It rained cats and dogs last night; the first shower of the season. I woke up to the cool morning breeze that was making its way through the window. The rain had washed off the dusts of the summer, making everything more colorful again.
Rain always manages to summon the artist in me; maybe it also manages to wash away the dust of my daily life. And what better artists enjoy than solitude. High on the freshness of air that had a scent of rain in it, I went out to the terrace, welcomed by the symphony of chirping birds and sat by the table on the rooftop, that my landlady had discarded; with a cup of tea and a lit cigarette to accompany me.
A flock of pigeons on the building across the road were taking their baths, in the water pool collected on the rooftop from last night’s shower; while a conspicuously large pigeon sat on the half done, unattended parapet wall, watching over them; giving an impression as if he was in charge of oversight for this flock of pigeons to take proper baths.It brought me a smile, bringing me back memories of my childhood days; memories of my boarding school, the morning PT classes and our beloved PT teacher.
I was in Navodaya and those of you who are not aware of it, it’s a chain of Government sponsored boarding schools in India. We had our days meticulously divided, from morning till night; Sundays used to be an exception of course. And our days would start with the PT classes that I absolutely loathed. As an avid sleeper, I understood from childhood the beauty of sleeping in the morning hours, which the PT classes weren’t allowing me to have anymore. But, having given the option of attending morning PT verses caning from my PT teacher, I had opted for sacrificing my morning sleep most of the time. The morning yoga classes, the occasional tracking to nearby hills, the preparatory days before cluster meets for sports events that allowed us to play instead of the regular drills and our occasional intermittently successful attempts to escape from the drills after the attendance: it all came flushing in.
“Wouldn’t I absolutely love to relive those days. Maybe a single day to wake up in those bunker beds to the siren of morning PT; reserving taps with our towels for baths; standing in cues for breakfast; a fake fainting act to skip the morning assembly if it’s too sunny; stealing a glance from my childhood crush…. Oh! The list is just endless.”
My tea was over by now. So were the ceremonial baths of that flock of pigeons. Taking a smile on my face I came back to my room of routines. “Time for some dose of reality now.”
I just love visiting my mother’s old photo album pictures whenever I pay her a visit. It always brings me a smile, when she animatedly shares her little stories of what she and the ones in the picture were doing, while taking those pictures; vividly and more importantly, fondly remembering her good old days. Photographs: the rectangular pieces of paper, holding time frozen in it for individuals, with each of them having their own little stories to share. It continues to amaze me how such a simple piece of paper can have such profound powers. They don’t use film-pictures cameras anymore. Do they? When I come across my old pictures in any of the social media sites, I don’t remember any story like my mother. All I see is the number of likes it has. Somehow we managed to find ways to compete with others even for a simple noble thing as a photograph, just for the sake of competition. (Competing for the sake of competition.) This makes me wonder, if disruptive innovations are actually good for us or not? Haven’t we become blind in the race already? Change after change: happening so fast that we hardly sit back and appreciate what we already have. Do we actually need so many things around us, with many of them lying unused and disused for years? I remember as a kid, I used to love plucking flowers in the morning, collecting them in a basket for morning prayers. I remember walking barefoot over the dew dropped grass lawns. I remember swimming with bare trunks in the river; sometimes scared of what now is popular as ‘fish pedicure’. I remember the cycling sessions through the foot roads under the sun, when the sun was busy playing hide and seek over the coconut trees. I don’t remember the TV but the act of watching it together with all my extended family. But, growing up, somewhere and somehow I lost touch with it. I lost touch with the things that actually gave me happiness once upon a time. When did you last stop and lovingly touched the things lying around you: as a simple token of appreciation, for them being there? Maybe that treadmill that stands tall in the garage. Or that juicer which lies still wrapped in the kitchen. Or that laptop that you use daily.
I ponder if it’s not too late already. I ponder how the story would be, if I simply take photographs of all these things around me; adding up my very own stories to them, building up my very own castle of good memories.
Addendum : She was 18 in this picture and was tricked into taking this by my Nana(Maternal grandfather), so that it can be shared with the family of suitable grooms.That explains the gloomy face.
My smart wearable woke me up at 5:30 in the morning. It’s been years since I have been waking up at this exact same time. Sometimes in perfect synchronization with my alarm: confused whether it woke me up or is it the other way around. The date in my watch said 21/09/2081. The interactive AI on my wall showed me the notification column as soon as I got up from my bed. “Hello, Mr. Pattnaik. Here are your morning highlights.” One among it, in particular caught my attention. It’s the last day for print media, as the only surviving newspaper “Bharti Daily” is being shut down. The private players had already left this loss-making business a long time ago and the Government has also finally decided to let it go. “Who could have thought the days would see so many rapid changes?”, I thought, lost in the memories of my younger years. I did my chores and left for the Lorey Lane where the Government was holding the virtual exhibitions, as a memoir for ‘Bharti Daily’, like in most of the cities of India. The place was crowded with mostly people of my age; only a few left of that generation who still loved ink on paper than the Kindles. The exhibition showcased Newspapers framed in glass(virtual) from over the years. While taking a tour through it, I stopped at 2020. The headline in the paper said, ” The spectre of a post Covid-19 world”. I touched the sync button and my AI asked, “Do you want me to read the full article or just the gist of it?” “Just the gist, please.”, I said while memories of my past came rushing in. I was among the lucky ones to have survived this pandemic; both during and after. The original Covid-19 after plateauing for a while, fast evolved into SARS 3.0 with an unprecedented mortality rate. First half of the toll came from the virus and the next half, from the depression in the economy coupled with an widespread ‘epidemic of despair’ where many killed themselves voluntarily.The voice of my AI brought me back to the present. “The author L K Reddy has tried to assess the post Covid-19 scenario from various perspectives; economic, political, social, environmental….”, it continued. I gave a smirk thinking no-one could assess the unfolding of Covid-19 back then. Suddenly, I started hearing this loud noise. My visible world started crumpling, only to be rearranged where I was thrown on my bed, waking me up from my dream. My heartbeat was rushing like a machine gun and my pillow was wet with my sweat. Hurriedly, I looked into the paper calendar hung over the wall and it said 19 November, 2019.
I never went to school. Maybe because my birth parents were more caring for their hard earned family reputation than my well-being. So, I won’t be able to tell genetically, how different I am from the rest of you. You may say I am not alone… True. But, how many of you have a friend like me? You can take your time to recollect. But, that won’t take much of your time. Would it? As we don’t pass down as someone whom you easily forget. You must have seen us at toll booths or railway platforms in our colourful sarees or to celebrate childbirth at someone’s residence. We give blessings in exchange of money and we are loudmouths. But, at least we feel free, staying true to our instincts. I tell you, this world continues to amaze me. How come on one side you absolutely celebrate diversity, uniqueness, art and creativity. And on the other, you tend to blindly loathe my kind for being different than you. For being miniscule, shouldn’t we be celebrated? In some parallel we must be treated like angels. Huh! I don’t know why I am, the way I am. Maybe because my mother was able to lift the stone while she carried me inside her: the revered stone of some Baba long forgotten; as a sign of one carrying a boy inside her, when I was always meant to be a girl. You’ll never understand me perhaps. Cause this world is yet to allow me to understand myself. Years of forced identity led to expulsions one day, separating me from my family only to give me a new one of my kind. And I continue to survive. Though I would have liked it to be different. I would love to walk on the streets without any vile comment or wild long stares coming in my direction for a change. I would love someone to come and talk to me instead of the usual transactions for trading my flesh. I would… I would… I wonder, would you treat me the same in your dreams, where there is no conception of layered society, no bias for or against any gender and above all no eyes to judge your actions… I would love to be treated as another human for a change.
Has this ever happened to you? You wake up in the morning like any other day and all of a sudden you realize nothing around you including yourself makes any sense. Your face seems to carry a smile that’s not your own; your day is consumed by some work that seems mundane and forced; your etiquette constantly struggling to cope up with the contrast chatters in your head that continue to tirelessly mock you for what you have become. This does happen to me from time to time. Sometimes it’s my clothes, sometimes it’s my skin… sometimes it’s my reflection in the mirror giving me impressions of an alien world where I continue to exist. It’s always something or other, trying really hard to be me. I wonder how it would be to LIVE for a change than to continue to exist. Free from all dos and don’ts, from all expectations, from all rituals and customs. Animals get to live life freely, true to their innate nature. Ain’t they? A dog continues to be a pack member, while a cat continues to be a solitary animal. They don’t trade their basic traits for the sake of getting better acceptability. Guess, that’s why I don’t see as many suicidal animals as many suicidal human beings around me. First and foremost, they continue to fight to survive, no matter the circumstance, which is something I wish to experience again. Why can’t we be just us! Is it that difficult? Maybe yes or maybe no. But, I won’t get to know. Cause I simply flew all my life wherever, in whatever skin life took me in. Without raising any questions. Guess, ‘not raising questions’ has now become my only faithful trait as an independent individual. And, I have grown old now. My childhood seems hazy and alien; like some old movie that I remember only in bits and pieces. And in my last days, close to my end of the line, if someone asks me to give a title to the story of my life, it would be, “A cat who is still trying to be a dog.”
I have never been a fan of summer. Would you like warm water for shower on a hot summer day? No, perhaps. It actually took me some years to understand why they talk so fondly of summer in English literature. Most of the authors being from English speaking cold countries, they are expected to awe summer. To my understanding the purpose of language is to convey meaning; between two individuals at least. And the notion of something as a universal language is only bound to fail, given how diverse we are spatially. So, if not universal, where should we draw the line then? That fine line to separate something noble and utilitarian from something universal and despotic. You make the sample space of people smaller to bring in more sensibility, more understanding, of that particular group per se. But, you keep reducing it to factor into anomalies; ultimately bringing it to a handful number of like minded people or maybe you end up building your own, personal, very private language; losing its purpose in this process.
Balance. Guess, that’s what keeps things running. I look around me and on a sunny day, I experience kindness, love, brotherhood. While on a gloomy day, I see just the opposite. I can take inspiration from each and see the same world with two completely contrasting perspectives. But, I choose to pick some things from one and some from the other lot. Why? Maybe I am meant to be an agent of balance. I am sure you are aware of the second law of thermodynamics. According to it, the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. But yes, we can try and keep it constant. Guess, that’s what balancing is all about. Isn’t it? Seeing different facets of it at different times and spaces. We kill in the name of freedom. We dominate in the name of order. We mock the very basic tenets of individuals in the name of society. Guess, in the face of basic instinct for survival, we end up killing ourselves for the sake of this isolated system called ‘Life on Earth’. And, this makes me wonder, which one would be worse? “To be myself or be someone with a higher longevity?”
It looks like It’ll take me some more years to come to terms with this understanding that… “For peace, chaos is necessary. And so is death for life. It’s all about balance. And nothing and no one escapes it.”
I was zoned out in the middle of the traffic, amidst the rush in one of the Delhi’s mobile zoos. The beautiful zoo for motor vehicles, where you find all kinds of specimens with the recent additives of e-rickshaws. Usually everyone is in a hurry at such jams, to move past one another by only a few meters, cursing and making hand gestures, to prove their competitiveness and it was no different this time. I was on my way from Karol Bagh to Connaught Place to meet a friend, in one of the infamous Delhi’s auto rickshaws. Our auto stopped at the Jhandewalan crossing for obvious reasons. Suddenly, a child shook me out of my midday slumber; she was pulling my pants and asking for something. I was not sure whether s(he) was a girl or a boy. Maybe a girl, hardly 5 years of age. The usual tanned brown skin; frisky light brown hair that hasn’t been oiled since birth; a torn cloth that has given up on its original colour and acquired a colour to be uniquely identified with street beggars. Street beggars of all ages; you just find them everywhere in Delhi and traffic lights seem to the hotspots for them.
I had seen plenty of movies and had read many newspaper articles explaining how the begging network works and only recently had decided to pay the begging children in kind rather than in cash during one of my conversations with my flatmate. She mumbled something which I couldn’t understand. I simply presumed she was asking for money, So, I maintained a stoic expression and continued to look ahead. “Best not to entertain them” is what I had learnt from my limited interactions with them. Another guy stopped by the auto asking me to buy some pens. You see, they are either begging for money or selling stuff. They sell all kinds of stuff at traffic lights in Delhi; books, stationery, flowers, small soft toys, car accessories, balloons; the inventory of lists of things can be quite long actually. She shook my leg again followed by a similar mumbling and my thought this time was to shoo her away. Instead, I leaned in her direction to ask her what she wanted. She had big beautiful glassy, Irish brown eyes. The fair skin had tanned to dark brown by the constant exposure to sun but innocence was yet to bid her adieu. She murmured again.
“Bhaiya, Paani dedo”. (Give me some water)
I was taken aback. My inherent prejudice against the so called “Them”, made me take a few more seconds to understand her words. I forwarded my water bottle to her. She didn’t take it. She simply cupped both her small palms and extended it forward. I poured water into it as she tried to drink from it without dropping any, diligently. I felt simply miserable for what I have become. How did I even manage to let go of my childhood innocence?
The traffic light had turned green again and the competition to get past one another, the honking, the tryst to prove one’s competitiveness resumed once again and I went back to my state of indifference again, excited to meet my friend after so many years.