Tuesday, 9 September 2014

What Is Happiness?

Going further, going longer and experiencing more.

My brain is oversaturated but cannot stop thinking. Thoughts from adventures of different years are running around in my head and get mixed up. Impressions from places I have seen appear and increase my excitement for new adventures to come.

I feel I need to move because I have lost the curiosity I had about the place where I live. Suddenly the interest in discovering new areas in my hometown is gone. I feel that I just try to fool myself by telling myself that this is new. How does it happen that some people never lose the curiosity of one place? Is it because they see the place every day differently such that they experience it every day as a new place? Have they maybe found the real happiness there? What is actually happiness?

If I try to think about one of my happiest moments in life, one situation pops up in my mind, which might not seem very special for someone who has not experienced it but which led to this inner feeling of peace and appreciation in me at that same time. Interestingly I still get the same feeling when I think of it now.

It was one day during my fieldwork. I think it was the first day we drove off-road to a rural area in Mozambique. I was sitting in the back of the car. Two others were sitting in the front driving me to one of my research areas. One assisted me as a driver and the other one as a translator. They knew each other and were close friends. We passed by some rural villages on the way home, the sun was setting down and we had a long day of driving and conducting interviews behind us. I just looked out of the window fascinated by the landscape with the sun setting down, the extraordinary light making the place appear full of beauty. Then I turned around and looked at my colleagues. There was only the sound of the local Mozambican music playing in the radio, no one was talking and everyone seemed to have drifted away in his/her own thoughts. This moment with my fellows in the dusty car, who I just had met shortly before this trip and who offered me to assist me during my research was very special for me. The fact that we did not know each other from before (we had a common friend in the South of Mozambique who arranged our meeting in the first place) and that we spent two of the most exciting weeks of my life together, driving from one rural area to another, this moment in the car was just the beginning of it. It was in this moment when I realized how amazing humanity can be and how simple happiness can be.

So coming back to our question what actually is happiness. I think there is no universal understanding of happiness. However, we all seem to search for it. So how can we seek for happiness if we don’t really know what it entails? Some of us seek it in helping others, some in relationships, some in their work and others maybe in travelling.

There are two things I have learned in life about happiness so far and hopefully more are to come over the years. The first thing is that we have to keep in mind that happiness is not a stable stage over time. Happiness can appear from one moment to another and in the same way it can be gone in the next second. However, the fluctuating character of happiness is not a bad thing. I mean if we were happy all the time how could we still enjoy happiness? Isn’t it that we often learn how to value something when it is gone?

The second thing I have learned is that it does not matter where we find happiness but the important point is that we should not forget what makes us really happy and that this is an enormous accomplishment. There are a lot of people out there who are looking all their life for real happiness without finding it. Some of them think that certain things make them happy because it is what society tells you is happiness. I cannot tell you what the key to happiness is because there is no generic key but I can tell you that if you have found your happiness cherish it, never forget it, try to be honest with yourself and don’t fight to preserve it. Even if your understanding of happiness does not conform to the general way of living it is important that we stay honest with ourselves because we are in charge of our happiness and no one else and we cannot make others responsible for our happiness. However, what we can do is to share “our” happiness with them.

Thus, I believe that if we have figured out what makes us happy and we have found someone with the same understanding of happiness then we truly have reached the full level of happiness – like my two silent companions in a car on a dusty road in Mozambique.

This is an article by my friend Pia Otte – she requested me to post this on the blog so it can reside on the internet. :)

Friday, 11 April 2014


It is a rainy Thursday afternoon in Ås. I come to the train station and I find that my train to Oslo will not leave before 14:51. I take a look at my watch and realize that I still have more than half an hour to go in this rainy weather. Feeling cold and bored I look around and spot a café on the other side of the railway. It is the old main building of the train station, which was renovated to a coffee place. I enter the place and I notice its cozy grandmother’s atmosphere. This is definitely a much nicer and warmer place to stay than in the rainy weather outside. I take a seat next to the window, where I can view the railways, and the big station clock strikes my eye next to the window with its red pointer moving smoothly across its face. 

I take a sip of my hot chocolate to warm up and turn to the table next to me, where four elderly ladies are having a conversation. Two of them seem to be Norwegian while two others are foreigners. They speak a mixture of English and Norwegian. I turn around to the window again, look outside and take another sip of my hot chocolate, while more or less unconsciously eavesdropping on their conversation. At one point one of the ladies mentions something, which I don’t understand but it ends with the word patience. The lady stops talking for a moment and then asks the group “How do you say patient in Norwegian?” My first thought is “oh that is easy, it is “tålmodig of course” and while I am still happy with myself for remembering the word, both of the Norwegian ladies reply “tålmodig”.

However, it seems that the foreign lady did not understand. She tries to repeat the word but just gets the first part and the other two, noticing that she faces problems, repeat slowly to her “tål-mo-dig”.It is in this moment that I realize what it means to be tålmodig. I have heard and used this word so many times in my life. I tended to despise it without catching its real meaning. It actually captures two very important dimensions that require a lot of effort from our personality at the same time. 

The word is actually a composite of two words. The first part  “tåle”, means "to bear" or "to stand" and the second part "modig", means something like courageous. Patience - to bear with courage - suddenly made a little more sense. I smile to myself about my discovery and look again at the station clock with its red pointer moving smoothly across its face. I try to bear the situation and be brave simultaneously.

By Pia Otte.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013


I've moved to a new blog with most of my posts - so do come and visit :)

Captain Aapukuruvi still lives, however and will continue to inspire me to write!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Guardian Gyaan on Being a Science Journalist

I paid 40 pounds to attend the Guardian Masterclass on Science Journalism in London, to find out that

1. There are no jobs in print journalism for anybody, let alone print journalists.

2. You cannot become a freelance journalist – you must already be one.

3. Want to be a science journalist? Then you better have a brother-in-law in the labs.

4. Nobody wants to read what you write – that is assuming you can write.

5. The Guardian is the awesomest paper ever. And when I say ever I mean, ever.

Just kidding. Well… kinda. If you’re still reading, you probably do have a chance in print science journalism. I actually picked up a lot of useful tips in a very interesting 3 hour session conducted by James Randerson, editor of the Guardian Science Desk. For instance, I learnt that a shortened version of my intro here, in a news article, would be called a dropped intro – something that is playful, heightens drama, and is never supposed to be used in a well-written science article. Oops. The class was held in The Guardian’s impressive glass and steel office near King’s Place. I had expected around 20 other participants but was mildly shocked by the number of wannabe science journalists – all 100 places had been sold out!

James started off the talk with a mention of Tim Radford, the former editor on the Science desk and some of his tips. James reinforced Tim’s point that nowadays, the biggest pitfall in science journalism is writing that is not readable… or worse, not read. The most important person in a science news article, surprisingly enough, is you – the reader. Not the science.

Second most common pitfall? Overestimating the reader’s knowledge… and underestimating his intelligence. A typical science news story follows the inverted triangle concept – it starts off with the most newsworthy information, followed on by some details and finishing off with the background. The polar opposite of what a journal paper would do, though, in fact, very similar to the structure of an abstract. The topline hints at the specifics, but – and this was actually quite revealing – the topline of a science news story is 90% of the time a straightforward introduction to the subject of the story, not a dramatic introduction. So what makes a good science story?

There was a reason this class was advertised with a focus on health and environmental science stories. For a science story to work as news it should fulfill one of two basic criteria –

a) It should be relevant to me/my family/my friends (e.g., health stories – any number, such as the current series on running, potential cures for diseases, the list is endless)

b) Or, the story should have a ‘wow’ factor. Like the one about the meteorite in Russia. Or the discovery of the underwater lava lake by Southampton oceanography scientists.

In the second session we were given an insight into how a story makes it from a reported finding to the newspaper – a dreary drip-feed driven by press releases and news feeds from scientific journals. The whole shenanigans seems so dependent on the scientific community that it begs the question – do newspapers only ever publish stories that the scientists want them to? In fact, I had several questions bouncing around in my head, clamouring to be asked – are journalists doing a good job in communicating uncertain findings? Do the public have a right to know what’s going on in the labs, or are they merely interested?... but this talk was not a philosophical debate on the ethics of science and science journalism, so I told my questions to shut up.

Occasionally, Mr. Randerson (say that in an Agent-Smith-like voice if you’re bored) would plug the Guardian (“Contrast our responsible science publishing with the irresponsible rubbish printed by the tabloids”) but that was to be expected and did not detract from the more useful information and tips he gave us – so, forgiven.

The last bit of the talk was the most interesting, for – prepare to be shocked - unsolicited emails from individuals pitching science news stories ARE READ! Apparently this is how he got noticed. Among other things, a basic pitch should contain a topline, a peg (why now?), 50-100 words of context, a very brief summary of who you are… and if you have it, the story itself. Don’t expect a reply, let alone feedback – editors are ludicrously busy. But equally, don’t be shy to call up and harass them to atleast read your email.

Finally – tell them something they don’t know – avoid press releases and publications, and avoid regular journals – the press has these already. Oh – and in case you didn’t know - the Wellcome Trust Science Writing Contest is on.

Before I finish, I’d like to mention an interesting aside – I got talking to the guy next to me and we were both convinced that atleast 25 of the 100 participants that day were final-year PhD students, clutching at straws for their future careers. Funny image, that.

If you’re a journalist, I have nothing to say, except… watch out for those PhD students. If you’re a PhD student however… Go forth, and shine light into the murky world of science on behalf of all those lab coats in there struggling to communicate!


Saturday, 23 March 2013


Cool, airy and spacious, the ancient temple seemed almost cathedral-like, with a towering central dome, balconies running all round on four levels and the sanctum at the far end, with its curtain drawn. Unlike the more modern Ram Raja Mandir next door, this place was somewhat in ruins and almost empty. A few hundred years ago it would have thronged daily with devotees of the main deity, LaxmiNarayana, but today it stood unused. It wasn’t entirely still, however. This was evidently a popular hangout for local children… and curious tourists. An enterprising youth had acquired the keys to the inner stairwell and offered to open doors in exchange for a fee! After bargaining him down a bit we agreed on a price and spent the next half an hour exploring the balconies, stopping every now and then to take pictures of the picturesque town of Orchcha spread out at the feet of this monument.

We were asked to end our explorations by the self-assigned gatekeeper who felt we had had our money’s worth, and having had our fill of photographs, we obeyed and made our way out. I turned around as we were leaving, and noticed that the sanctum curtain was now partly open and a light shining through. As I walked towards it, I realized that this was actually a functioning temple. The sanctum had a resident deity and was manned! I took my shoes off some distance away before approaching the sanctum. As I neared it I realized that I was witnessing a miracle – an image that somehow, in that moment, felt powerful, and filled me with a sense of happiness, calm… and hope.

It was simply that sanctum was being guarded and maintained by a young girl, in her early teens. As she was still in uniform, she had probably come here straight from school. Oblivious to the conversations between the tourists and the self-appointed gate-keeper youth, the shouts and laughter from the other children running around the place, she sat there giving the deity company, reading diligently from a notebook. A plate with a lamp, some kumkum and turmeric, some flowers and some rupee notes sat beside her, along with a pile of text and note-books. I had approached the sanctum with the intention of seeing the deity and praying, but I backed away, not wanting to disturb her, so peaceful and absorbed in her reading! I decided that I would have to capture this scene, and did so rather guiltily, all the time feeling like I was invading the privacy of a sacred space. But I’m glad I did, for looking at that image a few months on, at a time when the country is being rocked by shocking scandals, brings back those feelings.

It is difficult to explain why I found - and still find - it so powerful – there is something about this image of a school-going girl, maintaining a temple sanctum while reading her textbooks, in an old, quiet, ruined temple that seems…right.  

Sunday, 24 February 2013


(Absinthe - French word, from the Greek for 'wormwood' - a bitter shrub, also used as a noun to indicate a state or source of grief)

Black and red are the lips of rock
Volcano emerging from the depths
Thrust out of charred earth
A monument to eternity

Green and blue are its frames
A destructive force with a conscience
Ancient slopes richly forested
Framed against a deep blue sky
A monument to infinity

Black and red are the vanishing insides
Setting sun on frozen magma
Empty crater swallowing all light
A monument to nothingness

Green and blue is the pool below
Deep down, almost out of sight
Now still now alive
Unknown waters holding your grief
A monument to now

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Great Indian Tatkal Experience

Act 1
7.15 AM. The parrots and cuckoos had started calling, and the morning newspaper had just landed on our driveway, but the house was still slumbering. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and cursed, “Pick up, you lazy ass!” I waited six rings, put the phone down and went into the kitchen for coffee prepared by woken-solely-for-this-purpose-mum. Typically, my phone rang, out of earshot, and I missed my friend’s call. After playing cellular hide-and-seek for a wasted 10 mins we finally got to one another.

Me: Dude, you do realise we don’t have tickets for our Chennai-Nagpur train tomorrow?
VK: Of course. Tatkal only, no option.
Hm. Should we postpone? … Actually, no, scratch that. Fine. Tatkal. The window is 8-10 right?
Yeah. Cool, I’ll come over to yours at 8, I’ll bring my laptop as well – you have wi-fi right? We will need at least two log-ins to get the tickets.
Ahem… dai, this is why I called at 7.15! I told you yesterday – no internet at home, broadband’s down. I’ll bring my laptop to your place, that ok?
Eh?? Wtf? Why not? No… don’t tell me….
Yep. Sorry. Power-cut times at my place are 8-10 this week… Hold on, I got it – dude, we’ll go to your dad’s office. You have two computers and printer, and all that. Sorted.
Gaaaahhhh…nope. Dad’s office is in the same zone as you – 8-10, no power. Haha. I would laugh if this weren’t true.
Nice. Kinda screwed. Ok, internet parlour.
Yes – only option. Aiyo, been ages since I used one! I think there’s one nearby, though it may not be open this early. We might have to scout. Listen – I’ll get my bike, and pick you up in 10 minutes at the end of my street.
15 minutes.
Machan – its 7.30 now. By the time we find a parlour and log-in, it will be 8. We need to be in the tatkal booking system at 8. Cya in 10, bye.
Fine, fine…goodness! Cya.

Act 2
 7.45AM. I dodged early morning joggers, cyclists, cows, proud Tata Nanos and water tankers, with VK riding pillion, looking out  for an internet cafe. My hunch about the first one was right – it was closed. In fact, very permanently closed. VK said he knew one near our ice-cream/chat shop guy, but we didn’t find any there. We drove through the streets behind the temple, but no luck there either. We finally found a shopping mall on the main road and were directed to an internet parlour. Yay!
Me: Hahaha, ahhh, hilarious.
VK: Crazy fellow, what’s up?... Oh.
Hehehehe, the irony! A candle-lit, power-less, internet parlour. We are soooo screwed! Goodbye holiday plans!
Machan, chill, let’s find out.
VK (to a forlorn, sleepy looking man who looked every inch the owner of an internet parlour facing a power-cut): Excuse me, when does the power come back on?
Internet guy: 8 am.
VK: Phew! Thank goodness! It’s…7.52 now.
Me: Good, I need sustenance. 8 minutes – there’s a chai-wala next door.
5 minutes, a chai and a banana later…
Dude – we better go – there’s a queue building to get into that parlour!
Gosh, looks like all of Kilpauk has descended here.
Yeah – it is tatkal time after all!

Act 3
With trepidation we join the ridiculously long queue to get into that tiny parlour. We look around, spot two free PC’s and grab our seats. One, in a corner, barely has place for me to stand, but what the hell, needs must, and all that. Sigh of relief. We boot up our computers, and fish out our IRCTC (online Indian railway reservation) log-in IDs and details.

VK: You have a credit card, right?
Me: Yeah, yeah… borrowed dad’s  – first let’s get into the IRCTC system.
Me: Yes! Woohoo!
VK: Booked??
Haha, very funny. But I have logged in, and selecting trains. You?
Not good. My… computer….just crashed.
Whaaaa? Crap, I’ve been logged out. Must be the whole of India booking tatkal tickets right now. Gaaahh.
Random Guy (sitting next to me): Hi. You are booking tatkal as well?
Me (glaring at potential competition): Yes. Where are you going?
Random Guy: Bangalore. You?
Me: Ah good. Nagpur. Have you logged in?
Random Guy: Yeah… ive even selected my train, but the page is stuck on the user details form.
Me: Ahhh. You’re ahead of us! VK – we need to catch up.
VK: Yeah, yeah. My computer’s still booting up. Give me the passenger details, meanwhile.
10 minutes of silence punctuated by mouse-clicks, frantic keyboard taps and frustrated sighs.
Random Guy: Damn. I got to the payment page, entered my card details, and it crashed!
Me: The computer?
Random Guy: No, no, the internet. Have to log in again now. Torture. You? Any luck?
Me: Hmm, I keep getting stuck on the user form details. Its already 8.20, I don’t even think there’ll be any tickets left after 8.30.
VK: Boo, yeah! Sid, credit card, quick! Grand Trunk Express okay with you?
Me: Dude! Yeah! Hell, I’ll be happy if we can get there sitting on the roof. Stud! You got it? Here, take card, go, go go!
VK: Passenger details, check. Card details, check. Proceed to payment. HDFC Gateway….waiting…not looking good…yeah! Done, and done! Four berths – Grand Trunk Express, tomorrow evening 19.30, booked…. I. Am. The. Man.
Me: Awesomeness! Yeah! (to Random Guy) Any luck, mate?
Random Guy: What, you guys got your tickets? Man, no, I had to start all over again. Bangalore sector is the worst.
Me: Yeah – Bangalore is terrible. Keep trying!

VK and I make a victorious exit and head straight to the nearest restaurant for a well-earned breakfast of coffee and masala dosa. We had just emerged victorious from a trial that millions of Indians go through everyday, a trial where victory is by no means guaranteed, and on which holidays, businesses and journeys depend – the Great Indian Tatkal Experience.