Thursday, July 21, 2016

Poles Apart

I am not someone you would describe as an intellectual. I mean, I have read a few books, but they don’t seem to have made me any wiser. I have never seen snow. Neither have I ever lived near the sea. I have never been to a party or a get-together or a meet-up. Neither have I had people come over. I guess you have to have a home for that. I have never had a crush on anyone (I went straight for the home run) or had a strange girl (or a boy) tell me they liked the way I looked. I have not seen the Taj Mahal. I don’t think I have been to Agra either. Or Barcelona. Or Amsterdam. Or Luxembourg. Or Rome. Or Venice or Oslo. Or Stockholm or Singapore. Or London or New York. Or, most unforgivably, Prague. I have witnessed a lot of graduation ceremonies in the last few years, without graduating myself. I have seen a handful of plays, but have never been to a musical, or an opera, or a ballet. I have never had to pay taxes because I have never made enough money. I have been seen, but not noticed. I have been heard, but not paid attention to. I have been loved, but been unable to love back in equal measure. I have been told that I am bright, but never that I am responsible. I have been commended on my intelligence, but never on my goodness. I have never been appreciated for my worth ethic because I seem to have none. I have never felt proud, not in the last decade at least. I have eked through, but not really lived. I have been okay, but not really happy.

But I have had conversations with myself, both neurotic and ordinary. I have been intimate with my weaknesses and doubted my strengths. I have languished in the confines of my loneliness and enjoyed the company of my solitude. I have tried drowning my sorrows and puffing away my worries, only to realise that the compulsion to face reality is more powerful than the desire to escape from it. I have obsessed endlessly over the cleanliness of my hands and the importance of right angles. I have asked myself weird questions because I could not go to sleep. I have known the bitter taste of that special kind of insecurity that is inspired by fears. I have dreamt of a better world without doing anything about it. I have immersed myself in the shallow sea of self-doubt and apprehensions, and come out of it alive. I have battled with myself (and others), only to come face-to-face with the insignificance of our pretty squabbles. I have shaken myself out of fatalistic stupors after resigning myself to failure and dejection. I have swum across the strait of self-deprecation and self-pity, even if only to be washed back across by the next high tide. I have been there and back, and back again.

And I have managed to keep walking. Even if just. Does that count?

So yes, you could say I have lived a life. Now, do I get the job? They told me to be honest.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Keep walking.

The important thing is to keep walking. Maybe you won’t get where you intended. Never mind, keep walking. Maybe life will seem pointless and you will lose your sense of purpose. Keep walking. Perhaps your friends will grow distant, disillusioned by your perpetual rudderlessness, your family will become indifferent, and the woman you love will eventually give up on you as a lost cause. Don’t lose heart for you will have yourself. So keep walking. You might end up becoming the man you had once looked down upon in disdain. Keep walking – the act of living is an experience in itself and it is in no way less instructive than the experiences you consider richer or more wholesome. You will fail, you will falter, you might even find all your peers getting ahead of you in the ‘race’ called Life. However, if you dig your heels in, and still manage to convince yourself to keep walking, then I can assure you that you will come to earn yourself some respect towards the fag end of your life.

Your trials are your own. Your failures are your demons to contend with. In the confines of your psyche, they are absolute and final. No one will ever understand your struggles as well as you do. While you march, no applause is going to acknowledge your effort. There will be no medals for the hurdles you cross everyday, even if your shortcomings and your debacles are unforgivingly hurled into the limelight. But this is the price you must pay for strength of character.

It is a choice you make. It is not inherently good; no God is going to come and make these decisions easier. If you choose to walk, then you must choose to keep walking, and find a reason to do so that does not lie outside the purview of the activity itself. If you do, then you have to keep walking because that is all the reason you need. That is all the reason you will ever have.

I wish I could tell you that it gets easier. However, I am in no position to make promises. If you can do it now, when you have begun to run away from ‘living’ because of the way it makes you feel, you will get better at this. If you just close your eyes and keep walking, things might not get any worse because even when they do, you will know that that which is difficult and absolute has already happened. You will know that in that moment of reckoning, you had made up your mind to keep walking. So when your unruly mind threatens to engulf you and you can’t make sense of your journey through reason, keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep walking. That is life itself.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Take your heart and twist it in places you did not know existed.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Guru Purnima

Dear Guruji,

A lesson from my school days that has stayed with me through all these years is one I associate with my high school Physics teacher. He used to keep reiterating that the purpose of education is not to make one learned, but to make one humble. The more educated one is, the more one comes to recognise humility as a virtue. In the capacity I know you, I realise that you illustrate this message remarkably well and, through your example, I have come to understand its significance in the context of my own life.

However, the most important lesson I have learnt from you is that one must be kind, both in spirit and in actions, towards others, especially towards people who have no reason to expect such goodwill. It doesn’t matter what one’s designation is or how much money one makes, it is immaterial what accomplishments one has or what one’s status in society is – benevolence knows no arrogance and therein lies its beauty. The prince and the pauper can both practice it equally well.

Even in such dark and depressing times like these, though your help I have discovered that gentleness of the soul has the capacity to make decent human beings out of us. You have been instrumental in helping me realise that when we are gone, compassion grants us far greater longevity than our accomplishments. Moreover, kindness is as much about others as it is about oneself. One needs to be kind to be able to forgive oneself and overcome the trauma of past mistakes and failures.

For a long time now, I have kept telling myself that it is essential to do well in life, but it is more important to do good. Your actions and character drive home the point that I was correct in assuming so. For that, thank you. My only hope is that I am able to practice these lessons in life just as well as you for the best teacher is not the one who leads by instruction, but the one who does so by example.

I hope to continue learning from you for many more years to come.

Yours truly,

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Come, pierce my shell.

To people who take pride in being alone: This story/poem from David Rakoff’s book Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel (2013) first appeared on This American Life’s “Frenemies” episode (#389, originally aired on September 11, 2009). It is one of the better ‘we all need the eggs’ kind of take on relationships that I have come across. Like with everything else ‘radio’, it’s even better if you listen to David recite it. It is a bit lengthy, I must confess, but in the age of the internet, when most of us have the attention spans of a tsetse fly, allow yourself this luxury, lest you forgot how to stand still and stay strong.

Nathan, at one of the outlying tables,
His feet tangled up in the disc jockey’s cables,
Surveyed the room, as unseen as a ghost,
While he mulled over what he might say for his toast.
Though the couple had asked him for this benediction,
It seemed at odds with them parking him here by the kitchen.
That he’d shown up at all was still a surprise.
And not just to him; it was there in the eyes
Of the guests who’d seen a mirage and drew near
And then covered their shock with a “Nathan! You’re here!”

And then silence. They’d nothing to say beyond that.
A few of the braver souls lingered to chat.
They all knew. It was neither a secret nor mystery
That he and the couple had quite an odd history.
Their bonds were a tangle of friendship and sex.
Josh, his best pal once. And Patty, his ex.

For a while he could barely go out in the city
Without a being a punchline or object of pity.
‘Poor Nathan’ had virtually become his new name,
And so he showed up just to show he was game
Though his invite was late, a forgotten addendum.
For Nathan there could be no more clear referendum
That he need but endure through this evening and then
He would likely not see Josh and Patty again.

Josh’s sister was speaking. A princess in peach.
Nathan dug in his pocket to study his speech.
He’d poured over Bartlett’s for couplets to filch.
He’d stayed up until three, still came up with zilch.
Except for instructions he’d underscored twice.
Just two words in length, and those words were ‘be nice’.

Too often, he thought, our emotions betray us
And reason departs once we’re up on the dais.
He’d witnessed uncomfortable moments where others had lost their way quickly,
Where sisters and brothers had gotten too prickly
And peppered their babbling with stories of benders,
Or lesbian dabbling or spot-on impressions of mothers-in-law.
Which true, Nathan thought, always garnered guffaws
But the price seemed too high with the laugh seldom cloaking
Hostility masquerading as joking.

No, he’d swallow his rage and he’d bank all his fire.
He knew that in his case the bar was set higher.
Folks were just waiting for him to erupt.
They’d be hungry for blood even though they had supped.
They’d want tears or some other unsightly reaction.
And Nathan would not give them that satisfaction.
Though Patty a harlot and Josh was a lout,
At least Nathan knew what he’d not talk about.

I won’t wish them divorce, that they wither and sicken
Or tonight that they choke on their salmon or chicken.
I won’t mention that time when the cottage lost power
In that storm on the Cape and they left for an hour
And they thought it was just the cleverest ruse
To pretend it took that long to switch out the fuse.

Or that time Josh advised me with so much insistence
That I should grant Patty a little more distance,
That the worst I could do was hamper and crowd her,
That if Patty felt stifled she’d just take a powder,
That a plant needs its space just as much as its water,
And I shouldn’t give Patty that ring that I’d bought her,
Which in retrospect only elicits a “Gosh,
I hardly deserved a friend like you, Josh.”

No, I won’t spill those beans or make myself foolish
To satisfy appetites venal and ghoulish.
I will not be the blot on this hellish affair.
And with that, Nathan pushed out and rose from his chair.
And just by the tapping of knife against crystal,
All eyes turned his way, like he’d fired off a pistol.

“Ahem, Joshua, Patricia, dear family and friends,
A few words, if you will, before everything ends.
You’ve promised to honor, to love and obey,
We’ve quaffed our champagne and been cleansed by sorbet,
All in endorsement of your hers-and-his-dom.
So now let me add my two cents’ worth of wisdom.

I was wracking my brain sitting here at this table
Until I remembered this suitable fable
That gets at a truth, though it may well distort us
So here with the tale of the scorpion and tortoise.

The scorpion was hamstrung, his tail all aquiver.
Just how would he manage to get ‘cross the river?
‘The water’s so deep,’ he observed with a sigh,
Which pricked at the ears of the tortoise nearby.
‘Well, why don’t you swim?’ asked the slow-moving fellow.
‘Unless you’re afraid. I mean, what are you, yellow?’
‘It isn’t a matter of fear or of whim,’
Said the scorpion. ‘But that I don’t know how to swim.’

‘Ah, forgive me. I didn’t mean to be glib
When I said that I figured you were an amphib-
ian.’ ‘No offense taken,’ the scorpion replied.
‘But how ‘bout you help me to reach the far side?
You swim like a dream and you have what I lack.
What say you take me across on your back?’

‘I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to do,’
Said the tortoise. ‘Now that I see that it’s you.
You’ve a less than ideal reputation preceding.
There’s talk of your victims all poisoned and bleeding.
You’re the scorpion. And, how can I say this but, well,
I just don’t feel safe with you riding my shell.’

The scorpion replied, ‘What would killing you prove?
We’d both drown. So tell me how would that behoove
Me to basically die at my very own hand,
When all I desire is to be on dry land?’
The tortoise considered the scorpion’s defense.
When he gave it some thought it made perfect sense.
The niggling voice in his mind he ignored
And he swam to the bank and called out, ‘Climb aboard.’

But just a few moments from when they set sail,
The scorpion lashed out with his venomous tail.
The tortoise too late understood that he’d blundered
When he felt his flesh stabbed and his carapace sundered.
As he fought for his life he said, ‘Tell me why
You have done this? For we now will surely both die.’

‘I don’t know!’ cried the scorpion. ‘You never should trust
A creature like me because poison I must.
I’d claim some remorse or at least some compunction,
But I just can’t help it. My form is my function.
You thought I’d behave like my cousin the crab,
But unlike him, it is but my nature to stab.’
The tortoise expired with one final quiver,
And then both of them sank, swallowed up by the river.
The tortoise was wrong to ignore all his doubts
Because in the end, friends, our natures will out.”

Nathan paused, cleared his throat, took a sip of his drink.
He needed these extra few seconds to think.
The room had gone frosty; the tension was growing.
Folks wondered precisely where Nathan was going.
The prospects of skirting fiasco seemed dim,
But what he said next surprised even him.

“So, what can we learn from their watery ends?
Is there some lesson on how to be friends?
I think what it means is that central to living
A life that is good, is a life that’s forgiving.
We’re creatures of contact, regardless of whether
We kiss or we wound, still, we must come together.

Though it may spell destruction, we still ask for more
Since it beats staying dry but so lonely on shore.
So, we make ourselves open while knowing full well
It’s essentially saying, ‘Please, come pierce my shell.’”

Silence doesn’t paint the depth of quiet in that room.
There was no clinking stemware toasting to the bride or groom.
You could’ve heard a petal as it landed on the floor.
And in that stillness Nathan turned and walked right out the door.

— DAVID RAKOFF, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish: A Novel

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Black Magic, woman.

The terrible thing about building a wall around oneself is that it is heartbreakingly easy. The bricks slide into place so conveniently that you wonder what had been stopping you from donning the hat of a mason all this while. The terrifying thing about doing it is that it comes down all too quickly. All you need is a lone voice that gains in strength as it revolves in ever tightening orbits around the cold sphere of your solitude. The past and the present merge to form a meaningless blur of regret and disappointment until this voice is all that you know and all that you feel. It overwhelms every last ounce of your will and consumes your mind and your body, your heart and your soul. And while you are lying on the floor, groping around in the darkness and assuming that the clouds will never clear, the darkness lifts just as quickly as it had descended. In that moment of temporary respite, you make the rookie mistake of quickly assuming Nietzsche was right. What doesn’t kill you must make you stronger. Yes, but not always. You don’t have to take my word for it. Try letting down your guard and letting in that lone voice once again. If your heart doesn’t explode thinking about all the things you thought your life would be, you can have your money back. As I said before, the terrible thing about building a wall around oneself is that it is heartbreakingly easy.