Balancing Breaks

A friend is taking a break from social networks. So, off Facebook and WhatsApp, the two networks, I know, he uses. So, the phone is the only way I can get in touch with him — that’s what he has suggested. So, needless to say, he won’t see this post. So, sigh! I do not know if an email comes under “social network”. Technically speaking, if I mark a few people on an email, it should constitute as social network. Assuming people reply.

I had taken a break from Facebook once. A month. I had even changed my profile picture – one looking away; thought that was quite smart. Not many people responded with the same sentiment. My self-declared smartness imploded.

Another friend has quit Facebook altogether as well as WhatsApp (Here’s an inside story: He had to quit WhatsApp because he insists on using a phone that doesn’t support WhatsApp). He is on Twitter, so for smaller, quick, personal messages we use SMS (Text, for the rest of you). Because we receive so many transactional messages (Banks and government, mostly), I usually ignore them – or see them altogether once a week and delete them. Sometimes, Twitter DM.

Some friends insist on using Facebook Messenger for chats. Then, some are on Instagram, and for the life of me, I’ve never been able to figure it out. I’m Flickr. Old school. I’ve uninstalled Facebook Messenger on my phone. I now have enough space to download the entire Internet on my phone.

So, what do we have?

An extremely complicated Venn diagram of social networks that my friends use, and I somehow lie in that intersection of all these sets. And believe me, I know exactly the best way to reach out to each one of them.

Balancing Act - Glasses Stacked

*

For a long time now, I have not taken a break from any social network. Not officially, i.e. Come to think of it, not unofficially, either. But, for reasons yet unknown, social networks have lost their grip on me. I’ve stopped caring how often I post, what I post. One method I used, was asking myself: Is this important, does anyone care, does it matter? Mostly, (again, for reasons unknown) the answer was: No, not really. And mostly, there’s so much of noise – no one will receive the signal anyway. So, when I felt that there was no need to post something, I didn’t. I stopped caring. For those of you follow me on various networks – you may have noticed this. I can now, unlike earlier, go with long gaps without feeling hassled. I used to feel that a few years ago.

It’s akin to what a wise man once told me, when I was quite young and having my first drink. The drink’s for you; you are not for the drink. It was about choice. But there is no one way which works for all of us. If making a Gestalt-like “clean-cut” is what’s required, then that’s what is required. If going along without being hitched is what’s required, then that’s what is required. We balance or break, in a way that works best for us.

*

My friends don’t make my life easy. I am on so many networks — only so that we have a way to reach out to each other. Thankfully, most of my friends are pre-Snapchat generation. So that’s one network I am not on. But I don’t mind. I don’t care about the platform; I care about my friends. The best network of them all is F2F: an elusive, temperamental, but the perfect network. My favourite.

There’s a reason I have not taken a break from digital and online networks: they enable me to meet my friends F2F, someday. I cherish those events, I await them.

I am balancing the breaks.

*

PS: I am 8 days behind on my challenge. Help! 🙂

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The True Letter

“Bhai!” (Brother; no blood-relation, but what we feel about people is stronger than a blood-call)

I always love hearing his voice.

Hey, how are you, I asked.

“All good man. I am sorry.”

Huh? Why?

“I haven’t replied to your letter” [A physical letter, written on paper, paid for with postage, to be delivered by a postman]

That’s alright. I have received one from you.

“I know, but I never replied to your reply to that. I want to reply. I want you to know that.”

She had written a letter to me once. On an unruled Inland Letter. There was a lot of space in between the lines she wrote. Maybe she was helping me read in-between the lines. I wasn’t as smart then, also, I thought I was in love. I just saw the empty space between the actual lines, beautiful handwriting, and well, you know what. She also wrote of how she had good intentions to write to me, but, she reminded me that, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I thought I’d re-quote this to my brother. Thought better of it.

That’s fine. I know you will reply. Soon.

“I don’t understand why I don’t write. I have the stationery. I have the will.”

You are, perhaps too focused on writing a proper letter.

“Meaning?”

You don’t need to write a full letter, you know. Just write a big ‘HI’ on the letter and post it?

“Meaning?”

*

Rest of the conversation was of various other things. And while I did give him an answer for his last question, I wondered, what was the “Meaning?” What does a letter mean? To me?

Doing an about-turn and looking within yourself is a difficult thing to do. We rarely do it. It follows, that we have lost (or are losing) the art of looking within. That evening, I turned.

It’s just so nice to receive a personal letter. A small little envelope, with your name inscribed on it in, fat, thin, curvy, thick, elegant, scribbly handwriting. It’s your name. Then follows your address. Whoever sent you the letter knows exactly where you are. The letter comes home. We aren’t having a conversation while I am commuting or when I am down on the street for a late afternoon for a chai and a cigarette. [Statutory Warning: Smoking is injurious to health].

A letter comes to where you are. Home. And then you open the letter. It may be a single page, or pages and pages stuffed in that reluctant envelope, ready to burst at the seams. It’s never the same as having the letter-writer in front of you, but it is the closest. I know, many folks think voice is the closest, but I think otherwise. Written words are. See, letter writing (pen and paper) is not the same as typing on a keyboard. Our thoughts are racing, our pen-in-our-hand cannot keep up. So, we often slow down out thoughts. If you have ever received a multi-page letter, you will know what I am talking of.

The first paragraph is exquisite. Your friend has sat down to write the letter, slowed down the thought process, and the best of her handwriting shows up. One page down. Now the excitement of I-have-so-many-things-to-share-with-you, takes over. Scribbly text takes over. Spelling mistakes. Scratches. She sees her own handwriting. Slows down. It repeats. Somewhere, the weight of the paper comes into consideration. No more pages! But I have so much more to say. A-ha! Margins! Let’s flout that one rule we learnt in school.

There’s more character to a letter than any other form of communication. Except of course, when we are having coffee together, at the same table.

To write a good letter, we need to be in denial, however; in these times. We have to deny ourselves an instant response. We have to let go, of a response, if that is what it takes. There is sheer pleasure in writing a letter. We have to move away form the instant gratification of the double-blue-tick-mark of WhatsApp and learn to yearn for a postal delivery. For something tangible. For something that’s forever.

*

Take your time, Bhai. Send me that letter when you can. What matters not is that it’s a postcard or an overstuffed envelope for which I have to pay extra postage. What matters is that I get it. You know it, there’s a joy in receiving letters. You have experienced it.

Spread the joy.

The New Year Threat

So, The Bum has threatened to write a post. The Fine Balancer has threatened to write x times a week. Or something like that. Shiver me timbers! Not sure who exactly threatened, what. But threats have been made. To no one in particular. Needless to say, I use the word threat dramatically. I learnt that in the writing school that I did not attend. Can a threat be a threat if it is not directed towards someone? Let me explain: If I say, “Watch out!” or “Don’t you dare!” – is it a threat? Oh, it could be. Apparently, there’s something called an empty threat. That amuses me to no extent.

Oh, Happy New Year to all of you. Am a week late, but, it is the thought that matters, no? Never mind; I met someone today.

We got introduced, online, due to an unfortunate circumstance. Which involves another person, who, was with us when we met, today. The unfortunate circumstance is another story; I am not ready to talk about it, yet; haven’t properly dealt with it. What I am ready to talk about , is that we finally met. In flesh, i.e.

I have missed people, like those I met today. Yet another friend, who is one of the smartest people I know, once told me, that I was doomed, because I was cursed to live in mediocrity. I asked him, why? He told me, that I do not belong with the people I spend my time with. Being the smart person he said that I was, I asked him, not even you? He fell silent. That’s the problem with smart people. The really smart people are modest. [Read the second last paragraph, of the post that has been linked, before you read further.]

In meeting with an old friend and a new friend, who challenged me to think about a few things before I could finish a coffee, I discovered myself. While you may see me very comfortable and confident in a place where I am in control and am a director; I prefer a situation when I am challenged. It is definitely not comfortable. Twitching in my seat. In my head.

We are not ourselves when we know who we are, we are our own true selves when we do not know who we are. And we know that.

Nah! I didn’t say that aloud. Mad or what? Then, we left the coffee shop.

Rest of it is all humour. Nerdy, perhaps. SK, sorry for being such a snob, but you gotta agree, the event was a bloody damp squib, and I did make some interesting points. CB, loved meeting you, hope we find many more reasons to get together. It was a lovely evening.

*

In the end, our final challenge as humans, is how we challenge other humans as an intelligence. We shall not allow the nature of a medium to decide our response. We shall not allow an ideology to define a friendship.

We will, hopefully, replace an argument with a conversation. Thank you SK & CB for today.

We will listen.

Sunday Schizophrenia

Ah, the Pink City, I said. It’s peach actually, she replied. We all know that girls see more shades than boys. I wanted to say, “it’s sandstone-ish brick red, that looks pink in the summer sky,” but I did not. An argument on colours with a girl is a foregone defeat for a boy. I agreed with her, and let it lie. It’s sandstone red, that looks pink in the summer sky, I confirmed with myself, and lived in a blissful state. It just so happens, that she is so sweet, it is difficult to argue with her. She can hold her own, mind you, it was just that we were in the pink city having fun; a shady argument was just not worth it.

*

Facebook has an option, when you choose a relationship. One of the option is: “It’s Complicated.” I think Facebook should do away with that option. Relationships are never complicated. The number of ways we look at a relationship, are. People take so much of effort to enter a relationship. When it comes to exiting, it becomes complicated. Not because it is complicated.  There are words and methods to say I love you. No greeting card in this world has the right way to say, I need out. I learnt this, listening to someone for three hours. I am reminded of Abhimanyu. I know how to get in, no idea how to get out.

*

How old were you when… is a good question as far as perspective is concerned. Never judge a person’s knowledge based on the year that person was born. I was stupefied tonight with a young man’s conversation. Reality was hovering around me, and towards the end of the evening it kicked me you-know-where.

*

I am not modest. In some way, I am vain, in fact. I know how far I can reach. I do not compare my work with the work of others. I think, however, I know enough to say, if my work is good. Others may like my work and they will say as much. I have to be my critic. Because only I know what I have set to achieve, and if I have achieved it. When you compliment me, and I shrug that compliment off; it’s not a statement about you. It is a statement about me. When I shrug off your compliment, I do not intend to demean your sense of appreciation. I just mean to say, I could have done better.

*

Love is timeless. It knows no boundaries or limits. I am happy, I am in love.

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.

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.