Holiday Cheer

We reached the church rather early, in time to see the choir practice. This was my first time attending a Christmas service, my wife having done it during her school days (she used to be a choir singer in her Diocese days). We were greeted by the charming Pastor and also by a little boy who was trying his best not to smile, only to break into toothless laughter the moment he saw someone, including my wife, who came back with a glee in her eyes after she spent two minutes adoring him.

With freezing, howling winds outside, the Christmas eve was certain to be one to be indoors. Two hours later, we were coming out of the church with smiles, meeting new people, yet my memory was already painting a different picture.

My end-year memories are all over the place. They have the joyfulness of a first kiss, yet there are pangs of heartbreak as well; calm ripples of a gray sea are there, with the remnants a tsunami had left dead corals on the beach – you are bound to land on one of two extremes. I met my wife in one of such highs more than ten years ago (feels like an eternity, or yesterday!). I distinctly remember calling her during the end of my engineering exams, since there was a change in the schedule and all of a sudden I had three days’ to spare – I wanted to check if she could meet me. In my excitement I had worn a particularly choice, hideous florescent orange t-shirt for the occasion, sure to turn off any prospective gazes from opposite sex. There I was, standing in a popular destination for the lovebirds (how cliched!), looking like a scarecrow, waiting for a disaster to happen.

We had gone to the Cathedral. Not because we wanted to pray, but because it was silent, detached from the crowstorms of a clunky city. That winter morning had painted a spectacular picture in my mind. My mother thought I looked particularly giddy that night when I returned home, though it didn’t take her long enough to figure out what had happened to her son. I was on cloud nine, and for good reason.

But there was a winter when I had told someone to forget me, that ‘we’ couldn’t happen, that ‘it’ was going nowhere. Sitting on my balcony, listening to her quivering voice at the other end, I had cried for the very first time on the account of heartbreak. For this was the very first time. Umpteen years later, that forgotten chapter had found its way to the same city, and on a rainy afternoon, we were standing in front of each other, eons between us, two people who had lost parts of their soul on that fateful wintry night, thinking about how awkward it was.

In Bengal, the suburb winters are different than city winters. Suburb winter afternoons are spent in typical laziness, rolling around on warm blankets and pillows, catching up on Sunday potpourri. In the city, the smell of jaggery is masked by aroma of cakes. A particular nostalgic favorite, Nahoum’s, brought out Parsee goodness every winter from its unending stash. A favorite of my father’s, the love-shaped cake, or paan-cake, as he calls it, is still smeared all over my childhood memories.

Winter is a difficult season to endure at times. Here, at times the temperature goes beyond zero, sending a chill through the body with every gush of wind. Bengal winters, in comparison, are much more spring-like than we want to admit; there are hardly a week of sweater-wearing cold. More often than not, it’s the zeal of the Bong parents that makes us wear monkey-caps and scarfs. Those memories, childish and joyous, have no fixed places in my brain. They come and go as they please.

This Christmas, two benches before us was sitting a guy with mental disability. While the entire church was filled to the brim, no one sat by him. We sat alone too, our bench a stark contrast to others. It left a drop of disjointed, unwelcome cold in my otherwise warm evening. Were we to be judged based on how we dressed and talked and in certain cases, behaved? I don’t know the rules of the world, I must say. Differences are not considered necessary for society; for everyone must wear the same mask.

I am no one to judge. I cannot even judge my memories. People I chose to be my close compatriots have often abandoned me. But I don’t turn a blind eye on things that happen around me, be it the nauseating stiffness in acceptance, or warm embrace of love.

A winter always has two sides.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

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Spotless mind

When the color of the sky is like a dying tip of a cigarette, a soul is seen wandering around the city in search of memories. His gait meanders around spots that are too trivial for novella couples, so out goes the gray river, the ruins of the bridge, the dusty green park…

And enters the sneaky alleys, the paan-spit smeared walls containing seedy advertisements, both political and personal; enters the road by the tram depot that has not yet fully decided where to start and where to end, splitting in every nature of path possible; enters the Pripyat of  railway stations where trains hardly stop – and the lonely cha shop on it.

Eons apart, another soul emerges on the window of a highrise, with pen in tow, waiting to write a future. But the past poisons her thought with pangs of nostalgia.

As if she has seen Medusa, her movement freezes. Somewhere down below, five million people scamper around a city like stray cats on a mission. Only there are never stray cats.

The world forgets how to smile, only to retrieve it from an ashpile of deadbodies, and then chooses to ampute that thought. A vicious cycle ensues, aided by psychedelic advertisement boards where skimpily clad women hail a man who has clearly still dreaming.

He and she, they both carry a similar card on their hands. ‘Lacuna’, it reads, ‘The finest memory-erasers at your service’.

“What if you stayed this time?” the Durga-Pooja time text reads.

“I can’t,” the reply on Facebook Messenger, neatly archived between thirty chatboxes, “I walked away.” Between curry colored sarees and bottle green kurtas, the festive songs are a heartbreak.

Rolling of seasons is the only thing that keeps people sane.

Type F for Faith

During Thanksgiving, the glaring headline of papers worldwide was of yet another fate-fueled attack on the general populi, killing more than three hundred people in the process. Two sides of faith, with two different outcomes in mind; one celebrates homecoming; the other: ruin.

There was a story that I grew up reading. A Hindu scholar, having read in the ancient texts that God is both with a form and without, decided to test the theory by himself. Upon visiting the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, he asked this question to the grand priest – who answered in the same way as the texts prescribed. Annoyed, the academic took a stick and decided to walk by the idol – declaring that if the stick touches the wooden idol it would prove that the omnipresent has a form; if not, then the opposite will be proven.

To his surprise, the stick touched the idol in one of his two passes; while he was coming back, the stick remained as is. Baffled, he stood there, until the grand priest, who was watching it all from a distance, decided to come in. He smiled, and said that the one you and I – all of us seek, is formative and formless. Was he talking about God? I think now that he was talking about faith as well. For us, faith can be a book, or a man’s quotes, even a worn-out dozen shoeboxes where we preserve our memories. Or it can be promises of freedom, of the grandiose life in heaven.

Or at times, it can simply manifest itself to be something simple. Like a shoulder to cry upon, a body to blame, an abyss for all of our tears to go. For centuries, widows have been shunned in the Hindu culture and banished to the corners, be it in one’s house or in ravenous sanctuaries like Kashi, Vrindavan and the ilks. There were rules made, terrible and inhuman rules, to break their minds and their bodies. It is not one of the greatest mysteries of the world why a chauvinistic society took whatever means necessary to drown the women in misery – both married and unmarried, and post-married in particular. To these widowed souls, the only way to live the rest of their lives was to cling to the only thing they had left, willingly or unwillingly : faith. Thus generations after generations, we saw grandmothers who spent their time in the deity-room, being particularly excessive when it came to spirituality. It was often not their choice, but they accepted it and made it their own. Faith works in mysterious ways.

Yesterday, my wife and I were to attend a market that happened to be inside a Cathedral, and we ended up reaching the place two hours late; the empty parking lot should’ve been the spoiler alert, but we carried on, only to be informed by the last car that was loading up that it was over. Bummed out, we decided to go inside anyway, just to see the main hall and offer our prayers, only to offer them standing on the other side of a closed door (The cathedral was closed). While we were on our way out, my wife suggested to go inside the bookstore, and we went in.

The Christmas decorations were in full swing, spearheaded by three women, all past their prime, one a little older than the other two, but the most energetic and talkative. She took a particular liking to my wife, telling her stories about her visits to Jerusalem, driving in the highways around Atlanta, and about her husband who had passed away. I was following them, listening to her cheerful banter, and picking up and looking at trinkets, photo frames, music CDs  – as the wintry afternoon was slowly coming down with a chill, painting the sky a melange of orange, ochre yellow and crimson, tugging at the handful of leaves that remained, brightly colored – before they fell too, making me wonder at the simplicity of it all. There was something remarkably simple in this design, yet so marvelously complex. To a naked eye, it was overwhelming. But you needed to sit down and let your mind do the math; then it wasn’t as boggling at all.

“Isn’t this the cutest thing?” The old lady asked, pulling out a wooden replica of a mouse, complete with beady eyes and all, a Christmas decor obviously. My wife nodded, and expressed her chirpy mirth, to which the lady continued while putting it back on the Christmas Tree that it came from, “I don’t have trees in my house anymore. Not after he’s gone. But I keep these things with me. Like the mouse, I’ve hung it in my kitchen cupboard. Every time I see it, I laugh.”

There was something on both me and my wife’s faces at that moment, a similarity in emotion that pulsated in both our hearts. Faith, in its simplest manifestation, was a powerful tool. Even thousands of miles apart, I saw a woman who was like my grandmother, displaying the same emotions, resting her head on the same shoulders of faith. “It’s a way of touching God with your own hands, when your hands are empty,” she said while showing my wife the intricate rosaries, “people buy these things as jewelry these days. But these are not just things to wear. These are tools of faith. These are what keeps faith to yourself, personal.” This wasn’t simply a perceived way to offer prayers to a being of higher conscience, but it was a mean to cling on to something that offered a sentience of a greater acceptance, something that our society had so miserably failed to provide.

While we were on our way out, she asked us to come back again, like any loving grandmother would do (though she thought we were Spanish, judging by our dialogues in Bengali), and we came back with smiles on our faces.

My faith has its days. At times it is strong; and at times my existential crisis makes it harder to cling on to any hope, any faith at all. There are gaps, and the woes of the world and the surrounding make it that much worse to rest my thoughts on any shoulders, let alone be it on faith. I grew up amidst spirituality and faith, but my conscience had pulled me away at times from it. I discern faith for what it is; an instrument of creation and destruction; of putting one’s life through it in expectation of something grandiose and then something simple; more often than not, faith is the belief that there is something inside us that may someday take the shape of something good. Be it a windfall or a phone call from a grandson that lives seven oceans away (A common proverb : seven oceans and thirteen rivers, quoted to denote great lengths), or a yearly Thanksgiving, playing the strings of the heart, cherishing the living, remembering the dead and the gone.

As I was writing this, soundtracks from Miyazaki’s movies were playing. Piano for me is faith too, in its simplest form, yet again, since it evokes tendencies in me that I keep on reserve for special occasions. Anime and its wonderful music are part of a feel-good society, a utopia that we have forgotten, especially the great animes that graced the world during the 80’s and early 90’s. The piano playing classical tunes is bound to make a believer out of a skeptic.

What is faith but the simplest form of belief. At times, it takes the form of something monstrous if you let it grow uncontrolled. At times, it grows into a beautiful garden of memories.

What’s in your mind, #1

We live in a world that is devoid of privacy. You don't need to be an expert to tell you that nothing you do is hidden anymore. The adrenaline rushes now for things that were once considered laissez faire, like the sparkling stream of water in a little brook that dreams of tasting brine of a vast ocean, only to find out once it leaves the blessing of the mountain that there's a steel and concrete dam waiting for it to lash onto and fade. But we are not as vibrant as a river. Or we are, maybe, maybe I'm too cynical to see the warmth. But there has been a fundamental shift to the way we operate, if I'm allowed to say the word operate at all. Human beings in general love to gloat in the pointlessness of superiority, and hence the fancy terms are reserved for only them – thus behaviour becomes religion, operation becomes characteristics, and lust becomes

Love.

The sneaky ways of love; the pleasure of holding hands during a public ceremony; the quick sweep of eyes with a single second or two of overlap between all four; riding the same bus, amidst a sea of people, standing or sitting a few paces apart – nervous smiles if a parent is nearby, telling all sorts of creative excuses to bunk school or college (one of my excuse-friends would have built at least ten computers with the parts he supposedly bought during those two college years that he, again, supposedly, had to be accompanied to buy them from Chandni Chawk- the sprawling electronics ghetto of Kolkata. What I would invariably end up doing is to swap trains at a junction, wrestle in the queue to get a subway ticket, ride the metro and then arrive at another Mecca of getting spotted by our relatives – Exide More), these things are rarities these days. People thrive on revealing their personal lives- vlogging is in rage, you Snapchat every moment of your existence, and in an especially morbid example a woman videoed an accident and her sister dying, without any remorse whatsoever. There is an almost alien nonchalance rampant in us these days. Like we don’t care. People are happy to let go of life’s tiny surprises, just to check another box that doesn’t mean anything in the long run. Dumb nostalgia it may sound like, but during my initial struggling days in office, my respite used to be the faint tolling of wind chimes from a dark,obscure, sleeping balcony – in a sweep it used to take my mind off the grueling day. I used to write a lot of poetry back then, a lot of nonsensical hapless romantic stuff : stuff I realized came from my innate longing for love.

The 'Knight in Shining armour' syndrome in me had made me a magnet of sorrows, I told to a dear friend of mine, and she shuddered with the thought that her plight would make me slip a few more steps in that endless spiral that I've been climbing all my life. I saw a warmth that was unmistakable, since during my life of continuous good-boy struggles I had received quite a few jar-fulls of them. These are those little wind chimes now that I seek after every crushing blow to the gut, after the panic attack I thought I had conquered decides to come back one day unannounced, wrecking an otherwise perfect afternoon. Movement has been limited for me; I can’t go to a movie theatre, I can’t go on long drives – the list is endless. The fear in the unconscious is relentless. As much as my distractions work, there’s a feeling inside me that this comes from a very different, primal place, that somehow saps the juice from my little stash of happiness. It’s a different beast.

A monster that I need to subjugate.

Welched in a bog, our feelings of togetherness is a rotten memory. The civilization is too fragmented to stand together, and the only bond is nature. Not just any nature, our nature. We seek comfort in each other. We seek validation from others. This inner feelings need to come forward to sew this planet together. Before it all falls apart. Before everybody goes to the rapture.

We must try.

What remains of Edith Finch : What really remains

Indie games are winning.

In an era where major AAA gaming franchises are either strained cash cows or a mass-marketing grand fiasco, indie games are continuing to hold the benchmark flags high. Video games to me are story driven pieces of art, an amalgamation of smart level design, breathtaking atmosphere and intuitive combat. At its core is story and gameplay mechanics. Somehow this notion seems to be unknown to even accomplished studios and people helming them (Peter Mollyneaux comes to mind). As a result we end up getting a lot of games that are unfinished. Either great story, or great combat, or a memorable soundtrack, but very few times coming together to create an unforgettable experience.

Last year, Firewatch became the raging point of discussion amongst the gaming community. A walking simulator as critics labeled games like these, Firewatch told a story that was emotional and lacked any fluff whatsoever. It was blunt and extended the right amount. Conservative in its frame narration and removing any sort of superhuman notion (which games like CoD and Battlefield have been famously known for), the game provided a riveting insight into the human psyche, painting a picture that was to last quite a while. Firewatch to me was the best game of the year, followed closely by another gem, Inside.

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What remains of Edith Finch is a different take on the Firewatch genre, but it keeps the core ideas same and evolves on the concept. Telling the story of a decaying family from the perspective of its youngest member is quite a task to take on, and this game hits it out of the park. This is not so much a game as it is an experience, a soul wrenching at that. There is an unbridled joy in freedom of expression, in freedom to choose life and death and the realities that surround us, and visiting every Finch, knowing their fate through their own words is both harrowing and spectacular. The monsters that consume them eventually are their own creations : fame, desperation, despair, fear, delusion, craving — and most of all, a relentless pursuit of their realities.

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The ending to it all was not as sad as I thought it would be, but the individual stories left a deep mark on me. After I finished this short game, the haunting, minimal soundtrack kept on harping on familiarities that I didn’t want to dig up. Somewhere I longed for my family, my own bunch of loonies with their own fallacies and their own perceptions.

This is where Edith Finch succeeds in telling a story, and being an art. It makes you think : of all possibilities that could have been, and whether we maketh our destinies or our destinies maketh us. At one point I contemplated on whether I should write it all down and get it off my chest, but this in its current state is absolutely worth experiencing.

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What remains of Edith Finch ends up telling us whatever remains of us and people we care for, in a way I have never seen told before through the world of gamepads and keystrokes.

Best Game of 2017, yet.

Nothing really matters

Ultimately, nothing matters.

All these efforts you put in to make your life happy, your loved ones content – just burns down one day, in one moment’s brisk wind, and then the ashes pile up on you and you choke. Mercy, never comes. What comes is a fourth degree burn, looking at the watery eyes and a face in so much pain that your soul writhes. Yet you are a creature of habit, a slave of conscience that is bound to make mistakes. And ultimately those mistakes form your hell, your doom, whatever you call it.

Better snuff the lights, man, it’s getting too bright in here – said nobody, yet at times the scorching rays of the sun char your skin and you can’t protest. Not because you’re mute – you’ve given it all and you’ve come short. The end result is that you’ve become such an asshole that now the world you built around you has thrown you out to the dogs. You, you alone has to fend of the harshities of life now, all alone, watching your loved ones in pain because of you and then not because of you. Both of them hurt equally, and make you bleed.

Ultimately though, nothing matters. You’re but a cosmic mistake, a blatant blasphemy on this speck of a planet, a vile scoop of soul sundae. Your arguments are invalid and out of date and shape. The long walks through the shopping malls through jungles of amused people makes you realize that they don’t matter either, that they just exist as background noise, to give your story of imperfection some color and a palette, as do you for their novels. Friends are just as convoluted messes as you are, some fake, hiding under a facade, and then some that are truly lost, believing they can save a drowning existence.

But you’ve already drowned. The tar is in your lung, the rotten carcass is already showing. You’ve just put on a new coat. You’re already dead, you just don’t know it yet.

My head becomes lighter, my visions dizzy. The water drops, warm and still poisoned with feelings – from the eyes I am watching. Those eyes mean everything to me, but I know in the end everything is going to consume me, like love does, and leave nothing but dust.

I’m slowly walking towards nothingness, and she is too.