Normally, this would not have been news. Definitely not bloggable. I used to read a lot and often. Like writing, something broke, and I didn’t read a book for a long time. I didn’t stop reading; articles, documents and such were still being consumed voraciously; but a book didn’t figure in the list.
Clearly there is a loss of patience to go through the book. From deep within, there is a constant nagging that seeks finishing the book. The remainder of the pages on the right hand is a daunting task. Desperately waiting to increase the pages in the left hand.
It doesn’t help that others are reading so many books and so frequently. What should work as motivation creepily transforms into competition.
The lockdown experience has been different for different people. Some have made most of it investing their time in learning new skills, in reading, painting, singing, and various other things. For some it has been difficult managing time between work, children loss of usual domestic help and such. Positive and not-so-positive experiences across the spectrum. There are a few who have just come to a standstill. Waiting for it to get over. There is no ‘one way’ to ride through the crisis, rules, circumstances, people, plans, responsibilities: all will alter our response to the crisis in some form or the other.
For me, personally, it has been the lack of experiences, because of the limitation of travel. And while a commute is not exactly travel, even the loss of the commute, means the loss of much of visual and other stimuli that may trigger a memory, a thought, an experience. And if that stays with you for a while, it becomes something bloggable. I haven’t used the word bloggable in a long time. Perhaps nothing has felt bloggable in a long time.
The Bum and I spoke recently. On phone. Neither of us feel the compulsion to use video, when we speak. Never felt it.
In these times, when almost everything seems to go sideways, most people are changing the mode and frequency of their communication. Not us. I’ll admit, the frequency is better – and we are both happy about it. But a call is good for us. I think our collective imaginations more than make up for bad streaming video. We speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, at best. Either he has something to say or I do. And we dispense with the topic. If we did a video call, we would end up spending 15 or 20 minutes about how we look. That’s such a waste of time!
He called me a few days ago to tell me he attended a travel writing workshop online. I half-cringed (Another reason, why not to use video.) The first word on the tagline of this blog is travel. And I hardly write about travel anymore. Actually, I hardly write, anyway.
In conversation, I discovered that the workshop was less about travel writing and more about online branding. At least, that is my take-away; if he did learn any tips on travel writing, he did not share any.
This conversation, like any other, had a mind of its own – and we steered to the topic of the serious lack of content on our respective blogs, in the recent past. We surgically analysed the deficit and were satisfied with the analysis. We put off the solution for some other day.
And today, The Bum put out a lovely post about The Loud Silence. The date of the content of his post is close to my heart – that was the day we met, before we all locked down.
Writing has been difficult for a long time now. Forget travel writing; any writing has been difficult. Not for want of topics to write, mind you. There is a numbing sense out of sheer fatigue; an overload of thoughts, and a break down in belief.
It is not unconquerable, this fatigue. It requires you to reposition yourself at a point of your own strength, even if it seems weak and lonely. And this position is not necessarily the position where most are standing. Our side. Their side. There is only one side.
The obvious answer: when we are born. That’s the physical cut. I suspect, there is more to it, than the physical cut. The physical, does not necessarily undo the spiritual.
There are other umbilicals, though. The unseen – some spiritual, some emotional. Umbilical connections are liquid. Blood, sweat, and tears. When we connect, how we connect, we never know. But, we do.
We move away from home. We may stop thinking of home. Yet, we never leave home. There will always be a connection. It may or may not pull us back. But you cannot deny the connection. Accept it or ignore it. At your cost.
The umbilical is a sense of belonging.
And one day the physical is cut. And it is all over. It is not sad, necessarily. But, in a moment, it just does not exist. Did you have a choice? Did you choose? Did someone make the choice for you? In a slice of a moment; it is two.
It’s a memory now, a static set of audio-visuals, so to speak. Like watching a life of someone else.
Time, and the human brain are co-conspirators. * I want to close the windows, draw the curtains. I want to paint black, the walls of my room. Shut tight, all doors. I want to pump up the volume. I want to listen to Pink Floyd. I want to drink affordable rum, as it is available, without a care, sitting right where I can hear the blare of all the speakers. The perfect position. I don’t want to move. I want to Run Like Hell.
I know you are smiling at me from heaven. Don’t give them a tough time.
He would have recalled it, if i reminded him of it.
I have no doubt about that.
I would have reminded him of the “Pachu cha Bet” (Isles of Emeralds). And Ennui and Rebel. And so many more things; he would have remembered and restarted the conversation, just where we left it off, sometime in 1991.
I have no doubt about that.
Recite the Leon Uris poem in The Haj for me, he would have said. He is the only one who knows that I froze, the first time I was on stage for the recitation. I often suspect, he lived the poem more than me.
I have no doubt about that.
But, I’ll never get a chance to show that to you.
Minya died, yesterday.
This is the only surviving photo I have of him, before mobile cameras. And thank God, we didn’t have mobile cameras then. We treasured memories.
I was not close to him, we were not intimate, we didn’t see each other for decades, In fact, I met him only once, after college. And then we did not meet for over a decade. In that one meeting, nothing changed. We were as we were.
I have no doubt about that.
But there is this hole, deep, gaping, widening, questioning hole, that needs filling. And I could have asked Minya, but he is dead.
Only for you, Minya – I am having the Party of my Life. Because that is the only way, I know you.
The King is Dead; Long Live the King. Only, in my heart. Forever, forever, forever.
The above quote is from the chapter about showing up, the subject of my previous post. Some may agree with the quote, same may not. I have always found an immense pleasure in the doing; and in that sense, I agree wholeheartedly with the quote. It’s immensely satisfying to sit back, look at your work and admire it, whatever its form.
The quote however begets the question: is it enough?
I think the context and setting will always dictate if the doing is enough. You may dance in your home, alone, for yourself, that is pleasure in itself. But if you want to make a career in dancing, someone will have to see it, appreciate it, award you. Where commerce rules, doing is not enough. The done has to be exhibited.
And that’s when showing up is not enough, you will have to show-off.
Way back, I was reading a book, primarily written for artists, but I went ahead and read it anyways. It was well-written, in the sense that it never made me feel that I wasn’t an artist, even though I am not one.
In the book, the author expounded several principles to help struggling artists, in very well-crafted essays. One of those principles was: Show up.
As would have been expected, the intended audience was the artist, but when you took in the essence of the essay, it applies to all of us, irrespective of what we do. Showing up is half the work done. With your presence, there is at least a chance of further value; your absence ensures that you will not gain anything at all.
If you come up on the stage, people may like your work, if you don’t they won’t even know your existence.
Showing up is easier said than done, because the sheer act of showing up, means fighting and conquering many demons — real and imagined.
I have lost my audience – due to my long absence here. And the last few posts have hardly had any views. It’s easy for me to say that – well, I have lost my audience here, why bother writing anything at all. I am late on my plan of writing every day
But I will catch up. And I will write better in the days to come.
In the meanwhile I am doing the least I should be doing.
In between the obsession, there has to be sanity. If not, then it becomes a case for the mental health professionals.
There isn’t a doubt that these are unprecedented and difficult times. Challenging ones. And amongst the different challenges, tactical ones, i.e., the real challenge is of keeping our sanity in check. I believe we will overcome these difficult time, even if it takes a while. So, the question before us is – will we expend all our energy dealing with everyday transactions, or will we keep some in reserve for when this is all over?
Because this will all get over one day. And in preparing ourselves during the difficult time – we tend to forget that we have to be ready for when it is all over.
Therein lies all the preparation. And we all will have different ways in which we will.
While there may be many things for which I seek clarity, one thing that’s clear as a summer sky, is that I have lost the urge and inspiration to write here. Perhaps it has been evident for a while, but I wasn’t willing to accept it; was hoping that the sense would return slowly and steadily. There have been spurts of bloggable ideas, thoughts, and incidents. Very few made it to the stage where I would click Publish. Many, many more, never even made it to the editor.
I do have a lot of creative excuses though, for not writing, and more often than not the root of the excuse is outside of me, making me a colluding victim. It’s a win-win situation of sorts.
Today is no different. There isn’t a bloggable idea, thought, or incident that I am writing about.
There’s an event, and someone suggested I make good use of it.
In less than a month we are now living in a world that looks and feels so different. A cauldron-full of every turbulent emotion has been suitably sautéed and served. Small signs of movie-like dystopian visuals abound, and we close our eyes looking for hope. To realise that hope, India announced a 21-day lockdown all over the country, to stop the spread of the virus.
Today is the first day of that official lockdown. I am not a stranger to remote working, yet the announcement that you have to #StayHome for three weeks, caused some angst. And an otherwise frivolous post asking for ideas, on how to cope, got “write on your blog” as a suggestion; so this post. And I hope to continue writing for the next twenty days.
There were other suggestions, a few I have taken up earnestly (which didn’t require any physically tiring effort) and I hope to continue those too, for the next twenty days. Directionally, I don’t expect any of these suggested adventures to take me anywhere.
But, perhaps there will be an opportunity to repair, align, and balance.
Scrape away the rust and polish to a brilliant shine, reposition and reorder to the standard, and return from the extremes; come home.
Time has appointed itself to decide, but I will have to pass the judgement.
There is finite time we have in life. Unfortunately no one knows how much time we all have. Which is why I always have an argument about ‘middle-age’ — how do we know, it’s the middle? Middle-age can be determined, only at the end. But that’s another post.
In this finite time, there is so much to do. Things that we need to do and things that we want to do. And somehow, both these are at loggerheads with each other. Using fear and guilt, they vie for your time. And as inanimate as they seem, they have borrowed a part of your consciousness, and have developed character. They haven’t necessarily taken permission while borrowing, and there’s little you can do about it.
The only escape, if at all, is to do nothing. Not what you need to do, not what you want to do. But that never works in your favour. It’s a separate and unique dread that has a character of its own. So you squeeze in a bit of want-to-do when you are doing what you need to do and bit of need-to-do when you are doing what you want-to-do.
If you are good at this alternative squeezing, you might be able to do what you need and what you want. But neither, ever seems complete.
And you have to wonder, if the life that you are living, really belongs to you. And when you can answer that, all answers fall in place.
There is not a moment that stands apart – unless it is created purposefully, with intent. Each moment is a bad reflection of the previous one; like bouncing off of a cracked mirror. Can’t call out sameness even, but it is the same. An incremental distortion of sorts.
Those moments of intention, they stand out – brilliant, alone, and tall. In each slice there is a memory: fresh, fixed, and forever. These moments become the firm step which take us forward.
The moments that reflect off each other, they are imposters, like thin ice; they slow us down and could bring us crashing down in cold still water.
And therefore it is imperative to create purposeful, intentional moments. More we have, more we move forward, with purpose. Sturdy and reliable stepping stones towards a full life.
“Earn two friends in life, One like Krishna who will not fight but will make sure you win and another like Karna who will fight for you even when you are wrong”.
Now, you need some context of Mahabharat, to understand this quote more than it’s literal sense, but even otherwise, I cringed when I read this. Those who have read the Mahabharat, will know what I mean – there is a connect with all that the Krishna and Karna did in the epic.
In short, Krishna was on the “right” side and Karna on the “wrong“. I highlight right and wrong because the entire story is about the nuances of good and evil; right and wrong, and quite complicated to explain in a single sentence. There is, as an author has said, The Difficulty of Being Good.
Back to the quote, I take exception to “fight for you even when you are wrong.” It just does not sound right — either because it is misleading or incomplete. And, mostly because I know of Krishna and Karna. It would be good to have a friend who will defend you against the world when you are wrong, but if the friend validates or supports the wrong, then we have a serious problem. Defending a friend should not be about, or construed as, justifying a wrong act or supporting it.
Somewhere herein lies the concept of friendship.
Also, this is where the context comes into play. Not like Karna. I believe Karna had a misguided sense of loyalty, and is often referred to as a “flawed tragic hero of the Mahabharata” – who justifies and even participates in the evil intentions and actions of his friend.
I have always been better because of my friends. They challenge me to be a better version of myself. Either in the way they carry themselves or by helping me do, what takes me a step ahead, towards good. In public, they will defend me, but in private, they will fight with me and ask of me to be better.
I’d rather have a friend, who is ready to show me the side of me that I may not see, or may not want to see. To show a mirror to my shortcomings and weaknesses. Yet stand strong for me, in the face of adversity.
In my corner.
I recently experienced this, when someone moved in front of me as I was taking a volley of blows. I was at fault, and was cornered and defenceless, when this armour of a person stood in front of me. It was a learning moment, and I am grateful to have that person in my corner. It wasn’t to justify my fault; it was to stop the assault at the time. Then, there was time for us to get together and plan, so that I could be better.
A few posts on this blog early in this year, dealt with the problem of the “writer’s block” – what it meant for me. I thought I had found some answers, but deep down I wasn’t really convinced with those. There was more to it. Something real. Something tangible, something I could put a finger on and say, this is it. This is the writer’s block! Subconsciously, though, it seemed I was aware of it, and was taking action to unblock so to speak. I was aware of those actions, I was unaware, however about the purpose behind the action.
This news is not new, but there is an epidemic of attention spans getting shorter. Having grown through school and life with a heavy dose and habit of long-form reading and writing I believe I have acquired some immunity to diminishing attention spans. But belief isn’t enough, so I had to test it by reading and writing as I did. It was a relief to discover that I was indeed immune. I read two long-form non-fiction books, wrote reviews and other long-form writing. But, as Sulu would have said, defences were at 75%. Something was missing. The flow wasn’t as smooth, the effort was laboured, and the distraction was larger. There was an urge to complete.
This was new. And I did not recognise this sense at first. Folks had commented on a few posts, saying it felt abrupt. This sense extended to reading. I could see how my reading was changing. I looked forward to finishing the book. I wasn’t skipping parts of the book to get to the end, I was getting impatient with the content.
It was spilling over to my writing, for sure. The urge to publish was strong. And that was affecting the quality and the completeness of the content. The days when blogging was the primary social network is long past us. There is sanctuary there. There is no pressure to churn content like before. Thankfully that has shifted to micro-blogging networks, and I have shifted away from those.
What’s true for coffee is true for life and everything else.
Real Pleasure Can’t come in An Instant.
(Caption Courtesy: An old MR Coffee print ad).
So 2020 will all be about taking time. The pleasure will all be mine. To savour it slowly.
It’s that time of the year. Again. The mandatory post of informing everyone how long this blog has been in existence. I say, in existence for a reason. To be alive and to exist, are two very different things. Often, incorrectly, used interchangeably.
Ten posts a year, eleven – if you count this one, does not a blog make. That is, not according to the old standards of this blog. There isn’t a global standard for frequency of blogging, so it really does not matter how many posts you post. So where’s the lament? That is something I have never explored. That, once there was a decent frequency of posts, is the only reference available for these lamenting anniversary posts in recent years.
This year’s theme for the anniversary post seems no different.
But perhaps, I could use this august date to discover why I have been posting posts of lament. Then, the post would not be a post of lament. This blog has always been about bloggable thoughts, so it would be worthwhile wondering if there haven’t been as many bloggable thoughts in the last few years. I’d posit, it is not true. There have been many thoughts, many ideas, many experiences, that have been bloggable. Even as I write this, the memories of all-things-bloggable flood my mind. And I wonder, why they never got blogged.
Things that had to be done to carry on the existence have hogged more time than usual, and hijacked the space and time required to be alive. That is the only conclusion I can arrive at. Which does pose the question, how much time to we really need to exist? At the extreme level, as long you continue breathing, existence is possible. But then what does being alive mean? All of us will have a different take on that – because it is intensely and decidedly personal. And an anniversary is as good a time as any other to think of how we allocate time to exist and to be alive.
It’s time to say yes, again. And again. And for different reasons. In different contexts. For different things.
But then, like a pin-drop in a deathly silent room, you hear a question — what if you have changed and the blog needs to change with you? What if this is a split conversation of two selves reflecting differently off an image that once was?
There’s a story of obsession out there somewhere. How it came into being, and for sure, how it died away eventually. Or, how it became so large and violent that it consumed the obsessor, and died because it consumed what kept it alive and fed its growth.
I am not sure how the story goes, but I have seen a version of it, unfold itself.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to observe a Geography class in session. Gravity was the topic of the day and a kid stood up and wondered why people on other side of the earth weren’t falling off. It was clear that he knew they weren’t falling off, but he wondered why. The teacher was trying her best to explain that gravity works the same all around the earth; perhaps centripetal and centrifugal forces were not yet covered in Physics.
I was then, smiling a slight smile. Way back, many years ago, while we were being taught about volcanoes, I had a nagging question, I remember. I had asked my teacher about it, but had not got a satisfactory answer.
How do we know that a volcano is really extinct? I mean, what if it suddenly starts erupting, would it not be an active volcano? Or would it be a dormant volcano that has now become active? What if a dormant volcano never erupted? Would that one actually be extinct? How is the state of a volcano really determined?
The question still remains – attributing a state to a volcano is not an exact science really, and if there is – I still do not know.
No, Not a Volcano
It has been a long time since I wrote anything on this blog that is noteworthy. When I was recently asked about the blog, I was not sure what I should say. The blog is: active, dormant, or extinct.
The volcano question erupted, after many years.
Dormant seemed to qualify, as I understand the states. Didn’t qualify for active (What’s the frequency for qualifying it as active?) Definitely not extinct — which was an emotional response – because I was not yet ready to let go of the blog forever.
So this post is to classify this blog as dormant. At least for now. In days to come, it may become active. And then be dormant again. But never extinct, for as long as the volcano stands.
Some of us have suffered temporary deafness. Especially when opportunity knocked. Either we didn’t hear it or we ignored it. Long after the opportunity took a flight far away, someone told us, that it was opportunity knocking. And helter-skelter we ran.
All that we could do now was, kick ourselves (which, come to try and do it, is not that easy). Of course, we assume that it was a good opportunity, which makes us kick ourselves. By itself, in absolute terms, the word — opportunity — holds in itself a positive, favourable intent. So, there, we have declined the existence of “bad” opportunities.
Needless to say, possibilities exist. Every opportunity, holds within itself, a possibility. Some, which we hope will become a reality, some we dread, and hope that they live and die in our imagination. In an otherwise casual conversation, a friend alerted me about why, an opportunity, which I think I missed, was actually a blessing in disguise. Logic won with aplomb, and I agreed with him. Trouble, is as much possible as happiness is. I feel I should quote a great writer who said something about this subject. No one comes to mind. My mind splits and surfs two parallel worlds of an opportunity that could have gone either way. And I finely align myself to stay strong somewhere in middle. The middle, which is nowhere.
And I question, what I consider as logic, is perhaps only feeding a social construct, that restricts. Opportunity is a slave to conditioning, perhaps?
Of all the places I should have mentioned it; was here. On this blog. But, no, I mentioned it on Facebook. Needless to say, I got all sorts of (entertaining) comments on my FB post. There seems to be an easy invite on Facebook and Twitter to post a quick and dirty which a blog post does not permit. Not by structure, but by purpose.
WordPress may beg to differ, but I do speak on their behalf.
Micro-blogging networks, by virtue of design do not offer the gatekeeping that a normal blog offers. Longform writing is as much a victim as longform reading. As I write this post, I ponder on the pauses as I type. These pauses are exemplary of the sense of building a story; a construction, which is in absent in micro-blogging. The instantaneous nature of the medium, allows fine fragments to pass through, without filters. It is in the moment, without care and concern. It doesn’t matter anyway, because the nature of these fine fragments is transient. Within moments, the fragments, live a full life, die a natural death, go to heaven, and assume a new identity, which is unrecognisable. In short, no one cares. Lifetime in an instance!
This post has no content per se; perhaps that is what makes it a unique post. Is it about the container? It is definitely an empty post. It has no story, no characters, no idea. And notwithstanding that, it has so many words. Is there any value in this post? Can a container have story? The container that has been selfless for so long; silent because what is contained has more meaning.
Does the container borrow meaning from the content?
Classmates. Living a peripatetic life. Non-linear overlaps across the length and breadth of India, in varying time slices. Born early seventies, all of us. Gen X. Gen X is a fancy name for a generation that didn’t have access to technology. Obvious. This Gen was supposed to build the technology. So, in our early days we were dependent on the technology that the Baby Boomers used.
Letters. Post. Mail. (not email). In India specifically we had Inland letters and Postcards. 25p and 15p respectively. If you had to write a really long letter, you had to shell out 50p for a postal envelope. But, we had to be careful, there was a weight limit. That’s when we discovered onion sheets – extremely thin paper. We could now stuff more sheets in the 50p envelope than before. We weren’t quite smart then, we used to pay a fortune for the onion paper pad, to save on postage. Go figure.
Times have changed. Classmates grew up, and are doing well in their lives. If we feel like meeting out friends, we just hop on to a flight in the morning, spend a day with them, and return in the evening. We have WhatsApp, we have video calls, and such (which our generation built, mind you). We now live in a world of hyper-connectivity. Just the other day, mates from Goa, Dubai, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat met one evening. Easy-peasy.
The 25p Inland letter is now Rs. 2.50. I have taken it up upon myself to write letters to my friends. Notwithstanding the WhatsApp group. It’s not easy. But writing letters is muscle memory. It’s all coming back, no thanks to the changed format of the new expensive inland letter. All my letters start by asking my friend – what do I write in this letter, given that we already know everything that is going on in our lives. What should be the purpose and content of the letter? And as my out-of-practice trembling hands ask this question, an answer emerges. Purpose and content in this context don’t matter much. It is the intent, and the sense of sending you something tangible – is what matters. WhatsApp messages get deleted every night – to save space. Their nature is transient. A paper and scrawled ink is forever. When we are no more (like the deleted WhatsApp messages) these letters are an ounce of us that will be with you forever.
I should know, I have letters from dead people. And they are a part of me. And a part of them is with me.
I have an old briefcase full of letters from all of my friends, from the early 80s. It is one of my most prized possessions. May the briefcase become a suitcase. May there be many more letters. May there be many more fragments of our lives in each other’s lives.
Some gratitude is due. To my teachers and friends. I may not be the best letter-writer, but I understand something of structure and format and choice of words. Here’s a big thank you to all my teachers for helping us learn how to write letters and follow the rules. Here’s a big thank you to all my friends for helping me to learn how to break those rules.
PS: I really, really wanted to use “peripatetic” – Happy now.