It’s when you don’t have anyone to fight against that the real battle begins..
It’s all about the details.
I see the light brown of the cotton sari interspersed with white, a hassle between the earth and the heavens, wrapped around myself and the mundani, the end pleats, going around my torso to be tucked in front, to the left of my waist. I face the kitchen wall, and my hands move in a hurry between knives, green leaves, pots and pans.
I never see my face, but I know how I smiled at the sudden touch of your hands on my hips, working through layered fabric to reach my skin. I know the warmth of your love as you laugh and the leap of my heart as I keep working my hands with your lips in my ear.
It’s the details. The blue of your shirt, the white of the kitchen walls, sunlight streaming through the window, the waving curtain, the clink of the knives. Your laugh. My smile.
It’s the details that make me wonder whether this is indeed just my recurring fantasy of our future together, or a glimpse into another life we once led somewhere in the cosmos.
Global warming for me was nothing more than a high school topic, a frequently asked question to be mugged up for the tests. How ignorant we remain even in the light of knowledge!
Today, enduring the sweltering sun in Puducherry on a daily basis, I lament the lack of shade on the highway and curse the glare of the road. And when I run home to Kerala, allegedly God’s Own Country, in search of respite, I am faced with the same. I have personally witnessed such a dramatic change in climate over the last two decades that I fear what the rest of my existence has in store.
Sustainable development, environmental hazards, man made disasters.. Somehow all these seem to stay in a separate compartment in our heads, foggy and aloof and pertaining to obscure journals or news reports. The link between our actions and consequences is lost in translation. Humans, the society, mankind – all detached terms, and unrelated to single entities that make up the whole. Unrelated to me and you.
The hot sun pairs up with the humid air to chase me indoors, and I breathe a sigh of relief as the cool air from the AC vent meets my sweaty face. Little do I wonder about the paradox, the vicious cycle I am thoughtlessly perpetuating, how the Air Conditioner might be releasing hydroflurocarbons that are killing the ozone layer and adding to green house effect and global warming.
But of course, all that is just 8th grade science. All it boils down to are the test results.
We were a group of five, three Tamilians, a Bengali and a Keralite, sharing lunch and a frivolous chat when the casual conversation veered towards the varied cultural differences and similarities across the expanse of our country. Someone put in a word about how each state in India has an identity of its own and how, even Kerala and Tamil Nadu are different in so many ways, even though they cuddle together at the bottom of the map. I remarked how true that is, and indeed that Kerala has a lot more in common with the geographically distant West Bengal than with Tamil Nadu.
And all of a sudden, the discussion turned into a debate.
I still have no clue why my statement should have provoked them as it did. I did not intend to mean that TN is inferior in any way, just that things are different. Comparisons have always been drawn between Kerala and West Bengal with respect to popular culture, the kind of movies made, the high regard for Communist ideologies in the political set up and even the crazy football fanship in a country where every other state adores cricket. That is all I meant to put across. But somehow the innocent comment was conjured to be an attack on their cultural integrity and mocked to be a sign of how one always disregards one’s neighbours and worships distant lands.
I found it rather ironic in retrospect that the Bengali and myself were on one side of the ensuing argument even as they vehemently opposed our attempts at clarification.
This is not the first time I’ve come across such incidents either. Certain opinions are lost in translation across borders, even if we happen to be speaking the same language. Inherent insecurities are projected as an overt need to stand up and shout down ideas, and many a time remarks are taken out of context and interpreted in ways deemed right.
Maybe a lot of the violence and hatred that breed among us is the result of ill communication, and perhaps our own perceptions of how we are being perceived. If I were to remark someone is dusky, it becomes an insult, if I happen to hail from a place where the majority have a fair complexion. Dark becomes less of an adjective and more of a derogation based on who says it. Abstract theories define our sense of right and wrong, and indignation sprouts from simple matters.
I’d say patriotism and belonging are often separatist barriers that prevent us from viewing the big picture. How beautiful the world would be if diversity were embraced as the crux of existence, and not some precious aftermath of human interference that needs to be protected and fought for.
Everything would fall into place
If you let it.
Live in the present. Live in the present..
The trending phrase, alongside Be Yourself and Follow Your Heart. What do these mean anyway? Abstract words strung together to give you the satisfaction of owning an identity that is as unique as a drop of water in the sea or another pebble on the shore. The pebbles that come together to make the land and the drops that form the masses that separate, dissolve, that encompasses the reality of all that cease to exist with green pastures playing on the other side; that draw us in with excitement and drive us away in exasperation, when the colours fade and turn grey overnight.
I do live in the present, I do follow my heart, I am myself. Once I am all that I am supposed to be, what next? When the goal is reached, what then?
I laugh easily, talk pleasantly, make merry with all who surround me and make no efforts to reach out over to the past to where old bonds lie; when new branches shield me from the maze of roots beneath me, am I to content myself with the knowledge that I am happy in the present, or bemoan this fickle heart of mine that forgets in seconds all it held close and fails to remember fond matters of old? I live in the present.. Does that make me self centred?
I follow my heart. I fell in love with one and then with another, and each time it felt right and resonated with the sure leaps of my heart leading me on a path contrived of red roses and bliss; and as each came down with surmounting misery, I chose to flee into the warm welcoming arms of solitude. I followed my heart, followed its bloody trail of fluttering whims and fancies, the short leaps of faith and the chasms of chance encounters, revelling in ecstatic escapism. Yes I followed my heart.. But what if I churned others’ in the process?
I am myself. Who else can I be? The one that delves into deep spirituality and calls oneself an agnostic, the one that chides others for superficiality and checks the mirror for blemishes, the one who looks down upon blind beliefs and chooses to walk on criss cross edges of the patterned tile floors for good luck, who plays grammar Nazi and hopes to be forgiven for mediocrity in another tongue.
I am who I am, we are all who truly are; the hopeless lists of contradictions compiled into human form, strutting about in self denial and pretending to be something we are not – capable of change. Is not the ability to change another factor keyed into our existence? The ability to hold fast to beliefs or to adapt like a chameleon, is that not engraved into our spirits?
So if I do live in the present, if I do follow my heart and I do proclaim to be myself, what does that make me? The all encompassing ideal of the universe or another misled soul lost in a world of definitions for rightful living?
As I walk the streets of Pondicherry, I am reminded of another existence from two years ago. A familiarity in the town I’ve never before visited, the lingering of shadows of the distant past.
A hint of recognition as I pass green SETC buses emerging from littered bus stands being swept clean by ageing ladies wrapped in striped cotton saris, as I watch twin nose rings glinting on either sides of dusky faces, as I see simple women on the streets selling red roses and jasmine, their own hair adorned by the same.. The good natured smiles that greet my hesitant eyes.. The loud uncouth remarks that are part of regular merriment on a public bus ride.. The gentle breeze that prevails through the day, weaving its way through neem trees to bring me news of the sea calling..
Unknown to me, I have returned.. to a land I vowed never to. Thoothukudi. Tuticorin. The shore of love, devastation, and my deepest regrets. I wander as in a dream, through the strange streets, and encounter the ghosts of others well loved at a time. A place that brought me nightmares and bitter memories, like sweetness that turns sour overnight; like dark bile that creeps up one’s system even as you pretend to push it down.
I had made peace by making myself believe in my hatred for everything about it. But now, as I encounter Tuticorin on these new streets, I realise she is but an old friend. I feel comforted and welcome the memories that I’ve fought too long. I cry in her arms and smile in the warmth of her glow.
I am no stranger to this land. This is homecoming.
Travel and tell no one. Live a true love story and tell no one. Live happily and tell no one. People ruin beautiful things. – Khalil Gibran
No words have rung as true as those. If I may add a bit of my own to it, join the course of your choice and tell no one.
I opted for post graduation in Community Medicine in the institute of my choice, one of the finest in the country, and all I’m getting in return for the happy news are blank stares and wrinkled noses.
Being part of a virtual joint family necessitates instant sharing of any new information relating to any event, and in case the matter even borders on the unconventional, eyebrows are raised. Two relatives in particular, doctors themselves, readily frowned upon my choice to let go of the clinical hullabaloo.
As for me, I’d rather have peace of mind than a flourishing practice, and more importantly (and secretly) I want a life where I have ample time to read and write. If there’s one thing that rotatory residency taught me, it’s that I turn into the most horrible version of myself when harrowed and the clinical side has the possibility of doing that to you. Social and Preventive Medicine is a more versatile line, where I can opt to work among the public if I so desired or turn into teaching if that turns out to be my calling. I hate dead ends just as I hate being caged and boxed. Community Medicine gives me a wide enough platform to counter claustrophobia, so that’s that.
For once in my life, I’m letting go of whatever anyone wants me to do and siding with my gut. That you should listen to your heart is an oft used phrase, and there is a reason for it; it’s true. I am sure that if I had listened to all the voices that had gone against my own, I would not be feeling what I feel right now – happiness and relief. Like I have taken a step in the right direction. And if I haven’t, I will still know it’s my choice.
So all of you out there who are struggling to hold your own, take a deep breath and push on. The society is going to cut you left and right trying to fit you into its moulds. Maybe your options are not well thought out or maybe they are all you have been obsessing about. What matters is that when the moment comes, you click the right button, do the right thing and make the right choice – your own.
And tell no one.
An old flame?
You dear shall ever be
A raging fire..
I suppose things are beginning to look up.
Wifi is back for one thing, which means I can proceed to Press with abandon and seek the help of Netflix to get me through these very troubled times. The television is not of much help these days in spite of the thousand odd channels that one is bestowed with of late; it is funny how quality tends to degrade with quantity.
I decided to visit the black and white era where horrid enterprises such as entrance exams for post graduation did not exist. It is wise to opt for fantasy when reality offers little comfort. So it came to be that I went on a Roman Holiday and then had a couple of drinks at Rick’s in Casablanca.
It seems sort of fitting in hindsight that I chose these of the lot. Both are unconventional, in the sense that the lovers part in the end, but in spite of that glitch they end on happy notes. I found that comforting. I like to believe that the same applies to our lives too. We vouch for things and indeed hope for them to come true, putting up a good fight where we think it’s due, and holding on to our dear faith in happy endings. But it just so happens that the endings are almost never what we intend them to be, but it also so happens that the same need not make the endings sour.
As time goes by, everything gets better. Most of the riddles are answered and the unanswered ones still provide us with amusement. As time goes by.
All we need to do is wait.