Grandmother, tell me another story

Passing between lips, an ancestry reminiscent of
the chewed betel-nut grandmother transmitted
from recesses of her stained teeth onto palm of an
unlettered hand And again to my mouth.

Many years later I found myself teaching tradition
handed down by word of mouth. A cane basket we
put our socks in was stuffed with her stories.

It suddenly became a nest and
I flew with unknown birds, giddy and half asleep
seeking blankets of cloud in the maize field of the
mythical cat who sometimes ploughed the sky.

The cane basket disappeared when
a wooden cabinet took up residence
in our three-room house. Socks found a nest
and I began writing
the first few letters of the alphabet.

Myiem, where my ancestors prayed for their
deliverance from bitter winter,
where they wrestled with earth and stone
to script remembrances.

Today, lost and approaching fifty,
surrounded and imprisoned by books,
I sometimes murmur a prayer:
“Grandmother, tell me another story”

– I read this poem in the village of Nongriat, Meghalaya. These words took me back to my village of Ghazipur. The days when stories were an integral part of our life. Why did we stop telling stories?I could not find this poem online. I am looking for this book – Do let me know if you know this book. Thanks.

Of Trains & Tracks

I have always been fascinated by trains. The image of the red serpent rushing across the fields, in my village in Ghazipur, is still very much ingrained in my memories. I never quite understood what captured my interest more – The Train or The Track? While I explored the whereabouts of the track, chasing birds and rodents around, the train was the last thing on my mind. And when it did arrive, it was the only thing I cared about.

The blurred vision of the carriages rushing along, while I kept count of the number of cars attached to engine. I used to always lose count. Thinking about the same, I cannot help asking this question – Why did I count the number of cars? Why did this exercise still pops up in mind when I see a train?

I believe it has to do with the time and culture of our times. The internet had not shortened the world and there were so many things we knew so little about. Things to do were limited but interesting. It was the time when you didn’t lose interest in a toy after playing with it just once. We had few needs and fewer wants. Train ride was one of those interesting things I used to look forward to all the time. And getting through to the window seat was one of the featured ambitions.

I think the pure joy that I experienced in those train rides has become a part of me. This interest was coupled with another important aspect of our life – Mathematics. I used to count everything – it was one of my favorite past-time. Have you noticed the numerical codes that you sometime see on television. Whenever that used to flash on TV, my mind used to rush off to another tangent altogether – I would add all the digits and check if it is a multiple of 3. I believe it was just practicing the computational capability of the brain. Anyways, this also stuck in and before I realized, I was checking if the trains have number of cars which are a multiple of 3 or not.

So, this is the story. Try thinking back yourself. And see if one of your childhood activities has been hitchhiking along with you, all this time, in your subconscious.

Of Dreams & Mountains

I was transformed into a dog, and running as fast as I could to evade my captors. My friend, who was now a monkey, was riding on my back, shouting directions, which I could not comprehend. We were running low on energy, but thankfully we saw a gas station on the way, and in no time the fuel tank was full and we rejoined the pursuit. My captors were kind enough to wait on us, as the queue warranted some time. I kept thinking that nothing of this makes sense and something is amiss. But I could not make out what exactly.

Thankfully, I woke up from this dream. It was still dark outside. The valley was sleeping peacefully, covered in a thick blanket of trance. My tent mates were sleeping, far from peacefully. It seemed that they were struggling with the dreams of their own. I wondered what character they might be playing. And will they be lucky enough to find a gas station, like I did.

Sun peeked at us, while we were following our morning algorithm. I was still thinking about the dream. It was still very vivid in my mind, even hours after sleep – which is very unusual. We had been trekking for 3 days then, and there did not go by a day when I didn’t have a vivid (and weird) dream. Many of the people in the camp were having the same experience. Dreams that hit you like reality. You wake up and take a good amount of time to come in terms with what is real. A dream, even as stupid and ridiculous as I had, seems to be perfectly normal when you are in it.

We discussed this while trekking towards our next camp site. In absence of any source (read Google) – we were left there to formulate our own theories. It had to do something with oxygen (the most potent drug) – Was lack of oxygen making us dream more? It does make you hallucinate at times. Probable cause. Since it had affected all and sundry, science was the only possible cause. Other theories were shunned along the way.

Our stay in the mountains in Kashmir continued to be dreamy. We were not complaining, since most of the dreams were happy dreams (weird, but happy). Discussing what we dreamt last night, was now a part of our morning algorithm.

Why do we dream more in mountains?

I was really curious to know the answer, and one of the first things that I did when I came back to Mumbai was search for this. And the answer is really interesting – We do not dream more in mountains. We just remember it better. Most of the times, when in mountains, we break away from our dreams during REM phase – and hence, we do not forget. So, to summarize, we keep dreaming about weird things all the time, but mountains help us to remember. They are like – “Hey you! Take this. Remember your shit”.

Delving a little deeper into science :

During slow wave sleep a person is in their deepest sleep and their brain slows, becoming less responsive to external stimuli, while during REM sleep a person is dreaming (Harvard Medical School, 2007). Many people are able to better recall their dreams when they awake from REM sleep; it is like they are waking up in the middle of a dream so the dream is readily available to their consciousness. It is possible that at higher altitudes the cycles of sleep happen quicker so we are more likely to wake up during a bout of REM sleep, and therefore more likely to recall our dream. It could also be that the decreased oxygen levels somehow affect our dream recall, making dreams seem more vivid. Even another possibility is that the decreased amount of slow wave sleep, proposed to have the function of consolidating memories from the day, leads the brain to try to make-up for that loss of consolidation through vivid, realistic, dreams. Any of these ideas could be the reason that dreams are reported as more vivid at high altitudes, but these ideas are simply ideas and need to be investigated for their validity.

Pretty interesting, right? There is another field in neuro science which is very interesting and has caught hold of my curiosity for some time now – “Lucid Dreaming” and “Interpretation of Dreams”. Can we really connect with our subconscious, have a dialogue with our sleeping mind? The thought experiment is very trippy in itself. I have decided to experiment with this, see if I can find a connection or a common pattern in this weird myriad of thoughts. I will see how it goes. Read about Dreams! Try to debate with yourself what exactly is Reality.

“From a surreal point of view, a dream is something that speaks to you from your subconscious, letting you know all manner of secrets that you consciousness should unlock. From a realistic view, it is defined as a series of thoughts, sensations and images that occur within your mind when you are fast asleep.”

“This is because your dreams are the best window for you to use to access your subconscious mind, and they can reveal to you the truth about what you really like and desire.”

– Dreams, Will Harris




Monkeys on the Trail

It was the second time I was following this same trail. Starting from Dehene village to Ajoba hills. And it was the second time I paused at Valmiki Ashram, and did not continue on the trail any further.

I was looking out for monkeys but there were none to be found. I distinctly remembered seeing many of those skipping around, when I was there last time, on the eve of Mahashivratri. I wondered what would have happened to those bunch of monkeys. My speculations were put to rest by a resident, who had a very strong view that the monkeys will be arriving at any moment then, as their nap time must be over, which comfortably coincided with our lunch time. Monkeys!!

I remembered seeing a bunch of dogs too. And few cows munching happily, staring into abyss like they always do, speculating the meaning of life and universe. I mentioned this and looked inquisitively at the residents. They shrugged and said they don’t remember seeing any such combination around. Although monkeys will be arriving soon, they reassured. I wondered where the dogs must have been. They never seem to miss lunch time.

We feasted on rice chapatis, some saag, and daal, which was simple yet sumptuous. I tried to remember when was the last time I enjoyed my food so much. I had to break from my hyper-concentration, as I could not remember, and MONKEYS HAD STARTED ARRIVING.

At first they came one at a time, then in pairs, then in rowdy groups of threes and fours. After a couple of dozen settled themselves around like sentinels, the mother monkeys with babies stuck at their bellies started coming in. Social order – All of us basically, before some mutant gene triggered evolution.

I stood there looking at those sober, super boring monkeys. They just sat on the branches without any purpose. What do you call monkeys who have no purpose in life, not even when it is lunch time? I thought that they might still be in post-pre-afternoon-nap trance. So I decided to give them benefit of doubt.

After a while those purpose-less creatures stopped pouring in. A few small monkeys from the rowdy group starting taking short jumps across branches. Here we go, I said. But then they again settled lazily on a new branch. As if trying to judge which was a better branch for a session of uninterrupted purposeless sitting.

A few others came down the tree, drank some water, and went back. A group of detectives were seen inspecting the garbage area. Trying to find easy meal. I reflected on the good old days in Banaras, when they used to barge in your house, open fridge, take as many things as their arms could manage, and then, while sprinting away, they gave you this look which seemed to say “Go on. Keep the rest. No need to thank me”.

The air around me was full with tiny droplets of water. The blanket of clouds had taken over the sky. The birds had stopped singing. The plateau beamed in anticipation of rain.  I sat there staring into abyss, not wishing for anything, perfectly content. I felt like one of those monkeys.

CouchSurfing – New Age Scam

I came across CouchSurfing while going through a travel blog. I had heard about CS earlier, and this reference acted as a re-enforcement to install the App. This is where I started on an acquisition flow, which was so cleverly designed to trap the users, that even in the hindsight it is improbable to spot this trick.

Let us go through the on-boarding flow for CS:

1. First screen post Sign Up:

So you land on the front page, trying to figure out the navigation. And the first thing that you notice is the “Get Verified” link. In the current ecosystem, majority of the sites follow following two ways of verification:

1. ID proof / Mobile Verification – This is done to confirm the identity. Most of the social networks have mandated this.

2. Payment Details – Sites like AirBNB asks you to confirm your payment method. This is done with sole purpose to safeguard the hosts.

So I did not wait to question the CTA and continued with the flow to get started quickly.






2. Farce of Verification Benefits

The verification page highlights the multiple “benefits” – Content bundled around a decent UI, with only a minor information missing – they actually forgot to mention that the verification is not FREE – of course one could argue that they never mentioned that it is FREE either. We shall come back to that.

Coming back to this page – It contains over 500 words, photos of verified members, “Testimonials” from the happy users, and logos of Forbes, Time, NYT and Guardian. A perfect setup you might say.

You can verify your account using either Credit Card or PayPal (Just getting this information as a safeguard, are we?)

I clicked on Credit Card and proceeded. Let’s see what happens now.





3. Surprise!!!

You land to the next page, not suspecting any foul play. Now look closely at this page. You might say that you can see the amount mentioned here – “Just Rs 3900 for life helps you meet the world” – Such a noble thought. But the objective of this design is to deceive the user.

– The text is intentionally kept vague, 3900 to meet the world. All the pricing principles asks the product owner to specify the payment details clearly on the checkout page. But these principles were made for ensuring good user experience. They do not make sense if you are concerned about creating false revenue channels.

– Notice the font color of the text? As light gray as could be. I wonder if they would have debated to keep the text color white – Why not go all the way?

– The bottom CTA says “Verify My Account”. If you explore other e-commerce sites, you will not find such a deceit elsewhere. All the sites says “Complete Payment” or “Pay Now”. Interestingly, CS says “Complete Payment” for iOS App. Reason – Apple is far stricter compared to Google in protecting users.

I, like many other users, was deceived. I entered the details and by the time I realized what was happening, I received an SMS from my bank. Another thing that got me here was absence of second factor authentication (company outside India – hence the false cover of security also played a part in the same).

CS can argue that they did mention the charge. But if they bring in this argument, they already lose. Victim blaming and hiding behing T&C has never helped any organization.

Once the first phase was over, I contacted both CS and my bank instantly (as I had no trust left in CS, even though they promised a full refund if requested within 72 hours). While I waited for them to respond, I checked for similar cases Online. No wonder Internet was full with similar complaints against CS. Here is a full list of the complaints:

Apparently, CS did an AB experiment around Aug-2017, where they tried this new gold digging tool and it succeeded (obviously). The B users would have been more revenue generating, even after all the refunds (if honored). This is a perfect example of how not to run your business. I wonder how they intend to succeed, if they continue with this modern age scam.

I am reading stuff online to identify a way to escalate this (Not that this has not been done earlier, but one got to try). If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.