Thursday, January 15, 2015

Friday Fiction: Loss Of Appetite

Because you're always in control of fiction. Or are you?

The appetizers had gone cold. It was the monthly Fab Five lunch. Agreed, the name was cheesier than the Cheese & Garlic Bread they had ordered for the table but over the years, the girls had developed a sentiment for the name that had led to its retention. ‘What were we thinking!’ had given way to a mellower ‘We were too young to come up with anything better’. Whether it was nostalgia or the lack of creativity, Madhu would never know but the name had stayed. So it was the monthly Fab Five lunch.

The girls had done this for the last ten years. Ten years since they had left college. Brought together in college more by their vulnerabilities than by anything they had in common, they had managed to stick together over the years…five girls drowning in the flowing river of time and holding on to each other for dear life. They had decided on graduation day that they would not become other people…people who gave excuses for drifting apart from friends. And if they were in the same city, they would meet every month, no matter what. Miraculously, it had worked. Of course, there were times when one or another of them would be missing…away pursuing a master’s degree or travelling for work. But they had managed to retain their base in the same city and there they were, the five of them at lunch again!

The ritual may have remained the same and even attained a sacred nature for the five over the years but other things had changed. Today, more than ever, Madhu was feeling restless. It had been slow, this change, but like most changes that happen ever so slowly and one day just hit you in the face, this change was staring Madhu in the face today.

So the appetizers had gone cold. As had the conversation. For Madhu anyway. Madhu had always managed to maintain interest at least until the end of the main course. Today she found herself noticing the taste of the appetizers (not at all worth their price) and the clatter of cutlery around the restaurant a whole lot more. She realized this and brought herself back to the table and the conversation. Nisha was talking about Football. Or how she didn’t like it. And how Sandeep was always watching Football while she either cooked them dinner or sat quietly by his side flipping a magazine.

Devika took over and said at least Nisha had the time to flip magazines. With a baby at home in her case and no help from Ajay, she barely found time to sit and breathe. She wished Ajay would help out more with the baby but he was either always on work calls at home or catching up on the news for work. Tara joined in and wished Devika good luck, trying to get her husband to help out with the baby. She lived with her in-laws and found out soon after her wedding that Vipul wasn’t much more than a baby himself, having everything served on a platter to him by his mother and now by Tara. Even if he were willing to help Tara at home, she doubted her in-laws would approve of it. She should have stuck to her decision of staying single and pursuing her career. With which Naina agreed wholeheartedly, having gone through the same experience and deciding to move out but the damage already being done and Naren not doing things much differently. She had given up on trying to change him or their life.

Madhu’s friends were gone. They had been replaced by women who only sought each other out to vent out their feelings and they weren't very good feelings from what she was hearing. They had been successful in not becoming like other people who found excuses and drifted apart from friends. But they had become the other people who constantly complained about their lives to their friends without doing anything about it. Madhu had no appetite for that. Or for this lunch.

At last, dessert was served, although Madhu wondered if it was sweet enough to wipe out the bitterness that was creeping into their lives. Bills paid and good-byes said, Madhu drove home through late afternoon traffic on the weekend and Rishi recognized her exhaustion soon as he opened the door. His words ‘Shall I make us some tea?’ sounded like magic as she stepped into the house. She could only manage to say ‘I’d love that!’ through her wide smile. She splashed some cold water on her face and joined Rishi in the kitchen to find vegetables chopped for the dinner that they had planned on cooking together. 

Rishi settled at the dining table with the tea and said, “So how did the Fab Five lunch go today?” and the contrast of her life with her friends’ dawned on her at that moment. She smiled and proceeded to join Rishi to tell him about her insight and just how much she loved him and their life together. It felt good to be back home.

Written for IndiSpire Edition 47

Monday, January 05, 2015

A Language Called Love

What is language?

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.

Yet, we have used it for everything but communication. Language is alternately defined as a system of communication used by a particular community or country. Language, in today’s world, and more so in multilingual countries is that – an ingroup/outgroup dynamic. A tool to include or exclude people from groups. An identity that feels threatened by the presence of other means of communication, other languages. Language, today, is more form and less substance. It is the choice of words rather than ideas being shared. It seeks to exist for the sake of itself rather than for reaching out to others. Language is a manipulative tool that comes with its own politics.

But language is also any nonverbal method of expression or communication. Language that goes beyond the words and connects two people, whether or not they are able to use the right words. The language called Love.

All children know this language. All adults know this language around them. It is only in the adult world that we pretend it matters what language we speak in, more than what it is that we are saying. And we shove our languages down each other’s throats.

I remember going to Hampi a few years ago – alone and with barely any knowledge of Kannada. And I remember meeting two most loving women during the time. One of them spoke halting English but from the moment she met me, she took me under her wing. My safety, my comfort, my food…she ensured that everything was taken care of and I had nothing to worry about. It was the time of a great flood in the region and there were torrential rains. I had to report to her every day in the interest of my safety and also to let her know what I had seen around Hampi the previous day. With broken sentences but full hearts, we talked and helped each other and language never became the reason our ideas couldn’t reach the other. It was a time when words mattered less, communication mattered more and love led the way.

I remember, too, fondly my white mother in Slovakia. English, as a language, was technically foreign to both of us and yet, her love for me and mine for her are not defined by whether we understand each other’s languages or are part of each other’s cultures. Love is the only thing that binds me to her, millions of miles away. I do not believe that external concerns like our language and our words ever come into the way when someone is willing to care so deeply and love so selflessly. Even complete strangers and foreigners can find ways to connect if there is a will.

Language politics have been at the forefront in small personal groups and large national groups for some time now. Everybody is scared that their language will die. Everybody is petrified that their culture will be wiped out. It is ironic that these concerns come from some of the oldest countries in the world. Culture has been evolving and languages have been dying or being born for thousands of years. What matters is whether they have helped us integrate or segregate. 

The bottomline of all human existence should be concern for another human and today, language stands as one of the barriers to that. When people of a state demand that others must learn their language or leave, they are putting a mode of communication above a human being. When people continue to talk in a common language in a group ignoring the single person who does not speak that language, they are putting a tool and the illusion of their identity above including another human in the group and making him or her part of the conversation to bring in more ideas. It is only the language of love that transcends any differences and really connects people, uniting them in understanding rather than bringing out their differences. And this New Year, my hope is for the entire world to adopt the language of love for the sake of fellow human beings.