Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Looking Back

Today is 31st December. The year 2013 finally comes to an end. As I review the year, I realize that it has been a particularly interesting year for me. 2013 was packed with challenges and there were some moments where I felt I had completely hit rock-bottom. Of course, there were several good things also that came my way which, to some extent, neutralized the effects of some of the lows.

While each day is a learning experience, these are some of the important lessons I learned in 2013:

Lesson 1: Set Goals.
This year I realized that it is easy to feel lost when you don’t really know where you are headed. Making a list of things to achieve not only helps you develop skills or gather experience but it also helps you keep a more positive outlook towards your future. While I still advocate others to go with the flow and not to have plans set in stone, sometimes it is good to define one’s goals – it really helps one stay focused.

Lesson 2: Relax.
I love what I do! I feel I can be a complete workaholic simply because engaging in work gives me sheer pleasure. However, it is extremely important to take ample time out of your busy schedule to just chill! It is perfectly alright to take a day off work and just sit at home – you don’t need to do that only when you fall sick.

Lesson 3: Say ‘NO’.
I haven’t found it easy to refuse people. I used to give in to people’s demands even at times when I knew they were inconveniencing to me because I was scared of hurting them. This year, I learned that saying “no” isn’t such a big deal! People aren’t so delicate that they will be shattered because you refuse to do them a small favour. They’ll move on and you need not feel guilty about saying “no”.

Lesson 4: Enjoy Your Own Company.
In the past, I was known as a social butterfly. I always fluttered from one group to another, forever mingling with all kinds of people. This year I realized how important it is to appreciate your own company. Spending time by yourself helps you connect with your core – allow yourself the space for that communication.

Lesson 5: Be Non-Judgmental.
From the very first day of my counselling course, it was hammered in our heads that we need to be non-judgmental, empathetic and have unconditional positive regard for all our clients. This year I realized the value of extending this to every other person with whom I come in contact. Everyone is doing the best they can with the resources available to them – think a million times before passing a judgment about someone.

Lesson 6: Never Treat Others The Way You Don’t Want To Be Treated.
Karma really is one heartless bitch! Sooner or later, you are going to have to pay for your actions as what goes around comes around. Take your precautions and avoid causing pain to others. It is extremely painful when the same treatment is meted to you!

Lesson 7: Travel.
Visit new destinations. Learning about new places, people and culture only expands possibilities for your universe. You also learn to be tolerant and appreciate people from backgrounds that are completely different from your.

Lesson 8:  De-clutter Your Life.
Get rid of all the excess baggage. Clean your closet regularly to discard things you no longer use. Donate to the needy or throw them away if they are not in a condition to be distributed. The faster you get rid of things you don’t need, the sooner you will have room for things in life that you actually want. Similarly, get rid of people who are causing you pain and allow awesome people to fill their void. Drop all grudges and other negative emotions if you wish to feel the positive experience that is life.

Lesson 9: Ask For Help.
We don’t always have all the answers. It is alright to seek guidance from others when you find that you don’t know how to help yourself. Turn to your near and dear ones to assist you in your life’s journey – they will be happy to help because they know you’ll do the same for them! Also remember that no one can read minds. When you want to be helped, you need to ask for it.

Lesson 10: Cherish Your Friendships.
Even if you are extremely busy, take time off your schedule to make that call to your old friend in your home-town. Friends help you get through life by supporting you in your good and bad times. Value them and nurture the relationship. In moments when you feel that you are stumbling, you will need these friends to help you discover your inner strength.

Lesson 11: Don’t Hesitate In Taking A Few Steps Backwards.
Have you ever tried aiming at a target? In order to make the arrow strike the target, you first need to pull the string of the bow backwards. The further behind it goes, the greater is the distance travelled by the arrow. Similarly in life, sometimes in order to move forward, it is necessary to first take a few steps back. Do not get depressed if you feel you are hitting one setback after another instead of advancing towards your goal. Just believe in yourself and be patient. When the time is right, you will reach great heights.

Lesson 12: Prioritize.
While we may wish that we had all the time in the world, the sad truth is that we don’t! Build your life around things that matter to you because you don’t have a lot of time to do all the nothings that you want!

Lesson 13: Love Yourself.
This is probably the most important lesson that 2013 taught me. It is good to love and respect others but it is most important to love and value your own self. We all have faults and it is a common human tendency to feel insecure and fearful because of them. But do not be harsh on yourself. Remember that nothing is perfect and being human means to be fabulous despite your flaws. This year I realized that I need to stop being overly critical of myself. Life is beautiful and so are you. Forgive your flaws. Accept yourself the way you are. Love yourself. It is the first step you will take towards loving another being.

What did 2013 teach you?

Friday, 27 December 2013

The "Letting Go" Battle

Yesterday I met a friend of mine after almost two years. As we were catching up, she mentioned how she had just ended her four-year long relationship because she wanted more of his time and he was unable to give her that. I was amazed at how easy she made it seem. I was impressed because recently I have recognized how hard it is for me to just let go. I am not proud to admit that my life at the moment seems infested with people who don’t really treat me the way I deserve. There was a point of time when, for me, walking away was a piece of cake and I have no regrets over dumping some excruciatingly annoying people from my life. Lately, something has changed – sometimes I wish I could pinpoint exactly what is it that has brought about this transformation and re-wire myself to go back to my old ways. Why is it so hard to let go?

We've all been there. There comes that point of time when you realize that, for the sake of your own sanity, dignity or self-respect, you need to walk away. There are friends who lecture you and agree with you. They nag you about doing it because it is the right thing to do but no one really talks about how hard it actually is.

Arriving at the decision alone is a complex process – each time you find yourself weighing pros and cons of having or not having that person in your life. Once you have decided, it is a decision you have to stick to every single day. It’s as difficult a thing to do as it is to give up on chocolate! You may be able to ask your friends to stop gifting chocolates to you and dispose the stash you have stocked in your refrigerator but then there are unanticipated cravings. Cravings are easy to get rid of when you are craving a food-item but what do you do when you are craving the company of that particular someone you want to walk away from especially when that person intends to stay in your life?

The person in question sometimes comes up with effective justifications of how walking away from them is not a viable thing to do and there happens to be a moment when you believe these explanations because there is a part of you desperately trying to hold on while another part of you is doing its best to break away. One never knows which side will win the battle. You can remain strong and tell the person that it’s just not working out and you are not going to change your mind. You notice the hurt and puzzled expression on their face and try looking away. They leave you without saying a word. You are now left with guilt and then doubt enters the picture making you question whether you did the right thing or not.

Another strategy that some people, including myself, adopt is slowly distancing yourself away from that person so that by the time they realize you are gone from their lives it is too late. Some take refuge by putting in extra hours at work so that they can use that as an excuse for not being in touch. Others just take up a new hobby or start socializing with new sets of people. While you do this, you are still resisting the temptation of picking up your phone and calling that person. Sometimes you give in to your cravings and type them a message only to delete it before sending. You restrain from spying on their accounts on social networking sites and sometimes even avoid common friends. You are especially on your guard after over-indulging on the alcohol to avoid drunken messages or calls. When you don’t hear from them, you feel a sense of victory which gets falsified the very next moment that you realize they haven’t bothered to connect with you. Why do you always have to initiate? Why are you the one always taking the first step in every relationship? These questions cause you pain and you feel that your decision of deleting them from your life was indeed a wise one. And just then their name pops up on the screen of your phone. You can feel the lump in your throat and the knot in your stomach. Your validations were just about to get confirmed and they had to choose that very fated moment to remember you. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry. You are a little happy but angry at the same time. You blink back the tears that may have welled up in your eyes and try talking to them as normally as possible. Each second is a rigorous combat and you feel a huge sense of relief when the person finally hangs up.

The worst part about such an episode is that it does not happen just once – it’s a forever recurring phenomenon. You have to be forever prepared. At one point of time that person may realize you are being cold and distant and question you – you have to be brave throughout the interrogation. It isn't easy. You wish they would just read your mind, comprehend what you are going through, change their ways so that you could throw away this entire façade and return to your almost picture-perfect world; and if they are too incompetent to understand you, you wish that they just stay away.

Staying away after you have chosen to walk away is extremely challenging. You wish there was a manual that could tell you the exact length and sequence of these feelings but unfortunately you just have to allow time to take its course and keep hoping that eventually you will feel better. Sometimes I feel confrontations are better – at least they give you some form of closure. It is better than realizing one fine day that someone you cared for has randomly disappeared from your universe and you are totally clueless about what exactly happened. According to me, there never really is any good way of breaking up with someone you once cared about deeply. Even though having “the talk” may seem to be the adult thing to do, it doesn't always go as one has planned in the head.

The final confrontation may happen days, weeks or even months after you decided to finally end things and the entire fiasco is saddening, frustrating and infuriating. From time to time you will realize how difficult it is to say “no” because somewhere you still want to say “yes”. You will find it difficult to just ignore text messages. It’s very difficult to keep your promise of trying to stop when you aren't sure you do. It’s as difficult as recovering from addiction.

I always thought walking away was easy. When I wanted to walk away from someone, I thought I would just call it off and walk away with my head held high feeling great that I finally ended something that was causing me to suffer. Now I see it for what it really is – an ongoing relentless ordeal of consciously saying “no” even if you feel otherwise until you have officially moved on, all the while hoping in your heart of hearts that by some grace of the Divine, things miraculously change and you have to put an end to all this. Of course it is easy sometimes especially when you don’t care anymore or didn't care at all to begin with but those times are rare.

People aren't black or white and in the battle of letting go, you are constantly fighting in the gray area, forever negotiating your stance. Sometimes you do lose a part of yourself and I have come to realize that it’s alright because the new ‘you’ that emerges is a better version. The doubt may never leave you – in between the instances of feeling good, there may sometimes be a sense of regret. One can never be 100% sure if they are making the right decision by letting go. You will question that decision almost every minute. However, there is a part of you that has realized that life must go on and it is time to move away. The question really is – are you ready to take the plunge?

Monday, 23 December 2013

A Christmas Miracle

She stared at the world outside her window squinting her eyes to help her see through the fog. The streets were empty and the trees were barren. No one was in sight. Everyone seemed to have retired indoors to escape the icy chill of winter. Usually, she despised the cold.  Some winters, all she longed to do was slip into hibernation, snuggled under the comforts of her warm blanket. She always battled the cold by wrapping herself in multiple layers of clothing and sipping incessant cups of hot chocolate.

This time, it was different. She found herself opening the windows and inviting the cold inside the chambers of her home. Somehow, the dreary weather outside seemed to be aptly reflecting her gloomy mood. She had been living all by herself for many years. Yet this was the first time she felt completely alone. She stared at the decorated Christmas tree decked up in blue lights – it was a pretty sight but she wished she had someone else beside her to admire the view. There was a feeling of emptiness seated deep within her heart and she wished she knew how to fill up that void.

The sun had set and outside her window was that unimaginable and deserted vastness of night coming in. She put on her coat and stepped out of the house to take a walk, hoping she would be able to get rid of the loneliness monster that seemed to be hot on her trail.. She walked alone without the company of another person or any of the modern gadgets like her iPod or phone. She was armed with absolutely nothing to distract her from her thoughts.

As she trudged along, she became increasingly aware of her hatred for the cold. She hated the feel of the cold wind gushing up her skin. Her nose was vulnerably frozen and she could feel the hair standing up at the back of her neck. As she looked around, she realized, once again, that she was the only one present. No one else was in sight. Suddenly, hot tears started rolling down her cheeks. She could not believe herself. What was she crying for? A lost love or a love never lost? Or a love that never happened? She had no idea but she did not stop the tears from coming down. She was tired of fighting and she just let them flow. Suddenly, she felt engulfed by a huge sense of relief. Perhaps she wasn't as frigid as the world perceived her to be. Maybe, there was still hope for her. She found herself bursting with laughter at that thought and she let out a hearty chuckle.

It was still misty everywhere. Her vision was still blurred, on account of her tears and the fog, but somehow she had a clearer picture than before of the way things were. Winter was not as heartless as people described it to be – on a cold, wintry evening, she had finally found a part of herself that she thought was long lost. It was the best gift that she could have asked for! In the darkness, despite chances being bleak, she had managed to stumble upon her light. It was a Christmas miracle and it had come true!  

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Speak Up Against The Section 377 Verdict!

Every day, the sun rises in the sky and fulfills its promise of bringing to me a beautiful, new day. Today morning, I was particularly excited. It was 11.12.13 – an iconic date even more special because today was the day when the Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was coming out. Like many, I was hopeful that the verdict would validate the landmark Delhi High Court judgment of 2009 and the LGBT community would finally heave a sigh of relief amidst a lot of celebrations. What a fool I was!

I checked my Twitter account – a lot of tweets had already started to trickle and with each tweet that I read, my heart just sank deeper and deeper. The verdict was completely contrary to what I had hoped for. I was disappointed. I was angry. I couldn't believe that the Supreme Court had just stripped 2.5 million people off their basic rights to freedom and equality. They may be a minority in a country that boasts of having a population exceeding one billion but 2.5 million is not really a small number. Re-criminalizing homosexuality has just set the gay movement in India behind by several decades. It just didn't seem fair to me!

Thankfully, a lot of people echoed my sentiments. I was relieved to know that I was not the only one who was so outraged. What angered me immensely was some of the arguments that had been raised. I refuse to believe that decriminalizing homosexuality will increase cases of HIV and cancer. I also do not accept the argument that homosexuality is unnatural. It is definitely not a disease and for all those who think it is, they should read the latest manuals of the WHO or the APA.

One person asked me why I care so much about gay rights. I would like to point out that it is not a question of my sexual orientation. The question is about equality. What two consenting adults choose to do in the private space of their bedrooms should be nobody’s business. It is called “private” for a reason. It angers me to think that homosexuals are considered, according to the verdict, even bigger offenders than rapists – after all if you rape someone, you get sentenced to jail for seven years but if you are a homosexual, you can be imprisoned for life. Where is justice in this country? Why is someone being denied rights on the basis of their sexual orientation? By re-criminalizing homosexuality we are denying an entire community their identity.

If the Supreme Court believes that social acceptance is more important than legal acceptance, I would like to know what their take is on discrimination against rape-victims inflicted by society. The court may punish the offender but society still antagonizes the victim on several levels. Why are religious sentiments suddenly so important in a secular nation? Once upon a time, religion advocated evils like caste, sati and raised movements against education – why are we listening to these leaders? Choosing to see homosexuality as unnatural and a criminal offence will only encourage homosexuals to live a life of deceit as they will be too scared to come out of the closet. 

Section 377 was instituted by the British but, with changing times, Britain has not only legalized homosexuality but also gay marriages. Why are we, then, moving back in time? Besides, if one reads Section 377 closely, according to that, even oral sex between a man and a woman is illegal. Since when does the Parliament regulate acts in the bedroom?

We all have the right to love and live a life of dignity. Do not deny these basic human rights to the LGBT community. The verdict is definitely a major setback but the fight must still continue. I appeal to all those people reading this to speak up for the LGBT community and show your support. It does not matter if you are gay or straight. The more the number of voices that speak out, the more will be the pressure on the Parliament to take up this issue. Hopefully, justice will not be denied even though it has definitely been delayed. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Expecto Patronum!

There are times when the world we inhabit seems to be quite a scary place. We are, sometimes, presented with a continuous streak of horrible days that just seem to get from bad to worse. There are some days where we can’t find even one reason to smile. It becomes worse when we turn to some people with the hope of getting cheered up and, instead, end up getting our spirits dashed down and completely crumpled. As a fan of the Harry Potter series, I use the term “dementor” to explain the existence of such people.

For people not familiar with the series, according to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, “Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk the earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them…Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy feeling will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”  

Have you encountered such people in your life? There are some people who shove us towards the shores of our own fears and limiting beliefs far away from the uncharted territories of our true, inner self. We strive enormously to live up to their expectations but no matter how hard we try, we never seem to be good enough. It is in those moments of anguish that we start questioning ourselves. Such people create an atmosphere in which nothing good can thrive and you seriously start believing that life is over.  The horrifying part is that such people are not rare in number – there are so many of them that it is difficult to completely wipe them out.

There are times when I believe that I am the most bizarre and the most flawed person alive. It usually happens when I turn to these dementors in order to get a reality-check. Instead of showing me the mirror, these dementors validate my negative beliefs by accentuating my faults. At the end of every meeting with such creatures, I am left feeling completely empty, depleted off all my energies. I cannot seem to reason with them because they only hear things they want to hear.

What do you do with these dementors who just feed off your happiness? Luckily, the world is not inhabited by such creatures alone. In the course of our life-time, we come across some people who always bring out the best in us. They put their arms around us and love us even when we aren't really very lovable. They accept us totally and love us unconditionally to such an extent that we feel all our shortcomings have been washed away into obliviousness, thanks to their care, support and concern. These people stand by our side, conjuring up the very effective Patronus charm to protect us from the vile dementors.

I apologize once again for the reference to the Harry Potter series - the Patronus charm conjures a magical guardian that is a projection of all of one’s most positive feelings. Usually, the guardian that is produced by this charm takes the shape of an animal with which it shares the deepest affinity. According to the books, it is extremely difficult to master this spell and when I reflect on this, I can understand why. It is very difficult to show a ray of light to someone who is immersed in a world of darkness. The light at the other end of the tunnel starts petrifying them – they were once a part of it until everything was shattered. They know what it feels like to lose everything that caused them bliss and are now at peace with their pain. They fear travelling down that road again.

It is extremely difficult to love a self-loathing person. It is even more difficult to accept people who have rejected themselves. I am fortunate to have a few people in my life who have never given up on me even when I showed no signs of getting better. I am sure all of us have such wonderful people in our space – we just forget to count our blessings and we often fail to give these people the credit they deserve.

You may have only a handful of them in your life but you know they will not hesitate in pulling out their magical wands to conjure up the Patronus charm to protect you when you are in need. With such people in your life, the dementors can never dream of occupying even a tiny corner.
Life is beautiful and it has its fair share of ups and downs. You will always encounter people who will try to bring you down but you will also have those keeping a lookout for you ensuring that no matter how rough things get, you don’t break. We are all human beings and, unlike machines, it isn't that easy to fix us when we are broken. But with a little help from such stunning people, we all get by. Today, make it a point to thank those people for trusting you when you had no one by your side and let them know that you would do the same for them. Let’s make our lives and the lives of our near and dear ones dementor-free!

P.S. If I had an actual Patronus, it would be a silver unicorn with purple hair neatly set in place with pink tic-tac clips. What would your Patronus look like? 

Thursday, 28 November 2013


We all talk about living life to the fullest and enjoying each and every moment that life has to offer. But what do you make of days that just pass by as if they are already dead by the time you begin to experience them? What do you make of those experiences? Do they just disappear from your universe simply because you did not take the trouble of registering them?

None of us succeed in remembering each and every detail of the things that happen to us. If something is forgotten, does that mean it has ceased to exist? What happens to people who suffer from Alzheimer’s and cannot remember what happened just a while ago? I find it very difficult to put myself in their shoes. If I woke up one day and did not know who I was, I cannot even fathom how I would feel. Would it mean that my life-time has just gone by silently, crawling away from my memory and leaving nothing but traces of anxiety buried within me? If that happened, would my life-time be measured simply on account of the anxiety that I will, then, harbour?

These days, I find myself becoming a rather passive observer. I don’t really desire life but I definitely have no wish for death. It upsets me that I have no other option – in a world where one is always spoilt for choice, having just two alternatives does not feel good. There are many things that I still wish to do but none accommodated by either one of those choices.

People sometimes feel I over-think. These days, I feel I just cannot think anymore – if I do, my head will explode! I feel my thoughts are held at gun-point to live and breathe as if they wish to survive. Sometimes I feel as if my thoughts have disowned me and I am left with no memory. I only have everything that has been forgotten and each day, I am struggling to live this forgotten life that seems to be whispering to me in an undead manner through words that keep running away from me the moment I choose to speak them out.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Silent Screams

She was a believer. No matter how bleak things appeared to be, she never lost hope; and in the end, everything did become alright again. So, there really was no need of her to question faith. Yet, these days, there were too many questions arising in her mind. Some of the questions seemed ridiculous; others she felt were valid. Each question that was raised weighed her down – she did not have answers to these questions and that made her uneasy. She felt stuck in a rut, unable to move. The unpleasant feeling tied her down as if her entire body was bound by heavy, sturdy, iron chains.

Why was it so difficult? If she had managed to arrive at the question, why was the answer so far away? Each day, she grew increasingly restless. Was this just a phase? Would it ever pass? Why was nothing happening? When would it end? Was she just wasting her time or was there a possibility of something good coming out of all this? She desperately needed answers.

She had smoothly flowed along the course of life. She had graciously accepted everything that life brought her way overlooking all flaws and seeing only what was good. She used to proudly proclaim that her life was perfect despite the presence of some imperfections. Where had she gone wrong? Was it not right on her part to ignore faults and just appreciate people for their goodness? She had never seen it as a conscious effort. It was something that came naturally to her. Why was it suddenly such a difficult task? She was known to be a motor-mouth. There were days when people wondered if she ever paused to even take a breath. But, all of a sudden, why was she tongue-tied? Where had her voice disappeared? She felt like a stranger among familiar faces. Her mind was like a volcano almost at the brink of bursting with a lava of questions but it just could not find an outlet to erupt. Every day, she was screaming in rooms filled with people who were seemingly deaf for no one took any notice.

She started questioning everything. Doubts emerged. She became frustrated. A few noticed that things were not as they usually were as far as she was concerned – they asked her what was wrong. Finally! Finally, people were starting to notice the change! She was delighted! She was ecstatic! She had a wide smile on her face – the time had now come for her to open her mouth. But alas! No sound came. She had become so accustomed to not being heard that she had ended up losing her ability of speech. She stared sadly at the inquisitive faces and just shrugged her shoulders. “It’s nothing,” she said in a dismissive tone, “I’m alright.” The people believed her. No one saw the fast pace with which she pranced, rapidly blinking away the tears that were now brimming in her eyes. Even if they did, they did not give it a second thought. Time is precious – why waste it fretting over an individual who doesn't cry for attention? The world is kind to just attention-seekers.

She gave up and resigned to her fate. She decided to stop speaking altogether – if she never asked questions, the disappointment of not receiving an answer would not haunt her. She was a victim and her silence played the part of rescuing the very world that had victimized her. In some way, the silence was also protecting her – shielding her from possible answers that she may receive but not like. She was being held hostage by her rickety belief-systems and was restricted from taking any action. Was there someone out there who could still hear and rescue her from this mess? She needed help even though she did not know how to ask for it. Was there anyone who could feel her pain and lend a hand?

Someone heard her. Not all was lost. One day, along came her friend, Death, to take her; and she gladly went with Him – after all, Life had betrayed her by not showing her the silver lining and leaving her alone. In the midst of her darkest hours of despair, she gladly embraced the company of Death and went with Him away from all her miseries, finally at peace. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

"Snap" Out!

Today, I ended up taking an unexpected trip, completely out of the blue, down memory-lane courtesy a bunch of photographs that captured various different moments of my life. The entire journey from one picture to the next was nothing short of a roller-coaster ride. With each picture that I viewed, I was either re-living a memory or I was trying my best to construct one. 

It’s perfectly acceptable to have no idea what was going on at that particular fated moment which my parents chose to capture the six-year old me. It’s also fine to wonder why the album contains a picture of my four-year old brother crying his lungs out. In my head, I was fabricating all kinds of fantastic stories – sometimes, it’s a good thing to not remember. It opens you up to infinite possibilities.

Then, there were more recent pictures of college-life. I was amazed at the amount of pictures I had of my college-days. To be fair, it isn’t really surprising – I went to college at a time when uploading pictures of your random day-to-day life was a popular Facebook trend and I was no exception to that rule. As a child, I remember having camera-rolls that would last almost a year (and sometimes even longer) capturing only significant events of your life. Today, a casual dinner with friends amounts to over fifty photographs!

Sometimes, I wonder if we are over-indulging on the exhibitionism. Do we really need to preserve every moment on film? I have great photographs of me at birthdays and parties with people I hardly know – I look pretty but there are no precious memories associated with any of these pictures. I find nothing to reminisce about when I glance through them. We all seemed to be too engrossed in capturing moments than making them. Today, we have thousands of pictures from our everyday life. How many do we actually treasure?
Some photographs also have the ugly quality of reminding you of all the bad decisions you have made. It can be amusing – for example, a picture of you with a really weird haircut because, at that point of time, you felt it looked really ‘cool’. At other times, it can be heart-wrenching especially when you stare at pictures of yourself with a person who has wronged you – yes, they seemed to be right at that point of time and yes, you have learnt your lesson but the photograph serves as an unpleasant reminder of the fool you had been. Destroying the evidence is no easy task – even if you delete the picture from your computer or tear the physical snap to shreds, one of your classmates is bound to have the proof of your ill choice on their Facebook page! It’s best to just ignore those memories and move on. At least, I did that! Meaning is a truly mysterious quality that arises at the juncture of the virtual world and the real world; don't you think?

What struck me as odd was the fact that I hardly have any pictures with some of my closest friends. Till date, I don’t own a single photograph of me and my best friends from school. My best friend and I would have less than five snaps together in a span of an eight-year long friendship. That’s less than one picture a year and a few of them out of this meagre lot are not even half-decent shots! The funny thing is – it doesn’t matter. I still cherish each and every moment I have spent with these special people even though I have no means of showcasing them to the world. I don’t see the point of flaunting them – they are dear to me; the world’s stamp of validation is not required.

Staring at the photographs brought me in touch with different versions of me. I got in touch with the younger me, the prettier me, the spunkier me – aspects of mine which I feel are slowly vanishing. However, that is life. I am sure as I move ahead; I will get in touch with these old parts and reconnect with them. It is equally possible that as I trudge forward, these parts will continue to bounce away and disconnect with me forever. Either ways, it is alright. Even if I am losing older versions of me, newer versions are getting created every moment. Whether I choose to capture them or not, all these versions will blend together in the end. Life is beautiful and more so, if you can freeze-frame at the right moments!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Reality Check

Some weeks ago, I was bonding with a colleague of mine at Leopold Café. Our initial conversations steered around the topic of family, travel, career-goals but a couple of drinks down, we were talking about more intimate stuff like crushes, relationships, our fears, and insecurities…Suddenly my colleague turned to me and whispered, “Don’t look immediately but that guy has been checking you out for the past fifteen minutes! See eight o’ clock!”
I secretly glanced in that direction and chuckled, “He’s probably looking at you! No one that cute would be checking me out of all people…Look at me! I look horrible!”
My colleague just rolled her eyes and replied, “Well, you forget that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder and if you think you look horrible, then, you probably cannot see what I can!”
We changed the subject but later that night, I wondered about what my colleague had said…

We all judge others – that is an established fact! We look at a person and immediately draw conclusions based on our first impressions. The judgments may change over a period of time but we are never people who do not judge. We can’t even stop judging ourselves; how in the world are we to stop judging others!
“I am so fat and ugly that I will never find true love”, “No matter how good my intentions are, I always goof things up”, “I am a pathetic loser”, “I will never get anywhere in life” – do these statements sound familiar? With all this negative self-talk happening inside our heads, it is no wonder that we feel nothing is perfect. We are all so driven by our need to be perfect that we fail to see the reality of people with their little flaws. It is these flaws that make them even more beautiful. It is so difficult to accept and embrace our own imperfections – I know that sometimes I find it extremely hard to see myself beyond my shortcomings. I am sure it is the same with everyone else.

In psychology, we learn about narcissistic personality disorder, a condition named after a mythological Greek youth, Narcissus, who was so infatuated by his own image that he drowned in it. These days, I feel everyone, including me, is doing the same thing. We are such harsh critics of ourselves that we are just not ready to make room for anything that can help us feel better. How many of us have difficulty accepting compliments? A few days ago, I told my friend that her dress looked fabulous! She gave me an unsure look and asked, “Are you sure I don’t look fat in this?” I laughed. How difficult is it for us to just give a polite smile and say ‘thank you’ when someone pays us a compliment? I know it isn't very easy for me. I find it easy to accept compliments like “You’re so considerate” or “You are a good friend to have” but I just don’t believe it when people compliment me for qualities like intelligence and beauty. When my friends call me smart or pretty, I really wonder what aspect of mine they are mirroring back to me and helping me to reveal to myself. Are they just being nice or do they genuinely mean it?
A lot of my clients and my friends gape at the effortless way in which I can offer them a fresh perspective of looking at things. The funny thing is that when I am in trouble, these same friends help me see the other side to my problem. Why is it that we can see others so perfectly but when it comes to ourselves, no matter how hard we look, we are never able to see ourselves clearly?

It is easy to say what another person is like but do you really know the actual ‘you’? Once upon a time, I believed that no one knows me better than I know myself. Recently, however, I was asked to make a list of “100 Reasons Why I Love Me” – the list had to contain hundred items of things that I was good at or things that I liked about myself and, to my surprise,  I could not go beyond #23. Reaching #23 was also quite a bit of a struggle! In the end I wasn't even sure if I actually believed in some of the things I had written down. Was I just writing some things down to reach the goal that had been set? Were there only twenty-three things (or probably less) that I was good at or that I liked about myself? Surely, I am better than this; or, perhaps, not? Being unable to complete that list was quite a bit of a shocker for me and I do not believe that the reason behind reaching such a short number has anything to do with modesty!
I asked another friend of mine to work on the same list. She too struggled. When I glanced at her list, however, I could easily rattle off fifteen-sixteen things that I felt she should add to her list which she was not so sure about. Similarly, she told me a couple of things to add to my list which I was not sure held true to me.

I wonder why we have one set of standards for judging ourselves and a completely different set for judging others. In fact, why do we judge? If everyone is a constant work-in-progress since perfection is a benchmark that can never be reached, why can’t we get real? Real people are not flawless. Real people fail. But they also get up and keep going. Real people are constantly wrestling and negotiating with their own shadows, fighting the good fight to keep from spilling their perceived darkness on those around them.

I wish to complete that list soon – hopefully, with a little help from friends (if they are reading this *wink*). I feel it is time for me to get real and get in touch with my core which is beautiful. Are you ready to meet the real ‘you’?

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Before Sunrise | Before Sunset | Before Midnight |

Spoiler Alert: This post is about my thoughts on the movies, “Before Sunrise”, “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” and it is, unfortunately, not free of spoilers.

Eighteen years ago, on a train-ride starting from Budapest, two people from very different worlds – Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (played by Julie Delpy) – met one another. Even though the movie, Before Sunrise, was released in 1995, I saw this movie, years later, and I was completely floored! I raved about it to everyone I knew, even stating that it is “one of the best films ever made!” Knowing that I have low tolerance for uniform superlatives like “the greatest this” or “the worst that”, some of my friends were rather intrigued. They asked me to tell them more about the film in terms of the plot. Usually this is an easy question to answer; however, how do you get someone hooked to a movie simply by telling them it is a film essentially about two people just walking around and talking to one another? Yes, Before Sunrise is a movie about two people talking but I don’t really mind that because the conversations are stimulating, thought-provoking, engaging and allow you to know more about the protagonists in terms of how they see themselves, each other and the world.
For many cynics, a chance train-ride leading two strangers to form an instant connection powerful enough to motivate them to disembark in Vienna and spend time with each other until the next morning may seem to be too magical a fantasy to actually come true in real life. Yet this is exactly what happens in Before Sunrise and the powerful performances of the cast and the ease with which they converse with one another makes it absolutely believable. The characters are regular people – Jesse is an American with a Eurail pass on his way to Vienna to catch a flight back home. Celine is a French student on her way back to Paris. Their conversations are exactly the sort you would have with anybody any day –childhood, parents, former relationships, music and arbitrary philosophical stuff. The sexual attraction is obvious but it is handled with great care and patience. I like the way that their short stay in Vienna is not presented as a travelogue but as a series of meetings with amateur actors, fortune-tellers and street-poets. The tourist-sites are not emphasized; instead, they are seen inside a music-store, spending time in a church, going to a grave-yard, and drinking wine in a random park. The movie ends with them at the railway station the next morning making a pact to meet six months later at the same place without exchanging any contact information.

Before Sunset released in 2004. Fortunately, I had watched the first film in 2008 and I did not have to wait nine years for the next release – I saw it immediately.
Before Sunset is set in real time i.e. nine years after the two characters had first met. Jesse is in Paris on a book-tour – his novel, This Time, which he wrote, inspired by his time with Celine, is an American bestseller. Celine happens to be in the same book-store. In the beginning, itself, they broach the subject on why they did not meet after six months – it turns out that Jesse had come but the sudden demise of Celine’s grandmother made it impossible for her to make it. Since they had no contact information, there was no way of getting in touch. Jesse has a flight to catch the same evening and so they utilize the rest of the afternoon catching up with one another. While they continue to talk about environmental concerns, violence in third-world countries and religion, through their conversations, we also learn what has happened in their lives since their first meeting. Both are in their early-thirties and are dissatisfied with life in varying degrees. Jesse is married and has a son but he does not really love his wife. Celine is dissatisfied because her current boyfriend, a photojournalist, is not around as often as she would like him to be. The connection that they had with each other still holds and as the movie progresses, you can see the fumes of passion getting rekindled with whiffs of tension; especially when Jesse reveals that he wrote the book with the hope that he would find her someday and Celine replies that reading the book brought back painful memories for her. The movie ends with both of them arriving at Celine’s apartment and Celine playfully telling Jesse, “Baby, you are gonna miss that plane!” and Jesse smiles nervously, fidgeting with his wedding-ring, and replies, “Yes”.

If Before Sunrise painted before you a simple picture of ideal romance between two dreamy youngsters who meet, fall in love, and are very hopeful and enthusiastic about the future, Before Sunset, to some extent, is heart-breaking as you re-visit these characters who are now more grownup and somewhat jaded by their life-experiences. It brings you closer to reality and the picture that the first movie painted does not appear so beautiful anymore.
Being a fan of happy endings, I was somewhat disappointed when I learned, in the beginning of the movie, that Jesse and Celine never met after six months. However, I hoped that the second movie would show them having a happy ending. The abrupt end of the second movie seemed unfair to me! I hated the fact that it just left me hanging! I wanted to know whether they actually ended up being together “happily ever after” or were there going to be more twists to this romantic saga.

The wait ended when Before Midnight released this year. I was extremely upset when I found that this movie was not releasing in India. However, I watched it yesterday. Jesse and Celine are now middle-aged. They have two beautiful daughters who are twins. The movie begins with Jesse bidding farewell to his son from his previous marriage and is unhappy to see him go. The air of tension is evident throughout the film and you can see the cracks beginning to surface in the relationship between Jesse and Celine. The film exquisitely depicts a day in the life of the couple and you can see how the years of togetherness has brought into their lives a fair share of conflicts along with love. The couple is not just quarrelling over every day things like, for example, the fact that he does not shave; but it is quite apparent that the couple has genuine issues lurking beneath the surface of their fairylike relationship. As the story progresses, one can see that Jesse’s humour is a mask to hide the serious problems in their marriage while Celine’s assertiveness and strong-headedness are triggers for unpleasant confrontations. They still talk a lot, argue even more, sometimes are exasperated with each other  – in other words, they are everything a real couple is in today’s times; and like regular couples, they too sometimes fail to re-create the magic of their past romance despite good intentions. In every relationship, once the newness wears away, one is exposed to a lot of sides of the partner which one may not necessarily like. While acceptance is the key, a lot of us try changing some things about our partner and do whatever we can to make things work for us in the best way possible. Jesse and Celine are no different. They are still fond of each other but the spark that was so apparent in their years of courtship is dwindling with intrusions of reality in their relationship in the form of ambition, parenthood and work. One thing that really struck me while watching the third movie is how convenient the internet has made things – at a lunch-table, a young couple tells Jesse and Celine how they maintain a long-distance relationship through Skype. The subtext, here, questions whether a situation like Jesse and Celine’s would be possible today in an era where communication technology is so pervasive.

The three films, when seen together, beautifully depict how our shared connections just seem to bounce back and forth with the passage of time – it is a rare, beautiful yet real experience. In the first film, the couple largely talks of the future; in the second, they are focusing on the present; and in the final movie, Jesse and Celine are seen reflecting on the past and how their lives have turned out to be since their first meeting. You can actually see how a couple progresses in a relationship and how one advances and alters from one stage in life to the next. Before Sunrise is about the idealism of romance, Before Sunset grounds Jesse and Celine’s love as a decision they both have to make while Before Midnight is about the consequence of these choices. All the three films depict the protagonists trying to control the flow of life, attempting to find the meaning of their existence and struggling to keep their anxieties at bay through their words and actions. The most interesting feature of the Before trilogy is its focus on real-time – the gaps between when the films are released (1995, 2004 and 2013) are reflected in the characters’ ages in the movie. A part of me hopes that another sequel releases in 2022 – after all Jesse and Celine’s love-story only seems to grow better with age - but only time will tell if my prayers are answered! 

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

The Dustbin

Her cubicle was always in a state of perpetual mess. No matter what time of the day, week, month or year, heaps of paper-work and files always remained untidily stacked on her desk. It wasn’t that she was not a fast worker; in fact, she worked more efficiently than most of her colleagues. She just happened to take on more work than necessary in an attempt to dislodge the burden from others’ shoulders. She was everyone’s favourite in the office. Even those who were not from her department had a good opinion of her. After all, no matter how drained she was, she always had a warm smile to spare for those who looked her way.  Even when things became chaotic, especially during crunch-times, she continued to remain the perfect picture of calm. It did not matter how deep the mess was! She always managed to step in and clear it in a manner that was so flawless that one could not even believe that there had been a muddle in the first place.

Things were no different in the personal front. Her friends always turned to her for comfort in times of distress. No matter how messed up things appeared to be, she always managed to clear the clutter. Everyone came to her with their problems and she always lent a patient ear to their worries. She was the first person on everyone’s list of “Emergency Contact” – they knew she could be counted on in the case of any kind of urgency.

She was always surrounded by friends, family-members and well-wishers. Despite that, she always felt alone. No matter how hard she tried, she could never pinpoint the reason why.

He was a silent worker who was way too engrossed in his own world. He had no time for others. He came to office, did only what he was required to do, and then left as soon as his work was done. He did not like wasting time socializing with others nor did he like to offer a helping hand. He kept to himself because no one really bothered talking to him or involving him in conversations beyond the necessary.

When he was taking breaks between works, he often used to observe the people around him. She was always an object of fancy. Her actions always amazed him! As an outsider, he could see what was happening to her. He saw the smile on her face that did not completely reach her eyes. He knew she had a lot to say. Her eyes expressed it all but what was the point? No one listens to you unless you resolve to make your voice heard. In all these years, she had become so accustomed to listening to others that she no longer knew what it was like to be heard for a change. He noticed those moments when she opened her mouth, perhaps, to say something, but shut it again because no words came out. No one encouraged her to speak. Why would they? The purpose of a dustbin is to clear the trash around. It does its job extremely well and makes the surrounding area neat and clean. However, when the dustbin wants to talk, no one wants to go near it. Who wants to go near the foul-stinking rubbish? No one! 
She was everyone’s dustbin. They went to her for disposing their garbage. She fulfilled no other purpose in their life.

He could see her restlessness. He noticed her jumpiness. She was slowly turning out to be less good-tempered than she used to be. He smiled as he noticed that change – there comes a point of time when even the best of people snap. Perhaps, her time was nearing.

He wondered if he could do something to assist her. She, after all, seemed to be in no position to help herself. No one likes emptying a litter-bin but it is a job that someone just has to do.  He just wasn't sure if he was ready to get his hands dirty and clear the waste…

Friday, 4 October 2013

To Mumbai, With Love

I return again to this space after an unexpectedly long hiatus. The good news is that the break wasn't the result of a writer's block. Rather, it was my busy schedule that prevented me from finding time to gather my thoughts and penning them down. 

I have written about Mumbai so many times before. There are times when I wonder what more is there to say about this city that hasn't already been said before. It has been more than three years since I have lived here; and finally it is no more just a city of dreams or a city of unending ambitions for me.
When I first came to the city, I was one among the many aspirants who come to this place with starry-eyed dreams and believe this is the Mecca of making those dreams come true.

It has been three years and I am not sure where those dreams disappeared. In hind sight, I don't think I can even remember what those dreams were. It all seems like hogwash to me - a thing of a past that is so distant that no matter how hard I try to recollect, the only faint remnants of its existence is experienced in my heart in the form of piercing feelings.
Yet I seem to be in love with this city. It is difficult for me to pinpoint the reason. Do I love the city because it gives me my independence? Or is it the unstoppable life of the city that I am attracted to?
The people, here, are fascinating. They always seem to have new stories to tell; and some of the old ones are always eager to fill you in with tales of bygone days. But then people are interesting almost anywhere you go if you take the time to catch a glimpse of their world.

It is not the busy life of the city that attracts me. Living in Kolkata for almost seventeen years of my life has ensured that I prefer the slow life compared to the madness one sees while travelling in the Mumbai locals especially during rush-hours; and while Mumbai does have a charm of its own, nothing beats the old-world charm of Kolkata in my eyes. The way I see it, the crude, harsh tone of Marathi stands no chance of winning points against the melodious ring of the Bengali language. Forgive me if I appear biased!
Of course the one thing I absolutely love about Mumbai, apart from the beautiful rains, is Marine Drive - the entire stretch at night is an object of devotion on its own.
But is that reason enough to make me want to stay?
Of course not!

Acknowledging Mumbai as my "home" instead of being just the "current city of residence" was not an easy transition. But it happened. This change can be attributed to a lot of factors - my exciting work, my very messy but spacious house, my funny, travel adventures, my daily encounters with individuals that always give me wonderful stories to narrate about discovery and delight...This list can be endless. But one thing that truly makes this city feel like "home" are the wonderful friends I made who stood by my side and always sustained my belief that no matter how bad things were, "this too shall pass".
Sometimes I wonder, if it weren't for them, would I have survived the time I got stuck at Dadar-Matunga for more than four hours owing to the heavy rains? Would I have managed to take a leap of faith and resign from a job that did not seem fulfilling enough if I did not have their support? Would I have had the courage to embark on a road to a new destination I was absolutely clueless about? Could I have overcome the loneliness one sometimes tends to experience living alone in such big cities?
I don't think I could have survived any of that without them!

My old dreams may have evaporated but I have still not become a person who just goes on with the daily drudgery of life with no fun and zeal. Life is a journey and even though one may have to give up on past dreams and wishes as one advances, it does not mean that those are not replaced with newer goals and ambitions.
Mumbai has helped me evolve as an individual at many different levels - today, I feel more connected to my core. I have set new goals for myself and I am aware that I have the support-system I need in order to achieve them. Life is not a bed of roses and there are thorns that I need to look out for but I have faith - in the end, everything will be alright!
I guess this is the Mumbai spirit that everyone boasts about - no matter what disasters fall in your path a Mumbaikar always has a ready disposition to face and overcome all calamities. I think this new-found fighting-spirit that I seem to have recently discovered officially qualifies me to say I am a Mumbaikar, after all. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

The Birthday Wish-List

Today, I received a call from a college-friend asking me for my postal address. She said she needed it to send me my birthday gifts for this year! Now, all those who regularly follow my blog must be aware by now that I am a big fan of birthdays! However, with exactly a month to go before I turn 24 years old, I was a little surprised to find myself not feeling a bit joyous about it. My friend on the phone, perhaps noticing my indifference, remarked, “Are you upset about turning a year older?” I couldn't help but smile on hearing that comment. I always crib about turning old every year. However, this time, I don’t think that is the case. I haven’t celebrated my birthday in a grand, elaborate manner since the last three years.  If it weren't for a select few people who demand a treat, I’d probably be sitting at home on my birthday dressed in my PJs. As I told my friend how tedious I think birthday celebrations are, she was astounded, “You have changed so much post college!” I just smiled and told her, “I don’t have anyone like you here to make this day special for me!” She giggled and ranted on the phone about what she would do if she was in Mumbai for my special occasion. For a while, I was transported back in time as I heard her chatter. Before hanging up, she made me promise that I would make a wish-list because, in the words of my dear friend, “Even if I am not around, my best friend must have the time of her life!”

So yes, with just a month to go, here is what I wish for this birthday:
  • Happiness:  Happiness means different things to different people. I feel happy when I am valued. I think one never needs a reason to spread smiles. This birthday, I want to be happy by spreading happiness around me. I have decided to perform some random acts of kindness during my birthday month. If you have any suggestions on what these might be, feel free to send me your requests!
  • Love: Sometimes all it takes is a hug or a kiss or a concerned arm around your shoulder to melt all your troubles away. I feel we are living in a world, today, that is unfortunately characterized by indifference. On my birthday, if you wish to make a difference in my world, please do not hesitate from spreading love and brightening the lives of those individuals who you feel are special to you (and if I am a special person in your life, please note that I too need my share of love and affection!).
  • Acceptance: We all have a tendency to like people for the things they do that make our life special. This birthday, I want to be accepted for who I am. It may seem to be a rather humble request but when was the last time you were able to accept someone unconditionally? I have flaws just like you do but why let that come in the way of treating one another with non-judgementality and unconditional positive regard.
These are the three wishes I have. Three simple wishes, or am I asking for a lot?

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Visit To St. Catherine's Home

A part of my job-profile entails that I liaison with different organizations (primarily NGOs) regarding fieldwork placements of students. This responsibility took me to St. Catherine's Home in Andheri (West), Mumbai on a nice, sunny Saturday morning. While I have visited several organizations in the past, this one, in particular, was a humbling experience for me.

St. Catherine's Home was started in 1922 to provide shelter to unmarried mothers but today it caters to more than 300 infants, toddlers, girls and young, unmarried women who have been the victims of deprivation, abandonment and abuse. The one thing that struck me the  most about this home was its emphasis on not just providing education and rehabilitation but also catering to the psycho-social needs of the individuals residing there and ensuring they are re-integrated into society when they are ready. I was amazed to know that they ensure their children go on a trip to the sea-side once every year!

As soon as I reached the home, there was a young couple there who were just leaving after adopting a ten-month old baby. It was a touching experience seeing the gleam of happiness in the eyes of the new mother as she was holding the child in her arms.
After the couple left, I had a conversation with Sister which made me open my eyes about many things that I was already aware of but I chose not to see. For instance, I was told that one of the major challenges they face when they put children up for adoption is that couples do not want to adopt dark-skinned babies. I guess it is because of such obsession with fair-skin that we need campaigns like Dark Is Beautiful. I was also told that no family in India wants to adopt a child that has any mental or physical handicap. In fact, they do not even want to adopt children who have any scars or marks on their faces. I was really troubled on hearing this! While the mind-set is such that we want our children to be perfect, does this mean that children who appear farther away from perfection have no place in mainstream society? Is only beauty deserving of love and affection? I found myself thinking to myself that it is probably because of this narrow mind-set that the couples were not blessed with a baby of their own in the first place - no matter how hard I tried, I found myself being quite judgmental when I heard these stories. Sister told me that all children with special needs are put for adoption in foreign countries. She told me about children getting adopted and living in Sweden, France, Belgium and U.S.A. and doing very well there.
Every time I hear politicians or some orthodox people condemning how the 'Indian culture' has gone for a toss owing to Westernization, I feel they should reflect on some of the ways in which the Western society is better; especially when it comes to the way it treats its women.

While the home is doing a commendable job despite being short of funds, the fact that it exists is proof that we are living in a society that is in no ways safe for the people who have the XX chromosome. Every day, news of molestation, child abuse, gang-rapes continue to be hurled at the public through newspapers, radios and televisions. I wonder what happens after the sensationalism is over? No one is ready to take any responsibility. We wish to blame the government, the police-forces, the judiciary, the media, the politicians, the organization but nothing really comes out of this blame game. I just feel that it is now time to take matters in our own hands and be responsible for our own safety because expecting this country to be a safe place for women is like a Utopian dream.

Towards the end of the visit, the words of Sister that remained with me were, "Count your blessings! Our children, here, would gladly exchange places with you right now. You have food, shelter, clothing and so much more - be thankful to the ones who provide them for you. Parents are always taken for granted and never appreciated for all the things they do because after all you feel it is their 'duty' to do so." She gave us instances of fathers molesting their own daughters; mothers selling their daughters; uncles making their nieces work in the flesh-trade and all these stories just gave me goose-bumps. The trauma one feels when one becomes aware of the fact that the one who is assigned the job of protecting you and taking care of all your needs is the one who is subjecting you to exploitation and oppression is one that can be extremely heart-wrenching and something that no one can understand unless and until you have been in the same shoes. At the end of the visit, I just felt grateful for having so many privileges, luxuries and comforts - while I never have issues expressing my thankfulness, today was one day when I felt a simple 'thank you' would just not do.

To all the people reading this, I reiterate Sister's message and request you to make a list of all those things in life you are grateful for and express your heart-felt thanks to those people who have blessed you by providing those things. It will not only help you look at your life from a different perspective but you will also be making a difference in the lives of those who you hold in special regard. 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

In Search Of Light

Have you ever seen a sea in the sky? Have you ever seen a void in that sea? Have you seen a world in that void? Have you seen a light above it all? That shimmering ray which sparkles a glimmer of hope...It is alright if you haven't. There are days when even I can't seem to find it...I keep walking in the dark hoping to bump into someone holding a flaming torch to guide the way ahead. I find myself getting lost in the dark. I never seem to reach the end of the tunnel and find the light. Thankfully, this does not last. I usually manage to shake myself awake from these nightmares.

However, on some days this is not possible. How do you wake yourself up when you realize you were not sleeping in the first place? What do you do in those moments when you feel that the entire purpose of your existence is like the tip of an unsharpened pencil - completely pointless! What do you do when you find the very ground on which you stood, resting your faith, is crumbling to pieces and you have no place to ground yourself. In those moments, can you patiently wait for the universe to shower your life with happiness and meaning?

Like many, I too had dreams and the will to chase them with the hope that one, fine day, they would become a reality. Leaving behind the luxury of familiarity, I entered a strange land with dreamy eyes and elaborate plans. I wanted the tree of life but only grass and weeds lay on my way. I searched for people who would dare to be different but no matter where I looked, everyone was just like the others.

I sought solace indoors and hid myself from the world. I no longer wished to participate in their worldly affairs. I wanted to get lost so that I could be found. I waited and waited for someone to miss me and come looking for me but no one knocked on the door. I stared out of my window and looked at everything happening around me. Nothing stopped because I wasn't a part of it. What was I to do next?

I stared at myself in the mirror. I could not recognize my own reflection. I still stepped out of the house hoping that the world would accept and accommodate the new "me" even though I wasn't at peace with myself. I really had nothing to worry about. The world did not notice any difference - it treated me in the same manner as it always had. I did not know whether to be hurt or whether to breathe a sigh of relief.

Yet not everything remained the same. I started noticing things I had never laid eyes on before. I could see the sadness in her eyes no matter how hard she tried covering it up with a big smile on her face. I could see the way he crossed his fingers nervously even as he portrayed himself as the perfect picture of confidence. And then it dawned on me! People are forever tenderly wrestling and negotiating with their own shadows, making preemptive strikes on their personal share of the world's evil, fighting the good fight to keep from spewing their darkness on those around them.

In moments of darkness, we have to look for the light within us for there is nobody else to illuminate the path for us. The realization that there is no "you" was quite a liberating experience for me. It means that succumbing to institutionalized relations of 'family', 'love', etc. is merely a struggle to keep the illusion of an "I" and a "you". In reality, there is only the "other" and nothing else. Therefore, by refusing to associate with another, I am really just liberating the "other" as a consequence of destroying myself.

Sometimes I feel that I am the moon that removes darkness from people's lives while never revealing my dark side; and just like the moon gleams because of the light from the sun, I too shine because of the light from another source - I just don't know who my source of light is. Hopefully, someday in the future, we will meet. After all, what is life without hope?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Ship Of Theseus - An Intellectually Stimulating Work Of Art

As a student of psychology, the Gestalt school of thought has taught me, “The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts because the human eye, first, sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts.” Simply put, it means that the construction of an entity is more important than the individual pieces of the entity on their own. Yesterday, I saw the movie, Ship of Theseus, which made me look at this Gestalt principle in a slightly different light.

The premise of Anand Gandhi’s film, Ship of Theseus, is the Theseus’s paradox, as contemplated by the philosopher, Plato, which argues that if you dismantle a ship, plank by plank, and then reassemble it, does it remain the same ship? Thomas Hobbes had introduced a further puzzle asking what would happen if the original planks were gathered up after they were replaced and then used to build a second ship. Which ship, if either, is the original Ship of Theseus?

You know a movie has left a mark if you walk out of the cinema-hall and continue to think about the film even as you wake up the next morning. Ship of Theseus had that effect on me.

 Gandhi brilliantly engages the audience with the Theseus’s Paradox by drawing analogies from the lives of his protagonists. There are three stories – each featuring very different situations – yet they all come together in the same frame at the end, in a manner that is so brilliant and that makes such absolute, perfect sense that you are just left gasping with wonder.

The life of each protagonist is showcased as an autonomous component and each of their journeys leads you to a place where you are left asking questions. The story of Aaliya makes you wonder, “If you do not have eyes, does that mean you cannot really see?” or “Is there a possibility that sometimes physical sight actually hinders the real, insightful vision?”

The second story is about Maitreya, a Jain monk, who leads a fight against animal testing. When he is diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, he refuses treatment because he cannot accept drugs that have been tested on animals. Attempts to convince him are denounced with intriguing arguments. This story raises questions that are seldom heard in mainstream features and, on a personal front, left me wondering about the extent and purpose of ideological rigidity.

The third story is about Navin, a stock-broker, who is constantly goaded by his maternal grandmother to contribute to society, at large, in some way or the other, instead of just going about his daily routine. He is presented with an opportunity to do this when he decides to fight for justice for a poor brick-layer, Shankar, who has been a victim of kidney-scam. At one level, this story beautifully portrays how all of us start as ignorant beings and, then, where the journey for the search of truth takes us. At another level, it makes one wonder if a human being is interested only in making money, does it really make him or her a lesser mortal being than someone who believes in sacrificing personal happiness for the greater good.
It is only in the end that you realize that the three beautiful stories of Aaliya, Maitreya and Navin are only deceivingly independent stories – in actuality, the three are all planks that form the unsinkable “Ship of Theseus”. The subtle reference to Plato's allegory of the cave, in the end, is remarkable. 

I would recommend this movie to everyone as it is indeed thought-provoking and forces you to utilize your mental faculties for some serious introspection and reflection about your notions of self, and your notions of faith, ideologies and relationships. The beauty of this film lies in the fact that it does not attempt to provide any answers to the age-old debate of the Theseus’s Paradox. Watching Ship of Theseus was quite a fulfilling experience for me and I would recommend all those who haven’t seen it to catch it as soon as possible – it might not in theatres next week – because it is a film that leaves much to savour even after you have watched it. 

Friday, 19 July 2013

Leaving Crossroads

He was a silent worker who always kept to himself. His reclusive and lonesome nature was one of the many objects of interest for most of his co-workers.
She used to chatter away to glory with anybody who as much as looked in her direction. She was the life of many parties. People were mesmerized by her charms and mannerisms but she did not seem impressed by anybody.

It was a typical Monday morning for everyone at work. Almost all the people were cribbing about returning to work after having “so much fun” during the weekend. It wasn't just another day for him. It was that day of the year when he had turned a year older. As he entered office and walked towards his cubicle, not one head glanced in his direction. He was hardly a prominent figure – no one noticed his presence nor missed his absence. He sat at his desk and switched on the computer. He, suddenly, noticed a note on his bulletin-board. It simply read “Happy Birthday”. He recognized the handwriting. It was from her.
The whole day she was busy with presentations. He managed to catch hold of her at lunch-time. “Thank you,” he said. “But how did you know it was my birthday?”
She flashed her million-dollar smile, “I keep a list of everyone’s date of birth so that I don’t forget to wish them! Birthdays are important, don’t you think?”
She walked away without really waiting for a response. He watched her go, baffled by the ease and comfort with which she did things. No one would believe that this was just her first month at work.

After this incident, their interactions increased. He found that he could talk to her about anything. His evenings were no longer spent doing over-time and his weekends were never spent alone at home.
She gave up being a people’s person and settled for a small group of close-knit friends.

They were inseparable. They completed each other’s sentences. One knew what was on the other’s mind even before words were spoken. 
People talked about them. People made up stories. 
This did not bother them. If anything, it was nothing less than a source of entertainment for them!

After some time, he quit the organization to pursue what he felt was his “real calling”. She stayed on only to join him later, after some months. This move was in “their” best interest. Distance was not doing their relationship any good.  It wasn't what her heart wanted but she did not want to disappoint him. He needed her just as she needed him, she told herself.
He hated it when she used to prioritize work over spending time with him. It tore her heart to a million shreds when she found him choosing the company of other people before her. Something was amiss and it was now time to strike a compromise.
She gave up her passion to help him follow his path of dreams. She plunged herself in darkness in the hope of showing him the light.

As time passed, it became clear to her that it was all futile. He did not need her. She decided to go back to her old life. But going back isn't as simple as it seems to be. Retracing one’s steps does not mean that one manages to restore themselves back to their old selves in a complete manner. She found that she could just not force herself to be the person she used to be. She no longer craved company – she did not like having people around. They annoyed her. She immersed herself in work but her zeal had vanished. She was just not as good as she used to be at one point of time. She felt that her parts had gone rusty. Each day, she was dying a slow, painful death. She wanted to run away but she had no place to go. She did not even know who or what she was running away from. In the end, she settled for a life of mediocrity. She was with people but felt alone all the time. People are, after all, no substitute for the emptiness one feels within.
He became extremely successful in his new field and stood on top of the ladder of success. People looked up to him in awe. He had everything in life. He was content, blissfully and conveniently unaware of the damage he had caused, perhaps unintentionally, to someone who, once upon a time, was his closest friend. It was alone up there but he wasn't lonely. After all, he had always enjoyed his own company.

They had crossed paths but their destinations were different. He wanted to be like the Pole Star, the brightest star in the northern sky.
She wanted to burst like a star and dissolve like a handful of glitter into the universe to give herself back to where she came from...