I am in a new city
my mother arranges the room
Time flies. Days fade into the ones that follow. Weeks pile up. You don’t even know it, but it’s been a month. A year.
You don’t know much, you admit. You never really realised that you hadn’t done that one thing you were supposed to do so long ago. Not even now. Not even after so long. No, it never occurred to you that it’s been much too long since you last talked to that person you promised never to lose touch with. And, yet, as you look back now you still swear it hasn’t been that long. Your subjectivity’s deceiving you. So you let it go for the same amount of time, trying to strip yourself of responsibility. But then it comes back, as it always does. That feeling.
Why can’t you force yourself to do it? Why can’t you push yourself to make that call? Extend a hand back into the past, perhaps if only to say ‘Je me souviens’, as the French might choose? You don’t know why, but it keeps getting more difficult each day. Tedious. So what is that you do, in the end?
You while away the days, making small excuses. You say you will do it right after you get this thing right here done. But then, of course, something else follows it. And you put your little task off by five more minutes. Just five more minutes, you tell yourself. Every. Single. Time.
But unfortunately- just like you- the rest of the world is living too. Whether you like it or not, other people aren’t waiting for you to bring that sunshine you thought you brought into their lives. I hope that’s not what you’ve been telling yourself. No, they have stuff to do too- something that you might have forgotten in that deluge that swept all that you cared about away: self-importance, others call it. Of course, you disagree.
In spite of this, though, you can’t stop the questions. Why are you like this? Why is it so hard? Does the past really mean so little? Are the everyday things you excuse yourself with really all that important, so urging that you really can’t find the time to call back the people you love(d?) and tell them how you have- or else, ask them how they have- been?
Just like every other time, though: the answer is the same.
You don’t know.
I’ve been meaning to blog for quite a while now. It’s been a long time since I last wrote a post- seven months to be more precise. It just seems strange to me: even now, I feel as if it’s been little more than a month since I last wrote. Now, I know even that’s a lot- considering there was a time I’d put out three posts a week- but still, it’s a lot less worse than seven whole months, I think.
To be honest, after a few months had gone by- and by this I mean, about three months ago from today- I thought this blog was pretty much dead. To be frank, I’d worked pretty hard on putting this little thing together: it’s about four years old now, I think- three definitely. However, at that time, I didn’t feel it mattered to anyone besides myself, and this gave me a certain sort of comfort. Yes, my blog had given me joy. Yes, it had improved the quality of my writing (immensely, I might add), and, yes, I loved it to death, yet I felt I had to come to terms with the fact that most (though I will argue till my death not all) things in this world have a lifespan, a set amount of time before they wither, atrophy and die. It just so happened that it had been my blog’s turn. There was nothing wrong with it. It was bound to happen one day or the other.
And so, pretty much, I found myself- as e. e. cummings might put it: an unblogger. Someone who does not blog. Still, it would be wrong to say I didn’t plan to write at all from then on in. I did plan to write a bit over here. Honest. I believe it’s because I have trouble letting go of things, you see. People, particularly. But my blog too, as I found out quite serendipitously. I think no matter how much I didn’t seem to take care of it, or show it love, deep inside me I know I’ve always loved it and that I never did want to lose something I’ve held so close to me for so long. I’m glad I realised this. For all my self-lauding praise, though, I will concede one thing: if things had stayed exactly the way they did the first few months, I would never have come back. I lacked the impetus.
Returning to what I said about this blog not mattering to anyone besides myself: I was wrong. After a few months had passed without a post, I began receiving messages, or comments. Granted, before I continue, there were not many- perhaps five people at most, in the course of these seven months- but they did care. I received comments, messages, and, not to mention incessant nagging from my best friend about getting this thing going again. She gave me quite a hard time about it, but it’s alright, because I know that if there’s anyone who loves this blog more than I do, it’s her. She’s also not even half as lazy as I am, so I’m not really surprised she won this argument, I assure you.
Still, I digress: I think, what I’ve been trying to say all this time- though all of my circumlocutions and needlessly long-winded utterations such as in this very sentence would lead you to believe otherwise- is not that complicated. It is this:
To the few of you that cared. To those that have been with me, and this, since its very beginnings. To those who told me (though I still don’t, and never will believe them) that what I wrote ‘inspired’ them. Thank you. Seriously, it’s because of all the small things- the comments and messages even months after I last posted- that I’ve finally been able to push myself to come back, being the lazy bum I am. All of you have given something back to me, something that I’ve missed for such a long time. Truth be told, though, I’m troubled, even now, when I try to explain or delineate what it is, exactly. To be honest, I’m not exactly sure.
There are two things that I am sure of, though- at this point in time. They are as follows, in no particular order of unimportance:
1. It’s back.
2. It’s here to stay.
*P.S. This is about as sappy a post as you will ever see here. Move along, now.
I feel I currently resemble some sort of evil genius. My head hair has grown disproportionately long and the nascent stubble on my cheeks has sprawled over them into a most diabolic hirsuteness. I wear a full-armed white undershirt that is two sizes too small for me and black pajamas underneath. My bony hands stretch out and these skeletal fingers tap the buttons on the keyboard. I feel tired. My back hurts.
And yet. There is no giant, earth-annihilating machine behind me. I have no lab coat, nor racks of test-tubes brimming with decidedly deadly chemicals or positively poisonous intoxicants, nor yet still, death-coloured wafts that imbibe the pervading odour of bitter almonds in the air.
I’m just sitting here doing Chemistry and I still don’t know anything.
It was when I saw Christopher Columbus pointing towards the pier that I decided I wanted to study Literature.
I was in Barcelona at the time. Leaving my family in the mall that stood on the quay I chose to wander into the city without so much as a map for guidance. Keeping my back to the sea, I had only a general sense of where I was heading, only remembering which direction the sea, and hence the pier, was, as I wandered through crisscrossing alleys with high Gaudi-an balconies and narrow European streets.
Though at first my only aim had been to explore the city- I had always wanted to visit Barcelona as a boy- very soon, I found direction in my journey. Crossing a busy intersection, I was forced to stop and read one of the blue road signs that showed what lay beyond which avenue and it was there that I read the three words that would shape my future: ‘Arc De Triomphe’.
The arrow pointed diagonally into a different section of the city. Thinking, at first, that it would probably not be too far off and that I would most certainly regret not seeing it if I turned back, I changed course and walked without thinking- instinct my only guide. In the course of the hour that followed, I walked a long way without success. At the height of my disillusionment, I felt that I probably wouldn’t be able to return because I had come such a long way off.
However, the strange thing is, everything was still beautiful. The air was still cold and comforting and the sun radiated hope. As I turned the corner- the last of many I had promised myself before- there it stood in all its red-bricked glory: The Arc of Triumph. I couldn’t believe it. For ten minutes, I just stood there- the sun shining on my shoulders.
As I turned to my wristwatch, I learned that it was bordering on six at the time, and within a half hour at most, the sun would set. Out of sheer practicality, I had to return.
My journey back wasn’t as straightforward as one would imagine at first. Though I had kept my bearings, I hadn’t accounted for the intermediate dead ends, or the meandering streets, and at one instant, was almost lost again. I had been walking for a long time and, in truth, begun to worry if I’d really be able to find my way back.
That was when I saw Columbus. Perched atop his two-hundred foot pillar, his right index finger pointing towards not only the sea, but as fortune would have it, the very quay I had abandoned only hours ago.
It was in that one evanescent instant that I understood the significance of everything that had happened that day. Of my instinctual wandering eventually finding purpose, of my will in pursuing that purpose, and its fulfillment embodied within the Arc of Triumph itself. It was then I realized I had to trust my instinct. To let my heart guide me in my endeavors.
While my wandering reminded me of how I had never been sure of what I had wanted to do until I was in senior year, the manifestation of the Arc at the height of my despondency taught me that, if I stuck with it long enough, I could convince my parents to let me pursue Literature- the subject of my choice- and not Medicine, as they had proposed for me. But, perhaps, it was the arrival of Columbus that proved the most significant of all, for, even after I had found my own Arc of Triumph, I had become lost, and though I had at the time, in some small part of me, regretted my decision to venture on my own, he had brought me back and reminded me that, as long as I followed my dreams, everything would turn out all right in the end- I didn’t have to worry- and, this is why, even now, as the better part of my extended family urges me to study medicine, I insist Literature is the only field I wish to go into.
Grey and outstretched, it was beneath the finger of the man who had become famous for getting lost that I found myself.
Upon mapping my route in the hotel that evening, I discovered that I’d covered more than six kilometers in my journey. And yet, the most important step I took that day, was deciding where my future lay.
The other day, just yesterday in fact, I walked into one of the local bookstores at Liberty, wanting to find a copy of Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’. Whatever reasons I wanted it, I could not and had not been able to find it anywhere in the city. As I climbed up the stairs to the second floor of this particular shop, where their English section was kept, I felt I really wouldn’t be able to find it there either. I lolled around the large floor- it really was huge- looking through categorized shelves, hoping to find it perhaps ineptly left concealed in the corner of the literary, or maybe the much more obvious ‘R’, section.
I had no such luck though and just before I was preparing to leave a clerk finally came away from the busying telephone conversation he’d been having in the corner for twenty minutes and sat at the computer containing the store’s directory, which happened to be right at the mouth of the staircase. In passing, I asked him whether they had a copy of Midnight’s Children lying around and he took in what I said as a matter of course, beginning to type in the title before it struck him and he paused to stare back at me.
The following conversation ensued:
“Salman Rushdie?” he asked.
“We don’t stock him.”
I could see he was beginning to lose patience already, eyeing me as if I were asking for erotica from a roadside vendor outside a mosque and not literature at bookstore. Disgust colored his face.
‘But I thought only The Satanic Verses was banned? Midnight’s Children is not.’ I said, admittedly because a part of me wanted to provoke a reaction, but even so it was the first thing that came to mind.
He went mad.
‘Do you want to get us killed?’ he said. ‘The maulvis would have our heads! One time they even broke the windows and-‘
He was clearly agitated, but I stopped him from his raging diatribe, saying I’d only asked and that he should relax. I spuriously looked at the bookshelf closest to me, then left.
Now while the man’s reaction was undoubtedly the least warranted of things, this entire incident made me think. Ignoring absolutely everything else, the crux of the matter was: should a book be banned if, though in itself it contains no objectionable content, but it’s author has, elsewhere committed what would be dubbed as transgressions within our society? I can’t help saying that it saddened me that I could not find a Rushdie novel anywhere.
Granted, physically he may well be the incarnation of the devil himself and to some, might even have proved it through The Satanic Verses, but, for me at least, that does not warrant banning his other works, especially one that has garnered as much literary praise as ‘Midnight’s Children’. Dubbed ‘The Booker of Bookers’ in 1993, I for one cannot resist trying to get my hands on this book.
And so I trudge on.
Life’s been so strange lately. There’s always been good days and there’s always been bad days, but, lately the two seem so intertwined I don’t know where I’ve been at all. It’s sad because you feel so happy and contented one minute, and, without any real reason, your entire day gets upended and you wish you could just go to bed and forget anything ever happened and that you were still alive and breathing and taking up space the next.
Plus: the work. There’s so much of it. In the past month, I can say that there’s literally been only one day when I’ve gone home and haven’t had stacks upon stacks of work to do. Reports to finish. Essays to check. Forms to complete or tests to study for. And, on top of that, there’s so many other things that dictate whether or not I’ll even be able to do them all or not. People. Parents.
It’s almost as if one thing goes my way then two others certainly must go the other. If one thing makes me happy then a second, almost necessarily, must make me feel like shit. At the same time. Only more so.
Why is that? Why can’t I be completely happy for longer than a day, two or three at most? I don’t know- maybe it’s just God’s way of teaching us to grow up. To focus on the things that ‘matter’ as if that’s some sort of absolute. Or maybe, to not mess with things which we we’re not ready for yet and might not ever be either.
And yet, I could swear I was.
Since I haven’t blogged in a while and because I’m three-quarters of the way to a hundred posts, I think it’s about time I give this blog something it really hasn’t had despite it being a year since I started it: context. To be very honest, as far as I recall, my intentions for blogging weren’t exactly the purest. The very first blog I started was a sports blog. Football, to be precise. I wanted to be a sports journalist at the time and, well, as naive as it sounds, I thought I’d start a blog. Write about my favourite team. People would recognise my incisive insight just like that and I’d be writing columns for 4-4-2 by next Tuesday. Yeah. I was one of those kids.
The same went for my second blog, too. Though it was alot more personal than the old one, I wrote it because- and I feel slightly childish admitting this- I wanted a book deal. I’d heard about so many people who had been offered deals to write books based on the content of their blogs that I felt it would be easy. It was in my blood to be famous, after all. To be successful. Wise. And writing, too, at that.
It wasn’t really until I started this blog that I wrote for myself. For things I actually thought and wrote about because I had something to say. Because I had to get something out. To be honest, I’m not the most open of people. At least not about the things that matter. And I know that. The only way I can really say the things I want to, even if it isn’t anonymously, is through writing. The things I can never say in person, I can say on paper. And easily, too.
The funny thing is, I think in writing so much over the last year I lost sight of what my aims were. In the beginning, I honestly didn’t care about the number of views I got in a day. Just writing a post and publishing it would get me that high that we get from doing the things we love. But, lately, actually no, for the past few months or so, I’ve felt different. I couldn’t feel content without having checked my statistics, and then too only when they were… acceptable- to say the least.
I’ve seriously considered quitting blogging over it. It made me sad. Just thinking about how no one really cared about anything that I wrote. Today, though, I was going through some of the posts I’d written over the past year. And they brought back so many memories. And, well, I felt some were really well written too. So, yeah. That really was when I realised something. I write for myself. It might not have been the way I’ve always written- I’m not going to lie about that. But that’s the way it is now and hopefully always will be. If writing still makes me happy then there’s really not much else that counts, to be honest.
I’m very selfish sometimes.
I get worried sometimes. And most of the time I get worried, it’s when I think about the future. But, then again, I get excited sometimes too. And, more often than not, that’s when I think about the future too. To be honest, right now, I have no idea where I’ll be a year on from here. I’d like to think I’d be studying English or Journalism somewhere abroad. But, I don’t know. It’s a possibility, yeah, it is, but even then I can’t ever let myself believe in it, because if I do, I might begin to expect it- and you know what they say about expectations.
It’s kind of funny how none of us know where we’ll be a year from now, actually. It would be amazing if all of us were admitted into our dream colleges, but that doesn’t really happen. Even then, what makes me sadder is how we might all be miles apart. University is like starting life all over again. You barely know one or two people beforehand, and, as far as you know, your closest friends are hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres away- maybe even in a different country altogether. Making friends again isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. I like my old friends just fine, thank you very much. And, what’s more: I’ve got memories with them- good and old- and I don’t think I could part with them for the world.
But I suppose it’s all a part of growing up, isn’t it? Losing things and people and leaving places behind. Being on your own and being responsible for yourself and having no one to lean on when you’re feeling weak. There’s a feeling of romanticism about it, yes. About being in a foreign country, seventeen, independent and alone. About taking care of yourself, washing your own clothes, cooking your own food, cleaning up after yourself not because you want to or anything- but because you have to. It’ll be an experience to remember, sure, but, sometimes, when you think about how hard it’s going to be, you just don’t know anymore. And that’s where things get weird.
Life’s strange when you don’t even know what you want anymore.
The other day as I walked into school, I saw a gathering of kids around the notice boards. They huddled together, talking excitedly, and as I walked past them into the building, I realised they were standing beside the class announcement list. Just then I felt a strange mixture of sadness and happiness. I remembered the first day of my O’ levels and everything that went along with it: the new school, the naiveté and the excitement that came with slipping your finger down the class lists, looking for your name and then counting up and down to see how many of your friends were in your section and how many not. It was the same day they were going through then and it was the thought that someone else was feeling exactly what I had felt so many years ago and making those same memories I’d made without even knowing all that time past, that made me happy.
But what made me sad was knowing that I’d never feel the same thing again. That I was too old for something. Today, in fact, was our college orientation, too, and we welcomed the Class of 2014. The class that’ll be graduating the year after we do. And it was today, as I sat at our desks, signing up people for our societies, that I felt this feeling, of being old. Of being last year’s model, so to speak. And that’s what made me really sad. That, everything special that I’d felt: the first day of college, my finding new friends, developing interests into new things and what not, were all meaningless insofar that they happened every year. What I had been feeling all through last year wouldn’t be anymore special than what they’d feel, or what the batch after them would feel and so on.
When you think about, you realise how cyclic everything must really be. How, every year, there’ll be another you, another of your best friend, another of that group in the cafeteria whom you’re not too fond of, of the one’s in the ground you play football with, of those in the common room you talk with each morning, and, most of all, of the ones you love to walk through the halls with, or sit in the library with and just talk to until an hour’s passed and it’s time for class and you still don’t feel like going.
Must be funny being a teacher and watching everything happen all over again every year. I wonder what they think about when they see every new batch coming in on the first day of term. Maybe they search the classroom as the kids walk in, silently sorting out the ones who’ll be smart from the ones who might not. Maybe, as they turn to the board and scribble their name and subject across it they wonder if this class’ll be better than the last one they had. Maybe, as they have everyone introduce themselves, they hope they can remember all the names and not embarrass themselves the next day as they did the year before. Maybe they do all that.
Or maybe they just smile.