Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Primitive Art of Conversation

I have been walking around with a list for a while. Taking deep breaths every now and then. Putting the piece of paper down, and picking it up again. Fiddling my fingers and contemplating running away. You may suspect it is a list that could shatter a few worlds, or something as powerful. Sorry to disappoint you: it's my grocery list for the day. Or week, if you like, if you are a systematic person. Me? I just call up the shop whenever I remember an urgent item or two to purchase. And they deliver. I can pay with my card; they don't insist on cash. Easy-peasy. I have been calling them for over ten years. They know me now. The people who pick up the phone, if they have a moment to spare, ask about my well-being. I ask about theirs. So why am I trying to postpone the very simple, delightful task of ordering a few items which will be delivered to my door within the hour?

The answer is: I don't know. I try to put off calling the shop as much as I can. Almost until every necessary item in the kitchen has run out and there is no more escape if the family has to survive.

I have been doing some thinking and it occurs to me: I don't want to talk. Sad though it sounds, it is the truth. How much do I talk to people now? Very less. Everything happens via the phone - the very device which was invented for people to converse, is being used these days to do anything but. Almost every task gets done with enough amount of punching on the keypad or screen, not a word needs to be spoken.

Think about it: Family updates come via group chats. News from around the world pop up as messages; friends send their updates through social media. You can check at your leisure. You can reply at your convenience. Or ignore altogether, if you like. Food gets delivered, cabs line up at your door, books can be read, movies can watched - if you just know where to click. If you want to report a faulty telephone or know your bank balance, you don't need to say a word. Just dial, follow the recorded voice and keep pressing the keypad for the right amount of numbers. If you want to ask your neighbour something, send her a message and wait for her reply.

Here I must pause a moment to acknowledge people who still like to hang from their phones for hours on end, talking, talking, talking, dissecting every little detail, regardless of whether their curry is burning in the kitchen or whether the world stopped spinning on its axis. Off the top of my head, I can recall at least five acquaintances. Thankfully, not everyone is afflicted with my strange illness. (I shudder at the thought of having to call these acquaintances.)

Except for this grocery list, most of my purchases are the outcome of my punching on their respective apps. It's like magic, isn't it?? Tap, tap, type, type, click and voilà! What you seek is in your hand. (Accio Firebolt!)

The only reason I haven't moved my grocery purchase to a very inviting app (of a different shop) that does not require a reading aloud of my list, is a sense of loyalty to this shop, a loyalty which is at its flimsiest at this point of time - just because of the painful job of having to say, "Hello, I am calling from... Can you please send me..." I am impatiently waiting for my shop to develop an app: they are still taking baby steps. Perhaps it would be a clever idea for me to remind them: "Business isn't bad even without the app; but for how long?"

If this trend keeps up, people might find a method to avoid talking even face-to-face. Perhaps a technique would develop wherein we could just fiddle our fingers and the thought appears before the eyes of our spouse. We won't ever have to look anyone in the eye. Reminds me of the world of the future as depicted in the movie Wall-E.

Just as I begin to worry over the vanishing art of speech, comes the newest kid on the block: the talking / responding / obeying box of an assistant, currently immobile, but a precursor to the metallic dwarf-like creature that would soon trail after us and bring us tea. As of now, the orders are to be given via voice. Alexa, for God's sake call up the damn shop and order groceries! What am I paying you for! On one side, we are getting rid of conversation with humans; on the other, we have to parley with the non-living, to get things done. I am quite speechless at human progress. The future holds so much promise in the art of making conversation, don't you think?

Meanwhile the grocery list beckons. So what if sugar and salt and rice have run out, and the kitchen is empty, and the family starves? Perhaps I should throw loyalty to the wind and install that promising app of the other shop.

Loyalty prevails for one more day... I pick up the list again and gather courage to make that one dreaded phone call...


Sunday, May 12, 2019

Remember, they don't get paid...

This Mothers' Day... Show some support - to the women in your life.

Look around, what are they doing? The mothers, wives, daughters and sisters...

Do you only see them relaxing on the sofa or catching a show on television?

Or chatting with friends on Whatsapp, or gossiping and laughing?

Do you think they are enjoying life, just as free as you are?

Do you think they are taking life too casually?

Look closer: are they not doing something more,

Something right before your eyes, but always out of your sight ?

Things you always knew, but never gave a thought to:

And if at all you did, it would be to say,

"God, I'm glad I don't have to do this!"

Who dusts the shelves? Who cleans the table?

Who picks up the clothes you have strewn around?

Who switches off the lights after you've walked out of the room?

Who reminds you to pay the bills?

Who washes the clothes, hangs them out to dry,

And folds them so you find them ready to use?

Who makes the bed, who waters the plants?

Who takes the garbage out every day or the dog for a walk?

Who makes sure the maid cleans the room every day?

Who ensures the family has a meal on the table daily?

Who teaches the kids to do the right things, over and over again?

Who keeps track of school activities, homework and exams?

Who balances the finances of the family?

Who buys the grocery? Who cleans the toilet?

Who do you blame if any of this is not done?

And if this were not enough, most of them have

A job to keep up with, and its own share of pressure.

Are they not doing most of the above, if not all?

And if the best you can do is say, "I am grateful

I don't have to do these", then think again:

At least pause a moment. See what they do.

Acknowledge their efforts, help when you can,

Because they may be too proud to ask for help.

Or they may be tired of asking and not getting any.

Don't mock them, don't ignore their cries if they complain.

Stop what you're doing and appreciate their efforts

For they're doing what you hate to do.

You have them to fall back on: they may have no one.

Remember, they don't get paid: not even with a word of gratitude.

Yet they have to do over and over, this cycle of boring chores.

Neglect may break a woman's spirit, and so would ingratitude.

She is not quiet because she is content,

She may be quiet because she has lost her confidence.

Spare a kind word, a thoughtful gesture,

Show some gratitude, make her smile.


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Fear of Change is worse than Change itself

It's not that you were not expecting a Change. You have been, for years. Even so, it must be admitted that you were not exactly "prepared". Even when you know what's coming, (and you hope it isn't) you deny the possibility of it ever happening, and so you're never quite sufficiently ready.

You knew it was bound to happen. Eventually. Eventually was so far away that, when it did happen, you were almost taken by surprise. 

All these years you had scraped by, because you had fallen between the cracks and gone unnoticed. 

Suddenly the Change you feared looms before you like a huge, dark, undecipherable shadow. All you want to do is turn tail and vanish. But running away is not an option. 

The only way is forward.

A long dark tunnel appears. You don't know how long it is going to take for you to emerge on the other side. Perhaps days. Perhaps years. Perhaps this lifetime. 

You lived your life right, according to principles. According to morals. You held on to integrity. Honesty. You followed all the rules. If there is such a thing as Destiny, then maybe the tunnel will not be that long. Because you lived right. You can only hope. 

You see clearly before you - how your own choices in the past have brought you here. If anyone is to blame, it is yourself. With the veil before your eyes that prevent you from seeing tomorrow, you did the best you could do. If one could see tomorrow, one's choices may be different. But then, the tomorrow you foresaw would no longer exist.

In spite of your correct decisions, you were taken by surprise by the twists and turns of life. 

There is nothing to do. Pause; and reflect. Are you making the best decision based on everything you know, at this moment? Then, open your eyes wide and step into the darkness. Your eyes will adjust. There will be a light at the end. (There has to be. If not, there is nothing you can do, anyway.) You can take that crucial step only by telling yourself that you did the best you could. Courage comes from that firm belief.

From there on, there is only one thing left to do. 

You keep going.

One step at a time.


Monday, April 8, 2019

Routines

​There's no escape
From the frightening
Circle of life
A chaos of terrifying routines
One falling over the other
In senseless abandon...

We're all prisoners
Of our own conscience.
Addicted to sacrifice,
Brought up to believe
In selflessness.
To break away is to be Free.

Hanging ourselves
From the rigid
Ceiling of expectations
With the rope called love;
The noose called duty
Shrinking daily...

Freedom comes with
Tiny doses of
Courage and recklessness
You may be born with
Or you learn and develop
With awareness

One almost begins to
Long for a morrow
That brings Disaster!!
If it would make a dent in life
A hole in the ground
For weeds to spring forth...

I'm a slave to Routines...


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Goodbyes

How difficult Goodbyes used to be... for those who remember a time before the gadgets of today. You meet someone, make friends, and then it is time to part. As the last day approaches, you realise that there is nothing you can do to push it a little farther. You have to go your separate ways. You exchange postal addresses and landline numbers, and promise to keep in touch. And it happens too, for a short while. Then one day it stops.

Today at least we have the luxury of knowing they are always at the other end of our phone. If we miss them, all we have to do is ping. Text them, call them, video call them. Or read up their updates on Facebook.

But how does one bid farewell to one's Dreams? There does come a point when, after much deliberation and struggle, we realise that it is time to give up. Stop, let go, and move on. For reasons that cannot be generalised. Or explained. Or even understood. Not a screeching halt, perhaps; a sputter, a jerk, a roll and... it comes to rest. The decision may not be made lightly or quickly; it could happen over the course of months or years. If we are unlucky, it would just snap out of the blue, leaving us unprepared and flailing.

There is a Goodbye looming in my horizon; and there is nothing I can do to prevent it. I have been fighting tooth and nail to keep it away. But there is only so much one can do - what is bound to happen will happen. You can only try to find satisfaction in that you tried your best. It doesn't work all the time.

How does one say Goodbye to a Dream, and to the people that come with it? Only Time can tell. Only Time can heal.

Or so they say.


Friday, March 8, 2019

Tomorrow

Yesterday, it was too far away.
Now I am closer by a day.

This moment is beautiful - the anticipation:
The dreams, the possibilities, the expectation

For which I have so yearned;
Not yet arrived, nor been ruined

What I desire may come out well
Or, if luck so desires, go downhill

There is yet hope, at this instant -
Tomorrow may bring resentment

The precise point in time to find
The courage it leaves behind

To face the result, come what may -
To rise afresh in the dawn of day

Not a moment too soon, not one too late
What is life, if not an endless wait

For what the morrow brings?
The heart must take to its wings...

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Spare me the wisdom...


Dr House was right. People don't change. Our attitude to things or approach to certain circumstances may change over time from experiences or from the right type of upbringing, but our deep instincts, never. At best, we learn to pretend that we are not thinking what we are; or to smother our raw emotions; or to present a polished exterior while dealing with our inner wilderness.

At certain moments, however, under the right amount of pressure, the real 'we' that with difficulty we had kept suppressed shatters the mask and springs forth...

If we are prepared to accept that people are like that, and they may open their eyes but will never really change, it puts us in a better position: for one thing, we realise our efforts to change them aren't going to work - which is frustrating of course, but then it is relieving as well. It sets us free.

I have been battling a demon of my own for many years. All this while, all these encounters, always the same outcome - and yet, I have not tamed the beast nor trained it nor brought it into any kind of control. It deludes me into thinking it is asleep or even dead; and when least expected, awakens with a roar, and rears its head, completely overpowering me. A battle of the brain and the heart, one might call it. The one, always pragmatic, always ready with wise counsel, eventually bows to the other, foolish, impulsive, adventurous. Every now and then, the cycle repeats, over and over. Tossing me up and down; and from north to south.

A string of disappointments follow, but interestingly, no regrets. Experiences, aren't those what we live for? Memories of adventures past, aren't those the only things that remain with us, when all else is lost?

There's no escape - ultimately I have come to terms with that fact. One can resist only for so long. The only way forward is to walk through the fire. Because there definitely is reprieve, on the other side. Besides, I know the road. I have taken it countless times.

I pretend that no one knows of the existence of the slumbering beast but I. Honestly, I have no idea. It must show, somehow or the other, a sudden flash. Our true nature cannot be hidden for long. I cannot change, but now that I know it, I can better equip myself for the stroll through fire.

I suppose I am grateful though. But for the existence of the demon and the unrest it drives me into, I would not be writing nonsense like this at all. Any writing, whether to a specific purpose or otherwise, is fuel to the fire of creativity. When the war rages on, as it takes me through its ups and downs, and stifles me with its maddening persistence, I find an outlet, an escape, an energy - in words.

This demon... this sleeping giant... and the battle I have to wage every day...


Thursday, February 7, 2019

We are capable of magic

Why do we read stories?

For entertainment? For a distraction? For learning something new? For living a thousand lives without moving an inch from our seat?

All of the above, of course. And more.

But we also read to find answers. It's like opening an holy text when you're worried, and finding the answers you seek, on the random page you chose. Even in a depressing novel that ends in tragedy, you might find what you are seeking. A sliver of thought, a fragment of philosophy, a shred of an idea. A ray of hope.

Lately I have been finding answers everywhere, in every book I read. Every author has something new to show me. No, they don't solve my problems - if only they could! I've to do the solving all on my own. But they shine a new light on the darkness. They show me something I have forgotten or I have never known. They don't help me with my choice, but they stand by me when I make mine. They expand our horizons and remind us of possibilities.

But when we write, we cannot think of the lessons we ought to leave behind for the reader to find. The moment we do that, the purpose is defeated.

Which, for some reason, reminds me of the water beetle.

“The waterbeetle here shall teach 
A sermon far beyond your reach; 
He flabbergasts the Human race 
By gliding on the water's face 
With ease, celerity, and grace; 
But if he ever stopped to think 
Of how he did it, he would sink.”
- Hilaire Belloc


I come from a book crazy family. Everyone in my immediate circle could be found poring over a book or a magazine; always going to the library to discover something interesting; always talking of books, new and old. I never thought twice about it. I suppose I believed unconsciously that every family was like that. Much later, when I made friends with people who "never read much" I was stunned that such people did exist.

I leave you with a beautiful thought from the inimitable Carl Sagan: "Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."


(Photo: Sapna Book store, Elements Mall, Bengaluru)