[Book Review] : The tattooist of Auschwitz

The tattooist, by Heather Morris, is a memoir of Lale Eisenberg during the time he spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The tale of the life of Lale Eisenberg is a bone chilling one. Set in the back drop of the rising Nazism in the world, his is a story that grows along with the rapid growth of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Lale is a Jew and as with most Jews of the period, both Lale and the book’s journey starts in an over cramped train bogie that transports folks from their lives in the cities to directly hell that awaits them. It is here , where we get the first look on Lale’s perspective towards life. Amidst the uncertainty, he’s a wonderful beacon of hope and optimism. Lale’s enthusiasm for hope keeps him going. His optimism keeps the folks around him going too. It is this hope that carries the grim tale over its shoulders. It’s the type of hope that gets stamped upon, squashed, beaten, bruised and still manages to endure, survive and eventually reward. 

Life in the camp is a billion miles away from anything humanitarianly sane and sensible. As Lale meets the challenges, the readers are exposed to a reality that shocks. With a little touch of lady luck, and the unrelenting charm of Lale’s determination to survive, he finds himself appointed as the tattooist of the camp. Lale’s job is to tattoo numbers on the forearms of all those poor souls that walk through the doors of the camp. Lale’s attitude triumphs and he’s soon fondly known and addressed as the Tattooweirer (Tattooist). 

Lale’s work brings him to meet Gita. It’s love at first tattoo. The bond that Lale and Gita share is possibly the one of the very few innocent and endearing acts of humanity in the camp. The fact that the two harbour love in their hearts, brave to hope a life beyond the walls of the camp, dream of a full life someday is the most supreme acts of subtle rebellion against their circumstance. This love blossoms in a place where hate and apathy blooms. The rest of the tale is about the time Lale and Gita spend in the camp, their eventual escape into the real world, their unrelenting love for each other and the love that finally brings them together and takes them to their promised land of happily ever after. The drama is gripping and the tale engages the readers , one page at a time. As the characters explore the camp, they and us, the readers, are exposed to the horrors that the camp is quite capable of. 

Lale and Gita’s tale is all about humanity at its finest best. In the face of horror, the human spirit has the capacity to refuse defeat and refrain from succumbing into the depths of existential depression. Love keeps the two characters from giving up on their life and their dreams. The tale is not about just Lale and Gita. The horror of the realities of the camp spans across millions of others who endure similar harsh challenges. The secondary characters add charm and warmth to the tale. There are acts of selflessness that touch you and remind you of how wonderful it is to remain human. There is greed and the darks of the human nature. Even in the deepest pit of hell, the vibrancy of human characters shines bright , shines dark and shines across the broad spectrum of what humans are capable of. 

The tale also speaks of the dynamics between the prisoners of the camp and the Germans who guard them. During the peak of the Nazi regime, not everybody was pure evil. We get to see the shades of grey where evil manifested in varying degrees. Lale meets guards who are committed to the ideologies, mind body and soul. He meets blokes who go with the flow of things and do what others do. While I couldn’t get a glimpse of any conflict that ran rampant in the minds of the Germans, we do get to read a human side in even them. A side that is bound by the realities of the era but at the same time, a touch of compassion, humanity, if you may , that exists in just sufficient quantities that qualifies evil men as still humans and not just demons. 

We are introduced to the Magic doctor Mengele. His sheer presence in the text runs chill down the spine. The portrayal feels real enough. The character does haunt, even after the passage of many a decades since then. He is the very embodiment of a body that is void of any soul. There probably isn’t a single cell, a fragment of a fabric of humanity in the Doctor. Sinister evil exudes from him. 

What I enjoyed the most about the book is the way the characters grow in time. Imprisoned in camp, Lale’s compassion for life is a beautiful example of what one can aspire for in life. The toll the place takes on his character is a heart wrenching one. As bonds are forged and readers get accustomed to a life, albeit a miserable life, in the camp, we are reminded of the short shelf life in the camp. People come and people go. The camp is a constant reminder of how close death loiters in the forsaken place. 

All said and done, the version of the book that I carried had pictures of Lale and Gita and other folks. Looking at them, smiling, celebrating life together, it felt wonderful to just read their tale and know a bit of the things that this couple has endured. Theirs is the kind of love that I believe keeps the world going. In an age where broken marriages and hearts are a common sight, Lale and Gita’s wonderful bond is a shining example of what the word stands to represent. 

I don’t think the tattooist is a very serious, very grim view of the life in the camp. It’s a retelling of a life endured and it’s narrated in a way that stirs the heart and makes us feel warm and cosy. I believe there are grimmer tales out there and frankly, I don’t have the appetite to expose myself to the struggles and eventual triumph of the human spirit. 

Tattooist is a much lighter toned book and that’s perfectly alright. Give it a shot. You’d probably wont feel disappointed. 



Nose Dive : Where fiction meets fact while history repeats and masses are reduced sheep

The title had to be senselessly long. There wasn’t an easy way around it. Trust me, I thought a while and decided to take the longer obscure road. 

The crux is an insight into current events. To connect the dots, the prerequisites include Black Mirror : Episode Nose Dive. China’s beloved Social Credit ID, a little Roman History, a world of religion, Gods appeased and finally Money that absolves all evil. 

That’s a long ask. Lets dig right in. Black Mirror is a smart , slick, TechnoPsychological series of sorts. It offers a view of how the current state of technology has the potential to shape up the human and social behaviour. Nose dive is a special episode in many ways. Personally, I do think the protagonist is wicked gorgeous. That’s beside the point though. Nose dive is about a society that integrates the life with a social credit score of sorts. Timidly put, the better your score in the digital world of pretend avatars, the better is your living condition in the real world of blood and flesh. The protagonist starts on a pretty decent score and has a means to bump her social standing to a whole new league. Bada boom, things go south. As the social popularity and score plummets, her life starts to take a beating. She’s denied access to public services, she’s blacklisted from using the airlines. She gets a beat down car at the rental agency. While hell breaks loose, the protagonist comes to realise that her life , so far, had been a silly futile façade. The episode ends with her locked up in jail and she finally manages to taste freedom through her imprisonment. 

China, being China, decided to go nuts with the concept. I believe I had spoke about this when I came across the news where China had announced that it had plans of implementing such a social scoring system. It’s been less than a year and on an average, it takes me longer than that to even decide upon a routine, China went ahead and implemented the scheme. I caught up on a news snippet which explained the implemented scoring system. Apparently, blokes start on a score of 1000. That’s rather modest of the Chinese to limit themselves to a 1000. 

Each good deed is awarded by a score. Each rude , unruly, undesired public behaviour results in deductions and public shaming. The score has a direct impact on travel and other aspects of daily living. The news showed that a bloke being blacklisted from a train because of a poor social standing. His mode of transport was downgraded from a super fast express train to a bus ride. 3 hours versus 10, to be precise. 

The implementation is nothing short of an epic endeavour. 3D face scanning cameras installed everywhere. Social tracking through diligent use of the big brother infrastructure. And for a good measure, throw in ‘Social Inspectors’ whose only job is to monitor people and scribe down events and scores. Do you remember the good old days from School. The times when teachers were either absent or stuck in a hang over, the class pupil monitor would rise to the occasion of noting down names. Three strikes later, the usual punishment was a simple means of public shaming. The means of imparting such swift justice was through the teacher beating the bejeebus off you in front of the class. 

Yeah. Good times. I learnt a very valuable lesson growing up. I knew I couldn’t stop making trouble. I knew I was slick enough to pocket the pupil leader too. I’d always have dirt of on the bloke or strings to pull. A criminal with an exit road. Professionally speaking, I had my exit covered. It’s a skill that helps and help it does plenty. 

That was a good detour. So China does that. A steadfast way to climb up the social standing is by being good, staying good. OR, start making hefty donations to the Community. 

Money, once again, was a means to atone for the sins of the past. I do know that this aint something new or shocking or even surprising. Where have I seen this social phenomenon. And then it dawned. Charity always begins at home. 

Bribing. When you bribe mortal men, it’s corruption. When you bribe the gods, it’s devotion. Most humans try to equate their sins with tangible trinket or sizeable donation to compensate for their comeuppance. It’s not as sinister as I call it but the general idea still remains true. From coconuts to promises to travel far to visit the houses of many gods, this practice of offering to compensate the blessing bestowed has always been a legitimate trade. Most of us do not harbour sinister motives. Our lies are white and crimes are usually victimless. The bribe feels justified and normal. 

Not so long ago, a certain pope tried this barter system in the ancient roman empire. Not a long while later, the Vatican is possibly one of the richest conglomerate known to mankind. Religion, ever since or better still forever always, has been a profitable venture. Before technology evolved, humanity had attempted this social credit score by exercising moralities and codes of conduct. I’d like to believe that the system failed. Maybe it didn’t. The general idea is that if the big brother does not remind the folks that he’s watching and keeping tabs, most folks would volunteer and welcome the oppression. 

Decades later, humanity is ready for it and doing it. Volunteer disclosure and surrender of every angle and aspect of life is prevalent. All works fine unless someone assumes the role of the big brother and makes a declaration. Then, all hell breaks loose. We don’t have a problem with staying oppressed. We have a problem when someone rubs our egos with it. 

So back to China, While the intent is there, the technology is relevant , the schemes in play, the Chinese have a herculean task ahead of them. It’s called Logistics. Handling such vast data is impractical and given the current means of shoddy implementation, it is unsustainable. Cant have humans police humans. The technology isn’t mature where the Skynet can fully take over. This ushers us right into a page from the cyber punk dystopia that the future is. China sets the example of how social manipulation can be done through use of cognitive assessment of psychological expression. To simplify that statement, it means, in time, algorithms will try to predict what we’d possibly end up doing. Pre Crime , hello Minority Report. Smart algorithms will enforce control over humanity by constantly policing and monitoring. In time, most of us will adapt and play along. As long as no body tells us that we’d then be reduced to being a herd of sheep. We are probably a century away from such a fate. Or maybe just a few decades away really. The ground work has been done today. Rest is inevitable organic progression. Fear mongering will ensure that some state will be smart enough to render its citizens dumb. Oh, Patriot Act anyone? Or Demonitisation ? History on a constant perpetual loop mode. 

It is funny that no matter what we do, we are still doing the same things over again. While the technology has changed, the human element behind the technology has remained unchanged. Maybe the human trait is a constant and fair enough, humanity has remained doomed , only we refuse to accept that. 


Roses and gray

The morning had dawned and the birds had done their chirping. The cool morning breeze had given way to a pleasant warmth that now cruised through the open window. The sun was out and it was burning bright. I wake up grumpy and worn. I wake up grumpy on most days. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been a morning person. 

Age has a bit to do with the perpetual state of staying jaded. I am pushing 70’s and the body does show the signs. I don’t think I have it in me to transform into a morning person. 

I get off the bed to realise the calm silence in the house. It has been many a years but I can’t bring myself to reconcile with an empty house. A house is a house made of people. People are more important than marbles and bricks that litter the floor. The sound of nothing kept constantly buzzing in my ears. The hissing sound of nothingness. I shook my head in a defeated disappointment and headed to the wash to freshen up. 

The Calendar declared the day as 13th, Sunday. A nice red line circled the date. An anniversary , obviously. I do that. I like to set the time aside to call out important dates in the year. I let a wistful smile as I let the significance of the date sink in. The date took me down the memory lane. Decades of life lived, dreams dreamt and regrets accumulated over time. The thought almost overwhelmed me. 

As I look back, it wasn’t an easy marriage. She always reminded me of my ineptness. Nothing I did was ever good enough. The first months, anger had swallowed me. The first year, I had breached my tolerance and was left with nothing but contempt and spite. I remember the time she fell sick. It was the first of the times when I noticed the hissing sound of nothingness through silence. Her usual chair was empty. I missed her morning taunt. Starting the day without her reminding me of how useless I was, wasn’t something that I was accustomed to. It felt unnatural. That day, I had wrapped up work early and had gone to visit her in the hospital. She had looked weak and frail. Deep within my heart, I wanted her back in her former glorious, spiteful self. It was an evening spent praying in the hospital. A few days later , she had pulled through. A few weeks later, the chair had its owner back. The mornings returned to their normal self. The snide resumed. I saw the satisfied smile return to me. It felt good to be home. 

The incident hadn’t salvaged the relationship. It remained as volatile as it had always been. Through health and sickness, we both endured and survived. The little signs of kindness and care went undisclosed and undiscussed. In time, the spite and the anger had vanished. We were now reduced to players of an act. The deride was a routine. All bark, no bite. All snake and none of the venom. 

Our child into this world made the house better. Laughter bloomed. Happiness doubled. There wasn’t time for the silence to yelp its hissing. Silence had been replaced by wonderful chaos. The chaos kept all of us sane. The years rolled forward. There were days when we’d sit , separated of course, but sit in proximity nonetheless. We had grown tolerant to each other. As I said, it wasn’t an easy marriage. 

Somewhere down the line, she departed. The date is now circled each year. I wish , back then, there was a sign or hint of the event to unfold. I might have done something different. I didn’t. She didn’t. We had carried on with the duties of the day. Indifferent and yet connected in a special way. The news came as a message at work. I had rushed and all the rushing hadn’t made any difference. 

She had loved roses and roses ushered her to the heavens. Her death had left me changed. I missed her. The house missed her. The silence found its way back home. Sunday the 13th was her last day on earth. Every year, I pick roses and leave them with her. I’d like to believe that she’s up there, smiling and passing condescending sarcastic criticism of the roses I’d pick for her. I wouldn’t let things be anything besides that. It was our way. It was what that kept us together. 

The clock struck 10 and I walked out of the house. I stopped by the usual florist. She knew what I was there for. She handed me a special bunch that she had set aside for the cause. The comforts of a routine are a blessing. The sun shone bright. This year, there weren’t any rains. I’m a bit of a sentimentalist about a rain. The gentle shower usually comforts me. In my personal opinion, the rain adds a certain charming vibe to the meeting. It wasn’t that kind of a day today. 

The roses picked, I walked to the cemetery. I walked to the place where she rested. 

‘Hi angel’ I called out

‘You are late’ my wife replied. 

‘That’s the spirit. Your mother would have definitely reminded me of that’, I joked. 

‘Oh shut up’ and she concluded. We both stood beside each other and lost in the many thoughts of her mother. She was a wonderful kind lady. She hated me in her own way. She loved and cared for me in her special way. She was an integral part of our lives. She fortified our lives with her strength. She stood by us during the troubled times. She helped us cruise through the decades. 

The roses rested on the gray. We both stood for a while in silence. 

‘Coffee ?’ she finally asked. 

What can I say, the comforts of a routine are a blessing indeed. 


A password reset

I’ve never really paid much attention to an expired password before. This morning, the portal said I had 46 minutes of life left before resetting the current instance of the password. I shrugged my shoulder and I couldn’t care less. I logged in a while later. The system said I had 20 minutes left. And then it didn’t say anything. It redirected me to the change screen. 

I keyed the date and the month when I joined the organisation. I typed the current year and realised the blunder. And that was all it took to whisk me away from the present to the magical , beautiful land of the past. 

The year that I joined the company, a lot of things were going around in my life. I was glad that I was employed. Being employed didn’t actually spice up my life. To me , it meant a check in the box. Udyogam, purusha lakshanam. That roughly means, a guy ought to ought to have a job. I remember the 24 hours that I spent on the bus to travel from Trivandrum to Chennai. I had endured 24 hours of bone racketing rusty seats to spend two hours with the lady love of the day. I didn’t complain. It was fun. The anticipation of the meeting kept me motivated through the endeavour. Now that I look back, it was a silly romantic blundered adventure of sorts. The rains over Kerala. A rusty bus that stopped more than it moved. The early morning halt for tea and refreshment. The horrors of public rest room. The fresh pollution free morning. The sound of old songs blaring across the speakers. The sights of busy world buzzing around me. The world was buzzing with activity and I was lost in the nectar of love. Time meant something else to me. Time sped and slowed for me simultaneously. The trusty nokia was still charged and alive through the entire ordeal. 

All of that was on the second day of my time in the organisation. Back then, I wasn’t equipped to even remotely fathom the decade that was to come. 

I remember that cocky old me. I stood out in the class when I didn’t share the practiced queen of the world speech about how I felt when I got my offer letter. For everyone around me, that offer letter meant that their life had already changed. I’m a slow learner. It’s taken me 12 odd years to realise that my life had actually changed from the moment I signed up and picked that offer letter. 

I walked into the office as a goofy kid who was indifferent towards the world of staying a professional. In time , I had learnt to grow into an adult. In time I had learnt to accept responsibilities. I couldn’t bail out at will. I had commitments to keep and deliveries to make. I was not just me. I also happened to represent a big wide vast organisation. 

As time turned and churned, changes were inevitable. Life moved on. Through tears and smiles, I found the courage to wake up every morning and commute to the desk. Some jobs I liked, some I loved, many where I felt bored and numbed. There were days when work was my escape from life. There were days when work kept me distracted from life. Then in time I learnt to balance and see a life beyond work. In time, I had grown. 

With each phase of the change, my expectations from the organisation had changed. My expectations from life had changed. Things also worked the other way. The org wanted new things from me and so did life. The angry young man persona changed to smart Fixer. I had learnt to can the anger away. Right and wrong didn’t matter anymore. Things either worked or they didn’t. I had learnt to focus on making things work rather than fighting over for noise. 

While I was lost in the thoughts of the roads that I had taken till day, I couldn’t also help but wonder at how much I’ve changed from then. I’ve changed my ways in a lot of ways and at the same time, I’ve also remained the same in many ways. It’s a paradox nonsense when I type the sentence but it makes perfect sense. I am still what I am. Just changed and unchanged in ways that works for me. 

All that, thanks to a password reset. 

[Book Review] A cat, a man and two women

Cat , a man and two women by Jun’ Ichiro Tanizaki.

Cat , a man and two women is a tale that stays obsessively true to the title. As the name suggests, this is a story about a cat, called Lilly; A man , ‘Shozo’, and two women, ‘Shinako, and ‘Fukuko’. 

There is something about Jun ‘Ichiro that reminds me a lot of Haruki Murakami. Unlike most works of Murakami, this one is not generously littered with demented perversion. The story maintains a clean rating of G. This was my first venture in to the words of Jun and I wouldn’t be surprised if his works have had a lasting impression on Murakami. 

Besides the obvious lack of perversion, what connects this tale to the rest of the works of Murakami is the sheer indifference shown by the author towards how the tale concludes. There isn’t an explicit ending to the tale. The readers are left free to make whatever they want to make off the tale. This trait is something that I’ve always loved, admired and aspired to emulate from Murakami. I was pleasantly surprised when Jun ‘Ichiro had adopted the same style of narrating a gripping story. Both authors really couldn’t spare a damn when it came to spoon feeding the audience with a stereotyped structured way of story telling. 

The other thing that stood out was the brilliance of the simplicity of the tale. The book made the aspiring , budding author in me feel ashamed. What Jun ‘Ichiro manages in under 130 pages is nothing short of pure magic. It took the author so few pages to weave a tale around the entities in the title, build an arc around their character traits, enrich it with secondary characters, throw in some life around all the characters by giving us a glimpse of their respective backgrounds. Top that with different vested motives of all of them. WOW. The book is busy , considering it’s a short one. At the same time , the words don’t feel heavy and the mind does not feel taxed with information hitting us in bursts. The author establishes the tale at a very comfortable pace. 

The story opens with Shinako writing a letter to Fukuko, asking her to give her a cat. Shinako was married to Shozo and things didn’t pan out. She found herself kicked out of the house. Shozo goes on to marry Fukuko. Shinako is left with absolutely nothing. She pleads for the custody of the cat, Lilly. She reasons out that her empty life, filled with void, could be a little easier if the cat was with her.

Fukuko manages to get rid of the cat. While that statement is simple, it also encapsulates the power dynamics within the family. Shozo loves the cat like his own child. He pampers Lilly and spends all of his time with her. He even makes Fukuko slog in the kitchen to feed the cat like it’s Christmas every day. Fukuko weighs the options and decides that she deserves a better place in Shozo’s life than his cat. For Fukuko, it’s a win. Shozo is left heart broken. 

Then there is the ulterior motive behind Shinako’s ask. She hopes that Shozo would miss the cat and come running to her to see the cat. Eventually, she speculates, that things would heal between the two and they’d reunite. 

While the games begin, the readers are introduced to the white elephant in the room. Shinako hates the cat. Fukuko hates the cat. While the latter gets rid of the problem at the cost of breaking her husband’s heart, the former acquires the problem in hopes of regaining her ex husband’s heart. Shinako and Lilly never got along before. It was this friction that had ultimately led to the couple separating. The game that Shinako plays, it brings her up close with the cat again. Will the lady and the cat get along? What happens to either of them? Do they both manage to endure and survive together? 

Rest of the story is about the game of cat and mouse played across human minds. The schemes plotted, the moves predicted and the outcome that eventually shapes up the lives of the players. Will Shinako and Shozo reunite. Will Shozo realise his love for Shinako ? What happens to Lilly?

With each chapter, we get to uncover the character traits of the primary and the secondary characters. And boy we are in for a wonderful thrilling roller coaster ride. Our prejudice gets thwarted at every turn. We sway from the verdict of guilty to innocent, victim to perpetrator with every turning page. The grand climax leaves with life in it’s absolute purest form. We are forced to accept all the characters for what they are and along the journey, we grow warm to all of them. We end up rooting for our favourites. We are made to choose between the devil and the deep sea. We are forced to pick what we think is the lesser of the abundantly available evils.  

Aint that the grandest display of life? If this doesn’t emulate life, I don’t know what else will! 

The tale is simple, the book is short, the pace is comfortable and the narrative is gripping. I must admit, I can’t think of one good reason as to why one would want to skip reading this lovely story.

Two thumbs and four paws up. A definite read. 


He said, she said and then they SAID

SAID. the word fascinates me and mostly because I spent a few minutes pondering , giggling and deviously coining an acronym from the word. S.A.I.D or as it exists in my mind as , Safety Apathy Indifference and Distortion. 

Before we jump into the wagon called said, a little context is the need of the hour. I was glancing through the feeds in face book. I’m there again after a long hiatus and it still feels raw and uneventful to jump into the million different conversations that go on. It’s not about being snobbish and claiming to be holier than the rest. Its just that I’ve been away for so long that I no longer fit in. It’s a living. 

And so someone had posted about this new series on Netflix. Something something about Ted Bundy and then the opinions around safety, Women’s safety to be precise.

Then there was the faction claiming that women were usually the targets for such serial offenders. Then someone spoke about the quintessential right of women to stay safe and at the same time independent. Someone brought the issue of not telling women how to dress and walk and talk and focus on straightening out the social deviants. That was all a bit too much information for me to simultaneously process. I did the easiest thing that I could do. Closed the app and threw the phone away.

The thought still lingered and finally evolved to SAID. 

Safety Apathy Indifference and Distortion. Let’s start with distortion first as it’s easy to isolate and articulate. If the problem statement were to be framed as 

‘I don’t feel safe to walk the roads alone at night’ 

Everything under the sky can be termed as a distortion if it distracts us from the core issue. Safety. Why do I not feel safe? Am I unsafe because of growing violence or do I have other fears that determine that outcome. For convenience, any term that either ends with IST or ISM, I reckon we can bottle them up under the tag called distraction. While there might be vested merits to being sexist or promoting feminism, or being a misogynist or worshipping pessimism, each IST and or ISM caters to a chosen bias. They might add value to the argument but in all instances, they represent a symptom of a problem and in all cases, usually do not address the problem at hand. 

Then comes Indifference. I’m safe and i’ll always be safe. Bad things happen all over the world and quite necessarily, none of them happen to me. This can do, will do, born to burn the world attitude towards personal safety is also bluntly called indifference. Indifference arises either from ignorance or arrogance. Ignorance can be treated. I choose this term ‘indifference’ very carefully because it is a term that bruises ego. Embracing common sense is a step towards staying safe. A lot of folks confront their fears for the sake of confronting them. While the courage helps a lot to overcome their fears, it is also the classic example of flirting with danger and watching danger flirt back. This abrasive stance is a personal choice. Hence this indifference is a decision made. The threshold to this indifference varies across people. Some are risk averse and some constantly try to push the boundaries of their personal luck. The significant difference is that through this, one stands to get hurt and depending on how badly one can get mauled, the decisions vary. Hence Indifference. Distortion is when folks act surprised when dangers flirt back. 

Apathy is about feeling invincible. I’m a chicken at heart. I’m usually risk averse. I’d skip the streets on my way if I spot stray dogs loitering the vicinity. A lot of my friends and a bunch of folks I know are nothing like me. They are speed demons. I call them reckless and they call me a scaredy cat. That’s the status quo. The difference is that these blokes appear fearless. When they get injured or hurt, they brush it off and bounce back again. Apathy. Safety is a guaranteed deal for such blokes. They take the term for granted and with each thrill, they push the boundaries of what they can endure and survive. 

Safety , in a lot of cases, is about common sense. Going back to the conversation that started it all, expecting a demented serial murderer to show logical and rational thinking, asking the serial murderers to include diversity and inclusivity to their modus operandi is an insane ask. Mentally unbalanced folks take to serial murder. It takes a special kind of stupid to expect them to exercise a rational thought process. While Ted Bundy killed a lot of women, and Hollywood serial killers often target women because it makes for a glamorous scene and that results in a better ticket sale , invoking the feminist card against such blokes seldom makes sense. Yes, and I used the feared F word there. My lack of political correctness usually trumps all the ists and isms around. 

For each Jeff Dahmer, a bloke who only killed boys and men, there are at least a hundred stacked Teds who kill only women. Lets argue that historically, the perception was that women were weaker and hence made an easy prey. Today the world is much smarter. The world cannot play that gender card anymore. Women aren’t weak or weaker than men. Today, common sense around staying safe and secure takes a back seat. In the name of what so ever, folks often put themselves at risk and its the case of flirting with danger and inevitably waiting for danger to flirt back. 

With the amount of personal data, personal location, contact information , photos that we carelessly scatter all over the world, it’s a miracle that freaks and sickos are not stalking, killing and slaughtering in bulk. It’s probably a reflection of a less sinister truth. There aren’t as many evildoers in this land as we thought there could be. 

What’s your take on SAID. I’ve said what I said. Have you SAID ? , yeah, that phrase wasn’t as smooth as it sounded in my head. 


Beyond the news

“Do you follow the news?” 

Those are the first of the words that I heard during my short visit to Russia. I had gotten off the International Airport in Moscow. A bloke stood waiting for me. He held a placard that read out the grandest and the longest version of my name. Karthikeyan Thinnium Santhanam. With a Font size that big, my name almost spanned the entire length of the paper when printed in the landscape mode. Of course, such long names can barely be printed right in the portrait mode.

Vladimir was the name. Of course, it either had to be a Vlad or a Dimitri. Russia after all. Hollywood had spent years brainwashing me to believe that in Russia, there were but only a few names which were religiously reused. A day later I’d know the difference. Vlad shot his first question. “Do you follow the news ? “ 

‘I don’t watch the news’ I replied with a sense of pride. As it is, I read far too many books on cyber punk and the inevitable dystopia that awaits humanity. News, to me, is a mellowed version of that fiction. News to me is more fictitious than most fiction novels. I didn’t see a point in both reading and watching fiction at all times. 

‘Goot, you’ll have a nice time in Moscow’ Vlad declared. He wasn’t far away from the truth. 

News plays a very important role in our lives. News, either watching in the telly or the ones gathered from numerous gossip mouths that surround us, help us form opinions. We hold on to such opinions with absolute gusto. It is funny that we protect and defend our opinions and force it down the world. It’s funnier that a lot of our opinions, which are based on social news, are often lies and propaganda and aren’t worth the effort needed to sustain them. Staying distanced and alienated from the news does come very handy at most times. 

Oblivious to the average Dimitri in Russia, I walked the streets alone. I had a gala good time. I did however manage to acquire factoids that explicitly stated that tourists should at all times avoid interacting with them Police. I tried to avoid them but I wasn’t successful at that. I managed to share a few laughs with them nice cops who had a good time playing dumb charades in trying to help me find the kiosk that sold train tickets. Cops were alright. They were efficient in speaking Russian, and I guess they either cussed while smiling or were actually giving me directions that I couldn’t comprehend. Either ways, they weren’t as bad as I thought they could be. 

Then there was the train loaded with happy passengers who were eager enough to share their culture with a bloke. I found them a lot more friendlier than most people in my office space. So far , the world was proving the news wrong. 

Soaked in confidence and arrogance, I had made it across the land to Siberia. It would have been super dramatic to say that I found blood flowing and violence streaking through the streets. I hadn’t. I did find pedestrians waving me a bloody good morning with a smile. The day recorded a freezing minus mid twenty something. Outrageous caps, heavy jackets and thick gloves and boots were a common sight. So were those harmless smiles of greeting. 

My arrogance grew in magnitude. The following day, I was seated at the breakfast table and the owner had installed a brand new 120 inch LED TV. LG did good business in Siberia too. That’s the South Koreans for you. Their products are possibly sold everywhere in the world. The owner had tuned into the news. And then I saw this snippet of a bulky hulk like bald bloke who was apparently arrested for beating another bloke to a pulp. Reality had caught up. So there was violence in the land. Maybe unicorns didn’t dance in Russia. This sobered me a bit. 

I quickly bounced and realised that there is violence around me. Chennai had its fair share of crazy blokes beating each other senseless. I’ve been a witness to a violent crime, here in London. Hope they bagged that bloke. I guess violence is in our nature and there is no point blaming a country for it. There will always be them folks who speak with their fists and use their guns and or knives to make a point. 

All that said, one morning when I was heading to work, I was seated next to this old lady. Apparently she was an Italian and she saw me pull out my phone and asked if she could send someone a message about her whereabouts. I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t think of anything to deny that helping hand. With hidden reluctance, I offered her my phone with a warm smile. I immediately imagined the worst. I thought I was aiding and abetting a sleeper cell who had been activated. I tensed for a while and then thought I was being silly about the whole incident. I couldn’t help but wonder about the social paranoia of the world that I was a part of. 

It also just happened that the old lady had messaged her daughter telling her that she found the right train and would be making it to another station in about a few minutes. 

In both instances, I didn’t possess any direct access to agents of violence or terror. I am a product of my opinion and my opinions have been massively manipulated by the agencies of the world. I think that’s a shame. The fastest way to debunking such myths is to brave having an open mind and experience different people for what they are. Yes, there would be a few nasties along the way. We cant help that. Even supermarkets manage to sell a rotten product or two along with the other million quality products that they sell every day. 

Growing beyond the news takes an effort. Cultivating an open mind takes an effort. It takes courage to give people a chance without viewing them through our bias. What I’ve experienced is that the world around is a lot more fun place when we shed aside our prejudice and let ourselves be a part of the wider world around us. 


The definitive differentiator

‘What the hell am I doing?’ I stood wondering. I had woken up from a heart crushing dream that had left me in tears, both in the world of the dream and the real.

Overwhelmed and still a bit groggy, I walked out of my Ger camp in Mongolia. The campsite was deserted. I was all alone in the vast emptiness. With no light source around, the sky looked surreal. A clear blanket of black. Tiny glittering dots. The constellations were prominent and undistorted. I strained my eyes to focus on the sky. 

Chill wind blew over and I realised that in my moment of daze, I had walked out without the protection of my fur cap. I was too exhausted and a bit lazy to skip the moment to head back for cover. I let the sight sink in. I let the vastness sink in. I let the loneliness sink. I finally let all my past choices sink. With that accomplished, I felt a bit silly to mull over a dream. Perspective had set in and I stood in awe, watching the vast night sky. Snow had began to gently shower and the cold was now catching up. Feeling alive, I crawled back into my camp for a sip of piping hot tea. I contemplated the dream and the state it left me. I also contemplated the journey that took me to that point. It was a brand new choice. I chose to enjoy the gifts that I had. I could afford the luxury of time, health, wealth , to afford such a vacation. For reasons beyond my comprehension, I appeared to be built for the cold. In all, my spirits bounced back and the mood lifted to a happy glee.

Somewhere during this internal struggle, the silence was ruptured by an invitation for dinner. The driver who had ushered me to the camp had knocked and helped himself into the camp. ‘NK, as in North Korea’ he had introduced himself previously that day. NK was a sober bloke. He was my guide as well as the designated driver in the city. He wasn’t the best of guides. He tried his best and his best wasn’t great. He was sluggish all the way. He preferred to skip the climbing and walking as much as he could. He’d rest his bones and let me explore the places. I initially felt disgusted by his total lack of enthusiasm. Instead of passing condescending judgement, I took a stock of his wardrobe. He had thin shoes. His gloves weren’t great. His cap was a bit like swiss cheese. I could imagine the toll his body went through to walk in the bitter biting cold. I opted to not complain. He did his best and I did mine in turn. I was there to meet the land and not just one bloke. I wished him no ill. NK was Nk and that was all there was to it. I had quickly learnt to not mind. 

‘NK, I’ll skip dinner buddy’ I declared. Food did not interest me that moment. I had just woken up to the reality that I had a decade old dead white elephant buried in the abyss of my heart. It had only taken me a trip around half the world to come face to face with it. I wasn’t protected by the lies of words and wit. Such a moment of catharsis felt that I shouldn’t waste time over trivialities like food. I felt the compelling need to invest more thoughts into the moment. I was mentally preparing myself to face myself. 

NK was perplexed by the statement. He couldn’t understand why someone would refuse to gobble up a dinner. The meal was already paid for and made no sense to skip it. He tried to coax me into a quick meal. I politely declined the offer and pulled out my trusty notebook and a pen to scribe the moment. A few minutes later, NK made it back to my camp and informed me that the cook felt bad that I’d give things a miss. He added that she had spent the last three hours cooking. That subtle statement hit the mark. I didn’t have the heart to offend the only two people in the camp site. Alright, quick bite, I relented. 

NK and I were seated. NK shuttled between the table and the kitchen to bring the food. A plate of steamed sticky rice. Boiled carrots and potatoes with a hearty seasoning of herbs. Some Kimchi. A big flask of piping hot tea. I dived for the tea first and reluctantly reached out to the plate of sticky rice. I quickly found out that it was meant to be shared. There probably was an entitled bourgeoisie in me but that feeling soon died. I didn’t mind. It was nice to share, especially when I didn’t have an appetite. 

‘So, are you rich?’ came the question from no where. To NK, I seemed to be a good example of a ripe big fat rich pigeon. He was under the impression that I had surplus cash and that I could afford adventures across the world. The conversation had a potential to grow awkward but it also had a potential to know the real world. I took my chances.

‘I’m definitely not rich NK’ I replied. ‘This is my first vacation in decades. Kinda been saving without a fixed purpose for the longest while. I am plagued by the same headaches like the rest of the world. There is the obnoxious rent to pay, there is this ever looming fear of medical emergencies that keep me away from spending crazy.

I think twice before buying the things that I once used to buy. I gather its part of growing up into a semi responsible adult’ I concluded and smiled.

The conversation got personal and quick enough it was established that I hailed from humble backgrounds. I wasn’t born rich or super rich. The only thing that worked in my favour was the education that I acquired. Interestingly, my conversation with NK made me realise that my dad broke the finance cycle through acquiring an education. Had my grand daddy skipped imparting a quality education to my dad, I probably would not have embarked upon the multi national adventure. 

In the world of inequalities, the most definitive differentiator is EDUCATION. 

Time and again, this degree decreed through paper has been the most pivotal influencing factor that has changed the fortunes of the fortunate. Chennai is probably a city of a fifty colleges and about 3 universities, if I got my math right. Tamil Nadu is a state of a few hundred universities. This poses a difficult question. By virtue of the paper decree that is a degree, has life changed? Have folks managed to uplift themselves from one economic strata to another? 

The quality comes into play. I’m possibly the worst spokesperson for a quality education. My college was pretty sober. The brand that Karthik is, Katz is, did help me coast through it all. The brand has paid me well till date. Maybe it will continue to sustain my momentum. Time and again, I enrich the brand with new bits and bolts of information. I add new things to sell through my portfolio. That’s just me. 

Education can be a varied thing. Some are gifted with numbers and some are gifted with words. Success of varying degrees usually reaches all recipients of this education.

The distinctly successful ones are those who have managed to isolate the strengths and play to it. Blokes who have succumbed to failures have usually been folks who could not or did not manage to change the status quo into a favourable one. External factors have also skimmed through the crowd, from time to time. 

I’m absolutely certain that education is the greatest disruptor that upsets the established order.

 A little education, a little positive attitude, a big smile and expression of enthusiasm is all that one needs. Lady luck is an added bonus. It was an overwhelming moment to realise the magnitude of gift that I was sitting on. I’ve always trivialise the education system. I’ve always mocked the tapered broken system. A million flaws under its belt, education still has the potential to change lives. 

Now comes the kicker. In the middle of no where, I sat assured of my faith in the power of education. I made that choice to help uplift others by embracing education as a cause. I do plan to set the remainder of my life in pursuit of that cause. Help others with this gift for life. There are a million options and million other folks sharing this enthusiasm for the cause. A little here and a little there is good enough to keep me satisfied. An assured new step in the established direction. Maybe one day, there would be yet another kid, in the middle of no where, who’d probably come to terms with the greatest gift that it has always undermined. 

Help build a better world. 


Trans Siberia : A dummy’s guide to planning a vacation

The Trans Siberian railway line is one of the longest railway lines that I’ve come to know. There is definitely a fancy factor to making this trip. A vacation of this nature often is attributed as one of those once in a lifetime gig. Let that not overwhelm you. Planning and executing this vacation is not as complicated as one assumes this would be.

Lets get a few basics covered. 

1. The purist Trans Siberian rail route is the one that connects either St Petersburg or Moscow to Vladivostok. The entire journey on the train takes 7 days. 

Then come the popular alternates

2. The Trans Mongolian – This is the one that I took. This takes you from Moscow to Irkutsk , in Siberia. This leg of the journey takes about 5 days on the train. Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is an overnight train. UB to Beijing in China again is an overnight train. 

3. The Trans Manchurian – This route skips Mongolia. It takes the longer road to China connecting Moscow to Irkutsk and then proceeds to Ulan Ude. UU is still part of Russia. the final leg is Beijing, China

4. It’s not always one train. Moscow to Vladivostok is a single train. If one really really wants to, then one is free to take the 7 day pilgrimage on this train. The Mongolian route took me 3 trains. The Manchurian would probably take 2 trains. 

5. Point to Point versus Stop and hop. Point to Point is about boarding in a terminus and getting out at the final destination. This is a vacation of a different kind. One would get 7 days to sit around and accomplish either reading or writing a book. One can make music. In fact, if you can think of any activity that requires a lot of time sitting down, the point to point is a great approach. For the instagram, I’ve been here too photo tourism, it’s best to break the journey across multiple hops. Russia is a huge land. The listed trains usually stop by many stations. It’s a matter of hopping on and off the trail. The more one breaks, finding the next scheduled train can lead to longer overlays in certain cities and stations. This , in my opinion is the best bet. 

6. Summer or Winter. My personal take , do both. The same scenic route changes its nature across the seasons. I made the winter run. The land was pasted white and clear blue skies looked lovely with white lands below. The summer opens up a lush green in the color palette. Don’t worry too much about the winter. Wear the right set of clothes to keep you warm and alive during the winter. The big catch is that you need to either rent or buy the winter gear. One simply doesn’t Rambo their way through the winter. 

7. Visas : For Indians, Mongolian visa is free. There is no processing fee. Russian Visa is cheaper and I guess so is the Chinese one. Applying for Russian and Mongolian visas are a breeze. Fill the online application form, stick a photograph, carry your passport and done deal. VFS supports Russia. For Mongolia, one needs to walk-in to the embassy and apply. I got my Mongolian visa in half a day, Russian and Chinese in 3 days ( I had applied for a fast track). If you fancy saving a buck, start the Visa application process two months in advance. 

8. Air Tickets : Always also include the flights into Moscow/ St Petersburg and the flights out of China to take you back home. Rest, your plan of the tour would cover. 

Based on my personal experience, obtaining the Chinese visa was harder than the rest. One needs to book an appointment. The paperwork has to be perfect and the Chinese don’t tolerate any nonsense. Don’t expect them to bend the rules or assist or even be casual in their work. They aren’t. Even though the Chinese application form does not ask for to and return tickets from china, you’d still need to carry them. 

Package deal or flying Solo : 

I did my own research for the gig. I tried to find groups that I could tag along with. When nothing worked, I decided to do it all alone. Most of my searches in Google led me to RealRussia, a few personal blogs and I finally picked TransSiberian Travel Company as my tour operator. The decision to do so were because of the following factors 

Option 1 , The cheapest : Tour operator would book the train tickets, book hotels and arrange for pick up and a drop back to the station 

Option 2 , Premium economy : The Operator would book the tickets, book hotels, arrange a pick and a drop back to the station and also arrange a day tour or half a day tour in the places that one would stop. Option 1 and 2 , you’d end up with a Second Class Train ticket. In a Second class, a normal coupe consists of 4 beds. 

Option 3 , Business Class : First Class train tickets. A coupe would contain 2 beds. Hotel accommodation and day tours across the hops and stops.

Different tour operators maintain different itinerary. The popular players , when searching from the uk were, RealRussia and Trans Siberian Travel Company. I picked the latter because it worked out cheaper. Both players offer a set of places that they’d like to stop by. The package that I subscribed to started as a 12 day trip. I inflated it to 16 in course of the planning process. There are many places that one can halt in the journey. Some of the popular cities are as follows

1. St Petersburg
2. Moscow
3. Kazan
4. Ekateringburg
5. Perm
6. Omsk
7. Irkutsk
8. Novosibrisk
9. Ulan Ude
10. Vladivostok
11. Lake Baikal
12. Ulaan Baatar
13. Karakorum Pass
14. Beijing and the rest of China.

The ideal dream vacation would have been to stop at all the places. With each place you stop, you should add the cost of accommodation. And this is where the planning comes into effect. I didn’t plan much. This was my first gig travelling alone. I went in without any expectations. I felt convinced that I was getting a good deal.

The unknown is a big factor in these lands. I’ve never dreamt of going to Russia , Mongolia and or China ever before. These lands, English is not a mainstream. I was worried about finding a taxi that would pick me up from the station and drop me back. Now that I’ve survived this trip, I do feel a lot more confident and in retrospect, it does feel silly that one would have trouble finding the way to a hotel accommodation from the station. A translator app, writing down phrases comes well handy during these exchanges. It’s always more expensive to book for one bloke rather than booking the package for a group. It’s again down to personal choices. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience because I had no strings attached and I wasn’t slowing down or enthusing up anybody. Flying Han Solo has a charm that does come at a price. 

With these factors, I had booked the trip through a tour operator and had opted to manage the acquisition of visas all by myself. You’d need Rubles, the Russian money. Yuan, the Chinese money. Don’t bother with Mongolian money. The few exchanges I checked, nobody carried Tugriks. The next thing you need is to figure out the cost of living in the cities that you plan to halt in. I googled it and landed on a site that compared the cost of living across cities. Since London is an expensive city, for me the rest of the places were at least 60% cheaper in comparison. 

Russia I felt the spends were very similar to the ones back in Chennai. Average meal in a average fancy restaurant is around 800 Rubles. A Pound is 88 rub. Good deal, if you asked me. There are cheaper , cheaper options available. When I picked groceries from the shops, the cost of average meal dipped down to 350-400 rubles. From this point, it’s a personal preference of a choice. 

Mongolia, food was cheap too. I reckon a pound is 3300 Tugrik. I had just one meal that I paid for in Mongolia. A three course dinner , a bottle of Cola cost me 20000 Tugriks. Most of the souvenir ranged from 6000 to 12000 Tugriks. 

China was both cheap and expensive. I had a heavy dinner for 43 yuan and I also managed to find a cup of tea for 58 yuan. I entered a hotel and ordered a tea and was told that it would cost me 35 a cup. I negotiated it to 25 and converted that cup to a bottomless one. In china, USD is very popular too. Most shops accepted USD. 

Winter clothing : 

My winter gear included the following

1. A rather obnoxious cap: faux fur. Damn right warm. 
2. 850 fill down jacket – There is a lot of science to down jackets. The simple way of buying it is find the highest fill number that you can afford and then buy. Ps, it has to be at least an 800 down. Anything thinner, you’d not remain alive to harbour regrets. 
3. Ski Socks
4. I carried two pairs of gloves. Inner gloves and outer Mittens. 
5. Snow compatible boots. 
6. Marino thermals – 260 grade. 
7. Berghaus middle layer : Simple jacket that I had previously picked up when I hit Switzerland in the summer. This additional middle layer keeps you warm.

A little quick science is that the thermal layer traps the heat. The middle layer insulates it. The down jacket, contains that heat. You know the difference when you skip a layer. I had the fortune of leaving behind the middle layer and treading a day out in Siberia. I felt damp and cold for the day. It was late by the time I had realized that I was a layer short. 

And yes , when in Siberia during the winter, wear more pants. more the better. I wore 4! 

Both in Siberia and Mongolia, it’s not the cold that kills you. It’s the icy winds that break you down. The point of many layers is that they protect you from the winds. I had picked a pair of thermal balaclava. I didn’t bother using them.

Please do note : Different people experience COLD DIFFERENTLY . You know your body best. Plan and buy accordingly. It’s sensible to be overdressed rather than under and frozen! 

In all, my winter wear cost me to the tune of £400. I didn’t feel cold for most part of the tour. The times my fingers froze , they were because I chose to not wear my gloves. My visas cost me less than £300. I had set aside a respectable daily spend of £20. I don’t think I hit the mark anywhere in the journey. There are two primary reasons for it. I’m not a snack junkie and I didn’t buy a lot of munchies. I’m not a shopper and I didn’t shop nuts. I picked trinket across Russia, Mongolia and China. My biggest spends were on tea, proper kettle and fancy tea cups in China. Rest of the places, I didn’t spend much. 

I picked up a sim in Russia. It cost me 1400 Rub. plus another 200 when I learnt that I couldn’t use the one from Moscow in Siberia. Rest assured, Google maps helped me all the way. I didn’t pick a sim in Mongolia and China. I should have picked one in China. No regrets, I still had fun not knowing how and where to go to the destination that I wanted to head to. 

In retrospect, when I plan a trip again, I’d prefer to buy a lonely planet guide book. The package got me accommodated in 4 star hotels all the way. I had to book an additional night in Moscow and realised the room tariff was £80. I’d probably just get a travel agent to book the tickets and the accommodation , I’d book them myself to save myself a good deal. 

Oh yes. The trains have limited storage space. I’d definitely recommend carrying an 80L duffle bag. I carried a 130L and struggled with space. Fortunately, since I was the only bloke in the coupe, there wasn’t anybody around to bother. 

The money you spend for the winter wear, I think the spiked summer prices offset the expense. All prices hike during the summer. 

Hope the guide helps. Hope you get to experience the joys too. 


The big blue : A Trans Siberian experience

Rumour has it that we live in a small world. For many of us, the world is viewed through a 5 inch screen. We live in the digital age of maps with many roads. The whole world is binary bits of easily digested information. Of course, I’ve remained no stranger to such a world. One fine morning I woke up with this burning desire to travel on the Trans Siberian railway. I knew it was a fad at best and a sleep later, I’d move on to other impossible dreams. Only that didn’t happen. With each day, I grew obsessed with the idea of making the trip. 

Been there and done that and what a fantastic experience it has been. 

Russia, Siberia , Mongolia and China. The destinations seemed interesting on paper. Armed with inexperience and oblivious ignorance, I embarked upon my rather under prepared adventure. The first leg took me to Moscow. A city so vast , wide and loaded with history, it as a bliss to bask in its glory. There is so much history to the land. Lenin, Stalin, IKEA, trams , trains and people who love their ice cream in the stark winter. The land , I felt, existed as a consequence to the revolution. Everything about the city can be viewed through the filters of age before and after the popular revolution. Russia sacrificed religion and embraced ideology in exchange. The effect is even visible today. 

A city is cement and structures without the many people it houses. The folks in Russia and Siberia were kind and sincerely nice. English , for the first time in my life, didn’t serve any tangible purpose. I learnt to communicate through actions and non verbal cues. There was an abundance of kindness in the people around. Greeted with beverages and food, I never found myself alone , bored or ignored in this land. I still remember jolly Russians quoting Amitab Bacchan and singing songs from his movies upon bumping into me. Shahrukh Khan came in a close second followed by Mr Modi. The fact that them Russians had something nice to express about my culture brought in a sense of warmth and merry. It felt great to be associated to a land. It was fun to participate in an enthusiasm. 

Moscow to Irkutsk(In Siberia) was a 5 day train ride away. I still remember my coupe mates promising me that they’d try to speak English and keep me looped into their million conversations. They did well on their promise. The language barrier now broken, it was time to fish for simple words to communicate many passages of thought. It felt lively to experience the subtle power of words. Five days later, we parted as brothers. ‘Das Vidanya’, ‘Davai ‘, ‘Spaceeba’ ,’ Niet’ were words a plenty to leave behind memories for a lifetime.

Irkutsk greeted me with Lake Baikal and -37 degrees to the C. The tryst with the cold was a brand new experience that was loaded with fears for survival. When in Siberia, wear more pants. 4 was the right enough number. It felt clumsy to walk around wearing 4 pairs of trousers. It did feel reassuring that I’d not lose a limb that way. Walking the streets , freezing my face, ice crystals settling on my face and eye brows was a unique sensation. Part fear, part excitement and a 100% sense of awe took over me. The first hop was to this village called Listvyanka in Irkutsk. The village played home to the resident largest fresh water lake of the world. Lake Baikal. 

From Listvyanka to Irkutsk , the sights were filtered by the same blanket of white snow. Rivers and lakes partly frozen and were in the process of turning into ice. The city was new and yet felt the same. New people, the same language beyond my comprehension, the internet package now dead, I embarked on my first fully liberated journey of losing myself. I did lose my way around the town. In more ways than one, I was in the process of finding myself. Life is the same across the boundaries of geography. People across the world seemed to be busy and preoccupied with a million other thoughts and things to do. 

Irkutsk to Ulan Bataar (Mongolia) was another unique experience. Unlike the previous train ride, this time around I found myself , as one of the three , in a coach. The train was made of 8 coaches and the entire train had a whopping total of just 11 folks. It felt different to ride a ghost train, of sorts. Opportunity presented itself and I found myself focusing on writing a book. I finally managed to prioritise the one single task that I was absolutely in love with. My excuses to not write had finally run out. 

While Russia flooded me with many new faces and people eager to share a slice of their culture with me, Mongolia brought me face to face with staying alone and knowing the difference between staying alone and living lonely. I spent a day in a camp that was deserted and alienated from the rest of the land. As the sole guy in the camp, the other habitants were the Camp’s keeper and my driver who drove me to the place. The night sky was at its pristine crystal black. The stars glittered undisturbed from the lack of any other source of light. I stood alone under its magnificence. I finally knew what absolute beauty looked like. Mongolia was also the land that taught me the difference between cold and biting bitter cold. Even the respectable -26 degrees felt numbingly chill. My exposed fingers burnt from the cold. 

Under a gentle shower of falling snow, I returned to my Ger tent with a flooded heart. 

Mongolia is also the land where the King of kings once ruled. Chinngis Khaan is it’s celebrated hero. The city is a shrine to his existence. The streets loitered, I geared up for the next leg. China. 

At -8 degrees, Beijing was the warmest of the lot. Beijing was a city both lost and renewed in time. Concrete and glass compete with wooden pagodas there. China was a challenge of a different kind. Language was a barrier , communications had broken down. They didn’t express any enthusiasm to play with signs there. The spirit of adventure wouldn’t die yet. Eyes spoke and I finally managed a meal and a trip around the ancient city. The forbidden city is a slice of land that’s trapped in its ancient time. The great wall was a trek along a mountain. It stood amazed by the ancient infrastructure. Maybe in time, the great wall around Mexico would be a proper spiritual successor. 

Through the miles travelled, I learnt that the world is made of similar set of people. I met many a bunch. Funny ones, Ones with both an open mind and a heart. I met folks who weren’t interested in meeting and talking with strangers. I met many curious eyes who were itching to strike a conversation. I met many who were caught up in the same rat race as I was. I met fellow humans. When you ignore the news and the media that brands people and places, you get to see a world of a familiar nativity. Beyond the veil of separation, there rests a common humanity. 

Through my travel, I realised how vast the world is and how little I know of it and of my place in it. On roads newly travelled, I learnt to strip away from my own fears of the world. I walked in chained and returned home liberated. This ball of blue sure is a fantastic place of a million miracles. 


A few shots from the lens.

Let’s start with the Great Wall of China. A walker/trek junkie’s dream trail. Miles and miles of pathway with ample up hill climb and knee stressing down hill.

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Forbidden City, Beijing

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Another view in the Forbidden City, Beijing
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Lions of the Forbidden City. Background is the King’s Palace

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The passage between watch towers in the Great Wall.
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And nope, not China. This is in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. Chojin Temple that outlines Tibetian Buddhism and architecture 

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The massively huge Chinngis Khaan Statue , on the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar. UB, as its called is also the Coldest Capital city in the world. No kidding! 
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Kirov Park in Irkutsk, Siberia. 

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Listvyanka Village and a wonderful view of the Lake Baikal, Near Irkutsk, Siberia. 

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Listvyanka Village and the view of Lake Baikal.

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View from Chersky Rock, Listvyanka Village, Irkutsk, Siberia

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Quintessential Moscow Pic. Basil Cathedral , Kremlin, Moscow. Oh, the Cathedral is the sober one on the extreme Left. 

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Omsk Railway Station. My first tryst with -30 Degrees C. 

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Moscow by the night. Lights and décor to welcome the Russian winter. Russians don’t celebrate the Christmas on the 25th December. They welcome Father Frost on the 6th January(or 14th, I didn’t pay attention to my guide but same as date as Tamilnadu’s Pongal Festival ) as the Russian New year. 

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Surprise find at Ismilovosky Market. 4 stations hop from Ploschad Revolutioniskiiiiiii or close enough to be spelt right. 

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My smartest investment so far. When in Russia, Siberia and Mongolia, you would die with your boots on. Do yourself a favour and invest in a good pair. 

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