Whenever you decide, still unmotivated, to walk into your kitchen again, you will have cooked rice waiting for you. And if you have rice, you have a meal. Sort of.
I hate preaching and sharing unsolicited advice. At 27, many a time I’ve walked uninspired into my kitchen unable to cook, and doubted whether I should keep rice in the cooker to boil. And I can vouch that I’ve never regretted half-heartedly pouring that 1 cup rice-2 cups water in the rice cooker.
So tip a lazy measure into the cooker and go back to sprawl across your couch, watch the rest of that Netflix series. Whenever you decide, still unmotivated, to walk into your kitchen again, you will have cooked rice waiting for you.
Saturdays are good because you can leave the library an hour earlier than usual. Saturdays are also Bring your kids to work day. If Miss Dena from admin office brought Bella Anne to the library, M’s two girls would be upset to leave by 5.
Saturdays are good because you can leave the library an hour earlier than usual. Saturdays are also Bring your kids to work day. If Miss Dena from admin office brought Bella Anne to the library, M’s two girls would be upset to leave by 5. After saying their goodbyes, the children would run in circles in the outside lawns until Miss Dena raised her voice, and M would have to put on her stern face.
The downtown library crowd was more engaging than the South East branch where M was posted the first six months. There, the crowds were mostly parents dropping by after work to pick up books for their kids, always asking for recommendations (the South East branch stayed open till 8).
In downtown, the weekday crowd spanned university students, retirees and stay-at-home parents with their toddlers. They were also more patient in the queues to drop the books, actively participated in workshops, and took their time to learn the automated check-out and check-in machines – even Carla who was 84, one of their oldest patrons, and still visited regularly during the pandemic. It was partly why she enjoyed working in a library, a similar crowd at a Walmart line would no doubt form a disgruntled bunch.
So many of those self-help counters had stood empty for over a year now. The staff still regularly stacked the New Releases shelves, updated audio books on the website, and had recently refurnished the top floor lounge, although occupancy was down to less than 20%.
Saturdays were more idle because there would be no inventory arrivals, no new Interlibrary Requests to process. M sat at the reception with Bullock, the young assistant who had recently moved from the west coast, and talk about the California housing crisis (It was home, but I already love Texas). The kids would spend time in their section on the third floor without bother (except that time almost two years ago when they first tried to open the Emergency door, sending alarms and the security running, and her heart almost rose to her throat as she rushed to the elevator). Most summer Saturdays they would be occupied in workshops – origami-making, marble painting and crafts – attended by the staff’s young children, pre-teens from town and a handful of sportive adults. Hardly anyone had attended them in South East location, but who thought it was a good idea to open a branch near a factory site?
In the evening once the girls were downstairs, Bullock would let them grab office stationery from her desk – marker pens, custom HB pencils and colored paper. M would then take them to Flying Fish across the Museum of Art, leaving their bags in the car. The girls always got fish and chips with extra dip and a soda drink, she would have the catfish sandwich with iced tea. Sometimes they’d order a plate of calamari rings. (Only once, when the kids were off on summer camp, she had tried their margarita with the then-assistant).
The grill had a wall dedicated to polaroids of first-visits, there was a picture of the three of them pinned up there from their first day at the place. That was also the day the emergency alarm went off, there was no Dena or Bullock present, it had been a lonely rollercoaster Saturday with the kids. Nonetheless, having them spend weekend at the library was a huge convenience.
M listened as the two of them munched and talked about how many books Stephanie read that day (Paula did not like to read), or how they had dozed off during the recycling workshop. Some days they bumped into Mrs. Sanders on her way back from the university.
As they drove home, the girls argued about whether they should move to California themselves (everyone is pretty there like Miss Bullock, that must be real boring, it went on). M looked at the weekend or what remained of it at her disposal. Tomorrow she had to run the laundry, sew the pinafore sleeve Paula had torn earlier in the week, and get the long pending car-wash. But tonight she’d finish the dishes while water filled in her tub, proceed to light those bath candles that’d been lying in her bottom drawer for over half a year, and then she could attend to the new release of Murakami, waiting in her tote bag.
Life is precious because it’s short, that’s why it’s special, because we know it’ll end one day.
I watched 24 Netflix/Prime series this year. One of them was The Good Side, a show about afterlife that I watched mostly for Jameela Jamil, where heaven is filled with people drunk on happiness to the point where they are brain-jaded and simply want to leave. Like a death after death. At that point Kristen Bell observes Life is precious because it’s short, that’s why it’s special, because we know it’ll endone day.
Today (two weeks from the day of sharing) was not a good day. Today I also realized that Adulting is hard not only because there’s nobody providing after you, but because it feels like even Nature seems to have stopped keeping track. At 5, 10, 15 years of age there’s a whole set of social and biological changes you (are expected to) go through. Parents walk (or maybe push, and some yank) you through some of it, but Nature takes care of the rest. There is so much to be discovered and to look forward to.
One day at school your friend tells you her elder sister got her periods, and then you wake up with pubic hair one day. Everyone watches as you grow taller/fatter with cyclically better/worse features while you can only hope it ends well. One day we’re discussing male anatomy over our biology records, and on another we are finally texting guys and on another kissing them. There is just so much new stuff to explore, so much awkwardness that you slowly find your way around. (Okay I realize all my examples had to do with sexuality and reproductive health but you get it – or maybe that’s all we are as human beings and that’s all Nature intended to keep track of anyway, but I can’t digress today).
Then all of a sudden you’re 25. All you have to look forward to are when the barely-visible but definitely-there folds appear, when the freckles spread over like curry on hot rice and when those inevitable greys make their way. You’ve seen just enough of the world to not have too much to look forward to. Sure you learn new things about people every day but it feels never-ending. People are simple, people are complex. You’ve by now figured out what you need to do to keep in touch with those in your life and with some you indeed do, but you always wish you knew more people and yet once you do you aren’t quite sure if you want them to stay, or if they would. And on most days they are annoying but by now you know people are what really lend your life meaning so really there’s no way out.
So then what else is left? Why isn’t daily life rife with learning? Why is personal growth all that remains? Why isn’t Nature edging me towards it? Are we just bound to witness trees change the same colors (and not even that in the tropics)?
What do I have to look forward to? So that you can help those less fortunate than you was what I came up with when I was younger (but really my mom came up with that), and I don’t seem to have discovered anything more exciting since, and I am not sure there is one. (And I do agree, it is good enough).
So today for the first time, I wondered at how long life is, and maybe just maybe wished it was shorter. What if we were told we’d only live until 40? How different would things be? My head hurts trying to picture that and I will not vomit that oft-repeated tirade on live every day as if it were your last or whatever.
What else is left?
And I get why people get married then, because what else is left? Yet it’s weird because how can it be that there isn’t more to life, especially when both companionship and progeny are optional? So then it makes sense to me now – it looks like this what Nature had in mind because it begins to deprive you of things once you pass the “reproductive age”. (At the time of publishing I have found something worthwhile, but that doesn’t change the four weeks of hopelessness when I was lost, and I can’t be sure it wouldn’t return.)
I think my issue is the realization that I have been so passionate about so many things all my life, my struggle has always been picking one thing out of my long list, life has always seemed too short to do it all and mortality has appeared cruel, and for the first time my list feels blank. Maybe I’m disillusioned because at 23 I was certain I could help everyone I wanted to but today I feel like our problems are too big to be solved (maybe that’s what a year and a half in the US did to me, or maybe that’s just mid-twenties, I’m welcoming ideas). Once blasphemous, today I can almost understand how the prospect of death might be charming to some, and for all the wrong reasons I believe.
Tomorrow I’ll come back to say life is indeed too short to do all that we want to but for today, I’m wondering what a long life I have ahead of me.
Note : As of the day of sharing, I have found one thing to add to my list so I’m happier (thank you Rohit :)). Last year I thought dancing and training my body muscles was a good personal goal to have but it somehow seems too short-lived a desire today (in other words, I’ll be over it too soon). Reading other mortals’ thoughts seems like a nice thing to look forward to. I’m still not back on the life-too-short sentiment yet but I’ll come around soon, I hope.
Also I’m not depressed, I just feel different and am still navigating my way through unfamiliar territories.
PPS : I almost forgot my GitHub reads an extremely self-centric “The day you feel that life’s long enough to do everything you want to, is the right time to get out and search for something new 🙂“. Well, child is father of the man, no?
It’s strange how for many of us, our privilege to fly was in fact earned for us by others who complied to stay.
I ask, “But how am I to get up to you?”
They answer, “Come to the edge of the earth, lift up your
hands to the sky, and you will be taken up into the clouds.”
“My mother is waiting for me at home,” I say, “How can I leave her and come?”
Then they smile and float away.
Clouds and Waves by Rabindranath Tagore
I first read the above lines in 2016 while away from home. I didn’t realize it was an excerpt and that the poem didn’t end there. The abrupt end of it came as a cold shock, as if the last line served to close any possibilities, implying the child never left. Yet the brevity of it hit harder – that the clouds understood and left as soon as they had arrived – that there was no discussion, only a simple thought backed by a young boy’s emotion and rationale. It was as if Tagore meant life was usually that simple.
I was 22 then and more free than I’ve ever been. It was more than what many I knew could afford with their time and obligations, and I was quite aware of it. The lines hit hard because I do know people tied to homes, as well as others that leave homes and not entirely out of choice. My mother always said – well she says many things – but one was about how children are like little birds, to be kept in their nests only until they grow wings. And then we let them fly away.
It’s strange how for many of us, our privilege to fly was in fact earned for us by others who complied to stay.
I googled the poem today to see if I felt anything differently now. I was surprised to see there were more stanzas and that wasn’t the end as I’d thought. I still think it can form a whole, just startlingly short, cold and real.
The beauty of the comma lies in all it stands for. Comma is hope, just like semi-colon is (the better) alternative to a full-stop. It’s an appeal to pause and to look around, to not get lost in details when it gets too much, to not lose track of all that makes life beautiful.
I was watching 13 Reasons Why (again) and realized, If I had to get a tattoo today (maybe I wouldn’t get it or maybe I would, but if I had to) I’d get a comma.
The semi-colon has received its due, sure, but what about the comma? Not enough has been said about it. What if an impending full-stop was not your issue, what about getting through every day?
I hate talking in metaphors as well.
Comma, we’re taught, is a pause in the sentence. It’s often a necessity. At other times it’s yet another device to structure your writing, your sentence, to convey your tone. And they’re mostly harmless.
I like trees, flowers and life. I like trees, flowers, and life.
I wanted a pause after flowers– maybe that gave it a rhythm in my head, maybe I was pensive or maybe I’m just obsessed with adding unnecessary punctuation that infuriates the shit out of readers.
But the beauty of the comma lies in all it stands for. Comma is hope, just like semi-colon is (the better) alternative to a full-stop. It’s an appeal to pause and to look around, to not get lost in details when they overwhelm, to wait and remember all that makes life beautiful. Because there’s always details, all day everyday. And when they appear larger than life, remember to ,
For instance, this whole year I’ve wondered how in the big picture I’ve spent my 25th year on earth without eating good meencurry while staying away from people I love. I ask myself everyday, is anything worth that? For now all I have are questions. Also I think that was a bad example.
My brother and I talked about (terribly) longer sentences the other day – how they often creep up in my writing, how he thinks the work is badly edited when he comes across one in a news article/report, to which we discussed and decided (or I did :P) that it’s cool if it isn’t formal writing, and it’s cool if the statement is still coherent. I have stretched out so many sentences into whole paragraphs made possible only by the comma – and maybe a hyphen. 😀
And while it might sound so much like an inferior sibling to the semi-colon, in a lot of cases, comma suffices. It gets you through. It’s for daily use.
I didn’t realize until my birthday two weeks ago, when a friend pointed it out, that I haven’t published much lately. brent talking was posted on March 31 and there has been exactly one blogpost since.
Time has flied and I haven’t noticed. But also, drafts have been piling up since the last week of April. I just never get to publishing anything.
I have a favorite author whose blogs I love. She interweaves personal anecdotes into her own original stories (or at least used to), brought to life by her wonderful way with words. Crisp sarees and perfect toast, she says.
There is a certain sense of belonging that emanates from reading somebody’s work over extended periods of time. That in some way, you know bits of their life and thereby, bits of them. So when my favorite writer doesn’t update her site for a while, I feel wronged – that I’ve unfairly lost access. Yet when her writing seems botched up, I feel wronged again, like with her latest articles (which is why I’m not linking her here). That the creator I formerly loved has stopped writing the stories I looked forward to, or that she one day decided to change her genre from creative writing to personal essays that in my opinion she isn’t as good at.
It’s probably none of my business, but it is what it is, and as a reader I’m allowed to have my opinions however brutal they maybe.
Once upon a time, I believed that my dance was more personal than my published writing. Because with blogging you first make a draft. Then you edit, publish. You can be as careful or as careless as you wish. And when you expose your articles, you’re less vulnerable than when you let them see you dance.
I was so very wrong.
Because I always danced for myself and none of it was ever privy to a public eye. It has always been impulsive, I’ve never finished or considered finishing pieces because I am happy with what is.
But like someone said, any thing you create is a piece of you that’s out there. Others may gaze at it, run their fingers through it, pass judgment, but it’s a piece of you that you decided to let out into the world and nothing can take that away. You choose what you let the world see, the world chooses what it wants to see. And this is something I’m grappling with at the moment.
I guess there comes a point when your unfiltered thoughts as always seep into your writing, and trying to hack at them, to censor them, to make them appear palatable takes away from your work all that gave it meaning, all that you considered the life in it. The result is I have drafts that are replete with emotion and personal thoughts that have never seen the light of day and probably never will. Yet that is a lesser crime than sharing something stripped of any genuineness.
Of course this wariness stems from the knowledge (or presumption) that I have an audience – people who know me, that may know some things about me, to whom I could be handing over pieces to form a full picture, and that is something I can no longer stand.
What I mean by that, I guess, is privacy. I’ve always been a rather private person, like most people I know. But more importantly, the thoughts that make way into my writing are of an increasingly personal nature, perhaps the kind you do not want to see up in your personal blog even. George tells me it’s probably a phase. That’s an input you can give anyone before even listening to their problem. It’s versatile, it won’t do, it doesn’t help.
But I do understand I’m in a phase where looking back at things while writing, the epiphanies and thoughts that ensue are always out-of-bounds stuff. Like when I wrote about a Modern Love episode and ended up talking about the evolution of daddy issues in my life and realized I wasn’t ready to publish that. I do not know if or what people gain from my blog, most of it is useless if you do not know me in person, but I find it further impressive when it succeeds to be useless even otherwise – writing about nothing is a gift.
Somehow my ability to write about nothing has waned, I do not find it indulging anymore.
Yet so has the ability to lay bare bits from my life, and inhibitions that I never thought I’d deal with have crept in. I guess erratic publishing might be here to stay. What I do know is I hate middle grounds based on compromise, it’ll be one or the other.
Remember when you were a kid and fell sick? The whole world just reduced to a bed-ridden little you wrapped in blankets and your mother who sat by your bed and attended to you 24×7, who showed up by your side every 2 hours with oranges, ORS and medicine while you ate and drank everything she asked you to even while making faces? You knew she was going to make it right.
Or how even after growing up, on a really bad day the world could reduce to essentially just that?
How do you measure sadness, how much is too much? Do you need to be so sad that you find no joy in life, or is it when you somehow cannot force yourself to smile?
Who has seen the most sorrow? Can a child’s sad story be considered sad enough? Or do you have to be broken after you’ve built that adult threshold for grief?
By the time you’re 25, everyone has had that experience, from life or from people. Everyone has lain on their beds numb one night having cried their eyes out, thinking of how alone they are, of how right those were that left everything and everyone, of how they were brave, of how helpless we are by ourselves. Sat on the floor and bawled at this cruel world of those that hurt us. Defenceless, alone, but above all, innocent.
That’s the sad, but also the beautiful way we’re all equals at 25. How time is an equalizer, maybe the only one.
This isn’t about being 25 though.
Nobody is more sympathetic to our younger selves than us, I think.
Last month I was sitting on a bench outside DO class when two students approached me, said they’re from the Theology department doing a survey, and asked if I believe in God or a higher power. (My better guess is they were two friends in conversation looking for a random person’s perspective, but yea).
I do, I say. They ask me their theological question which isn’t relevant in this story, but they took me back to this phase I had almost forgotten I had.
I don’t have an adjective to describe it though, it’s just a vulnerable 19 year old me and an overflowing heart. There’s people, there’s college, there’s lots more people. But they’re somehow neatly tucked away like we belonged in parallel stories, in separate worlds.
Amma and I visited Padmanabha Swamy temple every month back then on my asking. It was the one place where I took peace in return for surrendering all that that plagued me, where I didn’t have to fight and was finally at ease. And I never wanted to leave.
Everything the temple housed was alive to me – oil that dripped to floors from large hanging lamps, flowers from prasadam that were gently squeezed to the back of aunties’ hair, the constant humming breeze to which untrimmed bushes swayed. Alive and sacred. They were glimpses, or rather a beckoning at a life sans desperation, a life that was elusive yet very much existed, that I was allowed to be a part of for the short while that I was there.
I saw beauty in every person, I could see only kind faces that reflected back at me the serene in passing, as if they all knew why I was there, as if they all said a prayer for me.
I saw old ladies seated on a mandapam reciting chants and that’s when I knew I could sit with them and cry my heart out if only I had learnt those songs that Amma knew. I wondered how they did not break into fits of weeping every time they sang them. I envied what devotion (and in all likelihood old-age) gifted them. They were already at peace and singing a prayer for me and others like me, just like the solitary cobweb floating on a high corner I chanced upon seemed to be.
Every time after going around the whole temple, Amma and I sat on the parapet facing the sands on my asking, watching the towering gopuram in the orange lights.
It was almost always 7pm by then, and I wondered how there were no pictures of that one angle of it bathed in shadows and light against the dark sky, one you can see only from the inside. How whoever constructed it back then saw the quiet splendor that I was looking at, or probably much more.
Of how somebody had known humans would house worries bigger than themselves to look for comfort in things larger than life.
I wondered if there were others who visited the place to absolve of all that taxed them, who marveled at its massiveness and felt the same empty light heartedness I felt then.
I watched a classical recital in the temple once, and I watched others who sat listening – silent, smiling, dissolving. I could only see pointlessness in my suffering then, how what I bore was boundless to my trivial self yet how the world was much bigger than any of it. And yet I knew I’d soon walk past the doors of the temple out into the world only to be overwhelmed by my own reality. It makes sense that I never wanted to leave.
I remember thinking Gopika was lucky for getting to visit so often, for staying so close by. I wondered what one did if you had no troubles to hand over, if you had no turbulent mind to begin with, and I couldn’t imagine much more. Looking back, what’s funny is I was either not in my elements while I was there, or it was the only place where I was. The lines are blurred and there’s no way I can tell now.
Jab kahi pe kuchi nahi bhi nahi tha, Wahi tha wahi tha, Wahi tha wahi tha. (When there was nothing, He was the one, the only one.)
There is a story of how when we were kids my brothers and I played in the sand inside the temple for hours, and I have listened to it being retold as many times as I’ve been there. I once asked Amma about why the place felt so positive, and she mentioned something unappealingly scientific about energy flow, unobstructed pathways and open spaces.
Every time I have gone back, I have still seen magnificence but in the “open spaces, positive energy” way. I’ve smiled at how I once looked to its huge corridors* and pillars to be a part of me, how I felt lighter with every step I took around the temple, how even the cheli of wet footprints had brought me peace. How I held on to this one place because I found nobody and nothing else to turn to. I’ve wondered at how young I was, how innocent I was, how I didn’t deserve any of it. Like we all do, I guess.
Yet I’ve not felt the same submission nor seen the surreal there since. I see beautiful faces, sure, but also the regular lives that go on behind them and the chanting. I see pottis and that solitary cobweb on the high corner, but they’re no longer conferring a hurried blessing upon the mortal me. And yet I had seen all of it there, the same way we seek comfort in music or art, but cannot go back once we’ve made it through. Like the Room of Requirement lending itself only to those that need (ask and you shall receive?).
Faith to me was hope. I needed mine to be larger than life, larger than anything I knew. It was, and it’s how I survived.
(You’re right, this article may be summarized as Paalam kadakkuvolam narayana).
* I meant pradakshina paatha but I’ve only ever called it chuttunna vazhi and hence.
(I’m preparing for my optimization midterm on Wednesday and it’s all I could do to stop myself from titling this post “Constraints”)
I’m shit pretty scared about this midterm.
I was supposed to study the whole day and yet all I’ve done is make pav-bhajish bhaji (and eat it, duh). I then tried to study but was too full so I ate chips and slept for two and a half hours. By the time I woke up, I was hungry again, so I warmed up fried shrimps from last night and had them with white bread and black tea with lots of sugar. I then proceeded to open my laptop and books and realized I couldn’t do it.
I wish I could say I can do it but I won’t.
But the truth is, I can’t.
I can’t study the whole day, I get distracted. Of course if I could bring myself to not be distracted and study, not want to make the pav bhaji, not want to doze off right after supper and then wake up to eat more, I wouldn’t be me. I have terrible attention span and I have to be doing ten things at the same time.
So I can’t concentrate on solving optimization problems for even an hour straight. I did start, and less than fifteen minutes in I realized I can’t and I realized why I can’t and I realized I have to write about it. Look at me. I’m a wreck.
This will be the end of me, I’m sure.
In undergraduation I had an incentive to score well – in future, I’d want to study a subject I like and only a good score would back up my application, because my degree (*dramatic bgm* in civil engineering) wouldn’t.
Look at me now. Studying things I love, but now I can afford to be distracted.
(I’m just kidding, you didn’t watch me have a meltdown last week when I got a B in what I thought would be my easiest class…)
More than brains, decisions reflect personality. I hear people loosely throwing around statements like, “I could’ve quit my job like he did but chose not to.”
Maybe he couldn’t sleep at night while he stayed in his job – that’s why he quit. If you wanted to you probably would’ve already unless constraints (woohoo!) put you at conflicts. There is so much more to I could’ve.
My poor decisions define me, so here I am writing this on Sunday. Meanwhile I’m downloading an app for Data Structures and Algorithms on my phone and opening yet another tab to see Glassdoor reviews for Quora. I have my midterm 2 days later, this is my toughest subject. Yet I have to write this or I can’t have peace, and if I didn’t have 10 tabs open in Chrome I wouldn’t be me.
And I know that as soon as this draft is done I’ll be plugging in my headphones and dancing toMilegi Milegi, because who can resist?
I watched 3 other dance videos while trying to copy-paste that link. I hate myself.