How YouTube taught me how to swim

6 years ago, I had joined swimming lessons in Brisbane, Australia where I was paying & learning per class. After a couple of classes, I could float and also learnt the leg movement for freestyle swimming. But even after 10 sessions, I was unable to learn the breathing technique. That was the end of my first real attempt at learning how to swim.

Last year (2013), I joined another monthly group class in Bangalore. The teacher turned out to be as strict as Adolph Hitler but sleazy like no 56-year old. Yes, the second class was a disappointing revelation of the wrong kind of teacher to learn anything from. I & my cousin went out looking for another place to learn. I was getting desperate as I knew I enjoyed the water but had a deep desire to cruise through it like it was home. I found a pool guard who offered to train me. Just watching him swim was so calming and inspiring at the same time. My aspiration found a definition. Alas, I couldn’t keep up with the schedule or the discipline to follow through the course.

This year I moved to San Francisco and from the balcony of my 8th floor flat, I could see the beautiful landscape pool that stood in the centre of the concrete jungle. I had lots of free time and a pool calling out. I decided to jump and figure out how to swim. However, I did something different. One of my friends had learnt to swim by watching YouTube videos. I decided to give it a try.

Week 1 & Week 2 – Fix freestyle swimming

I was able to get the hand movement right, my breathing position became comfortable and I developed a standard speed of movement. Most of all, I was able to do 10 laps, each lap of 100 feet by the end of Week 2. I had developed a course, count and goal for every swimming lesson.

The two videos that helped me were :

How to pull under water

How to swim faster

I continued to practice these till I got better. But then it was time for the next lesson.

Week 4 & Week 5 : Breaststroke

I like the way butterfly stroke or breaststroke looks when people swim. Naturally I wanted to learn it. However, my last attempt ended in me giving up, since I couldn’t bring my head out of the water the right way. It’s after I checked my video lessons that I realized I was doing it all wrong. I noted the sequence of hand and leg movement, and tried it through the width of the pool in 4 feet water. A few sessions went in just getting the style right. Few days later, I started my laps with breaststroke and continued in freestyle for the deeper end. It’s amazing how gradually I could increase the distance for breaststrokes and one day, I was cheering for myself because I completed an entire lap moving like a butterfly in water.

That was the day I truly wanted to acknowledge how immensely useful YouTube swimming videos are.

Simply Swim – Perfect Breastroke

Speedo (Slightly more instructional)

And here I am, swimming through a pool in my friend’s apartment (I didn’t do my sessions here).

Of course, having a swimming pool in your apartment area is a big advantage and that accelerated my learning as well.

I hope to be able to dive into a pool someday soon.

 

 

Possessions

The word can be a noun, a verb, an experience or an after-effect. Shuhei Morita’s animated short film is all of it, and more. The film’s introduction is with a Japanese belief that “in 100 years, objects will acquire souls and trick people”. One can quite easily guess what the film is all about. But wait, your guess is as good as mine. The colorful, spooky, cheeky and cute skit is full of surprises and it intrigues you in a way that you would be left craving for more.

It’s really too short for a creative masterpiece.

Possessions

Artwork on the characters is larger than life yet very life-like. Every stroke of an illustration seems to hold value. The graphic design also renders a culturally centric yet globally appealing personality to everything. The film is animated in Manga style mixed with occasional film noir. At the top of the treat is the visual depth, as a new visual layer unfolds with every narrative twist. It’s like a flip book, except the pages are transparent.

The original language of the film is Japanese but nothing seems to be lost in translation as the English subtitles seem to befit the storyline very well. The plot is in-tune with the fast yet deep changes that are redefining world societies. Ironically the story is crafted and narrated in a very childlike way. So, a 5-year old may not get the final message but will nevertheless be spellbound with the elaborate, evocative art. And a 50-year-old may not relate to the voice of the characters but will definitely connect with their spirits.

The only disappointment, which probably is intentional, is that after trapping you with its magical show, it suddenly ends. It’s like you were really enjoying the meal when it got over and you smirk at your own expectation of it being everlasting. At that moment, if you were truly enjoying the film, you would be subconsciously widening your eyes as if that would help you see more; know more; feel more. You would realise that the film has indeed, in its own special way, possessed you.

Thunderstruck

I can’t believe I didn’t hear these guys before. The Croation boys are nothing short of adrenaline rich music-cocktails.

This particular cover of AC/DC’s original sounds mostly inspired and very mildly copied. Because I hear a range of instruments and it transports me to some Carnatic Classical concerts with the sound of Ghatam at 3:19 and gamakka-loaded violin bowing throughout. Of course, the rock-effect is unmissable. I have replayed this uncountable times and I have noticed more than I should have.

Like at 2:34, I saw the little girl in the audience loosening up with the head swaying with the beats and hands raised in the air. In fact, I now associate my growing-up with the change in expressions, emotions that the girl portrays. The Indian classical training that i went through and the concerts that i attended came alive as I noticed the cultured, proper and withheld hearts watching 2Cellos play. I was being trained to be a part of that tradition. It was after 20 years of believing tradition is culture and I had to preserve it , that I realised I was wrong.

Life liberated me when I found it in myself. And culture defined me when I discovered it in freedom.

OTN Monster

“That shampoo bottle is going to fall on it; the blade is going to cut through it; that high-heeled woman is going to step on it; you are going to keep the table on it”

Startled, I wake up; every day, during the day.

When I cook, when I eat, when I clean, when I swim, when I walk – every moment and every activity is an opportunity for the nightmare to show up. Except it shows up whenever I’m not sleeping. As if I get any good sleep anyway.

There is blood, there’s flesh everywhere; it’s a psychopath’s masterpiece and a sociopath’s well-forgotten moment. It’s meaningless yet full of possibilities. It unfolds itself whenever it feels like, as if I’m its only curator, only audience and the only admirer.

Let me tell you how it entered my life first.

I have this toenail problem. My nails just fall off, like I were a witch or something. They call it ‘calcium deficiency’ but no amount of milk has managed to keep my nails from coming-off on the slightest touch. It’s funny that even during my wedding, when my feet were painted, my toes were the eyesores in the beautiful henna design. But I am used to my topless toe. So, why is it any different now?

One of my toenails decided to die a few days back. No pain, no warning, nothing.

“Oh well.” I thought and went on with my life.

Until that disturbing morning when I was about to go and swim, and this nagging feeling that something is going to go grossly wrong, grew in me. I thought that if I stepped into the pool with that toe exposed, I would hit some random corners while swimming and the water will turn red.

I just bandaged that nail and swam. It helped for a few days.

Yesterday, I was taking shower. So, I used the shampoo and kept the new, big bottle back into the shelf just above the bathtub.

“Thud”, I heard a loud noise.

The bottle fell next to my feet and in a second, the open-toenail(OTN) monster came laughing in front of me.

“What if it had fallen onto my nail?” I freaked out.

I had my breakfast and the monster was still yelling intermittently in my head. I wasn’t able to understand why I was feeling the way I was. And why in the world would I let bother something as trivial as a broken toenail to take over my sanity? Why?

And then, at that moment I realised and saw very, very clearly.

I had nothing really to do. Sure I was taking care of the house, sure I was watching films, reading books and meeting friends. In fact, whenever I would do any of those activities, this OTN monster will not dare to fool around with me. However, I had no real daily engagement to keep my brain busy. I hadn’t been sleeping well. I had been living without a fulfilling occupation, like never before. I had been idle.

Like they say, “An empty mind is a devil’s workshop.”

In my case, it’s the OTP Monster’s flesh&blood studio these days.

Taste of Success

“Cheers!” The group shouted together.

It was my life’s most important evening. I was in Grand Plaza with my clients and representatives of other companies. We had gathered to discuss our respective ideas that would revolutionise the client’s business. Even though I had no idea what each company had to present, I was more than certain that I had a beautiful thought to unveil.

It was an idea born in a Tuesday morning shower and was in its youth by the time I reached my workplace. In less than 30 minutes, I had painted the idea on a 20-slide presentation. Every question, every doubt and every possibility – all clarified in no time. It was effortless, it was magical!

As a Creative Director, I had worked on many brilliant and big ideas. I had helped my team unleash their own creativity and had seen many clients grinning at the success of work done by them. Yes, I had been on the glory ride before but this was different. This gem was from the deepest corner of my heart and it was an initiative that I had decided will not be at the mercy of a client’s approval. I was happy and proud of the spark that had ignited in my head.

A day after I had presented my idea to my supervisor, I was sitting with my client and was waiting to start the fireworks. I was cheering for and appreciating every presentation.

“That was fantastic!” said my client.

I nodded in approval, smiled and gulped down my wine. I was loving the wait even though it was very difficult to hold what I had in my mind. I was tasting success already with every sip of the sweet French wine.

“Sir, would you like one more?” The waiter asked seeing my empty glass.
“Of course!” I said.

I had at least 20 minutes more to preside and I wanted my spirits as high as possible.

“Triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!” “Triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!”
“Triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!” “Triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!”
“Triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!” “Triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing!!”

I sprung out of the bed. I felt dizzy, I looked around.

“Where am I?” I thought.

It took me some time but I came to my senses and realised that I was in my house. I looked at the clock. To my horror, it was 11am! My phone was ringing aloud. As I picked it up, it stopped ringing. I had 5 missed calls from my supervisor. With great difficulty, I got out of my bed to drink a glass of water. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I opened my laptop and logged into my mailbox. There was one email from my boss.

David, What the hell happened last night? Where are you?
How did the Crimson guys win the project? Can you please call me as soon as possible?

“How the hell?!” I shouted.

My head was spinning. I drank more water and spent a few minutes trying to recall the events of the previous evening. I looked at the glass of water and suddenly remembered my wine glass being filled.

“Then what?” I said to myself.

Like a nightmare, the visuals after that ran in front of my eyes. As I drank up my wine, someone finished their presentation. Everyone stood up to applaud and as I tried to get up, the ceiling had started moving, people’s faces began to melt and the voices faded away. And then there was a loud thud; mostly of my head falling on the table.

“Oh my god!” I shouted and threw the glass of water towards the wall.
“No! No! No!” I howled and punched the wall.
“No! No! No!”

A million nos fell from my mouth that morning. If only one had come out for that last glass of wine. 

Notes of regret

I am listening to Schubert, reading about Mozart & Beethoven and staring at MS Subbalakshmi’s portraits alongside writing this post. At this moment I am reminded of all those times when I thought that music would always be my parallel indulgence as I did something else for a living.

My Guru (music teacher) asked me. “Why don’t you take up BA or something similarly light? It will help you focus on your music more.”

“I can manage engineering and music together.” I replied.

This was 1999. I wish I had listened to somebody then. I wish I had met someone who had beautiful thoughts of freedom, pride of an imaginative mind and the pleasure of enjoying what they had. I wish success wasn’t my only source of inspiration. I wish I didn’t judge people by their ability to solve mathematical problems; I wish I didn’t judge the lives of those travelling with their violins, guitars and their voice. I wish I had the vision to look into the fulfilment that my own talent could give me and I wish I didn’t have the overconfidence of letting all my talents flourish in all circumstances. I wish I could see the wonderful world in my heart.

Today I have the knowledge, the skills and the ability to jump and learn anything I truly want. However, I am struggling between multiple tabs of political articles, Coursera videos and registration websites. I have so many great things to learn and so much time at hand that I am worried that I actually have nothing.

Music – I wish I had kept your notes.

100 – Speed Limit

The subject of this post sums up the goodness of Gujarat – a state of India that has been verbally used and abused in political campaigns time and again.

I moved to San Francisco 2 weeks ago. To make the exit from India interesting, I, my partner and my sister took a road trip along the west coast of India, driving through Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Gujarat. I will save the travelogue for my travel website because this post is about something else.

India is a very complex country in every way. Naturally, things heat up and the country wakes up during the election season. It’s been a year and the drama, debate and aggressive arguments are still filling up the time and space of India. In the middle of all this, one place that has been extensively spoken about is the land of amazing snacks, beautiful women and some geographical wonders. My relatives have lived in Gujarat and the media has been very vocal about how the development in that one state is enough to amplify the value of replicating its governance across the country.

These news articles, press conference snapshots etc., were not and are still not reporting any specifics other than roads, employment and factories. Very important factors indeed. But what really motivated me to visit were my relative’s words “Oh, you should just spend some time there. You will fall in love with it.” The opportunity struck me when I was designing my road trip. In my bucket list Rann of Kutch had been sitting for a very long time. So, the road trip was the perfect way to experience, understand and enjoy the model state of India along with Rann.

On day 3 of our road trip, we entered Gujarat in Vapi – a small town next to Daman. It was after dark and I was very tired of driving but it was inevitable to notice the odd feeling of that place. Once recharged, we got out to go to somebody’s house. That’s when I realised that the place was so dusty that I couldn’t roll down the car windows. Next, I couldn’t separate factories from residential set ups. We figured that it was a very small town of factories and it primarily supported the union territories of Daman and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.

Next day, we found that Daman, Dadra & Nagar Haveli were in turn supporting the entire state of Gujarat. Well, at least the thirsty part of the state. Gujarat bans alcohol consumption. The Union Territories that are surrounded by Gujarat however, not only engage in consumption but manufacture tonnes of liquor. Guess the result? Daman is full of alcohol-deprived youngsters from all over Gujarat. Same is the situation with Dadra & Nagar Haveli, and we saw the result in the hospitality industry. Sub-standard, good and excellent hotels seem to have the same price per room because the mediocre hotel has a big bar with cheap alcohol.

While Vapi was dusty, we didn’t judge the entire state. After all we were headed to Ahmedabad – the star city of the state. Driving on NH8, our hopes went quite high. It was one of the best roads we drove on, in the entire 16 day trip. Under 4 hours, we exited the highway and entered Ahmedabad. We expected the scene to change. What was unexpected was the way the traffic behaved. Nobody stopped at the stop signal. Let me repeat – NOBODY. For 10 minutes, I was very confused but I adapted and decided to blend. My hopes were still high since we weren’t in the city-centre yet. But disappointment was less than 20 minutes away when we saw a chaos like no other. It was dangerous to stop at any signal and it looked like the city was full of color-blind people; the traffic signals were a joke!

That night one of us had her wallet stolen (or lost perhaps) and the next day, we were in a police station trying to get a certificate for the lost DL(driver’s license) which was in the wallet. In the 2 hours that we spent there, we understood the kind of pain a non-Indian would go through in Gujarat, if they required the support of the state law&order system. We were asked to write the application for the lost item in HINDI and were clearly told that nobody understood, spoke or knew English. Worse, the certificate was in Gujarati. We had requested that we were driving through different states and a legal document in a regional language may not be accepted by other states. We were politely denied any help in that regard. Thankfully they agreed to stamp the Hindi application.

I have travelled extensively across India and around the world and I think that day I felt like a stranger in my own country. Well, it got even worse.

Few days later, we were entering White Rann – a part of the Great Rann of Kutch which has salt deposits spread over 4000 square kilometres. We had to fill out a permit-form. My sister was writing in the details when a cop nudged her. She had written ‘Indian’ in the ‘nationality’ column. What was wrong with that?

Cop : Maydam, Nationality Gujarati ya Non-Gujarati likho (Ma’m, write Gujarati or Non-Gujarati instead of Indian)!

This wasn’t religion, cultural background or special assistance column. This was the NATIONALITY column. Our souls were numb for a while because we felt like outcasts; not technically but emotionally.

I am not a patriot but I understand India, where I come from and what this country stands for. This country has helped me develop my taste, build my guards and experience warmth like nowhere else. It has shaped my idea of freedom, my sense of belonging and my desire to explore. Standing in the middle of that beautiful expanse of Kutch, looking at the sun set – my heart was sinking. I have no idea how many Gujarats are growing in my country, I have no clue what some dim wits are organizing in the name of pride, culture and government. I can’t reach out to every human being on this planet but I can try.

So, here I am telling you in one last sentence what a place like Gujarat is.

Lip-smacking food, some wonderful people and the only place in the country where you will see a speed limit board of 100; all this encompassed in the suffocating air of robotic employment, ignorant cultural ego and a media-fuelled illusion of progress.