Two nights ago, I was chatting with a friend from overseas after a brief hiatus. She was shifting cities, and it had been a while since we had last talked. Generally speaking, the deed of getting in touch with people you are compatible with, however, in once a while, has this tendency of bringing about rapid and nonstop news exchange. The fingers ballet swiftly across that chat application’s keyboard, causing a cornucopia of festive-like chatter to flow in between the friends. Flavour this with a tinge of excitement given one thought leads to the next, garnish it with involuntary giggles as instant reactions to such a conversation, and there, we have a recipe for a cherishing moment. Except, nothing of this kind became the case that late evening. When we spoke, I sensed a supercilious air about her as she sugar-coated daily happenings. Before proceeding any further, it is safe to presume we are close, and this vibe of primacy is a trait I haven’t come across in her before. Also, we have always shared things the way they are, without making an effort on caking or creaming any of it. Her element of not wanting to reveal information as-is is an alternative scenario. But I can’t help declaring here that her fancy phrases like ‘being busy’, ‘having lots of things on mind’, ‘of my never being able to catch her up since she is always occupied’, and ‘dealing with other priorities’ second-guessed my decision and annoyed me too, if a little. Sometimes, you think and analyse a specific choice to the point of letting it rub on you, not only before you leap into action, but also before you take that decision to leap into it. You take a lot of time to choose your course. No sooner than you do, you wish you hadn’t and simultaneously begin to ponder about the ‘why’. For, springing into action has only led you to second-guess your preferred choice. You feel weird, embarrassed, wary, irked, and sporadically angry, all at the same time in a phase as such.
I went through it then. I wondered as to why did I get in touch with her.
It is likely that I must have caught her while she was in a different state-of-mind I haven’t seen in her earlier. Perhaps, she is as she says, ‘rushed’ to be juggling catching-up with ten other friends simultaneously. Or, her basic nature and attitude have simply evolved between yesterday and the time we spoke last. I am okay giving all benefit of doubts here given she is a friend. But this is exactly one of the reasons I am wary of people. It’s inherent and only second to my nature that I walk in the opposite direction I see them coming in, in. I feel out of my comfort zone in the presence of people. Everything appears fine in one moment, and in the blink of an eye, I find myself either taken aback or rethinking something they might have just uttered out of nowhere. Of course, you get over it in time and are susceptible to forget all about it, but also deep down, you begin to have qualms about approaching the said individual again. You wonder if there will be a next time you will want to take that initiative to talk to them like you did this once. Unless you have an errand to run by them. For, it is your way of vocalising and demonstrating an attempt to keep things simple, to the point and not being a cause of intrusion into their otherwise ‘busy lives’.
People’s elementary and inborn trait of unpredictability, their two-phased approach to survival based on convenience, combined with my lack of patience in understanding them makes me wary. I am conscious in and with people. When it comes to presenting myself to a crowd, known or unknown, I feel embarrassed. I am uncomfortable. I can’t hold even a one-on-one beyond a couple of minutes with someone whom I have only met. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule of thumb like anyplace else. However, usually, I ask for nothing more than the ability to camouflage myself into the hand-painted walls or floor tiles in such jiffies. If only, I were bestowed with the superpower to melt myself away into nothingness! My sensory organs fail to function in their actual capacity, and the veins in my cerebrum don’t pass any signals for me to intercept, let alone convert. My inwards fail to communicate with me, and I land up not knowing what to do, what to say or how to behave. It’s as if my intellect and torso, and I are two separate and independent entities. At such times, my state of being cooperates when I go comfortably numb within myself. When I don’t have the need to speak or approach anyone beyond the topic of my interest, for sure if it’s a word of a compliment, only to merge back into the background a minute later. My senses are more responsive to listening to someone willing to lead a conversation. I can pay attention to anyone addressing a group, as long as I do not need to pitch in or even react. Because, when it comes to being vocal, silence is my weapon of choice. When a circumstance demands a reaction, I befriend laughter. It’s easy to discover the funny side in things, after all. I bask in the ability to laugh uninhibitedly because there is only so much I can do with verballing.
When I have to deal with speaking to an audience, my hands feel clammy. I sub-unconsciously wipe away those unassuming beads of sweat inlaying my upper lip now and then. My thoughts go anaesthetic, and I am at a loss for words. Despite my mouth emitting vocal sounds, my insides continuously churn with considerations of the need to be spared. Because people make me cringe. They trigger me to shy me away from myself. Their aura paves the way to losing whatever little self-confidence I possess. Their presence leads me to question my thought-process and misgive my morals. I feel intimidated by them lest they ridicule my beliefs, worse, talk behind my back. What if, something I say or declare doesn’t find a leaf in their books of superimposing intelligence, and they scoff at it? What if, I were to become the laughing stock? The cause of everyone’s mirth and a stand-up comedian’s meat? Because of the things and thinkings I shroud myself in, which in other words could only indicate what a moron and dunderhead I can turn out to be. Believing in a world of peripheral and fanciful likabilities, like that clown in the circus whom everyone shirks off with a rip-roaring laughter; a comport far, far away from the rumination of even considering such a species solemnly in retrospection.
It goes without saying that this isn’t all as melancholic as the grey overcast it might sound like. I am in the company of some beautiful and magical people by my side, no doubt. However, given the insecure cynic that I am, such traces of iridescence always accompany a nagging, amoebic thought that disperses within, rusting in the forgotten corners of my mind – I don’t know when they will leave me.
Six years ago, on May 11, I came to an unknown city with nothing more than an offer letter to join work at a multinational corporation. I was seeking job opportunities in India; I wanted to return to my homeland from the Gulf, having only begun my professional career. A family friend introduced me to a promising portfolio and work environment, four months after which I bade goodbye to the tranquil and retire-worthy sultanate of Oman. While looking up career openings, I was open when it came to the location and the scope of my job. So, accepting employment in Chennai was no big deal. However, apart from the family friend who helped me get into this IT enterprise, I was neither familiar with the radius of the city nor its people. And so, receiving a culture shock when I landed is an understatement.
Everyplace I went to the native tongue caught me off guard. My trials with the local language were thwarted in an intimidating yet straightforward one-liner – your Tamil is different. It felt like I was getting caught red-handed in some daredevil act. Like, my attempt to speak Tamil wasn’t boding well with the locals, a madcap venture they saw as one no less than committing a criminal offence. At first, it was the dialect, then the pronunciation, and then the intonation each of which catapulted me two paces backwards whenever I wanted to take one step ahead. Even today, I don’t feel confident with Tamil; my command over the language isn’t any cleaner, clarified or eloquent. I shy away from speaking it in public, seeking refuge in the same excuse I had covertly created upon freshly arriving in the city in 2011 – my Tamil isn’t that great.
My colleagues at the workplace were the first of my friends in the city. But, there was only so much I associated with them over five working days. I hardly spent any weekends with them; almost never. The accommodation I had to finalise within two weeks of my arrival didn’t help. Tamil dominated my roommates’ conversations, television channels, and daily meals. I couldn’t communicate with them in any way they resonated with and also, failed to follow their ordinary and harmless exchanges. The unknown realms at all nooks and crannies felt like an overload, and it started getting the better of me. Be it the language, the daily lifestyle or the eating habits, I didn’t connect with an origin of such kinds because my upbringing is seeded in a different atmosphere belonging to cities in Western, Eastern and Northern India. Every single day, Chennai bestowed me with sightings and sensing unlike the previous, and an inexperienced one at that. While my roommates seemed content in their dailies, I struggled to adjust to my surroundings. Set aside weekends, I could not spend any other time looking for places to rent or explore the surroundings close by. And so, I began seeking shelter in a space I felt the most comfortable in then – my office.
I avoided coming back to my accommodation unless it was time for the last shuttle to leave the workplace facility. Maggi and my laptop were dinnertime solaces after I reached by half past ten, a time by which most of my roommates had either retired or left for working night shifts. I felt creepy cooking for myself in a kitchen that coated and refurbished in grimy floor tiles, slabs, stovetop and gas burners. It was surprising to discover no rodents sneaking or goofing around with such filth to chaperone. Even the exhaust fan in here dispensed rolls of dirt cakes, and there was only so much endurance I could sustain to boil a packet of noodles every night. I failed to communicate to my roommates of the unhygienic living we were inhabiting.
Despite the momentary and exclusive struggles, I didn’t despise the city. I couldn’t; it gave me my bread-n-butter, after all. But, nothing more. At least not for the first three-quarters of the year. I earned time-off from work on December 30 and 31 the year I joined. And I spent that New Year in Chennai, alone.
In February 2012, while the last of the little traces of winter this seaport receives ebbed away, I travelled to the Western Ghats in Karnataka in a company of thirty-five others. A colleague from work had introduced me to a non-profit trekking organisation. Upon enrolling into it, I came across people – a variety of them. Like-minded, able-minded, sound-minded, dissimilar-minded, different minded and some unmindful. I found friends while in the company of these thirty-five, a circle I could make plans with outside of work. Back then, I couldn’t have asked for more, however, and apparently, that wasn’t all. The sociocultural backgrounds we came from, the nature of jobs we were into, the individual interests we as a collective group had (apart from travelling), couldn’t have been more contrasting. But they took me in their stride without so much as a question about my background. They accepted my poor grappling of the local language, and that they will need to Petervittu-fy if I had to understand them. From this group of thirty-five and outside of my friends’ circle, I found a boy to my liking. We got into a relation. When I left for a vacation from my job back home to my parents, I missed him. He did too. As I returned two weeks later, the feeling of being unacquainted with the city coupled with the unpleasantness of having to return to my accommodation turned me sour. I felt unsettled in that temporary phase of desperation. When I expressed my irritability about it to my lover, he reminded me of him being a part of the same city I was whining about. It was enough to shut me up.
As time passed, the traffic congestion from my accommodation to office increased. So did the frequenting with my friends. I went to the cinema theatre and was introduced to contemporary film stars in the Kollywood movie industry. It was an experience like I hadn’t had before. Or, it was just the bunch of people I was with. The boy I’d taken a liking to and was in a relationship with broke it off. We’d had fun when together, but it was time to fall out. And apart. Our needs were different, so were our priorities. All too soon, he flew out of the country for an official assignment in a foreign land, and I started being around my circle of friends all the more.
Within this bunch of friends, I met another boy. And I fell into another relationship. Only, neither of us ever called it one. Per se, we didn’t date, we didn’t court, and we didn’t go out. We weren’t doing anything except, we saw each other. We met whenever we wanted to. Whenever it worked with the two of us. My accommodation started becoming bearable. But the commuting time now was long and dreary, curtsied by the traffic. This boy was a resident of Chennai, living with family. He got me homemade food. He took me to parks and zoos. He got me detergent packets when I ran out of it for my laundry. He got me some more homemade food when I was sick and taking leaves at work. He took me to the doctor. His mother inquired about my well-being when I was unwell. He got me piping hot dosas with finger-licking sambhar and coconut chutney on the sides – at first of his accord, and then, every time I asked for it. Anbu kadai dosas had transpired as my dinner starting a week later. He met me after work when I’d had a long or a low day, despite him reaching home. He took me out for dinner at such of those times even if that meant looking for an open eat-out after eleven in the night, only to drop me back afterwards. After I figured I could no longer manage the daily commute of such distance to and fro from work, he took me house-hunting. We spent two consecutive weekends from morning until evening looking at houses; I had some lessons learnt, so I eyed my potential roommates as well this time. I don’t know if I had it in me to live and manage alone then. I don’t even know if it was him or sheer luck, but I found a place of stay where I could gossip late into the night with my new roommates. My hours in office decreased as my repertoire of friends in the city shot up. In here, there came in a cook who did dishes per my taste. Although I was yet coping with the language, the town nonetheless began to seem welcoming. When I went for a vacation from work back home this time, I still felt alienated upon my return. As I whined about it in a moment of weakness, this boy reassured me all was okay. He didn’t bring my attention to the fact that he was a resident of the same city I was cribbing and carping about.
That October of 2012, I married him. And we went house-hunting once more. Only to live together this time. By then, Chennai was transforming into a city I liked being a part of; yet no further.
Work began hitting a low after three years. I got promoted with some amount of dirt staining on the linen’s inside, but the step-up didn’t feel fulfilling. Something seemed amiss. The old circle of colleagues I was once around had fast dissipated each carrying their course of lives, only to reunite if ever chance and choice permitted. The task portfolio I looked into was now managed by a new set of hands, a pair that couldn’t have been more dissimilar and discouraging from the previous one. While my vivacity had swerved a complete U-turn, the reason I had first come to the city was fast slipping from my hands. Ebbing away into the horizon. With time, I figured there was little I could do about it. In fact, there was little I wanted to do about it because it was in this city I realised of my attraction in creatives. I wanted to sing. Write. I began to explore Chennai’s boundaries by myself, as I discovered my areas of interests. I got into music circles, singing classes, and writing abodes that connected me with like-minded people. With my interest soon waning from the IT enterprise I was employed in, I was trying to establish my ground, my mojo. And the city was handing me it all, as it always has, unconditionally.
With time, I only understood that the city of Chennai was befriending me in a way that no other had. It was lending me itself in ways I hadn’t seen was coming. It was granting me all that I sought, and way beyond. A teacher whose wavelengths and ideologies I look up to and the one from whom I learn singing. Nightclubs and discotheques alongside some strong and remembrance-worthy souvenirs from each of those late evenings and early mornings. Events, functions, gatherings and concerts for dramas, theatre, musical performances, spiritual rituals and comedy clubs. There is nothing this city doesn’t have. If I wanted to be a part of something, all I had to figure was a set of people to match the need. Or, wait to discover my mojo to travel solo.
Travelling from Chennai has been nothing short of a boon; into the woods, the wild, the islands, local, national, and beyond the country’s mapping boundaries. Be it luxury or pauper style travelling, road trips or backpacking, sleeper-class journeys or coupe sojourns, Maharaja-styled seats or the Dreamliner way, there isn’t a page left unturned. The end of every one of my travel tales have had me sulking, but Chennai has only welcomed me with warmth and an embrace every time I have returned from a trip. It took me time to soak into the city’s pulse, its vibe, and its rhythm. But I wasn’t complaining about any of it. I have never had. After all, it has given me all the time I have demanded.
My job and the corporate sector in due course lost my respect and purpose. The shell no longer appeared radiant. With the internal conflicts, mind games and politics most invested their time in, I found the lustre of my work tapering off. It all seemed like a pitiful waste of energy. Although it was that very pole of a magnet which had brought me to Chennai in the first instance, it now felt like I was trying and attracting like poles with that magnet. The career path repulsed me. It was boring sitting in the cubicle, typing on the keyboard anything other than work deliverables. I felt disgusted with the vain money-making and money-churning process. Chennai took me to its grits when I did what I know I wanted to. Calling it quits. Not only from my job but also from leading a corporate-dominated lifestyle. Chennai accepted it with a face, for it relies upon a spirit and psyche of its own. At the bottom of it all, it is likely to cost a lot to shackle the core of this city, for it is unlike any other, I have been in or lived in thus far. I only had to choose to accept what this quaint little, secluded town offered me; moreover, trust in its bestowals. And it became my spine. Just like that. It transfigured into my backbone, a glory I bask in today. It accepted me for who I was. For what I was. Needless to mention, four years later after I came to the city, I began to like it. By 2016, I had become somewhat friendly with the city’s geography, landscaping and topography. I spoke enough Tamil to bargain with roadside vendors in the city market. In turn, Chennai allowed me liberty enough to rely on its public transport system no matter where I went, day or night. 6 AM or 11 PM.
Till date, I don’t rely on any Ola or Uber. But I thrive and flourish in the city’s commuting system. It has never failed me, or my trust. Unlike the former.
Last week I was visiting Bengaluru on account of the long weekend. I was convalescing from a bout of cold, body pain and general symptoms of being under the weather. Although the trip was meant to unwind and take my mind off a few mental preoccupations, a purpose I considered consummated by the end of my vacation, the sight of the city outskirts couldn’t have appealed more in the wee hours of the morning I had returned. I felt uplifted by some force unknown as the Basin Bridge junction came looming into view at 4:40 AM. I was shaken awake with a couple of sharp raps on my shoulder. The train wasn’t moving; it had held its ground, awaiting the signal to pull itself through the last leg and reach us to our destination – the Chennai Central train station, a distance that otherwise was five minutes away. I discerned the faint whistling of the engine as I noticed the inky heavens pave the way to first wake-up calls of the cuckoos and the crows. As the driver gently tugged its followers, chugging metal on metal in the slow motion of a rhythm, I glimpsed the platforms of the Central station. It was a warm morning, and yet I felt goosebumps on my arms. As I stepped out with an airbag and a shoulder bag I grinned like a Cheshire cat, unmindful of the prospective stares from the coolies and the active platform salesmen.
Nothing had changed about the city or in the way it greeted me this time. It was all the same – the warmth, the wide-open arms, the familial cuddle, and the ultimate sense of belonging. A clutch-and-cling I was able to reciprocate this time in all sincerity and entirety.
The inevitable quest of encountering unknown faces today is effortless work. Running into new people is a throw of a die away. It is only a matter of time and choice before we walk into a meeting of a joint interest accessible to all. Like an open mic. A poetry slam. Alcoholics Anonymous. A recitation. Or a theatre fest. We are spoilt for options when it comes to meeting new people. Yet, more often than not, we chance upon their presence, and the story ends there. Not everyone whom we meet with today becomes our friend. B(/R)arely, there surfaces an instance that elevates this phase of acquainting with someone new to befriending them. Even if one does overcome this hurdle, a table materialises in the middle. It has to, by default. That counter-top bearing cups of coffee, beers, starter platters, lunch or dinner salvers is a mandatory qualification, for it signifies the level of friendship one has unlocked with the other.
I have to admit here I find the role of the table befuddling because I am unclear of the purpose it serves. Not superficially, or by means of testing individual testaments of hunger or cravings, but intellectually. From the standpoint of mind play. Every lock unbolted in friendship levels today either results in a limited-time-only tête-à-tête or an extended slice of it over a prime meal of the day. Like, a coffee signifies unfastening a person’s rock-bottom individuality. A meal identifies the privilege of upping the friendliness scale to the next step. Which leads me to assume and believe that dearness in close associations is signified by taking a trip together. May be, for a couple of nights. Friendship today is all about establishing a zone of comfort that correlates with one’s time and space. A concept rather contradictory to the one we grew up with a couple of decades ago.
For one, everyone we played with at the playground was our friend then. For two, the notion of catching up had yet to witness the dawn of the day.
As far as I understand the idea of friendship, the meeting place must be of no concern. Except, the spot must be mutually accessible. The agenda of needing a table to rest between people – if they are friends – is limboing. It is like sending out mixed signals on a first date. The wood base resembles that cosy corner earmarked in most homes, somehow resonating with the occupier’s cognitions of comfort, whenever they feel like leaning or resting their elbows upon it. Or, there are parts of you that you aren’t comfortable exposing to your opposite number yet, thus analogously resting your legs in a spot beyond your eyesight’s reach – underneath the table’s stands. After all, the shallow counter-top only lets your torso in the open, but not the set of limbs you stand on. Or, the furniture top helps you cake awkward moments, silences, or bouts of split-second thinking with a timely slurp of your drink or morsel you forked inside a second ago. Such self-conceived perceptions about the ‘table culture’ only drives me to wonder if the conversationalists separated by a table in their midst are (un)mindfully inspecting each other with politically correct interactions. After all, when one has little conversation to make or add to, it is instinctive to reach out for the cutlery or that caffeinated cup placed in front. Take a sip. Grab a bite. Cover it up. Quick-think it over.
The Right to Privacy set aside, friendship in today’s generation is about social engineering. Social climbs. It is the way we are wired. Because on second thoughts, it does sound fashionable when one utters they are headed for a catch-up with a friend over coffee. My question being, why not pitchers of caffeine at home if it is the catching-up that matters? If a home is a discomfiting zone to be invited into, how do you refer to that someone as a friend in the first instance?
To be fair to the other side of the coin, there are circumstances when one is heedful of having their coffee while it is warm, or devours mouthfuls because they are hungry. There are also instances when one finds themselves pressed for priorities. At such times, catching up over a meal or a drink en route is workable and reasonable. Ordering for food and beverage makes sense because the feed time clashes and one does need fodder for their bellies. However, the plates, cutlery and possibly even the table long fade away from the spotlight and sometimes dissolve. Aka abandoned midway. Because conversations between these friends go on without the threatening prospect of seeing sundown shortly. Until they are jolted out of their provisional reverie a couple of hours later, pinned for priories once more. Causing them to throw in their towel.
I am uncomfortable calling most whom I meet today as my friends. Our equation may progress on to the point of recurrent catch-ups, and yet I will only accept that I know them. For as long time as it takes. You cannot land up in someone’s friends’ list like that. Unless it is your Facebook profile. And also, because friendship to me means to let go.
It means of times when we met a bunch of people in the playground or the society’s by lanes to romp for hours together. When we knocked on our friends’ doors to call them for a bout of play outside or sat for video games until the mothers threateningly beckoned every one of us home; summer vacation or not. Friendship means of times when we have moved away and lost touch, only to pick up conversation threads years later as if we had last spoken yesterday. When we have asked our roommate to make coffee well past sleeping time as an excuse to get drugged and indulge in mindless gossip. Only because we felt like it.
The idea of friendship works despite you calling only to whine about the cake you haven’t received from months ago and have quit the phone. It works when you make plans that have failed to see the daylight and have yet gone back to the drawing board to continue to make more of them. Even when you choose to be politically correct and polite, friendship survives the rounds of titbits that reaches the perpetrator by the backbiter, without any one getting hurt in the process. It even endures times when you call the other person stupid or ordain a pissed-off sentiment right at their face, and continue to talk as if nothing happened. Because the defeatist emotion in the other has passed the same hour, it affected them.
Friendship means when succouring is only a call away. And so is a pat on the back while shifting from one stage of life to another.
Source: Bragadeesh Prasanna
Artist: Brij Mohan Anand
Source: Doodle Happy
Source: Bragadeesh Prasanna
One does not bother measuring their words. They need not choose between silence or political correctness. Friendship does not demand to incorporate a filter on one’s state of being. More specifically, their tongue.
Friendship to me means people with whom I can just be.
(Un)fortunately, they make them seldom these days. Or, may be I am holding onto an expression conjured from an undiscerning La La Land.
Oh, how I wish I can go back to those times
Waking up to the smell of decoction
The steam from the filter coquettishly melting
Into the nothingness of air
A croon from the tape recorder
Canvassing the morning’s backdrop
In hues and pastels
Of monochromes, grey scale and bit colours
A cassette fixated within
Wounding and unwinding its roll of film
One spool to the other
Discharging a melody
Palliative to the ear
A melodious discharge
Of triggering dependencies, it was
For even bathrooms and WCs demanded independence
Back then, refusing co-existence
Attached units, bathtubs, overhead and hand showers
Existed in books genre’d under Royalty
Or establishments five starred
Tiles, marble and granite
Ranked and reserved for the poshest
And ceilings and concrete meant
Cementing the bowels of the structure
Disabling any falseness or shallowness
In a revolving mixer
The disabling shallowness garnished
Travel sojourns with
Conversations and exchanges of
Dotting every train station en route
Representing a different colour from the wheel of fortune
Or playing cards dealt in an uncontained
And unconfined fervour
On the lower and side berths of the
A slice and dice from one’s billet
Locking horns with another’s
The terminus loomed into sight
And the passengers
Lost amidst the crowd
Once more, as they were meant to be
Only to repair in the warm
Coracles of their home
Repairing in warmth, it was, for
Anonymity mattered, moreover, preserved
Dear Diaries, LiveJournals and Reddits of the time lived
Secretly counting their days
Of restrictive glory, until time
Snubbed their momentousness
As selective segments of individualistic pages
Began to be
Trafficked, lesser to share
Better to demand attendance and attention
Instituting high maintenance
Knotty angles and naughty corners
An era of discharging, disabling, repairing
And instituting it was
Oh, how I wish times had paused there
So that I needn’t go back
For, instituting meant setting in motion
The beginning of another era
Setting in motion another motion it is
As humans identify needs
Wants and desires, seeds sown for greed
Night falls paved the way to
Clothing opened the
Way to fashion
The way to vehicles
And the inability to communicate
Harbingered beatings; mental and physical
Harbingering beatings it is
For our race
Continually has sought, what it can’t lay
Its hands upon
As greeds cascade to desires
That are spelt out as wishes
In turn, sentencing into needs
All meant to be defined, sooner than soon
And, a couple of eyelid bats later
A time of batting eyelashes it has become
For, we must be handcuffed
This time, by force
To go back
When out looked upon
To moments that seemed simpler and undemanding
Even if it means
Writing once more on leaves
Precedence to walking over the attractive yet destructive quilt
Of laziness and lethargy
And embracing one another bare-bodied
Devoid of a manicure, a shave, or a shaped brow
Embracing the other bare-bodied, it is, for
We’ll be nothing – a nobody – after
Stripping our identities from social media and
A vicious maintenance of having to
Remember umpteen profile details and
Rescuing ourselves, if I may, from the audaciously
Obnoxious raves and rants
Only because we have an opinion
And an account
For and about everything
Sheltering in the self-made proprietorship of a handle
Under the sun
A self-made proprietorship it is
For travelling today means partiality
To air-conditioned compartments
With a pair of plugs vacuumed in the earhole
Or, a screen the size of one’s palm
Its brightness compromised
Based on the keeper’s conveyance
The thumbs pirouetting across it, above all
Like a ballet dancer
Not meant for audience’s viewing, but for garnering
Privacy, pray from what
Remains the unanswered piece of the puzzle
Although self-proclaimed privacy
It is, no longer the kind I want to take charge of
By instigating unforced filters, appealing captions
Or, even maintaining a milled
Profile, with a near-perfect image
Diffused with wordy opinions and succinct hypocrisy
I am bored
Tired and drained
By it all
A draining spell it is
For I’d rather own a puppet show
That will allow me to operate
The good ol’ strings
Of my accord
Not to (dis)prove theories of presumptuous assumptions
By a émigré
That is all there is to it
Oh, how I wish I can go back to those times
Waking up to the smell of decoction
The steam from the filter coquettishly melting
Into the nothingness of air
A croon from the tape recorder
Canvassing the morning’s backdrop
In hues and pastels
Of monochromes, grey scale and bit colours
A cassette fixated within
Wounding and unwinding its roll of film
One spool to the other
Discharging a melody
Palliative to the ear
I am not a person known for holding opinions. Because I do not have them in the first instance. This leads me to assume that I must be somewhat open-minded, for I often realise that I do not have viewpoints on a lot of doodahs. Like, what are my thoughts on the country’s current political scenario? Nothing. At what stage is someone qualified to call themselves a writer? I don’t know. When is someone’s time to make a public appearance with their performance? After preparation; lots of it. How do I react to people’s opinions about me? Barely heard them. When someone writes to the best of their abilities, why is it not okay to still refer themselves as writers? Erm…good question. What is my take on someone’s reservations about me? It isn’t until you mentioned this that I realised it exists. What do I think about my neighbour’s kid? Cute. How about their dog? He is adorable, but I am scared when he comes close. What are my thoughts about a person whom I have only met? What is there to think about it when we have only met? Would I meet them again? We’ll see. Can we go shopping? Why not? How do I feel about my bank balance? Should I? From subjects of conversations to current issues, from general knowledge to someone’s socioeconomic status, from movies to a media person’s lives, and from a person’s choice of action to the rationale behind settling for it fails to perturb me. Unless I am looking at one or more of the said points for charting the plot of a book. Such an impartial outlook is probably a reflection of the fact that none of these, except discussing things in general, interest me. If they are served on my plate, I will devour them without a second thought. However, I find there is not much I can contribute in such situations than belching a burp in the aftermath. There, I have digested your piece of conversation. I am likely to nod my head along, ‘okay’ the speaker’s facts and utterances, and add a pointer if I have one to offer.
That is all there is to it.
As far as I can trace my days of getting taller, I have been an indifferent person. It is only my way of expressing this indifference that has altered over the years. Think, in the flow. Walk, in the flow. Talk, in the flow. Eat, in the flow. Listen to what my well-wishers have to say, but act per my flow. Smile, despite the flow. Laugh, in the flow. And be done with it. For there is no point brooding over something that’s attended to already. What is to be gained by thinking of instances, to the extent of scrutinising, analysing and finally opining on that matter? Instead, I find it easy to be indifferent to many things. And people. Including my own. If one were to uncover a layer underneath, differences with people arise when there is a discord between our thought-processes. At such times, I go about my business without caring to look over my shoulder thereby keeping the devil, aka my opinions, on the subject at bay. Anything that I have to say on the particular leitmotif is only going to irk the other. Considering the differences in our opinions. There are no connecting dots, after all, only a parallel line. The alternative side sticking to their logic and reasoning on the subject matter does not mean I need to jump the wall to their side to agree. Lest I land up tearing down my equation with them. To be honest, if it is a relationship that matters, it must have developed over seasons of unbearably warm afternoons and chilly mornings. And with time, you only tighten the knots. Unless, we are talking about a connection that is bound on a bridge of fragility, such that a single misunderstanding can lead to fallout. Is such a relationship even worthy of being called one?
I can only wonder.
What do you do when one is unable to accept the differences and make peace with it, to the point of being adamant and influencing you over and again in their line of ideas, while veiling under ‘I am only saying this for your good’? You put your thumb(s) up, mutter ‘okay’, and hope that, in the ever-churning whirlpool of fresh incidents, they forget about this one. Or better, let go.
Everything materialistic defined as must-haves for one’s survivalis prioritised by the survivor. It must be. Depending on their belief system, thought-process and chosen mode of lifestyle. An unavoidable ingredient often linked to the pursuit of happiness is wealth. It is elementary, no doubt, for food, water and shelter. However, it is a commodity, and can consequently, be refrained from being a priority to one and all. There rests an alternative way to live with bare essentials; the choice purely based on one’s preference. Those who want to pursue the moolah go for it, despite the cause and effects. For a few, it doesn’t top the charts. Because their lifestyle’s cookbook holds a different blend of ingredients, where a paper note is probably a condiment.
I have been facing heat from a fair share of people since the time I quit my well-remunerated job to pursue writing and singing full-time. When Pachai and I decided to jump into it, it was an informed step we took. We had estimated the by-products that were likely to generate in the process, of which we had two options. We either deal with the arising side-effects, or I go back and find a job that would once more churn me that sure-shot salary at the end of each month. I have figured, when you choose fine arts as your mode of living, it must not be done so with the sole motive of earning. Not in the beginning, at least. Because professions in the fine arts aren’t reputed for being money-churners. The banknotes are only a corollary medium of exchange that is bound to find its course in the process.
Interestingly, I have faced arguments from family and friends that I articulate my opinions in an abstracted and daydreamy attitude because I am an artist. Because I write. And, sing. That, my thought-process sounds breezy and beautiful, however, cannot be abided to because it is impractical. Here I am, reduced to thinking, why cannot an artist’s thought-process be as practical as that of those logical-minded ones? When finding a job to earn money is an efficient mode of living to pay off one’s bills and loans, why can’t living in a shelter, making enough to provide for three square meals a day, and clothing one’s body with fabrics that are neither tattered nor unclean be considered practical likewise? Does my thought-process come across that fantastic when I say money is not the frontal point in my survivor’s list? Am I giving away a delusional aura to the point of seeming deranged? Is my head for real in the clouds? Believing in the existence of angels squired with halos, wings and long robes?
When I can respect someone else’s adoption of causal effects, why can’t you mine? Why is it difficult to agree to disagree with my viewpoint, and continue going on about our relationship by tightening that clump? After all, it’s only one loop that we both, as two distinct individuals, differ upon.
I was aware of our travel itinerary bearing a visit to you. However, I wasn’t prepared for the series of seamlessly accidental incidents that were to follow suite. Little did I know, that I was on my way to striking one of the most intense and honest chords with someone. You. As we found a comfortable parking spot near your abode, I trotted off with my friends to the entrance of your shrine. I remember passing on subtle signs of liking this boy from the group I was with then; you knew about it even before I toyed with the idea of ‘what next?’. But you held your quiet. I am not sure if you paved the way for him, but I do not recall receiving any benevolent signs from you back then. You stood sheltered under your rajagopuram, as beamy as always you have been in this sanctum in the aftermath of banishing that fateful asura in the conjoining sea. Your face was clad in wet ash in a coating so thick that your kohl-sketched eyes and lip-line were as vivid and discernible as the outlines of the pictures in a kid’s colouring book. Vibhuthi Alankaaram or Vibhuti Alankara, they told me. You stood there calm and unmoving, while your fans yelled your name, pervading the air with a numinous aura. Your smile failed to waver and needed no support in itself, for it was a finery capable of holding ground by itself. I felt drawn to you like an insect to pollen. My nape tingled, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. Till date, I cannot place my finger on the ‘why’. I felt attracted to you. I stood there one amongst the throng that was besieging you and drawing your attention towards them. I was no different. For, I hoped you had spotted me. I wanted you to look at me. I desired for you to remember me. I was unlikely to forget you; more so, your face. Ever. It was the first time I had felt captivated by a stationary idol. The air was different. The crowd’s callouts failed to bother me; they sounded distant and unconnected. Rather contradictory to my sentiments for you, I must say. The push from the priests to keep moving the queue did not annoy me for it only seemed natural. I could stay there admiring you all day and still not get enough of you. I could continue to stand and look at you without getting tired. Or bored. Your heartwarming smile, the lucid posture discharging an ambience of victory, and your acceptance of me as simply as the air does the breeze had had me arrested. My dreamy temper lasted until the boy whom I liked tapped my shoulder. It was time to leave. I fluttered out of my reverie thinking, what had just happened?
Tiruttani, September 2014:
A native insect had bitten me. My body had begun to itch. It failed to cease, giving way to crimson rashes seconds later. In under a couple of minutes, my lips had swollen to the size conjured in the aftermath of a bee’s sting. I was unable to speak for they felt thick, dry and extremely itchy. I felt unable to fold my hands or flex my fingers as my limbs and flesh had ballooned. I was unable to move, for my feet and toes stung, and my legs felt heavy. As if I were injected with elephantiasis without warning or ado. Tears dripped in a steady column across my puffy cheekbones soaking my feeble eyelashes. The boy I had told you of a year-and-a-half had now married me and was smearing the holy ash all over my limbs to stop my skin from burning after the constant itching. He asked me to close my eyes and think of you. He promised me that we would visit you in the abode that sprung to my mind at that moment, soon after I get well. I believed him and did as he told. Your ashen-faced grin silhouetted my reticent contours. When we visited you a month later, I realised that Vibhuthi Alankaaram is not an exclusivity reserved for your seaside abode and that your dressing and elaboration were transferable. Nonetheless, all that time I had held an unrealised desire to see you adorned in the embers of the holy ash, and you gave me what I had asked for. Even if, at another residence. Without premonitions. Or expectations. Who does that?
Swamimalai, September 2014:
It took me time to record the memories I had dotted with you over seasons. I enjoy(ed) visiting you, no doubts; however, the process of collecting my souvenirs with you was gradual. Every time we entered your shrines, I made a mental note to remember something – anything – significant that would help me memorise the way you are in that specific abode. For, you are different in each of your six homes. Your carvings vary, and distinctly. As if the sculptors had deliberately wanted to be careful while reflecting your vibes to the analogous tales of the particular abodes, without tampering. While each one of your six padai veedu is back linked to a mythological story, it was in this veedu you preached your father the meaning of a mystic monosyllable. You became his guru and asked him to sit down signifying his discipleship towards you – a demand the latter beckoned to. After all, a child’s mischief can warm the cockles of one’s heart. May be, this is why the sight of your face lustred in a golden paste of sandalwood with a sizeable circle of sindoor on your forehead imprinted in my memory. Chandanam Alankaaram or Chandan Alankara drew my attention to your fair-sized face you have in this veedu. After Vibhuthi Alankaaram had (un)knowingly begun to top my wish list every time I met you, little did I realise that Chandanam Alankaaram will follow the sequence. For, I secretly kept hoping for it in my subsequent visits.
Pazhamudircholai, December 2015:
A babble broke out in the queue. A group of people screamed and shoved their way inside the rajagopuram. As the line inched forward, I felt a push on my back. I tripped as the crowd that was the source of the din pushed its way past me. They did not give me a second look. Pachai asked me to ignore them and focus on the reason we were here. The sequence of people in the queue progressed, and I saw you. Settled with your two-thirds, one of them by each of your side. A look of peace manifested from your countenance, the solitude transferable. Your silent gaze had an acupuncture-like effect on me – piercing and calming at the same time. I forgot my anxiety and displeasure I was engulfed with seconds back. Like nothing had happened. The corresponding tale of concluding your quests in your five other padai veedu and choosing this mountain amidst a reserve forest for penultimate settlement couldn’t have borne a finer justification. As if to complement this untroubled aura, a circular mark in red pigment adorned your forehead, and your face was smothered in a velvety layer of sandalwood paste. Watching your fans grow emotional in your presence is your routine, I believe.
Tiruchendur, December 2015:
By now, I had almost by-hearted the cheerful beam you preserve in here. This time, however, I had the chance to admire you beneath and beyond your facial profile because you were ornamented from head to toe. Your head was bedecked in an ornately sequinned and patterned crown. An equally grand, if not more, and suave dhoti swathed your legs. Garlands of flowers, big and small, pink and white, yellow and green cloaked your torso in a manner that no less than complimented your upper and lower attires. Raja Alankaaram or Raja Alankara, they told me. Perhaps, it was a pearl from your palatial garb that convulsed as a teardrop on the brim of my lash. The first of my many open and unabashed sentiments in your midst. That feeling of karunai. Long live the grin!
Palani, January 2016:
You denied me utsavam tickets for that afternoon, although we had come in at the last minute. However, by now, I knew you enough to bear in you a blind faith. When you did not permit me to attend your purpose-built prayer rituals, I was angry for a whole minute. Then I argued that you must have a reason for your signalled inklings and that you will not disappoint me had it not been for a cause. You beckoned to my thought-process for, not only did you let me feast my eyes that day on you ornamented in Raja Alankaaram, but also you treated me to utsavam at my kula deivam (the deity my clan worships) the same evening. Could I have asked for more?
Pazhamudircholai, July 2017:
Two people engaged in a discussion in front, as I stood with my fingers intertwined, the palms of both hands turned inward resting on my thigh. One asked if you were decorated in Vibhuthi, and the other pointed to your crown and sparkling dhoti disputing the suggestion altogether, calling it Raja Alankaaram. While I had believed it to be the former, after the superiorly declaration, my mind became disputed. I was confused to the point of being in turmoil. Because Raja Alankaaram would have meant that my belief of seeing you in Vibhuthi Alankaaram was false. It would have meant that my wish in that trip would have been left unfulfilled. It was past dusk and the day was drawing to a close. So was the temple. The priests were rushing the crowd in the queue. Soon after, they closed the curtains for you had to be readied to sleep after the last worship for the day. We made our way to the exit and sat for a couple of minutes near the entrance, ready to leave. The security guard who mistook us for people waiting for the curtains to reopen urged us to reenter the shrine. Why must we see you from near the exit when we had a chance to do so from far closer, he reasoned. We obliged. The curtains opened as bells began to be rung and mantras chanted in similar timbres. One of the priests offered you a sequence of wick lamps soaked in ghee in repetitive circular motions. You stood in peace as you always have, clad in a plain white dhoti. Your head was devoid of the crown, and so was the rest of your body from any sequinned or patterned attire. All of it had been removed except the layer of ash and kohl-smeared eyes and lip-line. They remained as-is. My mind automatically unknotted itself from the conflicts it was strung with in the past half hour.
Thiruparankundram, July 2017:
By now, I had souvenirs from five of your other veedu but none, even in fragments, from here. I climbed the flight of steps leading up to the shrine hoping to catch a hint, a take away at least this time. Upon entering the sanctum, I got a chance to stand close to you; the priests let me be, for the crowd was minimal that day. Rows upon rows and columns upon columns of wick lamps drenched in sesame oil hung low from all sides, close to your face. Your eyes were open, your face devoid of any makeup or coating, and your lips curved upward an inch or so. The sculpture appeared a shade of military green in the lights. The seconds stretched into minutes, lapsing me into the world that was oblivious to calls and beckons from the crowd. I thought I saw water surfacing on your eye. A droplet the size of a pearl seemed to trace a fine line on your right cheek. Was it a carving sculpted to resemble a tear-stained cheek? Or, had a tiny cleft developed in the recent years? I thought I saw your eyeballs move in circles, creating illusions of mischief. You rolled your eyes like a child up to something naughty. They orbited to corners you commanded them to. It was an impishness that revealed a playful side of you. Apparently, the wick lamps were tricking me, conjuring illusions out of a delightful kaleidoscope. I had only hoped to strike a chord with something – anything – significant when I had entered. And I had oodles of it on my way out. Who does that?
You accepted me without premonitions and reservations when I stepped into your seaside abode five years ago. It was as if you had stamped your seal of fate when that boy I liked and I walked into your sanctum. As if there were no further questions to be asked and nothing left to be discussed. I am indebted to you for it. You let me demand from you whenever I wanted to see you in one of my three favourite alankaarams. You let me be angry with you when I thought you had failed me. Despite which, you have never judged me. You have taken it all in your stride and more so, you have answered each one of my indecisions in ways I understand.
A friend once suggested that Lord Muruga is my close friend, and so visiting you feels like visiting friends. I think it is true. The journey of getting to know you has been unhurried, nonetheless a fulfilling one. Have I ever confessed to you, that you made it this easy for me only because you took to me without any questions? I walked into your durbar, and you claimed your ownership over me. I became yours. Just like that. Which, in turn, and over time, translated into affection. Fondness. Homage.
Your sight invokes tears in my eyes today. I let them flow without restraint.
You have given me Pachai. I could not ask for more. You have rewarded my wish of seeing you in my all-time favourite silhouettes of sandalwood paste, wet ash and the ruler’s crown every time I have considered it. I should not ask for more. It took me thirty years to realise that you have been alongside me all this while in the form of two fathers – Subramaniam Kumar and Sivakumar. I need not ask for more.
A few could have anticipated the prominence, dominance and control of the internet in our lives today. Fundamental reasons have always underlined human desires. The concept of nights introduced artificial lighting. The need for entertainment presented the radio. The lack of visual leisure brought on the television. Portability introduced Walkman. Likewise, the need for internet too began with the quintessential lure of communicating faster with near-and-dear ones. Emails paved the way to shed the fear of the unknown by attempting to embrace globalisation. And chat rooms followed suit. The internet also introduced accessibility at our fingertips incorporating in us another lesson that achieving anything is possible with the right set of mind (in this case, keywords). At first, the desired results were posters of our favourite media persons. Today, it is information. When it comes to the human race, everything materialistic begins with a basic want, evolving into a cannot-do-without need. Sometimes, we lose sight in the process, much so that we no longer identify the point we are heading to or why we are doing so despite setting a goal, maintaining a calendar and rain checking on the milestones that are at times, abetted with a carrot-and-stick approach.
Although a pioneer, the internet had a purpose behind crawling into our already confused sentience. Search engines, keywords and social media were stages of jargons that knotted our lifestyles with a psychological obligation; yet, they were all done so with a reason – to regale our constitutional birthright of the freedom of speech. Profit-sucking enterprises saw a booming venture of providing the means through swifter shores, thereby introducing to us quicker modes ‘to enable’ faster communication. Another reason discovered here, the result of which was the nimble modems. Thereby, wireless internet. If we hadn’t purchased a Wi-fi connection by the early millennial years, the society might have shunned us out for good. And today, the Wi-fi is as basic a need as electricity, plumbing lines, kitchen and food; a bare essential in a house.
Must we tip our hats to those who envisioned wooing people to fall into the pit of live ‘faster’ and ‘smarter’? Or, was it our need to keep up with that friend in school who had the internet while we did not? The mindful coercion of societal and social obligations?
Over time, the global computer network has curated counselling, guidances, therapies, personality tests, doctor consultations and what not, all through a stream of web pages. Had food and air been served to us by some online means, we could live off virtually. The spell is fulsome, browsing page after page, devouring their contents, accumulating the data, and yet it doesn’t feel enough. No amount of knowledge is. It’s bamboozling. Blogs, discussion centres, dedicated forums, research materials, reports, psychological backups, health expert analysis and bam! a keyword later, it’s there. As if this weren’t enough, articles talking about the behavioural traits that define one as a genius, an introvert/ambivert/extrovert, a bibliophile, or an alcoholic add to the swagger. Memes of particular lifestyle(s) we’re so innately proud of, flaunt the headlines. It is nothing short of ‘cool’ to belong to one generation. We consider it hip that we are the sensibly careful, yet the vivaciously don’t-care kinds. We have a view on marriages, kids, feminism and gender neutrality. We fight for the cause of every individual’s individuality through a string of words on an online profile. For every person privy to the internet has access to a self-fabricated account. A space that allows them to concoct whatever they like and however they do. So many people have so much to say, sometimes clipped with pictures, that there is only a chunk rallying out in the heat. The means of fighting the freedom movement have evidently evolved.
Is the internet still serving its means of ‘living faster and smarter’? Or, am I missing something here?
Tips, courses, workshops and everything under the sun is offered online these days. With subgenres. For instance, a writing workshop explores creative writing, literary writing, book writing, report writing, categorical writing, short story writing – the list goes on. A couple of days ago, I came across a few articles on WordPress Discover, one of which talked about why they will never let go of their blog space on WordPress. Another highlighted the five discoveries they had made in their journey of transitioning from writing blogs to a book. And I am sitting here thinking when I should time my next cup of coffee so that I refrain from going back staring into space. Let alone having a clue about why I am doing what I am doing.
The focus people own, the clarity they bring to their thought-process, and their presence of mind to make notes of the means they follow only to give them away to those who are unsure of treading on such paths is admirable. I also feel that planning and organising a mission to Mars is more methodical. Because after the internet, the social media, the online reading, and the internal processing at the end of it, I am lost. So lost, that I cannot comprehend the whys for what I do. For instance, I do not know the reason I write. Because I have a story to tell? I do not know why I want the tag of an author someday. Because I want to see my name published in my creation? I have no reason to sing. Except, I derive a peace of mind? I do not know why I am inclined towards creative vocations. They lure me?
Do these justifications sound sane? More so, are they acceptable?
I do not know if widening my horizons, meeting new people and finding like-mindedness around are reasons for me to choose an imaginative profession. For, they are the by-products of the process. But I do know that this is all I have, to cling onto. And that, this is what I want. To write and sing. I have no other go than to practice the two crafts. And because I have them, I do not want to let them go. If I do not exercise either daily, my day is incomplete. My sense of purpose hangs in the air to the point of questioning my existence. It’s hard to widen my horizons beyond getting the technicalities in a specific song, or the lyrical aesthetics of a write-up right. So, how about, I find it complicated to focus on anything beyond the details of the craft? At any moment? How about, I sing because I like it? How about, I write because I enjoy the process?
The internet either talks about the paradigm shifts of enterprises that are changing the industrial landscape or of discovering reasons for/of doing something. The ten traits, the five habits, the three dos, the thirty don’ts, and the nine must-haves give me a reason to move on. Because I am unsure of the conviction, each article brings. Maybe, I belong in the wrong era. For, I do not know after the internet, how much of it all holds good? Where must I draw the line to read no further, to research no further, and to believe no further?