Democratising sports

I like the way Decathlon has kind of ‘democratised’ sports’ goods in India. A recent news report backs it up. In a place like Pune, and not very long ago, things were somewhat different and not in a good sense. Allow me to be less euphemistic. Things were very different! Picture this: a handful of sporting goods outlets, with an irksome, proud and snobbish staff, blinded by the success that monopoly brought. This was in spite of having a limited variety, both in terms of the sports they cater for, and the goods they had for a given sport. I remember going to one of the immensely popular outlets — Champion sports — in the by-lanes of FC Road, and although I don’t remember what was I seeking, I do recall exiting the outlet in disgust and anger thanks to the bad taste in the mouth that the interaction had brought about.

Blurry flashback
I remember getting wowed while visiting Decathlon’s flagship store in Whitefield, Bangalore. It was an Alice in Wonderland-ish experience. Not only was I overwhelmed with the magnanimity of the store (we’re not used to Costco, you see), but also impressed by the range of sports that they seem to be supplying for. I remember having hoarded as much as I could — or let’s say as much as I could imagine being allowed in the budget flight that I had booked. Point being, everything seemed good enough for the given price! Plus, there was assistance only an ‘excuse me’ away — people who genuinely knew what they’re talking about — rather than trying to coerce you into buying something slyly!

Cut to 2019
Decathlon has dotted itself across India — from A-type to now B-type cities. At a store in Pune, I see people from almost all the strata of society happily letting their kids loose, while they pick things that they need or they think that they do. Luckily, at the given nominal price, they do not have to think a lot. Many are or are the kin of frequent and infrequent runners, cyclists or hikers — ‘active’ family members, if you please. Several amongst them are planning for their next big trek to the mountains. They seem calm while assessing the ‘technical clothing’, which would’ve otherwise costed around five to ten times more at Nike or Adidas or whatever outlets like Champion sports would’ve sold to them. Their kids play around in the whole store.

I happen to visit the store to return something I had bought about a month ago. Had it been another store, I would’ve had to plead not guilty — trying to prove that the product hasn’t been used, most probably in vain. The other party would have cited reasons like the ‘passing of the return window’, the ‘company policy’, ‘hygiene’, ‘alignment of the stars’, ‘because the final season of GoT sucked’, and what not! At this store, however, I do not have to justify anything, and I am happily handed over a return voucher, and given an option to get back my cash as well!

I wish that Decathlon India prospers also enters C-type towns as well as villages — where a plethora of talent has to still deal with cocky store owners, and make do with a dearth of variety and exposure.

Expiry Dates.

Would we start leading more enriching lives if we knew our expiry dates? I think so. We’d start valuing our time more. That, in turn, would lead us to relish every moment and making it meaningful. We’d stop wasting the limited time we have on petty issues, arguments, and useless talks. We all would also take more chances, and our choices would be driven by happiness, rather than conventions or social norms. We’d value money less and experiences more. We’d start having deep, meaningful and memorable conversations with our friends, family,  and just anyone we come in touch with. We’d be more genuine in our talks, actions, and most of all, to ourselves. We’d stop recording at concerts, but rather cherish the experience there and then. We’d love humanity more. We’d let our kids be, and stop consciously and unconsciously training them to be ready for the rat race. Open schools would thrive, and home-schooling would be a norm rather than an exception. We’d start treating ‘religion’ more pragmatically and realize that it’s more of a guiding light rather than something to thump our chest about or pester others with.

The word ‘regret’ would start to diminish from our vocabularies, and more so, from the consequence of our actions (or the lack of it). Our bucket lists would be tiny and, in many cases, non-existent.

Death, then, wouldn’t be a taboo topic — it would be less seen as a disruption and more as an eternal state of calmness.

The funny thing is, all of us do know this, but most of us pretend as if we have unlimited time here. We let ourselves go astray with what doesn’t matter in the larger spectrum of things. We chase money, more than we need. We hoard materials. We become stingy and don’t share the surplus, even if we very well can. We twist religion and use it to our benefit — to ensure a great (so-called) afterlife and to maintain our illusionary superiority.

As Alan Watts said, maybe a shift in our mindset can be triggered once we stop considering life as a journey, and think of it as music, or dance:

So yes, being aware of our expiry dates can motivate us to lead better lives. But, then it makes me wonder, are we really dependent on the knowledge of that date to do that? Maybe not.

Cushions!

‘Cushions’ were supposed to be a thing of comfort. Over time, however, they have evolved to a level where they seem to be the rightful owners of your sofa sets. So much so, that sometimes it looks like other home dwellers need to seek their permission before even thinking about sharing their space.

half evil cushion image

The cushions that rule our big “comfy” sofa are the most respected members of our family. No one in the family has the right to dethrone them. Regular sofa-‘space’-battles are frequent and are almost always won by them. And even when you try to co-exist peacefully on the sofa, some way or the other, these little pricks are constantly reminding you of their presence!

This arrogance did not occur to them overnight. Cushions have worked hard for it. Those things that were once primary weapons to attack one’s siblings have successfully exploited the loopholes in the humans’ constant endeavour to look better. Hence they kept growing bigger and teamed-up with cushion covers. Covers that are now, supposedly, a representative of their owner’s coolness, geekiness, humour, or modern-yet-contemporary-ness. They made humans perceive a sofa with basic or minimalistic cushioning as ‘uncool’. What followed can be termed as ‘The Wrath of the K(ushio)n”. We started seeing sofas in which one would have to search for a 3-year-old if left unattended. If the sofa weren’t “plush” enough, people started loading them with these monstrosities to make them look so.

Come to think of it — in an afterlife, given a choice, I would want to be a cushion — not just any cushion, but a sofa cushion. Until then, sadly, the argument continues.

“Stay Blessed”, they said

I get confused when someone wishes me to “stay blessed”. My main contention then becomes, are you — the blesser, putting the ball in my — the potential blessee’s court? If so, then that’s totally uncalled for. C’mon, my plate might be already full with a number of other, more important, tasks. I don’t need any new responsibility, especially the abstract, divine kinds, to be bestowed upon me. That too, unsolicited.

Hadn’t it been politically incorrect, I would have definitely countered the one who conveniently handed out this mammoth of a task upon me. Why couldn’t the person keep it to herself/himself, with a simple prefix of “I hope” — “I hope you stay blessed”. As is apparent, that would have kept things light, goodwill would have been conveyed, and everyone would have gone home happy.

I think people, kind of, consider it in the league of “take care”, but it’s just that they believe that “take care” is so 80’s and sounds un-hep. But I’m far more happy with “take care” because that’s something tangible, as I know that the onus is very much on me. (Also, because experiments have shown that the absence of “taking care” might have catastrophic outcomes.) An absence of “staying blessed”, umm..I don’t know — it’s debatable. I’m better off with “stay healthy”, “stay happy” and/or “take care”, thank you very much!

About a book + (tangential) cycling.

So, somehow I ended up buying an amazing book on bicycle riding called ‘Just Ride‘, and I’m glad on this not-very-binge-shopping of mine.
Just Ride book imageI call it amazing because it pronounced a significant number of latent thoughts of mine about the way I see cycling evolving (or ‘cyclists behaving’ if you will) around me. I think the author, Grant Peterson witnessed a similar trend about a decade or more ago in the US and decided to collate much of his gathered wisdom into this tiny book. The author highlights the existence of the predominant category of cyclists, who he refers to as unracers. I also see a vast majority of them: with the increasing income and knowledge, the upper-middle-class in India is buying bikes which are generally in the range of 15-30K — a price range that would have made them and their folks jump out of their chairs when they were young. Undoubtedly, it is a welcome trend and should be encouraged by all means.

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Monkey business!

Uth jaayiye…bandar aa gaya!” (Wake up! the monkey has arrived!) were the words ushered to me, as I was forced to forfeit my siesta on a lazy afternoon. The tone was akin to that woman whose sons had finally arrived on a fine summer morning — all set to continue the “bhangra paaley” they’d left off a couple of decades ago. Well, the news of the arrival of this distraught-but-acting-voracious primate spread like wildfire in our (non-)cooperative housing society — thanks to our smartphones and having little better to do, apart from watching scripted “reality” shows. Moreover, seems it was also a welcome departure, from the usual “very relevant” topics of the society WhatsApp group — like how to save the millions they’d put in PayTm, if and when it suddenly becomes a bank!

So anyway, I was my unamused self and headed towards the balcony, where this distant, unevolved, relative of mine had chosen to spend his afternoon. I saw it getting more intrigued by the enactment of the last scene of ‘Sadma’ movie that my wife and daughter were putting up to shoo it off than they were with his. I am sure, it’d have ordered a popcorn and soda, given a chance.

As I bleh-ed the overhyped situation — of the red-corner notice issued on the society WhatsApp group — I felt sorry for the two pot-bellied security guards with their lathis, clueless about dealing with this unwelcome refugee. I felt even more sorry for the bewildered animal, of what all it’s being made to endure — “I hope it finds a safe exit”.

For the next two days, we kept hearing reports about the antics of the monkey in various locations throughout the society. I am sure, there’d been a lot of “selfies” clicked as well. Though I am not very sure about who ended up more entertained at the end of it all — the monkey or yours truly.

About a book: Women in Science

Found this amazing book thanks to Amazon suggestions, called ‘Women in Science’. The best part of this book, apart from being concise, is that it presents the subject in an uncontemporary format — with amazing illustrations. So, for a change, you can judge this book by it’s cover.

Women in Science Cover Image
Rachel Ignotofsky has done a commendable job by compiling 1-page biographies of 50 women, “who changed the world”. She has complemented it with to-the-point, interesting, and effective doodles and illustrations for each of the portrays. While most of us know about the popular ones like Madam Curie, Ada Lovelace, and suchlike; this book brings forth stories of many more who were as brilliant, and fearless.

Buy this book for yourself, and your kids. Especially boys.

At the barbers’

It was a lazy Friday forenoon that I realized that my hair needs a trim. I dropped-in to the local salon to find that (owing to Friday, and the part of town that I stay in,) it was busier than usual. Since there was a wait involved, I made myself comfortable on the plush couch, and picked one out of the many magazines casually left around on the ‘side table’. Being the distracted self, I was less interested in the magazine, and more interested in what’s going around, my attention was drawn to a conversation taking place between the owner and someone who appeared to be his friend. Since I am an Indian, and eavesdropping is my birthright, I directed all my efforts in trying to figure out why the ‘friend’s’ eyes, and in fact the whole body language was akin to that of a scientist who has finally got proof of his hypothesis.

The conversation involved a lot of repetitions of the words “bhai“, “phir kya“, and bollywood celebrity names. It did not take me long to understand that the main subject of conversation was “Salman Bhai”, who the owner — either out of sheer respect, or to uphold the convention was referring to as just “bhai”. Ah! then it all made perfect sense. It was easy to put two and two together. The owner was a typical late-20s-gym-frequenting-with-neatly-trimmed-beard guy who claimed to have attended “a lot” of late-night parties where bhai was also invited. So he “knew” bhai and bhai’s nuances like the back of his hand.

The subject on the other hand was an early-20s-just-started-with-“gymming” guy with a gleam in his eyes — and a tremendous hope that his new found guru could get him, maybe not befriended, but at least a picture clicked with the bhai.  (Wait a min, did I say ‘picture”? — I am sorry, that’s so 80’s of me — I meant “a selfie“.)

The topic of conversations ranged from what bhai likes to eat and drink, to who all does he talk to, to how bhai just showed up in his PJ’s to the ‘Kapil Sharma show’. Seems bhai calls the shots everywhere. (Pun intended.)

The conversation seemed to start to go downhill when, I think, the owner realised that this yuppy friend is a bit more enthusiastic than he had anticipated, and may actually one-fine-day show-up to join him on his next late-night-party that bhai is supposed to honour with his presence. The body language changed, the owner started looking more at his watch and what looked like “engaging” WhatsApp messages. The poor friend then seemed to have got the drag, and excused himself after exchanging some half-hearted pleasantries.

And yes, then it was my turn to get a trim — not the bhai kinds that is.

Kids

Our kids are our most prized possessions. We want them to have whatever we think is the best, and many a times, many of the things we wanted as kids but could never get to have. It’s natural.

Sometimes, however, in our quest to decide what’s best for them, we go overboard — we become over-protective, over-expecting and sometimes, disrespectful insensitive. We tend to think that it’s alright “since they’re kids”. The sad but true thing is, it’s not alright because of the very fact that they’re kids. Things set in a child’s heart are quite like the engravings in stone — they may fade but they do not vanish. For example: I still remember my kindergarten teacher calling me a “weak student”. She might not have had an ill-will when she said it, but that’s something which I still remember and maybe subconsciously had had an impact in some way my life got shaped.

Here are a few things I think we need to be aware of.

  • Stop labeling them
    The early years of your kids are the formation years, their brains and hearts are like tiny lumps of clay — ready to be moulded. It’s in our hands to provide for a suitable environment to ensure that they take the best shape — a shape that a huge structure can stand-on. In future, they’ll go through a lot of hardships — when they face the adversities of life. By labeling them we’re drilling tiny holes in the boundary of the yet-to-be-built structure. Watch yourself using what is known as a descriptive language, when it comes to them, or things in general. For example, expressions like “s/he is like this only”, “s/he never listens”, “s/he would never try anything new”, “s/he is an introvert”. Remember, your kid is NOT that. It’s you who are shaping her/him to be that!
    Use generative language instead, like “s/he will surely try veggies this week”, “s/he hasn’t had the chance to try this out, but I know s/he will”, “I am sure s/he would love to meet your kid”.
    If you notice the difference in the tone used in descriptive and generative language — the former does not help the situation — it makes it worse: the kid would start believing in how you labeled her, and eventually consider herself to be that. On the other hand, generative language ushers hope. It boosts your kids’ confidence that you believe in her/him — even if s/he does not do what you intended her/him to do — but there’s no residue.
  • Lead by example
    If you’re hooked on to your TV/iPad/Smart-phone at home then do not expect the kid to conduct herself any differently. They think that it’s the norm! It might be a tough decision initially, given our diminishing attention spans, and our constant yearning to seek short-term-pseudo-satisfaction online. But it highlights the importance of family, of having a live support system to your kids. Instead of spending time online, strike conversations with them and then listen to them earnestly and do not impose your point-of-view. You will realize that they make a lot of minute observations, which may sometimes require you to modify their perspective. Also note that they’d instantly find out if you’re not genuine in your listening.
  • Let them get bored
    This is something I read recently, and then I could associate to it. As a kid, I had a lot of time to spare. It led to have a fun childhood where I enjoyed my company. I discovered a LOT and some of those lessons still bear fruit.
    Do not overplan your kids’ day, or worse, their holidays/vacations. It is very easy to get influenced by others who get their kids enrolled in every other activity out there, and then talk about it with gleaming eyes. Not judging them, but I pity those kids.
    What we don’t realize is that we’re robbing away their childhood. Let your kid get bored during the day and then discover what s/he really enjoys doing. Create venues for her to channel her creativity, and let her enjoy these years. Trust me, they will have ample time to learn life lessons when the time comes.
  • Let them out in the open
    Open spaces are eluding fast, and so is our willingness to let our kids out. But it is indispensable. Let them get a few bruises, a few cuts and a few falls. It makes them tough, and as a side-effect, prepares them for what’s out there. Encourage them to break the trend — encourage your girl to participate in cricket, football and other not-so-girly games.
    When they’re slightly bigger, send them out for hikes and camping. They’d learn precious skills there. They’d learn that many-a-times, one needs to take care of oneself as well as to watch out for others. Do not be overprotective and avoid all kinds of injuries even at home. Their bodies are lightweight and can bear a hit or a fall far better than our bodies can — so this is the time for them to experience it.
    What I am trying to underline is related to the previous point of not planning everything for them, but rather preparing them to become independent starting from these nascent years.

I am sure if we all bear these things in mind, we’d be nurturing a lovable lot which is tough, confident and ready to take charge of their lives without an iota of self-doubt!

Cycling to work

It’s been almost a month-full of commuting on bicycle to office and therefore I think I have gained eligibility to comment on the experience. Since the distance is considerable (~21 Kms one-way), and landscape rollercoaster-ish, an amateur cyclist like me has to limit the frequency to twice (or at most thrice) a week.

Nevertheless, the experience has been exhilarating! And over-time, like many cyclists would, I have got used-to the glances of sympathy, ridicule, amusement, encouragement, surprise, and most of all the look of a-question-coming-up, from people of various shapes, sizes and ages.

Pune, the place where I live, was known to be a cycle-friendly city. Was. Things are different now, with cyclists having to jostle their way just like everybody else. It’s a bit more challenging for cyclists given the fact that unless they’re the really loud kinds, it’s easy to ignore their presence, and forget their relevance.

Following is a crude list of my observations so far. Based on which Indian city you reside in, your mileage may vary.

  • It’s not as scary as it might appear till you finally decide and hit the road!
  • People are generally considerate, given that you’re disciplined. Owning a cycle does not mean you can flout the traffic rules.
  • Be wary of taxis (yellow number plates in general), they’re the scariest lot with no regard for all other vehicles. Unfortunately, cycles form a part of all other.
  • Kids will love you
  • In general, expect to get a few ‘thumbs-ups’ per month (predominantly from Bullet-riders — not sure why)
  • As mentioned before, be prepared to answer FAQs like: “how much is it (the bike) for”, “do you ride every day”, or for the price of a specific accessory like, “did you get the headlight along with the bike”, and suchlike

As for me, I feel more upbeat in spite of sweat and stress once I reach the office. I realized that even though I may be physically stressed, but I am more mentally active. The converse is true when I drive to work. Physical stress is much easier to deal with. And with the released endorphins, it peps you up!