Hiraeth

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​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

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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

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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

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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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Insignificantly significant

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Billions of years ago, life started from nothingness. A tiny spark, a chemical reaction between otherwise dormant atoms and molecules, and the chain of events took off. Can you imagine this sudden birth of conscience among the huge darkness where stars are born and destroyed? This speck of a planet, the third rock from the sun is so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, the grandeur that is the universe itself, that as a species, our lives seem to not matter.

But most of us are blessed enough to not think about these things at a cosmic scale. We are content with our lives, the picture that we and others draw around us. A lot of memories shape our future; and we select the significant ones like trophies and polish them and preserve them in nice showcases. I remember the first time me and my dad went out to buy a showcase for our house. It was the biggest thing after our almirah, and when we bought it I was overwhelmed with the thought of how many things we could put in there. Years later, the showcase is still there, with its top now adorned with clay statues of deities, a defunct tape recorder, dad’s things – its internals filled to the brim with books and diaries and toys and me and my sister’s accolades. Cleaning it is always fun, because you never know what you may find in that mess. A forgotten memory suddenly comes into significance.

I remember train stations and the hullabaloo associated with it. Generally, in India, train stations are surrounded with a thriving market, possibly the biggest in that town or that village. Since most people travel by train, it makes obvious choice as a center of business. From a full-fledged vegetables and meat/fish market to clothes, shoes and food, the sprawling shops offer things at cut-rate prices. The town where I grew up in had this remarkable transition in front of my eyes. It had, and still has a big nursery right next to the station, where I used to wait for my mom as she traveled back from the city after a day’s work. Usually I would be with my grandfather who used to go for an evening stroll to buy flowers for the next day’s Pooja. On Saturdays, my dad would bring me and my sister in; that was a great thing for the both of us. Then there was this big shop that used to sell tea and fried kachories, right next to the little shack that used to stock on magazines and comics – a treasure trove for me. Coming out of the station, there was a temple that used to be filled with devotees every Saturday, and beside that were two shops selling delicious parathas, ending the trail with a flower shop and a shop that sold sweets.

Then on the other end of the platform, the slender roads by the railroad tracks were flanked on one side by an array of shops, mostly selling clothes and shoes at throwaway prices. That ended in the level crossing with a few tea shops and fast food joints. This concoction made sure that the roads were always crowded, and on festive seasons it was impossible to get past.

Insignificant memories play a big role in our lives. We often don’t consider them to be part of the picture, but when is a picture complete without a background? Remembering my childhood days spent in my town, every station had a different market, a different set of shops – a different background. The town where I used to travel to for my school for twelve years had quite a big fish and vegetables market. Me and my dad used to go there often after my tuition, just before catching the train back home. My college town had two big shopping malls by it (big by town standards), and often me and my friends went to the top floor restaurant of one of the malls – with as little has fifty rupees (less than a dollar) in our pockets and then make calculations about what to order in that limited budget. Years later, that still amuses me. But that’s the best thing about insignificant memories – they are never alone. One memory leads to another, just like a painter brushes the background with a myriad colors.

I started this note on life. The millions of animals and plants and bacteria and whatnots that have lived and continue to live are each bearing the same signs of consciousness that we have within us. Call it a cosmic consciousness, call it stardust – it is there. That is what connects us all. And everyone doesn’t need to be the center of the universe. The universe is within us, in its entirety. The particles that make comets and nebula and stars are the ones that evoke feelings in us, make us write long posts like these on a very cold day. Our memories are little paintings that we put on shelves, with characters and backgrounds : a full picture. Assimilating that grand idea takes time, but when you finally realize it, it is marvelous.

So here I was, having my dinner really late in Waffle House, looking at the still working crowd and thinking about how life treats each one of us differently, and in came a person in his forties. He made everybody smile, because everybody knew him. I didn’t. Then he approached the jukebox, and put on a song.

That put a smile on my face. Louis Armstrong sure knew how to touch a heartstring.

It’s a wonderful world.

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Jar of fireflies

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The weather is pretty volatile here these days. After the thunderstorm last week, the clear blue sky and the paintbrushed clouds on it are a regular sight; so are beautiful afternoons with golden rays reflecting on the glasses of the Randstad building. But then there are moments of windy, cold inclemence that reminds us all that the winter is here, and she’s nobody’s to control. The last couple of days of subzero mornings are a clear indication of what’s to come. Frosted dew atop car roofs bear the sign.

It is often interesting to see how nature evolves with its fauna. We change the course of nature, building cities and railroads and the proverbial juggernaut rolls on – yet the little dandelion peeks from the foot of the art installation, or mosses start to climb the television tower. Birds nest on air condition vents.

Life finds a way. We only leave memories, imprints in time that like footsteps on sand, ebb away as the cycle rolls on. I can’t remember all my days as a child. Heck, I can’t even tell details about every Durga Pooja, every Deepavali, every Christmas I ever had. It is there somewhere, jumbled like a cat-mangled ball of wool, too indistinguishable from each other. Sometimes we don’t want to remember certain memories, or certain people. Even those who cared about you at one point of time. It’s that bitter pill that we hate to swallow every time. Those wounds, they heal really slow. The embalming of seconds minutes hours days years and eons hardly help. Because our mind is portal. You don’t need to open a thousand doors or request for approval. You want to access a memory, and poof, you’re standing there in your college hall, embarrassed because a girl snuggled with you during the exam, or you are standing in front of your friends and being the butt of their fat jokes, or you are crying on the night of Deepavali for silly reasons like how perfectly radiant the diyas are compared to the tiny lights you spent so much time setting up around the house. You relive them, everything, every good and bad and awful and ecstatic memory. I see myself with my parents and my sister, walking down a lightless road to visit my aunts after Dussehra. I remember tiny lamps lit atop every house in remembrance of the dead, and thinking ‘do they ever see those lights from above?’ I remember watching fireflies like a fool during our weekly power-cuts.

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I remember a lot of things, but then I have forgotten a lot of things as well. I remember the first time a girl said that she loved me. I remember the shivering me hugging a girl that I loved (and still love), and the first sloppy kiss I planted on her. I remember lying on her lap and looking at the sky, and looking at my watch, because I had to keep a tab on both, and I had to catch the five forty gallop train to reach my home at sharp six thirty. I remember deaths as well, the burning of bodies, the short-lived sensation of futility of everything. Charred lives and harrowing cries, I have endured them as well. I remember old friends coming back, and new friends becoming old friends, and then some old friends not coming back and things getting sour. I also remember a few fond memories like a girl telling me that I should write about the people I care about and the people that care about me, and that guy who despite me not answering every call of his still treats me like his own brother. I cannot express in words how much I owe them.

There’s a certain brilliance in remembrance. People want to remember things a certain way, just like old emperors wanted their lives to be told in tales of grandeur. We all want our memories to be shiny trophies, and our beautiful mind often fabricates its own yarns and slowly wraps on the reality. The fainter the memory, the generous the coating gets. In the end, we end up with a lot of stories to tell; some true, some not, both equally fascinating.

As I stood in a parking lot on a beautiful afternoon by a laundry waiting for my roommate to return, I was looking at the marks that jet planes were making on the blue palette of the sky. The straight, tight lines were slowly disintegrating into white pillars of smoke. Golden leaves were falling everywhere, like abandoned memories. Only we didn’t abandon memories, we abandoned people.

I wish I don’t end up forgetting more than I remember.