If there isn’t any Plan, Knit one then & there

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?

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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.

Hands down, Valparai tops my charts.

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.

Valparai

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.

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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?

 

Confessions of a Teenager: Discomforting Truths or Soothing Lies?

I can’t summon an analogy that describes teenage. Even the thought of drawing one feels like holding sand in my hands. The more I cling to it tempted to believe I am closer home to finding one, the more it slips away from the grip of my palms. Teenage is a prolonged season when many of us manoeuvre into experimenting in the wild. A profusion of technicolour hubbub emerges out of nowhere, and one feels like sailing through it at a super-human pace. Whether to grab an opportunity or snatch a chance, we indulge in delirious energies as we explore another side of the world that seems to have much to offer. Beset by the fear of missing out we do not want to let slip anything, especially when we are passing them.

Amidst other desires, I had erotic urges when puberty dawned. But I swept away a fat slice of it under the carpet because I was ridiculously shy, unforthcoming and awkward. For the sake of argument, I couldn’t look a boy in the eye while talking. At school, I was unsure if anyone else in my class experienced a similar adrenalin rush, causing certain parts in their bodies to stir the way they did in mine sometimes. As bashful as I was, the mere thought of approaching anyone about it terrified me.

The adolescent revelations I came across not only soaked me in their glory but also made my knees go wobbly. I knew a few of my classmates to indulge in fickle fables. While in class, much between them transpired into sugar-coated hushes and saucy chits. However, a lot ensued behind closed doors after school hours. Although I revelled in many of such disclosures, my blood pumped in anxiety. My heart would beat wildly, the regularity of its thumps best suited to Eminem’s tempo. I would repeatedly rub my clammy hands on my skirt. Organic nervousness was the non-negotiable kin I had earned in the processAll for auditory telltales.

Or tall tales.

When I was in grade nine, I remember doodling a double-bordered ‘V’ on the wooden desk of my bench with a pencil. It was a spontaneous scribble during recess, driven by the lack of having anything better to do. After all, my doodling skills do not qualify to save even my life. Anyhow, I20170510_152905 coloured the insides of the alphabet with the pencil, the shading and the borders on the wood desk shining through. A classmate passing by asked me to erase it, for it bore the possibility of being perceived in the wrong sense. I wondered what could be inappropriate with an alphabet that flanked virile wings on its sides. As the bell rung signalling the end of our lunch hour and my friend returned from the next classroom and sat beside me, I asked her what was faulty about my ‘doodle’. She told me that it could be mistaken for a penis. What?

Another time, a classmate had brought audio CDs for a friend. It was an act the teacher caught, as a result of which she demanded him to hand over the CDs to her. When he denied being in possession of any, she directed to check his bag, a feat to which he obliged. She failed to find any CDs on rummaging through the bag’s contents. I was told eventually that he had hidden them in his underwear. Wait, what?

I used to find myself nodding silently when friends spoke at length of the workshops we had on sex education. (Un)fortunately, none of them dealt with the definition of sex. Topics hovered around the subject to explain the biological process, the precautionary measures and even AIDS. But, just what happens when someone spells S.E.X. was an area yet left to be covered.

I was spellbound by this other side of the world, except that I felt artlessly silly in it.

Miles to go before I sleep.

Atop the Eiffel Tower, Paris

You believe it’s a world of roses until a thorn from its spine pricks you. You believe in realising your dreams until someone shatters a mirror in front of you. It’s perhaps a reason why children are uninhibited. Because sexual maturity begins to mess things up. It is no wonder why we see tiny tots as one of the best sources of idea generators and our go-to people during time-offs. Their temporal concerns brim with all things creative and carefree at that, much so that we begin to ponder the point when we started to lose it.

When I was in grade twelve, I considered love a filmy affair. The way Bollywood did it. My first love confession to the 180-centimetre cat-eyed boy from my extra class was on a State Corporation bus ticket. It was my favourite, hey. A six-rupee chit printed in a green and pink combination. Whimsically influenced by Marvel’s Mystique, I wrote on the ticket a set of numerals the boy had to ‘decode’ to infer my message.

The numerals indicated the alphabet they represented as per their chronological order. His friend had told me off for presuming that the boy was a genius to figure this by himself. So, when he didn’t come back for two days, like a babe in the woods, I shared with him the secret to decrypt my note. Only to find out that the next day, he had asked my friend out on a piece of paper that read –

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That sense of wobbliness in my knees was back. Sexual maturity had begun to mess my world up.

But, there’s a Story behind every Mother

As humans, each of us fetches a story within ourselves. An account of narratives that shape into a series of events and people. Even if there is nothing to write home about, that inevitable process of evolution fails to take our leave until time can remember. From infancy to our first day in uniform. From schooling routine to the sudden burst of hormonal rage for that ‘special someone’. From puberty to the selective firsts of exploring our – and another’s – finer fabrics. From juvenility to the indiscriminating responsibility of standing on our feet. From reaching the stage of a merited earner to shouldering responsibilities, whether for oneself or the household. The beat goes on; there is no eluding this vicious cycle.

This is the part of life that I refer to as keep-calm-and-dote-on-your-family. For things here on, aren’t the same. They begin to branch from what they were once.

The roads fork out, and the juncture prods one to pick their prong. Our siblings have carved out a niche for themselves by now, and are well on their way to treading the path. Our significance in their hand-picked route reduces to visiting them once in a while. Regardless of the fact that we love them as much and more, we no longer belong to the same environmental radius as we did five years ago. Or even two. Our father’s first strands of grey peek more prominently than we thought they would. The receding hairline on his forehead and once thick mop seem to be blown off with a candle. In one go. Mum no longer pulls through the household errands with the same spring in her step. There is a discernible lag. A sliver of silver on her sideburns attempts to hide assiduously beneath her shoulder-length tresses – an unrefined endeavour that yields part-time success. The little folds under her eyes that are otherwise camouflaged behind her myopic spectacles reveal a dusted tale of hers to reminisce. Except that it isn’t.

They asked me to drape a Sari. I didn’t know which one to pick. So, I borrowed a piece from them all and draped a collage. Photo: Margaret Lanzetta, Kashi Art Gallery, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016

The fact of ageing hits us when see it reverberating in our parents. It isn’t until then that we register how contradicting the illusion of age is but a number gets for us. We disagree, shake our heads vehemently, and argue that age is not just a number – not for our progenitors. Because it reflects. It isn’t until then that we come to a fully-flavoured perception of our parents’ childhood. After all, they didn’t spring up to the phase of becoming a father or a mother. As their offsprings, we are merely the freshest blots of ink in their tales that they continue to record even today. It isn’t until then it strikes us that they would have had their share of yarns to spin when they were youthful dicky birds. Although our small nothings could have transported them backwards more times than we could have counted, they chose to not regale their chronicles when we were busy clinching ours.

Their evocations and echoes unheard and buried, biding their time to surface over the counter.

Some people come across with a natural tendency to talk. Without inhibitions or borders. Yesteryear gossips of family feuds to tomorrow’s worries tumble right off their tongues without ado. They let slip off of everything that goes on in their mind, some time or the other. Such people inadvertently unburden themselves through a fellow human to converse to, not to gauge an actionable reaction but to bask in the solace of companionship. Then, some people speak, yet remain guarded with their thought-process. They voice out their secrets when in the mood, and at other times keep the conversation flowing like a duck in a pond. Level-headed on the outside, scuffling under the waters. At such times, their exchange is likely to become transactional, to the point of being a prototypical parent. And then, there are the rest who forgo their past because it no longer matches their present. They let go of what exists no more for they cannot in the slightest, meld it to their current. Their lifestyle alters to a one-way that as per them, demands to gel into circumstances that pass them by. They are through – done and dusted – with their times bygone because they need to assume accountable responsibilities. Leaving them with no space in their ever-turning sheets of to-dos to accommodate any time for reminiscing their memories – which, now seem to belong to another lifetime. Their moments of monkeying around. Their earliest ‘special someone’ in their friends’ circle. Their first pubic exposure. And their elephants in the room. They see no point recollecting what’s done and the results that were kindled in the process. All is now defunct. Meant to let go.

My mother falls into this category.

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In my thirty odd years as her daughter, not once do I remember her recounting her childhood to me. Aside from a few fundamental facts of her upbringing in a Northern territory of India among four sisters, her mother being a housewife, and father a serviceman who socialised at the city club for a game of cards, I had no clue of what her childhood was like. Not until I chanced upon bits and bobs recently.

It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to building my self-esteem. Because she chose to disown it in the process of adulting. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to building trust for a street display. Because she chose to irrupt into a nutshell soon after she picked the prong of her fork. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to administering my social quotient. Because she chose a non-opinionated self as her shield, an instant reflex, lest the crowd ridiculed her thought-process or nitpicked on her lifestyle. It’s why I probably took to her steps when it came to believing that I could never be up to any good, an individual with below-average capability. Because she chose to live in shadows after she went through a phase change.

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My mum no longer chose to be the rebellious voice in the house because her ambience had altered to donning the role of a married woman. She no longer opted to be the asserter with the man opposite because that wasn’t her father anymore. She no longer assumed the role of a caretaker for her youngest sister, because she had younger ones of her own. She no longer chose to be that socialising bee she once was, because we were her ‘others’, her society and her world. She no longer associated with that mischievous-most kid from her schooldays, because she had now chosen to steer her lifestyle one-dimensionally, towards her renewed priorities.

Us.

As humans, each of us fetches a story within ourselves. Little did I know, there existed one under my roof. Of evocations and echoes, unheard and buried, biding their time to surface over the counter.

Photos: Students’ Biennale, Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016; Kochi, Kerala