Monday Blues & Mood Swings

Car smells make me sick. I don’t know if it’s the upholstery or the closed space or the stale air- something about cars with windows pulled shut remind me of the discomfort of movement, the uncertainty of the road, the sense of displacement from home.

That’s a little bit ironic, because I love cars and cabs (who doesn’t?) and sometimes on a car trip I’ve wished for the road to continue so the solitude of vacant thought would linger, and the comfort of moving scenery provide distraction from the spaceless, static finality of destination.

My favourite kind of road is the one that runs through lines of dense, leafy trees to infinity on a cloudy spring day with a light wind carrying just the hint of a drizzle. There seems to be less and less of those nowadays.

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I think car smells are the strongest on Monday mornings. Or maybe the body is just extra sensitive after the weekend. I read somewhere that general depression levels in a population increases on Monday mornings. Makes me wonder what we are doing here on this planet, and to what end? For if all we do is exist through days, weeks, months and years of unhappiness, what ends do our means justify?

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Last Monday I cried in the car, the weekend’s trapped car smell roiling in the pit of my stomach tasting of failure. But then, the world somehow righted itself. I wasn’t happy, but I could be. My brain didn’t have to listen to my olfactory nerves. It could drink in the rain-soaked Amazons, drown in the rushing song of a mountain river or gaze at the sun rising in a different world. It could dance to a favourite song. I scavenged for moments of joy, the flavor of morning tea, the comfort of cool water splashed across the face, something a friend said, a phrase of beauty, someone’s smile- and the day rolled on. On the way back home, I found myself humming a tune. If there’s a map to the Happy Kingdom, I haven’t found it yet. But I tell myself that I’m on my way,  that I can find my way, and that is enough. Perhaps the means can justify itself after all. I dream of a day when the means and the ends can be the one and same thing, so walking isn’t a constant rushing, endless racing towards a goal.

But what I hate even more than closed spaces or a ticking clock is waiting, the standing at bus-stops, waiting indefinitely for erratic buses to lead us to our goals the way we wait for an erratic fate to take erratic actions in our lives of waiting. And I am done waiting for endless Monday mornings. I’ll let my mind wander amongst forests picking miracles amongst fallen leaves. There will be long days, and bad days but in the smog there will be pockets of oxygen, built atom by atom, word by word of poetry and song and loving myself. And who knows, I may even make a miracle.

As a friend said on Instagram- “There are a lot of lights in the city, they are almost blinding but not quite, since we make our way home every day.”

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Thanks for reading. Spread the love.

 

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Resolutions or something of that nature…

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Year X, Day 1, New Beginning Resolution Number: Infinity. The morning is bright- cheerful music, blue sky, golden sunlight– but it hardly enters our angled rooms. The sunlight, that is. The music pushes in through wood and brick and cement, making you feel like the accidental guest who has not been invited to the party.

What are resolutions worth? For years I’ve been making and failing them, but sometimes I wonder if I fail them on purpose. Say we fulfill all our dreams and resolutions, what after that?

‘A man saw a bird and wanted to paint it. The problem, if there was one, was simply a problem with the question. Why paint a bird? Why do anything at all? Not how, because hows are easy- series or sequence, one foot after the other—but existentially why bother, what does it solve?’*

And yes indeed, why do anything? Why sing, make art, bleed into canvas and paper? Why get out of bed every morning, commit to a daily commute, the crowd of office hours, ten million excel sheets- for food on the plate and rest at night? And when that’s done, ask why again. Wake, eat, work, sleep, wake, eat, work, sleep, die at some point- what does that achieve? Wake, eat, work, return home, then tear your hair out trying to make sense of something, anything- why do that at all?

You ask the teachers, they say you don’t exist. Everything is Soul, everything is Self, everything is Divine without ego. Then why the need?

The poet offers an answer that leads to more questions:

Blackbird, he says. So be it, indexed and normative. But it isn’t a bird, it’s a man in a bird suit, blue shoulders instead of feathers, because he isn’t looking at a bird, real bird, as he paints, he is looking at his heart, which is impossible.’*

And every incoherent poem or incomprehensible blobs of colour or frenzied dance is just that- an impossible act of looking into one’s heart. A heart that is not yours, they say, because you don’t exist. In the end we only do what we do to feel alive, to feel sane-

‘What is alive and what isn’t and what should we do about it? Theories: about the nature of the thing. And of the soul. Because people die. The fear: that nothing survives. The greater fear: that something does.

The night sky is vast and wide.’*

(*From ‘The Language of the Birds’, War of the Foxes by Richard Siken)

Everywhere, the air throbs with the thrumming beats of newness, and all you see is the dreary sameness of twelve months lying ahead of you, twelve old months of desperate hoping and twelve new months of crashing despair when nothing changes. Outside the window, the sun shines, cheering yet another of this planet’s successful round, but your rooms are cold, shadowed places. You shiver, walking from room to room in search of warmth, and your feet take you up the stairs to the terrace, and suddenly the sun and the green and the blue is all yours and you’re soaking up the heat and the wind and you remember, irrelevantly, how sunlight helps to form vitamin D in the body to stave off depression. You go back downstairs, because nobody is given an unlimited amount of sky and air, and there are harsh words and gloom. You breathe and try to remember how it feels to be happy.

Happy memories. Smiles. Visualisation of a future that’s truly new. For if you do not want something with all your heart, you must learn what you want instead. When you want something, it happens. That is what Shahrukh Khan had said, years ago. And so you keep trying.

Year X, Day 2, 3, 4 and infinity.

Sometimes I think I will wake up and find myself discovered as the pretender that I am, an imposter in a room of bright words that know just how to create an impact, my wilted words like frail paper flowers- an imitation of the thing I was trying to be. And then I think, if one must pretend, why not pretend we are all part of the great cosmic soul, with equal access to meaning, and perhaps it is my lot to express a sliver of it, in the way I can, and someone somewhere will find their own share of meaning in it.

I am trying this new thing this year where I try to be wilfully, determinedly happy. I watch my thoughts, and I watch my mood, and when I sense the weight of everyday settling like a load upon my heart till it becomes impossible to breathe, and then I try to shut out the world, somehow, anyhow. Humming unplanned tunes help, sometimes. Sometimes my voice hums on its own, and if I notice I try to watch my mind, see where it is going, track its path across the notes. Lately, I have spent moments craving solitude, unable to function at the most ordinary stage. It seems to every bubble of optimism there’s a bigger cloud of ennui trying to overwhelm me- basic, seventh grade physics, really, but so far, I’m still fighting.

The only thing I can do to fight off stasis is to take action, and keep taking action. It’s taken me a while to learn this, and I intend to win. When in doubt, participate. That is all.

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Stocktaking: The Year that Was

I watched the starlings perch on a swaying stalk of long grass as the wind gushed about and thought, perhaps little birds need their share of adventure too. And when flying is one’s natural state of being, perhaps even the sky seems to be nothing more than an overworked old map. For don’t we all come from infinite source, seeking infinite experiences in finite things? And so the clock ticks, and the earth rolls, and another year comes to an end.

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Things I’ve done for the first time in 2018:

Presented papers at two academic conferences. And it wasn’t nearly as scary as I thought that would be, although, let’s be honest, it’s a little disconcerting to be talking to a room full of people while pretending you know exactly what you’re talking about. I think I did okay.

Participated in a poetry-reading. I didn’t read it as well as I had hoped to (see point above regarding a room full of people staring at you), but considering I hadn’t thought of myself as a poet for some years before I accidentally got caught up in an online challenge to write 100 Poems in 2018, I think it was quite a nice experience.

I wrote an original song called ‘Dreamers’ to Jonny Easton (a super-talented composer on YouTube who lets you use his music for free so long as you credit him)’s piano composition and uploaded it on my channel. And then I uploaded two more original songs with my own music as well as lyrics. ‘Diamond Dust’ was written to fight off a bad mood while practicing some basic ukulele chords, whereas my recent upload, ‘The Road’ was actually written last year, when I had just started blogging again. I didn’t have my channel yet, didn’t know that I would have one, or that I would actually ever compose my own songs. But I ended up uploading my first cover last December, and this year, after a lot of dithering, I bought my ukulele. I don’t play her (I’ve named her Apollonia) well, but the point is, sometimes, you just need to take one step at a time, even if you can’t see the road ahead, and allow the universe to respond.

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Last year, in the midst of a particularly dark phase, I took one little step. I started my blog. A friend liked one of my pieces and shared it, and a poet friend of hers saw and sent me a friend request. Cut to 2019, and my new friend, Riya was posting one amazing poem every week, tagging some page called The Airplane Poetry Movement. I read her poems every week and sighed, because I couldn’t write like her. Then she wrote a poem about invisibility, and it pushed me to the right amount of edge to make me sign up. A few random lines thrown together- once every week. What could go wrong, right? Except suddenly, it wasn’t a weekly challenge at all but #NationalPoetryWritingMonth meaning one poem a day. That one month, and the following weeks ended up changing my life this year. It changed the way I saw myself, and the way I saw my life. APM has made me take my writing more seriously than I did before, helped me find new friends, and given me a new appreciation of serendipity. And for that, I thank everyone who has helped me grow this year- Learnerdy for being online when I was too nervous to post my first poem and telling me to do it (and for listening to my uke woes and half-baked song drafts), ArtWhip  for being encouraging and introducing me to Riya, Riya for introducing me to APM- and the whole APM family- ShantanuNandini, Sunil, Shalini, Tuhin, Rishitha, Divya, Adrit, Priyamvada, Aishwarya and everybody else whose names I am missing, both for bolstering my confidence, and for inspiring me with your  amazing work. I think I have read more poetry this year than I have in my entire life. On that note, you can find my poetry on my Instagram and on my Facebook Page, where I have recently started posting book reviews, another first.

I’ve been making one chance decision after another for years. And that has brought me here, with patterns I had never seen when they started forming years ago shaping me into the person I have become, the person I am still becoming, and I am grateful to have come to this point. I know it will be a fulfilling, enriching journey on the way ahead.

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Happy New Year.

P.S: One final reason to be thankful. An acquaintance from my old school whom I haven’t seen for about twenty years sent me a screenshot of a little short-story contest over Instagram. The deadline was quite close, and it was an exhausting time at work, so I was sure I wasn’t going to submit anything. But I did. The results aren’t officially out yet, and I suppose it isn’t that much of a big deal, but I’ve received the personal email, so I know I have won it. That’s one more thing I have done for the first time this year. Thank you, Archita for giving me the opportunity.

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Images used:

  1. College Play: Romeo & Juliet: A Musical by Sudipa Majumder
  2. College Play: Romeo & Juliet: A Musical by Bedbani Bhattacharya
  3. Neighbourhood Christmas Decorations by Anusha Chatterjee
  4. Free Image by Enchanted Conversations

Nightmares and Meandering Thoughts

First of all, apologies for the long absence. Also, I know I promised a surprise, and I was supposed to host a writer-friend who was going to talk about his new novel, but I went on vacation, and then he went on vacation and somehow it didn’t sort of work out. To make up for it, here are not one but two whole disjointed rambles. Do let me know what you think in the comments and share if you like them.

1

Last night I dreamt I was in school, going to class to learn calculus and having a generally miserable time of it. I keep having some variation of this dream at long intervals, usually at times when I am stressed or worried or sad- dreams where I go to class and the teacher has covered so many chapters of the math book that I have never studied and have no clue how to answer in the exam and then it takes me a while on waking up to remember that I didn’t in fact need to sit for that exam again. And so it was last night, except in the dream I made a very definite decision of quitting something that obviously was against my temperament and interests and then I spent some time wondering how people would react to a school drop-out. But then I remembered– within the dream that I had in fact already done school and that I taught at a college now and was in fact a little more accomplished than my subconscious fears would have me believe.

Venice. Photo by Ruchira
Life takes us wherwe we need to go…

This isn’t a post about my anxiety. The point of this anecdote is that the plus 2 years were a particularly stressful time for me. I had a great time with friends, I wrote not one but two abandoned novels, helped organize Start-of-Hogwarts-term and Halloween feasts with Little Heart Biscuits and Fish Chops and Lays, was introduced to Tolkien, disowned my friends as they kept a whole train compartment awake with their dumb charades and music and realized absolutely, irrevocably that I wanted to study English Literature in college. But the other half of it involves stress, frustration, a tremendous amount of pressure and school work that had become an almost joyless compulsion. For someone used to being a good student, it was hard to become suddenly average, or below. I made up for it by being fanatically hardworking when I finally went to college- first bench every class, library every morning, reference books loaned every week, or sometimes twice a week. But the point was, when I went to college, at least the first few months, I missed school so much it was like a constant terrible ache. And although I keep dreaming about the part of those years that I dreaded and hated, I have no regrets of having gone through that road, because it helped me form ties that has shaped who I am. Which brings me to my first half-baked inference- Sometimes, we are in the wrong places for the right reasons, or maybe we think we’re somewhere for a particular reason- to further a career goal, for instance, when you’re really there to pick up the pieces that will shape you along the way- relationships, people introducing books or music, ideas, and influences. And those are the things we carry forward. And maybe, on the whole, the processes of Life work out fine, taking you where you need to go, at the right time.

Yeah, but I’m not sure I can go back to doing it all over again, though. The nightmares are bad enough.

2

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

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Some goodbyes are inevitable.

 Not all goodbyes come with drums and colours or heartbreaks.  Sometimes, goodbyes can happen without anyone noticing, and people carry on without noticing out of old habits till one day, they realize that they don’t speak the same language any more, and it doesn’t matter that they don’t.

And maybe they stay on, speaking different languages, feeding different stories, but staying nevertheless- out of nostalgia, or fear of the unknown or the ease of habit, or out of loyalty to the myth of permanence in a world where every moment is fleeting and temporary- including the sun which sets every evening to remind us that one day it will be a cold, dead ball of gas, having spent all its warmth in all our loves and hates and strivings for life. But we will all be long gone before that, playing out our little dreams in other worlds, not even remembering that we had once bade goodbye to life somewhere.

I wonder if it has happened before. I wonder if that’s the reason farewells feel so familiar. Perhaps we’re all a collective diaspora looking for a promised realm, tearing ourselves up to claim a piece of home somewhere. Perhaps that is the reason why we are so frightened of goodbyes. But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. And that leads to half-baked inference number two- Saying goodbye doesn’t mean you lost out somewhere, or you failed at holding on, adding up to your tally of lost two. You were where you were when you were meant to be, to help you grow, and now you’ve grown into a different path, and that’s quite alright. Excelsior.

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I guess I should mention? Line credit to Coldplay.

I would make a really bad job at starting a cult, wouldn’t I?

And now, Bonus Ramble 3, which admittedly is a brushed up piece I wrote for a blogging contest I didn’t win, but some lovely people told me that they really enjoyed reading it, so if you’ve not already been harangued by me into reading the thing, you can read it here below.

3

 “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”- Victor Hugo

Towards a Better World, a Better Self

Long ago, a rather inept wizard who failed all his exams at magic university and had a rather pointed aversion to being even remotely heroic made a rather profound statement about creating social change: “If you want to help people, build a big library or something somewhere and leave the door open.”[i] It is quite an obvious argument that building schools promotes education, leading to increased employment opportunities, and employment leads to lesser crimes. And that is true enough, and important too. If you have a legitimate way to earn money, then you don’t need to steal or rob or kill to feed yourself or your family. Schools enable us to physically sustain ourselves. But the importance of schools run deeper than the degrees one can list in one’s curriculum vitae.

For most of us, the school is a first look at the world outside our homes, our first lesson in interacting with people we are not related to by blood. Schools are thus a practice in socialization, and also in discipline. It makes you part of a group, of a bigger world than your home and thus doing, it opens up the whole wide world for you, while teaching you how to act or behave in it. At school, a child learns to love outside the family, to share outside the family, and to be loved back in return. It is also the place where we discover our hobbies, our interests, our talents, and thus the place where we come into our own, beginning the process of finding ourselves. For those with unhappy or abusive family histories, school thus becomes an escape route, but even for those who come from normal, functional families, it offers a chance to expand and grow into one’s own identity, and to form and maintain independent relationships. Of course, a child doesn’t learn these lessons on their own. It is the job of the teacher to not simply teach letters and numbers and chemical formulae, but also to ensure that children under their charge treat each other fairly, and when they don’t, that they learn to own the consequences of their actions. For a school is not simply a building, but a doorway, and it is our teachers who hold the key to that door. Their job is not simply to unlock it, but to walk the child through its threshold, and to teach him or her how to unlock other doors on their path. At school, a child gets to meet other people and hear other stories; he/she experiences a cross-section of the world they’ll encounter as adults and finds the tools wherewithal to navigate that world with understanding and empathy. And these are the keywords in creating a less violent world, for if we can build a world where we can empathize with others, then we are less likely to want to harm them. Less crimes equals lesser need for prisons.

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Let everyone share the fruit of freedom

In his lecture for the Reading Agency delivered at the Barbican, London on October 14, 2013, Neil Gaiman spoke about a talk in New York he attended regarding the building of a private prison. In that talk, he recalled learning that the prison industry could chart its future growth by a very simple algorithm. The need for more prison cells was directly proportional to the percentage of ten to eleven year old children who could not read.[ii] Increased literacy leads to a decrease in crime, and schools are our first line of defence against the curse of illiteracy. But literacy, as Gaiman went on to suggest in that same lecture was only a stepping stone towards true education which involves reading for pleasure. Schools teach us to read, thus enabling us to read on our own, to read beyond our text books, and thus inhabit worlds embedded in print inside our heads, for letters are like secret codes that once deciphered are the passwords to distant worlds. And by participating in these worlds, not only does the child learn empathy and understanding, but also imagination and a craving for something beyond the regular, everyday mundane world that is available to us. This imaginative craving is the basis of what makes us human, of why our ancestors made frescoes on the walls of prehistoric caves or gazed at stars or crossed dangerous seas or wondered why the apple fell to the ground. It provides the impulse to make a difference in the world that is given to us, to move forward in a positive, harmonious manner towards a better world and a better self. This craving to be something more than we are, to discover something more than we know is innate to the human spirit, but education is what fires it into action. And while it is possible to receive education outside the confines of the traditional schooling system, in most cases, by depriving a child of schooling, we deprive him/her a chance at education, and by default, a chance at discovering his true self. Schools teach us to think for ourselves- critically, analytically as well as imaginatively, and it gives us the tools and language to create those thoughts. Thinking determines how we shape our world and our future as a species.  Education and self-discovery are both life-long processes, but we can safely suggest that schools jumpstart the journey. To quote Gaiman’s statement on libraries that we can perhaps equally apply to schools- schools are the pathways to freedom- “Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.”[iii] In an ideal education system, school teaches a child to ask questions and to find answers and thus begins the journey towards wholeness- and wholeness precludes greed or anger or hate.

If you like what I write (or if you don’t but would like to give me another chance), please consider subscribing to my blog. You can also keep up with me on TwitterFacebook and Instagram. I also write my own songs sometimes, and do covers of others, which you can find on my YouTube Channel.

Thank you for listening.

Photographs & Content © Ruchira Mandal

[i] Rincewind in Terry Pratchett’s Interesting Times.

Pratchett, Terry. Interesting Times. 1994. Corgi Books: London, 1995.Print. A Discworld Novel.

[ii] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/oct/15/neil-gaiman-future-libraries-reading-daydreaming

[iii] ibid

Dream Diary

My dreams weave in and out of train stations, crossing perilous oceans on un-navigated ships- always an anxious waiting for arrival, never reaching- promises of fabulous cities drifting away in meandering mazes or wrecked vessels, like that omnipresent thirst as cups of tea become as elusive of the alchemist’s secret formula cooked in holy chalices and old faces masking mine warble incoherent delirium that I cannot translate though they always speak languages I know in my dreams. And I wake from dreams where I am a drifting castaway in an island being dug all over by an army of automaton Man Fridays for treasure far more potent than Defoe could have imagined, the treasure forever slipping my grasp, with only a lingering sense of terror that I carry over to my Duolingo lessons.Secrets

Je suis une femme. La pomme es rouge.

There is such comfort in the familiar stability of these words. It is easy to learn a language as a child, for the child’s world is still whole and solid and untainted by the bleeding away of colours.

There was this other dream I had where I skipped frequencies and arrived in a different reality, a world that was same and different, and I was the only one who remembered that other reality that had been wiped away, leaving me in a constant torment of comparison. And may be that is why we haven’t harnessed quantum-leaping, because we’re afraid not of failing, but of succeeding. Succeeding, and not forgetting, without a way back.

Mosaic

Days and nights and long winded conversations through tube rail journeys skittered down to the occasional texts and memes and videos and emoji boards designed to hide the lack of things to say. But maybe those round yellow faces are honest. Maybe they really do express something truly felt, for feelings are easier than words that need to be articulated and weighed and run through eight hundred million billion possible scenarios of consequences of different inflections and the wrong stresses and perhaps a there was a yellow kite in the sky when you spoke them or a deranged, lone-wolf with a gun was gazing at violets in the fields but what if a stray shot hits and the words are left hanging, never to be completed, never to be understood. Have you thought of that? It is far easier, here and now, with these comfortable predictability of these cartoon faces- a face blissfully oblivious, a face eager for new experiences, a face outraged by mock-rejections. ROFL, LMAO, LOL! What a cool meme!

Love couldn’t change all the stars or all the lines on the palm meeting and crossing and running in frenzied directions, but it could perhaps bring a little rest, a quiet joy of being oneself, effortless. Why do I say this? If I knew, I wouldn’t be here, would I? I suppose there’s an off-chance, for I don’t quite remember, that amidst the dreams of vampires and corpses sprouting alien tentacles from their mouths, classrooms blending into libraries and missed trains and rickety bridges that disappear, there might be an answer somewhere. Something that makes sense. But the desire for love isn’t ambition or narcissism or even lust, or perhaps not only these things but also a hope for alignment of souls so one can align with oneself. And as a lifetime goal, that isn’t wrong to ask for, or too much to endeavor to create. We create our realities.Quietly the Night

Dreams slip away in morning light long before the slumberous wrappings of your mind, leaving behind the barest hint of colours and answers. And so we jump from one story to another, obsessing over endgames that we can’t find in our own lives. Taking each story, wanting only to finish it, hoping for contentment when we reach the end- but the end only brings an aching hollow, a vacuum, a blank space that you don’t know how to fill. And so we stumble onwards to the next story, and then the next, and then the next. The other way of staying sane is to hold on to a few ‘truths’ that remain even when the world burns down and your house burns down and everybody you know burns screaming, pleading, begging while you stand with your fiery brand against the onslaught of the crashing universe with its myriad disagreements and untruths. And you stay there, in your little musty cocoon, knowing you are safe, knowing your place in the story. And you know how it ends. And you alone are going to heaven.

Others

Take a railway station. Not a big, busy one but one of those lonely small town stations with narrow platforms that the sun stretches over at noon when the newspaper sellers and the tea-stall man and the office-goers have all gone to busier destinations and the station just waits there, a gulmohar tree with its green branches standing still in the absence of wind and wings. There’s no digital display board, no announcements over the loudspeaker, creating an illusion of stilled Time in a bell jar. The lone man at the ticket counter begins dozing off into broken dreams of tinkling coins and galloping trains that don’t stop at small-town stations- important trains with new paintjobs carrying important people and their stories to important places. There are so many stories we never learn- the trains that pass, the stops we leave behind. And you’re the only one waiting, for a train that will finally stop for you, to take you somewhere, to give you direction and purpose.  But those seconds on that unshaded platform- moments of enforced inaction or deliberate passivity begin under the hazy sun to form a shape of life, a fragile form soon to be dissipated by the arrival of your train at last- and you’ve moved away, pulled away, focusing intensely on navigating your way through the crowd blocking your way, finding a seat, beginning to tick off your to-do-list once you arrive at your destination and the vague shape of your meditations remain forgotten on that platform.

haiku boondoggles

Hi, there, everyone. I know I have been neglecting this blog of late, but I have been insanely busy with a high-profile seminar at the college where I teach (Is that a gasp I hear? Don’t worry, I speak more coherently in my class than I do here on my blog. At least I hope I do. I’ll ask my students.) and several deadlines and so on and so forth. I mean, I am only on the second day of my vacation and I have already submitted a paper and typed out the key for a question paper. What is wrong with me? But anyway, thank you for sticking on and for reading this, even if it read like disjointed pieces of stream-of-consciousness (which is exactly what it was, by the way).

Meanwhile, as I keep reminding you, you can keep up with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. If you like my posts or my poems or my videos, please do like, share and subscribe. And feel free to comment because internet artists like us survive on your support. So thanks once again for being here.

I’ll hopefully see you next week here with a surprise, but before I go, I was really sad about Avengers 4 being the last film for Captain America, so I wrote a little poem I’ll leave here as a tribute.

cap tribute

The Validity of Perception

Last week, someone I knew on Facebook posted a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon.

Calvin and Hobbes

It was one I had seen before- did I mention I was a big Calvin & Hobbes fan?- and shared with my academic friends, sort of as a light-hearted in-joke- a nostalgic reminder of our experiences as clueless students trying to hand in assignments within looming deadlines. As one classmate very memorably said on encountering a discomfiting question- “What’s the point of studying literature for all these years if you can’t use the language to fib and improvise?” Strangely enough, I had never seen this joke as a specifically literary one, but found its humour revolving around the fact that Calvin didn’t actually know anything substantial to say about the subject. As a teacher one knows that the less a student has studied, the more likely she is to “inflate weak ideas, obscure pure reasoning” and write longer and more convoluted sentences. However, my Facebook friend graced this little strip with a caption, and it was:

“What I feel literature and maybe all of humanities is basically.”

That was it. All of literature and all of humanities were built on weak ideas inflated to obscure poor reasoning that may be useful just like prayer and voodoo was useful (this from the comment section) but not necessarily valid, because “the premise of humanities is the antithesis of scientific principles of objectivity and falsifiability.”

I don’t want to go into defending all of humanities, nor do I need to. Most of us know that the charge of a lack of objectivity and falsifiability is not even true in most cases, especially in the social sciences. Let us talk instead of the mode that is supposedly the antithesis of the objective scientific principle- which I presume is human faculty of imagination.

Now I know that it is impossible according to the principles of biology and physics for a man to fly by attaching wings made of bird feathers to his shoulders using wax. But if Icarus didn’t fall from the sky, where would the Wright Brothers be? Humans have an innate desire to fly, to transcend the limitations of their physical bodies. I do not have objective, quantifiable data to substantiate this claim, which I suppose makes it an unscientific, weak idea. And I am aware that there is a thin line between claiming that there are multiple modes of perceiving the world to those that state that evolution is merely a theory. My aim is not to dismiss the science. I am definitely not a creationist. What I do believe is that our creation stories offer us certain modes of understanding the world, or of the people who told those stories. Like the Discworld Death, I find myself hovering between the rising ape of Darwin and the falling angel of the Bible and I am struck by the incomprehensible beauty of creation from Chaos, to imagine that some part of me might have always been and will always be existing in the universe, through Time and beyond it- “Whether Chaos brought life and substance out of nothing or whether Chaos yawned life up or dreamed it up, or conjured it up in some other way I don’t know. I wasn’t there. Nor were you. And yet in a way we were, because all the bits that make us were there. It is enough to say that the Greeks thought that it was Chaos who, with a massive heave, or a great shrug, or hiccup, vomit or cough, began the long chain of creation that has ended with pelicans and penicillin and toadstools and toads, sea-lions, seals, lions, human beings and daffodils and murder and art and love and confusion and death and madness and biscuits.” (Stephen Fry, Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece).

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It is beautiful to see sunlight breaking into VIBGYOR through water and rain-washed clouds, but if you ask me, it would be a sad world if we couldn’t imagine a path to Asgard through the rainbow, or see a Mary Poppins cycling down from the sky. A dead world, even, for what is science but the physical manifestations of our dreams and stories? If we didn’t dream, we would stop living. Is it happening inside your head? Perhaps. Is it not true? Why the hell not? (Sorry, Dumbledore) And how could something happen outside your head if it didn’t happen inside it first? After all, as Dr. Radhakrishnan said in a rather heavily-worded essay, it takes quite a leap of imagination to see an apple falling from the tree on the evidently flat surface of an average planet to visualizing cosmic spheres each exerting its own force of attraction in the universe. Other people saw apples fall from trees too, Newton just saw it differently.

Dermot Moran, in an article on Merleau-Ponty writes-

“In his wonderful “Eye and Mind”, Merleau-Ponty asks what the world looks like for whose eyes are lateral and don’t unite to give a single sense of vision. What would the world look like if humans had eyes on either side of their heads – like birds? … I remember travelling on the train from Aberdeen and looking out at green hills on one side and water on the other. … We see differently when we try to see what others see.”[1]

In coming to terms with a personal depression over the past year, I have increasingly come to see that human beings need more than a practical existence, although I do not in any way intend to belittle the struggles of many around the world fighting to eke out a decent existence. But it is a fact of history- whether we look at ancient Egypt, China, Greece, Mesopotamia or the Indus Valley that when people have found food and rest and stable existence, they have created art. last wordsIf I may borrow the Discworld Death again, human beings need fantasy to be human[2], they need meaning beyond the quantifiable data of science. To quote Philip Pullman, “Everything that touches human life is surrounded by a penumbra of associations, memories, echoes and correspondences that extend far into the unknown. In this way of seeing things, the world is full of tenuous filaments of meaning …”[3]– meanings that are equally, and sometimes more valid than those we can quantify and prove. For when you consider from a wider perspective, human life is absurd. We are born on a middle-sized planet of an obscure solar system of an average galaxy, and we die. If our stories were invalid, there wouldn’t be any rationale behind our existence. If existence was enough, Socrates wouldn’t ask his questions and Galileo wouldn’t turn to the skies, and there would be no poetry, no arts and certainly no science.

Floating

 

Let me know what you think of this in the comments. And you can read more of my poems and listen to my music on these handles:

Instagram :RuchiraRambles

Facebook: Ruchira’s Rambling

YouTube: Ruchira Mandal

Twitter: RucchiraM

[1] From The Philosopher’s Magazine, an article on Merleau-Ponty by Dermot Moran (h/t However Fallible)

http://www.philosophypress.co.uk/?p=95

[2] Terry Pratchett, The Hogfather,

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/01/the-limits-of-reason-philip-pullman-on-why-we-believe-in-magic?CMP=twt_gu

The Friendship Day Post

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I left a little bit of me at every place,

A little broken trust, a little broken heart,

A little bit of not loving myself.

I found a little bit of me in all of you,

A bit of spite, the good despite,

A little bit of old me replaced anew.

I left a little bit of me in your songs,

A tattered toy, a dash of joy,

A little story retold winded long.

I found a little bit of me in your love,

A stronger voice, a truer choice,

A little light along the road as we evolve.

How do you make friends? You are thrown together to sit at a table at 4 or 5 by your Kindergarten teacher. You run into each other during afternoon play because you happen to live in the same neighbourhood. At that age, that’s all that matters. You don’t think of big words like wavelength and frequency, because you don’t know your own frequency yet, and you can only like or dislike from amongst what you are given. When I try to recollect my earliest friendships, I cannot recall any great surge of emotions – affection or otherwise, just a desire to belong to a group, and a desire to be liked. I wasn’t very good at those early childhood games- always the first to get out, always the one to fumble, always eager to be liked. And kids can be mean sometimes. Perhaps I was too, but I don’t remember that part. Thing is, none of us were what we were going to become, but a bunch of raw Egos testing themselves outside of the mirror while playing at being adults- the cookery sets, the roleplays, the bossiness- trying to figure out what personas to wear. Would we become friends today? I do not know, but if we did, perhaps we would be better friends than we were all those years back.

When I had to change school at seven because of my dad’s transfer, I was upset for a few days about the whole life that I was leaving behind, but I don’t think I thought of any one person and wept because I missed them. And I made new friends easily enough- new bunch of people sitting beside me in class, new bunch of people in the neighourhood, and always, eager to be liked, and hurt at being mocked at, at being not allowed to play if I, and only I didn’t go and pick the ball from the sewer. Perhaps we wouldn’t become friends today, but I wasn’t yet who I was to become. When we came back to Kolkata, it was easy to forget it all.

It was harder to change schools at thirteen. By then, people were individuals. By then, we were choosing friends, and they were not always the people the teacher made you sit with (if anything, the teachers tried to not make you sit with your friends). They had quirks, jokes, personalities and it took time replacing them. And I wanted to be remembered, as I remembered myself, for we are eager for love. I was still not me, though. Or I was, may be a little bit, for now I had interests and knacks and fandoms and it mattered that there were people to share them with.

I couldn’t make friends in my new neighbourhood, and the people I sat with in class didn’t become my friends either. And although I was still becoming, as I am still becoming, and although I would still like very much to be ‘liked’ – what also mattered was who I liked, what I liked, who was finishing my sentences and racing with me to finish a book and who exuded admirable poise and sweetness the way I wanted to (it didn’t really matter if they revealed themselves to be rambunctious pranksters in a couple of years) and who liked me for things that I was beginning to like in myself. And in these later relationships, distance hasn’t mattered, time hasn’t mattered, us constantly ‘becoming’ and changing hasn’t mattered.

What I am trying to say through this long, dithering mumble- although I never claimed to make sense at all- I guess, is that our friendships reflect us, they reflect how we see ourselves and what we want to become. Something to that effect, anyway. But also, sometimes when I look back at some of the decisions that I made- the college I chose and the ones I didn’t choose, for instance, the people I met and the people I didn’t meet instead- some of whom appeared in my life at a later point anyway, the job I almost didn’t apply for- I can’t help wondering at all the sheer accidents that shape our lives and its hard not to think that there is some design somewhere, or that there is some alternate universe version of me that made different decisions and met different people and became a different person as a result.

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(Image Credit: Lee Davy: Flickr)

Hi there. Happy Friendship Day. I know I have not been spotted around this blog for a while, but that does not mean I have not been writing. I wrote two whole chapters for my thesis on Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels  – yes okay, they are probably Draft 1.001/A at this point and it will still take me till the Second Coming before I can finish this, but apart from the constant urge to throw an oil truck at everybody who got in my way during the writing- an urge I resisted with the patience of a saint  – this was an oddly therapeutic exercise.  There is something immensely satisfying to see your thoughts coalesce into shape as disjointed ideas somehow begin to fall into place – ideas that you had had all along that never made sense before jumping out at you with sudden clarity.

But apart from that, I have been posting my poetry in response to the Airplane Poetry Movement’s weekly challenges, and sometimes writing some more spontaneous stuff too, and you can read all of them on my Instagram or on my Facebook page. I also did a mini-blog post kinda thing and posted it on Instagram, but here is it below if you wanted to read it.

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Just a short ramble.

 Although it has been rather hectic, I also had a rather good July this year. Of the special things that happened last month- I had my birthday  (I know it happens every year, but still) which meant loads of good food  and some really great books, and a fun outing with friends including a perfectly lovely movie, or what would have been a perfectly lovely movie if we had not stayed back for the post-credit scene! Not nice, Thanos, and I don’t think purple is going to be the colour of my wardrobe this season.

But moving on, last month I also uploaded an original song on YouTube- and this one’s really special because I did the lyrics and the score by myself, and I played the chords on my ukulele – a special shout-out to Learnerdy for her strumming tip- and you can check out the song here. For ‘Dreamers’ my first original song, which I wrote to another YouTuber’s piano composition, please click here.

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The other stuff I did last month is my first ever poetry-reading, and it took place at this lovely little café called Café de Art at Connaught Place, Delhi.

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 It was a completely new experience for me, and I have been known to lose my voice and tongue when confronted with a microphone and an audience so needless to say I was jittery throughout the week leading up to Sunday. When the moment actually came, I walked up in a daze and I think my brain went on an auto-pilot because I was halfway through the second stanza when I realized I should slow down. Still, learning curve and all that. Here’s to trying new things.

And here is a photo of me at the reading-

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There’s also a video here that you can check out, but the sound echoes, so if you need help with the text, here goes:

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Please let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.