Life in Grey

“Do you know who you are?”

-One question which haunts me. This question, a child had innocently asked me to which I had replied saying my name. But it got me thinking, am I just a name-one given to me by my parents or grandparents? Something I did not choose for myself yet I have to identify with? What I am? What is my purpose in life? Why do I live for the heck of it? All these questions played in my head. Then I decided that I would consciously make an effort to get to know myself.

I asked my mind, “Dear brain, what do you want out of life?” My brain woke itself up from its deep slumber and thought for a moment, then very pompously replied, “Look here my child I am too young to know what I want out of life; all I know is what I don’t want. I don’t want stagnation, I don’t want to wake up one morning and have nothing to do, I don’t want to ever not have a choice. I love my options and I need them. I want a life of adventure; change thrills me and I never want to settle down.”

Looked like some part of me was clear about what it wanted or in this case did not want. Moving on I asked my heart the same question. It replied saying, “I want to be filled with love. I am scared that I will end up all alone in a room filled with people. I want my life to be filled with people from every walks of life but after the party is over, I want to be able to go back home with the one. That person will be my reason to live and my inspiration in whatever I do. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and see his face, I want to be able to say how I feel about him before it’s too late. I want to hurt thinking of him and I want to be filled with a glow when he walks into the room. I want it all. I want novelty but with that guy by my side. I want to see Cote d’azure and the Bay of Naples with him breathing on my neck. I want to come home to him and at that point home is anywhere he is.”

After comparing these two, I felt utterly confused. Which part was me- the brain or the heart? What did I want? I had no clue. I tried every trick in the book- I meditated, I visited holy men and I tried having an internal dialogue. What did I get out of it? A labyrinth where the more I entered, the more lost I got.

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Perfect Human

The world dominated by the perfect human scares me. Imagine looking at all the fashion magazines and seeing the Dolce Gabbana clad models- perfect in their waist size, hair length, height, hair style, eye makeup and clothes; and then looking at yourself. You, clad in the old pajamas with pimples over your face; possibly above the golden weight, already feel way beneath the freckle less beauties. You have an inferiority complex and start to starve yourself. After a year of forcing yourself to vomit out every meal you have eaten and matting yourself with mac makeup, you might achieve that golden weight. But to what cost? A failing digestive system and a draught stricken body that will fall down at the slightest blow of air?

Now place yourself in a world of the perfect human- one that did not have to starve itself to look good. One that has it in their gene. One engineered to beat the highest specie on the food chain- itself. The Homo sapiens would have perfected its flaws and become invincible. The parents just need go window shopping- choose the hair color and the waist size along with the gene that makes your IQ above that of Einstein’s’. How would you- the mere ‘natural born’ who has a fit of cough and cold every other day that makes you slow in performance and bed ridden even when you don’t wish for it- then feel among the almost Gods?

I, for one, would declare myself a hermit and go reside in the deepest jungle with the lesser adequate species for company, all the while living in the fear of seeing a human. Such a world would come. I am sure it would. But does that make it fair or does that make it just another form of evolution?

Let’s start from the beginning- the world as we know it now (with the primates) only came into being after five ice ages- all of which annihilated life forms. Now in a future where we manipulate nature (another name for chance- chance for the kind of genes you inherit), we would be stopping evolution. My limited knowledge of genetics teaches me that mutations (another kind of chance) are not all bad.

For example, a nucleotide combinations- ATTTGCC- that is otherwise non-coding (also called intergenic region in DNA) and seemingly useless to us may become a new combination of nucleotides- say ATCTGCC- in the child which has had a natural birth. This new combination might code for a gene that continues the evolutionary process. In my little mind, I want this gene to make our eyes go the full 180 degree in opposite directions just to increase our spectrum of vision. Call it wishful thinking; but I call it evolution.

In the world of which we talk (the one in which making a baby is equivalent to making a custom made outfit) this would not be possible. We would already be perfect. But doesn’t perfection differ from person to person and from circumstance to circumstance? Today a perfect life for me is when I can sleep 9 hours a day. Tomorrow my perfect life might entail not sleeping at all.

So in such a world what happens to choice? How is it any different from Lenin’s communist Russia or Hitler’s Nazi Germany? Having said that, it is safe to conclude that our world 500 years hence will be bereft of choice and will hinder evolution.

Now think of what would happen to the spiritual realm. There would certainly be no God. Though an agnostic myself, the fear of the Supreme Being does prevent people from committing a lot of heinous actions. For that, I am grateful to the abstraction that is God. In this society of perfection, the fear would not exist and what happens when everybody becomes God? It’s a one word answer- bloodshed and revolution.

The funny thing about perfection is that although it is advisable to chase after it, it can never be achieved. It would be like a dog chasing its own tail. Does that mean we stop genetic research? No, we don’t. We are doomed to create a society of the perfect human, only to be wiped out of this Earth by that very idea. What has to be, will be!

Drugs and blanks

Blank, blank, blank…

I am blank. My mind is blank. Just as blank as it can get.

Nexito plus was the medicine.  The good doctor told me last night that I was not all that mad. Though I did have a few screws loose but the equipment was still holding on, somehow.

Mood stabilizers- they are called. Small pink medicines which taste sweet and stick to your teeth. The absorption period is just ten minutes. Taking it is easy but the sleep after that- that is the confusing part, Not the cluster B personality type lecture that I was given yesterday.

She asked me to listen to music- said it’ll keep the thoughts and sleep away. Hence I turned to Jackson for help. I wondered what Billy Jean had to do to get a spot in the star’s musical career. Was she the scrawny girl in the garage with the three older brothers who went to church every Sunday after a night of cocaine snorting? Or was she the good girl in her pink bedroom whose bent head just wanted to be in some fat good boy’s arms?

Now playing on the music application is Eric Clapton’s cocaine. I had seen him snorting once. My drugs actually started with him; he was my first drug. He fixed us a bong shot. “you gotta try a hit…it’ll change your life forever,” he had told me.

And it had. Everything was new; all passionate and toxic. He filled me up like the smoke from the tobacco. It exhilarated and burnt the lung. Yet it was welcome. It was wanted. It was desired. That day I learnt that the devil is nothing but our desire.

Fast forward to a few years. He is back and so is his energy and zeal. I distance myself; don’t engage in the drug. But what when the drug is in your blood? When disaster is a food for your soul. What do you do then?

Do you starve yourself or do you gorge down on the spread before you like the hungry carnivore that you are?

The photograph

They were facing the sun—all three of them: a man in his mid-forties, a girl in her teens and a child of nine. Sitting in a line on the sand dune, they had their backs turned to the lens. The man wore a black Adidas cap, a cream pullover and a pair of black corduroys. The older girl seated in the middle had her hair tied in a bun and had worn a red full sleeved tee shirt and blue jeans that looked expensive. The youngest, sitting on the extreme left had her arms out stretched on both sides as if stretching and looked heavenwards. She wore a checked black-blue shirt and black tights. She had hair like a boys which flew in the wind, towards the right of the viewer.

It was December of 2010 and the geo tag on the picture would identify the location as Jaisalmer, Rajasthan. The horizon was crimson-yellow mostly but the patches of sky in the middle was bordering orange. The highest point visible in the picture was blue—the type between midnight blue and light blue. There was a slight wind that could be felt on the skin of those three. The rest of the frame had one camel standing in a distance, towards the viewer’s extreme left. It would seem that the little girl was punching the unsuspecting camel with her outstretched left hand. The camel was bending down as if searching for some foliage in the desert. It makes me believe that the camel must have been a very optimistic one. In its long years on the desert, it could only have survived due to its optimism. The image in my head right now- the camel is sitting on its back legs much like a human and meditating, exhaling deeply with its nostrils flared when it breathes out.

One can’t say much about their expressions since their back is turned to us but one can guess from their postures. The man is hunched on his back as if relaxed. You can almost see the signs of a smile on the visible part of his chubby cheeks. He wears glasses and you can see the black rim of the glass. He is a man of some style sense and gravitas.

The older girl, like the man, appears to be relaxed and staring in the direction of the setting sun. Her hands seem to be joined together in the front part of her body. She could have wrapped them around her torso to protect herself from the cold wind. I have heard winters in the desert are cold and temperatures drop to sub-zero levels in the evenings. Is that so? Have you ever been to a desert?

The youngest has an air of comfort around her. She is stretching as mentioned previously and is looking up towards the heaven as if giving thanks for that moment of peace. She is not interested in the setting sun unlike her companions. She is just breathing in the moment and is feeling the wind tease her hair. If you zoom in enough, you can see the goosebumps on her hands. She must be cold. Yet she smiles. It is like those smiles you see on the faces of Tibetan monks- ones reflecting contentment and a secret no one will ever know.

There are no visible clouds in the sky. It seems as if the great painter was too lazy to apply the final touches on his canvas and decided that that would be cloudless day and blamed it all on the wind. The sky was a large sea monster waiting to engulf the fighting sun. The yellow mango-like thing looked like it wanted to linger a little while longer but couldn’t. An invisible hand was pulling it behind the curtain of night, holding it by the scruff of its neck.

The three were on a holiday. One of those rare places which lack network connection, fast cars, geysers and emails. One of those places where the railway station can be filled with ten men standing on the platform. One of those places where people still waited for the postman to arrive and he was treated like the lover’s God. One of those places where a traveler had to strain his eyes to search for a fellow human being. One of those places where people crawled into bed by 9 pm and woke up by 6 am.

It was a week long holiday and the girls had urged their father to take them for a night stay on the desert. The tour guide had been given strict instructions to take them to a place far from civilization where the cries of monotony and routine couldn’t be heard and you were left with the wind in all its purity. A place where the sky kissed the sand without being hindered and the sun watched over the smaller creations.

It was a happy place. It was their happy place. The three musketeers sat one beside the other enjoying the silence of the desert. The desert spoke to them using a language more ancient than man himself. A language that lacks words and sounds. Something throbbed through the silence. Some mystics say it is the heart of the desert that throbs. But we will never know, will we?

Sitting on the sand dunes, they could see a vast expanse of nothingness. It was bare, dry and harsh. Yet there was beauty. A rustic, earthy kind of beauty. It took some time for their eyes to recognize the beauty of the desert but when they did, they smiled and the smile lingered on in the photograph placed right in front of me and I am glad for their smile.

The last fight

Feminism had been talked about in almost all domains of her life. If one claimed to be from this century, one had to be aware of the term and all that went with it. Since play school, kids were taught the theory and by the time they reached middle school, they were expected to know how to treat the other sex fairly. However, the country she belonged to had a different story altogether. The theory was taught but the practical was skipped.

She belonged to the modern world and was an extrovert on most occasions. This trait gave her the access to the homes and private lives of people from her race. After a lot of consideration, she observed on a social media site that: In India, men love feminism only till before marriage (in most cases).

She had been prepared for outbursts from the other sex and even had her retorts ready. No sooner than she had put up this status, comments began to flood in. To her delight, most people seemed to agree with her but as in any story, there had to be a villain.

Our villain was an obnoxiously rude male who seemed to be very offended by this statement. He began his argument with a string of profanity stating that women were the culprits and pretended to be victims of a patriarchal setup. They had brought the tags of ‘delicate darlings’, ‘favourite rape victims’, ‘weaker sex’, etc. on themselves. Our man was quite a poetic soul. He went on to say that women were like the beautiful pitcher plants that trapped unsuspecting insects in its web of lies and deceit.

‘He must have had terrible relationships with the women in his life,’ she thought. By the time she could reply to his argument, another comment had come in from the same soul. This one, however, had a calmer tone and stated the example of an article in ‘Business Insider’ where Naina Lal Kidwai (the country head of HSBC) spoke about how feminism had empowered women and went on to sing praises of her husband’s support.

‘Well, all of that is good but how much of India consists of CEOs and CFOs. These folks to whom you refer have enough money to get their household chores done by others. But what of the rest of the county? How many husbands help their working wives at home,’ she asked.

The answer to this took time to come. After about two hours of waiting for a reply, our genius man stated the example of a ‘real life couple in a Bengali locality where the wife controlled the husband.’ ‘Ah, my friend. That is not feminism, that is oppression,’ she replied. Then she went on to explain how the word was not about one sex dominating the other but equality between the two and so on.

The person in question now had nothing more to say. He ended his argument with a private message to her saying—I hate women. That, for you reader, is what feminism leads to in our country.

Phutphuti

Phutphuti was like any other girl in the neighbourhood. She had her hair neatly oiled and tied up in two braids on either sides of her head. Her skirt was perpetually below her knees and she was always running away from her mother.

On many a hot afternoons when the sun would pierce your skin and you could feel invisible ants biting your soul, you could hear a woman scream: “aaaiiii puti. Kothae tui? Khabi na naki?” (Ai Puti. Where are you? Won’t you have lunch?)

This would not be the end of it. Phutphuti’s (or Puti as she was called by her mother) mother could never find her and she would end up coming to our house and crying to my grandma.

“Ki kori bolo toh? Ei meye ta ke kikore ghore rakhi?”

(Tell me what do I do? How do I keep this girl home?)

My grandma would always warn me against that girl. “Baje mey” (bad girl) she would call her and would ask me to stay away from her on all occasions save neighbourhood gatherings. Keeping up appearances was very important in our part of the world.

I grew up in a world where people’s official names weren’t as important as their barir naam/ dak naam (the pet name). As a result of this oddity, I never knew what Phutphuti’s actual name was.

All I knew was that she was the girl who stayed in the pink house adjacent to ours and had a terribly loud mother. It was mandatory that we played together in social gatherings as it was only appropriate to do so. You see, we were of the same age group and we were immediate neighbours.

On one such occasion- it was durga puja if I recall correctly, she confided in me. We were tens years old and I had just learnt that America existed in Geography books. She told me, “paliye jabo…khoob tara tari. Emon jayegaye ki keu khuje pabe na. Diya ami bisho joy korte chai.” (I’ll run away…very soon…to a place where no one will find me. Diya I want to conquer the world.)

I had nodded as though I understood the whole concept of running away. I had always been an extremely lazy child and if you asked me to run, you would find that i was slower than a snail, with motivation lesser than that of a sloth.

After this brief heart to heart, my granny dragged me home and put me to bed. It had got late. I lay awake wondering whether I could too run away to America one day. But of course, I would need to get on a plane.

We parted ways when my parents decided to leave the world of mach-bhat (fish-rice) and instead settle in the world of idli-dosa. For a good ten years, I had forgotten about the girl who wanted to run away.

Today my grandma called me- something she doesn’t often do. “Ei Diya. Phutphuti paliye gyeche ekta cheler shathe. American chele…mechanic na ki mone hoye. Tina khoob kandche…” (Ei Diya. Phutphuti has run away with a guy. American guy…he is a mechanic I think. Tina (Phutphuti’s mother) is crying.)

This piece of information was greeted by more questions from my side. For the elders of that world, it was too much to take it. The boy was a christian, not even a Hindu. On top of that he was an American. It was one of those Ram-Ram moments.

They would gossip about this for years to come. But for me, that girl had achieved the impossible- she had conquered the world- the world of kakimas, didimas, their gossips and their judgemental looks.

To me, the girl with a dubious official name became my hero.

Habits

The fragrance of Davidoff Clearwater and sweat mixed on fabric was divine. He had just come in from his football match and had hurriedly taken off his shirt to go wash up. I had picked the piece of garment in my hand, got the atoms close to my nose and smelled. It was heaven.

That was my first encounter with smell. Prior to that, I had never thought of using my nose to such an extent. That hot day I realized the pleasure my brain got from breathing different odors in; especially sweat mixed with perfume.

Ma’s sari was kept in a corner. She had worn it the night before her sister’s anniversary. There was a lot of dancing that night and I naturally assumed she had perspired. The thought got me excited. I crept towards the sari from the other corner of the room like a thief walking stealthily to steal the object of his desire. Ma did not like me smelling things, so I had to do it quietly. Her smell was different. It was Chanel no.5 and sweat. I realized Davidoff was better.

Only yesterday I got caught smelling my dog. Her wet dog smell was oddly comforting. She smelled of old shoes, rotten eggs and strawberries. After her bath, she even sported some jasmine in her scent. My cat smells different though. She reminds me of raw fish, baby powder and milk. She has a very indifferent smell.

The first thing I do before I put my clothes on me is to smell them. Every fabric takes up the smell of the detergent differently. Jeans, for example, has a fresh citrus like smell when washed, whereas cotton tends to take up the same smell in less intensity.

My favorite is satin. I have a hilariously expensive satin bra that I gifted myself on my twentieth birthday. The best thing about it is the way it smells after a few day’s wear. It smells of me and sniffing it in the middle of the night or early in the morning give me the consolation that whatever might change, my smell will remain constant throughout the worst apocalypse.