A Warm Embrace

When Richard Bach said,

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.

He wasn’t joking.

8632: Keep the Faith

It’s been a couple of months since I had been to a school reunion. And after three decades of being apart, we are rediscovering what we meant to each other. It is amusing that we aren’t on this road to rediscovery from the age that we are now, but from the age when we separated. Amusing, because we tend to behave like teenagers in our conversations. Memories have faded, too much water under and over the bridge. But we haven’t lost the sense of who we were, how we were. Theories abound about why some people feel connected with others, each with some merit, or at least some factor of interestingness.

To me, it’s the snug, cosiness that I experience in our conversations. Tied up, close and tight from all sides, never to fall apart, never to leave.

A warm clasped embrace, that defies time and space, which I always carry around with me.

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Non-Self-Contradicting

I was thinking of something, and for some reason this thought connected me to another similar thought. I found myself agreeing in the first thought and disagreeing in the second. And, suddenly, I realised, I am contradicting myself. There. I had caught me contradicting myself.

Twin Window

It was not a good feeling. I was also surprised that I got caught. By myself, i.e. Usually, it is someone else.

“Good catch,” I told myself.

“Thanks,” I replied.

I wasn’t entirely happy about being caught. But, I have to say I did a good job catching myself, else, I would have gone ahead with my thoughts, thinking they were all free of contradiction.

Some time passed. I was now thinking of thoughts that straightforward and wouldn’t connect me to similar parallel thoughts. I continued thinking. It was nice, easy, and straight. I was wrong however, not all thoughts were behaving. One of the delinquent thoughts reconnected me to the previous pair of thoughts that I had pronounced contradicting.

I called myself, “Hey, you!”

“What?” I said

“The context for those two thoughts,” I said, with some emphasis, “were different.”

“So?”

“They were even under a different contract,” I insisted.

I looked at myself with a blank face.

“The context and the contract for those two similar thoughts were different, so they could not have been contradictory,” I said.

I thought for a while, I was right, I knew that. And I had to be honest with myself, I had to concede.

“You’re right,” I said, “they aren’t contradictory.”

“Thanks,” I replied.

“You’re welcome,” I told myself, “and hey, by the way, Good catch!”

“Thanks,” I replied.

Reuniting With Myself

Thirty-two years is a long time.

They say that every seven years the human body is essentially new (all cells being replaced, in that span; not entirely accurate, but it’s a good thought). By this theory, I have been renewed a little over four times, since I left my school in Goa, for another one in Bombay. It wasn’t only me, all my friends from then, have changed exactly that many times. Some dread lingered after I confirmed that I’d attend the school reunion.

Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, India

Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, India

In 1985 we didn’t have many tools to save memories. We either remembered them or wrote it down on paper. Of the cells in our body, brain cells are the one’s that last a lifetime, and if they do die, they don’t regenerate (Don’t worry, there’s always new research around the corner that says otherwise).

For a month before the reunion, all of us 40-somethings, were connected online, seeking lost fragments of half-broken memories to make them whole. We only had one physical reference — the annual class photo — to help us. The rest of it, we had to seek from our randomly connected neurons; from disused and discarded pathways. Slowly, it started coming back together; some memories we recalled; for the rest we trusted our friends’ authority. But this wasn’t true about all our memories. A select few were sharp, very sharp: those of adventures, discoveries, punishments, and of course – first crushes.

*

It was an agonising wait for 9th June. The suspense hung suspended like smog in New Delhi. Who would I meet? The vaguely familiar 13-year-olds or the vaguely unfamiliar 40-somethings? What would I say? What would they say? What would they remember? There was a motley crowd of questions commuting in my head, but none of them, strong enough to trample on my resolve to attend.

The bag was packed two days before. Finally, the airport. Flight’s on time. So far. For some events, you leave nothing to chance. Plan well. I reach the airport two hours earlier than I should have. Nothing; nothing should be left to chance. Am waiting at the gate. Not much to do. Update Facebook status:

Reached airport two hours early. I know it doesn’t affect when the aircraft will take off. Don’t remember the last time I was so excited. Meeting friends from thirty-two years ago, does that to you, I guess. Friendships forged in classrooms and playgrounds. Helping each other in study and games. Those long conversations that were dense with imagination. That very awkward age of being thirteen. That display of solidarity during class punishments. The giggly responses to the newly discovered double-entrende.

The love declaration in the last page of the notebook and the vigorous scratching of it.

The white-haired, pot-bellied, balding boys; and the beautiful girls of that class are going to relive it all. Entry is by invitation only, else you would also get to see 13yr old 45-somethings.

It starts raining. Flight’s delayed. Thankfully, only 15 minutes. The seasoned air-traveller who pays for the aisle seat has chosen the window. There’s a promise of something wonderful on the other side of this one hour and fifteen minutes. The clouds told me.

Taking off from Bengaluru Airport

Taking off from Bengaluru Airport

finally am there. Five minutes in, I see that everything and everyone has changed. Except the love. That’s as intact as it was three decades ago. There is, however, one surreal dissonance: all of my friends look very different from how I remember them; but they are the same 13-year old kids I had parted from. The smiles, the words, the jokes, everything – was how it was, then. One by one, we all trickle in. It’s the same with everyone. It takes each of us less than five minutes to establish identities (often by recalling something absolutely stupid that we had done).

The reunion of Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1, INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, was ON.

Without any delay, the collective memories were laid out as Exhibit No. 1, 2, 3, … You get the picture. Sheepish and naughty references began floating around. Ah, well, boys will be boys, though, technically, they were all men. I was a compliant and participating member, but the dissonance didn’t leave me. Late at night, we finally settled down for a conversation so that the one with most of his neurons intact, would remind us how much of our memories were real; how many were imagined.

Then, the girls joined.

Long-forgotten pubescent awkward silence enveloped the boys in the room. There was some conversation, yes. I think the girls were somewhat disappointed with our inability to gossip in their presence.

My Classroom - Right of Centre

My Classroom – Right of Centre

Hangovers and emotions are never good, when they arrive together. It’s Saturday morning now. We are in our school. Needless to say much has changed. Then, we just had a barbed-wire fence. Now there are 10-feet walls. Dissonance. Then we had just two parallel building. Now it’s a square of four buildings. But my classrooms are there. It’s vacation, so the rooms are closed. But I peep in through the high windows. I recall where I sat, where my BFF sat, where my crush sat. A movie plays. The abstract kind. Part memory, part imagination, part dream. Hangovers and emotions are good when the arrive together. You can use one to hide the other. Most of my reunion-mates assume I am hungover. Works for me. I see across from my classroom to the building opposite. My sister’s class. Every time I was in trouble, she was summoned to ensure that the complaint reached home.

We walked the corridors of yore. Then, as if drawn by an old magnet, we were drawn and stood in the middle of the assembly ground. Aligned ourselves perfectly. Without a warning, without a signal, without a plan, without a prompt, strict in attention, we sang the National Anthem. If I ever had to explain hive mind, this would be it. Not one of us was surprised or taken aback. It felt as natural as breathing. Any hesitation or apprehension I had felt in the month before this day was quelled, without a fight.

National Anthem - At School - KV INS Hansa

National Anthem – At School – KV INS Hansa

And the rest of the day passed in much fun and frolic. The evening was one of the best since I can long remember. No, I am not telling any more. (Some of my juvenile friends may read this!) I retired happy. Especially for someone who could manage only four awkward and useless phrases for those two years, a long time ago. I forget, even, what the words were. But it matters not, anymore. I may have forgotten the words, but not the sense, not what I felt. What I alone, felt.

Three decades is a lifetime, if you think of it. There’s so much water under the bridge, the landscape has changed. So have the cells of our eyes. Everything is different now. We’ve been renewed four times over. Life is different. And it is still beautiful as ever.

*

Sunday was shocking. The sun behind the rainy clouds was teasing us, chuckling almost, telling us it was all over. We wasted no time, though. We jumped right back on to the fun-wagon. Much fun was had. Even though it was a dry-day (elections). With all who were there, we made the best of the little remaining time. Then, one-by-one came the goodbyes. Tearful, but I shed not one, then. I am a late-bloomer, I guess.

Today is my day, when the floodgates open.

It was a good reunion. With friends from long ago. It was also a reunion with my self. A discovery, an acknowledgement, a sense of being. A sense, beyond words. The best way to discover ourselves, is when we are with others.

This is a public post, so I won’t take your names, but you know who you are. All of you in Goa who arranged everything to perfection. The rest of you who came from far and wide, and all of you for so much of love, that I find hard to contain.

Good positive vibes, as you said.

Writing Rigour

I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. – Agatha Christie

That’s the headline of a blog that I have followed for a while. For a few years now, the blog has been defunct; not the blogger. I met the blogger today; very much alive. Said blogger stopped blogging a few years ago. What’s the point, she said. When she stopped blogging, she did not explicitly ask this question. I know another blogger who did the same. She perhaps was asking different questions. I actually know of a third blogger. He stopped blogging too. His question — I have no idea. He went to the extent of deleting his blog. It must have been serious.

I have, I will confess, considered not blogging. But for the life of me, I could never consider deleting my blog. Good or bad, I cannot deny that this has been an integral part of my life. That, some of the followers of my blog bring up posts from several years ago in a conversation, is reason enough. (I tried doing an April Fool gag; fell flat on my face). There was a time when I wrote words that everyone most people liked. That’s not the case, now.

Not that words are foreign. They are still mine. I recognise them just like before. Just that the way they want to be together is unlike how they’d gather like obedient children; earlier. Perhaps, I am not a shepherd of words. Perhaps words shepherd me. Perhaps, that is why some of my recent posts are shite. Or, I have lost the ability to shepherd. The shepherding, notwithstanding — the words are mine and I am of words.

We have just lost the rhythm.

All I need, is to go to the dance floor that isn’t patronized by any one any more and do my silly dance. Where no one will see me. Where neither my words, nor I will care.  Salsa with adjectives and Samba with verbs. The apocalyptic dance. One writer in the world; no reader left. Is a writer made of readers or is a writer made of writing? Will a writer write if there is no one left to read? What defines a writer? The writing, or the readers?

*

I told her today, my writing, in recent times, has achieved heights of mediocrity, not knowing, if that is a sense of achievement. But I have to write. Not because you will read. Not because you will like it. I have to write, because I have to write. Scribble.

125659: Wall Grunge

*

No writer, if she can, should give up writing. Because every writer knows one thing (even if she cannot sense it) – she and the words are one. She may walk away from words. (Words are kinda stupid; they have no emotion – they will sit where they were last sat; where words should be – is a writer’s prerogative.) But there is no leaving. Even if she never writes them – she cannot escape them.

If you can help it – do not become a writer. There is no escape. If you become a writer; welcome to the club!

Crucial Curation

Those who have followed this blog for a while, know of my love-hate relationship with social media. I have been on and off social networks — as if I was punishing the networks — when I got upset with the nature of conversation and interaction that people on the network were having.

The network is inert.

Lately, without wanting to do so, I have been away from the networks. [To be clear, I do not consider WordPress as one of them]. It’s almost impossible to be on a network without taking sides. And if you do not take a side, variants of history’s accusations are hurled at you from all sides. Taking sides is worse; the enslavement is unbearable.

While this phenomenon is obvious and in-your-face on digital social networks, it is not limited to them. Shoot first and ask questions later is becoming the norm. Everyone wants to be the quickest draw in the West. And the East. And the North and the South. Amit referred to it as a left-right mud-slinging contest in a recent Twitter thread. It’s not. It’s fact-slinging. Apparently different types of facts. Alternative facts. Your facts. My facts. True facts. Baseless facts. Useless facts. (Yes, I have read people use these pairs).

We are fast losing the ability to discern between opinions, suggestions, ideas, rhetoric, humour even. All these, and more are being abstracted as statements, open for the rest of us to vilify, mock, abuse, and in general – demean. We do not have the time to pause and refer to context. And even if we had the time, where is the context? In less than three minutes we send eight tweets on seven different themes. How does a reader get the context? When does the reader get context?

There is also the question of the platform. Take Twitter, because I have mentioned it a couple of times now. Most of us readily blame the platform for this phenomenon.

The platform is inert.

It has no means or the capacity or the intelligence to expose us any more than what we publish to the platform. The one thing that it has enabled — is give voice to everyone. In these times when voice is free, there’s a dash to be heard. Me, me, me! But no one listens, because everyone is busy talking. And one thing is clear: mostly, people are angry. And it seems like old anger, one which was voiceless so far. And it has become ugly and rotten.

Unlike the different types of facts, that we believe in, we don’t believe that there are multiple truths. We do not have the patience for any truth to reveal itself. Fleeting gratification appeals to our ever shortening attention spans.

*

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

All is not lost however, as apocalyptic this post may sound: as long as you curate.

There are many people who are spreading joy (not by mis-attributed feel-good hackneyed cheesy-quotes on mushy-stock-images) but, by just being themselves, sharing life experiences. These are statements in the true sense. They carry with them, no attributes of opinions, suggestions, and such. There is no compulsion to engage. In this case, the consumption is the engagement.

That’s where curation becomes crucial.

This is not to say that we become unaware as citizens and humans. What’s wrong must be righted.

In the real-world. Not on Twitter.

A Broken Narrative

Few of my friends know of a certain profile picture I use on Facebook, which indicates that I am away. Every once in a while I test if I can be away from Facebook (and therefore Twitter and other such networks). October was my away month — by my standards. I used Facebook sparsely. I’ll be back on the 1st of November. The last three or four times I did this away exercise, it was more of a test of my addiction, so to speak. While October started with the same purpose; the revelations were interesting to say the least.

The narrative of everything has changed.

There isn’t — according to the way I see it — anything that we can say, that will not be crushed out or hammered in by some ism that someone else follows. Opinions do not have spaces anymore. Jokes have no space. Most people I see, are angry and belligerent. Mostly, deep down, they are defensive – but outwardly they are angry and belligerent. Those that aren’t angry are on a trip, some trip, which offers them a false sense of happiness.

When ideological camps never intersect, where is that common space for us to speak and hear? What is our meeting ground? Not to make a statement; just to speak, to listen to each other. In the race to be heard, no one is listening.

I am not lamenting social change. I have lived my adult life, with and without mobile phones, e.g., and I am aware of the boons and curses of how society responds to changes it did not expect. In these times of (mostly) nonsensical back-and-forth, I struggle to find a place of my own.

~

Within that struggle, I have discovered a small place. It’s nice. Comfortable. Mine. It’s not mine, yet. But I’d like it to be mine. And it has the potential to be mine. In times of predictable spaces, determined by isms, I am fortunate to have found one that allows for isms, but is not dictated by an ism.

~

I am participating in Movember, yet again, this year. (That’s the day I return to Facebook) It has been over half-a-decade of Movembering; I have yet to find an organisation that works for men’s health, in India. If you know of one – do let me know. Nevertheless, It seems, I will be a permanent Movember Member; inspired in no less measure thanks to The Bum.

2016-01-01 17.04.50: Orchha

It’s the festival of lights, here, in India. In my head, there is a philosophical connotation to the festival. To tell you the truth, it is a festival of light and sound. Traditionally, philosophically, and spiritually. Not anymore. Either by armchair activism or sheer usurpation. Those that purportedly attack and those that apparently protect — both have it wrong. Festivals are resilient enough that they can survive attacks. Festivals are strong enough that they do not need protection. I wish I do not live long enough to have to wish “Happy Holidays” for a festival that you celebrate, even if I do not celebrate it. When a festivity is reduced to a holiday – that is when we have lost everything. We should be worried about sameness, assuming we will live long enough to sense it.

My apologies for this line of thinking on such a wonderful festive day. I leave you not with thoughts to discover the light within but just be good. In your own way. Do something nice. I will.

Happy Diwali!

Being Friends

All that is in quotes happened offline, or in my head. The rest of it is real; i.e. it actually happened. Like, as real as it can be. I mean, as real as a real conversation is dramatised, embellished by (my) poetic license. And know this: I have permission from the person with whom I had this conversation. And no, I don’t have permission to reveal who it is. Do you care?

6174

~

The Friend: How many friends do you have?

I quickly go to my Facebook profile. 269. That’s it? Damn. I should start accepting all those friend requests I get. But then, I can hardly keep up with 269.

Me: A few short of 300, I think. Why?

TF: Not on Facebook, dummy! Real friends.

ME: Maybe ten or fifteen?

I have no idea what the right answer is. How many friends does an average person have? That’s the number I am seeking. I am an average person.

TF: No. Really. How many friends do we really have?

ME: I’ll let loose my hound-algorithms to deduce that. What’s on your mind?

Luckily for me, I remember all the tech jargon from college. But I was already wary of what was coming.

TF: How many real friends do you have? Seriously.

ME: As many fingers on one hand; I have no mutation.

Five.

TF: I just told off a “friend” – I said – I have enough fair weather friends. Where do you fit?

ME: Ouch.

TF: Yeah! That person didn’t understand what I am going through. I think, however, that the person understood exactly what I am going through. And being with me would be so much of a burden; a taxing companionship, so to speak. I have lost friends like autumn leaves. Once, my life made sense to them. Now that I am coloured by circumstances, friends are de-saturating.

ME: Hmm.

The “Hmm” is a catch-phrase of any IM conversation. It means absolutely nothing but it can mean anything. You use it when you have nothing to say, but need to respond. Because, the lack of response is worse than the infinite abstraction of the universality of the “Hmm.” I was however, also thinking of those that moved away. Those “friends.” Did I drive them away? Was I not good enough for them anymore? Did they choose to move away? Did my life suddenly become dull and uninteresting?

TF: You there?

ME: Yes, yes. Am here. [12 second pause] You did what you had to do. I have only just walked away. Perhaps I find it uncomfortable to confront. So I walk away. Telling someone who they are is a pointless exercise because, either they know who they are or they think they are someone else. Telling them, therefore, serves no purpose.

It’s 1994 or 95-ish. I am waiting at Stadium Restaurant. I have called my friend from a PCO, as I left office that evening. I’d be there in 45 minutes, he confirms he will be there too, in about an hour or so. These are the days when we didn’t have mobile phones (Just helping your imagination). I am there at 7:45pm as promised. I wait there. For three hours. I have no way of contacting him. He shows up. After three hours. He was unapologetic. Mostly. I am surprised about myself. Yes, I am tired; I am not angry. He is my best friend. Finger No. 1.

TF: I should do that. Walking away is maturity, I guess.

TF doesn’t mean it that way, but I cringe. There comes my age into play again.

ME: Please avoid the word “mature” – makes me feel old.

TF: Haha!

Time is experience. Yes, many years have passed. And I am what I am only after these many years. c. 1989. College hostel. I meet with a senior. He tells me what I am getting into. After all the talk, he says, “Forget all I said, no one learns by listening – you have to make your own mistakes. Just enjoy the ride”

ME: There is no one truth. It’s unique to us. Live your own, in the way you can. Your circumstance isn’t your life. Your life has a circumstance. Life’s forever. Circumstances come and go. Don’t let a circumstance dictate what you have to say and what you do not. Let life dictate that.

TF: I like that thought.. good idea. Let me try that.