Often we stand at crossroads, feeling dejected reflecting upon the mismatch between our expectations and what life has in store for us. But it is in these moments of extreme privacy, it becomes rather more important to sit back and reflect upon these as a result of one of the universal laws of nature. Love and Pain. Ironically we never think of them putting them in the same basket. But they always happen to chase each other… don’t they? Sometimes even occurring at the same time.
“Aab kya karein janaab! Aas he to niraasa to hogi hi… par kabhi kabhi.” 🙂
The incessant need of our personality to be intentional towards ‘the others’ ; infinite series of reflections and counter reflections utterly confusing things for some while creating beautiful patterns for others. At last the only abode that remains true or at least can remain true to our authentic nature are our thoughts but alas! If only we knew how to master them!
Mr Shyamalan came back from office at around seven in the evening; a tad later than his usual. In his late forties, he was quite famous in Fosterganj for his condescending demeanor. Though he carried his own stereotypes, he liked to showcase the world that he is a rational person. “Only a fool craves to be caged in the system of marriage” is what he used to proudly announce, having lost any hope for a possibility of marriage. So his house, the last building in the main lane of Fosterganj, was left to the care of Ramu, Mr Shyamalan’s help. Ramu took care of anything and everything that Mr Shyamalan or his house demanded. The evening hours on this particular day passed by like usual and Ramu left the house after leaving Mr Shyamalan a jug of water next to his bed post his dinner. Mr Shyamalan settled down in his bed and tuned into Vividh Bharati station in his age old Radio that he had received in ancestral property along with the house. In the times of modernity, you can say that Mr Shyamalan’s house was a world of its own that still resembled the old days of simple things. In fact the only new thing that he had bought for the house was the Air Conditioner for his bedroom the previous winter as last summer in Fosterganj was unbearable, even for Mr Shyamalan. “Thud”. Mr shyamalan was woken up suddenly by the sound of something falling all of a sudden as he was about to fall asleep. He thought he heard it coming from the living room. But finding everything at their own places neatly, he came to his bed surprised. “Maybe it was a dream.” And as he was about to settle down again in his bed, he heard something moving in the bushes next to his window. Being the last building in the lane, the plots next to his window were mostly left unattended and it looked like a mini forest with its wild creepers and bushes. Mr Shyamaln never used to sleep with his window open. He sensed something was wrong. He opened the window gathering some courage. Switching on the flashlight, he tried to inspect the bushes that his old eyes allowed him. The sound of crickets was filling up the air. ” Strange”, he thought as a sense of fear crawled in his head. He got reminded of the gossip in the market, of Mr Mehta seeing a ghost a couple of days ago. He closed the window as fast as he could. His show of rationality left him instantly in the face of something unfamiliar as the air felt colder all of a sudden. He hurried back to his bed and sat there under his quilt with wide open eyes for some time. “Plop”. His heightened senses made this sound appear as something sudden, which was loud enough to break his trance as his body started to shiver. He gathered the last ounce of courage to check his bathroom. Nothing there as well, as the taps were tightly closed and the floor was dry. He came back to his bed. “Plop, plop”. It seized his body with a sudden horror; his skin hair started bristling out of fear. He felt heavy as if he had lost control of the motor functions of his body. He sat still in his bed frightened to the core as he could hear his own heart beats even amidst the noisy crickets. “Thud”. The sound of it was not as loud as it appeared to Mr Shyamalan. The shock of a sudden sound was severe enough to push his heart pumping to the roof. Suddenly he was no more an atheist, as he started fervently praying every God he could possibly remember. Maybe his prayers were answered as nothing unusual happened for sometime allowing him to fall asleep. Ramu came the following morning at his usual timing. “Oh, the rats. I have to do something about them”, he murmured seeing Saheb’s book lying on the floor in the living room. He came to wake Mr Shyamalan with his morning tea. Mr Shyamalan sat a bit puzzled in his bed as the whole incident from the night before felt like a dream. As he was about to sip from his cup he heard, “Plop… Plop…” The daylight and the presence of Ramu in the house gave him enough courage to open the window again. He looked around. “Plop…” He looked up as the water drop gathered again at the AC outlet to fall. Sighing a long breath of relief, he was back in his characteristic condescending mode. Grandly he walked back to his bed and started sipping his tea. “Saheb…” Mr Shyamalan looked up to find Ramu standing at the door. “What is it?” “Saheb, I need some money.” “What for”, Mr Shyamalan raised his eyebrows looking in Ramu’s direction. “I had wished upon giving two coconuts at Jagmata temple if my son’s health improved…” Mr Shyamalan cut Ramu in between. “Ramu… how many times do I have to tell you! Gods and ghosts exist only in your head.”
What would you deduce of your life if it has come to this point where you take a leave from office for no particular reason at all or maybe because you had grown used to the paid holidays during lockdown period, only to find yourself attending office in your dream during the daytime nap that almost lasted for a day’s working hours. Too many layers, right!
I was aware of the never settling debate of dualism in philosophy i.e. body and mind are two radically different entities and the debate of reality/identity based on it inclined on one of them over the other. It reminds me of the Ship of Theseus Paradox. The Greek historian Plutarch was the first to mention it in his works which goes like the following:
“During its long voyage as the planks of the ship of Theseus needed repair, it was replaced part by part, to a point where not a single part of the original ship remained in it, anymore. So the question arises, whether the now sailing ship still continues to be the same ship?” To this Thomas Hobbes later added another layer i.e. if all the discarded parts of the ship is collected and used to build another ship, which of the two should be called the real ship of Theseus.
Some argue that it is the body that goes over mind. But our cells die and according to some estimates every seven years we become a completely new individual, because in that time, every cell in our body gets replaced by a new one. But then, the identity of us continues to survive.
And if we go by the narrative that it is the mind over the body, we do change how we think, how we perceive things as we age. I certainly would like to believe that we grow wiser with age. Then what is it that remains constant to continue to give us our identity?
Guess, I personally feel inclined to the analysis that says, the only thing that remains constant in us is change. Like ancient greek philosopher Heraclitus puts it, “We never step in the same river twice.” Our body changes, so does our mind and its faculties to allow us to see things differently. What remains constant to give us our continued identity is only the illusion of unity like the roll film where each frame is followed by another but it happens with such spontaneity that it appears as a single film.
But I’m a practical man and I can be accommodative. Coming back to my earlier question of what I should deduce from my dream is a topic for another day. “Mind over body” shall be my choice of reality when it comes to attending office, but only in my dreams.
Areté : (Greek), the act of living up to one’s full potential.
You know looking at my past, what haunts me the most? It’s simply the foregoing of the possibilities of what I could have become. No, don’t get me wrong. I’m neither judging my current state nor carry this notion that the world and its elements needs to be layered to make any sense. Given the support I have received from my family throughout my life, I’m yet to believe in the idea of economic determinism(ie it is economics/money that determines every course of action) like that of Karl Marx. So, I continue to live in my distant ideal world, staying an idealist(someone who envisions a world i.e. ought to be rather than the real one). Hence, the possibilities I have foregone have nothing to do with the social status or power hierarchy or the paychecks that we receive by the end of every month. But rather, the idea of experiencing them in their totality. I can’t simply pull a rickshaw for a day and become a rickshaw puller. Nor can I engage in active politics for a day and call myself a politician. I’ll simply remain myself. A selection of decisions/choices from among the infinite possibilities drawing a narrow path, which has become quite thin now to allow me to accommodate something else into it. And, this makes me think of the ‘many world’ hypothesis.
You must be aware of the thought experiment famous by the name of Schrodinger’s cat. It was given by physicist Erwin Schrodinger as an allegory to explain the complexities of quantum physics.
Imagine there is a sealed box with a cat in it. And there is a radioactive element and a vial containing poisonous gas to accompany it. The system is so designed that if the radioactive element decays within an hour, the hammer falls, breaking the vial and thus, killing the cat. But, the chances of decay of the element within an hour is 50/50. Hence, Schrodinger argues that the cat in the sealed box is simultaneously both dead and alive before the box is opened. According to him, since there is no one inside the box to witness the happenings, the cat exists in all its possibilities i.e. both dead as well as alive. This in a way gave way to the ‘many world’ hypothesis by Hugh Everett later. According to it, all possible outcomes for any quantum event or decision are physically realized in some “world” or universe.
Okay! This is assuring, to know that infinite copies of me are living simultaneously in parallel worlds as the rest of the possibilities. Me as a cricketer. Checked. Me as a pilot. Checked. Me as an artist. Checked. Me as a billionaire. Checked. Hah! But what about this copy of myself, that I’m getting to experience. How can I transgress this limitedness and become the rest of them simultaneously?
Like the Schrodinger’s cat, I derive my status, my identity from others. Don’t I? Certainly it depends on what and how the society perceives me. Hell, I can’t even tell the difference between what’s real and what’s forced in me now. I wonder what if I simply lock myself up in a box as a solution. Like the cat, I’ll be perceived by none. Shouldn’t it liberate me then; helping me to exist simultaneously in all my possibilities from here on; helping me achieve my Arete!
Kintsugi : the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver. As a philosophy, it means embracing the flawed or imperfect.
I had read this story once.
[There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”]
I had found it very moving having seen this evolution in myself personally; though at the cost of some scars. I had developed this bad temper during my adolescent years. Maybe it was the hormones or the lack of education and understanding or a mix of both. But it resulted in passing on my tantrums to others; mostly my mother and my sister, who had loved me dearly all my life and I was certain that they won’t ever retaliate back about it. And the reasons used to be very flimsy; sometimes for non acceptance of my choice, say of a TV to be bought or simply the hot humid weather; they varied with given time and space. But mostly it was to do with my narrow understanding of authority/ego someway or other, as I remember it.
Interestingly, if you google ‘Anger’, the first post that pops up explains it as one of the basic human emotions as elemental as happiness, sadness, anxiety or disgust; necessary for human SURVIVAL. Guess I had honed it calculatingly for my ego satisfaction in a sustainable fashion, when I had chosen my mother and sister as the receivers. But it all changed one particular afternoon and I think I should share this here.
It was summer of 2006; I had appeared for tenth board exams a couple of months back and was awaiting the result. We had gone out for some reason that I don’t remember; me, Didi(elder sister)and Maa. It was a particularly hot day and the high humidity was making it all worse for me. But the trip was short and we returned back home early; maybe it was one of didi‘s doctors appointments. I entered my room only to find the broken Air conditioner; the trigger that I needed for my fit of anger to come out. Hence started the slamming of doors, followed by raising of voices complaining anything and everything that was wrong with my family. A few more slamming of doors and a few kicks to the sofa later I found myself confronted by my didi. “Why are you shouting? What are you acting like this!?” And my rage reached its peak as I simply pushed her aside to slam a few more doors accompanied by a few more bellowed sentences. ‘Thud…’ My mother came running from the kitchen welling. “What have you done? Oh, God! Reeka, are you alright?” Only then did I realize that my push was hard enough to make her fall over her wrist and crack it. I stood numb there seeing all this commotion as my mother lifted her up and took her to the hospital. They came back some thirty odd minutes later. My sister had plastered her right hand. I was still in a state of shock to accept the severity of my actions. A few minutes later I found her sitting in the living room by the aquarium. I went and sat next to her. A few seconds of shame later I said, “Didi, I’m sorry”, as my words whispered by the end, weighed down by the shame. She turned towards me and held my hand in hers and gave me a peck on my cheek. “I love you,” she said. No advice, no warning, no deliberation: nothing. A simple “I love you”, in exchange for her fractured wrist. I’m not sure what I felt in those few minutes and what changes it brought to me. The weather continued to be the same; the decisions in house continued to be taken in the same fashion; the family continued to be members of four; but what changed was the absence of temper that I used to experience. I don’t recall ever getting angry after that.
I was lucky enough to have them; my family who kept on giving me chances. Not everyone is… “Thank you Didi for embracing this flawed individual.”
Hope this chapter of my past helps you avoid your fits of flow of anger on your near and dear ones. Stay healthy and spread happiness. Love.
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.
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.”