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.

Men without Women – Haruki Murakami : Book Review

It must’ve been ten years back. Looking into my jar of memories, I cannot find the exact calendar. Amidst the blurry mess that my subjective hearing and sort of cognizant, destructive amnesia made of my past, I somehow find a few solid, well formed artifacts, like one finds a ring from a papier-mâché of rose petals, water and milk during some Indian marriage ceremonies. Those memories are especially vivid- like me attending an awkward Physics Lab exam in my college years, or getting engrossed in the pond-fishing in our school complex when I was ten, or my first actual date with a representative of the opposite sex. I don’t then remember other stories; of me almost drowning when I was a toddler, of countless Durga Pujos I’ve spent, of some long dead relatives who are just a face in yellowed out album pages now. My existential crisis is only worsened by authors like Haruki Murakami, who continues to write stories of unknown sadnesses, and introduces me to another ocean that I need to conquer, only this one more grayer than the last, more hands to drag me down under, to choke my last bits of sanity.

I’ve been remarkably slow in reading books this year. I started well, however, finishing 4-5 books under the first one and a half months. That’s almost blazing speed for someone who reads and re-reads, and is painstakingly slow in the process. Then I was hit by a barrage of personal events: I got married, moved to a bigger apartment, and have been trying to settle down in the quagmire that is married, docile life. So when I began reading Murakami’s latest and greatest, I wanted to get back to the habit, and to keep my promise of finishing twenty five books in 2017, not realizing what I was getting into.

Men without Women is a concept. A man meets multiple women in his life; some he becomes friends with; some he makes love with; and then there are some that just exist, right on the border of his attention span, waiting, faceless existences that at times get slight warmth of notice. The man may have similar situations where he’s the mannequin, just another voice in the ether, but that often doesn’t bother him until he becomes a ‘Man without Woman’. A man who has no woman in his life – no Scheherazade to tell eccentric stories of lampreys and breaking into others houses. No once known, now a blur woman that had a thing for wonderful sex and elevator music. Not even a woman with burn scars and a woman with her breasts undulating while she rode another man in front of her husband. This profound state of systemic decay, a rather dystopian conclusion of human sentiments is ‘Men without Women’. There’s not only tragicomic sadness at play here, but Murakami plays from strength to strength narrating stories that has a familiarity, a loneliness that is often found in his works. Dr. Tokai finds love all of a sudden in a sea of nonchalance. Kafuku wants to know the lovers of his late wife to make a complete picture of a woman he never really knew fully. Kitaru, one day, vanishes, leaving his friend and his girlfriend in complete darkness – these stories are intertwined in curious cases of emotions. Men with Women, fascinated by Men without Women.

The stories, except the last one, circle around in a narrow boundary. Murakami keeps a strong bind here – a mixture of solitude and vivid abstraction with his undenying love for old music and movies. This book is so much more than a collection of stories – it’s a homage to Ernest Hemingway, a direct tribute to Franz Kafka and ‘Metamorphosis’ (one of my favorite stories in the book), and also a nod to a lot of forgotten people, standing in the queue, waiting for their turn to tell stories. I as a writer find this amazing, but I may be biased, so leaving this to personal interpretations is the best choice.

Are all men to become ‘Men without Women’ eventually? Is there an indication here, a forecasting of our lives? Yes, and no. Like a lamprey hunting for its halibut to cling on, our relationships are also clingy. Subconsciously we wait for the right moment to jump and press our jaws into one another’s body, and suck emotions from each other – that’s how we survive. The book tells you the exact thing. Don’t believe for a moment that you can swim through this madness of becoming Men without Women.

You can’t.

Distant Memories

There was a time when we sang lullabies.

Artificial – be it, yet magically believable emotions

ran wild on our skins, in our

hearts. Those

were eons ago. Now you and I

are just a mix of yellow wallpapers

and history books; the purpose lost, the intent

buried, the spark dead.

We are just timid memories, not asinine, not pungent

not the least repulsive. We are bubbles that forgot

to breathe unto air.

We are just a notion of us, of what was, and

what could never be.

Hiraeth

​The beige and brown tiles on the otherwise white marble wall look like little crying faces. A faint buzz emerges once in a while from the machine that monitors the air.

World outside is a fresh loneliness kept out by a wooden door. The one that lives inside this old restroom is decades old and smells like chlorine.

I come out after a cold splash of water on my face. The Indian Summer sits and waits for me with a whiplash. I let the water vaporize off my body for a moment of soothe, and soon enough, riding in a crowded bus, the last of the recluse drops vanish. Screams of a thousand kind return and take form of a city. Images, crumbling to and fro, conjure up images of a concrete jungle.

The safari starts.

In the dusk silhouettes, an old planetarium stands still, a church bell tolls, brick-ribbed, naked buildings bare their history. The sea in front is yellow and red and flowing, slave only to the stop signs.

Somewhere, dry coconut skins and resins make fiery love, and the odor smells viciously divine.

Memories play hide and seek. The roads, never lonely, yet I walk on them lonely as a fish thousands of feet under water. The pressure is immense, and it almost breaks me.

For once, I don’t panic. The scurrying couple amuses me, so does the bus conductor, the tea-shopwallah, the feeble beggar singing Manna Dey, the bike-toting romeo. Yet in this maze, they are just pale distractions.

What am I searching for? The library of Babel is enormous, the sadness of Murakami a well of no return, the madness of Kafka bewitchingly spiraling. The anxiety attacks are just bubbles in that enormous pool, something that keeps on telling me that this all is real, the kisses, the slaps, the poems and the rejections. Even holding the rails of a passenger train and vomiting into the abyss, and the aftertaste of stomach acid – real, all real.

Maybe I’m a little too homesick.

Going back to the roots

There was a storm. A vicious cyclone that smashed into the wooden houses and rattled the roofs. Children hung to their parents, shivering fervently — and parents prayed and tried to hide in the lap of a bigger being.

I was outside, embracing the madness.

Four years back, I had seen my grandfather pass away in a quagmire of events that evoked a frenzy of emotions in me. In a week, my grandfather was reduced to a memory from a perfectly old human being. I haven’t seen many deaths in the family. My only memory of a death was of my grandmother, my mother’s mother, passing away right after the results of my board exams came out. At times, I saw her picture, receded in one corner between the idols of Laxmi and Saraswati, a smiling profile, and thought of how futile our lives were. Four years back, when I saw the lifeless body of my grandfather slowly being pushed towards the furnace, people crying around me, time froze. In that frozen frame I was looking at the entire slideshow called human life, from birth to its death — and realizing that it hardly mattered how we tried to escape.

We all were destined to fall, one by one.

That shouldn’t give us a source of depression, though. It is just one of many things we can’t change, and the best way to tackle them is to live a life truly worth living. Even if you’re not living your life to the fullest, make subtle attempts to change one part of your life, doesn’t matter how simple and small it is. It may be getting a pet. Or a wacky hairstyle. Or getting back to things like nature, poetry, books, good music, good food.

Simple things matter. And speak out, for your sake, and for everybody’s sake!! You’re only making matters worse for yourself. People can’t help you if you don’t let them.

I am finally starting to understand depression, and the more I realize it, the more I figure out that it is not a taboo. That it can be defeated. That this fight should never stop — no matter how futile life is, no matter if we all one day end up as dead as the dinosaurs, we will fight against depression.

Lives need to be happier. Let’s do it.

My Sister’s Marriage

My sister is getting married in two days. I can’t even imagine me sitting here and writing this and not being there with her, but this is how it is. This is how this life of mine would have it. The sadness knows no bounds when I think about us growing up, things that always made us be together yet fight like crazy. I remember she is the one with two scars on the back of her head. Always the rebel, always the blunt talker, my sister in a lot of ways is what I can never be. And as both of us grew up, she became even more of an inkblot, directionless yet sublime, amazing yet steeped in sadness and in true sense, a thinker and a loner. As her brother, it was a journey for me to see her evolve, from a chubby little girl to a beautiful woman who had an exquisite taste in movies and music and food. She is probably my most harsh critic and my most fanatic supporter.

And like me, the growing conscience in her has made her lonely, and depressed. That’s why I am happy that she had found her partner.

How I wish I could be there.

The thunderstorms ravaging through the Atlanta sky reminds me that nothing stays constant. That a perfect sunny day may end in a vicious, howling storm. Me and my sister did start our journey in a bumpy rollercoaster. The first time I saw a little bundle moving by my mom in the nursing home, I had curiously asked my father if she would be coming home with us. Our childhood rivalry had some intense moments, but during our adolescent years that playful enmity had died down. She was, and still is an amazing singer; she is a cooking connoisseur and an absolute expert in handiwork. All those glass paintings, all those painted vases – and that stray pine cone that she found and which ended up adorning one of our drawing room walls, are testament to that. She has a keen eye for art, something she has developed over time, and something I absolutely adore about her.

A travel-lover, and a fussy reader, she always had a love-hate relationship with my mom. Though I do think my father always favors her more than me, time and again bitter fights with both have made me question my thought process. I get told that I am always the chosen one between me and her, something I never wanted to become. My uncles, my grandmother, my relatives are smitten by her aura. I am a calmness in front of my sister, and that is the reason that we gel so well together. We can spend hours together talking and watching movies and listening to music and what not. During our days in the rented place in Kolkata, we would spend listening to music and watching movies in sweltering heat, right after office – something that often went into late night. The sudden freedom was so good for both of us that we didn’t want to go back home on weekends. Man, those were the days, when we would go out on an evening stroll, walking towards the bus stand, and sit there at a tea shop sipping hot tea. Or we would stand on the passenger bridge to revel at the moist breeze that the Hooghly river produced.

That girl, my sister, starts a new life in two days.

I have to apologize to my sister for not being there. I couldn’t be there. Circumstances chained me, and I regret every bit of it. But as I look back, I think the bigger apology should be for unwillingly hogging the spotlight. To be a complete asshole whom everybody loves and forcing you to be a rebel. I know I didn’t do it, but somehow I became the Yin, and she became the Yang.

I don’t want to spoil the wedding or cast a dark shadow of past. That’s just idiotic. We should always make the best of the situation, and we will do. What good are tools like Skype for? I will be there, in the wedding, through the power of technology.

My sister is getting married, fellas! Hoorah and spread the cheer!

Toya

I am no avid reader. I just read when I love to – when my wandering mind wants solace. More often than not, I am adrift. Thinking about inconsequential things. Taking photos that don’t make sense. Staring at the computer screen, just lost, like a black hole slowly spiraling inside me. The feelings are like little blips in darkness that flash, little bell lights with wind chimes tied to them, so when they glow, a faint toll rings in my ear.

Many years back, I was walking back from office, really tired, on a night that was especially hot and humid. The road was empty because it was late and I wasn’t not on the main road, but a wide alley that ran through rows of new, old and being-made buildings. These brick jungles muted the outside noise. It had the same feeling of standing under the bathroom shower, the water flowing like a wall between your ear and everything else. The only noise that floated on that ethereal scene was of a little chime. The obscurity of such an existence amidst an otherwise mundane urban scene threw me off. I looked around, only to find the little wooden windchime slowly undulating with each caress of the moist, heavy Bengal wind. It was carelessly attached to a verandah like a forgotten relic of love.

I used to be a hapless romantic. I still am, somewhat. This planet for me is love shaped like different things.

Far, far away in Japan, a lake lies in Hokkaido, beautiful blue water surrounded by volcanic mountains and lush green jungles. The pictures don’t do it justice. It is like meditation made static. On the days of the cherry blossom, I saw a road by the lake, the concrete covered by the fallen flowers a lacquer of pink and white, kissing the naked feet of ladies wearing kimonos while they scurried over.

I’ve always imagined myself visiting such a place, go to a shrine, and just sit there for hours. Where the cacophonies of the society don’t reach, we can hear other sounds. True sounds. Of nature, of things which can’t scream as loud as a blaring commercial, but have greater meaning. Temples and mosques and shrines and churches attract me because in those stone constructs are hidden stories. Those hidden stories are shy, like little kittens, and only come out when they believe that you will only be listening to them. You need to have the ear to listen to what they want to tell you.

The lake’s name brings back memories. Memories of a boy who is fond of his mother. That boy, introvert and doe-eyed, listened to her mom playing the piano. He kept her mother alive in his dreams by playing the piano when he grew up. He took care of his little sister, the sheepish school-friend, the flirtatious girlfriend. Yet when he played the piano, he became that kid again. The story, probably one of the greatest stories ever told.

Toya.

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