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?
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.
A few could have anticipated the prominence, dominance and control of the internet in our lives today. Fundamental reasons have always underlined human desires. The concept of nights introduced artificial lighting. The need for entertainment presented the radio. The lack of visual leisure brought on the television. Portability introduced Walkman. Likewise, the need for internet too began with the quintessential lure of communicating faster with near-and-dear ones. Emails paved the way to shed the fear of the unknown by attempting to embrace globalisation. And chat rooms followed suit. The internet also introduced accessibility at our fingertips incorporating in us another lesson that achieving anything is possible with the right set of mind (in this case, keywords). At first, the desired results were posters of our favourite media persons. Today, it is information. When it comes to the human race, everything materialistic begins with a basic want, evolving into a cannot-do-without need. Sometimes, we lose sight in the process, much so that we no longer identify the point we are heading to or why we are doing so despite setting a goal, maintaining a calendar and rain checking on the milestones that are at times, abetted with a carrot-and-stick approach.
Although a pioneer, the internet had a purpose behind crawling into our already confused sentience. Search engines, keywords and social media were stages of jargons that knotted our lifestyles with a psychological obligation; yet, they were all done so with a reason – to regale our constitutional birthright of the freedom of speech. Profit-sucking enterprises saw a booming venture of providing the means through swifter shores, thereby introducing to us quicker modes ‘to enable’ faster communication. Another reason discovered here, the result of which was the nimble modems. Thereby, wireless internet. If we hadn’t purchased a Wi-fi connection by the early millennial years, the society might have shunned us out for good. And today, the Wi-fi is as basic a need as electricity, plumbing lines, kitchen and food; a bare essential in a house.
Must we tip our hats to those who envisioned wooing people to fall into the pit of live ‘faster’ and ‘smarter’? Or, was it our need to keep up with that friend in school who had the internet while we did not? The mindful coercion of societal and social obligations?
Over time, the global computer network has curated counselling, guidances, therapies, personality tests, doctor consultations and what not, all through a stream of web pages. Had food and air been served to us by some online means, we could live off virtually. The spell is fulsome, browsing page after page, devouring their contents, accumulating the data, and yet it doesn’t feel enough. No amount of knowledge is. It’s bamboozling. Blogs, discussion centres, dedicated forums, research materials, reports, psychological backups, health expert analysis and bam! a keyword later, it’s there. As if this weren’t enough, articles talking about the behavioural traits that define one as a genius, an introvert/ambivert/extrovert, a bibliophile, or an alcoholic add to the swagger. Memes of particular lifestyle(s) we’re so innately proud of, flaunt the headlines. It is nothing short of ‘cool’ to belong to one generation. We consider it hip that we are the sensibly careful, yet the vivaciously don’t-care kinds. We have a view on marriages, kids, feminism and gender neutrality. We fight for the cause of every individual’s individuality through a string of words on an online profile. For every person privy to the internet has access to a self-fabricated account. A space that allows them to concoct whatever they like and however they do. So many people have so much to say, sometimes clipped with pictures, that there is only a chunk rallying out in the heat. The means of fighting the freedom movement have evidently evolved.
Is the internet still serving its means of ‘living faster and smarter’? Or, am I missing something here?
Tips, courses, workshops and everything under the sun is offered online these days. With subgenres. For instance, a writing workshop explores creative writing, literary writing, book writing, report writing, categorical writing, short story writing – the list goes on. A couple of days ago, I came across a few articles on WordPress Discover, one of which talked about why they will never let go of their blog space on WordPress. Another highlighted the five discoveries they had made in their journey of transitioning from writing blogs to a book. And I am sitting here thinking when I should time my next cup of coffee so that I refrain from going back staring into space. Let alone having a clue about why I am doing what I am doing.
The focus people own, the clarity they bring to their thought-process, and their presence of mind to make notes of the means they follow only to give them away to those who are unsure of treading on such paths is admirable. I also feel that planning and organising a mission to Mars is more methodical. Because after the internet, the social media, the online reading, and the internal processing at the end of it, I am lost. So lost, that I cannot comprehend the whys for what I do. For instance, I do not know the reason I write. Because I have a story to tell? I do not know why I want the tag of an author someday. Because I want to see my name published in my creation? I have no reason to sing. Except, I derive a peace of mind? I do not know why I am inclined towards creative vocations. They lure me?
Do these justifications sound sane? More so, are they acceptable?
I do not know if widening my horizons, meeting new people and finding like-mindedness around are reasons for me to choose an imaginative profession. For, they are the by-products of the process. But I do know that this is all I have, to cling onto. And that, this is what I want. To write and sing. I have no other go than to practice the two crafts. And because I have them, I do not want to let them go. If I do not exercise either daily, my day is incomplete. My sense of purpose hangs in the air to the point of questioning my existence. It’s hard to widen my horizons beyond getting the technicalities in a specific song, or the lyrical aesthetics of a write-up right. So, how about, I find it complicated to focus on anything beyond the details of the craft? At any moment? How about, I sing because I like it? How about, I write because I enjoy the process?
The internet either talks about the paradigm shifts of enterprises that are changing the industrial landscape or of discovering reasons for/of doing something. The ten traits, the five habits, the three dos, the thirty don’ts, and the nine must-haves give me a reason to move on. Because I am unsure of the conviction, each article brings. Maybe, I belong in the wrong era. For, I do not know after the internet, how much of it all holds good? Where must I draw the line to read no further, to research no further, and to believe no further?
My mind often wanders to those notorious corners of the brain that store self-shaped theories of incidents ridden with guilt, hesitation, stalling, anger and procrastination. From time to time, it prods awake the precarious train of thoughts that have been pushed over time, and conscious efforts, to an unmindful recess. To a moss-gathering nook that so diligently maintains an account of all trespassing and hypothetical what ifs. What if, my bank balance runs out tomorrow? What if, plan A fails? What if, I had chosen a different course of study five years ago? What if, I wake up one morning to discover that Pachai is no longer by my side? What if, plan B doesn’t pan out in the way it is meant to? What if, there is no plan C or D? Would I leave the city? Would I look up to an automatic, run-of-the-mill backup? Would I choose family? Or, go someplace where I can push one more bitter thought to that moss-amassing corner and start afresh?
Aside from the self-proclaimed tags of being a musician and a writer, travel is an effusive companion I inevitably look up to. It is like a faithful escort that invokes in me a different kind of pleasure every time I feed off it. I am yet to find my comfort zone while travelling solo without an agenda, yet I have discovered its certainty as of the one drug I can’t do without injecting. Over time, its aim and purpose, and mode and distance have become subjective to the point of not mattering anymore. As one travels over more and more places, the taste buds unravel acute flavours in the process. Letting the gallivanter settle on the ones they find appealing. My palate is towns. Or, places the areas of which do not exceed a radius of fifty kilometres. Because they invoke in me a sense of belonging. Without ado. They bring about an attachment that is unquestionable and demands no looking beyond. An instantaneous affiliation to the extent that I do not dismiss the possibility of settling in it should the need ever arise. Kochi, Havelock Island, Valparai, Patnitop, Koh Samui, Madurai, Pahalgam, Kanyakumari, Manali, Kodaikanal and Masinagudi are some places I would hop off to over and over. Towns and cities with which I have felt an unsaid and unexplainable bonding. If the chance were ever to materialise, I would not mind living in any one of these locations. While the course of travelling enables us to reflect upon the dearest bits off our appetising salver, in the process, they also (in)voluntarily unearth our treasure troves. The jewel in the crown. The best-loved. Our first choice.
I first visited Valparai in October 2016, and my second trip was in June 2017. Although the people, the purpose and the weather were different at both times, Valparai’s elegance is abiding. I was already charmed by the simple-mindedness that swathes this petite hilltop, yet my holiday a week ago felt like the town had washed me over. By bringing me back those savouring moments, reminding me why I had so hopelessly fallen in love with this hamlet in the first place. As hopelessly as an unrequited love that doesn’t worry about what it receives in return, for it can’t let go of its lover in the first place.
There hangs a lull of mist in the town’s air around the year except for the two summer-inflicted months. Showers in the monsoon combined with a chill in the atmosphere and otherwise cold temperatures spawn the need to snuggle up in cosy corners at most times. The central town spreads for a few kilometres where inhabitants generate and go about their daily employment. Built-in retail stores sprinkle the market’s thoroughfare like dots to attract vain-glory tourists through sales of locally produced goods. Immigrants and a fair share of locals earn their way through toiling their brawn in resorts, inns and homestays, or the numberless tea estates. A noisy atmosphere resides in the five kilometres of the town’s central and only marketplace. Else, there’s silence. A golden one at that.
Tea and coffee (at select locations) plantations bed out nonstop like motifs embroidered in an unimpaired loop of stitches. Forests, trees and animals are given significance over us – humans. They have the right to the roads here and we, as a self-proclaimed supreme race, are mere encroachers of the town. The laid-back lullaby in the air, the draping greys over the horizon, the welcoming warmth of the sun on days it peeks over the ashen-faced clouds are heartening blemishes on one’s mood. It is like listening to a happy, sad song. Like noticing the moon has flecks. Trees, greenery and any branching structures run amok and wild for as far as the eyes claim sight, embracing every bit of the earth they can burgeon upon. If one were to get lost amidst the woods, none might know until the news of the death reaches the thick of the town, a time by which it may matter no more. An incident the woodland may whisper hereafter amidst them. Passing the avid details like a dirty little secret from leaf to leaf and trunk to trunk, of the individual who was gorged like a grotesque gargoyle in the wee hours. While the forest may divulge the details of the incident openly, a mockery of Chinese whispers could flow between the greens, passing snide remarks about us simpletons having the audacity to call ourselves a supreme race, despite being unable to comprehend their language; the basis that differentiates humankind from other things living. As humans, we cannot discern the rustling of the leaves or the ensuing quiver of the air. And here we are, declaring our dominance and intelligence over everything and everyone else.
The beguiling silence, the fetching greenery, a dreamy weather and inhabitants’ simplicity at its best. I suppose it’s easy to fall for a town as such. Much so, that departing at the end of a holiday can feel gut-wrenching. To the point of throwing a crybaby tantrum.
A prodding when there is no design in sight and the occurrence of an eventuality when there isn’t any expectation helps because when it happens, it isn’t as if we didn’t see it coming. As human beings, we are clueless of the curveballs we will be thrown with at the next bend of the lane we are walking on. Nothing lasts forever; it isn’t meant to. In a second, we are celebrating the arrival of a newborn and snap! we are in an inverted headrest attempting to compose our gushing adrenaline. The impermanence of it all brings with it a beauty, because the moment we are bestowed with powers to predict our future, we will forget to live our today.
And so, at the confrontation of a life-altering curveball, maybe I will leave home and all things that are neither fish or fowl. Travel to a town that bears no connection to any of it. Go someplace I have found easy to belong to. Seek interim solace by getting lost in it. And maybe, find my home there.
Travelling rations an opportunity to observe people from different cultural backgrounds, especially when it is to locations favouring tourism. Commercial vacationing spots are scattered with holidaymakers in no particular mix. Couples, backpackers, solo travellers, kids, friends, and a bunch of families touring in groups are habitual sights. When travel transpires in a cluster, a babble prevails as a side dish. It isn’t a conscious agenda but a defaulting sequence. Also, the purpose of tripping together can seem half-baked if not for that inconsequential yapping. A surge of need that’s inadvertent, haphazard and perpetual. A group of tourists traversing another gives the passer-by a chance to survey the other’s outward social facts. From the language in which their fragments of snippets take place to the garbs they don. From their food, if the occasion permits, to their eating habits. It is a sneak-peek into their world. A glimpse into their way of life.
Those residing in lands that I haven’t visited or lived in, pique me when it comes to their outlooks and mannerisms. The way their daily lifestyles are, to the approach they engage while tackling everyday errands. The food they consume, to the blend of ingredients that are infused into making them. The customs and rituals that are their part and parcel, to the reason(s) for observing them. I often wonder if one’s lifestyle could have been influenced beyond their ethnic norms had they resided in a town that isn’t their native land. Even if, a few hundred kilometres apart. That their life could have been differently lived, if only they had resided a state or a zone away. Because one of the factors India preens about often is its oneness, despite the diversity it houses. And on this account, when people travel in clusters to tourist-bound locations, unalike social backgrounds mingle. They interlude. In whichever form, despite lacing in the air. To whatever extent, despite one’s unawareness or lack of wisdom of it. For however long, notwithstanding the briefness in time. If one were to give it another perspective, these are moments when frames, that until then could have seemed like reeled scenes in a cinema, surface. Shots that until then we probably had only seen filmed behind a lens, on a screen.
From moments of overhearing that chatty entourage of tourists, a slice of their belief system, a peek into their parenting styles, and an educated guess of their thought-processes forming the basis of everyday living come alive. Irrespective of being on the move. Irrespective of passing each other during a brief walk to a tourist spot. Regardless of the fact that the entire experience may not outlast ten seconds.
Except, this is not the case today. The prattling doesn’t fancy one’s attention but induces a ruckus. Sometimes, to the levels of instituting noise pollution and brazen stupidity. After a while, you only wish to leave (them alone) because they do not or cannot snap out of their cacophonic bubble. Such that it inconveniences the next person. Worse, at a tourist location.
Travelling with family, I have discovered over time, requires tuning to a different mindset. Not only from a planning standpoint but also from one’s mood board. A subject that’s cast aside to be explored another time. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Kanyakumari in the thick of the tourist season. Because it was a trip with the family, our itinerary included the must-cover locations. In other words, all tourist-laden spots – the sunrise point, a dip at the confluence of the three seas, a visit to the rock memorial and the impending statue in its neighbourhood.
The hustling of tourist practitioners in the town was a cornucopia pulled straight out of a kaleidoscopic sequence. Every turn yielded a different pattern, some of which pleased the senses. While others, not so.
Bubbles of crowds broke out at intervals speaking in discrete tongues. Summoning out loud their peers, blocking spots for members who were on the way to sit, random laughter, loud chatters, enthusing debates, and discussions about nothing, in particular, rented the air at once. The crowd seemed equally engaged while trying their hands in a variety of road fare. Hawkers lined the sea stretch selling ornaments assembled from shells, pearls and stones gleaned off the beach shore. Vendors calling out for peanuts, sundal, corn on the cob, tea and coffee hired a perimeter of the morning atmosphere. Cooling glasses, watches, posters of varying shapes and sizes amidst other trinkets to attract toddlers lined one side of the main market street, while street shops displaying assorted shell wares encasing mirrors, wall clocks, hangings amongst other decorative merchandise adorned the other. Smalltime bakeries, snack outlets, roadside eateries, and milk and tea parlours broke the monotony of the shopping aura at constant intervals. As an afterthought, tender coconut stalls sprinkled the thoroughfare attracting a fair share of fans. More so, for the ensuing malai after breaking open the coconut.
Trippers flailed about their arms and legs sheltering under the act of swimming in the crude, salty, crowded and unrestrainedly wavy sea. Saltwater flicked in the eyes of co-tourists as a result of their jerky and uneven movements even when they were told off not once, but twice. A group of girls clasped onto each other’s palms to form a circle in the sea, to confront the waves’ mightiness. In their ensuing unity, co-dippers were pushed deeper into the sea because they didn’t find ‘enough space’ to expand their ring. A bystander was nudged from a viewpoint, not with the touch of a hand or a word of request, but by squeezing a bunch of kids into the space for a photograph. The famed Thiruvalluvar statue that stood eminently in the middle of the sea was pointed to and referred to as Swami Vivekananda. The unperturbed Bay of Bengal was streamed live on a video chat, where the receiver was told that “this is the point where the three oceans converge“. Photobombers (in)conveniently stepped into frames yet had the chagrin to appeal to people to walk out of theirs minutes later.
The hustling of tourist practitioners in the town was a cornucopia pulled straight out of a kaleidoscopic sequence. Every turn yielded a different pattern, some of which pleased the senses. While others, not so.
When lack of judgment prevails, indifference surfaces. When contempt fails to serve as an emotion strong enough, questions about humanity loom.