Of Summers.

This summer, I did a course on children’s literature at King’s College, London, United Kingdom. Exactly a year ago, last summer, I interned with Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), at Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, India. The first one required me to read interesting works and attend classes and participate in discussions and write papers, all the while being in a beautiful city. The second one asked of me to read up on land rights and building of dams and displacement of people and then travel to villages in scorching heat with news of when the lands would be submerged, or what needs to be done to not let it happen, or how to claim rehabilitation in case it already has, and file RTIs and go through rooms and rooms of files. The first was about instagram updates, pretty clothes, and good food. The second about no phone, two pairs of clothes, and stacked up biscuits in my backpack.

A friend wrote to me while I was in London asking me if I ever sat back in my cozy room there and compared it to last summer. She wanted to know which of the two made me happier. To be honest, I want to know it too. Sadly, not all things can fit into ‘happy’ and ‘not happy’. Experiences in themselves are neutral, I think. They just happen to us like we happen to them. Once they’ve happened, they leave us with memories, smiles, tears, lots of learning, and tweak a little something inside us. Though I might not have a clear answer for my friend, or for myself, I can share what I’ve been thinking in the last few months: how I chose to be at these places, at those times. I wasn’t forced to be there because of my circumstances and I could get away whenever I wanted to, if I wanted to. It was a choice.

Last year, at NBA, I wrote a poem about inequality in the world, in my world, and I remember my father’s reaction being so different from what I had expected. In the poem, I compared my birthdays to that of the girls I taught at a shelter home, and how that says so much about the society we live in. It was the first time I thought of my birthday as more than just me. Although he appreciated my writing, I could tell that it saddened him; offended him almost. He read it as me rejecting everything my parents had done for me so far: the life they’d given me, the comforts they wanted me to have (because they couldn’t) and so on. It was hard on me too, because until then, I saw my privilege as only mine, as though it was a personal choice that no one could have a say in. Not something that automatically draws in the people I’m connected to.

Slowly, I’m realizing that there is much more to privilege than “Oh-I-think-I’m-privileged”, and “Oh-I-think-I don’t-want-to-be”. Maybe it has more to do with opportunities than anything else. Even if I tell people that I am on aid in college, got funds to be able to go to London, that I travel second class, have a medium sized home in a medium sized city, nothing can take away from the fact that I’ve been bombarded with opportunities. To study, travel, learn and grow in abundance.

I’m learning to accept my privilege while also trying to be conscious that someone else is robbed of it, for me to have it. I’m also teaching myself to be empathetic to those who might not have the privileges that I do (for whatever reason: social/economic/political), or those who might have a lot more than I do. The latter is sometimes harder. I’m learning to accept my middle-ground. This middle-ground is where I stand, thinking about where I come from, where I am, and where I want to go.

Often privilege plays a huge role in connecting (and disconnecting) us with people. The people we meet enter our lives based on factors to do with privilege. The locality or city we live in, the school or college we go to, the family we belong to, all play a role in determining our social standing. Interestingly, social media (read facebook) is acting as a weird leveler. It gives everyone similar access to the space on the internet, making it hard (and irrelevant?) to know how privileged one is. However, the same concept can backfire too. It is much more easier to draw conclusions about what people’s lives are, hence making it easier to attack them. We build opinions about people (and their internet self) and expect them to behave accordingly. We dismiss someone because of who we think they are, or why we think they don’t have a right to have the opinion they do:

Oh, she’s too rich to understand how the poor feel; has he ever lived without an air-conditioner?; you don’t get to say that social media is illusion. you’ve got like 300 likes on every picture!; why are you going to the mall, aren’t you marxist?; you can say dark skin is beautiful, because you’re conveniently fair-skinned; ‘size doesn’t matter’: ha! because she’s zero- sized/ of course he has to say that because he is over-sized! 

We’ll all been in these phrases, on one side or the other, or on different sides in different contexts, proving the transience of it all. Of identities, arguments and the need to be right all the time. Often we fight superficial battles, for instant gratification, or mere sense of authority. I don’t mind people taking to terminology to express their identities if they believe that is what suits them. I am also aware that most of the times it’s not even in our control. The government, our families and societies will generously tell us who we are (male/female/heterosexual/hindu/muslim/indian/blahblah), expecting us to be grateful for it.

What bothers me though is the apathy that sometimes comes with letting identity take over. We dismiss, disregard, or disrespect someone not just because of what they say, but because of where they come from (according to us). It frustrates us when someone is behaving differently from how we know them to behave; want them to behave. When our being a woman or a man, leftist or rightist, gay or straight becomes more than our choice of wanting to be that; when our chosen identities control us, and not otherwise.

It takes effort to keep reminding ourselves that these are all choices, based on a particular amount of knowledge coming from a particular kind of exposure (making it non-exposure really?). It is ridiculous to see people defend (and sometimes fight for) terminology so much. Language- 01. Empathy- 00.

In my second year of college, a classmate walked up to me and told me I’m Marxist. I hadn’t studied or understood Marx enough to take to his ideology, or reject it, which is what I said to my classmate. But he insisted and told me I’ll admit it eventually. That ‘eventually’ hasn’t come yet, and I don’t know if it ever will. I don’t know if I can let one word contain all the intricacies of who I choose to be, no matter what that word is. Recently, another friend told me that the background score to my life should be “I’m so fancy” (it’s an actual song; quite catchy). I smiled.

We’re all in this together, isn’t it? Fighting stereotypes, racism, sexism, patriarchy, trying to be politically aware—all depending on our priorities and how much it affects us (or not). It is very easy to brush off someone who doesn’t agree with us or doesn’t feel the same way about something. Or sometimes feels the same way but not in the same proportions as us (two spoons anger, one sadness, with a pinch of hatred please). Anything else becomes unacceptable to us and we end up fighting with our own.

I know of so many people who could have brilliant conversations with each other, and learn from each other, if only they wouldn’t let their tags shut it out for them. All of us come with our own particularities, and will never completely understand the other. In fact, we’re all constantly learning, changing, growing, reducing, be-ing. When our existence itself is a process, how can we be certain about anything else? Certain, not just to please ourselves and others, but to fight and kill for its sake. In a world that is already burning with indifference, false sense of identities, irrational hate against all ‘others’, the least we can do is release some empathy into the air. And maybe some irrational love?

Like many others my age, I too, am struggling to find my place in this scary universe. Every time I post, write, or think something, I end up questioning which side I might belong to (or come of as), what I might end up doing in future, how much I will contribute to the problems and/or solutions of the world.

Last summer, working with NBA was my wake up call to the harsh realities that I was so comfortably protected against. Even today, when I look back, it feels like a reality show that I successfully completed: no food, lots of struggles, people fighting for homes and lands and existence. Me, in the middle of all that, fitting in/standing out. It numbs me to think that these are simultaneous realities, at this very moment. Realities that people cannot walk away from.

This summer at London was more about how to be independent: do your own laundry, shop for groceries, wake up by yourself, sleep alone at night, send postcards to family. I cannot reject either of the experiences to completely claim one. While talking about London is relatively easy (boastful!?), to talk about NBA would mean tapping into the deepest of my senses, and carefully let out what I experienced; felt. There are no pictures from last summer that I can hide under, hoping that they would tell my story, as is the case now. Now that I think of it, I’m left in the middle-ground again. A middle-ground that allows me to travel the distant world, while also being sensitive to my immediate world. It’s a good place to be.

What Makes You Cry?

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Andhra Pradesh. Ashoka. New Delhi.

This picture carries so many words that have come to mean home to me. Each of them is so close and yet so far from my idea of belonging, fitting in, identifying with and standing out. In the beginning of college (which was around one and a half years ago), we were to write essays on what ‘home’ meant to each one of us. I found it so hard to articulate my thoughts, not just because I was new to the concept of academic writing, but also because the topic was something I’d taken for granted for so long, that it seemed almost like a non-topic. Indeed, I struggled to devise a thesis statement, an argument, a counter argument and a conclusion for something as personal as the idea of ‘home’.

 

Cut to today.

I was at Andhra Bhavan in Delhi with two of my friends. The idea of paying for food that I ate for so many years of my life, every single day, seemed ridiculous to me. I remember telling my friends “I don’t want to pay for what I’ve gotten for free all my life”. But I could feel this place pulling me towards it. Soon, we were inside a room packed with people: eating, serving, running around, waiting for their turn, walking out talking about the food. And here and there, I could here a few words of my language. I felt like an intruder. Was I allowed to listen to them? Did they know that I understood?

A person in a red uniform (that said Sai Caterers) led us to a table, and brought us plates, all the while conversing with us in broken Hindi. A part in me felt like I needed to make my presence felt. I wanted to tell them all that I was from Vijayawada, and that I could very well understand and speak Telugu. Except for a few smiling persons who acknowledged my excitement, no one else cared. Of course there would be Telugu people coming to Andhra Bhavan. What’s the big deal?

But to me, it was. A huge deal, in fact. I cannot remember the last time I savored a meal that way. And adding to the food, was the ambiance. The crowd, the dim broken yellow lights, the men with big proud paunches, women with flowers in their oiled hair and the orders being shouted from one waiter to another in Telugu, everything reminded me of home. Not to forget that one person in complete white clothes, with a gold chain and bracelet– typical of an owner from where I come from, making note of who’s sitting where and dealing with customers like they were here for his daughter’s wedding. The clatter of those steel plates with little chambers for pulihora, papad, poori, annam, sambar, rasam, pachadi, pappu and perugu. And ah! the hot neyyi, gongura pachadi and gun powders (to kill for) put on each table. For that half an hour, I was back home.

The only difference was this: I was paying attention. Living in the moment, if you like. I focused on each word entering my ear. Each smell merging with another and yet staying distinct. Each morsel touching my tongue. For some reason, I was eating hurriedly, but also carefully. It was as if all my senses were in hyper active mode. As if to take in as much as I could, before reality hits. Before I go outside and look at signboards written in English, Hindi and then Urdu. Not Telugu. Not a bit of it.

What is it with familiarity and unfamiliarity? I’ve been conditioned to think in English. Hindi is left as that reminiscence from school. Urdu has become a new excitement as I can read the signboards. Telugu? I’m probably worse at reading Telugu than I am at Urdu. I’ve never studied the language in school, never learnt how to read or write. And yet, I feel like it’s mine.

It makes me question the slang all of us so often use: “I’m missing home”, “This place can never completely be home”, “I want to run away from here and go there”, “I feel like I belong someplace else.” What is this nostalgia really about? Is there a “home” anywhere? Even as a concept? Or are we just fooling and soothing and convincing ourselves, with whatever we get, and don’t get, and yearn for and cherish?

I was never a proud parader of being born in a certain place and into a certain culture. Most of my life has been a series of culture shocks, leaving me with the idea that I might as well not belong to any one. I’ve always had friends from all over, with different foods in their lunchboxes and different languages in their families. Despite all of this, I never paid attention to how different my own differences were, to myself, and to theirs.

These days, I’m too scared to even write down about things I feel. I’m worried people will read into it and try to figure out what my political arguments are. And hence, even now, I type very carefully. I’m writing all this down not as a debate about states or languages or cultures. I felt something today. I felt closer to the idea of home. The idea that is too intense to pin down as one thing. I wish I could’ve written my essay on how food can sometimes take you back home. If only academia was so accepting. And so, I remind myself that academia is only one way of looking at the world. Before I find my voice, I need to take everything with a pinch of salt. I find my rational self battling with my irrational one. Reasons upon reasons, when a feeling just creeps in without permission. Do I let it stay? Or do I reason its way out?

I like my life here. College is challenging and exhilarating. Delhi, being the capital of this country, stretches endlessly for me to explore. The shuttle rides from Haryana to Delhi and vice versa, are the confused parts: the no (wo)man’s land. They give me time to think about the journey I’m about to embark upon, or soothe me as I relax after a tiring day. Meanwhile, pappannam with neyyi, let the trapped tears out, even as I think about it.

Lavender Days

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Do you have this person in your life? The one you can’t trace back your first meeting to? The one who seems to have just been there all along? The one who has been with you through highs and lows, ups and downs, stagnation and movement? The one with whom you sat to explore Paint and Pinball on the computer? The one who tore off her brown notebook wrap, to cover yours so you won’t be punished? The one who dressed up on your birthday, making all your friends wonder whose birthday it really was? The one your family called up when you went missing for 0.02 seconds? The one who approved of your signature and passwords before you could put them to use?

The one who knew your wardrobe better than you? (Mostly because she arranged it every fortnight so she could sneak in some clothes for herself) The one with whom you have proud 1.3 megapixel camera pictures? The one who held all your embarrassments in a secret box for purposes of blackmailing? The one you shared your lunchbox with? (exchanged actually) The one you celebrated all festivals with? The one you shouted the pledge and sang the national anthem with? The one with whom you counted your proudly earned coins and new ten rupee notes? The one who treated you with countless cups of mango soda? The one who reminded you to check the air in the tyres of your cycle (because really, who else would do that?) The one who wrote you letters (titled with the dates and instructions ) for every day that you would be away from school? The one you made plans to learn car driving with? The one you experimented all shampoo and face wash brands with? The one who was with you, through the confusion of picking your favorite color and number, that have stuck ever since? The one who taught you what it means to laugh? (by doing it at you, with you, because of you, or all by herself, for no reason whatsoever)

The only one who would know which parts of the above mentioned memories are absolutely true/ exaggerated/ made up just to sound poetic/ sneakily put in there because I’m too cool to say it directly to her?

I’ve shared the most naive, carefree and happy years with this person. I’ve shared nostalgia. And exams. And movies. And food. And friends. And smiles. And tears. And loud laughter. And early morning math classes. And classroom shenanigans. And cycle rides. And train rides. And scooty rides. And clothes. And family. And homes. And roads.

But most of all, I’ve shared my past, my childhood, Because no matter where I decide to go, when I look back, I’ll see the same memories as her. This person holds a part of me that I might outgrow someday. Or want to outgrow. But she will preserve it. In the repeated stories that she will narrate, in the characters that she will keep imitating, in the jokes that she will laugh at again and again, in the pictures that are buried under a pile of meaningless selfies, in the last pages of old notebooks, in the trinkets that meant the world to me, in the names that are slowly fading away…

Do you have this person in your life?

Who turns scattered images of the past years into stories you can never forget?

Do you have this person in your life?

Without whom, it would be so easy to forget who you used to be?

Do you have this person in your life?

Who may know very little about your life now,

But will remain a lingering presence throughout.

Do you have this person in your life?

I do and I’m forever grateful.

(To 11 years of togetherness,

To the one who says Thank You before I wish her a Happy Birthday,

To the one who celebrates my birthday as hers: wears new clothes, goes to the temple, uses a special coloured ink, goes around telling people, decides which chocolates to distribute in school, and most of all, wakes me up on my birthday, before people forget it’s really mine.

To the one who has made birthdays and christmases special for reasons I cannot remember. Reasons that don’t need to be remembered)

 (Happy Birthday you weirdo! I love you. Please let me hug you one of these days.)

(Also, Happy Birthday to our Shah Rukh. Do you still want him as your dad in your next life?)

(To Dates That Are Beyond Just Dates: 2nd Nov, 2015)

Grounded?

College can be hard. Question everything, I’m told from all directions. I’m asked to pick a side. Only to be told that there were no sides except in my head. Do you believe in Capitalism? They ask. As if what I say would make a difference. As if I know that I believe in what I believe in. It’s that time when I’m struggling to find my ground. And then I freak out. What if there is no ground? But doesn’t the word ‘is’ suggest that there ‘is’ one somewhere? I pull myself together, on this groundless ground. You’re nothing outside your name, is thrust upon me in the morning. Not Manisha Koppala? Internet demands in the evening. Am I, at all?

Metadiscourse. See? It comes with a red underline as I type it. When I was young, the red curvy underline for words on the computer was the world’s way of telling me that the word did not exist. That I’ve typed it wrong. And now? Sometimes even Google doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Oh, by the way, Metadiscourse is “a discussion about a discussion”. I learnt it today from my reading. There’s so much of that these days. It’s like living on this different plane. We discuss the spiral of words and their meanings, and their non meanings and the meaning of meaning. Or is it non meaning of meaning? At this point, I give up. Don’t worry, even giving up might not really be giving up.

College can be hard.

It takes away all my grounds while giving an illusion of letting me choose one for myself.

But I would still choose to keep wondering whether I’ll ever find my ground, rather than standing on a pre- determined one.

Damned Site

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Nature has it’s own charm. It’s filled with subtle life. A life that never imposes it’s presence and yet is always there. In the sound of streams and cooes of birds. The warm sunshine and gentle drops of rain.

She looked at the snow capped mountains of himachal and thought– this is my wallpaper. I’m going to carry it with me wherever I go.
And there she was a week later- sitting under a mango tree in a remote village of Madhya Pradesh, with a bunch of villagers discussing their land which was under submergence.
How quickly her wallpaper had changed.
Snow capped mountains replaced with a dam far away, threatening to ruin innocent lives. Homes that were either gone or waiting to be flushed away. In a few days? Months? She wasn’t sure. No one was.
What was this dam thing anyway? Built out of nowhere, on their lands for someone so distant.
What were they to make of it?
The answer they would hear is- Vikas. Development. But for whom? Now that is a tabooed question.
Arey inhe vikas nahi chahiye. Inhe toh bas ye chahiye ki koi inke zakhm bhar de. Dam me pani nahi.
She shuddered.
How could people talk about it so freely?
About not having a place to live in. Not having their lands to cultivate. Not having familiar paths that their feet are used to traverse.
She secretly shot glances towards the dam and turned away before anyone noticed.
Why was she so scared of looking at it?
Maybe she was reminded of  her childhood when her mother threatened her of a monster who would eat her away if she didn’t finish her food.
So this is how that monster would’ve looked, she thought.
In the evening she was sitting on the charpai, sipping on hot chai and listening to cows moo, when a family of four crossed her on a motorbike.
Dongar bhai looked at her curious face and told her that they were going to see the dam. It was their family outing, he said.
She felt guilty.
There was something about her life that made her feel responsible for the injustice happening around her. Can no one else see it? Or are they so used to it that it’s no big deal now? She couldn’t quite figure out. All she knew was that the sight of the dam and the talk of it made her uncomfortable. Like she was being charged for a crime she was unknowingly involved in.
She buried her face in the cup and didn’t look up.
A few days later, she was riding on a bike behind Dongar bhai and he suddenly pointed to a sign board that said ‘uppar Veda pariyojana’ 2km.
“Didi dam dekhna hai aapko?” He asked her excitedly.
She sulked again.
The same feeling took control of her body.
“Nahi Bhaiya. Ghar chalte hai” she managed to mumble.
“Arey itni door aake aap dam nahi dekhoge?” Dongar bhai insisted and turned the motorbike towards the signboard.
How a place that devastates your life can be a vacation spot, she couldn’t understand.
In a few minutes, they were at the dam site. More like the ‘damn’ed site. There it was. Standing tall and long. The monster eating away their lives bit by bit and then all at once.
She looked at the fresh water flowing below her. It reminded her of the streams in himachal.
There was no snow, but the huge rocky structures could pass for mountains.
The only thing that bothered her was the concrete. There was too much of it. Demanding its presence in the water, from this end to that.
But not being able to fit in somehow. It might’ve been a magnificent construction. A great token of “development”. And yet it seemed out of place.
Concrete can never be stone, you see.

For My Birthday.

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My birthday’s coming and I’ve made a list of gifts I want from my family and friends. It’s that time of the year when you get everything you want. So this year, for my birthday—

Let me cut the cake of injustice. Carefully take your uneven shares and swallow them. Swallow them and think of nothing else. Don’t think of the millions who have not a morsel to eat. Don’t think of all those who die with their mouths dry. Don’t. Those are just sad thoughts to be associated with birthdays.

Plan a party for me. Oh, a themed party. The theme could be inequality. We could all dance and raise our toasts to inequality. About how privileged we are to be able to do the things that seem routine to us now. A party? A new dress? New pair of heels? A new phone? Bleh. These are basic necessities after all, aren’t they? Gone are the days when food, shelter and clothes were basic amenities. But are those days gone or have we gotten out of them? Let’s think about it another day. A birthday is too cool for that.

When I sit to open my presents let there be books on violence and guides to study them. Make sure there’s a box of varied assortments of specially made chocolate—the flavor of discrimination, with nuts of poverty and a layer of indifference. But also let there be boxes of courage tied with ribbons of hope for me to open later.

Next, let’s all watch a Bollywood masala movie with a few peppy songs here and there. I wonder what they make those boring documentaries for. About the lives of people far away and their suffering that has nothing to do with us. We’re only human. Why should we empathize with another of our kind?

And after all my wishes are fulfilled, let me sleep with a smile on my face. For having celebrated the best birthday ever. Don’t let any other thought creep in. Not even about those little girls I met every week. Because no matter how much I care for them, they can never fit into my life, can they? We are just so different.

I got my identity right after I was born- a name. And they? They had to be named when they were fourteen and found on the streets.

I was named because my family wanted to name me. And they? They were named to file proper records of their existence.

My birthday is cherished. Theirs, cursed.

When it’s my birthday, I count days until it arrives. When it’s theirs, we make up random combinations of numbers. A date for them to celebrate!

When it’s my birthday, I want a perfect fairy gown. Just the right color. When it’s theirs- I tell myself at least they have clothes to cover themselves.

When it’s my birthday, I have family asking me what I want. When it’s theirs, family… family? They don’t know what that feels like. My bad.

When it’s my birthday, I distribute toffees and feel good about myself. When it’s theirs- oh-wait, they don’t even know when it is unless I make it up for them.

Are Farewells Endings?

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Why should a 66+ year old person want to spread love and happiness in the little actions he did? Why should he come to a place so far away, stay with people so distant from him in any way possible- age, religion, nationality, intelligence?

This is where I end up- between lists and attempts of making sense. Can I remind myself again that this is the beauty of life? Because no matter how hard you try, some things won’t reflect meaning; they don’t tell you why they happen or how they happen- the only thing you have to live with is that they do.
I wonder what Neil’s story is. I definitely know he has an amazing academic life, but I wonder what his personal life is/ was like. (I remember how the first time I called him Professor, he nodded sideways and said “Uh-huh. Neil, please”) I remember how he passed the ball to me during basketball, knowing very well that I won’t be able to score a basket. How he took care of the people who defended me just so I could move around and play. In his speech, Aditya quoted Neil when he said “Endings are inevitable. But they are nice. Because they let us appreciate the journey”. And I found myself standing there, along with 50 others, with tears in my eyes. He shared a story about how he said “Thank you” to the person who served him food everyday, and then took out a note from his pocket. That person had gotten a letter written for Neil that said “You are my favourite faculty member here and I enjoyed serving you. I admire how you said thank you to me every single day, unfailingly”. He had tears in his eyes when he closed the note, and so did a lot of us. Maybe it’s true that we don’t like endings– they’re just too sad. But important nevertheless. Because while an ending happens, your mind takes you to the start and the middle and the beginning after the ending. It just travels so much that it makes you sick in the stomach. Prof. Lutsky has spread so much love on campus. Vineet sir was right in saying he played a huge role in knitting this community together. I am going to miss all our Table Tennis moments– how he would appreciate each service and each smash and each shot of mine! He taught me how to live in the present. The amount of love and happiness he had, reflected in his eyes, his body and his smile; always so radiant, always so pure. I feel like these people radiate positive energy for the world to survive. I feed off from such people– like a glutton. I wish life would remind me of such people when I feel low. I wish it would tell me that I had the privilege to be around such pure souls. And I wish Prof. Lutsky.. oops.. Neil stays happy wherever he is, spreading that inspirational aura of his!

P.S: When life feels bad, I’ll tell myself that Neil is not going directly to Chicago and instead dropping off at Amsterdam because he wants to visit his favorite chocolate store there! How happy can life get?

Writing Makes Me Happy.

The writer in me. When I say I don’t like acknowledging the writer in me, I no way mean I don’t like being one. All the times I got awkward when you (and the others) called me one? It’s because, I never want it to be hyped- my writingBy hyped, (for lack of a better word) I mean something that goes up and up and people forget how it got there. I want the writer in me to be grounded. I believe every person who can think, can write. Writing is like thinking to yourself and moving your fingers. Just that. And that is also why I don’t like writing with rules (and formats and citations and a thousand other things). Plainly because they take you away from the joy of writing. When you start thinking about how to write rather than what to, I think it loses heart. Um, ‘it’ being the writer in you, me, and everyone. 

When people say “Oh, I don’t write”, I magically hear “Oh, I don’t think”. That is also why I don’t consider writing as a “professional” profession. I don’t think someone can decide to write just for the sake of it and then write. Or maybe they can. I can’t. My grandpa and dad and sister and I-donno-who-all want me to become a writer. I’m still trying to figure that one out. How can people become writers? Isn’t everybody already one? Or am I the only creepy one who thinks to herself all the time, chalking out stories inside the head?

A little flashback at this point would help: So, I sent in this story for an All- India writing competition. A story very close to my heart. Maybe because it was my first (and only?) ‘piece of writing’. And… I won! Whoa. I still tweak a little inside when I think about it.

And that victory (sounds big, huh?) taught me something. A huge lesson I must say. It said to me: Hey little girl, there were so many entries from all around the country, but I decide to choose you as the winner because I think you can take this forward. Don’t let this be just an addition to your pile of certificates. Don’t let people tell you that you are writer. Because come on! You always were. You don’t need a certificate to say it for you. But, I wish to come to you because I need to tell you something you don’t know. You, my dear, write from the heart. And I want you to know that. And I want you to keep writing. From the heart. You should also know that once you get out of here, and I tag along with you, people are going to talk. They are going to push you. To write. Don’t take the pressure, okay? You write when you write. I had to come to you because otherwise you might’ve never known. And you might’ve never written. Now that is scary.

I’m just trying to say that the ‘award received from Ruskin Bond’ is my biggest achievement so far but also the most difficult one to carry. I’m not very proud of it. Simply because I think there was nothing in my ‘writing’ that won me the competition. It was the story. The story that touched. And I can’t do it again and again because I can’t force stories out of me. I know it’ll be completely unfair if I crush the ones that do come to me. The ones I really want to tell to the world. But it is also unfair to keep writing just because I’m a ‘good’ writer. I cannot do that.

I know so many people with fascinating stories that simply connect. Make you feel good while you read them. I want these people to share their stories. Grammar and syntax are the last things someone should be worried about. You can always learn and practice them (only if you want to). But the feeeeeeeeeeel. That is something which comes from life. Beautiful lives. Beautiful memories.

I really think writing should be an open space: where people are not already pressurized by thousands of ‘authors’ who have made their mark. It should be a choice. Like people decide what they want to do with it. Share it? Keep it to themselves? Share but only with a few? Publish it for the world? All a choice.

I don’t know what my choice is. Someone close to me said I take pleasure when I write and I seem content. I don’t know how that person figured it out, but it’s true. I don’t know if I’ll write more or less. On a daily basis or rarely. For someone or everybody. I just know I will write. Because writing makes me happy.

Once Upon A Time…

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Waking me up in the morning, my mom asked me if I would like to accompany her to a Breast Cancer Awareness Programme at KBN College (which also happens to be her alma mater). I did not, for a moment, want to get out of my comfy bed and yet, just as moms work their way out, within half an hour there I was- with a bunch of other girls listening to my mom give a talk on cancer. The person who introduced my mom said, “we have amongst us an inspirational lady, who crosses all boundaries to help others; a person who places a stranger before her own self; who goes out of the way to get the right things done.” For a moment I thought the guy was trying too hard to flatter my mother, and only later did I realise that every word of what I was hearing was true. I’ve grown up hearing good things about my mum–she’s independent, selfless, and eveready to help others ( I taunt her by saying- people call Justdial when they need numbers but when Justdial needs numbers, they call my mom! ). Adding to that, I even remember being annoyed when she left us and rushed to attend some stranger; be it for organ donation, or an insurance policy.

My father believes that charity begins at home and he would rather keep his family happy than cater to the the whole world. My mom, however, differs in ways I cannot explain. Maybe because she never tells anybody what she thinks.
Today, sitting in the audience I started wondering why she does all that she does.
My mum (whom I now picture as a superwoman with a cape) is not just independent and helpful, but also brave. She is not scared to do things her way. Whoa. I. Love. It. And since this is not a movie, I also know the criticism she had to face and the comments she had to take from Anu aunties all over the world. But the best part is, 44 frikkin years and she’s still on track!
Snap back to the event now : My mom called me on stage and asked me to talk about MAD just so people could know about our organisation. I stood up, feeling like a potato after all that happened in my head, and she moved me yet again when she said “That’s my younger one. She has started doing things from a much younger age than I.” Um. Alright potato. That’s probably you. Time to speak.
So I blabbered my way to the end of whatever I was trying to say and walked off the stage.
After the event, amma showed us all the places they used to hangout at (The auditorium where Kumar mama danced, which was now sadly in ruins). The place (it was a library back then, now a new building stands) where Suni aunty first looked at my mom and thought : “This girl is so damn gorgeous, lemme talk to her” (Though Suni aunty herself told me this, I still doubt the authenticity of that statement, considering how gorgeous she herself is). Oh talking about Suni aunty, I also wondered if amma took the initiative for spreading cancer awareness because Suni aunty was a survivor? And mom was beside her all through her fight with cancer! Oh God yes! Breast Cancer it was! Why mom no tell anyone anything? Mom always like this only ya! Anyways, she also walked us to her class, happy as a little girl “Oh 8.. no no our class was that.. number 9! I remember!”
While my mom shared all this with us, I was struggling in my head to picture a world where my mom was as young as I am now, precisely my own age. A world where there was not a bit of me, not even the possibility back then. Where I would never be typing this in the future. Where this young girl would never think of me, let alone love. Where my mom ( as it has turned out to be now) was a girl in her teenage- beautiful, talented and well, a dreamer.
Enter: A handsome young man who fell for my mom (well, their story if put down in words will be a novel, so I’ll cut it here).
Fastforward: The beautiful, talented dreamer is now a wife of one and mother of two.
Reflection: What would my mother be today if no guy “happened” to her? Would she have been forced to drop out of whatever she was doing, marry a person and get back to whatever she wants to do because her husband is oh so loving and caring?
I know I cannot change things. I am also aware that even if I could, I wouldn’t ; because, well, that would result in- no me in this world. Ya. Probably that. Now I obviously don’t want that, do I?
But sometimes, I just can’t help but think how this wonderful person deserved better. I know in that case everyone deserves better because nobody’s life is perfect. But you know, my mom.. maybe deserved more than this.
All this, plus, having no mother in her crucial years. Or worse, having a mother who was never with her. I am so proud of my mother for turning this sad and depressing *oh-she-has-grown-up-without-a-mother-because-her-parents-got-separated* instance into a life story- a rather inspirational one for that matter. But at times, I also wonder, is this the reason she has shut herself in. Everyone comes to her with their issues , and she, as she has made people believe, has no issues of her own. But how can that be?
I still have no clue how she has raised two girls and set them free. Maybe she has given us all the freedom she craved for. If it were for dad, he would’ve preferred to keep his lovely daughters close to him and love them till eternity. I would like to believe that there is no right and wrong in parenting, but I would be fooling myself. Because there is. And my mom, was right throughout. I don’t know how my sister and I are going to turn out in the future- building our own lives, our own families… *shudders*
For now, all I know is, I do feel bad for whatever happened or didn’t happen to my mom, but I am also extremely happy about what she has done not just for us, but to us!

And still, there are times when the urge of talking to my mother kicks me from within. So that I don’t have to speculate what happened but truly know. Considering the life she’s been through, I know that is a lot to ask for, but…

Wanderer

Eighteen wonderful years of my life have taught me more than I could fathom. I have learnt to live and love. I have also learnt to question.
The most important questions in my mind now are, ‘Where am I from?’ ‘Where am I headed?’ and ‘Where would I be going back to?’ The one word that answers all these questions is Home.
When I think about it, the things that flash in my mind are the early morning coffees, my cozy bed, the familiar setting of my room with memories framed on walls, the unintentional kicking my mother in sleep and my not-so-innocent sister while I’m wide awake. The special early morning birthday kiss from my mother every year and over indulgent retail therapy with dad. All those scrumptious meals. My grandma’s hand on my head and her lips in prayer, the energy transferred touching Grandpa’s feet, all those festivals (food!). Those 50 sparkling eyes at Care and Share every weekend, my yellow scooty, my teddy, my fluffy and the countless cups of cold coffees.

Though the passing thought of it floods me with memories, there is one particular recollection that has stayed in my heart. The regular Sunday morning ritual of picking up my dad from the station while he traveled for hours from his workplace to visit us tears me up. I wondered why anyone would choose to travel on an off-day. I guess I know now.
It was a moment of epiphany when I realized what he meant when he said we “recharged” him every week and gave him the strength to work harder. I know what he meant because now I’m walking a mile in his shoe, maybe endless miles. Maybe this is how it’s meant to be. I ask myself if I feel lonely or scared, and I know I don’t. Maybe because this was their endeavor- to make me strong and independent. I was being trained for this all along. Dad says that life is all about ‘detached attachment’. Even the purest of relations, a mother and her child, starts with a detachment when the umbilical cord is cut. So do I. Distance and proximity hardly defines the people one loves.

Nomadic – that sums up my life (Thanks to my dad’s transferable job!) and exploration is what I grew up doing. It hurt a little every time we had to move, but deep inside I knew that life is movement. There is stillness only when you are put in a coffin.

For me, home would mean displacement, identity, family, friends, inspiration, selflessness, expectations, freedom, smiles and tears. But mostly, home would be an emotion. A feeling of belonging somewhere even when you are nowhere; being protected, nurtured and loved. Home is the passion that drives me towards my dreams; gives me the strength to stay far yet close.

Not surprisingly, home is where the heart is, and the heart is deep within!