Drawing a line on the Seashore is no surprise: it’s Narcissism

The golden ball of flame had begun to loom up the horizon when I saw a family of three men, two women and two kids on the terrace of our building. They stared at the sea watching the sun rise from its sapient depths, pointing and conferring. The firebomb looked flushed and had stationed itself like a statue to tune up its brightness. At first, it blushed and then turned a carroty red. Once at ease, it resumed its journey upward in the air transpiring from a glow of tangerine to a summer’s amber. As it left an undetectable trail while rising into the horizon’s heart, its control with the brightness went awry. The exposure and saturation levels began to exceed expectations to the point of becoming unbearable. The unsuspecting carrier couldn’t have been more oblivious to the process, for that’s when the family of seven left the terrace. Probably to head home. This is how mornings – and sometimes, days – used to be spent once upon a time. Being present in the mere nothings, and amidst companionship. Whether in one’s direct bloodline or the next of it.

The need to chronicle ourselves with multicoloured labels has become an insouciant part of us today. It could have started here. A single tag of a service person, a musician, an artist, a teacher, a homemaker, or a student fails to please our ego. We feel stranded with a half-baked identity when we’re asked to describe what do we do, in a single word. We choose to let the question pass than giving a perfunctory response because we can’t meet the only criteria of the answering guidebook – in a single word. We certify that jack of a figure of speech by taking pride in referring to ourselves as generalists. Such self-bestowed testimonials are the trend nowadays – as they say in the West, swag.

We are the kind who’d engage our blood and sweat (tears, in some cases) into making an entrepreneurial venture a success while indulging in our passion for learning music in parallel. Because the former doesn’t yield us with a peace of mind and the latter, as many monetary benefits. We are the type who would be volunteering for an NGO over a weekend while posting a live feed of a reinvented foodstuff like an epicure by night. Because the former is a sideline that we enjoy undertaking, and the latter brings out an edgy connoisseur in us. We are the ones who would plan an itinerary to travel for a sunrise at the tip of our country while avoid soaking in the same-process-of-the-same-golden-ball-looming-up-the-same-way in our city. Because the former grants us a social status and the latter sounds relatively plain Jane.

SEO
Source: Pinterest

 

Social media profiles layer our existence by allocating omnipotent space to ‘describe ourselves’. Our reciprocating sentiments are no less than dilemmatic, for we find quilting into those blanks tricky. We fill the room with eye-catching expressions that serve the sole intent of drawing as much attention to ourselves. I’m no exception. An isolated tag does not rationalise our existence on this planet and hence, what we do by day and nights, the things we do by the hour and several, our itinerary for the weekend and the transition back to a workweek find their way under the ‘About Us’ section.

We seek multifaceted designations for ourselves and yet scream out for individualism. The irony at the base of it all.

20170305_125752_copy
Artist: Praneet Soi | Kochi Muziris Biennale, 2016

Our need to be independent, tolerant and opinionated is an integral part of us, much so that we have begun to clinch gaps for reconciliatory sentiments. Accommodate, adjust, compromise – I have to think the last time I was subjected to any of these. For illustration sakes, I may not go with a visiting relative for a walk because it would upset my writing routine. I would refuse to join a get together over the weekend because, my travel plans if cancelled then, might not resurface soon afterwards. I’m selfish. In fact, our need to be doing things at all times keeps us marching on, yet desisting from an attachment to any of it. As SRK said in a recent conversation over coffee – this generation is ‘demotional’. Detached yet emotional. The outcome of a contrivance we try yielding in our favour is great. If not, we move on even so. And try harder.

Despite that self-attested sticker of being distinct in the crowd, we are in pursuit of other people. We seek an attendance in our community now and then. We look out for friendships that appreciate us, bringing along a sense of belonging.

24:7
Source: @sarcasm_only

Motivational quotes catch our eye in a snap and hit the spot in us like a breeze. We share them with a one-word inscription only to forget about them the next day. We emphasise on yoga to the extent that we look at our mobile phones first thing in the morning. What about yoga for the eye? In a snap, we’re health-freaks and in the next, corporate smidgeons. In a snap, we’re the friend in need and the next, a traveller sojourning the wild by ourselves. Our workplace is no different, demanding us to bring to the table a little bit of everything. A niche skillset neither works nor suffices in a corporate setup today. Each of this transpires into tags that appear to be gift-wrapped in a golden paper but barely handed over. Because that box is likely to be empty. Devoid of value.

Some memes are doing the rounds on social media these days, of how our parents’ lifestyles differed when they were in their late twenties as against how our lifestyles are when we are of their age today.

Parents at 28
Source: The Internet

That’s likely because they did a thing or two right by belonging to a community setup. Through the choices we make, we always win some and lose some. Our parents may have forgone their voices in the grander scheme of things, while we could have found ours. While they chose to have us in their late twenties, we’re coping along fine by getting enough of ourselves. Maybe, they were meant to motor for a living, because the ambition for most was to motor for a living. For all we know, their idea of a break was indeed to enjoy a cup of chai with their group of regulars or stall near the vending machine at workplace discussing generic tactics. Back then, humankind’s purpose was by and large to exist and drive evolution. Instead, fraying on the sides with scheme(s) that failed to confide in them that the time, efforts, the sweat, blood and tears will be worth it all.

Eh, what do I know? I’m just a cynical spectator who is clueless about where to draw the line anymore. For one, sketching it on the seashore isn’t helping.

Sarcasm
Source: @sarcasm_only

 

When Ambition & Reality Collides

What is FIFO? How is it different from LIFO?        (1)

“FIFO & LIFO are concepts in the supply chain cycle that indicate the order in which goods in the production line must be placed and moved out. As per FIFO – First In, First Out – goods that are stacked in first need to be removed first for consumption purposes, whereas in LIFO – Last In, First Out – goods that are stacked last in the production line must be removed first for consumption purposes.”

“must be…removed …first for …consumption …purposes.” Maya muttered under her breath as she traced the words on her answer sheet. “And …done.”

She lifted her head that had until been then resting on her forearm and replaced the pen cap over the nib. Maya bundled her answer sheets and tied them with the white thread the supervisor had supplied her along with the extra supplement. She skimmed through both the question and answer papers once, pinned the former to her writing pad, gathered her stationery, tucked her water bottle under her armpits and clutched the answer sheet between her fingers. A warning bell rang sharply across the hallway as she headed toward the examination supervisor. “Five minutes!” he called out to the room at large, as he wordlessly took Maya’s answer sheet from her outstretched hands. Maya waited as the examiner scanned the few answer sheets he had received thus far to place hers in order of their roll call. He jerked his head a few seconds later, a sign Maya took to be the blessed confirmation of leaving the assessment territory. As she exited, Maya heard the supervisor call out to the students to tie their answer sheets first, an instruction she knew only too well to have been disregarded by all until the second they could postpone it to. For, the handful that sat in the hall still writing their exam were busy scribbling with their pens across the single-lined sheet at varying speeds.

As Maya walked to the residential hostel next to the academic campus, the two facilities separated by a high wall, her insides concocted a rollercoaster of emotions. She was through with her fourth and final semester of her post-graduation degree. Although this semester had only six subjects – when compared to nine in each of the other three – Maya had three backlogs to clear from the previous semester. She had to if she wanted to receive her certificate, officially instating her with the label of an MBA holder, alongside her batchmates. A significant part of the fourth term had taken up her batch’s time and efforts in indulging with corporate internships and submission of a thesis in their opted majors. Maya had bagged none of the apprenticeships that came to her campus as she always fell short of skillsets or general know-how. It had been a vicious cycle. She heard from her batchmates now and then about how they didn’t want to land such internships in the first place. Then why apply? Maya would seethe at them. On the upside, she had enjoyed putting together her thesis, for her chosen concept belonged to a subject that she hoped to make a career out of someday – Recruitment & Hiring.

As Maya climbed the hostel steps to her room on the second floor, she thought of the past two years that had now seemed to have whirled past in the swish and flick of a magic wand. This campus had been her boarding point all this while. She was free to go without having to return to it for a fresh year or semester. She could leave once and for all. Back home. The one prospect she was looking forward to more than anything else in her immediate future.

Maya latched open the door to her room with the key her roommate had handed over to her two days ago. Having completed her exams with zero backlogs, Maya’s roommate had left home earlier leaving the entire space to her. Maya gave the sizeable room a glance to digest the whereabouts of its possessions. Her flight didn’t leave until 5:30 that evening. However, there was no time to dawdle. It was 12:00 noon. She had exactly an hour to gather and stow her belongings into the two twenty-kilogram suitcases and a shoulder bag she had carried from home. The past week, Maya had seen more than enough courier trucks stop by at her university for transporting her batchmates’ possessions back to their respective homes. It was a culmination of the items they had carried with them after each of their trips back, and the umpteen couriers their parents had sent them over the period of twenty-four months. As much as Maya could have done away with an advanced mail for a set of her belongings herself, the idea wasn’t entirely workable. Partly, because her parents resided in the Gulf and partly because, she was devilishly short on cash. Her wallet bore close to ₹500 at that moment. It was enough to cover her one-way ticket worth ₹200 in the city bus to the airport. Based on her calculations, a couple of hundred-rupee notes ought to have served her purpose in case of an emergency. Through the two years, it was safe to assume of Maya’s pauperdom when it came money management. It was one subject that she needed tutoring on aside from her persisting backlogs on Financial Studies in the first two semesters.

As Maya began gathering her possessions from the bed, she went into a flashback tracing the beginning of it all. She had been keen on pursuing a post-graduation; she was interested in studying further. However, it wasn’t the choicest of courses in her list of preference. Given an alternative, Maya would have chosen a post-graduation in Arts. Master of Arts. From the time she was inducted into one of the leading business schools in Bengaluru for a Master’s degree in Business Administration, her way of life began challenging her in fashions she had not even remotely anticipated. Perhaps, a chunk of those trials could be credited to having to cope up with a pressure-induced environment at twenty years of age. Maya neither boasted of any intellect nor scars from a battle to help her tangle head-to-head in arcane assignments that were meant only for grading purposes. A drill that otherwise, she noticed, most of her batchmates found commonplace. Maya found it taxing to impose an individualistic twist on secondary research to meet her assignment timelines. She also found herself tackling subjects that were not only mandatory but also failed to make any sense to her. The crux of Financial Studies, the nature of surprise tests and the timelines to keep up with pre-class preps for all subjects at once fuddled Maya. She failed them all miserably. Or, most of them anyway. A few failed attempts resulted into backlogs while a handful others converted into poor but passable grades.

So much for having evaded the life in a concrete jungle at twenty.

Maya rolled over the cables of her handphone and laptop chargers into neat rows and stuffed them into her shoulder bag that was brimming until its neck already. A hand towel, a couple of pairs of inner wears and her laptop still lay around — must-haves. She ran through her desk drawers and found a wad of new stationery that she hadn’t touched once in the two years. She then remembered about collecting her dresses from the washer and took a fleeting look at the digital clock on her mobile. She had also to make one last trip to the xerox centre in the academy block for printing a copy of her air ticket. 12:40 PM. Maya was beginning to lose it.

She stared helplessly at her suitcase and decided to skip the trip to the washer. Aside from the titchy clothes and laptop, she chose to leave all else behind. Maya had neither the time nor friends on the campus to help her. Most of them had left two days ago. Also, there was no space in her luggage to stuff anything further. From a wardrobe full of clothes for different occasions to an array of shoes, from her university uniform of a blazer and a pair of pants to the utensils her mother had incentivised her with during each of her vacation trips home, Maya’s travel bags accommodated not an inch more to stuff items within. So much so, that her panic of the zips bursting open by themselves during flight transitions wasn’t entirely baseless. Maya figured this was not the time to lose it. She collected herself and kept motoring with the means to catch that flight back home. To top it all, given her cash reserves were infinitesimal, Maya couldn’t afford to miss the airport shuttle due to leave the depot nearby at 1:25 PM. She had thirty-five minutes to catch the bus.

So much for having evaded the life in a concrete jungle at twenty. And a poor perception of time management.

Maya had chosen to pursue her Master’s degree at that age primarily because she was unable to elude a way out of her inception into concrete jungles. Her upbringing had been conditioned through a thorough lifestyle adopted by cityscapes. Modes and methods of daily living revolved around societal norms by maintaining a status quo in public circles and adhering to voluntary codes and conducts of social behaviour. Heading out with friends all days or for too much time was forbidden, as was having late night calls or chats over the phone. Being spotted with a batchmate of the opposite sex on the nearby streets discussing movies was morally incorrect because neighbours ‘talked’. Inappropriate clothing caused the society to frown upon the parents than the offsprings, as it reflected the nurturing they have bestowed upon the coming generation. Pocket money without being accounted for was never encouraged owing to the ‘you’re-too-young-to-handle-cash’ and ‘we-need-to-know-what-are-you-spending-on’ excuses. Nor was a career in an eccentric stream as event management or journalism as a result of ‘those-are-unsafe-jobs’. The cities Maya was bred in may have been larger area-wise when compared to towns, her existence in them nevertheless, caged.

Maya locked her suitcases and zipped her shoulder bag with considerable effort. She gave the room one sweeping glance, dragged her luggage out with an effort and bolted the door. The suitcases were needless to mention, weighty. She headed down the two floors dragging her luggage through the stairs, one by one. As she reached the ground floor, she realised the hostel lift had been repaired by the maintenance department that morning. Maya remained oblivious, for she was determined not to get worked up. After all, she was heading back to her comfort zone — home — a motive strong enough to retain her optimism through the day. She handed the key to the warden at the reception who on seeing the luggage, engaged Maya in a parting chit-chat. 12:56 PM. Maya left the luggage there and headed to the xerox centre. En route, she met the few straggling batchmates of hers and therein began a stream of parting banters. A strand Maya had failed to reserve any time for. By the time she hauled her suitcases outside the main gate, it was 1:12 PM. She had thirteen minutes to reach the depot and catch the shuttle.

There was no rickshaw for hire in sight. Maya dragged the suitcases one by each hand, with her shoulder bag dangling threateningly off her back, onto the main road, a walk of close to five hundred metres from her university. The fact that the road was an uphill only added to load Maya carried. Her chest shot a painful sear as she gasped for breath, having dragged her luggage in a hurry. A rickshaw headed in the opposite direction. Maya waved her hand frantically, and he slowed down.

“Electronic City bus depot?”
The driver nodded.
“Eshtu?” She asked in the little Kannada she knew.
“You tell me.”
“Fifty rupees.”
He nodded once more.
With considerable effort, Maya lifted the suitcases and placed them in the rickshaw. A feat that proved no less than difficult owing to the mismatching widths of her travel bags with the space in the three-wheeler. She jerked the two Rexine bags haphazardly in an attempt to squeeze them in and hauled the shoulder bag in one sweeping motion onto the seat before she sat. 1:21 PM.

It was two minutes past one-thirty when Maya reached the depot. Finding no bus at its designated spot, she inquired about BIAL 200 – the airport service shuttle – to a passing-by conductor.
“The bus just left.”
“How long ago?”
“Just a minute or so back, madam.”
Maya headed back to the rickshaw to check if the driver could help her catch the bus.
“My bus left the depot two minutes back. Can you help me catch it?”
“Sit.” He turned the ignition on. “Do you have the bus driver’s number?”
“Bus driver? No. Let me go back and check at the depot. As an afterthought, Maya asked, “Can you help me ask him in Kannada?”
“Sure.” The auto driver turned out the ignition and accompanied Maya to the bus depot. Her luggage was left in the vehicle, unmanned.
“Do you have the driver’s number who is riding the bus?” asked the rickshaw driver the same conductor to whom Maya had spoken less than a minute ago.
“Which bus? What service?”
“BIAL 200. The airport bus that I just checked with you.” Maya chipped in.
“What’s the problem?”
“She needs to be aboard that bus. She needs to get to the airport” said the rickshaw driver.
“The next bus leaves at 2:35 PM. She can wait at the depot.”
“I will miss my flight.” Maya butted in once more.
The conductor and the driver talked for about a minute when the former said “I can’t give you the driver’s number. But I will check who is the ticket conductor on board that bus.” He retrieved the phone and tapped a series of buttons.
“Where have you reached?”
On receiving a response from the other end, the conductor spoke. “There is a girl who has missed the bus. She is in a rickshaw. She will reach in time to catch the bus at Oxford College.”
On receiving the acknowledgement from the other end, the depot conductor spoke once more into the mouthpiece. “I am giving the girl your number. She will reach out to you.” He hung up the phone and gave Maya the bus conductor’s details. “Give him a call. You should be able to catch up to them at the Oxford College bus stop.”
Maya nodded, noted the number and thanked him. 1:47 PM. Her hands were trembling.

The rickshaw driver turned the ignition on, and off the two sped. Maya dialled the number, and the conductor greeted her in Kannada. She handed the phone to the driver and requested him to let him know of their whereabouts and that they’d be reaching the bus stop soon. The driver did as instructed and handed the phone back to Maya. As they neared Oxford College, Maya’s heartbeat was thumping. Beads of sweat were beginning to form on her forehead and upper lip. She spotted the bus at a distance realising a moment later that it had made it to the college before them. Maya dialled the conductor’s number in a hurry.
“We are right behind you. Wait for a half minute, please.” She yelled into the phone.

The driver sped up on cue, the intense whirring of the engine now running an undercurrent on Maya’s soles and calves. She retrieved her purse to pay to the rickshaw driver. There was a note of ₹10, one note of ₹50, and four ₹100 notes. She extracted the single notes of fifty and ten. Maya wanted to pay him more; however, she had neither the time asking him for change nor was in a position to dispose of a single hundred-rupee note. She was disheartened at the moment, but there was no time to brood over it. She handed ₹60 to the driver and gave him a pleading look. The driver nodded his understanding and helped Maya lug her suitcases into the waiting bus. It was 2:15 PM. So began Maya’s next quest to make it to the airport by 3:30 PM.

So much for having evaded the life in a concrete jungle at twenty. A poor perception of time management. And the lack of lessons on money jurisdiction.

She paid the conductor ₹200 to draw her ticket and sat staring out the window. Maya had more than an hour to make it to the airport, a feat that she considered achievable given the city’s non-peak traffic hours she was commuting in. As the bus exited the Electronic City Road and ascended the flyover leading to Koramangala, Maya relapsed into a flashback. She remembered the series of conversations with her father she’d had before joining MBA, as vividly as they had happened yesterday.

*******************

“What’s your plan?” The two sat in the living room, him poring over the morning newspaper while she with a teacup clutched in both her hands. It was one of those lazy Friday mornings, his weekend at work.
“I don’t understand. What plan?”
“You have finished your Graduation. What’s next?” Without waiting for a response, he asked, “Are you planning to work?”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“When are you going to think about it?”
“I need to.”
“Your graduation is already done.” Her father persisted.
“What do you have in mind?”
“If you want to work, I can look up a training course at my workplace. Meanwhile, you find a full-time job” said Maya’s father, looking up from his newspaper.
“You mean at SSB Automobiles?”
“Yes.”
“Okay. Yeah. Maybe.”
“Since you’re interested in Finance, I can check if there is availability in that department.”
“Okay.”

Maya didn’t give either the proposition or the conversation any particular thought. Ten months later, she had finished her training and had landed a job with the organisation with a permanent working visa. It was a clear path ahead, had she been planning for a life of retirement. After all, a full-time job with a working visa and tax-free income could have been a dream come true for many. Not for her. The workplace and its hierarchical environment had begun to bog Maya down within the year. She had lost interest when her superiors wove around her a circumlocutory vocabulary of tasks and responsibilities. Unable to keep up with the web of wordsmith-like promises, Maya quit her job. She had to determine her next move.

*******************

It was five minutes past three. The afternoon traffic had begun to build up in select parts of the city through which the airport shuttle navigated in its pace. Maya was becoming giddy with anticipation again. As the bus tottered through its courses of lanes, wide and narrow, for the first time Maya wondered if she’d make it to the airport in time. When she reached the air terminal’s main gate, it was 3:49 PM. She was twenty minutes late.

*******************

“If it is Master’s it needs to be in India, dad. I don’t want to pursue my Master’s degree in the Gulf” said Maya to her father.

After careful deliberation, Maya had figured of her interest in further studies. With her brief stint in SSB Automobiles, she didn’t feel ready to be swooped into the hunger games of money and power of private corporations.

“I would love to pursue a Master’s degree from overseas, but I understand if we do not have the financial means to do so.” She continued.
“What makes you think I can’t support you?” Maya detected a hint of defence in her father’s tone.
“I am only saying. Nothing more.”
“Just because you’re grown up and have had a stint at earning doesn’t mean you think any less of your father.”
Maya stayed silent. She knew any perspectives or elaborations at that point would have only annoyed him further. He was an egoistic man, no matter however independent he wanted his two kids to become. Like all fathers, he liked to believe that he could do anything especially when it was for his children.
“I want to pursue my post-graduation in India” tried Maya after a pregnant pause.
“Sure. You need to look at the entrance test scheduled for an MBA, right?”
Maya defied a response. She wanted to tell her father that she wanted to pursue her post-graduation in Arts.
“Are there any other options?” ventured Maya tentatively.
“Like what?”
“Besides MBA or joining another corporate to work full time?”
“What do you have in mind?” asked Maya’s father peering over his reading glasses.
“I don’t like the sound of the corporate. I got bored of SSB Automobiles so fast. And I am not sure if I want to do an MBA.”
“But that would mean wasting time, Maya. Least of all, an academic year.”
“Yeah. I’m saying I would like to look at the other options in post-graduation.”
“Again. Like what?”
“I know only of MA besides MBA. I don’t want an MBA.”
“We’ll try for the premier colleges in India, love. It won’t be so bad.”

Not getting Maya to agree to his viewpoints began to exasperate him. However, he maintained his calm with her. He gave his thought-process another go in an attempt to influence her.

“You’ll be wasting an academic year. You need to take a call. And fast. Entrance examinations will approach soon and if we miss the timelines, an entire schooling year will go down the drain.”

******************

“I’m sorry we cannot issue you with a boarding pass, ma’am.” said the flight official behind the counter.
“Is there nothing you can do?” asked Maya breathlessly.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. There is nothing I can do. You are forty minutes late. Even if I issue you with a boarding pass, your baggage weighs ten kilos extra than we are allowed to permit on international flights.”
“I’m relocating. That’s why I have such heavy luggage. Is there any way you can let this pass through just this once?” Maya pleaded.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. There is no way we can let it pass through. We can alternatively send your luggage for free on cargo. It’ll reach you two days later.”
“How much would you charge if I need to take my luggage with me?”
“You will need to pay ₹2000 to let your luggage pass through.”
“Is there no concession at all?”
“No, ma’am. I’m extremely sorry. You have to pay. In another ten minutes, we’ll be closing our boarding gates. There is nothing I will be able to do beyond that.”

******************

“I would like to pursue MA.” said Maya quietly.

The last time she had subtly highlighted of her interest in MA against an MBA, her father had either missed noting the detail or had pretended to remain oblivious to it. Maya gave it a shot by being upfront with a man she was otherwise so intimidated by.

“MA?” repeated her father, as if confirming he had heard her correct.
“Yes, dad. Master of Arts.”
Haan, I know that. What will you do with a Master’s degree in Arts?”
“I don’t know how course jumps work, dad. I did a Bachelor in Business Administration. I’m not sure if it is okay to jump to a major in Arts after a Commerce background. But there are more than a couple of streams I’d be interested in venturing into after a post-graduation in Arts.”
“Like?”
“Journalism, Sociology, Psychology, History.”
“But all those jobs would involve for you having to travel or hop from one place to another, to say the least. And what are you going to do in Journalism? Report news like those correspondents do?”
“For your first question, okay. Is that a problem? And for the second, if we don’t try how is it fair to judge that’s all there is to Journalism?”
“The subjects are bizarre. You’d either land up treating patients in an asylum or finding artefacts from centuries ago that are of possibly no further value. Do these even qualify as jobs?”
“Until we don’t try how is it fair to judge any subject in Arts?” Maya put forth the same logic once more.
“Don’t berate me, Maya. Arts is not a workable option. There will be limited choices for a career.” His tone softened suddenly. “Why don’t you opt for an MBA? You will be left with many more options then. Plus, the market value of the degree is high.”
“Is there a problem pursuing a post-graduation in Arts, dad?”
“There is no problem. I don’t know how many would identify a Master’s degree in MA. I’m not sure if this degree is recognisable today. Also, I don’t know if travelling jobs would suit you fine. They are mostly unconventional for us. It’s unsuitable. There would be endless and inconsistent working hours.”
“But I like the subjects, dad.”
“If you want to get into a creative field any way you could do it in MBA too, I’m sure? Take up a job in a company that has an artistic profile attached to it. Plus, you’ve always mentioned of your interest in stocks and share markets. What about it?”
“I would love to get into the creative field. But I don’t know what Arts as an area has to offer. Plus, it seems more mainstream for my creative interest than MBA. It’s alluring. I could be judging too soon if I don’t see what Arts has to offer.”
“What about your training and experience in Finance with SSB Automobiles?” Maya’s father reiterated.
“I looked up Finance as an option too … but I don’t…”
“Then, where is the issue? Try for an MBA with Finance as your fore. Maybe, even as a major.”
There was a brief silence.
“Don’t worry. We’ll apply to the big universities. There are students’ quotas too. We’ll see if we fit into any of those.” Her father persisted.
Maya was not happy. “I also want to apply through the general quota. For a bit of self-assessment.”
“Do you mean you want to sit for the Common Admission Tests?”
“Yes.”
“But that would involve a lot of preparation, darling. Would you be able to do it?”
“There is no harm in trying, dad.”
“That means I would need to look up tickets for India around the same time as this year’s test is scheduled.”
Maya didn’t respond.
Her father continued “That’s not an issue. I’ll check with your mum’s cousin. She works with the Jete Lines, right? I’ll see if there is a concessional airfare we can apply for. Can you do a thing?”
“What’s that?”
“A few universities hold an NRI quota. We should be eligible for it. Check out, if this quota has a separate entrance test, and the dates for them. We’ll see if we can club the entrance examinations and make a combined trip to India.”
“Okay.”

Maya was still unhappy.

******************

She prayed that the number she was seeking on her handphone existed. There it was. She dialled it immediately.

“Hi, Rani didi. This is Maya this side. I need help.”
“Hey, Maya, what’s up?”
“I’m travelling back home on Jete Lines, and they are asking me to pay for my luggage.”
“How much?”
“Two thousand rupees.”
“Aren’t they letting you pass?”
“I told them I’m relocating. They didn’t buy it. I haven’t been issued with a boarding pass yet. And the gate apparently closes in five minutes.”
“Pass your phone to the airline official behind the counter.” said Rani didi.
“Sure.” Maya handed the phone to the lady behind the counter. “She is a staff of Jete Lines in Mumbai. She’d like to speak with you.”
“Hello?”
“…”
“Hi, Rani. Please tell me.”
“…”
“We cannot. She has a sizeable chunk extra. It is sure to come under the radar.”
“…”
“No, it can’t. It can create a problem considering it is a transit flight through Mumbai to the Gulf.”
“…”
“Yes, I checked. She wasn’t okay with cargo.”
“…”
“Sure. I’ll call give you a call.” The official handed the phone back to Maya.
“Yeah, didi.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of the payment on behalf of you now. Check in your luggage, and head back home safe.”
“Thank you. I’ll pay you back soon.”
“Don’t worry” Rani repeated.

Finally, Maya received her boarding pass. As she thanked the official and rushed to Immigration Check, a voice over the tannoy announced, “This is the last and final boarding call for all passengers travelling from Bengaluru to Muscat via Mumbai on Jete Lines 6Y 6333. Passengers are requested to board the flight immediately through gate number 6 …gate number 6 …”

4:45 PM.

******************

Maya scored sixty-one percentile in the yearly Common Admission Test. She appeared for a few entrance examinations reserved for NRI quota that nonetheless left her with a sentiment of indifference. On the flip side, she had begun to consider the possibilities of not making through in an admission test, thereby evading MBA at all. An option was to stealthily rate ‘Mass Media & Communication’ one in the application form for the question: Rate the courses you’d like to apply for in order of preference. Select top 3. However, she knew that father wouldn’t be pleased with the outcome. MBA was meant to be. Her nightmarish reality.

******************

The immigration queue was relatively fast-paced when compared to the parallel lines.

“Travelling to?” The officer inquired, as Maya stepped in front of his box.
“Muscat.”
“Reason for travelling?”
“My parents live there.”

He stamped an ‘Exit’ symbol onto one of her passport pages that also held the date, and let her pass through.

Maya rushed to boarding gate six, that had a last of the ambling passengers scrambling their way through the airstrip. Maya showed her boarding pass to the airline official who let her pass. She was once again stopped by the security on the strip to check the stamp on her shoulder bag before letting her pass through to the aircraft. Maya was only hauling her shoulder bag underneath the seat in front of her when she heard a lady announcing to the cabin at large.

“Boarding complete. Crew to cross-check doors and report.”

She was going home. At last. Her abode of comfort. In where she was sure of one thing. Never having to return to a university for an MBA. The beguiling segment of this entire jigsaw was the fact that her parents had no idea of their daughter’s plans. Maya had wanted it to be a surprise, the day she was to return home once and for all.

******************

“Why are you calling from this number?”
“I’m here, dad.”
“I understand that. Why are you calling from your Muscat local number?”
“I’m at the airport, dad.”
“Still. Isn’t it on international roaming? You might be losing phone credit like crazy.”
“I’m at the Muscat airport, dad.”
There was a pause. “What? When?”
“Now. The flight just landed, and I’m on my way to the airport in the shuttle.”
“What? When did you arrive?”
“Just. My return flight from Bengaluru was in the evening. I was in transit at the Mumbai airport. I’m now at Muscat.”
In the background, Maya could listen to her mother’s concerns. “What happened? Where is she? Is everything okay?”
“Yes. She is at the airport.” Maya’s father prompted to his mother, still on the mouthpiece.
Maya heard her mother a couple of inches closer to the phone. “What’s the surprise? This is so uncalled for.”
“I’m here now. I need to come home.”
“Why didn’t you inform us beforehand? Now you need to wait pointlessly.” Maya’s mother said.
“That’s fine. I’ll hold on.”
“Wait. Talk to dad.”
“Will you wait?” asked Maya’s father.
“Yes.”
“Must I come to pick you?”
“Yes.”
“Okay, wait there.”

An hour and a half later, Maya was home. It was past 1:30 AM. It had been over twelve hours since Maya had left the university. Her mother greeted her at the door with a monologue of verbal whacks.

“What is it with your surprises, Maya? I don’t understand how you guys have picked the need to shock us. Surprises are nice. Isn’t there a limit to giving surprises, though? Don’t you know where you must draw a line? Answer me. I’m asking you, Maya.”
“Yes.”
“What’s yes? Couldn’t you let us know that you were coming? You had to wait alone at the airport at this hour. What if something had happened? We were so thrown away by your news. Are these even ideas you consider for a surprise in the first place?”
“Aren’t you happy that I’m done with my MBA and back home?” Maya asked quietly.
“Yes, but is this the way you get in? Without prior information and intimation? What do we make out of your whole …”

Maya couldn’t stay tuned anymore. It had been a long day. She might have considered narrating the tale to her mother at one point in time or the other. However, on gauging her welcome-back note, she decided to carry the secret with herself. Maya dragged her luggage into her room, leaving her mother to continue her streak of whining.

So much for having evaded the life in a concrete jungle at twenty. A poor perception of time management. The lack of lessons on money jurisdiction. And prioritising her return home above all else.

Her Fraudulent Payment?

It was in a set of quirky circumstances that they had met each other. The first time they came close to doing so, she was leaving the venue he was at, moments too soon. The performance she was watching had ended; how was she to know that he would be on the stage next? It was dark, and she had to get back. The city that was otherwise teeming with tourists, her being one, was a foreign territory to her. After all, her nurturing had been that way. When you are a girl raised in an Indian upbringing, you’re taught to not wander around unfamiliar perimeters on your own. Especially after sunset.

She was on a trip by herself to a city located seven hundred kilometres away from home to visit one of the biggest art exhibitions in the country. Arts and crafts – visual or otherwise – shaped her professional interest. That evening as she returned to her lodge, she reworked her next day’s agenda to accommodate a trip back to the town’s Heritage Centre. For on that same afternoon, she had to pore over the Centre’s collections in a rush, as the exhibition had neared its closure time. Her greed to strike off a spot in her itinerary had dominated her need to absorb real-time self-gratification. And thus, she had begun to second doubt of missing a display room here and attention to detail there. As a result, she had failed to concentrate on the following performance at the Centre. Furthermore, the venue’s landscape had in its earnestness charmed her, much so that she did not mind paying it another visit.

She arrived at the Heritage Centre next day and strolled through the rooms that had been elaborately carved in teak wood. Pillars adorned the gopura-scape at regular intervals like a reliable support system. A statue of Nataraja, the Lord of Dance, carved in sandalwood, dominated the centre stage. Gold-emblazoned plates were fixed outside each room, pronouncing the category of the cultural art it housed. Flex banners hanging loosely off the hook divided the walls between the five rooms. These banners embraced flavours of the biennial art exhibition, thereby staging the purpose of the bustling tourists from world over in the otherwise nearing summer season. As she meandered through the architecture drifting in and out of the contents on the flex, her eyes fell upon a poem by Sebastian titled Fraudulent Payment.

That’s when she heard him prompt to her from the room behind.

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“Are you here for the art exhibition?”
“Yes.”
“Did you watch the shows?”
“Which one?”
“There are shows staged here daily on traditional cultures.”
“Oh, you mean, in there?” she asked, jabbing her index finger at the room in front of her.
“Yes. Kathakali, Mohiniyattam and Kuchipudi. I think, on some days they stage Bharatnatyam also.”
“I watched Kathakali yesterday. I wasn’t aware they staged other shows too. Also, it was late, and I had to leave.”
“I perform there.”
“You mean, you demonstrate Kalaripayattu here?”
“Yes. The version on the stage is nothing as it is a small setup. We need to be careful of manoeuvring our movements. You must watch our early evening performances at the dojo.” He concluded by pointing his thumb towards the room’s interior.
“What’s a dojo?” she was intrigued.
“We call it Kalari in Malayalam; it is the place where we practice the art. Payattu means the weapons with which we practice this martial art.”
“I’m aware of what’s Kalari.”
“Usually, people know what a dojo is. It is a Japanese term used globally, which means the performing square. That is why I used it.”
“Well, it worked the other way with me.” She gave a little laugh.
“Yes.” He smiled slightly, reckoning a sign of friendliness.
“When do you perform?”
Kathakali is on now. We will go in soon after.”
“How about the early evening shows you mentioned?
“Four to five PM.”
“Oh, I leave tomorrow evening. Otherwise, I would have loved to come.”
“Okay.” He jerked his head a little.
“Do you perform in the mornings as well?” She asked. She knew only too well of the response she wanted to hear.
“Erm, I have training in the morning.”
“Do you train yourself?”
“That, and I have a few students.”
“Oh, you do that as well in this dojo, is it?”
“Yes.”
“What time?”
“Seven thirty.”
“Can I come and watch?”
“Sure.”
“I hope that won’t be an intrusion.”
“Not at all.” After a pause, he added “The shows we perform in our dojo in the early evenings are severe because this is our space and we can indulge in the marital art the way we want to. In fact, before our stage show, we warm up here.” He pointed to the dojo. “Come and take a look.”
“Can I come inside?” She reiterated for she thought she had failed to interpret his invitation right.
“Of course.”

It was with a child-like excitement she climbed the steps to the room that had embalmed outside a nameplate in gold: KALARIPAYATTU.

It had felt like entering a warm furnace. His performing squad may have only warmed-up there; however, their combined heat had increased the room’s temperature in its entirety. She felt stuffy, an apt sort, as the weaponry on display emanated another bout of a heatwave. Sticks of wavering heights lay stacked in one corner, some of which were askew while others held their ground. Shields and swords resembling the ones pictured on cameras in mythological battles filled up a portion of the room’s breadth. A parapet running above and parallel seated knives, daggers and their respective holders. A square of twenty by ten feet dominated the centre, occupying a majority of the room. A balcony was set up adjoining the entrance with a few chairs to sit and watch duels in progress. She saw the pages of an ancient sport unfolding in quick successions as she batted her eyelid. The blinking of her lashes was probably the only sign that reinstated in her her non-dreaming state.

Soon after the act of Kathakali had concluded, he went up the stage for simulating combats with his squad of three while she headed to the audience. The sticks entangled with clangs in midair and were followed by a series of attacks and blocks. As she observed him weave his way through a series of ambushes from his opponent, the reverberation from the wooden sticks unceasing, his arm movements drifted her attention to his build. The muscle cuts across his shoulders and upper limbs could not have been more striking. If one were naïve enough, they could have mistaken his flesh tones for artistic carvings. The customary black vest that duellers in this martial art typically donned as their uniform embraced and if only, enhanced his trimmed physique. His shoulder bones hunched up to his neck as seamlessly as they trod down his arms. With his lithe build, he pirouetted with grace to change sides, while insisting his eyes on his opponent. She remembered the moment when he had divulged to her the essence of Kalaripayattu. “The crux of Kalari is the coordination of the mind with the body. The trick is to look into your opponent’s eyes. It is easy to cheat a combatant with misleading body movements, but not with the eyes. Eyes don’t lie.” He had said. Little had she realised then, that he had had her there.

Had it not been to watch him indulge in the martial art with his students, they may not have met again. Except that they did, the next morning. From the way he went on about the sport, to how his parents had initially imposed him into a conventional line of work lured her. At first, she was uneasy of sitting across someone who could slate their lifetime records to a stranger like an open book. However, she began to discover a charm in his monologue as their conversation flowed. She was drawn to his gossip because not once did he shift his conversation from discussing non-specific tactics. Not once did he deflect their course of exchange into a contrivance of a personal whereabout or episode. As the sun peaked up and about, their conversation glided like a crocodile on the banks of a river in pursuit of its prey. Smooth and unpredictable. She was beginning to like him more by the minute.

Their chit-chatting sailed over a cup of chai, and she digested his features for reasons unrealised and unknown. She noticed how his face was so naturally oval, crowned with a mop of hair chopped in a blend of military and mushroom cuts. His eyes sunk into deep pits, the trenches emerging almost immediately for dovetailing a pair of jutting cheekbones. There was an unmistakable hollow in places where his cheeks should have been, culminating into a sharp and pointed jawline. She was able to discern his facial profile despite all of it being wrapped in a thick mane of black. His skin under the matted beard that ran the length of his cheekbones to his neck had clearly failed to see daylight for months on end. All the same, she found his dark fuzz as the highlight of her scrutiny. For it was one feature that imbibed in him a boyish charm ensuing in an irresistible masculinity.

He had dressed that morning in run-of-the-mill sweatpants and a full-sleeved shirt, the sleeves of which were folded promiscuously, and the buttons of which were undone until his chest. A black drawstring hung loosely from his neck depicting a silver Latin cross. He kept twirling his handlebar moustache now and then as he talked, an effect she found so measured and crisp, urging her to rip something off of him. Her gaze more often than not returned to his lips that had been on the move under that unruly mop and tash, since the time they had met. A part of her had wanted to ask him to shave never.

His warm callow made her wonder about the number of girls he attracted on a daily basis. A perception that consumed a slice of her in an unexpected jealousy. A part of her felt coy at the exuding amount of information he was capable of confabulating, but her intuition beckoned her to keep her sentiments simple. ‘He isn’t your type’ her gut had confided in her. He was a delightful company to be around with a bonus of causing in her a sexual fringe; however, there was a thread about him she couldn’t sew right.

All too soon, they had empty cups of tea as an excuse to continue their banter, when he invited her home. It was a proposition that she was taken aback with at that moment, but found lovely, as an afterthought. After all, one doesn’t ask a person to visit home unless they aren’t comfortable sharing their space or family members with the other. It was a gracious gesture she had to turn down as a result of her preplanned agenda. Of her greed to tick a few more to-dos off of her planner.

They departed to carry on with their schedules. On her return to her city, he was the one aspect of the trip she least retrospected about. She had wanted to keep her tour to the art exhibition alive for as long as her memory allowed her to. However, she had dismissed him with a label of an engaging conversationalist in her journal and cognitive record of encounters and learnings. A companion whose thought induced in her a pleasure-filled, squirmy wetness, nonetheless.

After all, she had no space to accommodate his significance into her existence. For her loyalty lay towards her marriage. Not because she considered the commandments the mortal society bestowed upon the lawful act in its entirety, but because she recognised her priorities too well.

Besides, she had felt a disconnect between them. A gap that arose primarily owing to the divergingly contrasting personalities the two were. Right from the way he could yap without a break, to how she could refrain from talking at most times. Right from how he preferred to be socially active, to how she liked drawing her energy being shut in a room. Right from his need to belong to different groups of individuals at various times in a day, to her preference of little or no company at most.

Their traits may have been poles apart, and she may have had her priorities set straight, but nothing stopped the shadowy corners of her mind from conjuring up fantasies about the remotely possible scenarios between them. One of her scripts had them riding together on a two-wheeler to a nearby town for his participation in a Kalaripayattu duel. Another one involved them travelling to a waterfall located on the city’s outskirts on a warm morning. A third scenario had him taking her on a State Corporation bus for an overnight trip to a town for sharing insights on his revered martial art. And yet another script brought out his aggression when one of his friends tried to get a tad ‘friendly’ with her.

Could she have reshuffled her priorities? For once, she wished she had the supremacy to predict the future.

“Don’t think about your Writing when you’re not Writing”​

It isn’t a great feel, pondering over a blank sheet, struggling with the direction the nib of one’s pen must glide towards. The pen cap seeks a one-of-its-kind solace when pinned between the teeth and tongue, for this little effect gives an intellectual air of discerning one’s thoughts. To begin the process of writing, the need to put together words in an unbreakable string is evident. But there are times when one gets stuck while practising the craft. We pause from our scribbling to reflect upon the next ‘it’ along with an ideal way to emote that imprint. In such bits, choosing to continue with whatsoever comes to mind is a tough call to beckon to, because nothing makes sense. The train of thought feels lost, so much so, that what’s written thus far also starts sounding vague in the head.

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Impressions are nothing but results of works-in-progress

The flow begins to go astray. We look up from our paper and notice the tiny bubbles floating weightlessly in the air. We survey the horizon underlining the sky’s and the sea’s mating zone. And recce the morning commuters buzzing in the beeline through the pin-straight traffic. But we’re unable to knot together any observations that are seizing our sight. As much as we try to fuse the dots, the design appears individualistic. Scattered. And resolute in its self-appointed position. It is as if our productions conspire a vendetta to throttle our efforts. There are umpteen ways to gift an idea with a written life, but it is convenient to remain dazed at such times. We feel stupefied for we find ourselves interpreting the next beginning. Or, are probably asking ourselves the most ludicrous of all questions – what do I write? How about anything?

While one tackles bouts of unresponsive setbacks, a few scribblers scrap the draft and start afresh. As if an earlier version never existed. They erase and wipe the version off their memory and give the craft another attempt. Like transferring the old wine in a new bottle. The creators are cautious while discharging their train of thoughts here, lest they go down the same road to be gripped by the quicksand once more. The other of the hungover lot sleeps on practising the craft. Whether for a half hour, a one, days together or weeks. Sometimes, months. They remember to forget about what they had drafted and tackle it later. In the recess, they are likely to have forgotten the reason they had carved that fastidious slice of view in the first place. Their attempt of retrial helps them unravel if a refresh – after an interlude – can bequeath their ego with a relative gratification.

Except for a core idea, writers have no thought-process other than to how best play with it. (I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.) They are known to live in a world of illusions. Content with self-inflicted observations and believing them to be the distinctive-most in the lot, writers can be vain. And self-obsessed. They refuse to emerge from their remote setup and merge into a crowd, even if for a gathering of their professed community. It is asking too much of them. Worse, they may agree to be present, physically just. It is natural for their minds to hop from one image to another. To fantasise. A trite that without a hitch, can be mistaken for an unconfirmed premise of objectification.

Irrespective of how much a fraternity scandalises and fabricates information of their near-and-dear ones, writers find it easy to be okay with subjective views. Sure, we could take a moment to digest a dear one’s death. But it is also for fact that this reality becomes a part of us a day or two later. Isn’t a mortal’s expiry an inevitable feat? Even if we grieve, we realise midway – as weird as it might sound – of the need to pull ourselves. Our tears can halt as abruptly as they had begun to spill. We are the kinds that find a same-sex knot and a case-at-hand eloping to marry tolerable. A graduate from one of the premier-most colleges in our neighbourhood who landed that job earning him a million despite no prior experience is excellent, and so is the news of the other kid earning a second PhD. Whoah! Period. That’s all the reaction we can assemble.

The Modern Creative Artistic Types
Via: Sathnam Sanghera

One of the reasons writers grasp their accessible happenings with a liberal attention could be owing to the limitless possibilities in their quaint environment. Which in turn, to some, reflects as our indifference towards mainstream subsistence. Cloning a baby? Why not? Choosing to adopt? Great. Facing infidelity in a marriage? Sad, what’s next? Certainties as such (re)instil a writer’s conviction into what is plausible in the world that they are a part of. If the echo of someone recounting to us a goosebumps-inducing tale is resilient in our memory, it is bound to reflect in our writing. Some time. In some way. Either as a fanciful occurrence or as a takeaway in the form of drawing a parallel.

Because at the end of the day, this is all we know.

Storytelling.

So, just write. Inaugurate somewhere. It does not matter if it is the beginning, the midway or the closure. As writers, we aren’t such great decision-makers anyway, to have our contrivances preset.

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Artist: Praneet Soi

No one buys a blank sheet of paper unless they intend to use it for an illustration. Or, are aiming to make a resale.

This is the point where it all begins. Where it all must begin.

Photos: Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kelambakkam & Twitter