The idea for this post came from the January 29 Prompt on ‘365 Writing Prompts’, titled – “Through the window”, and it happens to match the daily prompt today, as well.
As I write this, I’m sitting exactly in between two windows, my front facing the larger one which is in fact more of a glass wall than a window, and my back facing the other. The best way to represent this situation would be as a timeline. The spot where I am sitting becomes the present, the window I’m facing becomes the future, and the window behind me becomes my past. And, if you look outside these windows, you will find that in more ways than one this is an apt description.
The window-wall opens into a balcony with a sweet homely swing and a quaint table, lots of potted plants that serve as constant reminders of the perennial spring that my city manages to retain in spite of its discomforting closeness to the desert. From four floors above the ground, before the eye catches a thing, the ears feel assaulted! Horns from cars and scooters, broken silencers romancing the tarmac, screeching brakes of buses, roaring engines, voices of people travelling on, the gist of their conversations scattering and dissolving into the invisible but certain pollution before faint mumbles make their way up to my window. Look from within and all you see is a huge building opening into even larger grounds (people playing football and cricket and jogging and what-not).
It’s a college campus, been there since just a decade or two before I was born, but it has the feel of a hundred year old building (and I’m not nearly ancient myself). This ‘hundred year old feel’ could in fact be a result of some very interesting ghost stories I’ve heard about the college growing up, from sources I’ve always considered highly reliable.
Between my window and the college, lies the noisy street that has registered itself as ‘the future’ in my subconscious, very strongly. The hustle-bustle and constant, unceasing activity grows slowly but steadily each day, peaking between 9 and 11 in the morning, declining by noon when the sun is zenith, and rising again by 6:30 around sunset, cyclical yet growing.
The open road outside my window, to my mind, is a signifier of the ‘real world’ – a world run on exchanges and barters, transactions and deals, buyers and sellers, traders and merchants and manufacturers, and of course the end users, who are more often than not oblivious to the supply chains that function chaotically, yet perennially, in the sidelines. Different incomes, different professions, different ages and genders, in a seemingly disorganized race to an invisible finish line, the reality of which is rarely, if at all, pondered over.
Dawn turns into dusk and dusk into dawn, but the activity never ceases, the noise never stops. Businesses start and businesses stop, trade slows down and quickens, recessions come and go, and so do students, shops open and close, the hagglers keep haggling, sellers submit sometimes, remain adamant other times, but the rhythm remains. The balance remains, as nature quietly keeps working to maintain a calm equilibrium amidst the confusion. Life goes on.
I turn around, tired of the activity, reach into my bedroom, and here’s the other window.This window is less defensive in demeanour than the one overlooking the bustling street, the future. This window is not trying to block out the noise, simply because it doesn’t need to. There is no noise. It faces the inside of the housing society where I live. The society is open only on one side (opens into the much discussed chaos of the street), with 14 houses, many common walls, and a dead end. The dead end establishes a limit, a limit not to my potential, but to how far back my memory goes. The dead end itself is not a limit, it is just a reminder of the limit’s existence. My memory is a mix of what I have personally seen, heard and experienced, blended smoothly with what I have been told about my roots, my past, my family’s past, the city’s past. And human memories go only so far back as the memories of the oldest members of their communities. All else is archaeology and assumptions, record and archives maybe. But even those have limits.
The window looking out from my bedroom has probably never heard the noises from the main street outside. Through the back window there is simplicity and tranquility, joy in the little things life has to offer. This window is witness to the internal chaos in people’s minds, that never shows itself, is never heard. A chaos that people nurture until it can’t be held onto anymore and simply percolates into the atmosphere, bouncing lightly off the glass surfaces of windows like the one in my bedroom.
Between these windows lies the present, the safety net serving as a time-out from the perennial race, the comfort zone, the refuge…
If you were to judge your favorite book by its cover, would you still read it? I probably would. I’m an out and out Harry Potter fan (yeah, another one of those crazies who love make-believe). I love reading about goblins and pixies, gnomes and werewolves, evil sorcerers and witches with bubbling cauldrons, deep forests and looming grey clouds. For me a book is good or bad by what it does to me. I don’t care much for any write-up that buckles me down to reality too tight. If it makes me come to terms with the sad miseries and woes of star-crossed lovers, diseased dreamers and oppressed paupers, I develop a deep dislike for the work and the author. By this I don’t mean to convey that I like shallow write-ups better than deep long-wound stories. On the contrary. I want fiction to pull me in – mind, body and soul – and to set me free, let me fly to an alternate reality. A few touchy moments and a little bit of sentimentality are alright, even appreciated sometimes if they don’t drag on. But overall, I believe stories should make readers escape their mundane realities, like a hundred helium balloons tied to readers’ arms. When I look at the cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (one of my favourite books), I see a splash of colours, a majestic red, a touch of gold, some icy blue, deep green and purple, and then some grey, black and white thrown about here and there. As I read what I’ve just written, it strikes me that these aren’t the kind of colours that are likely to go well with each other at all. But funnily enough, they do. Then there’s a huge commotion going on on the cover, with the 3 lead characters getting thrown about, trying to reach out for something, bruises on their skins, harrowed expressions, battling against a treasure of sorts, thousands of gold coins and golden goblets and jugs and gems scattered around parts of an icy-blue suit of armour; a beige-ish stone arc behind the characters, a lavaic orange smudging into the royal red to make for a background with personality, a goblin’s ear sticking out from somewhere, with a sword in its left hand, the right clinging to HP’s shoulder…
Not to forget, the black borders around the colourful picture, with grey and white font providing the eyes with some respite… WHEW! It’s a medley of colour, a story in itself, and while it overwhelms me, assaulting my senses, it most certainly makes me want to flip a few pages. And that’s that! The cover page has done its job! It’s made me want to lift the book of the shelf and browse a little. Now that it’s in my house, it looks at me every now and then, in a bid to catch my eye, and every few weeks it manages to pull me towards it, makes me browse through a few pages.Another angle to this is that a few times I’ve been done in by beautiful cover-pages. Every now and then a brilliant cover-page lures me in, hypnotizes me and urges me to make a purchase coupled only by the brief summary given at the back of the book. I’d like to believe I’ve become wiser with time and experience, so I make it a point to skim through the book before buying it – more so if the cover is too attractive – but even so, a mediocre book with a very attractive cover is often more likely to make its way into my collection than a brilliant book with a boring front…
If I was to think back to the most memorable moments in my life and come up with just 3, I’d like them to be positive ones.
So here’s Memory No. 1:
This is the most recent of the 3 memories. It was my last day at the University where I completed my Masters. I’d just submitted my dissertation a day before, and I was leaving the next morning for my home town, more than 9000 miles away. I was sitting in my room pondering how I would like to spend my last evening on campus, and being a places-person more than a people-person, I came to the conclusion that I’d like to go around the places on campus that I’d visited most, one last time and take pictures, capture memories that would last a life-time. But it was already dark, and I didn’t want to go alone. Just my luck, over dinner one of my flat-mates suggested that we go around campus clicking photographs with his new SLR, making memories since it was my last day there! That’s just what we did! In those moments of laughter and walking around aimlessly, we managed to create an invisible magic. The kind of magic that probably still lingers on those streets like sparkling silver orbs. It keeps pulling the banjaara back to those enchanted places in the middle of the night, and seeps in through the banjaara’s windows in the early morning riding the soft yellow sun-rays. It is the magic of intentionally created memories, facilitated by a dash of luck, and conducive climate (maybe the same stuff that all the world is made of)…
Memory No. 2:
A cool rainy day in monsoon, spent in my grandmother’s bedroom when I was barely 3 or 4, staring out the window, talking to her while she made beautiful symmetric paper-boats from old newspapers. We opened the windows and lowered the paper-boats into a steady stream of water that kept collecting and flowing from our backyard and out on to the street. She taught me how to make paper-boats just like hers on that day. Now every time it rains, no matter where I am, I remember that day along with my grandmother’s stories and anecdotes. This memory also brings with it the appetizing spicy aroma of typically Indian rainy-day snacks – potatoes and onions and green chillies dipped in batter and deep-fried till they turn a beautiful shade of gold, served with a delicious mint chutney. I can see the smiles of my folks in the background, and the persistent pitter-patter of the rain drops makes the memory complete.
Memory no. 3:
2 months before leaving for University, three of my friends from my undergraduate degree course and I went on a short weekend trip to a nearby hill-station, just a few hours away from where we live. We ended up going first to a tacky little hotel that one of my friends had booked and got the shock of our lives when it turned out to be very different from its pictures online. The decrepit place was like a brothel complete with cheap magenta polyester bed-sheets and broken lampshades. We immediately scooted to another hotel where I’d stayed before. It was a little more expensive but well worth the money. And the best thing about it was that we had it entirely to ourselves because it wasn’t peak holiday season. We spent that night drinking like there was no tomorrow, sharing ghost-stories, scaring the living day-lights out of ourselves, singing and dancing like gypsies, and making promises to stay in touch forever. (Spookily, one of the 4 of us was for some reason not present when we were making drunken promises, and she’s the only one that’s not in touch with the rest of us). And for that we thank our lucky stars. But that’s a story for another day…
This daily prompt has managed to elicit in me more emotions than I’d thought possible by so mundane a topic as “How do you feel about your job?”
Now currently, I don’t have a job, and thank heavens for that! (yes it’s by choice, even though that’s something they all say, isn’t it?) I’m not going to go ahead and claim that I’m between jobs, looking for better opportunities to grow. Because that would be a blatant lie of sorts. The fact is that while I most certainly want an occupation, I don’t intend to find a job (and not to sound boastful, but with my qualifications, they’re fairly easy to come by).
What’s with the aversion you ask? (Or maybe not, but I’m going to go ahead and tell you anyways). However, before you get worried, let me take a sentence to assure you that this isn’t a rant.
I graduated from a posh University in the Queen’s backyard (better known as the British countryside), with a Masters in a fancy-sounding subject. This degree although, taught me a lot more than just what I went to learn. First and foremost, it became my security blanket, so I strutted back into my hometown sure about what I wanted. I wanted a first-class job in a first-class office, where I’d work my ass off and earn the company some money, and myself a name. In my mind self-employment was overrated.
‘Who wants to go through the trouble of thinking up a business idea, making a feasible business model and then actually ensuring its feasibility, while being worried about cash flow all the time’, I thought.
My first real job, which wasn’t an internship, was with an ex-professor of a posh Indian business school (honestly, there’s nothing really posh about any business school in India, once you’ve seen what lies outside the country), but being a patriotic little kid with a fancy degree from abroad, I didn’t want to appear snobbish so I pretended not to look down upon things that I actually looked down upon.
This employer, not to sound demeaning or rude, was an absolute idiot who didn’t know anything about doing business. He had spent more than a decade of his life teaching IT related subjects to business students, and had fashioned himself into a business-whiz for the purpose of introductions. On hindsight he wasn’t fooling anyone (funny I would say that, because I’d been fooled).
In this office there was either too much useless work altogether which always needed to be done on an urgent basis in an emergency, or there were days of lull spent staring aimlessly at the computer screen. Lunch breaks weren’t considered important and work-phones would ring in on my personal mobile as late as 11pm because “Hey this is a consultancy. We’re positioning ourselves as consultants to the Big 5 – McKinsey, BCG! We’re meta consultants!”
It was a consultancy that did no consulting, a provider with no takers, a business with no focus, and NO account-keeping at all. It functioned out of a cubby-hole, the expenses overshot the income, and while the self-styled meta consultant could see the problems, he was utterly incapable of coming up with solutions, and too egoistic to take suggestions. He alienated everyone.
Each morning I would squirm out of bed questioning the meaning of life, shower with a heavy rock on my heart, and reach the breakfast table with the grumpiest expression I could manage. I’d be to frustrated for conversation, and it never seemed worthwhile to spend on fuelling up my car to reach the office. Soon I began taking a rickshaw because it felt better than driving myself to that hell-hole every morning. When I wasn’t driving myself there, at least I could fool me into believing that the situation was not in my hands. My school was a strict sort of a place and while I loved meeting my friends there I hated studying and I abhorred sitting through classes forcefully. It was supposed to get better after studies were over, but this felt worse. I would walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift because that gave me more time to waste. I loved the days when my boss didn’t come to office when he was travelling ‘for business’ (what a joke).
His face gave me the heebie-jeebies, his expression made me want to beat the living daylights out of him, his accent killed the little bit of enthusiasm I’d muster up, and his unnecessary criticism that arose as a response to lack of business was utterly unwarranted. The sound of his voice and his interference in my huge bubble of personal space acted as constant sources of bother. My desk-job didn’t just destroy my soul, it sucked out my soul in slow, long drags. My desk-job was like a dementor’s kiss.
Now after this bad bad experience, I did try out another job, which was at a very good ad agency under a very good boss with very nice colleagues and a mouth-watering designation for a fresher, also good money, close to my house and cool-sounding.
I realized however, that being answerable to a “boss”, working by someone else’s methods to reach someone else’s goals, no matter how sound they are, and sitting in front of a desk with a computer screen staring back at me is not my idea of how I want to spend the rest of my life. The problem then is not so much a desk-job, as my compatibility with it.
A Word of Unsolicited Advise: Do not try this (throwing away a soul-sucking desk job impulsively) at home unless you have (a) a recession-proof business idea with funding, (b) a recession-proof country, OR (c) you’ve come into a massive inheritance.
Why did I do it then?
‘Cause I’m just a Pagal Banjaara…
Ageing as a concept or topic of discussion is usually accompanied by rye undertones of sadness and degeneration. It is something we want to avoid, and those few who advocate embracing ageing often do so because they have surrendered to the inevitable role time plays on our bodies and minds. I have yet to meet a single person who really understands all that comes along with ageing, and yet looks forward to it. Accepting an eventuality happily and actually looking forward to it are two different things, two very different perspectives to look at the same outcome.
Of course it isn’t unfathomable why ageing isn’t something we look forward to. It means we’re a step closer to dying, and until we look forward to dying, we won’t look forward to ageing. Seems sane enough, after all. If you look forward to dying then you’re a masochist in society’s eyes. At the same time if you don’t want to age gracefully, that’s not appreciated either.
Societies induce age. People often induce age on themselves and on others of their age-group around them. Collectively, old people are known to behave a certain way, act crabby, not adapt to changes, give up and let go (because they’ve fought enough,and aahh they’re tired, and well this and that). So when middle-aged people approach seniority, they gradually involve themselves in this silent collective ageing movement. Societies, families not only accept this from their aged relatives, but also expect it and encourage it, because it’s simpler and less time-consuming to let people age and let go than it is to help them adapt to changes.
So the older people get biologically, the more of their chores are often handled by their younger relatives or their ever-willing house-help, even if old people are actually capable of doing those things themselves and even want to be self-sufficient. So in a bid to do more good, society collectively ends up doing more harm. Now of course I’m not advocating “not helping”, I’m just saying that help should be offered when actually required, help shouldn’t be forced onto people because their birthday cake suddenly has an extra candle.
What this forced (persuaded) help ends up doing is that it leaves old people with more free time than they want or can handle. So what do we all do in extra free time. We either get depressed or we introspect a lot or we contemplate life in general. Neither of the 3 are especially healthy habits, because they end up ageing us psychologically. And it is only when we age psychologically that we truly “grow old”. I’ve seen 82 year old women jogging on cold winter mornings, and I’ve seen 54 year old men too tired to walk a mile. It’s not always the body that gives up. More often than not the human body is more resilient than we give it credit for. “Mens agitat molem”; it’s the mind that really moves matter (matter of course being the human body in this context).
So how do we stay young at heart? Well, if we think about it a little, we all have a number in our minds, an age at which people are considered “old”. It may not be a specific number, more like a range. 65? 70?
But when life expectancy on an average was 40 years, 36 might have felt ancient. So what this tells us is that ageing is not absolute at all, but very relative. And that which is not absolute does not qualify for universal labeling. So if we stop viewing a certain age-bracket as old, we’d stay young at heart till we died. In the end it boils down to how we compare ‘who we are’ with ‘who we were’ and the visual this comparison creates in our mind.
One way to do this would be to not count the wrinkles and fine lines, to not sigh at our postures in grief as we bend a little, to not slouch when we’re bored out of a lack of things to do, to not have long gaps of inactivity, to not stop meeting people and doing our own shopping, to keep buying ourselves new gadgets and learn how to use them. Because honestly, young people aren’t always busier than old people, they’re just more occupied.
So this is my slightly-prescriptive-on-hindsight take on how to stay young at heart when our bodies start to show that they’re ageing.
Now if you don’t think it’s important to remain young at heart at all, then that’s another story (an interesting one all the same), but in that case “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a great movie that just might change your mind.
What’s in a name? My assessment is that names are pretty heavy things. If names were bags they’d be bursting at the seams.
I grew up in India hearing lots and lots and lots of different names (mostly multi-syllabic, and some very long, too) with a multitude of different meanings. Then, when I travelled abroad to study, I was lucky enough to mingle with a very international crowd, which ended up adding even more names in my mental directory.
As I write this, what I realize is that when I hear a name, I end up associating a certain kind of face with it. It’s usually a very vague face, more like an outline with some colour in it, but there most certainly is a face that comes up for every name I hear. Sometimes my over-active brain also ends up creating a brief character-sketch based on just the name.
In my head, someone with the name ‘Gayatri’ is likely to have long, flowing hair, dark, expressive eyes, a slender frame, and a strong personality, as opposed to someone named ‘Meera’ who I place as a sorrowful, silent sufferer, with a lack-luster life.
If I dig just a little deeper though, it becomes clear why my mind makes such associations. The name Gayatri originates from the Hindu Goddess ‘Gayatri’ who protects her devotees (her mantra is taught to most Hindu children in their childhood, and chanting it is believed to give immense inner strength). The name Meera originates from Mira bai, a Hindu mystic poet and a devotee of Lord Krishna. Mira bai is believed to have lived a sad life full of rejection and little familial happiness.
The mythological Mira bai did not have any children, and I actually personally know a ‘Meera’ who married very late and was unable to conceive a child (most likely just a coincidence, but enough to create a strong, persistent association).
In most Hindu families, naming a child is not limited to the parents’ choices. Apart from suggestions of extended family members and interfering neighbours, we tend to involve the stars and the planets, too. In this multi-coloured culture where astrology is both a science and a way of life, the moon’s position at the exact time of childbirth determines the initials of the child’s name.
In Hindu astrology, each moon-sign is said to be governed by a planet, and 3 or 4 sounds/letters from the ‘Hindi/ Sanskrit’ alphabet are assigned to each moon-sign (‘raashi’ in Hindi). Children named according to their moon-signs are believed to be blessed and benefited by the planets governing their moon signs for their entire lives.
Now this might sound quite far-fetched to many readers, but it’s a wide-spread, still prevalent belief and practice in Hindu households to name babies according to their moon-signs.
So what’s in a name? If you’re born where I am, the answer is – Your native state/region, your gender, sometimes your religion and even your caste, often a reflection of your birth-chart, the blessings/wrath of your planet-lords, mythological associations, and then if there’s any space left in the bag after all of that, your parents’ choices.
Complicated. Funny. Exhausting. Colourful.