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

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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.

To those who wander…

Some people live in the past. Some people live in the future. I fall into the second category. For as long as I can remember, I have survived the present by weaving stories about the future in my head, without knowing anything concrete about the path to those stories. And the futures became present and the stories never materialized and I moved on to newer stories, newer futures.

But this future that engrossed me was always of the airy variety- not the practical future of- if I practice X sums a day for Y number of days I will finish a chapter in my math book, or if I write points a, b, c in this order I will have a coherent paragraph. When I was in school, my mother would complain about my habit of always crossing out the first sentences of any essay I wrote.

“Why can’t you plan first and then begin writing?”

But I could not begin to think till I was in the middle of the business, neck-deep into a sea of scratched out words and by then, the thoughts had begun to take a life of their own, and I could only hope they would arrive somewhere in the end. This is a bad approach to anybody who wants to write anything at all- this has led me to five abandoned attempts at novel writings, several unfinished stories and severe stress while writing my M.Phil thesis- and I don’t recommend this at all. The reason I was such a failure at my drawing lessons is that, apart from an utter lack of proportions and the inability to draw shapes, I have no idea how to see the whole picture. So if you are any kind of writer, don’t do this to yourself. Plot, outline, plan as much as you can, and then get writing.

The other trouble with living in the airy castle of future is that sometimes bridges are broken, and then nothing makes sense, and all the gravitation force of the world holds you immobilized in a haze of inertia. This happened to me last year. At that time, for several months, I had been toying with ideas and themes to use in fiction to be written in some far-flung future. I didn’t know what the stories were, so they remained unwritten. And then the daydreaming mind collapsed and everything was pointless, and I didn’t know how to go from one day to the next anymore. So out of the sheer desperation of wanting to be a little bit more than my present, I decided- damn the stories. Let me try just writing about the ideas first. I have a blog to do just that! It was terrifying, because I was afraid I would run out of ideas. I knew what the first post was going to be, but what then? And to deal with that fear and to force myself to begin- on this day, last year, I made an announcement on Facebook, declaring that I was going to revive my blog. I hadn’t specifically chosen the date, it just happened. And then, a friend pointed out it was 16th of June. I’m not a very academic type of academic (please let that phrase make sense), but I do understand something about wandering and homecoming. I think we all do, because we all live our own myths, following age-old patterns. And because we are all stardust scattered in space through paths we can never trace back.

So I made a resolution exactly one year ago, and I kept to it. And this is the longest stretch of time that my blog has ever been active. And other things grew out of this decision- a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, an Instagram account, even a poetry-writing challenge. I did run out of ideas at times, so I fibbed and fumbled, but wrote those posts anyway. And I got a few people to read them, and that made me write some more, and here we are.

And because an anniversary of a resolution calls for another resolution- I have been working on another novel for a couple of weeks now. I write about a page a day because I also need to finish writing my Ph.D thesis, and I have no idea where my characters are going, and I am terrified that it is going to end up on the abandoned pile as number six, which is why I must absolutely declare on the internet that I am going to finish it.

Let all who wander lost never lose sight of the light. Happy BloomsDay.

My blogging and other creative activities are a little irregular at the moment (in fact, I broke a self-imposed hiatus because I wanted to mark the date) but I’m not abandoning anything. If I survive through writing my thesis (don’t ask), I’ll be back.

P.S: The usual stuff- poems from the last week, in association with Airplane Poetry Movement . This week’s prompt was ‘uncertainty’.

 

Your love means the world to me.

Where the Vanished Light Goes

This rambling piece of writing grew out of a poem that grew out of a CNN tweet of an article about the biggest ever black hole that has been discovered so far:

“Astronomers have found the fastest-growing black hole ever seen in the universe. “

I am not a science person, but there are two topics that I have always been interested in- the first being evolution and the second being space. One reason for that would be my parents. My first non-fiction read were a series of picture books for kids on the stars and cosmos, and on the creation of the world and evolution of life that my parents bought for me from the Kolkata Book Fair. The second reason, on the space front- would be the Bengali magazine Anandamela. I remember the one time in junior high school when I volunteered a topic for my house’ turn to do the wall magazine- it was on NASA because Anandamela had just done a cover-story on it.

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I also remember one afternoon after school playing at being a a planet-hopping astronaut (while waiting for my mother to come pick me up) with a bewildered classmate who couldn’t keep up with my enthusiasm, and I remember how invested I was in another’s classmate’s fourth standard ambition to become an astronaut when we grew up- I was slightly disappointed when I discovered years later that she didn’t in fact become one via Facebook, but people grow and dreams change and here we are.

No, I did not want to become an astronaut myself.

 Even back then I wasn’t interested in the technicalities but in the stories, or shall we say, the poetry of it. I wondered about life on other planets, and what they looked like and if we would ever meet them. I wondered about the possibility of space travel, wondered about the skies and landscapes in other planets, though my father said people couldn’t travel at the speed of light. I was intrigued by the theory that the three main pyramids of Giza could have been built by aliens because their locations reflected the positions of the stars of the Orion constellation. I wanted to know what a black hole looked like and what was on the other side of it. When I read H.G.Well’s The Time-Machine, what  stirred me most was not the idea of the inexorable nature of fate and time that rendered all human desires futile but the image of a dark, dying world beneath a sky from where the sun was gone forever. The possibility of that future, of this beautiful planet becoming a dead world, no matter how many centuries later was depressing. We accept our individual mortality, more or less. But to give up on our legacies, to think of a time when all of this will mean nothing because even the concept of meaning will be gone, and all our stories will be gone, and all our values and ideas- that’s sort of hard to wrap our head around.

And so, in the article that I mentioned, there was a line that caught my attention-

“It’s growing so quickly it can devour a mass the size of the sun every two days.” So I wondered, what if any of those stars already devoured had planetary systems,and what if those planets had people?

Black hole passing by Earth

(Artistic impression of an imaginary black hole passing by Earth and its gravity, destroying our planet. The Earth would stand no chance if it encountered a rogue black hole; the black hole’s tidal forces would easily rip the planet apart.Copyright: ESO.Org)

If a sun was devoured by a black hole, it’s planets would be pulled in too, right? And I don’t know the science of this, but when exactly would they die? When the sun died? Or before that, when the pull first began? Would they die of cold or lack of air or earthquakes and tsunamis? And would they know they were dying?

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I don’t claim to be scientifically accurate, but this is what I thought. What happens if you’re alive in a sunless world, and time has broken down because there is nothing to measure time against? It’s like trying to imagine what was before the Big Bang- before the existence of time and space and we can’t even envision the possibility. St.Augustine in the fourth century declared that time was God’s creation, and there was simply no ‘before’. And yet, the white hole theory suggests that the matter and energy sucked in by a black hole passes through a singularity to originate as a new parallel universe. And we are all made of stardust, children of supernovas scattered through cosmic millenia.

As another Twitter user commented on the thread- They don’t know everything yet about black holes. Black holes may seem to be the end of everything, but who knows what happens inside them? And matter can’t simply case to exist, right?

To misquote our favoure JKR:

Where do vanished stars go?

Into non-being, that is everywhere.

Thanks for reading, and here’s the poem I wrote for Week 16 of the Airplane Poetry Movement, 2018.

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The prompt was: What would you choose to see if you were given a pair of reality-distorting glasses?

Please comment and share if you enjoyed reading. What do you think happens inside a black hole? Do you believe in life outside earth? Or the worm-hole thoery?

Maps and Bridges

mountainsThe mountains recede into the folds of memory, the snow disappears beyond nameless roads forking and the world flattens out into ceaseless ordinariness- acres and acres of plains sans mystery or beauty or movement, and we are moving away, encased in this marvel of modern technology, this miracle of glass and metal and comfort rushing on towards an inevitable end. We drift away from ourselves. Yet somewhere still in the world the ghost of a forgotten ocean raises its soul upward as buried past overreaches towards heaven. And one day, that churning unseen ghost life will topple the earth.

churning sea

Happy moments fall flickering lightly like wondrous soap bubbles, sparkling, weightless, innocent. But then the heavy air of life touches them- with all its needs for data and details and precision, the lightest touch from the expanses of the flat lands, and the brief refracting looking glass is gone, leaving you with chores, lists and deadlines. But then you pick up the straw-pipes again, and that little bowl of soap water, and blow, hoping that the tentative breath of a wish doesn’t scatter the rainbow again. And again. And again.

Somebody asked- if you knew that death was painless, would you choose life? Give one reason. I have asked myself that ‘why’ many many times. Why do we go through it all- the weariness, the boredom, the suffocation? People- well-wishers, friends, acquaintances tell me how I ought to be one way or the other, because that’s how things are done, that’s how one must be- and their words, like tendrils grow over my heart, gnawing at my veins and arteries like cold metal till I can no longer breathe, and I want to shout-

NO, NO, I WANT MORE OUT OF LIFE!

And I want to shout-

WHY? WHY? WHY MUST I CHOOSE JUST ONE ROAD? WHY CAN’T I HAVE THE WORLD?

I have nothing against destinations, honestly, but don’t make me choose one for the sake of the road. I walk where I want to go. I find my signs and make my own maps. And that is my reason for choosing life: Hope.

Perhaps hope is our collective reason to keep hanging on to this little bridge spanning from a past that we cannot return to, to a future we haven’t seen. For we are all on a one-way ticket on this train with no return, and that wondrous frame of snow and green and blue that you missed looking at properly as it rushed past your window will not return again, but we keep looking anyway for the chance of beauty one more time. And all we can hope is that when darkness falls there is someone to light the lamps on this bridge and guide our way, so that what lurks beneath do not capture our souls in the churning waters.

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One a side note, something that bothers me about this blog is my awareness of its enormous solipsism, perhaps selfishness. I don’t know. I haven’t figured out what to say. I know that the world burns and the children die and the ice melts. Perhaps one day, I will know my words. But for now, this little bubble of selfishness keeps me sane. I am drawing my maps.

A Few Incoherent Thoughts on the Poetry I Didn’t Write.

My page turns into moss-covered paths for my pen to slip till I no longer know the way and I am falling into the old familiar bubble of rarified oxygen like the enchanted breath of a mountain forest in summer.

And I have tried not to stare into the echoing eyes of mournful nymphs by the side of nameless streams, or listen to falling of dewdrop from a motionless leaf, or smell the sharp heady perfume of ancient wood and soil.

I wish I could speak of the lighted world, to probe into its wounded soul and offer solace, or wisdom or anger.

But here beneath the green-gold shadows and the beating of a timeless heart is sanctuary from the everyday mill and a little fevered, guilty love.

(Written in association with The Airplane Poetry Movement, in response to its poetry prompt for Week 15 in the form of the picture given below)

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Thank you for reading. If you are interested in the many ways I try to map my path, here are the links to my

Instagram (for poetry and music)

YouTube (for music)

You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you saw this gif I shared on my FB page yesterday- no correlation with this post, I said 😉 – but if you know the feeling of sometimes just wanting to simply rip out our lives so we can make a fresh start somewhere, then this is it.

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All text and pictures belong to © Ruchira Mandal except the picture prompt which is from Key Nomiyama via  APM and the gif which belongs to Marvel Studios and the collective imagination of the internet people. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Please let me know what you think of this post in the comments.

Faded Pictures/ Songs and Sounds

If you know me on social media – Instagram or Facebook , you probably know I’ve had a busy, eventful April. And the reason is NaPoWriMo – National Poetry Writing Month. I guess they should start calling these things ‘international’ or ‘global’ (I mean I do think GloNoWriMo sounds just as catchy and will roll off the tongue just as easily come November,) but a hashtag is difficult to get rid off, and perhaps it’s not really such a bad thing if all it takes is poetry or fiction to bring Lennon’s dream come true, even if it’s only for one month in the year. But I digress. The point is, I participated in NaPoWriMo and I had no idea, no prior plans to do it. I just fell into it. I saw a friend posting poems for weekly prompts by someone called The Airplane Poetry Movement, loved their poems so much that I joined up, and then I found out it was April so it was going to be daily rather than weekly prompts. And I somehow managed to finish the challenge. I’ve written 40 poems in May (because the whole thing became so exciting that on somedays I also responded to prompts by another page- Winter Tangerine) – which puts me a little less than halfway through for APM’s yearly challenge of 100 poems.

But anyway, what is important to me is not the the number, but the experience. Once upon a time, as a  young literture student in college, I might have considered myself as some sort of a poet. And then I had 3/4 of them published, and my faith strenghtened. But then came a long dry season when I just couldn’t write any more, and whatever I wrote received rejection slips from editors and I began to feel that 1.I could no longer capture that intensity which had led to my few successful poems and 2. My style was very different from the kind of poems poets wrote today and I just couldn’t fake that language. And at some point, I took T.S.Eliot’s comment about only true poets continuing to produce poetry after a certain age and decided I wasn’t a real poet after all.

Last month has changed this feeling. Yes, I still see that my style is different from others, that there is sometimes something markedly 19th century about my words, but I have learned to love my honest voice and write as the person I am, and not as someone who I should be. And so my new motto for the rest of this year’s poetic journey is authenticity. And that means, for me, to be honest to the path that the words take me on, even if I can’t explain what they mean, even if I can’t understand myself.

On most mornings, I retain only a vague memory of the forgotten dreams of the previous night, and sometimes, all I remember is that I had dreamt, or remembering that I had dreamt. Last night seems like a different lifetime, and the colours and shapes and sounds fleet past in free-falling dance, but the narrative is wiped away, leaving me a clean slate for my myriad restless thoughts to crowd. It is like a painting but only the empty washed out canvas remains where the colours should be, a nightly play that has lost plot and character, leaving only the fading hints of spectacle and the dying strains of music as doors close to dark halls. And sometimes I think that’s how I write- putting words next to each other, built together out of barely understood thoughts and swiftly shifting feelings and nothing solid to hold on to.

And may be dreams are really memories from  so far away that we can no longer hold on to them, yet that is the place where the words come from, where we must go to find them- in a journey we can’t control.

It’s like when you are painting with water colours in your drawing book, and some of the tints and outlines seep into the page below, and then they take the painting away On that note, here’s a poem I wrote for one of the prompts last month:

Once upon a time…

I remember nor ’westers from when the world was not yet flat

And my song like the skylark soaring out to a melting metal sky
In a far-away where the coconut trees swayed
Like the monsters from moth-eaten noons.
I remember long conversations with the evening breeze in summer
When the Milky Way mapped the way to the sleeping dragon’s lair.
And I remember how new the world looked after rain,
So pure that it made all the stories possible.
Most of all, I remember the scent of sunlight on the pillows
On winter afternoons and my father’s newspaper
And my mother rubbing orange rinds on my skin,
And how back then we had all the time in the world,
And all the heart.
I hope, when I leave, and they strip down these walls,
The painted over yellow bricks would still remember me.

© Ruchira Mandal

Memories and Hallucinations

#1

“Write a poem that a young you needed to read.”

I found this poetry prompt for National Poetry Writing Month. Really nice prompt, except I was 3 days late. But it got me thinking. What poem would young me need to read? I mean, I have come across these pieces before – Letter to Young Me- but I’ve never given the idea much thought before. Perhaps because it was not my time yet for that contemplation. But tonight, disturbed, anxious, slightly depressed with my thoughts going where they shouldn’t, where I don’t want them to go, I am trying to think of what advice I could conjure up for a younger version of myself.

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At five, perhaps, don’t be so bitter

For being always mocked at,

For being made fun of, bullied,

For being the youngest.

We all grow up someday

And frankly, it’s overhyped.

 

At ten, don’t try so hard

To be nice, to be liked

It won’t matter, in the long run

In a few years you will wonder

That you ever liked these people,

And wanted to be liked back again.

 

At 15, don’t you crave for that tub of Fairness Cream

It won’t make a difference, either way.

At 17, don’t bother about how the starched school skirt

Looks on you, or the people who laugh

Because you are fat.

You will forget their faces in a year or two.

Really.

That part was easy.

 

What do I say to 25 who wants to dream beyond what

Even I can see?

Or to 28, weeping into her pillow, deep into the night

And in the morning, testing the edges of a blade

And drawing back only by the fear of pain?

What do I say to last year’s me?

To last morning’s me, weary of being misheard?

That it gets better?

That you grow?

That things happen in their time

And it all works out in the end?

How do I promise the ending

That still leaves me hanging?

How do I lie when I know

That we try, and we strive, and the world strikes back

WHAM!

 

And you may want to sink deep into yourself

But the world will drag you up

And like an air-breathing fish

You will learn to survive

As you always do.

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#2

Every song I’ve sung lately has been all for you, but I don’t know how to get into your audial circle across all these immense airwaves and all this noise, so many voices talking across each other, talking over me, talking in cross-currents all the time. But if souls are what they are made out to be- I wouldn’t know, in this limited corporeal version, any more than you do- may be somewhere my song has reached you. I can hope. 

I read a book about a woman trapped inside her house because the world outside frightens her. She is agorapobic and watches the outisde through the lenses of her camera from her window. And she witnesses something, but nobody believes her because she is drunk and on heavy medication and leaves in an illusory world of her own, talking to people inside her head. 

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And here I am. I haven’t witnessed a murder, as Anna Fox did, but I do know that something has died inside me, and nobody else has noticed. They all insist on carrying on like I am who they think I am, who they think I ought to be, but I know in all certainty, even if I haven’t seen it yet, even if I can’t articulate it- that something in me has died, and something else is growing. And all I can tell young me is that may be the shedding of the old skin hurts in the beginning, when it begins to dry and shrivel, before the new skin can reveal itself. There, I’ve moved from pisces to reptilian, skipping the amphibian perhaps because it is not my forte to live in both worlds. But surely I can be the bird someday, and fly?

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But as I was saying, Anna Fox witnessed a murder and had a hard time working it out. But you know what really stayed with me at the end? The longing, the love, the ache of missing a loved one. It made me miss you, it made me want to hear your voice. Is it strange that the fictional hearbreaks of fictional people makes me long for people I’ve never even met? But as true as Anna knew what she saw, I know this. I miss you. And someday, I hope, you can hear me.

Right, so that was the morbid rambling part. As for the poem, although I couldn’t make it a #napowrimo entry, I’m still including it as part of the Airplane Poetry Movement’s 100 Poems A Year Challenge. You can still sign up for that one. Honestly, it’s great. I signed up because other people on my feed were posting poetry on their timelines that was blowing my mind, even though I hadn’t seriously written poems in many years. But I signed up, and here I am. It has been a great ride so far. You can read my poems on my Instagram or on my Facebook Page. Here are a couple of my entries from the NaPoWriMo challenge. The prompt for yesterday’s poem was to write in iambic meter, and though I disliked prosody in college, I think I had fun with this one. And today, APM asked us to write a poem to advertise something, which made me confused and distracted at first, which led to the poem. I hope you like them. Let me know. And if you’re doing the challenge yourself, make sure you let me know and leave a link in the comments. And if you’ve read a book that you really liked, let me know that in the comments too.

(All pictures courtesy of DailyCalm, except for the book cover, which I googled, and the handwritten poem, which is obviosuly mine.)

Thank you for reading. 🙂