Monday, January 12, 2009

Wrath, Sloth and a Walk in the Park


Another of my cousins was sacrificed at the altar of engineering studies in India nearly four years ago. He feels now, at the end of his term, just as I did a year ago. That four whole years, the time of ripe youth, romance and vigour, have been poured into unnecessary, irrelevant work at books, ploughing through pages that are easily forgotten and uninteresting, preparing for a life that will bear no connection to all the slogging and will bring challenge of an entirely different nature.

We know we are making mistakes, and what baffles me is that instead of learning from them, we persist in repeating them. Bruise, burn, more bruising, more burning, no learning. We condemn society for having set standards and norms that do not in the least matter, for giving undue importance to educational degrees and what you’ve read rather than what you know, conveniently forgetting that we are that society, those ‘practical’ people who nod their heads in wise agreement to what society, the ’sane’ people, think.

And notwithstanding the ranting, I’m still sitting back in passive discontentment, doing nothing. Ugh! Courage. Where is it gone?


On a Sunday afternoon, when you’ve managed to drag yourself out of bed, made the customary telephone calls and think of indolence as the most beautiful-sounding word in the dictionary, would you really want to change out of comfortable home clothes (you know what I mean) and get out among the crowds? Particularly when the people with you are girls who intend to go shopping? Walk to the station, take a train, end up among people and vendors in Chinatown.
To be fair, I am writing this in a fit of grumpiness. Exploring is something I ought to do while I have the chance. This is the perfect opportunity; with the Chinese New Year just a couple of weeks ago, the whole of Chinatown is bustling and sparkling, as the driver who drove us to the Botanical Gardens yesterday told us.

A Walk in the Park:

Last evening, we headed out to the Chinese Garden, but having had some sense knocked into our heads by the cab driver who told us of its surprisingly early closing time, we turned to the Botanical Gardens instead. (That we were destined to spend the evening in the midst of nature is indisputable; I am so glad.)

Tall, grand trees, comfortably rooted in the earth, looked down in magnificent benevolence from amazing heights; flowers and buds appeared from nowhere among the green foliage. The weeds, unduly despised in manicured, doctored lawns, looked at home, and genuinely pretty. The sprawling park spread out so you couldn’t walk through all of it at once; there were nooks to be explored, steps that appeared suddenly where you expected none, little gurgling brooks that wended their way through stones and over pebbles. A lake- Swan Lake, to be precise- stands in the park, murky and green, tortoises and swans living in perfect harmony, unfazed by human attention. I must admit that I was rather disappointed by the state of the lake. The name sure had inspired in me visions of a serene, sparkling pool of clear water, the music of nature wafting gently through the breeze stirred up over its ripples, swans gliding gracefully through the water. There were swans (real and artificial), and fish, and other aquatic creatures, but it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. Oh well! Just one of those things to be ignored and forgotten in a place of several attractions. Statues exquisitely crafted popped out from among branches, darkly silhouetted in the fading evening light. The grass on the undulating slopes within the park looked very inviting; notwithstanding the red ants, it seemed like a perfect place to spend a sun-warmed winter morning at. Oh, for a book, some decent music and plenty of time! I would love to go exploring amidst the inviting thickets, so dark and mysterious, full of promise. You could just look at the trees for a long time and not get bored.

The bandstand rather interested me. It is the kind of structure you would have expected Liz Bennet to spend an evening reading in, primly gloved, bonneted and veiled. Now, it is being invaded by couples in love, families with kids running loose, young women who have no idea of how usefully to spend a Saturday evening. From music to noise and irrelevant human prattle- what degradation!

The park, again, reminded me of the Presence. The Thing that is at work in the universe and keeps it in motion, unknown to us, carefully guarding its secrets. I felt that intense peace that arises from cleansing your head of unwanted thoughts and exuberant emotions, of thoughts that besiege you despite your attempts at resistance and drive you to desperation. This feeling yesterday was exhilaration of a different kind- subtle, in control and measured. Fleeting. So that you would look forward to it again with a sense of awe and eagerness, never knowing when it would take hold of you.

It appears in the unlikeliest of places. You happen to be walking through the most commonplace area, where probably everybody wants to go, yet feel sublime and superior. Or atleast, like you are as good as the person next to you. That is the best thing about Nature. She tells you what you are. She tells you the truth, and not what you want to listen to. She is a good friend.

PS to Sloth: I did manage to go to Chinatown today, and I actually enjoyed the trip. I got a few delightful things at the bazaar there, all red and gold and New Year cheer. Explicit details later.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Pure Pessimism

It is human. Supposed to be.

Back home, thousands of young and not-so-young people are worrying over the future, torn apart by murky revelations. Hopes ripped apart with such cruel ease, students doomed for having worked hard and struggled through college to call themselves software engineers. This is just one revelation. Are there any more to come? So they say. The gossip-mongers, the ones that have nothing to do at night, that sit comfortably, stroking their paunches in the deep satisfaction that they let go of the opportunity that had once seemed so lucrative to make a sensible choice. That they didn't end up working for the company that is now in ruins. Feeling sorry, so they say, for their 'good' friends who are in trouble now. All uttered in one breath.

Need I have any faith in human nature? Yes, in its uniform capacity to gloat over other people's misfortune and to pride itself in its own wisdom and discretion, born though it might have been of some desperate accident.

Oh, pessimism! Not again.

PS: Remind me not to write after I have worked through five nights in a row.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Trials of a Different Sort

So I come back from yet another day of work, and it's high time I was asleep, but a demon deep inside me doesn't let me go to bed. Because I know, when I wake up, it'll be time to chop, iron, put the rice on, try and bring the hall to a reasonable state so you can say it is young women who live in this house and not three-year-old kids- gosh, I never knew I could sound so housewifely!

I've hardly been reading enough. What do you do when your eyelids are drooping on the train on the way to work, on the train on the way home from work (and after you've been up all night, trying to knock some sense into the heads of people with unreasonable demands, who seem to have made it the sole purpose of their lives to confound you when you're more sure than you ever were in your life- oh well, they atleast keep me from falling asleep at work!), and at home, you're walking through the rooms like a zombie, knowing not where you're going and what you're doing? Okay, I admit I exaggerate. And that I'm making excuses. For someone who really wants to read would do so at any cost. Where has my determination gone? Oh help! It's been stolen.

The worst part of the night shift is working on Friday nights. When the normal, sensible human being is putting his feet up on the sofa and laughing his head off at an outrageously silly movie, or getting ready for a night out with friends, or simply going to bed early with dreams of a pleasant weekend, some poor souls make their long and arduous way to office, to wrangle and wrestle with issues of a mysterious, other-worldly nature.

I wish we hadn't outgrown cowrie shells as currency. Or better still, given up the barter system. Civilisation, pooh! I wonder at these impossible amounts of money changing hands, churning around the globe, belonging to nobody in particular- what is the point, after all? It really doesn't make much sense to me. No money, no recession, no worries. How peaceful life would be!

And now, while the sane part of the world gets ready for lunch, I'm going to bed. Oh well, atleast half a world away, there are people who are in bed as well. Or in the flat across the street, where the lights are always on at night, and you can see the colours of the television, just like in ours. Sweet dreams, then!

PS: I write at the risk of sounding like a four-year-old who doesn't know what money means and how hard it is to come by, or how people kill and sin for it; but it is true, I never have understood why it should be of so much consequence in anybody's life.

Friday, January 02, 2009

A Human Longing

Memories can sometimes wreak havoc with sense and normalcy. They can send your thoughts spinning wildly, not caring in the least that they belong to you and are being needlessly cruel. Regret and pain rise to the surface with astonishing ease, and ebb away too, in similar fashion. It is hard to explain.

It is hard for me to consciously regulate memories. They are triggered off by the most unnoticeable elements, giving rise to an inexplicable gamut of emotions.

It is a familiar pain. The pain of the knowledge that childhood is past you. And the times associated with it. The summer vacations, the carefree freedom of days when you were not wholly responsible for your actions. When hurt could be soothed or talked away, for it wasn't accompanied by any clear consciousness of consequences; coherence was limited to what innocence defined, not blurred by the meanness of the grown-up world. To be an adult was considered, oh so foolishly, a luxury, and anticipated with the endearing impatience that can only be attributed to childhood. When birthdays had a significance and advancing in age was looked forward to, because it brought you a step closer to that most sought-after age of your favourite cousin whom you hero-worshipped (but who, sadly, grew older as well, and gradually drifted apart from you).

Nostalgia doesn't limit itself to childhood. It can extend to as recently as last year, last week, yesterday. I don't even know if it is nostalgia. I don't know if I want to go back to the past. I am happy now. Was I happier then? I cannot answer this question. I don't know how happiness is measured or compared. I don't know why memories should flood and overwhelm a supposedly satisfied soul, in which the cravings are but those born of natural ambition and dissatisfaction. The past presses heavily on the present, imposes boundaries on the future, mapping out a predictable course, fostering resistance.

The memories come easily. The slow rotation of the fan as it slices through the warm air, raising up a severely limited storm that is deceptively cold, Sufi music heard long ago and admired, raagas ingrained in the soul. Languages, voices, fragrances, faces. Triggers.

The longing will not die out. Not as long as we are human, in our adult sense of the word. I miss those days. Of childhood, last year, last week; yesterday. I cling with human wantonness to what I cannot have at the moment, and therefore more particularly miss. I miss my books, the Margazhi fortnight at home when whole days are spent waiting for the one-hour kutcheri on TV, and two hours tearing it apart with the meagre knowledge of an ordinary listener, discussing it with Paati and disagreeing with her. I hate to say this, but tonight, I think I am actually sentimental and homesick.

It'll pass. I'm human, after all, and possess that ephemeral attention span (an unfortunate product of worldly practicality) that'll carry me to other things in a little while, entirely against my will. Much as this self-inflicted pain brings immeasureable pleasure, it'll be replaced by pragmatic considerations and biological needs. Call me fickle, but it's true.

I am slipping away already.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Trials, Part One

If you put three girls together in the night shift in an office almost right inside a mall when year-end sales are on in Singapore, what happens?

They go to work on Monday, fresh and awake after the peace and quiet of Sunday, laden with shopping bags. People look askance at them, wondering if they have come to the right place. Open-mouthed, Mr. Goon-like expressions abound, men smirk at this supposedly girlish fetish for shopping (forget the fact that they splurged on clothes just a couple of months ago during another sale- men can do what they like), absurd questions are asked.

And the three girls? They just don't care.

This was the scene Monday night, when my flatmates and I went shopping for three hours before going to work. To be fair, our main aim was to shop for presents for others, and we dealt with that first, before we came to us. And when it came to us, there was quite a bit of focus on me, because the girls are trying to make me get some extremely feminine clothes. They don't like to see me in kurtas and tees, rather they're fed up of it. Now they want to get me into pastel-coloured clothes. It has become a joke with us, as we watch girls getting onto the train in clothes that I wonder how they even manage to squirm into. For the life of me, I wouldn't even be able to figure out how to put on some of the things they wear.

New Year's Eve, while the rest of the world (okay, I exaggerate- let us put it as most of, or much of, Singapore) was headed towards Sentosa, I was on a train going in the same direction. The glitter of frocks and the excited, before-hangover laughter and merriment were unmistakable. Not us, though. My friends and I were to spend the night at the office, of course. I have never been too fond of New Year celebrations, but that doesn't really matter; envy is easily aroused in susceptible human beings. Perhaps it was just as well that I was at work that night, for I was treated to a faraway display of mesmerising, psychedelic fireworks. Harbour Front is pretty decent for that sort of thing; it is connected to the largest mall in Singapore, Vivo City, and from the office window, I get some fantastic views of ships sailing into the harbour, of lights shining on heavy, rippling, green-grey waters at night, not a soul in sight, a perfect setting for an adventure (and to let your imagination go wild on a slow day).

Loser? I? Not really. I am glad I am not ensconced in a cubicle that doesn't afford me the briefest glimpse of nature. I haven't been to the beach since I got here, but I don't really regret it as long as the sea is right beside me. I do miss the hills, though. Deeply. There is nothing I can do, though, than just bear it. For I am blessed in other ways.