The other evening while I was strolling through the perimeter of my apartment, I recalled at random how walks as an exercise have visited me in phases since I was a teenager. Consistency is a trait I am notoriously unfaithful to, and the saga of these walks tumble into this precise category. In the past, I have turned to seek solace through this physical activity of even-paced footing at inconsistent intervals of age and have maintained its routine across erratic timelines. Like, one Sunday in four months. Or alternative days in a week continuing up till two. However, before I could expound on this intriguing practice in further detail, half expecting to chance upon a freestyled, sequinned pattern of self-bearing, the thought had dispelled into the air.
Here had been an idea. Now there was none.
Some time ago, I read Ruskin Bond’s The Lamp is Lit. I fawn over his style of clarity-writing, and like his other works, he captures the reader’s eye on the first page of the opening chapter in this publication as well. He talks about a young reader writing to him, expressing his wish to become a writer like the author, so that he too can spend his days sprawling across the grass doing nothing. This visual writer, however, is quick to point out had he been privy to this virtue in his youth, irrespective of how beautiful the occupation, his stomach was likely to have found a similar morsel to feed upon – green grass when empty and fresh air when thirsty. Ruskin Bond stresses upon the underlying fact here every idea that materialises is significant, however random. Every contemplation, any notion, and all conceptions that surface must be expanded into an – to quote him – intelligible and readable means. These must be jotted. Put on paper. Written about. At once. Every time one is hit with a thought, the only way to pass through it is by writing about it. It is how, he says, he survived his life as a writer for as long as he has wanted to be one. The time when an idea stops by isn’t crucial but the act of writing about it then and there is. Like one’s life depends on it. Like transpiring that one occurring thought on paper at that moment is all that matters to cling to dear life. Perhaps, this is why Bond thatha stands where he does with all that he has today.
Life-changing, as we call it.
This ideology of this revered devout painter-writer also reveals an underlying observation across all us wannabe writers – the space to accommodate any laziness must die. Under the covers of unearthing one idea after another and thought after next, the practice of laying observations upon disclosures is continuous. The human mind is a kaleidoscope of opined thoughts; colour or greyscale, negative or sepia, pale or flashy, recurring or momentary. It isn’t known to rest when we are awake and perhaps doesn’t, even while we are sound asleep. Where then, arises the chance of inducting procrastination when one must document ideas in almost perpetual suspension? Especially those of us who want to be known as writers to sustain that rain check for pleasing our cloak of self-vanity?
Here is a flash of another idea left unexpended. Again.
A conversation with a friend last week delved into the nuances of writing. As the discussion shifted around bringing about technical differences, I felt intertwined amidst a range of ragging and raging emotions. What started as a bemused exchange of learning turned into a confounding exercise of comprehending gravity. Midway, I could no longer figure which meant the magnetic pull of the earth, which described solemnity of manner and which meant serious business. I could have left the conversation to coagulate, returning to resolve the tangled threads at a later date. But then, it isn’t everyone who emerges as Newton while seeking shade under an apple tree. Some need to move on to the nearby cherry to avoid earning a headache from that falling apple, even if for no reason better.
Now here is an idea. Will this too dispel into the air, resulting in none?
While in conversation with a friend a few days ago, she mentioned she was taking a break from writing. I knew she wasn’t keen on feeding her monthly means through a full-time writing job, but it had not occurred nor prepared me to accept she had shunned the process of putting pen to paper altogether. The fact that this stricken confession of hers may extend for a brief hiatus cushioned my then state of mind in part, yet my sense datum continued to echo with a resounding what?. I couldn’t perceive what I had heard was right and I doubted if my sensory organ needed a hearing aid, when it should have been an eye test since this exchange occurred in a phone chat.
A reason I am still reeling in this pudgy undercurrent is by large attributed to my undeniably biased opinion of her writing ability; she is a fantastic writer. Her word picture of an otherwise negligible incident of chasing a cockroach (read: driving the scavenging insect away) can engender a reader’s mind like a sunbeam spewing its morning rays through the lacy curtains of the window in self-effacing balusters. I am shameless about admitting the cliched phrase we use every now or so of ‘falling in love’; nonetheless, the truth persists that I did fall in love – with her choosy words and fancy revelations.
The sentiments we undergo while writing ranges and varies, contingent on its creators’ moods, to much extent. At times writing serves therapeutic, and at times it evacuates the toxins off of our naggy grey cells. Sometimes we revel in the findings of the written word or record the observations to minimise personal mourning. We could also write to catch a breather, but on occasions, the process can emerge as time and brain cruncher. Writing can fetch funny, bizarre, surprising, revelling, revealing and even condescending contrivances. Some indulge in the process letting it blend into their anatomy during both, the active and passive hours, and a few connect with it for as long as it stays a present continuous incident.
I usually do not brood over any writing piece except when I am penning them. In present continuous. While I was to finish writing this essay in a day, I have been stretching it for a couple, spreading it over courses of periodic time intervals. The write-up took shape in an hour, went on to two, decided its necessity for receiving a polish, and then demanded supplemental hours of cleansing as a result of the excessive shine. During the designated hours I wrote chunk after chunk, I was active in the writing process. But the moments when I let it rest as a draft were passive spells. As simple. I was divorced from my writing already, however short-term, while I minded the vanilla, mundane chores. It is a possible probability for my friend, on the other hand, to have been connected with the writing even during those stretched bouts of inactive spells. May be, she couldn’t – or isn’t the kind to – unbind herself from the process while she went on to mind the cornucopias of her daily kaleidoscope. May be, her mind harboured with random notions and fly-in snippets through the day – and night – to improve and improvise upon her write-ups. May be, she felt as if she was perpetually nagged, to the point of becoming muddled sometimes, with the same choicer terms and chancy idioms she finally registered on paper. May be, she gave away too much of herself to the craft – an investment that bestowed her efforts with unmatched returns; the ‘unmatched’ here being a mismatch. It brought me back to the other reason of my broody undercurrent – if not for writing, what is it that one does?
If I were to quit writing what would I do? What could I have been doing? Perhaps, sing. Croon to promote chugging. Only to make a comeback in the aftermath of pursuing this newfound hobby with a déjà vu exercise of gaping at a blank paper, set to furnish a stream of declarations. Some beguiling, a handful provoking. But for the most part, reposefully mundane. Down through the tunnel, irrespective of how my interests alter, I can envisage arriving home to report them, even if not all, on paper.
And yet, somehow, it is my friend who is more cemented with and to writing – and its process – than I can ever be.
I believe one of the most confronting circumstances we can find ourselves in is the combination of luck, time and placement alongside the realisation of if we even belong there. It is like one of those fluky cases when you’re selected among the top submissions and called to pitch your idea, and yet you feel surrounded by an aura of sophisticated ridicule. You second-guess the validity of your belonging there. Your potential peer, a jury member in the present, gazes at you bestowing an encouraging smile. They look grounded for as long as they’re seated, and you look at them from up the stage. However, they seem to walk on air soon after their rear leaves the plush chair. At times as such, it is difficult to believe they tread their footsteps on the same grass as we do. It is difficult to gather that they cover their bodies with layers identical to ours. It is difficult to maintain they seek similar basic needs as us. And at times as such, even the chilly October breeze with a biting afternoon sun does little to lift up our spirits. For the mundane nature play vanishes to a rustic corner during the next few self-obsessed moments of cloudiness.
I attended the sixth edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival at The Lalit Ashok over the weekend. A session paying tribute to the recently martyred Indian journalist-turned-activist was under progress. At this opening talk on the first of the two-day event, I estimated the turnout to be in early, few hundreds. Parallel sessions in three segments were spaced across the sprawling lawns of the magnificent and illustrious property, although these didn’t begin until an hour later. I was looking forward to attending these coexisting discussions; nonetheless, for the time being, I dawdled at the keynote underway and let my attention waver to knit stitches of my extant milieu.
A luxurious atmosphere of savoir-faire rented the air, as who’s who in the literary and media coteries emerged one after the other. The attendees’ inner circles and the festival organisers shook hands like old friends. They embraced each other as if catching-up at a reunion from years long and guffawed like the throatiness was coerced out of their maws. Somehow, the ambience left me with a skin-deep sentiment. The community’s coexistence seemed obligatory and prescribed, to the point of being palpable. It appeared that they were codependent but parallel as if barred of choice. Verbal exchanges amidst the fragmented groups tingled the earbuds with an empty pleasantness, sounding flashy. As suavers entangled the airspace discussing a word or two of their peers and acquaintances in elegant accents from the borrowed language of colonial times, my eyes darted 360 degrees around the first-time experience of such a kind. I tried to grasp the establishment of a literary event this scale. Be that as it might, I couldn’t shirk off the sensation of feeling misplaced. I was lost from the air, unhooked from the venue, isolated from the crowd and disconnected as a writer. I sought ways to cope up with the pretentious aura the literature festival was abandoning me with. Here I was, waitlisted amongst several other prospects to pitch my idea for a book, and I was second-guessing the validity of my belonging. At that moment, I felt like I was Pegman. Dragged and dropped into an area by someone for their exploration of the street view.
Media-popular ninjas paraded the literature festival’s arena to deliver mainstream sessions. Endorsements of their corresponding book releases underlined their talks with a namesake allurement of a signed copy to the oh-so-privileged. After all, the absence of enthusiastic figurines from a festival at such may have meant more harm than good to their brand value in the aftermath; lest the bunking by a prominent publishing and journalism house or an agency made rounds to instil a secondary image in the mindsets of the literary honchos. To cap this draft of flaunty sophistication and high profile majority, selfies knitted a storyline of their own. A generation, that as-is struggles to get enough of themselves in front of different lighting and background settings, inundated the length and breadth of the lawn, the eating space, all rooms public and the restrooms even. They swooned over the societal celebrities to imprison themselves within a five-inch frame of hard glass. It didn’t seem to matter if they followed their shows. If they believed in their ideologies. If they even liked them. As I tried to discover my ground amidst the first of such bizarre vividness, I could only infer – to the point of being a little narcissistic – their thickset make-up correlating to the denseness of their masked disguise.
Despite being shadowed by an eerie vibe at the two-day event, I acquired rich insights and takeaways from individual sessions. The selection of themes and subject matter experts couldn’t have been more tasteful and diverse. All said, the reasons for my feeling mislaid could have been multifold. The opulent property being one, and the urbanely chic city of Bangalore the other; the justifying tales of which are frozen to serve as another day’s dessert.
Sometimes, no element of reasoning or psyche matters, because none of it seems enough. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. The emotional and cognitive wavelengths vary, and the mental connect misses out. You figure that you can soak in the atmosphere only so much because there is that challenge to fit in. Picture an Earthian breathing the air of Mars. You are on the watch, judged by a different atmosphere. What you do, how you are, and why you be, don’t seem enough. It isn’t. Because, for one, getting into a social circle as such feels diasporic and two, the effort seems elitist.
Have you ever come across a time when you are by a stroke of luck shortlisted amongst the crème de la crème of submissions to sell your idea in the final round? Have you ever, by a combination of chance and fortune, got to appear on stage only to feel aloof and distant from your supposed capability? Have you ever prided yourself on your talent, but worried more of the inabilities you feel clumsy about? Have you ever come across a time when you have gathered the guts and stepped up to confess to the jury, ‘but then, everybody in my family told me I write well’? Have you ever imagined them respond to your self-assumed boldness with a, ‘well, my darling, that is why they are family’ and chuckle at your gullibility and ineptness?
The Introduction section in the first of the Shiva Trilogy series begins this way: They say writing is a lonely profession. They lie. I am amused by the clever wordplay in the statement, given it is coated sagaciously. However, I beg to differ with its meaning, because not every expression in this written declaration accords with reality. Writing demands loneliness, when practised as an exercise. Irrespective of one’s choice of context or subject, the process of manually scripting elements of speech into a series of meaningful expressions defaults to solo efforts. Thus, in essence, writing is a lonely process. However, I agree that it isn’t a lonely profession. But then, no profession is.
Any writing usually sets off with the spark of an idea or a thought seeding out of the blues. You’re probably sitting, staring unmindfully at your ceiling fan when a tube light switches on somewhere. Its flickering courses through your senses like that sooty dust accumulating on the fan’s blades. Although your idea seeps through without a definite shape or intent in the beginning, not unlike that amoeba we spun out at school examinations, sooner than later it begins to convene as an assembly you’re no longer able to put off addressing. It is as if the amassing dust particles on the fan need marshalling around the edges with a sketch pen, particularly with one bearing a pointed nib.
When much of one’s energy and mind space goes into a battle with their thoughts, interruptions don’t feel welcoming. Especially ones that demand our attention, requiring us to take part in the conversation or huddle. It snaps apart our unfocused focus. The stream of imagery perceptions that had only begun their flow like a scarping tributary about to join the river threaten to dangle. An ongoing deliberation of inserting an analogy, that unceasing battle of bettering the written expression, and the identification of a potential spot to emit a punchline faints into the oblivion. Tout de suite. And so, an unsolicited interruption has the power to break a writer’s reverie. After all, it isn’t at all times, and with everything that one can pick strands of conversations from where they left last.
Writing is no less than a self-torture technique of shutting oneself with a writing effigy of any sort. You don’t need a team or members to prove your points. You don’t need people to make or confirm your arguments to. You don’t need a conference room setup, video calling convenience, or even the likes of dialling anyone at a designated time. When it comes to writing, your appointments, timelines and commitments are with yourself. Your struggles and conflicts are self-brewed. And obligatory. For instance, the dispute of fine-tuning a statement in an article due for submission in the next hour is self-inflicted. The decision of selecting the vivaciousness in your painting of words is self-argued. The brain-fucking exercise of choosing between option a or z from the handful others that have already walked your cerebral ramp is self-fought. Any written piece is all about deeming true and honest expressions, whether meant for a reading by the third eye. As a writer, it is the least we owe to ourselves more than we do to the world. Every element in the writing process is invented, reflected, brooded over and resolved by the originator, no matter how meaningless or eternal. However minuscule or otherwise, a written piece is a representation of its creator. And if the creator cannot enjoy that writing badly, it is Writing Failure 101.
We writers can be a fitful lot occluded with self-conformed vanity oozing confidence and esteem on the outside. But here is a secret. It’s all a veil. Our alter ego is the zone of the endangered. For, it is here we place our duct of vulnerability. It is in our alternative personality that we enter into non-negotiable disputes with ourselves. It is here we conjure, contradict, bargain, recess, reconvene and arrive at writing-specific choices – not decisions. Like, analysing the logic behind a specific story, or finding ways to make it convincing (with conviction). It is in our alter ego we overcome every one of the self-conjured demons by quashing reasons after reasons, confession after confession to arrive at a version of sculpting smoke. Pride and writers do not go hand-in-hand; they cannot be lines within the same palm. Because, writers fight their pride at every step, steadily apprehensive of the valley of unknown. For, there will always be someone to step up and trash our notions and dissect that last of the hair-splitting details, calling it shitty, senseless and baseless. In other words, serving us the one-time server crash of all our morals and belief system. Cap it up with an engulfing insecurity of if we are ever going to be good enough to rule a verdict. Between versions. Between expressions. Between wordplay. Between sentences. Between stories. And between paper balls lining three-quarters of the trash bin. We will scratch our heads, snipe away on those begrimed nails, chew our dandruff off alongside the other dead skins on the cuticles, to seek an inward tale of comfort in those outward signs of nervousness. All this, while banding the battle of oomph between y’ll or you all to use in a chic-lit.
The lie may be the truth when they say writing is a lonely profession. But I suppose the one true statement is, writing is a lonely process.
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.