Sunday, 10 February 2013

On Growing Up and Born Confused

My conversations with KrA, when involving the arcane questions I am prone to ask so often these days, end up being monologues. And somehow, more often than not, in trying to make sure my question makes sense to him, I paraphrase and rephrase and inadvertently stumble upon an answer too. Maybe not an entire answer, but usually at least a part of it.

Today I said to him this: “When I was very young, I told myself I’d grow up into being a very sophisticated lady. Now I am xxx (on the other side of thirty) years of age, and I seem to be telling myself the same thing. What do I mean by “growing up” now? Shouldn’t I already be the sophisticated, cultured lady I had been dreaming of becoming? Or would I have to wait until I am fifty?”

He only said that I should have not have to wait until I am fifty. 

But as I mulled it over even at the time of asking, I knew I was referring to the emotional wobbles I go through even now, something like teenage angst, except I was a teenager so long ago and I find it strange and silly that my mind and heart are still stuck in a temporal place that existed a decade and a half ago, of which some faint memories are the only residue. And I am losing time this way, forgetting all the memories we had made in the interim while I still hopelessly hold on to a life lived aeons ago, a past long gone.

I hope some day, some day really soon, I learn to live happily with what and where I am now. So now I look to my right and I am happy to see KrA smiling at something witty or funny he has just read in the Asterix Omnibus 2 that I have got him for our second wedding anniversary. We have three marriage anniversaries although we have been married only twice, but that’s a story for another day.

To end on a happy note, I leave you with some magic from Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused. I had read this book ages ago and re-read it a few weeks ago over the several days when January hesitatingly prepared to exit and February slowly took over. The book grabbed me by the throat, each scene so vividly portrayed I was swept up in all the emotion, the poignant depth, and literary magic that Born Confused is. 

  • Through my viewfinder she left now, dragging out all the colour and speed and life with her like a bridal train that sweeps up any confettied hopes with it on its way to the honeymoon. 
  • ... a neighborhood called Lake View. It was a bit of a misnomer, considering Mirror Lake was actually a pond, small and man-made, and unless you had eyes that could permeate bark, Pine View was much more along the lines of what you'd be buying into.
  • You know how sometimes you're having a nightmare that's so real you actually feel the brick grate against your skin as you fall from edge to pavement? You open your mouth to scream, lungs heaving against the thin barrier of skin that separates you from that treacherous world and the waking one, but nothing comes out; you try to run but the sidewalk quicksands, suctioning you heel first. And then - you jolt awake. Reality settles upon you like a comforter and you breathe a sigh of relief as it dawns on you that it was all just a bad dream.
  • India was a hustle-bustle place, my mother always said, you couldn't just sit around forever waiting for a quiet moment to crop up to meditate. It worked the other way around: You found your peace through prayer.

And there is so much more. But you ought to read the book for these delights. And oh yes, the author has beautiful eyes of exotic colours.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Happy Birthday, Dear Grandpa!

Now how often do you get to wish your grandfather on his ninetieth birthday? 

Today my maternal grandfather turned ninety. Happy birthday, grandpa!

The answer to the above question is at most twice in a lifetime, once each for both your grandfathers.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Of Nostalgia, and of Freedom from the Past

Two days of nostalgia. Triggered by two events - one absolutely unrelated and another that has carved for itself a permanent place in my life. 

And my mind is a monkey, a baby monkey that cannot sit still but jumps from one thought to another, holding each strand of musing for less than a fraction of second, but interweaving them into a complex, beautiful story nonetheless.

Yesterday, DN said to me, like he does every other day, that he had misal pav for lunch. I decided to Google it up and came across a recipe for it on this blog site. As I scrolled down, a particular comment on the post caught my attention. Posted by ‘best chat in edison nj’ on November 30, 2011 at 1:32 AM, it read as follows: Bombay street food in nj [sic] the world’s largest open-air kitchen! The city is dotted with street carts selling a wide array of food and has an amazing culture of outdoor [sic]

And the comment got me thinking of the US of A, and I remembered vividly how, at one point in my life, several years ago my only ambition in life was to get to America, the land of dreams. I remember wanting to desperately get into IIT because a) I wanted to get away from home and live by myself for a while and b) it was my passport to America. It was funny. At the time, the world comprised only India and America for me. Other nations did not exist, and even if they did, they held no significance for me. 

I did get into IIT Madras in the late 90s and continued to cherish my dream of making it to America from there. When I won the Institute Blues Award, I knew I wanted to get to Harvard Business School. (I am smiling at myself as I write this.) But towards the end of my stay in IIT, I decided I had had enough of studying and that I now wanted a job. I did secure a job, a very high-paying one for the time, but threw in the towel in less than a year, joined a lower paying job where I remained confused and depressed for the better part of the two and a half years I spent employed there. But I also have the fondest memories of this job as I met KrA there and also made some very good friends there. 

But I digress. My trip to New York in October-December 2005 was my first overseas trip, one that I cherish. I under-performed at work, but I was young and fearless enough at the time to explore Manhattan all by myself. I remember going to visit the Statue of Liberty and ganging up with a couple of Indian tourists, who gave me good company for the rest of the tour. I remember visiting Boston by bus to meet SG and Ani, my closest friends from IIT days, sitting by the banks of the Charles, taking in the wonderful views of HBS’ Baker Library.  

The struggles of Indian immigrants in America were romanticized in books such as Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies and Tanuja Desai Hidier’s Born Confused, books that I devoured, engulfed by the emotions portrayed in the novels.

I remember listening to Joey Lawrence’s Nothin’ My Love Can’t Fix and naively believing that America is the land where people have fun and frolic for a living. 

And just like that, without any warning, London became the love of my life. Yearnings for a life in America were replaced brutally by a pining for London. I fulfilled a dream of taking KrA to America last May. We went up to Manhattan only to find it so polluted and filthy we wondered if we were in Mumbai. Since then I have moved on from London too. But it is startling how what was once the land of my dreams is no longer on the list of places I want to be in. As if I now know this was a dream I once had, but the Cosmos had other plans for me, and so I have other dreams now.


The other big thing in my life that happened today was chatting with SG after ages, perhaps for the first time after I last met her in Boston all those years ago. She was my closest friend in college, and somehow after that we sort of drifted apart. 

Chatting with her today brought back memories of how I struggled to cope with life in the real world after the enjoyable years at IIT. To me, my college years represented a period of time when I was determined, hardworking, alive and full of dreams, confident, and successful.

Life spiralled downwards after that. I kept thinking of my college days, wishing I could bring back to my life the qualities and attributes I had back then. I had a hard time moving on and I didn’t know if my batchmates were struggling as well. I found it harder to make new friends, I struggled with non-achievement. Time slipped by and as more years wore on, I kept sinking into the miserable feeling that I had achieved nothing of worth since I graduated from college. 

KrA hit the nail on the head when he said I had grown to be afraid of hard work. I had paralyzed myself into inaction. My dreams had remained just that, intangible wisps of whims and fancies, fantastical castles in thin air with no foundations on the ground to support that. 

Life changed for me ever since KrA gave me that epiphany. I am as relentless a dreamer as I used to be, even more so now perhaps, but I am also a bit of a doer now. I try to do more, oftentimes I give in to the temptation of laziness and inaction, but I do get back on my feet before it is too late. 

And, as I was telling SG this morning, now when I think of my college days and my college mates, that part of my life and people from that era feel as if they belong somewhere in the distant past. And that I have moved on from them and there. And suddenly I can now look back on the past with peace and acceptance, no longer weighed down by sad memories or nostalgia. It is a relief to be free.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

It's Magic

It’s magic that keeps me sane in the real world. 

What gives me hope is the sheer possibility of carving out a small porthole in mid-air and looking through it to find a world of pixies and gnomes playing in a meadow on the other side, fairies sprinkling stardust on each other, birds tearing through the sky imprinting love messages your lover has sent to you, streams and brooks playfully meandering through the grassland, snow-capped mountains and hills in the distance. 

There is something so tender about this kind of beauty, something so fragile that only a soft, gentle heart can understand it, feel it, experience it. My heart leaps with joy at the sight of dewdrop on a blade of grass, it seeks pleasure in the rustling of leaves, it takes delight in the crunching of dry twigs and branches under my feet. 

In the smells of good food that waft from the kitchen. In the stillness of a warm, summer afternoon. In the beauty of lush, green fields. In the relentless onslaught of a thunderstorm. In the calm that follows. In the kind words of a stranger. In friendship. In the unlikely bonds we form with people we have only just met. In life. In love.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A New Year's Wish

      As far as I can remember, I have always had new year resolutions. Promises I'd make to myself only to forget all about them a few days into the new year. 
      But I have never had a new year wish, not really. It never struck me I could look up at a star and wish for something precious this year. 
      There are three things I badly want for this year. One is to do with my writings. The second is to do with the big move. The third is to do with the health of a family member. Not necessarily in that order, each one is just as crucial as the other two. 
      But above all, this year I only wish to be able to adapt to circumstances better without straying away too much from my dreams. That is all I ask for this year. 2012 taught me the importance of hard work, of the honest-to-goodness type. I only ask for the ability to keep at it this year, with a little more wisdom and a lot more faith. So when I look back, I will have the contentment of knowing that not a day was wasted, not an opportunity was lost, not a good deed was left undone, not a joy was forgotten, and that there was never a moment without love. 

It Is No Longer Not My Problem

        So the rapists ought to be castrated and butchered, ours is a nation of political eunuchs, and RIP The-Lass-Who-Died-Unnamed. And soon Monday morning dawns, we make our way to work, 2013 washes over us in the blink of an eye, and life moves on ruthlessly, so do people.
       But let us not fault them for it because what gives us hope this time is that our people spoke up against government inefficacies and societal hypocrisies, and that has made a difference. I have gone from saying “Fuck India” and “I am sorry/ashamed to be Indian” to being proud of all those who braved the tear gas and water cannons, and to questioning myself what we as individuals, whether in India or on foreign shores, could do in our little ways to keep the movement in progress.
       I had a moment of epiphany on these lines just last week. It so happened that my partner and I boarded a bus one evening in Singapore - where we live - to find it unusually noisy; a couple was blasting out music at full volume on their mobile phone. We glared at them to express our displeasure before we took our seats by the door, a little ahead of the noisy couple.
       “I wish I had “Who let the dogs out?” on my phone,” my partner said. “I would have played that in response.”
       “Why?” I demanded to know. “So you could piss them off and end up brawling with them?”
       “This is not acceptable behaviour, and someone has to let them know,” my partner reasoned.
       “It doesn’t have to be you,” I hissed.
       The music grew louder at this point, and we turned back to glare at them. They stared back at us stonily. The man looked unquestionably like a brute, his face unpleasant and mean, his glare callous and menacing.
       “He seems to be the trigger-happy sort,” I said to my partner. “Don’t mess with him.”
       My partner was not pleased.
       Moments later, the twosome trundled past and stationed themselves by the door, right in front of us, the music from their mobile phone sounding more and more cacophonous. As the bus skidded to a halt at the stop, the man scowled at us, spat on the floor of the bus, and glowered at us some more before stepping off.
       Now if you know anything at all about Singapore, you’d know spitting in public is a sacrilegious thing to do here. “What kind of a bastard was that?” I muttered.
       “If you were so upset, you should have told him off,” my partner replied. “It is because people like you keep quiet and choose to ignore these things that people like him do as they please and get away with it.”
       It is as simple as that. Looking at the state of affairs in India, and in any troubled society in general, we must be fools to believe that our government would hand us a safe society on a silver platter. Sure enough, stricter laws and regulations would be announced but with no guarantees of effective implementation. Why else are we dealing with dowry deaths in this day and age, half a century after the legislation was enforced? Changes in societal mind-sets will take a couple of generations or even longer to come about.
       A safe society is something we now have to earn, create and nurture for ourselves by refusing to tolerate misdeeds of any sort.
       If someone gropes you in a crowded bus or train, yell for help. Don’t keep quiet just because you don’t want to create a scene. Keeping mum is passive assent. You may need to do a knee-to-the-groin manoeuvre to get the message across, but don’t let that stop you. Reach out for help. Keep looking until you can find someone willing and able to help.
       And you, if you see someone being harassed, don’t be a mute spectator. You can no longer afford to say, “It’s not my problem” and turn a blind eye to the scene or walk away with a shrug. Don’t just slink past. Don’t become a hostile witness. You could very well be the next victim.
       Of course, there is a significant element of risk. Risk of bodily harm to you, your partner, your friends, to anyone who dares get involved, either at the hands of goons or the government. But that is the price we are going to have to pay, sooner or later. Our freedom fighters did it all those decades ago; it is our turn now.
       Not all of us may want to be front line soldiers. And if bodily combat is not up your alley, there are countless roles to choose from. If you are a blogger, blog about it. Tweet about it. Facebook it. If you are witness to a misdeed, take a photo, post it online. Don’t keep mum. Make noise. One miscreant caught and condemned is another discouraged. Create works of art to spread the word. Take those raw emotions and convert them to art like this and this. Volunteer towards social causes - not because the deed will boost your resume but because it is good for the society and for your soul. Or donate; fund those who are willing to help. Do your bit instead of throwing up your hands and saying “What can I do?”
         But whatever you choose, keep at it for the long run. Because what ails the society is now your problem too. And there are no quick fixes to this one.

Author's Note: I first had this put up here and also posted it as a note on my personal Facebook account. 

Friday, 28 December 2012

Falling Into You ...

Oh my dreamland.

I won't take your name, not for now, not in a public forum. But all I can think of these days is getting to you, coming to you fast enough. I have no plans for New Year's eve, and here I am, spinning dreams of spending 31 December, 2013, in you. 

When I visualize time in my mind, especially the period of my life from now until the moment I land on your shores, all I can see is a black nothingness. As if the dates have been plucked out of the calendar and hurled into a gaping void. And all becomes unusually magical after I have reached you.

I pine for you. But I also want to make the most of today, so when I look back I can let go of Singapore with no regrets. And join you, to embrace my future in you, knowing well I have made the most of the opportunities I have had in the past.

And now it is time for bed. Time for dreams, for bed-time stories that I will pen down during the day.