The concerts

For the first time in my life I was at a live concert. I had no idea what to expect as I treaded my way on the grass that led to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in the Millennium Park—heck I wasn’t even sure I could walk on the grass.

But it was the middle of summer, and every night the city of Chicago lit up as people gathered around the iconic open pavilion to enjoy free concerts. And there I was looking around, a lone traveller, stumbling upon a music extravaganza of a lifetime.

Saying it was the greatest show on earth takes an extraneous effort to lie. However, it was a good concert that showed me a new lifestyle altogether.

We don’t have free city-organised concerts where I’m from. Not only was the music new, but so was the idea of gathering people together for such a social evening.

It was unfamiliar, but unlike most unfamiliar experiences, this one didn’t leave an uncomfortable aftertaste in my mouth. Instead, it left me at peace. I felt so calm and relaxed as I listened to the expert player caressing the strings of her violin.

All around me couples and families had set up picnics. They’d brought dinner, candles and wine, beer and snacks, and desert with kombucha. It was as they’d come for a day at the beach. I sensed a hum of satisfaction hovering in the air—as if everyone there knew they’d spent an entire day on hard work, and so deserved the complementary break time the state offered them. They kicked back, laughing away, sipping a glass of their favourite drink, happy.

It was nice being a part of that atmosphere—where nothing was wrong with the world, where utopia was achievable. Of course, when the concert ended and I exited the ground the entire reality of life came down on me, but the calm during the concert was one to always cherish.

I loved Chicago for that.

Although I later understood a lot of western cities have similar public events, Chicago holds a special place in my heart.

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Airport head

It was an important day. I was flying to the United States again, and I couldn’t be more nervous. It happens every time. A huge believer in Murphy’s Law,  I always consider everything that could go wrong and dwell on anything that will go wrong.

This time, it was immigration. What if the officer asked a question and I stumbled because I was too nervous? What if they think I’m lying? Argh, the horror of having to face my friends, after bragging to them about the trip—every little immaterial flashed in my mind as I stood in the lengthy queue outside the Chennai International Airport.

While I struggled to get my head in order, people around me were having the time of their lives. Kids played with bulging baggage as their adults chit-chatted away without so much of a second glance. A couple of women debated in a frantic foreign tongue. Assuring her companion, the first woman made a phone call and after a few rushed moments later, disconnected it and smiled at her friend—all was well.

Except it wasn’t. My stomach was still refusing to digest the butterflies that’d taken to it as home.

Just then a line of professionals appeared—they strode with mild aloofness and sheer confidence. The security gave them precedence, and off they went, smiling, sharing jokes, and even making swooshing gestures with their hands.

It was the flight crew—pilots and stewards making their way to the next city on their schedule. They had not a care in the world, except they had to care for those flying the world.

It was strange. Watching the pilots, I thought how much they’re like any of us—with a job as any of us. They carry the weight of thousands of lives every day, and yet, it’s only a job. Here I was panicking about a simple trip, but in front of me relaxed were those who assumed such massive responsibility. And they took it in their stride. How much experience and gut courage would they have, I wondered. They don’t let the fear of the unknown and the unchallengeable affect their peace of mind. They’ll give their best every time. And that’s how you keep your cool—you be you and take life as it comes.

And with that realisation, I walked a little easier towards security. I only had to be calm and speak the truth. I might stumble and fumble, but it’s what it is—it happens. And when it does, I will move past it. It’s no big deal.

Magnificence

Chicago’s one uncanny aspect excited me as much as the Riverwalk did. It was the Mag Mile. Of course, this excitement came about while I was still at home zooming in on the city’s streets.

However, the idea of an entire stretch of the bustling city street filled with vanity stores made me—the least expectant shopper—wait with bated breath. What was so magnificent about the Mag Mile? I craved to find out.

Mag Mile, Chicago 1

My spine tingling with unfamiliar curiosity and eagerness, I found myself walking towards the infamous street. The sheer number of people hit my eye right away. Although I’ve lived my entire adult life in a city of 4 million people, that was still a sore sight. All around, buyers flocked to the streets, shuffling in and out of stores, sipping soda, scraping ice cream off a pint tub, biting into a burrito, and chit-chatting all the while.

Overcome by the overwhelming sight, I had to take a few minutes to regain my composure. Once I’d gotten accustomed to the sluggish crowd that wouldn’t go away anytime soon, I began noticing other elements in the street.

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Every few feet, for instance, was a five-feet tall a lighthouse. They were aplenty and on both sides of the street. Each had on it a graffiti, a painting, or a remarkable event etched in ink. Passers by passed by without so much as a third glance, while I lingered, going round and round trying to discern their significance. I couldn’t. But I did enjoy spotting the lighthouses amidst the sea of unstopping shoppers.

A little further down the road, I found Ghirardelli. Imagining my teammates’ glares, I entered, only to exit 30 minutes later feeling proud of myself. I’d stuffed a box full of the most chocolates anyone else had done that day. It wasn’t an official record, of course, but I gleaned that from the sales people’s faces. And how thrilled they seemed that I took so many chocolates for only a fraction of its price. Nevertheless, I’d found happiness in the Mag Mile.

As if to dampen my ego-driven joy, before my eyes flashed the not-so-magnificent part of the Magnificent Mile: the people of Chicago who had neither a roof over their head nor medical insurance over their waning health. Within seconds the balloon within me punctured, jerking back to the harsh reality of the world. The Mag Mile wasn’t just for those who could splurge, but it’s also for those who had no choice but to scavenge. While people purchased additional clothing on one side, on the other side people clothed in rags, writing out holdings, too tired to speak. It wasn’t an unfamiliar sight—both in San Francisco and my city, I’d seen thousands of pitiful scenes and people in dire situations. But that didn’t make Chicago seem any better.

I’d been too distracted to expect what I saw. Of course, it’s obvious. In a million-strong metropolitan city of a capitalist nation, it’d be a surprise not to encounter poverty and homelessness. Although that neither justifies it nor makes it less hard to digest.

Mag Mile, Chicago 5

I walked around more, but everything looked different now. Sure, the magnanimity of Mag Mile remained, and the throng didn’t fade away, but my perspective had. I’d seen the cruel reality of our society, and I cringed at my helplessness. There’s nothing I could do to change the way the world worked, and even if I could, there’s no one right way the world should work. There always will be someone higher and someone lower. That’s the design we are born into. I could stay and complain or I could move on. I decided to move on.

The Mag Mile was magnificent in every sense. My jaw dropped at the grandeur but also, my thoughts popped at the ungraciousness.

Well, it is what it is.

 

Let’s forget

Forgetfulness gets a bad reputation.

Of course, loss of memory is a bad thing and no one should say otherwise. However, for the last couple of days, I’ve been fiddling with the idea of mindful forgetfulness.

The more I think about it, the more I feel its validity. When we’re conscious of what we want to forget, we forget memories that aren’t worth clinging to anymore. Like a bitter breakup, an embarrassing presentation at work, an ungrateful argument with family… all those incidents that we wish had never happened will fade away when we choose to forget.

But even as I write that, I know it’s not just about forgetting. Humans don’t forget the bad things so soon. In fact, we sometimes may never forget, letting it rot inside our mind, poisoning our being, and making us more miserable than we deserve to be.

That’s why we should forgive.

We should forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made. And forgive others who’ve wronged us. Because once we forgive, it won’t affect us anymore. When we forgive ourselves for messing up the presentation at work, we set ourselves free of the bitter memory. We’ll work harder next time, and not let the failure hang over our heads as a threat.

This way, we are free from harrowing thoughts, and our lives will fill up with positive energy. With the negativity gone, we’ll have more time and willingness to remember what matters most to us and cherish the small things in life.

Perhaps mindful forgetfulness isn’t so bad after all.

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Thanks for the muse, Kumud Ajmani and #SpiritChat.

On creativity

Creativity isn’t a solo job. Think about it—writers, painters, sculptors, chefs, card makers, weavers, and craft makers all fall into the small business category. They’re all creatives at heart, and by job, trying to earn through their craft. Regardless of how alone they are in making their craft, when it comes to doing anything with what they make—refining it, marketing it, distributing it, and selling it, they need partnerships. They need others who can think in the same creative manner so they can do their part in the process.

And so, while a writer creates the first draft of their next greatest creative piece, an editor or a proof reader guides them through to the next draft. And during that process, they brainstorm, discuss variations, consider alternative titles, and work together to create the perfect piece of copy. Writing a book is no solo job.

Once the piece takes shape comes marketing and distribution. Think of a painting for example—the artist is proud of it, their teacher and mentor is satisfied, and they even got a few ideas and compliments from their contemporaries. The next step would be to promote it so more people can appreciate it. That’s no solo job either.

As for the marketing, distribution, and sales teams, they can’t work in traditional methods. If they’re to market, distribute, and sell a creative piece of work, they need to conceptualise newer, innovative ways to do their job. That takes a lot of creativity. A bottle of Coca Cola is just an unhealthy beverage. But by relating it to happiness, to sharing, to being wanted and accepted, the company’s writers, designers, marketers, and distributors all contributed their share of creativity. And they did it together.

Without the designer and copywriter collaborating with each other, a print ad wouldn’t have perfect alignment.

Without the copywriter and editorial teams collaborating, the ad copy wouldn’t ring as great as it could.

Without the sales and marketing teams collaborating, Coca Cola wouldn’t exist today as we know it.

Creativity isn’t a solo job. A multi-national conglomerate or an indie seller, to create anything worthwhile, everyone needs another’s streak of creativity.