Inland Schizophrenia

We have a WhatsApp group.

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Classmates. Living a peripatetic life. Non-linear overlaps across the length and breadth of India, in varying time slices. Born early seventies, all of us. Gen X. Gen X is a fancy name for a generation that didn’t have access to technology. Obvious. This Gen was supposed to build the technology. So, in our early days we were dependent on the technology that the Baby Boomers used.

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Letters. Post. Mail. (not email). In India specifically we had Inland letters and Postcards. 25p and 15p respectively. If you had to write a really long letter, you had to shell out 50p for a postal envelope. But, we had to be careful, there was a weight limit. That’s when we discovered onion sheets – extremely thin paper. We could now stuff more sheets in the 50p envelope than before. We weren’t quite smart then, we used to pay a fortune for the onion paper pad, to save on postage. Go figure.

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Times have changed. Classmates grew up, and are doing well in their lives. If we feel like meeting out friends, we just hop on to a flight in the morning, spend a day with them, and return in the evening. We have WhatsApp, we have video calls, and such (which our generation built, mind you). We now live in a world of hyper-connectivity. Just the other day, mates from Goa, Dubai, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat met one evening. Easy-peasy.

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Indian Inland Letter India Post Rs. 2.50

The 25p Inland letter is now Rs. 2.50. I have taken it up upon myself to write letters to my friends. Notwithstanding the WhatsApp group. It’s not easy. But writing letters is muscle memory. It’s all coming back, no thanks to the changed format of the new expensive inland letter. All my letters start by asking my friend – what do I write in this letter, given that we already know everything that is going on in our lives. What should be the purpose and content of the letter? And as my out-of-practice trembling hands ask this question, an answer emerges. Purpose and content in this context don’t matter much. It is the intent, and the sense of sending you something tangible – is what matters. WhatsApp messages get deleted every night – to save space. Their nature is transient. A paper and scrawled ink is forever. When we are no more (like the deleted WhatsApp messages) these letters are an ounce of us that will be with you forever.

I should know, I have letters from dead people. And they are a part of me. And a part of them is with me.

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I have an old briefcase full of letters from all of my friends, from the early 80s. It is one of my most prized possessions. May the briefcase become a suitcase. May there be many more letters. May there be many more fragments of our lives in each other’s lives.

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Some gratitude is due. To my teachers and friends. I may not be the best letter-writer, but I understand something of structure and format and choice of words. Here’s a big thank you to all my teachers for helping us learn how to write letters and follow the rules. Here’s a big thank you to all my friends for helping me to learn how to break those rules.

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PS: I really, really wanted to use “peripatetic” – Happy now.

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Friends As Homing Devices

A peeking rose

 

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

I read this poem a couple of days ago. Only because I stumbled upon it, while I was reading a book. A book, which I had no idea existed, and discovered it only because I saw a movie, which was recommended to me by a dear friend, which, I would have never watched, if it was left to me. How and why this poem found its way to me, intrigues me. In an amusing way, i.e., not in a way that makes me weave the wool of conspiracy with needles of reason. Ironically, this book had itself alerted me to this phenomenon that I was to soon experience. I had smiled, when I read it; it was cute, but to have experienced the exact phenomenon couple of score pages later, was a revelation, it said:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

Importantly, the above line ended with, “How delightful if that were true.”

Ah, well, dear author, here is a perfect example of why I believe that books have homing instincts. My time to tell you the story.

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Time-travel is my favourite movie/series genre. It fascinates me, much. The actual time travel not so much, but the implications of it all. The scientific and the philosophical. Needless to say, all time-travel themed movies and series have been binge-consumed and there is nothing left. I move to the War genre.

Out of the blue, a friend asks, if I have watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – I tell her, it has been nagging me on Netflix, but it seems (because of the poster) too mushy for my taste. She urges me to watch it. A few days pass. I do watch it. I love it. I tweet about it. Amit thinks I am talking of the book. I say, no, I watched the film. As gently as he can, he curses my wretchedness, that I haven’t read the book, and Amit being Amit, he explains why. Point well taken. I buy the book. I flip through it. I know, what Amit meant. I start reading the book. It’s enjoyable. Then I stumble upon the homing device statement. I smile. Cute, I say to myself. Then I stumble upon the opening line of a poem, that the character in the book writes of; he doesn’t recall the author. Well, I have Google.

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

These are the opening lines of Malcolm Arnold’s “Hymn to Empedocles,” part of Empedocles on Etna. I’ve never heard of Malcolm Arnold the poet before. More Googling ensues. I am reminded of something else, in the book”

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

And suddenly, late as it is, I am reading “Dover Beach. for sheer enjoyment.”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I feel blessed. I thank my friend who suggested the movie. I thank Amit for making me read the book.

I am grateful to the homing devices, that are my friends.

Say, I Love You

It doesn’t matter who you say it to. If you feel it, you should say it. And that is it. Leave.

Love never dies, except when it is waiting in line. Waiting in line to receive something, anything. A response, mostly. It’s a slow, painful death. But it can be avoided. Just say, I love you, and leave. Love lives and flourishes, when it leaves after saying what it wants to say. And just goes on about its business of loving. There is no taking the high road, there is no ego in love. There is no proving, there is no transaction.

It’s only a feeling
feel it in your spirit
let love be love
name it not anything.

[My very basic attempt at a translation] Which shouldn’t matter. What should matter – is saying, I Love You!

Say it, and be on your way.

It’s Not About Photographs – VI

Don’t take a photo of what you see – take a photo of what you want to show!

I said that in a recent conversation to a friend. There were some composition rules she was missing, which she could have easily rectified; was just helping her take a better photo the next time around. What I said to her, however, has been haunting me for a few hours, now. I don’t altogether believe what I said to my friend. I think, I was asking her to be more careful with the camera. Or, in my head, I was asking her to be more careful with the frame. Our eyes see a lot, we send it all to the brain. Somewhere, somehow, all the chemical and electrical events that occur during this transmission from eye to brain, are not the sum total of the image that we present.

What our eye does see is vast, the frame is a crop. Having a camera in your hand, in front of your eyes is a responsibility. How will you crop?

153400: Light & Arches

I cannot relate to the urgency of taking a photo. I just do not understand the urgency. Photography is patience. Personified. Why do we seek to take a photo in this moment when, it is possible that the next moment is better? And if the next moment is not better, what have we lost? If we lived in that moment, which we did not capture, is the moment lost to us? What wasn’t captured is a memory that is our own. Do you remember stills that aren’t available on paper or as digital files? When we crossed rows in the classroom; when we stood in front of each other, that split moment, when nothing was said and yet, an entire life was lived?

I don’t remember it, but you do. There’s no documentation of the moment, but both of us live it. Photos aren’t false memories – they are only artificial. Artificial in the sense of the frame in which they are presented to you.

Not that they do not represent the truth. Photos are as real. Just that they are a slice of the reality. And we have to learn to see photos for what they are. My eyes, your eyes.

All the eyes that see the photo, that is what the photo is about.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

Love Is; What Else?

छुपा लो यूँ दिल में प्यार मेरा
के जैसे मंदिर में लौ दीए की

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Hold my love in your heart, the way
a temple Holds the glow of a lamp

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I am not a good translator. You know that already – addressing those, who have followed this blog for a few years. This is the best I could do.

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There is a love epidemic; so prevalent in this world; it demands to be loved. It’s, if I may call it, a misdirected epidemic. There is so much transaction of the purest form of human connection; it’s almost pathetic. It’s so much fun to love than being loved. It’s freedom! The unshackling feeling of being in love. Give me that any time. Being loved is a task, an effort, an exercise. But to love? It is a way to be free.

Diwali Lamp

I love you.

And nothing else matters. Being with you does not matter. You being mine does not matter. Having you with me doesn’t matter. Nor does you having me. Being able to love you, beyond the shackles of time and space, in the infinite space of imagination: that is, how I love you. Love is good; we love, as and when we can.

Never ask anything of it, however.