I purchased a bicycle recently, in an effort to boost my wellness. It was to be delivered in the afternoon – by approximately 4 PM, as I had been informed. I was excited for it to arrive. “Child-like excitement,” as a friend put it. The cycle came at 11:15 PM, deflating all my enthusiasm. I had planned to take a couple of rounds on it, but it was too late. Until my mother noticed the bell-head of the cycle was missing.
I immediately sprung up and cycled towards the delivery man who had turned about to leave…
I had never hoped to come to the US to improve my life. My career yes, but not my life. I loved how the DDA flats used to look so clean after rains, how the corner Uncle’s garage/convenience store was one of the biggest selling points about our apartment complex. I loved how I would come home to a cold lassi or mango shake in the fridge my mum made before she left in the morning. I would then sit and watch Bengali tv serials that had been on for three years at that point, with Didum. I looked forward to the FabIndia sales at Himachal Bhawan and one of my big adult moments was when I got the chance to buy clothes from there with me own salary. Yet, coming to the US seemed necessary at that point. Even as nostalgia tints my glasses in a rosy hue, it would be unfair to leave out those many moments in the couple of years before I left, when I realized that career growth in India isn’t that simple. Going for a Masters in the US seemed the best idea then.
It is still too early to say whether it indeed was or not. The only thing that I can talk about is my life outside my career. What do I do when I shut down my computer? What do I look forward to and who will I spend my time with? Three years ago, I would have been going to my music classes or go on a walk with my aunt to veggies. Keeping up the Ahana from then was easier because everything that made her was right there with her. It took little effort to do what I liked because people around me would do the same things too. The Ahana now, is busy looking up all the songs on youtube that she grew up listening to. She must try that much harder to find new songs on her own because All India Radio won’t do it for her. I actively tune out my boyfriend’s music from me head because it would take away the memory of the music I liked. I hungrily watch Indian news channels on youtube to stay Indian, but I cannot escape the fact that everyday Indian news seems more otherworldly.
The only thing my mum never had trouble with me was that I was never a picky eater. I used to be made fun of that if I was given insects to eat, I would even eat that without complaint. Now, I don’t sleep well if I don’t eat daal bhaat torkari. Everyday, I choose to remember what I used to do in fear of losing what has made me, me. I go extra hard into being Bengali and Indian because who will do it for me if I don’t? Who would have imagined that I would willingly sit through a whole show of Indian classical dance and shed a few tears because I was so moved?
I may already be that US wala relative who tries a little too hard when they visit India. Be kind to them next time. Their idiosyncrasies might just be protective mechanisms like mine. My life in India will always be suspended in the year I left it while it has move on for everybody else. And that terrifies me.
Airport terminals seem to me places suspended in their own reality. The weary woman with her infant; the wonder-eyed kids with backpacks; the disgruntled, underslept consultant in formals; the family with no concept of personal space or volume control; the man, and it’s mostly a man, who thinks the airport is a hotel and the stewards his servants; the doe-eyed couple on their honeymoon, apparent from their body language; All alert at 3 AM, seemingly indifferent to being carried in space around a rotating and revolving planet in a big, metallic box held together by the laws of physics and the ingenuity of humans. The baristas and flight crew offering their smiles at the strangest hours; the immigration officers refusing to, looking beyond you as they speak to you; the security officers moody – at times helpful, other, short tempered; porters walking like they own the place, cutting through queues; the flight crew strutting in pairs or threes, never alone.
Everytime I enter an airport terminal, two things happen. First, I am reminded of the movie The Terminal. Tom Hanks stranded on an airport terminal, temporarily a denizen of nowhere as his country undergoes a military coup, rendering his passport invalid. Catherine Zeta-Jones running around catching flights, always making time to pick up History books from the bookshop. “I have to go”, “I have to stay”, they remark to each other. In that space when we clear the immigration check but are yet to board the plane, we are all denizens of nowhere. One country says we have left and the other doesn’t know when we will arrive. We all belong to Krakhozia for a while.
Second, I am reminded of the times I have traveled before. I will be standing in the queue for the check-in or in the boarding lounge or browsing the overpriced books in the bookstore, and my memory will retrieve something from millions of mental threads. Time curls and folds on itself. And like a body in jet lag, I become suspended in time.
I recently moved from my childhood home of over twenty years. Like most plans in life, it was simmering slowly on the stove of possibility. I wasn’t sure if it would even happen. Until it did.
When you decide to shift, you expect that something as significant would require a magnitude of time and effort proportional to it. But when you start working towards it, there are weeks where nothing happens and days within which everything does. There is a lot of anticipation but little fanfare. The world outside, spinning and revolving around a star, suspended in a swirling galaxy that is surrounded by millions of swirling galaxies, has no way of knowing that with every passing day, within those walls, another world is being taken down, a star, a planet, an atmosphere at a time.
It always starts the same way. The hands of time turn and reach the point in the week where capitalism declares me free for two measly days. It doesn’t free me; I’m just freed enough. “There is more than one kind of freedom, Freedom to and freedom from.”, goes a quote from Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. I have freedom to exist and do as I please (or so I think) but I’m not free from society’s expectation to exist in a specific way. And then there’s the restlessness, snuggled in-between the two, barely concealed, poking at the surface. It asks, “What are we doing?”. It’s not the existential kind; It’s shallow, looking only at the next 48 hours, demanding a quick fix in an age of instant gratification.
The weekend brings with it an irresistible urge to step out, with an intensity that surprises me. This urge isn’t the whim of a child, one that can be fooled and misled by a stroll in the park and pointing to things. No, it must be satiated with effort. A change of scene. A change of clothes. A cup of coffee, a catch-up, an activity, an event. The whole shebang.
This time, instead of melting my emotions in a cauldron of cute animal videos, I decided to write. Like always, I am going to regret ever writing this yet if I never take these rare breaks from my mental block, I might as well stop buying pens and notebooks to write.
It is strange how sadness is often more visceral than happiness. There have been at times, these moments of absolute clarity that seem like a storm’s eye. During this short period, the mental glass has nary a speck of dust or fog on it. If timed well, I have sometimes had my most productive spurts of writing during these moments. I hope, the following will feel like a creation of one such time when I read it in the future. You are welcome to judge it.
Trigger Warning: Not sure if this needs it. If you feel intense imageries of negative emotions affect you, you may want to stay away from this one. My sadness is not for public validation, obviously, but I still feel like I want you to know it. For those who decide to read it, thank you.
As my throat closes up I recount everything Parsing through each moment To see what went wrong What is happening? What am I doing here? Why am I here?
As my stomach twists over itself I tell myself to be reasonable It cannot be this dramatic I am seeing a mountain Where there is a molehill And I cannot be the ant Who sees no difference between the two
I pace through the room Hands in fists on the side Every muscle tensed up Asking, pleading, forcing Each molecule to loosen up I am here, this is my space Reminding myself that I have a choice
My limbs relax I see yet I don’t Nothing heard In the deafening silence I am empty I am drained I am blank.
On a cloudy morning you wake up. As your warm feet touch the cold floor, a sensation of loss jolts you. It’s the feeling of having a word on the tip of your tongue but knowing you won’t remember it. You’re haunted by something profound. How do you mourn a nameless and shapeless loss?
This is the world of Yōko Ogawa’s The Memory Police; an island where a mysterious organization keeps erasing objects from public consciousness. One day books are outlawed and the town sets about starting skyscraper-height bonfires, condemning centuries of knowledge to ash and dust that turn the sky black. People wake up the next day unaware of what a book is and how it looks and feels. Another day it is birds that have been outlawed. Repeated excommunications turn people into hollow shells, cut adrift from the materiality of objects, buoyant sentient islands no longer anchored to reality or to each other.
Of late I have been regularly wondering if I am doing what I am meant to do with my life. Am I happy? Am I settling in mediocrity? I know what I am doing is not mediocre by any definition and just saying this reeks of privilege that stinks to high heavens. Yet, despite having all the support growing up, the possibility that I may not be fulfilling my “full potential” terrifies me.
We are told to study well and hustle for opportunities so we can stand on our own two feet and support ourselves. I have a job now, I earn enough to support myself, then why do I still feel less than I am? Is it me personally seeking something more in life or is it just the world around my childhood self, telling me that I need to keep doing more?
I wish I could say here that I’ve found the answer but sadly not. I worry that I may never find the answer. I wish I could be like all those Instagram people making their daily self affirmations and popping in new health supplement pills that sponsor them, but I am not. I suspect that they aren’t either, but you will never know watching them.
I am going to keep it shorter than my already short articles. However, I do want to know if you have ever felt the same and what you tell yourself when you have these thoughts.
Thus begins Patti Smith’s memoir, M Train, a 275 page odyssey that takes us through the world – through the graves of literary legends like Plath and Genet, to ice-covered Japan, rocky Iceland, and sunny Casa Azul, the boardwalk shacks of New York, and importantly, the most expansive and fascinating of them all, the inner working of an artist’s mind. And thus shall begin my musing, by shamelessly borrowing her line, lazy plagiarism in the guise of adulation.
For the second time in a year, I attempted to read Rachel Carson’s iconic book Silent Spring. For the second time in a year, I stopped at page 115, unable to rein in my brain from branching off to its Lala-land as Carson wrote passionately about pesticides endangering all the facets of nature. For the second time in a year, I felt the pinch that I wasn’t properly taught to deal with as a kid, the pinch of quitting something.
Out of an infinitely large collection of books and texts, what was it about this harbinger of the modern ecological movement that gnawed at me?