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.

Writing Rigour

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

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

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

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

We have just lost the rhythm.

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

*

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

125659: Wall Grunge

*

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

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

Crucial Curation

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

The network is inert.

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

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

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

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

The platform is inert.

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

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

*

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

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

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

That’s where curation becomes crucial.

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

In the real-world. Not on Twitter.

209 pages

This book that I am reading. A mass market paperback. It’s called “What is History?” by Edward Hallett Carr. I started reading it on 10th October, this year; am on page 112, now. That seems like an achievement to me. So, as is my nature, I posted this update on Goodreads, and it showed up on my Facebook feed. (Not magically; I’ve given Goodreads permission to publish on Facebook on my behalf.)

Of all the people who saw that post, it was picked up by my English teacher from school, and she commented, “Atul, keep up the speed.”

Disclaimer: She is my favourite teacher of all times and I am her favourite student of all times. (Irrespective of the thousands of kids she taught after I completed high school. A few of these thousand kids may have been good, but I am her favourite, I am sure. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I didn’t make it to Editor of the school magazine, in my last year. Those were purely technical issues.)

More than twenty-five years later, she keeps tabs on what read and write. On my previous post, she said, “Well tried.” That was a message, if I ever got one. That’s who and how she is; she always pushes you forward.

You are never as good (or bad) as what you just accomplished, you are as good as what you can achieve.

Perhaps, that was her mantra for all of us. Perhaps that’s why I am not as lost as I think I would have been, otherwise.

20161129_222808

Back to the book.

This book is about Historiography. Unlike most facile stuff that I once used to read, it’s not an easy read. Here’s a sample:

This is the real indictment of those who seek to erect a super-historical standard or criterion in the light of which judgement is passed on historical events or situations—whether that standard derives from some divine authority postulated by the theologians, or from a static Reason or Nature postulated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is not that shortcomings occur in the application of the standard, or defects in the standard itself. It is that the attempt to erect such a standard is unhistorical and contradicts the very essence of history. [E. H. Carr, What is History?]

As is obvious, such a paragraph takes time (for me, at least). The idea in itself is quite simple and straightforward. The manner in which it is presented seeks that the reader be involved with heart, soul, and mind.

So, yes, I’ll complete this book. Soon enough, for it’s the kind that needs to be savoured.

And that’s the speed. Thank you Ma’am!

I Am Poetry

Structure, perhaps; the magic of how the words at the end, end up rhyming. Or perhaps the metre. The litany that caries us through the verses. In a sense, the only sense that poetry appeals to us is through reading. The text, i.e.

Yet, without warning it evokes a sense of being — devoid of any other sensory perception. In a preface to a Mahakavya (great poem), the stellar poet, Dinkar, talked of realm of an extra-sensory perception. He spoke about it in a different context — love — but the logic — if you would call it that, remains the same.

A poem can never be taught. In teaching, a poem, its meaning is narrowed, to the teacher’s interpretation. A poem has to be owned. Like the life that we live, it has to be lived every day. It has to permeate your every day activity; find a permanent place in your self; become a part of you.

Inner Space

There is no understanding poetry. There is no learning poetry. You can learn the mechanics, tools, methods, and metre. But to to get poetry it has to become an indivisible and integral part of life. I have noticed my attitudes change, in a few aspects of my life, as I carried poetry with me.

In its punctum, poetry makes sense that is obvious (often, not always). It is immediately apparent, but soon lost. Because it is not our own. When a poem is our own, it changes us over time; itself undergoes change.

I am learning that, now.

Painlessness

It was a sharp pain.

Below the chest. Not exactly in the stomach. Somewhere in between. That’s where the intestines are, I suppose. Having majored high-school in Biology didn’t help, all that study, and I had no idea what was there; which of those many tightly packed organs was keening like a banshee. (Sorry, Mrs. SS!) My thoughts went back to my textbook from school, trying to remember the organic arrangement. Then, and I have no idea why, I realised I had been feeling the pain for a while; I just hadn’t noticed it. My thoughts shifted from what I was thinking, to the pain, and —without notice — like a ghost spirited away by sunlight: the pain vanished.

Just like that!

It took a couple of kilometres, to realise that I was very angry, when the pain started. Very angry about something that’s going on in the world that I live in. Very angry about how people are reacting to this thing. Very, very angry at all the name calling, the all too common spewing of venom all around me. Specifically, the bile-filled pit of 140 chars. And as soon as I started thinking about the placement of my organs, I wasn’t in pain anymore.

A while ago, I made a conscious choice not to go anywhere near that pit. And I haven’t ever, almost never. But it is all so pervading. It’s a big pit. Large. Huge. Massive. Enormous. It’s inescapable. And just like that, I left.

Not Twitter; I left the pit.

A Fine Divide

The medium is not the message. Sometimes, bits of messaging corrode the medium, all we need to do is clean the medium. It’s all clean now. I am away from the pit.

There’s no pain.