So i’ve had this minor epiphany while reading a lot of Zenpencils yesterday :
Age. Just a number. And if you’ve lived your life decently enough, not something that’s going to stop someone from telling you you’ve changed, been changed.
Age. Just a number. And if you’re still in a position to extricate your head from up your rear end, nothing that’s going to stop you from listening to stuff people don’t want to tell you but want you to hear.
It’s never too late to start doing something new if that’s what you really want, i now realize. I’ve spent the last 5 years talking about conflict and indecision and heartburn; now i know the only real conflict of interest is between wanting and not wanting.
Snoopy beat Spiderman to it when he said, “The best way to avoid responsibility is to say, “I’ve got responsibilities.””
I’ve got mixed feelings about anyone beating Spiderman to anything.
Someone once told me i looked a little like Tobey Maguire sometimes.
Right, you can stop laughing now.
Age. Just a number.
Its never too late to start doing something new. Or restart something.
Or do something that you took for granted earlier; something that just happened in the margins of notebooks in a boring class or in the blank space at the end of a chapter in a textbook.
Do it. Now. Before you turn into a jargon-permuting automaton.
On a separate note its kinda fun to do this kind of thing at night, get to office the next morning after 4 hours of sleep, smiling, looking like someone punched you between the eyes and have everyone around you go crazy at the coffee machine, “What time did you sleep last night? What were you doing staying up so late? Are you all right? Are you sure? Pictures? Why pictures? What kind of pictures? Are you all right? Get married.”
Just like Fight Club.
Age : a number, a measure of time spent, a measure of time left, etc., nothing you didn’t already know, and if you think of it, nothing that should bother you more today than it did yesterday.
Just a number.
“Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” says the cheesily positive corporate trainer, talking about passion or synergy or the latest in testing-hardware or something equally generic. “F*** you,” i say; i hate positivity and i hate people telling me how to lead my life. I like telling people how they should lead their lives. I should be a trainer.
But i digress.
This trainer might have been onto something. Misguided probably, but definitely onto something. The older i get, the more often i think about one day having to turn back and take stock of all i’ve done. And this is the deal : i want to be able to look at the years and say that the result has indeed been greater than just a simple sum of the years spent on the way.
The older i get, the more cynical i get, the less sure i am of this happening and that worries me.
Somewhere along the way life turns into a series of numbers for most of us. Ages at which we got our degrees, number of degrees, seniority grades at work, last year’s salary increment, the year before last year’s h-index.
Just numbers. Like co-ordinates to pin us down on a giant multidimensional space representing life and where we stand w.r.t. the rest of the world on it.
“Oh look, there’s the ne’er-do-well last-bencher from school and oh look, there’s the vice-president for body-on-frame platforms.”
People. Just numbers.
Only problem : they aren’t. No matter how hard you kid yourself.
People. Not numbers. Not most of the time.
“It’s not you, it’s me,” I say to you and I smart at the insult couched in my own words. Not so much regret, as a certain cringe-worthy disappointment that I couldn’t do much better than that, that something I could feel so intensely could be summed up in something as stupid-sounding as that. But there it is, an emotion, a desire, propped up by a flimsy little rationalization that’s about as stupid as this sounds, a murky haze of dissatisfaction that neither of us wants to admit to. A belief, rather, a childish little wish, that we might have been different; a murky haze through which we don’t really see much of each other beyond self-portraits of ourselves that we project onto it.
“If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” hammers the Lynyrd Skynyrd song in my head. And today that freedom finally sounds farcical. Less freedom, more a sad little selfishness, to want to be remembered and missed in spite of, or perversely, for, copping out. And as much a secret desire that you might blame yourself for the fact that I’m running today. That one day I may ultimately stumble back, wiser, and that the burden of the guilt that you must now rightfully assume might someday be balanced by the wisdom that I must leave now to seek.
It’s not about the present, but a future that I must only know alone. But that’s probably something you shouldn’t know; not now, not ever. But that’s not really accurate, is it? It’s the past, with its fractures and healing and lessons that you will never be a part of. It’s my past that you will never fit into, and now i must move on, that i may re-script tomorrow’s past, or the day after’s, that then, some day in the distant distant future, things might work themselves out. But that’s something I refuse to admit.
But that’s neither here nor there, is it? For kitschy phrases merely assign guilt; rarely do they tell you how to live with it. Or pay off its debt. For here we are today, clear in the knowledge, and unfortunately so, that this must not be; it’s how we’re going to pick up the pieces that’s going to matter.
If anything matters; besides me, that is.
Ooohh!!! I just made me a brand new disclaimer page. Right here : https://stairwaytowhere.wordpress.com/disclaimer/
Makes me feel like i’ve finally ascended to that level of literary clout that my thoughts and words could f*** up someone’s life and that they’d be better off warned a priori.
Now how badass is that?!
She sits across him on the other rude little jumpseat in the back of the minibus, their knees barely a couple of inches apart.
The heat is oppressive, even after sunset, and especially so as the little vehicle stands stationary with the winds dead at a traffic signal amidst the general annoyed impatience that is everywhere.
The heat, the mugginess, the little rivulets of sweat that soak everything in their path – they all add to the vehemence of her outpourings as she tries hard to get her point across. A futile battle, as he doesn’t deign to look up and simply smiles dismissively while scrolling up and down on his phone, with a textbook thumb-flick. The thumb-flick seems dismissive too, which in some annoying irrational way, adds to the feeling of being slighted.
She leans forward, ever more intense, and grips his arm, as she makes one last effort to make him understand.
He smiles still – unconcerned, remote – looking down at his phone. She withdraws the arm and looks away.
And somewhere in the dark, behind an anonymous pair of witnessing headlights, a heart convulses as a knife is thrust deeper into old wounds, yet unprocessed, not yet glazed over by memories.
So here’s the obligatory disclaimer : I’m not a stalker; no humans or human-like creatures were hurt while writing this; share autos don’t give an arguing couple much privacy.
Life’s odd. Or maybe I’m odd.
I generally plan my life and choices around odd goals and requirements, like only considering jobs that allow flexi-time, like only eating junk-food that satisfies fiber RDAs and contains no PUFAs and MUFAs and other MoFoUFAs, etc. Somewhere down that line I’d begun to think that it wouldn’t be too hard to find a job in Bangalore, in a reasonable location, that would allow me to commute on a bicycle.
Curious as it sounds, after running through 3 bicycles, 2 motorcycles and 3 cars (that’s such an embarrassing number (commitment phobia, anyone?), considering only one was really mine, as in my money, my name and my mugshot in the RC book, etc.), I thought I’d found some semblance of lasting stability in my last 6 months in the institute on my fourth cycle, immortalized elsewhere.
If nothing else, it proved the point that all it took was decent brakes to be able to commute on a cycle. If I might drop the facetiousness for a minute, and try and add some value to this post, then yes, it is reasonable to commute on a cycle. All you need to do is to ride in one of those plasticky nylon t-shirts and carry a separate (clean) shirt and a towel to work. Wear dark jeans so that embarrassing sweat stains and random liquids thrown up from the road (that normally end up highlighting undy-edges) are thwarted in their unholy attempts. And use trouser-clips if you’re finicky about grease stains on leggings (moot point if you followed foregoing advice and wore dark jeans anyway). Throw in a portable pump, a puncture-kit and a removable tail-light and you’re pretty much set, the whole jhing-bang weighing in at under 5 kg including a laptop. Oh, and a deo, DO NOT forget. Please.
But I digress.
Half the point of going through the PhD routine was to be able to be eccentric and not have to worry about raised eyebrows or hackles, in that order, I suppose. And then I end up in a conventional job, with Monday to Thursday dress-codes, and crazy moronic #@%@&^@* traffic over a 50km daily commute wherein I spend as much time peering into rear-view mirrors as I do looking ahead, so that I might atleast know what’s likely to hit me before it hits me. Not the most bicycle-friendly job, then.
And I’m kinda disappointed, in a very dull way. I mean if I’d chosen this job over another for more money or more power or something like that, I’d atleast feel like a sell-out, which is vaguely poetic/ literary, in my book. But no, I wake up everyday (late for work), curse, thank my stars that I have a job (the only one where they’d actually have me, with my concerns regarding bicycle-friendliness not quite on the same level as sales volumes, profit margins, project deadlines, etc.), spew more profanities at deadlines in general and alarm-clocks in particular, and haul rear-end and get to work (late).
And then its all I can do to get home from work, pounce on Youtube and get in a few sour-grape laughs.
Like so :
And so :
Sleep through the static,
For it has nothing to say to you.
And should that be your defense,
So shall it be its.
For in this confused jumble
Of thoughts that scratch and sigh,
Who’s to know where desire ends and sleep begins.
And so it goes,
Drawing patterns and meaning amidst the murmurs,
As the stoners and ancients did with the stars in the sky.
And fittingly so, that the stars and their shapes would control our lives,
For who’s to know where sense ends and the static truly begins.
But today that’s neither here nor there.
For the static will still be here,
Smothering thought and action with doubt and fear and recrimination.
And its all you can do,
To sleep through the static.
You, the static.
And a song from an identically titled album – “Go on,” by Jack Johnson from the album “Sleep through the static” :
I hate change. I abhor change. I sometimes think life would be so much better if I could just shoot forth in time, vault over most of life’s minor vicissitudes and be, say, 60 or so, like one of those grouchy old uncles who sit around the corner tables at India Coffee House or Koshy’s and glower at the world in general. Being young is so exhausting, it doesn’t really leave you with time for much else, like, say, glowering at people over coffee.
In any case, the point of that rambling preamble is that my take on Chennai (or rather, this little hamlet that I must call Chennai as some sort of a face-saving measure) two months after being here is going to be less than complimentary, given that I’ve been uprooted after 27 years in one city and thrown to shrivel and die in this little outpost town on the outer fringes of civilization.
Of course, people tell me I generally overthink things, so here’s my completely underthunk take on Chennai after almost two months here (see I didn’t agonize over creating my own word) :
Chennai, on a good day, still isn’t Bangalore.
And so it should be. For what good would a world of identical cities be? Quite like a book with each page identical to the last.
Gaahh!!! I hate trying to be positive. It makes me feel stupid. Almost like I can hear a malicious giggle from somewhere behind my ear, followed by a whisper, “You wish…”
So, to say that again, that’s as it should be, for otherwise, what price the average Bangalorean’s uncontested bragging rights?
Where is the average rural Tamilian going in such a hurry, in his blue checked lungi on his spindly little motorcycle? And why is he so loath to let his left hand stay on the handlebars?
Travelling in a local / suburban train is an eye-opener. Crammed into a boxful of people, every man’s sweat running down the next one’s arm, one idiot’s wild curly oily hair this close to your face; even as you keep thinking that even this will pass, you look around and you see people for whom this will not pass. For whom this was, is and always will be reality.
You float in, in a well-heeled little hermetic bubble, travelling in a local train partly for its novelty, partly out of deference to a streak of self-denial, but only until you can arrange your own transport. But the man sitting there in the corner, in the grubby shirt and saffron cotton bag printed all over in blue-green, that man there will be getting onto this or some other train tomorrow as well. And the day after that, and the day after, ad infinitum.
Hanging from one of the overhead handgrips, I look around. In my extreme discomfort (fast turning into a blind, mute rage) at having to wedge myself into such a tiny space in such close proximity to an unknown human being, its easy to paint my emotions onto the faces of others. I think I see defeat, I think I see dignity wiped out, but in reality its only the acceptance of an unchanging reality. Or something more fundamental than acceptance, coming from not having known any other life.
If there’s anger or sorrow or a sense of degradation of humanity, its only mine.
To be honest, I’m happy I’m different, that I’ve known different lives before this one, that I’m only a temporary visitor, or an infrequent one at best, to their lives. I look on, secure in the invisibility that my ordinariness grants me, and I look into their lives, follow their movements, follow their eyes, curiously and unemotionally, like one does only with those unlike oneself.
The lack of self-consciousness I see everywhere is remarkable, as these people around me pick up fragments of their lives and carry them unhindered onto the trains for the durations of their commutes as the train hurtles along, with them and their fragmented existences (and me and mine too). Bunches of ladies squat in circles on the floor near the door and continue gossiping as the children play around. The old man lies down and sleeps at the feet of the other passengers. One lady nurses her child as the man opposite picks his nose.
And in the midst of this unselfconscious behaviour, almost as a consequence, there shine through the true natures of the people. And the moment you see it, you wish you hadn’t. For the overriding emotion appears to be one of chauvinism. Families travel together, but it looks more like shepherd and sheep as a harried father grunts at his wife and yells at his children.
And this spirit of chauvinism, that passes off in these parts for tradition and culture, is handed down intact from father to idiot son, misogynistic overtones more apparent now than earlier. And so the cycle continues. And I can’t help but get the feeling that for most of these people and for most Indians in fact, marriage isn’t much more than signing on a captive housekeeper for life.
Remember the Friends episode in which Joey, Ross and Chandler build forts?
In the middle of relocating and settling, I’m reminded of this epsiode every time I bring back one little piece of my fort from each Bangalore trip : Motorcycle one weekend, Books on another, Camera and lenses on a third, and so on, till I have myself walled up in a new fort that’s almost identical to the one I had back home.
And now when you go home on holiday, your old fort is mostly in ruins with gaping holes in walls and empty turrets and things just seem different…