Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finding God's Grace During A Late Lunch

Sometimes grace is handed over to you at 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon during late lunch. Gratitude fills your heart and overflows through your eyes. The feeling that you get when you realize that your biggest adversary in life was in fact rooting for you all through is more overwhelming than most. All that is left is to fall to your knees and cry with relief and joy…that everything is going to be alright…always.

It was while reading the story of this son of privilege who learns to live like everyone else through a series of events, that I had my epiphany. The passage that flipped my perspective read as follows:

He had been born in Nice, fled the Nazis, and his family barely made it out of Europe alive. But he seemed to view that horrific past as a great adventure. What a gift, I thought as I made my way back down those iron stairs, to be able to take all that happened to you with such a lighthearted spirit, a genuine sense of humour about a mixed-up world. At Yale he didn’t even consider the fact that anyone could ‘fail’ at life. Life was life – with all its bizarre twists and turns.

I realized I had spent most of my life trying not to fail. Trying to meet my parent’s high expectations. Terrified of letting my family down. It had all been, I felt now, a terrible burden for me. And so stupid of me!

And in that moment I realized something. My ongoing tiff with God was no different from a teenager’s rebellion against his parents. I wasn’t being tested at any point in life. I wasn’t being handed down the tough life while others were born to privilege. I was in fact chosen for God’s tough love. I was the one born to real privilege.

I have always believed that whatever happens in life, even the most trivial of events like a button falling off the cuff, happens for a reason and for the better. Everything is part of a bigger plan. Optimism is my breakfast and eternal hope is more stimulating than caffeine to me.

But there were certainly points when life felt like a stress test and I started believing that God was being unfair to me. Yeah I know there are those who have lives that are much worse off but frankly relativity is overrated. So I complained. And I developed an ego of sorts that I could take whatever it was that He intended me to face, I was proud of being so strong. 

I started believing that He was beginning to desert me or play games with me…that I was God’s entertainment. It had been more than a year that I had met an angel; that was in a better time, of stronger faith. And I saw no sign from Him that He was even listening to what I was saying now. I felt abandoned. 

Last week, it must have all gotten to Him. Like an exasperated parent who has to prove his love to their offspring, He sent me an angel again. On a very regular Sunday afternoon when I thought the day would end on the usual desolate note, He sent a complete stranger with a message. It was everything I needed to hear. When I was scarred silly inside somewhere and tottering to heal my damaged creative self, this person paid me a genuine and elegant compliment. But more than that, he stated God’s message verbatim…that there is always happiness and it’s a beautiful world…and beautiful people…who will remind you all is well. It made me cry to read that coming from someone who didn’t even know me. It hurt somewhere deep inside, the beauty of that message.

I still struggled with my belief and sulked at God…because I couldn’t take it any longer and he wasn’t done with his test. Until today.

In a few moments of an epiphany I realized that the real test had never been dealing with death or potentially terminal illness or being hurt so bad that you believed you would die just from the overwhelming emotion. The real test all along had been to trust God with my life. That is the only test.

For most part of my teenage life and later, I have had to look out for myself. Make my own mistakes. Learn. And move on. I have never handed my well-being over to an adult and closed my eyes trusting that they would take care of everything. And hence, it is no surprise that I found it hard to trust God as well.

I also realized how and why I had become so paranoid about my people, the ones who matter. I convinced myself that anyone who comes along and starts to matter will eventually leave because maybe that’s God’s way of hurting me. And from a na├»ve trusting person I became someone who had the ability to doubt…that people would stay. I was horrified and appalled at the realization. I was fighting for them all along…with Him and hence with myself. Until today.

Today I realized that God was bestowing the gift of experience on me and honing me. For what, I don’t know yet. Whatever I have faced in life I have come out stronger or wiser and with a renewed understanding of the human spirit. It has made me sensitive. Maybe over-sensitive. But I hope I am more capable of compassion, if nothing else, because of my past. And I hope today is the beginning of my journey to grace.

Today I realized the need to let go. The idea seemed downright repulsive to this control-freak, organized, paranoid self of mine, it was way outside my comfort zone, but I realized I had to give up fighting for my life. I had to accept that God had a better plan and the only thing coming in the way was ME. 

So as much as it felt like a freefall, I let go. I stopped analyzing, I stopped rationalizing, I stopped obsessing about the minute things I had killed myself over in the last one week…and I just released control. The day had dawned pretty well anyway and frankly post lunch I have been slightly delirious. Because it took literally a few hours for things to start turning around. I stopped fighting and God took over. I am still dizzy from how light my head feels after giving up the constant struggle in my head. And I am humbler.

For, whatever it is that comes my way now – the good, the bad and the ugly – I will know that it is part of God’s plan for me. I know I have angels watching over me to save me from getting to badly hurt. I have to agree that things could have been a whole lot worse in life. I could have got hurt at points from where there was no recovery for the soul, not an easy one anyway. But they all pulled me back. It hurt and I suffered pain for days and weeks together. But it wasn’t off the edge.

Life is beautiful right now and it keeps getting better by the day. I know that for a fact and yet I have the audacity to complain. I know I am being watched over with love. And I know I have angels waiting around the corners.

And that is all I need to know right now. And always. 


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Song Remains The Same

In my usual wonderful perceptible and insightful way (takes a grand bow) I have figured out one more thing about the world (prepare for a dose of what I think is a discovery but what psychologists would have documented in my 4th birth before this, I am guessing…but then I am in a mood to feel like Columbus and so I shall)…when people are low or figuring things out, they regress to old patterns. Old patterns of food, behaviour and old patterns of people too. People are like habits. Old ones die hard. New ones feel painful until one gets comfortable with them and they become part of the routine. My analysis anyway.

But this post is not about my people…old or new. This is about music. The songs I regress to. The songs I grew up with. And the ones I identified with first. The ones that still ring a bell the loudest. The ones that remind me of a time when I had a face full of acne, red and swollen, but I felt good and I felt like I was at the top of the world. Because I was. I didn’t need to be pretty because I was cooler than that. I knew my place in the world…in my world at least. I had only myself to work on, define my identity, listen to my own songs, watch my own films, read my own books and become the person I was born to be. It was my time.

Today I can’t handle one zit that has been bothering me for the last few days because frankly I am not used to it anymore. I am part of a crowd and walking on the edge of oblivion. Every day is a fight for a place on a memory map. Today I regress to my own memories and my music.

I was born with a song. As also with a movie. I was named after a movie. And the day I was born my father bought the gramophone record of Dil Ek Mandir for the song Juhi Ki Kali Meri Ladli. He put the date on the record and signed on it. I would like to think I was an answered prayer…and that will remain my lifelong consolation…to have been at least one person’s fulfilled wish. A daughter to call Anupama.

We had a lot of old Hindi film music and ghazals playing at home all the while but what I also heard from the very beginning was the sound of ABBA, Boney M and Duran Duran. My father loved playing Brown Girl In The Ring and I would prance around to it. I still love that song. As also ABBA’s Dancing Queen and Chiquitita and many others. And a lot of other ABBA as well.

Brown Girl in the Ring by Boney M. on Grooveshark

From there on I graduated to the Backstreet Boys and bought their first album way back then. I still think More Than That is a good love song, among other songs of theirs. I don’t listen to them anymore but I really like some of their music, including songs from the album Incomplete.

14 More Than That by Backstreet Boys on Grooveshark

BSB was followed by Westlife and that remains one of my favourite bands to date. In fact Westlife is my true comfort music. I like a whole host of their songs so I won’t list them all out. But Westlife is where I go most often when I need to go home to something.

I Lay My Love on You by Westlife on Grooveshark

There was Bryan Adams too. I have since grown over his music and can’t stand most of it simply because I just had too much of it but Cloud No. 9 still makes me feel the same way every time I hear it. 

Post that I was introduced to rock and metal and that started a period of discovering music that continues to this day. But those initial years of music are the ones that feel like home, like a warm blanket on cold nights, or a hug for tough times or my own mattress to go foetal on while the songs take me back in time and tell me everything is alright. I would never disown them.

A fitting close to this post, a favourite – ABBA’s Thank You For The Music. How I love music!!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What My Chemistry Teacher Taught Me

When I was preparing for my HSSC Exams, I used to attend tuitions for the core PCM subjects and for electronics. We all did. And for chemistry I used to go to someone who was pretty much the demigod for students when it came to teaching Chemistry in Nagpur – Mr. Tak.

Tak Sir was a teacher of the superlative degree. He was also slightly idiosyncratic. On second thought, I’ll do away with that ‘slightly’ there. But that is what made him a superior teacher in a way. He had crazy metaphors and similes for the principles of Chemistry, things you would never forget, and consequently remember the related principle of Chemistry. 

The one metaphor that has stuck with me over all these years is related to how particles always seek to attain the state of lowest energy, the most stable state for particles. Sir explained the theory to us first and then gave us this example, which ingrained it in my head. 

He said, if you ever notice a man who has nothing to do, no pressing commitments, nowhere to run to, spending a lazy day at home, you will also notice that such a man will always be at his laziest best and at home in such a situation. His clothes will be in the same place that he took them off at the previous day, he himself will be sprawled in bed or on the sofa watching TV and it will take him immense effort to move even a single muscle because this state of lowest energy is the most stable state for him and given a choice, all men would want to be in this state forever…of stability.

I never ever forgot that metaphor and concept again. Never forgot at least one way in which men and electrons are similar. But I didn't think about it later too much either until...

I logged into facebook this morning and saw an update from Raksha Bharadia: 

At the same time, you have to find the right distance between people. Too close, and they overwhelm you, too far and they abandon you. How to hold them in the right relation?" 
-Hanif Kureishi

And that similarity came back to me again. Don’t electrons also need to be at just the perfect distance from the nucleus to remain bound and revolving around it? To stay with it? Any closer and they will intrude on the space that other electrons are meant to occupy. Any further and they will fly off the orbit, leaving the atom unstable. There needs to be just the right distance maintained so that stability and order prevails.

So also with people. Especially the ones who are necessary for your life to remain stable and in order. Any closer and you start suffocating each other. Move away and you never know when distances become voids. And those on the fringe disappear faster than you can bat an eyelid. 

If only our lives were governed by the same laws that govern Physics and Chemistry. But then maybe they are. And it is because we violate them the whole time that chaos raises its head.

And if only I had known that Tak Sir was not teaching us Chemistry with examples from life but it was, in fact, the other way round...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Rolling On The River

This was in the July of 2007. I was on a rafting trip with Get Off. I am not really an adventure sports person but I wanted to go rafting anyway. And I did. It was a brand new experience, thrilling to the core. And it turned out to be a lot of fun too.

One of the instructions that we were given during the lessons was that if we ever got thrown out of the raft on a rapid, we shouldn’t attempt to swim. We could hurt ourselves by swimming if there were rocks around. We should let ourselves go with the flow of the river until we had reached calmer waters and attempted to move our limbs. Our life jackets wouldn’t let us drown anyway. Simple. Any questions? None.

It’s funny how it is difficult to apply the same learning to life when you get thrown out of the raft. The cold water hits you and you feel tightness in your chest. You panic and start to swim like mad, hoping to stay afloat, not even knowing whether you are going with the stream or against it. And then you hurt yourself. Badly. If only you would trust the river of life and go with the flow until you found calmer waters. 

The problem is that in life you don’t get a life-jacket. But after a while we must all learn to free-float.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Rendezvous On Page 2

It isn’t often in life that one gets to meet oneself. And I don’t mean in the mirror. Outside of oneself. Even if it is in fiction. It is one of life’s many possibilities laid out for one to see. It is a life lived even before it begins. It’s a rendezvous of sorts.

I think the first time I met myself must have been in a conversation. It must have had me exclaim, “That’s so me!” I remember the last few times when I said this. While speaking to a woman who was reminiscing about her mother on a rickety bus to Hampi. While talking to a colleague at work…she was leaving the organization and I had just realized that the same mould would have been used in the factory up there to create us. What a loss at not being able to get to know her better. To know what ELSE life could have been.

Then I saw myself on screen in Wake Up Sid (yes, people who have read Revisting Aisha are allowed to roll their eyes : ) ). I know it’s silly but at some points in the movie it were as if someone had seen me in my daily routine and written Aisha out. It was a weird feeling to resemble someone’s idea of a character in entirety. Someone had thought me out. And put her on screen.

The little notebook was there. The walk in the night. There were the white curtains. There were the beloved books that arrived in the cardboard box, the old teddy bear. There was even the Lonely Planet India edition. The immaculate kitchen counter. There was the writer in her. It was me out there. And I saw a life being played out on screen. That could be my life. And given how much I liked Wake Up Sid (not just because I was in there, I genuinely think it’s a sweet little film) that is a nice thought.

I met bits of myself again in Kari. Some parts of her that I could relate to. And then I picked up My Friend Sancho, a book I had not picked up despite wanting to for a long while. So what made me pick it up after all that time? This bit from Sepia Mutiny I saw myself in there. I read the book and saw one of the lives I could have lived as a guy. 

And then I ran into myself full force in Eat Pray Love (the book). Just the first few pages into the book…in fact I think it was on page 2. It is unsettling how much of the book and the author I could relate to. I found myself saying over and over, “I know what you mean. That is me.” Not absolutely all of her. But a lot of her. 

I came back from the book feeling like I had talked to a friend who had known me for years and knew just what to say to me at this point in life. It was a parallel universe in there. I could have gotten that hurt. I could have been that lonely. I may even have gone halfway there. And it is good to know someone somewhere has felt that way already and knows how to deal with it. With life. 

These chance encounters have always left me a little amused, a little shaken (at the ease with which someone can cook me up…I must be pretty ordinary) and almost exhausted at having lived an episode from another life. But they have also taught me lessons. Even if it is in fiction. Much like a flight simulator. Simulating possibilities for this crazy life. And I’m ready to take flight…

Maybe I'll tangle in the power lines
And it might be over in a second's time
But I'll gladly go down in a flame
If the flame's what it takes to remember my name

Someday I’ll fly, Someday I’ll soar
Someday I’ll be so damn much more 
'Coz I’m bigger than my body gives me credit for.

-John Mayer

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Pondicherry Dreams

I was in Pondicherry last week. That beautiful town that I never seem to get enough of. Everytime I go to this seaside town I spend the least amount of time by the sea and come back feeling like something was missing. It’s absurd.

So here’s what I want to do: I want to go back to Pondicherry…sooner and not later. And I want to sit and just be. I want to sit by the seaside and stare endlessly. I want to listen to the waves lap at the shore playfully and return to the infinite. I want to watch the tides rise and fall. I want to sit until we grow weary of each other, the sea and me.

But I have a feeling weary is the last thing I will get. I don’t know the sea yet. I am even a little scared of it sometimes. To me the sea is a stranger. We just bump into each other for a short time once in a while and then go our own ways. Most of the time I go my own way. The sea stays where it is. So then it’s more like a house I pass by on the street and stop to ask for a glass of water. I end up chatting for a while before I say thank you and walk away. The house stays in that same street.

But when I do get to know the sea, I have a feeling it will become like one of my favourite persons. The kind I really enjoy talking to. Whether it is a quick chat over coffee or a long lazy lunch conversation I just never seem to get enough of talking to them. There are definitely times when we don’t have anything to say to each other but we sit comfortably in that silence too. I have a feeling the sea will become one of those people to me. 

Right now I sit in its presence and before I can get comfortable and start talking I get up and leave. The sea, of course, patiently waits for me to return. 

And return I shall. This time I will stay in the French Quarter or around so I can walk in those European lanes till my feet hurt. I will pretend that it’s France in summer and make myself happy. I will watch the sun rise over the sea and enjoy a cup of coffee as the orange sheet turns to blue (hopefully this time I’ll get to see that sight). I will sit on the sand by the sea until we really start talking, the sea and I…until I am sending my deepest fears and dreams out into the infinite. And then we will break for lunch, I will find some continental lunch among those rows of French villas. And then I’ll go meet the sea for high tea. And then when we’ve reached a point of being comfortable in each other’s silence, maybe then my tryst with Pondicherry will be complete. Maybe then I would have made peace with Pondicherry.

For now, I will have to make do with going to that pretty place in my dreams…I’ll be in Pondicherry tonight.