“I don’t hate them…I just feel better when they’re not around.​”

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’.

If only, we went easy on communication contours and self-conscious confessions. If only, drawing the line didn’t mean having to feel caged.

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Artist: Praneet Soi | Source: Kochi Muziris Biennale, 2016

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.

And come what may, I don’t second-guess my laughter.

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.

Burnout
Source: Pixabay

Hi, I am Madhvi, and I am an anthrophobic.

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It’s about Choices: Like, a ‘No’ could be a Complete Sentence

I come from a society where we need no reasons to revere our lifestyles against the cushion of culture. It’s how this side of the world has always panned; at least since I became self-aware. Moral fibres are ordained as a part of our nurturing in such a way that we find our minds and bodies ingrained in them. As we grow up, we discern that in a span of a skip generation, the scientific backing is subtracted from most of such fibres. And often, omitted. There exists no logical interpretation from our elders for why certain things are the way they are. We see them suiting up into a defence mechanism of being all elderly with a feeble this-is-how-it-is-so-do-not-argue-with-me.

Are we meant to buy our way into this?

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Courtesy: Students’ Biennale, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016

Hypocrisy seeps its way into our systems – living or structural – through loops and holes that we as a race, have left gaping. While we grow up, along with the absence of rational reasoning, we also discover the power of questioning and use it despite being given sketchy responses in return. As a consequence, boundaries are getting erased to the point that any Tom, Dick and Harry is privy to hold an individualistic thought-process. A question is countered with another. To which there is no one solution. There is an indefinite foundation to differentiate the rights from the wrongs. It’s all relative. Like, a sexual tension brewing between two friends, being friends with benefits, and aesthetic attractions despite being legally committed for life are permissible under-the-counter.

Are they, though?

So much for our cushioning cultures, kerchiefed values and the ingrained pit of moral fibre.

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Artist: Praneet Soi

Friendship comes in limitless packages. It’s all right if one is living with a friend in an elsewhere city for studies. It’s okay if one is hanging out with a friend at midnight for an ice-cream. It’s okay if two friends are talking into the wee hours of the morning about savoury somethings and sweet nothings. It’s all right if live-in friends from the opposite sex sleep on the same bed. It’s okay if a friend develops a physical attraction towards the other, and gets asked for a sexual favour in return. The lust is after all, mutual.

Albeit, what coerces someone to ask for a sexual favour in a friendship? I want to believe it is the comfort zone that gets established between the two. I want to believe it is human, and therefore a natural inclination. I want to believe that sex is an essential need like air, food and shelter. And because it is an ask, I want to believe that it is okay if the response to it is positive or otherwise.

However, what coaxes someone to ask for a sexualised favour with a single-faced probability of not turning it down? Why must it be an invite in the first instance when there must be no scope to leave anything to chance? Of turning it down?

It will be five years this October since I am married to Pachai. Apart from a shared social circle, we see friends outside. Setting aside the legal quotient of our enduring partnership and the societal belief of a marriage’s sanctity, I am sometimes apprehensive of the air I leave on my friends. As an individual. Especially on those with whom I get newly acquainted. For sooner than later, there gets introduced a tension in the air that paves the way to leaving sedimented footprints in the trail of our murky sentience.

How do I deal with such instances? By siding with a culture that’s imbibed into me by default at birth, when I could have been born anywhere in any family? Or by internalising a moral belief that ideally could no longer be held good in the light of our practically altered lifestyles?

The exhaust fan whirs unnoticed, in a world of its own
Courtesy: Students’ Biennale, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016

Within these four-odd years with Pachai, I have been asked for sexual favours. Twice. The first time it was from a friend whom I got along with for our crazy vibes. The second time it came from a friend with whom I had a shared interest in fine arts. Their liberal approach, however different and despite them knowing I have a partner, induces me to retrospect about the kind of person I am. Of the impression that I leave behind. For it spurs self-doubts about my character and behaviour. Is it a mistake that I do not propagate about Pachai? Am I creating a general confusion by not publicising our tidbits on social media? Am I leaving a sign for trespassing by not reinforcing his significance?

They say marriage is a holy communion of two individuals. Ironically, it is challenging to come across an epic or a commandment that explains why is it essential to be unfaithful once married. There are bare resources that tell you why choosing another sexual partner when you’re legally bonded is deceitful. Maybe, it has a grounded reasoning to it. Choices. Of the ones that we make and take as an individual. Of a choice to stick with someone irrespective of the circumstances. To walk by their side regardless of the falls, the downs, the lows, the thins and thicks. Of the one to grow old together and stay that way until time permits.

Source: The Internet

I do not know what it is like to continue a friendship after being asked for intimacy. I would not have an answer if someone were to ask me why did I not take the incident as one in passing and continue with my friendships. Because I am not in touch with either of the two after I turned down their asks.

What gives people the idea to ask for sexual favours in a friendship that must end in a defaulting ‘yes’? Why does a ‘no’ injure their ego?

 

Let Silence Prevail

As humans, one of our basic instincts is to communicate. Whether it is with the retailer to whom we need to intimate of the items to be billed from our cart, or the vendor on the street corner from whom we buy veggies. Whether it is a friend who we see daily or a mother, who flies down from afar once every year. The measure of our conversations varies from being transactional to a prolonging one in nature depending on the circle of participants we are with. However, whether a gesture of one’s hands or flexing one’s lips, there is no doing-about without conversing. Either way, our need to talk about even straightforward and random contrivances signifies of a codependent ecosystem we – as humans – belong to. Irrespective of how many of us flaunt that faddish tag of independence.

Communication can happen in clusters in a crowded area like a bus stand, in a closed group at a cafeteria, or face-to-face over a coffee break. Every human is privileged with an ability to communicate in some way or the other. They’re endowed with freedom to express just about anything. All one needs to do is unbolt the passage that leads from their lip to the throat, produce a sound, beat their tongue against the gums and set in motion their jaws. Or, work their fingers in a manner so flexible that the movements seem as graceful as that of a swan gliding over a lake. A conversation holds the power of articulation and reciprocating to such  eloquent expressions. It authorises a spark within, igniting an influential aura with the potential to convince someone. Into believing. And following that system of belief.

Typography
Photo: Hemu’s Art Blog

But, of course, with great power comes great responsibility. With a blessed privilege comes a cursed abuse. Where there is freedom, there lies a liability too.

Of a misused birthright.

If not for a one-on-one, most chit-chats that happen in closed groups by default bear at least one leading conversationalist. Sometimes, two. Or three. The others pin their ears and are content with pitching in and emoting time after time. They secure a sense of belonging that way. It is like wanting to be a part of the sky, even if it means getting to silhouette the skyline. An unexpected moment of receiving the baton to carry on the conversation further leads them into a spot of discomfort. They attempt in all consciousness to be concise of their points of views and pass the baton back to the chief addresser or another member at the first unused opportunity they can seep through. As dubious as it might sound, such people are either uncomfortable in groups or are misfit talkers. Or both.

Kashi Art Cafe
Photo: Shiva Krishna

The key communicator(s) meanwhile, relish the attention they receive. Faces turn their way, all eyes are on them, heads nod, and little clucking noises fill the air occasionally to signify of the listeners’ sync into the verbal awareness that’s presented. One can’t help but feel awestruck the modes such communicator(s) apply to engage their audience. Their fluency and prowess over the language are worth falling for. They speak, and not one interrupts. They catch-up with a select few in the group, and somehow retrieve the magic wand back into their court to speak some more, time and again. Over time, they substantiate their thought-process with archives or profound parallels, much so that after a while the attention of some listeners begins to ebb away. The mask of their disjointed belonging begins to go out on a limb. Their attention wavers and boredom starts to set in. When this process begins its rounds of repetition every time, or probably over days, weeks and months, the interim listeners crave to be handed with the baton just one more time. Because then, all they would have ideally liked to say would have been – Shush, I have a headache.

After all, with great power comes great responsibility. With a blessed privilege comes a cursed abuse. Where there is freedom, there lies a liability too.

Of a misused birthright.

Photos: Kashi Art Cafe & Mill Hall, Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kochi

What an Irony, Dear!

Most cities in India house at least one neighbourhood that flaunts of affluence. Pavements flank the roads which for once, entertain the purpose they’re meant for, instead of the customary sighting of labour-saving parking. Mahogany and mulberry trunks line up the streets intertwining in lacy roots at the base, thickening and broadening on their way up, demonstrating a continual and relative coolness. The otherwise peaceful routes sense occasional vibrations as a luxurious automobile cruises through solidified tar in leisure, making way to its destination. Row houses, duplexes, independent houses and buildings embodying tasteful flats pile up in neat rows. Except for a periodic rustle from the mutual kissing of the leaves in the air, there is pin-drop silence. Once in a while, a resident walks by in attire fashioned by a global designer label. Those with a fitness conscience pervade the elaborate pavements in late afternoons or evenings.

Such neighbourhood(s) outcry of silence, bringing to life new-age concepts of seclusion and privacy. They feel like desolated territories so much so that an ordinary passer-by can feel threatened of encroaching upon a haunted stretch.

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Cochin Club in Kerala was once accessible only to colonisers. In its early days, the club’s membership was restricted to Britishers. It eventually transpired into a management run by Indians for Indians. The upscale coterie facing the Arabian seafront is situated in a well-known tourist area, Fort Kochi. To the extent to which a naked eye can observe, the club is done in tasteful measurements. Gold emblazoned letters spelling C.O.C.H.I.N. C.L.U.B. adorn a side of the main gated entrance. Aesthetically potted, pruned, and planted into-the-earth greenery fawn the building’s circumference, a one-storied structure coated in a tinge of crème fraîche. Either side of the tinted windows on the first floor stay obstinately shut. Everything about the club seems fathomable except for what happens inside it. To the extent, that even the door to the building is on another side – away from a passer-by’s prying eyes. Once in a while an Audi or a BMW halts, even if for a moment, before making its way to the valet parking. A bouncer flanks the gated entrance for scrutiny, an access that’s otherwise meant for members only. He stopped me from entering the premises of a building to which I was misguided, as a potential location for the Muziris Biennale. He pointed me through to the outer perimeter of the club, a side that ran a narrow strip leading to the beach. And there it was, the usual signs of the distinct Biennale – its official logo with details of the art on display.

As I pored over the elucidation of the installation, I felt a prick at the nape of my neck. Leaves from the adjacent mulberry tree caressed the hot afternoon as though soothing its crudeness with a reassuring lullaby. A rhythmic ‘click’ of a stiletto accompanied by an unrelenting banter to settle-for-nothing-but-pasta-for-lunch rented the air. Strollers and tourists alike searched for a ‘cafe to grab a bite’. The midday sun played the gold to its advantage by shining right in everyone’s eyes. Mine wished to weaken to the tunes of the breezy sway in the background, as an account of this exhibit evoked within a sense of sudden despair. A bungalow and a posh structure fringed the club’s vicinity, these gated edifices a zebra cross away. And here was an art display at one of the town’s prime venues that talked about an ‘informal’ community in eastern Mumbai.

Annabhau Sathenagar.

A community that believes in existing without boundaries. Figuratively. Literally.

Here is a community that offers a living space to dogs and flocks of hens per their wishes. Here is a community where utensils are mopped, and construction bricks are laden in the same area. Here is a community where residents conduct business from home – bringing to light a renewed seal to the concept of ‘work from home’. Here is a community that converts rooms into a sleeping area, living space and a kitchen at the wave of a magic wand. Here is a community where dwellers attend to nature’s call in its faithful surroundings – amidst nature. Here is a community where hose and steel pipes, and motor sets run amuck within the abodes, the only chance of survival being to live with them. Here is a locality where clothes hang in the open, are stacked inside steel drums, or dumped in polyethene. Here is a community where a lazy Sunday could mean entertainment on &Pictures watching Apna Sapna Money Money. Here is a community where they bring up toddlers with the happiness of being unaware of a tomorrow. Let alone living in anticipation of what it holds for them.

Overlooking this Biennale Pavilion on one side is Cochin Club and on the other, a slice of the Arabian Sea. Although a stark contrast to the source, both are lands (or waters in the case of latter) of riches, nonetheless.

Affordability is subjective. And so is affluence. In a diversifying land as India that buries a treasure trove of such-and-such stories, there is no dearth of ironies.

Fort Kochi Beach

Photos: Cochin Club, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016