakami section that made me stop. I knew Murakami “the runner” (via his What I talk about when I talk about running) but I had only heard about Murakami “the fiction writer”. I picked up a title. It was Sputnik Sweetheart. Opened to a page randomly and started reading. A few minutes later I thought “Hmm.. that’s an interesting twist right there in one page. Wonder where it leads to.”
I walked out of the store. Who’s got time for a Murakami fiction title? Not me. At least not in 2015. Maybe next year or maybe never.