Would you ever?

 What if I got too much for you to handle? 

What if I kept getting meaner? 

What if you thought I wasn’t worth it anymore? 

What if your tears ran out?

What if I got too weak? 

What if you fell out of love?

What if you met someone nicer? 

What if you found kindness elsewhere? 

What if you started resenting me? 

Would you ever leave me? 

There will always be nicer people. 

I will always find kindness elsewhere. 

I will resent you often

You’re not weak. 

You’re not mean. 

You’re you. 

There’s no good you or bad you. 

There’s just you. 

And I chose you. All of you. 

I can’t leave you. 

You’re my heart. Sometimes caustic. 

But you can’t separate you from me. 

And living with your worst self, 

Is still better than a day without any part of you. 

Would you ever believe me? 

  

“Charmed” 

  
I was about eleven when I first heard someone say it. Home for the summer holidays from boarding school, I was immediately impressed. We were all sitting at a restaurant and someone walked up to our table to say hello to a family friend. Upon introduction, he took her hand and said “Charmed”. She blushed in return. My eleven year old mind was blown. 
I have always wanted to say it from that day on. Being born and brought up in a small town in India, I never really got to say it to anyone. No one I met was charming anyway. When I had to go back to school, it was still at the back of my mind. The need to impress someone with my beautifully modulated “Charmed”. 

I was intensely homesick that year. A week into school, I feigned some illness, maybe a fever, to check myself into the school sickroom. The school sickroom had this compounder called Mr. Khushwaha. An arse of a man, I learnt, as I spent more years in school. He had this perpetually bored expression on his face and absolute contempt for kids, especially kids like me, who may have feigned their illness. This would be the first time I met him. I entered the sickroom, and approached him, sitting pompously behind his wooden desk, a BP apparatus in front of him. I stuck my hand out and introduced myself. Taken aback, he waited a few seconds before offering his hand to me, nostrils wide, the disgust evident on his face. 

I don’t know what came over me, I blurted out “Charmed”, with a slight eyebrow twitch and head tilt. 

His eyes widened and he shot me a look as though I belonged in a mental institution. I cringed from within. I could not believe my eleven year old self would be impatient enough to use “Charmed” on this jackass. 

It was the only time I’ve ever used that word in this context. I wish I’d waited for the right time. I’ve never had the courage to use it again. Or any other similar word like this. 

The next word on my list is “Enchanté”. With perfect French pronounciation. I’ve never been able to muster the courage to use it. You never know who may turn out to be Mr. Khushwaha in disguise. If you ever happen to meet me someday and I linger over our handshake, be certain that I’m saying “Enchanté” in my head. 

And I hope you’ll smile kindly. 

Toes 

  

Lying in bed

Broken and choked 

Helpless against the tide 

You close your eyes and hope for rest 

And curse yourself for having a heart 

Blessed must be those, with an empty chest 

A life free of pain 

Toss and turn 

A glass of water 

Pages of prose 

Nothing undoes the knot 

In this tempest of limbs 

I find your toe 

In it, comfort I shall seek 

With words not spoken, eyes long shut

Your toe speaks to me 

One stroke says I’m a good man

Two says it’ll get better 

Even the weakest hearts eventually heal 

And just as my chest fills with tears 

Like lovers in a violent mob 

Our toes lose each other again

 

Are we happy?

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I don’t watch a lot of television. But earlier this week, with the wife and kids away for a few days, I found myself alone and bored. Surfing channels, I settled on an old episode of House MD.

If you aren’t familiar with the show, it’s about this Doctor, Gregory House, who’s a genius with absolutely disastrous interpersonal skills. Each episode revolves around a medical case they try to diagnose and treat, with the personal lives of House and his team forming the backstory.

Chris Taub is a doctor on House’s team. He’s not the most talented of the lot, neither is he the best looking. He is married but he has cheated on his wife. His wife knows and they’ve been trying to deal with that issue for a while.

In this particular episode, Taub’s wife finds an online soulmate who fulfills the emotional lacuna she feels with her husband. She’s happier and more forgiving. In all of this happiness, she wants to have sex repeatedly with Taub. Sensing that he isn’t the source of her happiness, Taub feels used.

Despite being aware of his own shameful hypocrisy, Taub asks his wife to stop the online ‘friendship’. Justifying that all he had with the other women was sex. He was hurt that she has actual feelings for her online associate. She refuses.

One night, he comes home and sees his wife all dressed up, excited about date night with her husband. Taub says, “I think we should get a divorce.”

Not expecting this at all, the wife reels back and after a second or two, she says, “But I thought we were working through it. We love each other.”

Taub replies, “We do. I LOVE you. But are you happy?”

The wife, dressed in a beautiful little black dress and earrings, mascara lined eyes now welling with tears, sits on a chair near her make-up table and replies quietly, “No”.

Are you happy?

Showman

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B. N. Chatterjee was a funny looking man. Sitting there on his arm chair, the cane weave on the back creaked slightly as he shifted in his seat, he leaned forward every few minutes to relight the tobacco in his pipe. He dressed in a white kurta pajama and an ivory waistcoat with black piping, a uniform of sorts. A very thin, black-dyed mustache sat near his nose, a distance away from his thin, purplish lips.

I was eleven and this was my first trip to the school music room. A wonderful little place filled with sitars, mandolins, harmoniums, tablas and other delightful instruments, all begging me to touch them. I couldn’t resist, no one could, a ploink here, a thud there, everyone wanted to give it a go. Till some idiot would drop an instrument and Mr. Chatterjee would growl and in Bengali accented English, ask everyone to get out. But he was so funny looking, with his jet black hair (with some dye staining his scalp), his thick black glasses and his flaming red Bajaj scooter, that no one took him seriously. Much as he probably hated it, he knew the kids made fun of him and was quietly resigned to that fact.

Soon after my first trip to the music room, I became painfully aware of my limitations as a musician. I had harbored dreams of being able to pick up a guitar and strum out a tune, on a beach at night, surrounded by girls looking at me wistfully, warmed by a bonfire. And here I was, plucking nervously on a guitar string, with Chatto (that’s what we called him), looking at me with disgust, like I was some rotten fish. It didn’t help that I kept losing my plucker in the hole of the guitar and spent half the hour of music class, trying to get it out.

As the months went by, preparations for the annual Founder’s day orchestra performance began in full swing. Devoid of any musical talent, I was relegated to the back row, about 15 of us with some coconut shaped instrument filled with beads. We would be providing the super important background ‘chickachika’ sounds while the talented musicians took the foreground and played the actual Raaga. There were about four tabla players. A couple of days before the show, one of the tabla players fell ill and had to bow out. Distressed by the lack of symmetry on stage, Chatto calls me up front during one of the practices and asks me to sit in the empty place. He politely asks me not to actually play the tabla but just pretend to do the ‘dhak dhin’ finger motion, gently to the rhythm. Piece of cake. I’m awesome at pretend playing. I could sense his anxiety but I was just so thrilled to be in the front row.

Founder’s day was upon us. The show went off beautifully. The orchestra played proudly, practiced to perfection. I pretended to play, smiling for the cameras, trying to search for people I knew in the audience and make gleeful eye contact. After the performance we all gathered backstage, congratulating each other. Chatto was there, saying ‘Shabaash’ to his star pupils. Then, just as we were all about to disperse, he grabs my hand and says loudly, “I love this boy. He doesn’t know T of Tabla but he played like he was Zakir Hussain. Swinging his head and everything.” I didn’t know how to react, mainly because I didn’t know if he was being sarcastic or ridiculing me. But he kept going and there wasn’t any sarcasm in his voice. Mr. Chatterjee found it incredibly endearing that I would pretend-play with flair.

Deeply embarrassed as I was that night, a part of me felt incredibly reassured. Ever since I could remember, I’ve always loved being in the spotlight. But people always tell you to shun it, to work quietly, to curb that natural instinct to want to shine. And here was this man, so used to ridicule, from his colleagues and his students, who didn’t feel the need to trample over a little boy who wanted to just feel like he was playing brilliantly. He let me shine that night. And he loved me for it.

We had a different equation from that day on. I never ridiculed Mr. Chatterjee and he always jokingly called me Zakir Hussain. I played in the school orchestra for 4 years, moving my way up to the mandolin. I never really was a gifted musician but I practiced long and hard, committed the raagas to physical memory and never made a mistake during a performance. I spent an incredible amount of my free time in that music room, sometimes practicing, but most times, just taking to Chatto. And while walking to the dorm, if he happened to zip by on his scooter, while most students would shout “Eh Chatto” behind his back, I’d keep my silence. I knew a side of him that others weren’t fortunate enough to know.

Life is a bully. It makes us paranoid and superstitious. We trade in our spark for a more socially acceptable way of life. I fall into that trap too. But some days, and those days come infrequently now, I find myself often revisiting that October night in 1992. Chatto grabbing my arm, saying he loved this boy, who couldn’t play but wanted to be Zakir Hussain. It silences that nagging, doubtful voice in my head. It reinforces who I was born to be. And I step into the light again.

Hiding in the cold.

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This is my old house. I was born here and lived in this house till I was nine and went off to boarding school. Thereafter, I’ve only been a visitor, for a few days, weeks and recently, for a few hours everyday.

It is a house that grew with us, little parts being added or renovated as we grew, as our needs increased. The cracks of this haphazard growth adorn its many walls and she wears them proudly, like an irreverent old lady who has seen her fair share of life’s uncertainty.

I eat my lunch in this house everyday, an hour between the hustle and bustle of the hospital. On most days, I barely even notice the house but today, as I climbed up the unusually steep staircase, I was ambushed by a smell so reminiscent of my childhood that it made me stop, a nostalgic, anxious punch to my stomach sent me hurtling back a couple of decades.

In boarding school, we had two vacation periods every year. Three months in the summer and a month in December. The summers were arid and dry and went by rather rapidly. We were back in school just as the monsoon was finding its feet back home. It was the winter holidays that I remember more fondly though. They were too short to plan a trip out of town, so most of that month would be spent at home. Being tucked into bed by Mom at night, drinking tea with my father at breakfast (and dipping the hospital jeera puri in it, which was the standard patient breakfast till not long ago), laying around in the living room with a book, sitting in my Mom’s home office, reading comic books as she worked, sitting next to my grandmother as she watched television or embroidered covers for our throw pillows, they were simple times. Simple but incredibly special. Despite the euphoria of being home, I always had this anxiety lurking just beneath the surface, knowing my time at home was limited. This smell of home would soon be replaced. Dorm mates, mess food, homework and exams were always round the corner.

I live in a town where winter usually means a low of about 12 degrees Celsius early in the morning, at the peak of winter. So it’s never really cold-cold. But this house, with its closed doors and grandmotherly mustiness, traps in the cold, sneaking up on you when you least expect it. And in this vault like chilliness, I learnt to find my comfort. I would drown myself in my book, feet tucked under pillows, hiding from the inevitability of having to pry myself free from what most kids take for granted.

In school and so many times after school, I’ve been ambushed by this haunting concoction of sensations. Even when I’m not at home, sometimes even when I’m nowhere near geographically. The temperature and the smell of old upholstery, of fine dust glinting in the stray sunbeams which filter in, the smell of old wooden doors, the smell of a time which birthed this permanent vulnerability.

As I bounced up the stairs today, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up. A reminder of a precious time. A reminder that no matter how old we grow, our weaknesses remain the same. A reminder that being enveloped by the cold, can be comforting too.

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Happy birthday.

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I met her when she was 17. She was a free spirit. Lived one day at a time, never planned for tomorrow, loved unconditionally. For a regimented fool like me, she was a breath of fresh air, as though someone unlocked the dark dungeons of my heart, cleared the cobwebs and let sunlight stream in.

Fifteen years, marriage, two kids and innumerable ups and downs later, we still remain that intensely volatile couple, with emotions always at the surface. We love passionately and fight bitterly. So much has changed and yet, nothing has.

I can’t believe you’re 32, the mother of our two lovely children. I still see you as that girl in cotton world tees, faded denim, sneakers and that ridiculously heavy backpack filled with books and food, running to catch your bus back home. And as you made it on the bus, you’d fight your way to a window (injuring a few fellow passengers with that bag of yours), with a big grin on your face and wave to me.

Happy birthday Riddhi. You’ll always be 17 to me.

Introducing the board members of my future company.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to build and run my own company. Not just any company. A really large company with multiple business interests, shareholders, board meetings, strategic acquisitions, large campuses with multiple cafeterias, helipads, the works. While that remains a slightly distant dream, I think I’ve already identified the core members of my team. Together, they form the board of this behemoth. I’d like you to meet them.

Aanya :
CFO

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Being the eldest, she should ideally be the Chairman. However, Aanya decided very early in her life that she doesn’t want to be part of a company that is stupid enough to employ her siblings. She started off on her own and made her fortune in online fashion retail. The board soon realized that the financial aspects of the company cannot be left to the remaining jokers. So it pleaded her to come and set things in order. Inheriting an astute business mind from her father and being excellent in math, she sorted the messy accounts of the company and streamlined the finances in a matter of weeks since she took charge.

She can be spotted working in her office late at nights and has often been photographed rolling her eyes during board meetings when her siblings come up with harebrained ideas. She threatens to quit every week.

Ahaan :
Chairman of the board

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There was absolutely no contest when it came to choosing the chairman of the board. The board was looking for a man who swam above the turbulent waters of day to day company running. Someone who could think beyond the obvious. Someone who really didn’t bother with the small stuff. Ahaan can be spotted in most board meetings, staring out of the window with a rather blank expression on his face, chewing candy. In his first week as Chairman, he bought himself a private jet. He conducts most of his meetings on that jet, parked in the hangar and occasionally spends a night or two in it.

He is relentless, stubborn and has a very definitive vision for the company. He fears no one in the company. Except the COO.

Myrah :
COO

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Most people in the company don’t see Myrah. They hear the clackity-clack of her stilettos and run for cover. She is sharp, ruthless and terribly efficient. It takes some amount of authority to control a workforce the size of a small country. And she exudes authority. It also helps that she is the only one the Chairman is scared of.

Rumor has it that she took the company private jet on a joyride on the very first day that it arrived and got nail polish stains on the Chairman’s seat. All of it for the sole purpose of annoying Ahaan. She is most often spotted in her office, or so they say. No one really has the courage to peep in.

Agastya :
Visionary and Head of Future Strategies and Acquisitions

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Gus, everyone calls him Gus, was handpicked by the Chairman to be his CEO. He wanted someone a little chilled, unlike his two bullying sisters. The trouble was that the CEO was expected to conduct a ton of press conferences and interviews. At each of these press conferences, as soon as Gus would make an appearance, lady journalists would start to squeal, like groupies. The squeals would be so loud that no questions could ever be asked. A few of them have been known to faint on occasion. Gus would try and speak softly into the microphone, “Calm down ladies” and flash a dimpled grin. It only made matters worse.

So now he heads the future strategies division. His creative mind has ensured that the company only invests in businesses built on great design ideas. He can often be spotted eating with the staff at one of the common canteens, surrounded by a bunch of girls.

So here it is. My company isn’t up and running yet but my team is set. And it’s a formidable team, with each member bringing their own strengths to the table. In a few decades, they are going to be on the covers of Fortune and Forbes.

Insider tip : Invest early, this company is going to be huge.

Morning rituals.

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Everyone has a morning ritual. Some cultivate it carefully but for most, it’s a subconscious act. An act that begins your day with clarity, focuses your thoughts, channels your energy. It may be as simple as brewing your own coffee or packing lunch for your child, it may even be more elaborate like yoga or something as mundane as ironing your shirt or polishing your shoes. For some, mornings are spent in prayer, a time for reflection and devotion.

I have this terrible habit of over-sharing. So in that spirit, I’m going to let you all in to what my mornings are usually like.

I usually sleep with my little two year old daughter next to me. Both of us like our own space by the time we’ve fallen sleep but whenever I wake up, I find her clinging onto my forearm like a koala bear. I wake up and stare at her for a while, her eyes tightly shut, knowing morning is near. I brush away her hair, the softest ringlets of black with chestnut brown accents that one can ever lay eyes on. She squirms a little bit as I kiss her cheeks and forehead. I let her sleep in a little bit longer but then kiss her more frequently so that she wakes up with a smile. Once she’s up, the little dynamo can’t wait to get out of bed and run about. Out first stop is meeting Mommy and her little 6 month old brother, both of whom have been up for nearly an hour by now. Both the kids look at each other and smile, the little one squealing in delight after a tummy full of milk. This is when I make my great escape to the bathroom, while Mommy gets the elder one ready for playschool.

I spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom, much to the annoyance of my wife. But I’ve stopped caring about that and she’s kind of given up on my bathroom habits by now. I sit there, on my ceramic throne, reading. I’ve almost entirely given up reading the newspaper now. All the media that I consume is electronic. I rapidly read all the day’s news and then catch up on social media : Instagram, Twitter and if there’s time, Facebook. Most of the links shared by people and the ones that I’m interested in reading, get saved to Pocket. Finally, when it’s been a while and my feet are tingly and numb, I get off and head for the shower.

Most people at home tell me that I shower like a girl. Just because I shower at leisure doesn’t mean I’m frolicking in bubbles and rubbing myself with a loofah. The shower is where I focus. I go through the day’s schedule in my head, get ready for the surgeries lined up, go over some arguments I’ve had with the wife, think of witty retorts and sometimes even get carried away with melancholy. The last bit of the shower, I let the the water pound my face, think about my family, my kids and say thank you, to the universe for being so unnecessarily kind to me.

I get dressed, usually a crisp white shirt, occasionally blue (I love blue) and a pair of pants in varying shades, ranging from light gray to charcoal. I choose a tie, usually one in a sedate and saturated tone and occasionally playful like lime green or with polka dots. Set my hair with minimal product, it needs product because my hair is terribly ill behaved. And then, I head down for breakfast.

Breakfast is usually something simple. From poha to idlis, depending on the day and some fresh fruit. When I’m on a health kick, it’s usually oats or a simple egg white omelette. I usually like to make my coffee myself. Even if it is something as mechanical as a nespresso machine, popping in that little pod and watching the coffee pour out is a joy. When I’m not pressed for time, I use crushed beans (a blonde roast which isn’t weak) and a French press. I love the way the entire kitchen and the dining area fills with the smell of coffee. It transports you instantly to a happy place, wherever that may be for you. For me, it transports me mentally to Europe. I adjust my white cuffs and settle in to drink my coffee at leisure. The first sip electrifies my spine, it’s as though my nerves, congealed with lethargy after the night’s rest have suddenly come alive and are pulsating. It’s like drinking sunshine. I hate having to rush through my morning coffee and by the time I actually finish it, it’s usually cold. Since I try and limit myself to just one cup a day, I like to savor it. I’m not a great coffee connoisseur, I don’t know my beans or the roasts too well but I do get the romance behind it. And for me that’s important.

For some, it isn’t coffee, it’s tea. For most Indians actually, morning chai is a religion. That perfect blend of spice and sweet with just the right amount of milk. And it’s not even about the recipe, it’s about who brews it. Brew it for a little longer and it’s off, ruining the experience. For most Indian middle-aged couples, that morning cup of tea together is the most romantic time of day, despite no word being spoken, faces buried in newspapers.

Once breakfast is done, I shine my shoes and leave for work. If I’m in a rush, I use the good old ‘rush brush’ which is a bit like cheating but if I have time, I’ll go the whole hog with the wax and shine. If you’re a boarding school product like me, you’ll pride yourself on how well you can polish your shoes and will always believe that no one else can do it better.

So that’s my usual morning routine. And I cherish it. Someday, if I ever meet some of you, I’d be glad to make you a cup of coffee and sit across you for breakfast, without speaking much.

Do you have a morning ritual too? I’d love to hear about it. Till then, I hope your morning cup is filled with sunshine, just like mine.

(The picture above, is my cup of coffee this morning, a delightfully wholesome blonde roast, through the French press.
The French quote under it translates to “A mouthful of happiness”).

Meet the Züca Pro. The answer to all your packing dilemmas.

If there is one character trait that can be attributed to me without any debate whatsoever, it’s the fact that I buy awesome stuff which no one would even dream of buying. It’s usually something with a quirk, some brilliant design concept or something that appeals to my OCD-anal way of life.

I first came across the Züca Pro travel system In a YouTube video. The one I’ve shared above. I urge you all to view that before reading any further. I was mesmerized. Till I saw the video, packing for me was a chore, neatly arranging carefully folded shirts in a mundane boxy stroller. Bleh.

I was always a reasonably decent packer, a skill I honed during my boarding school days. And now, here came Züca, to take my packing skill to the next level. THE NEXT LEVEL.

Ok, I’ve got to admit, part of the reason I was sold to this Züca concept was the voice in that video. That voice. I swear if a girl stood in front of me with that voice and said “for your lotions and potions”, I’d embrace her in a suffocating bear-hug in a second.

Anyway, getting to the point, I have a weekend in Goa coming up, 3 nights, plus a couple of days in Mumbai. So that’s 5 nights in total. I thought why not test whether the Züca can actually deliver.

So this is what I could organize into a bag half the size of a regular stroller. Plus, the clothes are so well rolled and tightly packed that they won’t shuffle around in the bag, unlike a regular stroller.

Four collared shirts. Four polo collared t-shirts. Two round neck t-shirts. Two shorts. Two pairs of jeans. Two nightsuits. One pair of track pants. 6 pairs of underwear. 4 pairs of socks. One set of flip flops. One universal adaptor. A blackberry charger. An iPhone charger.
(I tend to over-pack but did I mention that it’s half the size of a regular stroller?)

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What’s hot about the Züca travel system :

1. It comes with 5 color coded, differently sized pouches. The green and orange are for underwear and socks. The blue is for shirts, tees, pajamas etc. You get two large red pouches for your trousers, jackets, shirts etc.

2. If you follow the packing instructions, things fit in like magic. Rolling the jeans, shirts and jackets keeps them crease free. Quite contrary to what I had imagined.

3. The structure is great. Not wobbly. Plus, it’s made of aircraft grade aluminium with a recessed handle/slot near the wheels, which makes it easier to put in the overhead bin of your aircraft. Also, the width is perfect for rolling it down the aisle of an aircraft. No more bumping around like a pinball machine. The top of the bag can support a very heavy man, in case you find yourself without a seat at the airport.

4. There are numerous zips and sleeves around the Züca for your magazines and other small items. It even boasts a wet pouch and a separate plastic pouch for your TSA approved toiletries. Plus, it has a cover in case you want to check it in, no scratches or scuffs on your bag.

5. The telescopic handle is really long. No more slouching and the bag-roll is very comfortable. Plus, the recessed polyurethane wheels are nice and silent offering a cushy ride.

Whats not hot about the Züca :

1. You just can’t dump stuff in. It has to be arranged neatly. So if you’re a bum, it’s not for you. (although, it isn’t cumbersome to pack and it is usually possible to pack quickly using Züca).

2. It’s a pain when you’ve finished packing everything and loaded up the Züca and then you realize that you’ve forgotten something. It’s torture to bring out all the pouches again.

3. You’d look ridiculous sitting on this bag.

4. The cover has no zips or sleeves. So if you wanted to slip in your iPad or magazine, you have to use the Züca without the cover.

5. People stare.

6. If the security guys ask you to open the bag, you’re gonna miss your flight. You’ll be too busy showing off the bag to all the awestruck security guards to notice that the flight has long gone.

7. It’s not an all-wheel-drive. Are those four-wheeled bags called all-wheel-drives anyway? Those are awesome too.

8. You’ll want to slap anyone that says “Can you just throw this in your bag?”

So, that’s it. That’s the Züca pro. It retails for around 300 USD. I think it’s worth it, do you?

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I'm a Gynecologist by profession but an artist at heart. Forever trying to bridge the gap between Art and Science. I love good design, good food and open minds. I hope you enjoy my blog.

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