A Sense of a Presence: #Anthem 20

My uncle, father’s brother, once accidentally called our landline, a few days after my father’s death. My uncle heard a recorded message — in my father’s voice on the answering machine. Needless to say it was a jarring experience for him, and I heard it from him years later.

What do you remember? Is it the voice; a name, or a face?

Almost twenty years have passed since my father passed. Frankly, I remember not his face or his voice. I often try and feel his physical presence. If I try, I could construct memories; but that’s inorganic. When family get’s together, there is a sense — a shared one — and memories play tricks on us; tease us almost.

Over two decades I have had friends who have lost a parent or parents. And my unqualified message to them is just this: It may take whatever time; but you will forget. You will forget the face, the voice. The presence will dilute. It does become easier, with difficulty. After twenty years, how you remember will change: tears will be smiles. How we remember, changes.

Each fragment of a memory; and there will only be fragments; will bring a smile to your face instead of tear in your eyes. The pain will never ever go away; but eventually you will learn to manage it. Some random Thursday afternoon it will sting you suddenly like the end of the world. And suddenly enough you will smile. God has given us equal strength to remember; and an equal strength to forget. (This theory of the power to remember/forget is not mine – I got it from another Uncle of mine)

Here is what the opening lines of this song are:

My name will be lost
My face will change
My voice is my only identity
If, you would recognise it

This song is for people who are alive. For me, this is the 20th song in the series. And it is a non-Anthem. In any case #Anthem has outlived its time, since the originator of this Tag is long gone. Am not doing any more #Anthems. I may embed music videos for other reasons

Photographs help. Stories from spouses and siblings help. Friends can tell vivid stories. But the absence of the person stings — in various degrees at various times. Twenty years later, it hurts but the pain isn’t there.

Twenty years later there is a remainder; a sense of a presence. And that is enough; even as memories dilute.

All the forgotten moments, all the conversations, all the arguments, all the fights, all the affection, all the advice: It is all enough to be together.

Forever.

A Hashtag Retires

I single-handedly trended the hashtag — #ThisDayThatYear in 2020. Needless to say, I have no data to backup my claim, so I am going ahead and claiming it. In any case, I don’t see any others claiming it.

One of the recurring themes of 2020 was rehashing memories. Good times spent with friends and family, traveling, or the sheer fun that was consumed in the past years when life was normal. Because what was otherwise considered as normal, was not possible most of 2020, almost everyone became nostalgic with what was; a hark back and an intention, simultaneously.

Most social networks now have a “Memories” section, which remind of what you did on the same day the previous year or even years, and because we didn’t have anything new to post — old posts were regurgitated with consistent frequency. In terms of posting photographs, 2020 was the year of (a) recycled photographs, and (b) indoor photography.

Of the first category, I noticed that a majority of recycled memories were of people being with people, with callbacks that all sounded like “Oh, what a great time we had!” Even if the photos were of empty roads or lonesome mountains — they reminded of travels with people. Whether or not the photos had people in them, they were of people.

Of the second category, most photographs were of what we could see, standing at a boundary; looking out. Doors, windows, streets, garden flowers, and such. If you looked closely, these images described the border that a photographer did not cross, during this time. They were really selfies, taken with the back-camera. Whether or not the photos had people in them, they were of people.

Cameras, cars, trains, roads, places, and conversations were perhaps as despondent as we were, as our myriad intersections transformed to an isolation.

I am now looking to trend the hashtag — #ThisDayThisMoment

Not in Vain

The first (and the only) time I used the F-word on my blog, was after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. I was pissed, to say the least. I love my country, and I love my city.

My anger had no direction. I did not understand my anger. Was it because these attacks happened? Or was it because I felt helpless sitting in front of the TV, watching it for days. For a long time, I had no way to answer the question. But, I found an answer, eventually.

September 2001, I had the same feeling when the Twin Towers in NY were attacked (my other favourite city). July 2005, London – and I was there in London (my other favourite city). For us, in India, ghastly attacks have become a regular feature. There’s a bigger problem about the frequency.

It is something worse than the attacks, themselves. The frequency causes numbness. Our emotional responses are automated and proportionate to the number of dead people. It’s just numbers, now, not lives. One dead soldier receives less emotional response than forty dead soldiers. Our emotional responses are directly proportional to a number. It is disgusting. Value of a life is competitive. Media houses report it as “biggest since”, as if one attack is more newsworthy than another.

I got stuck in this web of artificial outrage for a while. But my helplessness was out of control. With each cowardly attack, I ended up feeling even more helpless.

I had to do something.

And while it may not make sense to everyone, it did dawn upon me. We have been thinking wrong about what our defence forces do. It seems that they protect the territory, but that is a visible symptom because of their position. These brave men and women are not protecting and safeguarding borders; that — is only their position.

They are safeguarding our way of life.

I am helpless in making the life of my soldiers better, but I am not helpless in making better, what these men and women are protecting. I will:

Keep my city clean
Obey traffic rules
Be an aware citizen
Use my skills to make this country better
Respect all the people around me
Share my knowledge
Offer my time to help

And more.

My soldiers are doing so much for me, this is the least I can do. I will build a better world for them; for they offer me a safe place to build a better world. WhatsApp forwards, Facebook shares, and Twitter outrage is not the way to salute the sacrifices of my soldiers. I will bring it in my discipline to make better, what our soldiers are protecting. Remember, after the aura of being a soldier, they are our family, friends, and neighbours.

Don’t ask others to do the simple things. You do it! Let us start by being an island of one. We’ll join hands, and become a continent.

#Respect for all my brothers and sisters out there in uniform. I don’t know about the others, but I will make better what you protect. Soon enough you will have an army. And you will be proud of us, the way we are proud of you.

#SALUTE. I will become better for you. I hope that you will be as proud of me, as I am proud of you.

May your sacrifice never be in vain.

Growing Up With Lions

I come from a family of wrestlers.

I discovered that, today. I knew of an uncle here or there who used to wrestle, but never knew that it was a family pursuit. Either there was some genetic leakage along the way; or there was a mutation, and I now wrestle with life, taxes, and twitter; not with other wrestlers. My uncles who are 50-somethings, 60-somethings, and even 70-somethings, took me on a tour of the wrestling heritage of my family. My long-gone grand-uncles included. When my uncles narrate the wrestling history of my family, there is sheer respect when they speak of my grand-uncles, unlike when they speak of their own achievements. Thankfully, this history is not brand new to me, so I know them well. But that’s what a conversation is all about.

One of my uncle was a great wrestler who used to take me to the talim when I was a little kid. Yes, I have wrestled too, but those memories have been generously showered with fine red mud. I do enjoy watching Olympic wrestling, perhaps for that reason, but I can’t relate to it on a one-to-one basis. We used to wrestle bare, on fine red mud. The rules were different, the style, and approach was Indian.

I wonder if being 40-something is the advantage I have now. Because for the last four decades details in these stories were unknown to me. 50/60/70-somethings, are willing to give you that exclusive pass to join their club. Only because you are 40-something. Yet, an other uncle was in denial about my age. Also a wrestler. I asked him, If I am not 40-something what age am I. He shrugged off the question, perhaps because he would have to calculate when his sister (my mother) got married, had her first child, then had me, and all that. Emotional drain, I am thinking.

Without warning an invisible fog of guilt enveloped the space of our conversation. Only I saw it.

*

These are uncles who could, and have changed my diapers (or equivalent; we didn’t have diapers then); hoisted me on their shoulders, in crowded fairs, so I could see; they never lost me in that crowd though, I was, in my own sense, untethered, and they taught me wonderful values, perhaps without being aware — because they were only teaching me what they had learnt and experienced. Their own values. Uncles were the best part of my life. And ditto for Aunts. But, I’ll stick to my maternal Uncles, given the wrestling reference. An entire different post, I’d dedicate to my paternal uncles for most of my life skills. My uncles and aunts are amazonian jungles of adventure, learning, and fun.

*

I wish I was not a 40-something. Not because I regret being old. Somehow, by saying I am now 40-something, they realised their age. Was I reminding these once regal 20-somethings that they are no more who they were? That was the invisible message of the invisible fog. Over time, I knew, that was not it. When you live a good life, it is forever. Even when you live it through transferred memories. But, I like being a 40-something. I now have access to jokes and trivia and memories that they are now comfortable sharing with me. They are balding, and thinning white hair now adorns what was a crop of thick swishing manes.

These are the lions (and the lionesses) I grew up with. I am a happy cub.

Better, For You

Four years ago around this time, I wrote a post about an apology from a Leograph. I had to follow up, the next day with another apology for saying Leograph instead of Leogryph, which is the correct word, which I intended. The apology was due, because a post blitzkrieg was upon my readers. And the quality of the writing was in doubt. It would be prudent to apologise in advance. So, I did.

More, later.

*

Since that day, I haven’t picked up a challenge that would require me to work hard. Life’s been good, so to speak. Life is usually shovelling challenges our way — why create new challenges? Nice, peaceful mantra. June 2014 was the last time I created a challenge for myself. This month is an anniversary of sorts. It just so happens that in June last year, we had a school re-union, and most of us met after over three decades. Details here.

We decided to meet again to celebrate the anniversary of our first re-union after 30-odd years. Go figure. It just so happened that the exact dates were a weekend. So it would be perfect. Weekend of 9th June. God is gracious with the calendar. But God’s grace stopped, at giving us a weekend on the same date. In school, we attended classes together, spent time together. We had a time-table. To be clear, we all had the same time-table. Now, no more. We all, now, have our own time-tables. Ah! The scheduling conflicts we go through. A nightmare.

Then, Magic!

Last-minute confirmations, and we swelled twice the size that we imagined. Forty-somethings being teenage-somethings. Husbands, wives, kids in tow; I can say that there was utter confusion. Mostly, the actual kids were confused, seeing their parents being teenagers. In a way, I am happy that kids saw their parents in a different light. I won’t bore you with the details. [Wink-wink]

Us @ Uttorda, Goa

The conversations are unlimited. Tea is flowing like beer; same as beer which flows as water. The beverage doesn’t matter – and the conversations invade the deep night. No more names, no more roles. Friends, husbands, wives, kids – – it becomes one big family.

I usually talk too much. But there are times, when I watch from the sidelines. While I rarely go to the sidelines, it’s a moment of epiphany. Their love, their respect. Leaning on the railing watching them, I say to myself: I have to be better. I am not bad, mind you. But I want to be better. Not because I have something to prove or I seek acceptance. Just that being with you all wants me to be better, for you. I have nothing to prove to you all – because you have accepted me the way I am. Yet, a part of me, is asking questions: how can I be better for you? Not in relative terms, but in absolute.

One year ago – I was happy that I found you all. One year later, the emotions are different. Yes, today the floodgates have opened. Late-lateef. All my friends from school are as crazy, or more, than I am. But without ever declaring it, we have genuine interest in each other’s life.

We push each other to be better. No, we never said it in that much detail.

There’s value in the unsaid; which we derive from the said

*

After four years, I am taking up the challenge of publishing at least one post everyday, this July. I cannot guarantee the quality of the July posts. But I will write. One, everyday, next month.

I will be better, for you.

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.

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.

Wish I Were Here! And There Too!

Cloning would seem the most obvious solution. But it’s definitely not.

A situation arose today. I wanted to be at a place. But I also had to be elsewhere. Not that I didn’t want to be (that) elsewhere. I wanted to be there too. If I had over-thought – I could have chosen one of the places. They are 1007 kms apart. I had good reason to be at both places. I wanted to be at both places. Needless to say, I had to choose. A few months ago, this wasn’t so difficult. I would have just left. It is becoming difficult by the day.

The Matrix

Cloning would seem the most obvious solution. But it’s definitely not.

Because I would not be the receiver of both the experiences. Clones do not have a common sense of experience, do they? No, cloning would not solve it. Nothing will, in fact. That’s perhaps, what makes up life and life experiences. I don’t know it yet, but I am better for it. Not that I made a “right” choice — in this case, it wasn’t about right and wrong. It was simple: I wanted both. And the other thing was simpler: I couldn’t have both. It was only a life lesson.

If you were here, with me, my smile would have confounded you.

Return of the Rhythm

Writing here feels a bit weird, now. Using a keyboard, i.e.

A couple of hours ago, I completed a handwritten assignment: over 11,000 words, in seventy-five pages. The wrist and the fingers feel different; rejuvenated, or something like that. Like the return of an old memory; only that the sense of the memory is physical.

When I got to know about this assignment, I was a bit surprised. In this age and time? Handwritten assignments? That too, these long? I mean who does that anymore! A friend even called it regressive. And she would be right. But I decided to go through it. If nothing; as an experience.

When I finished the first three pages, I was not sure I’d be able to complete. The wrist and the fingers were ready to fall off. And I posted a picture of the pages that I had written, on Facebook, and wondered socially aloud, if I could complete it. Like an angel that she is, my English teacher from school, saw that post and asked me to keep at it. All through, whenever I talked about this — with friends and family — all I saw were congratulatory thoughts and lots of “thumbs ups.”

20161213_175457-01

The first seven – eight pages were painful, to say the least. And they were excruciatingly slow. Somewhere around that time, I found my rhythm. The muscle memory, which I thought I had lost, forever, kicked in. Ink started flowing on paper. The speed of my thought and the speed of my writing, found harmony. It was sweet music and dance. Fond memories of learning, discovering new things, surfaced slowly and put me in a happy place.

I am glad I didn’t give up.

Thank you, you know who you are.

PS: This post is a measly three-hundred and thirteen words. Perhaps this assignment was more than just a submission for my course-work.

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!

Little Injuries and Big Bandages

Thanks to #2016KabaddiWorldCup, a small conversation of injuries ensued, with a colleague. For the few years that I have played Kabaddi, I have never seen serious injuries; me, my team mates, or my opponents. (My parents, without doubt, disagreed.) Young as we were, we bandaged even the smallest injuries. While it sounds (and definitely is) stupid now, injuries were conversation starters. Young men wanting to be in love understand the value of big bandages.

There were two reasons we didn’t like tincture. One, it stung, as if hell itself had descended where we were sitting. Second, it exposed the extent of the cut. There was no way to make it seem bigger that it actually was. Which, as you can imagine was a conversation non-starter. Big bandages made sense when you were in your late teens. Bandages were medals that weren’t celebrated.

Cut to 25 years later. Well, to today.

20161013_003112I have yet to find a knife that can cut through tomatoes, especially the wrinkled, sad, mushy tomatoes. This happened (See photo).

Needless to say, my ethos of demonstrating a cut has not changed. The cut is less than 3mm, but as you can see, the bandage is almost an inch.

Also, needless to say, the most important women in my life were concerned, and it started a conversation. For this miniscule cut, I have been advised bedrest. How can I not be in love with these two girls?

But I want this post to be less about starting conversations.

There aren’t knives in the market that cannot defeat wrinkled, old tomatoes. We need knives that cut through shrivelled tomatoes; not firm thumbs.

May there be better knives. And may I find them.

Perhaps, I will manage with small and appropriate bandages.

Some New, Some Old; Some Plus, Some Minus

Been a while. Eighteen days. The while means different things to different people. Eighteen days could be split seconds or an age. It was neither, for me.

Me? I was just moving, from one place to another. Like I have done before. Many times before. And Richard Bach’s words echo in the clank and the shlank and the crank of the traffic:

“Flying with the wind, Richard, from town to town, has it occurred to you that’s not a way to find her, that’s a way to lose her?”

Her, now manifests. Perhaps, our lives are worthwhile only if we make new meanings. Not because they come to us; but because we make them.

As I write this, a friend is tweeting about Talat Mahmood. That soulful voice rendering such wonderful poetry distracts me from writing this post. Another friend is away trekking in a place I consider sacred and soulful. I’ll go on that pilgrimage, soon. One friend has come out of a self-imposed exile. Another is (finally) exercising a license he always had. I am teasing him, only because occasions to tease are rare now. Snotty cousins are doing well; I am proud of them. Not all is well, there are some concerns, but when so much is good all around you, all that is not good seems unworthy of my indulgence, though I am paying attention to it. Amongst all that is not well, an old wound has opened up. No, nothing mental; an old knee injury. An injury I have long cherished; because I saved a boundary (you’ll understand if you are from a cricket playing nation.)

20160705_211705

New city.

New everything. And the same old me. And that is how I will remain: same old me.

But this environment has to count for something. It affects me, this new environment, in minute ways, to begin with. All I have to do is not resist. The positive portfolio of my life is an aggregation of acceptance and the negative, has been of resistance.

Irawati Karve

I know it’s titled as such, but this post isn’t really about Irawati Karve.

*

There’s never a dull moment with my mami (aunt; mother’s brother’s wife).

I recently finished reading a book in Marathi – and I am proud of it. So proud, that I suffer from the shout-it-from-the-rooftop syndrome, now. Given that it is my mother-tongue, and I’ve formally studied it only for three or four years. My aunt devours books, mostly Marathi literature, but many other genres as well. She is not very unlike my mother, actually. Needless to say, I told mami about this achievement of mine. Again, needless to say, she was very proud of me. Further, needless to say, we got into a conversation about writers she has read, respected. She mentioned Irawati Karve.

She was telling me about a relatively complex analysis of the characters in the Mahabharat: and I was intrigued. As she was speaking, I instinctively reached for my phone (which was nowhere close to me, because it was being charged, at the other end of the room) – I wanted to Google Irawati Karve.

Here she was, telling me all about Irawati Karve, about her life, times, and her work. Yet, in my head, I was automatically reaching for my phone. Of course, I let my phone be where it was and re-entered the conversation. It was time for our ritual 1AM coffee (something that all my cousins are fond of), and we were now talking of Kamala Sohonie. After a while we were back to Irawati Karve. And I got to know a lot about her. My mami recalled that I had finished a book in Marathi, and urged me to read more. It will be a while before you can digest the presentation of Irawate Karve, but, keep at it. It’s only a matter of vocabulary, for now.

What I learnt about Irawati Karve, from my aunt — I could not find on Wikipedia (Yes, I Googled her the next day). And, perhaps, therein lies the difference between information and knowledge. While consumption of information is not a bad thing; acquiring experiences is more important; is what I thought after I saw myself reaching for my phone.

There’ll be more reading. For sure. And there will be more listening, than searching. Thank you, Mami!

Learning Bangla

Circa 1979-80.

The family moved to Hyderabad. Far away from a known language and culture. Far away from roots. Everything’s new. School. Climate. Neighbourhood. Everyone speaks a different language. Thankfully, some folks speak Hindi. I get by. And it happens soon enough; I learn to speak and understand Telugu. I can’t read or write it, but I don’t care much. As long as I am able to say, “it’s my turn for batting” and “let’s meet tomorrow at the same time”, all is well. We spent five years in Hyderabad. When we were transferred out, I was fluent. Spoken. Not written.

Cut to 2016. Circa a few months ago.

Bengali or Bangla is one of the sweetest language that man has ever created. My parents learnt this language a long time ago. And I guess they were good at it. None of their language learning books survive. The yellowing moth-eaten Bangla novels, neatly covered in brown paper by my father, are witness to the progress that my parents made in learning this language. They have become delicate with age, and I am often amused with the reverence with which I handle them.

On my own, I have been discovering the literature of this land, yet it comes to me, second-hand. Some are well-translated, some, ah, well, let’s not talk about them. I’ve heard my Bangla friends speak, and the sounds are laced with the beauty of innocence. It would be good, to be able to speak like that. It would be good, to learn the language, for I already feel the beauty of it. Not that all experience of beauty requires expression, but I am greedy for the experience of that expression.

So I begin. This time, I shall learn a language so that I can read, write, speak, and understand.

Learning Bangla

Learning Bangla

As soon as I am on the third row of practicing the first six vowels of the language, I am already petrified. I am untimely scared of how ugly my Bangla handwriting is. Yes, this is the first time I have written these letters. Yes, I am scared. I am copying from a stroke-cheat-sheet that I found online. Bangla letters too, are artistic. There are soft curves and sharp angles that are fused; topped with flourishes that challenge left-to-right writing. Of course, I have no intention of my Bangla handwriting to look like a system font, but I would like that I get the proportions right. My mother, when she writes in Marathi, has the most decorative flourishes, she tends to swash the last letters of a word, as if they were curious tendrils.

That this script is artistic, it follows that you need a light hand, and a manoeuvrable grip; like an artist holding a brush. Akin, perhaps, to when you write in Japanese. But here I was, like a five-year-old, pressing hard, writing slowly, reverse-embossing the page below. I remembered the time when I was in 3rd, my teacher asking me to write n and r twenty times each, so that they would look different (We used to write cursive, but I used the non-cursive r). One of the slowest days in my life. If I remember well, I made it a point to inward-tendril-ise the end of the r for that imposition. It didn’t work for me, however; later I adopted the cursive r and it has been my ally since, against misinterpreting the n for the r.

Early days still, for my Bangla handwriting. First I need to learn the language. I think I’ll worry about the handwriting a little later.

One of His Many Books

I want to read Demian, by Hermann Hesse, again. It has been a few years, since I read it. And as I was cleaning the shelves today, this book just called out. It will have to wait, as I finish the book I have on hand. But Demian is next.

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This is a book that I did not buy, borrow or steal. It is an inheritance.

I remember seeing this book on my father’s shelf. As a child — I must have been 10 or 12 at the time — this book scared me, because of its cover. That expressionless face, with those empty marble-eyes devoid of focus; celtic-like tentacles flowing out, where hair should have been. The stony under-eye-textured face, and those tentacles again, that slid dreadfully to the back cover creepily intertwining a screaming skull. In my immature mind, Demian was another word for a Demon.

*

Years later, when I first left the country for a long-term assignment, fifteen years ago, I took this book with me. I remember the time, when, with much trepidation, I opened the book; my childhood fears still alive and begging me to close the book. In a foreign country, alone, afraid, adventurous, audacious, and animated at the same time, I added to the excitement and the fear, and opened the book. At the end of the two-page prologue, I discovered:

The life of every man is a way to himself, an attempt at a way, the suggestion of a path. No man has ever been utterly himself, yet every man strives to be so, the dull, the intelligent, each one as best as he can. Each man to the end of his days carries round with him vestiges of his birth — the slime and egg-shells of the primeval world. There are many who never become human; they remain frogs, lizards, ants. Many men are human beings above and fish below. Yet each one represents an attempt on the part of nature to create a human being. We enjoy a common origin in our mothers; we all come from the same pit. But each individual, who is himself an experimental throw from the depths, strives towards his own goal. We can understand each other; but each person is able to interpret himself to himself alone.

~ Demian, Hermann Hessse, translated by W. J. Strachan, Granada Publishing Limited, first published in 1960; last reprint in 1976

This concluding paragraph of the prologue was hopeful, and frightening at the same time. The original fear had manifested itself, and I felt the presence of new invisible fears. What lies ahead; in the hundred-and-fifty-odd pages that I am to read? I can never know. Leaving the safety of home, when I asked my father, if I could take this book with me, he seemed happy as he handed the book to me. I remember little now, but perhaps, he was smiling. I think he knew that this book terrified me, as a child. But, if he was smiling, it wasn’t because of the irony, it was, perhaps because he sensed that it was the right time for me to read the book.

This book is unique, for me, because he never signed it; it is bereft of his marginalia. There is a small pencil-scribble on the first page. Top-right. ₹9.50. That’s what he must have paid for the book. There is nothing to say that this book was his and he read it, other than the fact that I know he did. Only a few sticky-notes (mine; I dared not enter marginalia in a book that did not belong to me; even now, I do not) stay glued, neatly above paragraphs, where some questions terrorised me. And this fear was different. It had nothing to do with the cover. It became real. I hoped that I’d have a conversation about these questions with him someday, but we never found the time. And without a spoken or a written word, that sudden day, his books were bequeathed to me and my sister. And we had to find our own answers, since that day.

Time passes. Our questions change. And therefore, our answers.

It’s time for Demian.

As Expected: An Experience

Happy New Year!

If you’ve read my previous post, I am happy to let you know that I stuck to going with the flow. In more than one way.

As expected, no earth-shattering revelations occurred. We already know what we need to do. Whether we want to do it, is another question. There is no self-discovery, really, there is only self-acceptance. We don’t need a place to go to, to discover ourselves. Discovery is incremental. Accepting what we discover, is the real requirement.

As expected, I haven’t committed (much) to what I already know. I dislike the pressure. The guy who left early on 31st, is pretty much the same guy who returned after the long weekend. In the sense of discovering and knowing; there’s disappointment, i.e. if some change was expected.

As expected, I went with the flow. I did not interfere with any bookings, travel plans, timings. I went along where everyone went. When they went. Once, I skipped seeing a monument that was scheduled early morning. I even spontaneously (ah, with some coaxing from my friend) changed my return plans.

As expected, I enjoyed the four days to the fullest. Some things, I wasn’t extremely pleased about, but I did not let that bother me. I had great conversation with all, made new friends, learnt a lot. About things. I laughed. Loud. A lot. Once in a while things went south. We took care of it, and then; laughed.

As promised (in the previous post), this is a photo that I took. It's not that same building, but it's the same place

As promised (in the previous post), this is a photo that I took. It’s not that same building, but it’s the same place

Some not-so-nice things also added to this experience. I am glad that we all took it in our stride; even if it scared the shit out out of us. I don’t think anyone of us said: sh*t! We just took care of things.

We just took care.

I saw my friends in new light. I am proud, that they call me a friend.

*

An experience is just an experience. The qualifier — good or bad — is our making. We screw our happiness by isolating and focusing on the bad ones. Not that they aren’t real. They are as real as the laugh that you had, that put that knot in your stomach.

We have to learn to embrace them all.

*

That’s my attitude towards 2016. No segregation. No good or bad. Because, I’ve learnt one thing, if nothing: even when sh*t happens, we can laugh. Continue laughing. Make stories. Increase our CQ (Cool Quotient). We can be happy, afraid, angry, [add your own mix here] at the same time.

[Inset] I know now, what I have been missing. [Inset]

No more, pulling back. Happy 2016, and many such years.

A Happy New Year

In five minutes, it will be 2016.

Happy New Year!

If everything goes well, I will be in (and around) Orchha, when you read this, scheduled, post. (It’s 29DEC, today; i.e. when I am writing this.)

By Anders Bjurnemark (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

(I’ll post my photos of Orchha later, for now, here’s a teaser) By Anders Bjurnemark (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In this old city, steeped in history, of the land of the brave, I was imagining a discovery of my self. More-so, a discovery, of what self-discovery is. A popular point in a calendar, is a ceremonial point for reflection; I was going with the flow. Deep down, I had resigned that I would not discover anything that I already knew, and have regardless — ignored. My hope, really, was to see if I’d commit to what I have always known. If I was alone, for four days, there was a chance. If I sensed something new, that would be a bonus.

What was going to be a solo-trip, has now swelled to nine co-travellers. And, no, I am not complaining. On the contrary, I am happy about it. I enjoy the feeling of having people around. And while I am meeting five people for the first time, I am glad, that these people will be with me.

There’s a sense of adventure.

I’ve known people who plan everything to the last detail (I am (kind of) one of them). When my nerdy friend made this into a big affair, I relinquished control. Not because he is a better planner than I am; because, for once, I want to go with the flow. For once, I don’t want to be in control; I want to follow.

I cannot say, now, if I will enjoy it. There’s a very good chance, I will. But, I want to experience it. “I’ll do whatever you say.”

For this one event, I am completely letting go.

Next year, I’ll tell you, how it worked out.

*

I wish you all a very Happy New Year. I wish that whatever you wish for, comes true. I wish you peace. I wish you happiness. In-spite of the disturbing times we live in. That’s a good word: in-spite. There’s a sense of resilience in it.

With family and friends (and may the line between family & friends be as blurred as can be), I wish you joy, laughter, happiness, giggles, warmth, and love, forever. With those who are long gone and with those who share the same space, spread the joy that tomorrow will be better, Not because it will be, because we will make it so.

Love.

12 Years

12 years.

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Not enough posts perhaps, to account for the time.

But (more than) enough friends and well-wishers.

Many thoughts.

So many changes.

After twelve years, it’s no more the same person, though.

Crossroads.

Returning to give up; returning to take back. Willing to call-out.

Leaving. Taking charge.

Learning love; unlearning love.

My love for blogging has not changed. I am glad about that. I have learnt to love the other; and I have learnt, what love is and is not. In that small space of what is and what is not, I discovered myself. It’s a revelation.

Notwithstanding, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

The Principles of Cooking

Here:

The basic principles of using a pressure cooker; the basic principles of frying stuff (and how different stuff behaves in hot oil); the basic principles of a triple-folded, yet round Roti; the basic principles of the relationship between heat, flame, and time; the basic principles of how condiments behave, depending on when they enter the dish; the basic principles of mixing things so that they respond to your needs.

My parents allowed us to participate in the kitchen, from the time I remember. My elder sister and I have been kitchen-helpers from the time I remember. Small things that we kids could do. It wasn’t conscription, but a gentle entry in to the world of food. Being younger, it took a while for me to get closer to the flame. Perhaps, the fact that I was too curious, and that I experimented with my curiosity got me closer to the flame, later, than my sister.

I got there eventually.

My father was a good cook, but he rarely did. But, he was a food connoisseur of extreme proportions. It fell on my Mom to teach us the intuitiveness of the kitchen. And I say this, because there’s more to the kitchen than cooking. One parent was an active participant in our act, the other was a passive participant in feedback. Mother that she is, she loved anything that we made, father that he was, he was gently critical that he ate.

Re-invented Palak Paneer

Re-invented Palak Paneer

My sister and I have had the same teacher, but we are very different cooks. I am a good cook, but I think she is better. (I cook much less than she does; given). The credit goes to our Mum, however, because, she never taught us a process; she taught us principles; which allowed us to become our own cooks.

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Am living in a different city now, away from my family. True, being able to cook for yourself is about self-reliance. But it is much more than that.

To own a kitchen is not about being able to feed yourself; it is about discovering yourself.

*

PS: I urge all of you to cook; it is such a beautiful experience; once you taste it, you will never want to go back.

 

We Can Only Protect Love

My first, best friend.

*

I was nine. It was 1981. There was an elocution competition in school. My teachers encouraged me to take part: Topic – “Should women work?” I came back from school and handed over a note from my teacher to my mother. My mother saw the note addressed to her, from my class teacher — I do want Atul to participate; please do convince him. (I had refused, when my teacher asked me to take part). My mother asked me if I want to take part. I said, I didn’t want to.

No need to participate, if you don’t want to, she said. But why do you refuse? I told her I don’t agree with the topic. My sister is having lunch with me. She gets upset, says a few words. I ignore her. Mother asks her to keep quiet.

Then, my mother asks me, “You don’t think women should work?”

“No,” I said, “I think they should go out and get jobs.”

“You idiot,” my sister shouted, from that far side of the dining table. She always sat at the right end of the dining table, with her back to the window, the afternoon sun shining through. Always a silhouette.

My mother calmly asked my sister to eat her lunch, and asked me what I meant.

My class teacher was one of my favourite creatures during those years. I adored her, and I had great respect for her. Even if, I didn’t understand respect at that age. I was upset at her, because she asked me to speak about something I didn’t believe in. It wasn’t as clear, then. I do, however, distinctly remember, I was confused. My mother asked me again, what I meant.

Women should not work. They should go out and take jobs, if they want. My teacher had a job. All women should be like my teacher. They should have a job.

My sister continued to be frustrated, throughout her lunch. She tried many times, during the course of the lunch, to voice her frustrating concerns about the degree of my idiocy. My mother didn’t allow an argument to take birth. We soon established that I had wrongly interpreted what work meant. Needless to say I was confused about work and job. Lunch was over, my mother hurried off to finish her work for the rest of the day, and my sister continued to lecture me about the nuances between work, job, career, profession etc. I don’t remember the exact words. (My vocabulary is better now, and I have my sister to thank for it)

So you will participate, she asked, finally. Yes, I said, but I don’t know what I should speak about, for 15 minutes.

The script of my first ever public speaking event was crafted by my sister. She was twelve, then. Two days later, I read the script with my classmates and my class teacher in attendance. My teacher was more than impressed. Since she knew me (and my sister) very well, she called my sister, and congratulated her on a wonderful and a powerful script. (we studied in the same school) Then, the unthinkable (for me) happened. My teacher warned me (in very polite and decent words) not to screw up this wonderful speech. In less than a week the speech was by-heart. In the presence of of my teachers (in school) and my family (at home) I waxed eloquently.

D-Day.

After about seven sentences in the speech, on that stage, I froze. I cried. I uttered all the keywords I could remember. Disconnected words were rambled. There were unknown people staring at me. I could see all their faces. A nine-year old does not need to see the intimidation of an audience. It was an afternoon; and a well-lit place. Then, I literally ran away. I let down everyone, I thought. My class teacher. My mother. Most of all, my sister.

*

Most people aren’t aware, but I have a bagged many awards and certificates since that day, that relate to performing on a stage. Twelve, to be precise. Since that day, I never left the stage before the curtains fell. Presentations, debates, elocution, and acting (drama). I am 43 now; 34 years since that day, my legs still shake and I break into a sweat when I speak to an audience of more than seven. Yet, I do it. I have not conquered stage fright, I have learnt to manage it. I have learnt, not to leave the stage. And I owe it to one person: my sister. She put me there.

My Sister

*

Today is Raksha Bandhan: A festival, traditionally, celebrated when brothers vowed to protect their sisters. Surely there’s some logic behind it. Women of yore did not have the means to take care of themselves, mostly, because men didn’t allow women to take care of themselves. In these days and times it does not apply. But that should not stop us from celebrating a festival. (In any case, mostly, folks in the Indian subcontinent celebrate festivals just because of the food) We can always redefine the purpose of that festival. There is no more a need for brothers to protect their sisters. I am fortunate to have grown amidst strong-willed women. My sister is undoubtedly, one of them. My first best friend, my teacher, my guide, my guardian, my confidante; to this day.

Raksha (Protection) Bandhan (Bond) is no more about protection from conventional harm.

I have to only protect, if at all, what she wants. I have to only protect, if at all, her sense, that she is alone. I have to only protect, if at all, her beliefs.

~ Love