How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 4 of 5 – Consistency & Retention

Links to all 5 parts in this series
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 2 of 5 – Time & Plan
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 3 of 5 – Space & Goals
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 4 of 5 – Consistency & Retention
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 5 of 5 – Mind

Learning something new can be intimidating. With so much information out there, it can be hard to know where to start or how to approach the task of mastering a new skill. There is an efficient way to get started that often yields fast results. In part 4 of this journey, we look at how Consistency and Retention Strategies can help your learning growth.

The Power of Consistency and Discipline
We all have goals we want to achieve. But sometimes it can feel like a daunting task even when you know where to start. You need motivation and discipline to create sustained success in the long run. Let’s talk about why consistency and discipline are important, and how they can help you reach your goal. The foundation of any successful goal is having a strong “why” behind it; finding out why you want to do something is the first step in reaching that goal. Your “why” should be bigger than just yourself and should make you excited for the journey ahead. Having a clear understanding of why your goal matters will help you stay motivated when things get hard.
When I started playing the guitar, I did two things. Once I placed the guitar on a stand in my office, so I can just turn and pick it up and strum it; and two, I would make sure I do pick it up, every day, multiple times a day. In the current world where we all have limited time and patience, we easily give up. Sometimes we give up when we tackle something hard.
Motivation is great, but it won’t always be there – that’s why discipline is so important in achieving success. It’s like building muscle; the more victories you have on days where motivation is lacking, the stronger your ability to handle those days will become. And if you mess up one day, don’t let it derail all your progress – one mistake shouldn’t define your success or failure. Consistency and discipline are about embracing mistakes as part of the learning process, and using them as an opportunity for growth!
Another key element to reaching success with consistency and discipline is having a plan that works for your lifestyle and schedule. Make sure that whatever plan you come up with fits into your daily routine – this way it will be easier for you to stick with it in the long run! It can also help if you break down larger goals into smaller chunks; this will allow you to track your progress more easily, making each task more manageable along the way.
Consistency and discipline are essential when working towards any goal – big or small! Find out what drives you, break down larger goals into smaller tasks, create a plan that works for you, and use mistakes as an opportunity for growth! With consistency and discipline by your side, anything can be achieved!

Improve Your Retention and Learning Abilities
Retention is an important part of learning; it allows us to remember information and use it to our advantage. However, it can be difficult to retain information if we don’t have the right strategies in place. Let us look at three strategies that you can use to improve your retention and learning abilities.
The first strategy is doing a cursory pass of learning – it could be watching a video from start to finish, going over the notes from your class, or just looking at all the chords, and progressions from your guitar instructor. Go from start to finish without any distractions. Get an understanding of the material, which will make it easier for us to retain the information later on. This helps you understand what are you learning.
Take a break, and start the next step in the process. And this time, taking copious notes while watching the video. I also read them aloud in my voice; it helps me internalize the concepts. Or when I write in my hand, I tend to learn more quickly.
The second strategy is to practice as much as possible. Practicing helps you solidify your knowledge by giving you hands-on experience with the material. If you’re trying to learn something new, try practicing it as often as possible until you feel comfortable with it. This will help ensure that you not only understand the concept but also have a better chance of retaining it in the future.
The third strategy is repetition. Repetition helps us commit information more firmly into our memory because we are constantly revisiting and reinforcing it. If you want to make sure that you remember something, try repeating it multiple times throughout your day or week so that it sticks with you better over time.
By implementing these three strategies—watching tutorial videos, practicing as much as possible, and repetition—you can significantly improve your retention and learning abilities. These tactics will help ensure that you remember what you learn more easily and can use it effectively going forward. So why not give them a try today? You may just surprise yourself at how much easier retaining new information becomes!

JPS Nagi
January 12, 2023

How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 3 of 5 – Space & Goals

Links to all 5 parts in this series
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 2 of 5 – Time & Plan
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 3 of 5 – Space & Goals
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 4 of 5 – Consistency & Retention
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 5 of 5 – Mind

Learning something new can be intimidating. With so much information out there, it can be hard to know where to start or how to approach the task of mastering a new skill. There is an efficient way to get started that often yields fast results. In part 3 of this journey, we look at advantages of a Distraction Free Space and Setting Realistic Goals for yourself in your learning journey.

Distraction Free Space
It’s no surprise that distractions are a major hindrance to our productivity. Whether it’s the urge to check our phones, notifications from social media, or even simple things like leaving the window open and hearing cars go by, distractions can have a huge effect on our ability to focus and learn.
Removing distractions is important because it allows us to focus on one task at a time. When we try to multitask, we end up jumping from task to task without completing any of them. This results in wasted time and energy that could have been better spent focusing on just one task at a time. Additionally, when we are constantly bombarded with distractions, our concentration decreases over time and it becomes harder for us to focus on what matters most.
The first step in removing distractions is being aware of them. Our smartphones are smart enough to give us that weekly summary of how we spend our time on our phones. I encourage you to check it out. See how much time you spend on social media, productivity, or entertainment apps. They are important, but be aware of them. Spend some time analyzing what triggers your distraction; are notifications popping up on your phone? The sound of people talking outside? Once you identify these triggers, you can work towards eliminating them or finding ways around them. Most phones nowadays allow you to have focus options when you are driving and sleeping. Create your custom focus options for learning (and even one called work). Configure it so you do get notifications when sent by your VIPs. Silence everything else. If noise distracts you, invest in noise-canceling headphones or close the windows in your study area. There are many options available in the market, and I use them often.
The second step is setting boundaries for yourself – both physical and mental boundaries – so that you can protect yourself from getting distracted easily. Make sure that the environment around you helps you stay focused. For example, I also turn off applications or even turn off secondary monitors for my home office setup and avoid activities that will take away from my concentration.
Removing distractions and setting boundaries are key elements of optimizing learning processes for many individuals today. By being aware of potential triggers and taking intentional steps towards eliminating those triggers (or finding ways around them), we can create environments where optimal learning takes place without interruption or distraction from outside sources. Even if it takes a while, I can tell you, you will be able to train your mind to get there.

Setting Realistic Goals
It can be overwhelming at times, but if you take the time to set realistic goals for yourself, you can break down bigger objectives into manageable steps that will help you feel productive and satisfied with your progress. Let’s look at how taking small steps can help you reach big goals.
The first step in setting realistic goals is to start small. Instead of setting an exorbitant goal like reading five hours a day, break it down into smaller chunks such as reading for 30 minutes every morning. This way, you can focus on making incremental progress without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by a huge goal that seems impossible to achieve. Starting small also helps build confidence and momentum as you start accomplishing your daily tasks, which will encourage and motivate you to keep going until the larger goal is reached.
Another important factor when setting realistic goals is flexibility. Not everything will always go according to plan and there will be days when things don’t work out as expected. When this happens, don’t beat yourself up; instead, adjust your goals accordingly so that they are still achievable within the timeframe you have set for yourself (or even earlier). This will help prevent burnout while still keeping you on track toward reaching your objectives. Don’t be afraid to take a break, clear your he because that is equally important (we will cover that in the Mental Health post).
Finally, stay motivated! Remind yourself why these goals are important and what the result will bring when they are achieved—this could range from improving your job prospects or gaining new skillsets—and celebrate each milestone along the way no matter how small it may seem. Staying positive and focused on what lies ahead, not only will it make reaching those bigger goals easier but it will also give you something to look forward to each day!
Setting realistic goals is key to staying productive and motivated throughout the day/ week/ month etc. Start small by breaking down larger objectives into manageable tasks that won’t overwhelm or discourage you too much. Be flexible when things don’t go according to plan and adjust your goals accordingly so that they remain achievable within a certain timeline or even earlier! Finally, stay motivated by reminding yourself why these goals are important and celebrating each milestone no matter how small it may seem. With these tips in mind, turning big ideas into reality can be simpler than ever before! I set a goal of reading for 60 minutes throughout the day. It can happen in the morning, or late in the evening, or it could be 10 minutes spread throughout the day.

JPS Nagi
January12, 2023

How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 2 of 5 – Time & Plan

Links to all 5 parts in this series
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 2 of 5 – Time & Plan
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 3 of 5 – Space & Goals
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 4 of 5 – Consistency & Retention
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 5 of 5 – Mind

Learning something new can be intimidating. With so much information out there, it can be hard to know where to start or how to approach the task of mastering a new skill. There is an efficient way to get started that often yields fast results. In this post we will explore the idea of Creating Time and Having a Structure or a Learning Plan.
Create Time
The very first thing you need to learn anything new is time. Some of us have a lot of time, while others have no time throughout the day. However, if you look at it, you may be able to find a little bit of time here and there. And you should be very cautious about giving because you are not getting any of it back – protect it at all costs.
I (used to) have a very short commute to work, and I enjoy reading. I combined the two and started listening to audiobooks on my way to and from work. most of the time, I would even come home for lunch. So roughly four 10-minute trips a day, means that I would have read for 40 minutes every day (an hour if you like to listen at 1.5x speed).
Find time, even if it is a small amount, in between meetings, during lunch hour, and spend it on what you wish to learn. In the beginning, those small 10 minutes may not seem a lot, but I was finishing a short book every week, and a long one in 2 weeks, by just listening on weekdays.

Have a Structure or a Plan
When it comes to learning something new, structure is your friend.
Something I learned the hard way when I started to learn to play guitar. Having not even touched one before, I started watching multiple YouTube videos for beginner guitar players. I was not making progress, and there was a reason for that. First, I was moving from one teacher to the other and each tutorial video approaches learning differently. I was moving from one method to the other. Second, having learned a couple of chords, what was the next chord to learn? There was no structure in my learning.
A structured approach will give you direction and focus, helping you stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed by too much information. Having guidance from an expert in the field also means that you are more likely to learn the material correctly from the beginning, which will save time and effort when building on what you’ve learned later on down the line. Additionally, having someone else provide structure for you in terms of assignments and deadlines can help keep you motivated and accountable for your progress, as well as give you a sense of accomplishment as you work through each step in the process. This can be especially helpful if your goal is to learn something quickly; breaking up the process into manageable chunks with clear milestones makes it easier to stay focused and motivated while working towards your end goal.
The way to fix that is to either find a professional or a guide, who can help provide a structure. If you are going to use something like YouTube, then find a single learning source and just follow through with that. In my case, if I would have followed only one of the guitar teachers, that would have given me the structure I needed to make better progress. I got myself a guitar instructor and he provided me with the structure I made more progress in the first week with him than I had in a month learning on my own.

JPS Nagi
January 12, 2023

How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction

Learning something new can be intimidating. With so much information out there, it can be hard to know where to start or how to approach the task of mastering a new skill. There is an efficient way to get started that often yields fast results. In this piece, I have outlined how I learn a new skill, and many times what I have not done before.

As soon as the pandemic hit, I got a sense that we are in this for a while. Like so many others, I felt boxed in. The boundaries of work and life were getting fuzzy. I missed that human connection with my colleagues and friends. I saw my kids also feeling down in the new world order. I sat down and created a list of everything that I wanted to do, to learn if I had the time. That list had close to 27 different items, like learning to play guitar, how to draw or paint, learning and master unique recipes, learning to read and write Tengwar, and starting to write my book. I did accomplish some of the items from that list. Along the way, I started to find the commonalities between various items on my list. Which can be seen as a blueprint for my learning and growth journey. I have used this as a blueprint often when I tackle the next thing I am going to learn.

Come with me on a journey on how to learn almost anything.

Links to all 5 parts in this series
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 2 of 5 – Time & Plan
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 3 of 5 – Space & Goals
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 4 of 5 – Consistency & Retention
How to Learn Almost Anything, Part 5 of 5 – Mind

JPS Nagi
January 12, 2023

Picking Your Next Guitar – Choosing Woods (Part 2 of 3)

Timber is essentially the xylem of a tree – cells that transport water and minerals from the roots to the leaves. The structure of these cells has a direct impact on the hardness, density, and weight of the resultant wood. Different species of tree will have different growth patterns which will in turn result in timber with different acoustic properties.

For example, Sitka spruce trees have straight trunks with relatively few branches. The grain is tight and even, resulting in light and stiff timber – perfect for building guitar tops! On the other hand, mahogany trees have a more irregular growth pattern, resulting in timber that is heavier and has a more open grain structure. This makes it less suitable for guitar tops but perfect for constructing the bodies and necks of instruments.

Different timbers will produce different tones when used in construction. For example, instruments built with cedar tops tend to have a warmer sound whereas those built with spruce tend to be brighter. Ultimately, it’s up to the builder (or player) to decide which sonic characteristics are most desirable. Some timbers are better at absorbing low frequencies than others. This means that if you want your guitar to have a warm, rich sound, you should look for timber with good low-frequency absorption. Other timbers are better at reflecting high frequencies, giving your guitar a brighter, crisper sound.

Here is a great example of Breedlove Guitars infographic on tone and frequency response for various kinds of wood.

The table below reveals how different aspects of wood manifest themselves with tone.

Property Impact On Sound
Density The absorption of energy from strings is affected by density and type. “Denser” woods like basswood will absorb more than lighter ones, but still not as much so that you can escape its sound completely even with light gauge instruments such as flute or clarinet; however if playing in dense timbers it may be best to take up your options earlier since this timber does provide less “resistance” which means stronger influence came directly out wood itself rather then being absorbed first before reaching our ears via microphone.
In general, harder woods are more absorbent and thus produce a brighter-sounding mid-range with quicker decay. Mahogany is an example of this trend as it has very little density compared to other species such that vibration ends up being easily dissipated through its fibers making them warmer on audio systems rather than harsh like harder juniper trees might be perceived at first glance when listening without context or knowledge about how different kinds affect tone.
Hardness Hardness is an essential component of a guitar’s sound. The higher the frequencies, the harder and more brittle the material seems to be on its surface – this accentuates those notes by making them stand out from other instruments in comparison with your voice or keyboard playing for instance!
As you can imagine there isn’t always agreement among musicians about what exactly “hard” means so we’ll just go ahead & say that these two terms refer differently when talking physics-related stuff here at Guitar Center.
Flexible Strength Spruce, has been found by scientists and musicians alike as being one the most commonly used tonewoods for violins because it produces clearer audio with greater volume than other woods such as cedar or redwood does; making them more popular among professionals who need those qualities while performing on stage
In order words: Stronger flexible timbers receive energy from strings producing a wide dynamic range–great clarity & projection

When choosing the right timber for your guitar, it’s important to keep in mind what sound you’re trying to achieve. If you’re not sure what sound you want, we recommend trying out a few different types of timber until you find one that you like. Here are a few of my favorite timbers for building guitars.

Easily the most commonly used top wood for acoustic guitars and classical guitars. When compared to Cedar (another commonly used soundboard timber), spruce is lighter and possesses greater flexible strength resulting in a wider dynamic range and bright, responsive tone.

Cedar (a member of the Mahogany family, sometimes referred to as Indian Mahogany) is a softer wood than spruce and as a result produces a warm tone, darker, and more complex sounding in comparison.

A medium-density tonewood. Walnut produces a warm, airy, woody tone similar to African mahogany with fewer overtones and more of a focus on the prominent mid-tones. It has a very even dynamic range, meaning it doesn’t accentuate one frequency band over another, resulting in a very balanced sound.

Mahogany is a great all-rounder when it comes to acoustic properties. It has good low-frequency absorption and good high-frequency reflection, which gives it a warm, balanced sound. Mahogany is also relatively soft, which makes it easy to work with.

Maple is another great all-rounder, but it tends to lean more towards the brighter side of the spectrum. Maple has good high-frequency reflection and fair low-frequency absorption. This gives it a crisp, clear sound that is great for all styles of music.

Rosewood is one of the most popular choices for guitar builders thanks to its rich, full sound. Rosewood has excellent low-frequency absorption and good high-frequency reflection. This makes it great for genres like blues and jazz where a warm, resonant tone is desired.

There are many different types of timber available for use in guitar construction, and each type has its own unique set of acoustic properties. Most hardwoods are unsuitable for soundboard construction. The density of the wood requires too much energy to resonate and has a dull-sounding box, except for Mahogany. Softwoods are not suitable either because they simply wouldn’t have the strength to handle the tension from the guitar’s strings, except for Spruce which is commonly used for acoustic guitar soundboard. The woods used in the construction of the neck, the back, and the sides contribute to the sound of the guitar.

When choosing the right timber for your guitar, it’s important to keep in mind what sound you’re trying to achieve. Set some time aside, play as many guitars as you can, and always trust your ear!

JPS Nagi
Sept. 13, 2022

Picking Your Next Guitar – Tone, Response & Body (Part 1 of 3)

My biggest challenge was to find a guitar with the sound I wanted. When I started, I would explain the type of sound I wanted was louder and bass-ier. As I played with the guitars at multiple stores, I realized I preferred a guitar that was brighter, louder, and more resonant.
In this article, I am sharing how I came to trust my ear, and look at other aspects of selecting the guitar – Tone, Frequency response, and Body Style & Construction. Before we talk about how to select a guitar, let us understand each of these aspects.

The first thing you should think about when choosing an acoustic guitar is the tone. When we talk about tone, we’re referring to the overall sound of the guitar. Different woods produce different tones, so it’s important to pick a guitar that has the right tone for your style of music. For example, if you want to play country music, you might want an acoustic guitar with a brighter, twangier sound. Or, if you’re into folk music, you might prefer a mellower tone. There are lots of ways to test out an acoustic guitar’s tone before you buy it. You can listen to audio samples online, or even better, go into a store and play the guitars yourself. Pay attention to how each one sounds and see which one feels right for you.

Frequency Response
Another important factor to consider when choosing an acoustic guitar is frequency response. Frequency response is basically how well a guitar can reproduce different frequencies of sound. Some frequencies are going to be more important for your style of music than others. For example, if you play a lot of chords, you’ll want a guitar with a good low-frequency response so that all of the notes in your chords sound clear and distinct. On the other hand, if you do a lot of lead playing with single-note melodies, you might want a guitar with a good high-frequency response so that your notes have a nice “sparkle” to them.
Once again, the best way to figure out whether an acoustic guitar has a good frequency response is to either listen to audio samples or go into a store and play the guitar yourself. Listen for things like clarity and balance across all frequencies—you should be able to hear all of the notes clearly without any one frequency being too overpowering.

Here is a great example of Breedlove Guitars infographic on tone and frequency response for various kinds of wood.

Body Style and Construction
Besides the tone and frequency response body style & construction play a very important role. Acoustic guitars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from small parlor-style guitars to large-bodied jumbos (or Dreadnaughts). The type of body you choose will have a major impact on the instrument’s sound. For example, smaller-bodied guitars tend to have a tighter, more focused sound, while larger-bodied guitars have a richer, more resonant sound. The size of the sound chamber (part of the body size & construction) affects your playability. You’ll want to make sure that the acoustic guitar you choose is comfortable and easy to play. A large-bodied Dreadnaught guitar would have you reach out for strumming and may not be comfortable for long playing sessions. A guitar with a low action (the distance between the strings and the fretboard) and smooth, comfortable fretboard edges will also add to the playability. Do you need a narrow or wide neck; typically, beginner players do better with narrower necks since they’re easier to maneuver around; at the same time if you have larger hands, then consider a wider neck.

A great example is Taylor’s V-Class Bracing which helps make the guitar louder, and sustains the notes longer, with better intonation of each.

Another aspect of construction is the different materials used in construction – laminate, highly compressed laminate, carbon fiber, and real wood. Other than real wood, man-made materials are easier to maintain and do not get affected by temperature and humidity. Real wood requires more caring, and, in my humble opinion, also sounds better. Man-made materials are generally budget-friendly (except for some exotic carbon fiber guitars). Real wood guitars can be expensive; even higher if there are no joints in the body.

How to pick your next guitar

  1. Avoid boxed guitars from departmental stores or online stores. You do not know what you will get. It’s a gamble.
  2. Set some time aside to visit local stores and play the guitars. Go visit the local guitar stores, and play the guitars, even if you do not know how to play the guitar, just strum the strings and hear how the guitar sounds. Your ear is going to be the best judge of what you want.
  3. Have a budget. You can buy a guitar from $50 to $2,00,000. And you will always end up buying a guitar higher than your budget. According to the local guitar store Salesperson, typically folks end up spending 20-25% more than their budget. Be aware of that. When you go visit the guitar stores, share your budget range with the Salesperson, they will help you find the guitar you like.
  4. Consider a pre-owned guitar. A very budget-friendly option, look at local listings or visit local stores that carry pre-owned guitars. In general, a pre-owned guitar can have two advantages. First, if it has been played, then the material (especially wood) has opened up and will sound better than the same model brand new. Second, more than half of the guitars listed online are well taken care of. You may end up buying a nicer guitar for a much lower price.
  5. Avoid guitars with bundled accessories. Stores would generally tell you that a particular guitar bundle includes a stand, a tuner, a case, etc. Do not fall into that trap. All the accessories will cost you under $100 (maybe slightly higher with a hard case). Stores will sell you an inexpensive guitar by bundling all this and charging you a lot more.
  6. Custom Guitar. One can always work with the local craftsmen and get to design a custom guitar. Custom guitars do not need to break the bank, there is a whole range of getting a guitar built the way you want. You can get exactly what you want along with embellishments to truly and uniquely yours.
  7. DYI Kits. Yes, there are kits available, and you can customize, pick the right components, and woods build one yourself. You need to put in some elbow grease and it is recommended for those who have intermediate woodworking, painting, and finishing knowledge.

In conclusion, with so many factors to consider, choosing the right acoustic guitar can feel like a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be! By keeping body style, construction, tone, frequency response, action, and playability in mind, you’ll be well on your way to finding an instrument that’s perfect for your playing style. And always trust your ear.

JPS Nagi
Sept. 10, 2022

Shelving Collector’s Hardcover Books

As a collector of fine books, I love to put them on display on my bookshelves. Stacking a nice leatherbound hardcover book has its own challenges. The out hardcover extends few millimeters beyond the printed paged and when stored vertically, the weight of a nicely printed book will sag, including pulling on the spine that makes me cringe. That can also offset the boxy shape of your book.

There is always an issue of weight that makes the book sag, and stress the spine. One way is to shelve them horizontally, but that has an issue of pulling the books out. 15 years back, I found a way to solve this problem, so the books retain their shape. I made a video that shows the method we use. If you like to store them vertically, here is a way to take care of your books.

Also, check the links below for the supplies and books featured in the video. Your purchases help this channel. I hope you find it useful.

Featured Books


Music used in the video – Sunday Groove by Michael Korbin.

JPS Nagi
May 21, 2021

Chasing Stars

A few years ago, my family and I were visiting our parents in India. My increasing birthdays have made me appreciate them more and more. I feel there is so much I can still learn from him.

Sitting down with them, I was telling them about my friends I was in touch with, and asking them about ones I was not (and they were). The conversation went on to what everyone is doing and I made a comment “I wonder if I will ever be successful like him or her”.

My father smiled, and in his wisdom-drenched voice, asked me, “How do you define success?” I was quick to reply and pointed to him how successful they were in their career. He smiled and asked, “And?”. I immediately knew the class is in session with Mr. retired Professor. Here is a bit of paraphrasing of what he taught me that day.

He started with what his father, whom he called “Bhaiya ji” fondly, used to say.
He said that “Bhaiya ji” would say that the greatest gift a person gets is being able to wake up in the morning because that is another day they are alive. So have gratitude for that. There are some who never wake up. 

Even more blessed are those who have good health. If you are healthy, can get up, walk around, be thankful. There are many who cannot do that. 

If you have two hands, be even more grateful, for you can earn your living with those two hands. There are some who will love to be in your position. 

Blessed are those who can earn for themselves and even more blessed are the ones who can ear for their families and provide for them.

And the most blessed are the ones who wake up, are healthy, can earn living for their loved ones and most of all can help others. Only a few can do that – not because they are not capable, but they do not have the courage to do so.

I was patiently listening to him. Then he asked the question, “What is this success you talk about? Money? Fame? Position? Power?”
He paused. “For what? Look closer at everyone who you consider successful, you will see that it is not that picture-perfect you make it to be. If they are successful in their career, their personal lives suffer. If they are successful in their personal lives, their career suffer. If they are doing it all, they themselves suffer, personally, health-wise. What good is success in one area when you cannot manage other aspects of your life?”

By this time, I knew it was time to just listen and collect these pearls of wisdom.

“In your life, you will have to manage your relationships, kids, yourself, career, relatives, friends. If you put more energy into one, others will get affected. If you try to do it all, you, yourself will be affected. You have to balance. Sometimes when you do everything, even then, life throws a googly (cricketing term for the uninitiated, it means a curveball). The western world calls it work-life balance. Try to give everyone the time they deserve, and be grateful for what you have and where you are. You want happiness, go help someone, that is the happiness that nothing else will  bring. And don’t stress about folks around you; you are plenty successful. Indians believe in destiny and no one can take that from you”.

“Go be a world for someone than being no one to the whole world.
And never lose yourself chasing the stars, be grateful about seeing them tonight. They will come back for you the next night”.

JPS Nagi
April 17, 2021

The Mortuary

I was never exposed to Dungeons & Dragons while growing up in India. During my later years, as I came to know about it, I have always been fascinated by the game that plays in the theatre of your mind. My friends at work set up an introductory D&D session for me. Another friend suggested a new campaign “Waterdeep: Dragon Heist” which I am having too much fun playing. My character in the campaign is Neldor, an Elf Druid. The story presented here, “The Mortuary”, is not the beginning but somewhere in the middle of the campaign, where our heroes have brought a Cleric, Loren,  with them who knows how to speak with the recently deceased. This is the version of the story, and how it played in my mind and the dialogs are how I imagined them.

The Mortuary

The torso of the gnome corpse stood upright taking in a deep breath, as Loren Allspark finished her incantation. “You have 5 questions. Make them simple”, she said while turning around to face the group. The group had already determined from the appearance that the gnome was Drakhaal, the spy who was hired to tail Renéer, by his father.

The eeriness of the blank dead eyes of the gnome and charred skin was making everyone uncomfortable. Blue nodded to Tig’rod indicating to go ahead and ask the questions the group had decided. Tig’rod took a step forward while everyone stayed back. Loren was the only one who seemed comfortable. She gave Tig’rod an encouraging smile.

Hello Drakhaal, my name is Tig’rod. I wanted to know how did you die?”, Tig’rod asked in a shivering voice.

Drakhaal’s blank eyes seemed to look in Tig’rod’s direction, and in a hollow breathy voice, he replies. “I was … coming to deliver … the stone to folks … at the Thunder Ale Tavern. Then I saw an orange glow, there was fire, heat and then I guess … I guess … I died”.

Ersi, Roh’gar, and Neldor were looking at Drakhaal with wide eyes. They knew about the spell. The spell granted the semblance of life and intelligence to a corpse of your choice within the range of the spell, allowing it to answer the questions you pose. The corpse must still have a mouth and can’t be undead. The spell was only effective on the corpses that had died in the last ten days. Until the spell ends, you can ask the corpse up to five questions. The corpse knows only what it knew in life. The answers are usually brief, cryptic, sometimes repetitive. Seeing the spell in action was unsettling for everyone.

Loren nodded at Tig’rod indicating that he should continue.

Where did you get the stone, Drakhaal?”, Tig’rod asked his next question.

I … I stole the stone … from the lair …”, he took another breath, “the layer of the beholder … Xanathar … in the sewers”, Drakhaal continued in his breathy voice.

Neldor’s eyes widened to know that the Xanathar, the head of the Xanathatr’s guild is a beholder. He had not even considered that. Beholders found mostly in the Underdark, are large, orb-shaped beings with ten eyestalks and one central eye, each contains powerful magic. They are powerful and intelligent creatures and are among the greatest threats to the world. Neldor’s elf ears started twitching. Roh’gar put his scaly Dragonborn hand on his shoulder. Neldor looks at Roh’gar who tilts his head towards the gnome. Tig’rod was getting ready with his next question, and his hand was slowly moving towards his whiskey flask around his hip. Blue slaps his hand and indicates him to ask the next question they had decided.

Do you know who killed you, Drakhaal?”, Tig’rod voice was quivering now.

Drakhaal’s eyes never blinked and in his breathy voice, he started talking again. “No, I do not. I … I saw the fire and then … then I died”.

Loren rolled her eyes, as if Tig’rod had wasted one of the questions. With everyone so quiet, she was the only one who seemed to think, this was not uncanny. Tig’rod continued, “Can you tell us if Xanathar or Zantarum were involved in your death?

I think … Xanathar must have me tailed … when he realized … realized the stone was stolen. I heard”, Drakhaal took another breath, “I heard … Xanathar blamed … Zantarum for the robbery. But … but … Zantarum came to know … that it was me… so they started tailing me too … black cloaks … three folks in black cloaks … were from Zantarum… I saw their tattoos. And then … and then … I died”.

Loren winked at Tig’rod, glad that this question got some answers. “The last question”, she said to Tig’rod.

You had two pouches, we found only one. Did the other pouch with the stone in it; where is it?

Yes … yes … the stone of Golorr” Drakhaal seemed to be running out of time and started to struggle to answer. “Just before I died … one of the black cloaks … took the pouch … and then … and … then … I … died”. With these words, the air seemed to leave Drakhaal’s body, his eyelids shut, and the animated torso lost any sign of life and slammed against the table.

Everyone was looking at the dead gnome. Loren voice startled everyone, “This spell doesn’t return the creature’s soul to its body, only its animating spirit. The corpse can’t learn new information, doesn’t comprehend anything that has happened since it died, and can’t speculate about future events. So ask the questions accordingly. And yes, remember, the corpse is under no compulsion to offer a truthful answer if you are hostile to it or it recognizes you as an enemy”.

Tig’rod face contorted as if he was about to throw up. He took a flask from his hip and took a big sip of his whiskey. That seemed to calm him a bit. Loren notices everyone still looking at the burnt corpse. “He is dead now. Who do we want to talk to next?

I can’t, you do it this time. Blue?”, Tig’rod looked at Blue.

A beholder? Xanathar is a beholder?”, Neldor was muttering.

Yes. And let’s not discuss this here. Remember where we are. We need to finish what we came here for”, Roh’gar said in his groveling voice. And a small whiff of smoke escaped his nostrils. Neldor composed himself, nodded and looked at Blue.

Looks like the stone is with the Zantarum. Two out of the three black-cloaked figured are here dead. The third one must have escaped with the stone”, Blue said, thinking out loud.

We need to find out where was the stone to be taken by Zantarums”, Roh’gar made a point. “We must talk to the dead Zantarum guys”.

Would they know if we are from Zantarum”, Ersi asks Loren.

Well, they will know, but they may or may not tell the truth. Keep the questions simple”, she replied, checking the back of her hand, looking bored.

Okay Blue, it’s time to disguise yourself in the illusion spell. The black cloak and with the tattoo of Zantarum – the flying snakes”, Roh’gar said. “We need to find out where they would have taken the stone”. 

Blue’s eyes sparkle, and he looks at Loren and nods to her to do her spell. Loren starts her incantation under her breath, while Blue starts his illusion spell. As Loren’s spell ends, the Zantarum corpse gets animated, takes a deep breath and turns its head towards the group. Only the white of the eyes is visible, which makes Tig’rod to take another sip from his flask. This time even Ersi takes a step away from the animated corpse.

I am from Zantarum. We sent three of you to get the stone for us. We haven’t heard from any of you. Where was the stone to be taken?”, Blue asks while making sure the tattoo of the flying snakes is visible as his illusion to the corpse.

The stone, eh”, this guy’s voice is screechy, like small stones grinding against the metal sheet. “The stone was supposed to be taken back to Gralhund Villa, right after we get it.”

Did you hire the Nimblewright automaton to help you obtain the stone?”, Blue asks his second question.

Nimblewright? No, I do not know about any automaton”, everyone flinched at his voice.

None of you made it to the Gralhund Villa with the delivery. Not sure how many people are supposed to be at the Villa. Do you know?

There should be ten or maybe fifteen people there. We were following orders to take the stone and deliver it there”.

Did you know the gnome Drakhaal and what was the stone?

No, we were just following orders. We were asked to take the artifact and deliver it to the Villa”.

Who gave you the orders?”, Blue shoots his last question.

We were following Urstul Floxin, he was with us when we were tailing the gnome”. And with that, the corpse lost the air and his torso slammed on the metal table, making a loud clang! sound.

Well, that was informative” Blue exclaims.

Yes, very interesting”, Ersi said and seemed to be glad that the interrogation was quick.

Yeah, it looks like the stone was …” Tigrod said, while raising the flask towards his mouth. Before he could say anything else, Roh’gar jumped in, “Let us not discuss the matters here. We are here for information. Let’s get it and get out”. This time there was a small spark along with the smoke that escaped his nostrils. Everybody got quiet.

Blue nodded to Loren, who smiled, winked at Blue and started her incantation. The third corpse torso stood up, took a deep breath inside turned it’s head slowly towards the group. The upper right side of his face was burned where the red veins were showing. The mouth and jaw were still intact.

I am from Zantarum. How did you all die? Did the gnome kill you?

No. We cornered the gnome, and then, there was fire and I died”, the Zantarum man had a deep throaty voice.

I am here to find out the whereabouts of the stone you were supposed to deliver to the Gralhund Villa. Where is it?”, Blue asked continuing his illusion.

We were with Urstul. He pickpocketed the pouch from the gnome. Then there was a fire and I died.

Blue pretended to be annoyed, “That’s why I am here, man. Urstul did not show up at the Villa. If he escaped, where would he go, if not the Villa?

Urstul and we were supposed to take the stone and go straight to the Villa. We died, but I saw him escape the fire with the pouch. If he is not at the Gralhund Villa, he must have gone to the safehouse twenty-three B”.

Blue looked back at the group, and several heads nodded, edging him to continue.

Did you know what was in the pouch and what was it for?” Loren raised her four fingers at Blue indicating that this would be the fourth question.

It was a stone of some sort. It was supposed to make us rich beyond our wildest imagination. That’s all I know”, the corpse was slowing down and his voice was fading. Tig’rod was already looking away from the corpse.

What did the stone look like?” Blue asked his last question.

It was dark stone … greyish … the size of my palm. And there were …” the voice started to fade, “blue lines were going across it.”

As the torso of the last corpse fell on the table, Blue ended his illusion. Before anyone could say anything, Roh’gar jumped in “Time to go, everyone”. Tig’rod walked in front of everyone, taking another swig from his flask.

The group walked out of the mortuary, through the corridors of the old constabulary station. As they walked past the reception desk, they thanked the older constable whom Renéer had contacted for access to the corpses.

As the group stepped in the daylight, everyone felt like they have come back to the land of the living. Tig’rod handed Loren the twenty-five gold Dragons for her services and donation to her temple. Loren thanked him, “Thank you for your donation. If you ever need any more help, you know where to find me”. With that, she left. Everyone in the group exchanged looks, and with the new knowledge about the Xanathar, Zantarum, and the stone of Golorr, the group starts walking towards the ThunderAle Tavern.

JPS Nagi
April 20, 2020

I … am … home

36,000 feet in the air, flying above the Canadian Rockies, traveling from Amsterdam to Portland, back from our visit to India, I am wondering where is home? Amritsar, New Delhi or Portland?

Let me back up for more than three decades. I was born in the holy city of Amritsar, in a Sikh family, little did I knew that the home for me would be different during different phases of my life.

My early years were spent in my ancestral home of my grandfather, where our family dwelled with my uncle’s. His son is likely the closest of my cousin’s, having spent the most time with him. He was 10 years older than me, introduced me to Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson. Being the only child, I was spoilt. Being the youngest among my paternal cousins and oldest among the maternal ones, I was loved from both sides. My grandfather would carry me on his shoulders and take me to street vendors selling painted clay toys. My cousin taught me how to fly kite, and my dad taught me calculus (yes, I knew calculus as a young child, but that’s a different story). And my grandmother practically raised me. I was home.

As my dad bought his first house, we moved out of my grandfather’s home. I was 7 or 8 years old. The new home was alien a bit. I remember that I’d ask my parents to “Take me home” as they would put me to sleep. I missed our ancestral home. Over time, I made friends in the neighborhood, played cricket with them, and, most importantly, my grandfather came to live with us. The new house became home. I shared the room with my grandfather and before going to bed, I would ask him to “sing me a song”. He would oblige with singing “sacred hymns” or Shabads, which I would understand much later. He lived until the end of his days with us. That home also gave me the first experience of death. I do not believe I fully understood the gravity of it, as I was protected, and did not attend his funeral. It was maybe it was my parents’ way of protecting me. I also lost a friend to cancer at that young age – someone who was just a few months younger than me. My time there was not that melancholic though, I had lots of fun, learned to ride the bike in the neighborhood. I also started biking to school with friends from the neighborhood, eventually got a moped (yes those tiny things) much earlier than I should have been licensed to drive. I grew until late teens in that home, and the time came for us to move once to our current house within India. I think all three of us got emotional as we handed over the familiar sound of those jingling keys to the new owners. But were also excited to go to our new home.

The new house, where my parents still live, became my home for the next few years. My dad constructed it to home a decent size family. A jingling sound of new keys became part of our lives and we started to get familiar with which switches would turn on lights or fan in different rooms (we have way too many switches in each room). I did not get to live there much, because I left for studying engineering in Chandigarh and then move to New Delhi for a job. A couple of years later, destiny brought me back to Amritsar for two years and I was living once again with my parents. That was almost 20 years back, filled with some good memories. We bought our first car, and I drove it into our outer wall while bringing it home. I blasted classic rock music while occupying the top room in the house. I collected thousands of audio cassettes (my father keeps them as a memory of me). Got my first PC – Intel Pentium PC. And I dreamed of going to the USA. I also met my wife during those years.

My move to the USA was both less of a culture shock than a climate shock. I moved to cold, snowy Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the middle of January. My wife joined me a year later and a few months later, we moved to wet Portland, Oregon in 2001. We are now settled there. We have created our lives around our work. We found friends who became family. Got a house in 2007, became our home where we are raising two incredible human beings.

During this last visit to India, in November 2019, as I walked into the home in Amritsar, memories came flooding back. My brain brought memories of nooks and corners around the house. My muscle memories activated while walking around a broken floor, which my parents got it fixed, still, I kept skipping it. I started looking through the old photographs and fond memories of all the places I have been to. I saw colors in those black and white photos – the red seat of my tricycle, the stripes of my shirt, or the dress my mom wore. Vividly, I remembered the places where that photographs were taken – as an infant in my parents’ arms in our ancestral home and to see my kid’s photos in our home in Oregon.

As the trip was coming to close in India, someone commented that it seemed that “we were ready to go back home”. That made me think, where is my home?

Maybe it is at every place that I have lived or maybe it is where my heart lives and mind remembers or just maybe it is where I am with those whom I love and who love me. 36,000 feet above the ground heading back to Portland, makes me wonder, am I going home?

And as I look at the faces of my kids, I know … I … am … home!

JPS Nagi
November 30th, 2019
Written on the iPhone, 36,000 ft in the air, above the Canadian Rockies!