Any way the wind blows

Doesn’t really matter to me (but it did).

My house is situated right across from the sewage treatment plant (STP) that is located within my community. As a result, I grew up with a foul stench emerging and wafting into my kitchen premises, or into my bedroom – the two rooms that faced the STP directly. To avoid that, we often shut windows earlier than normal, or just didn’t open up some windows – these big ones in our hall, for example. I refused to open two windows that faced the STP out of the fear that the smell would just diminish all my senses. It was actually horrendous. My father tried encouraging me to do this quite a few times, because of the cross-ventilation it offered when the other windows were opened up as well. I did not think the risk was worth the reward.

In fact, this STP business became a community-wide issue when I was younger. My mother was involved in a lot of the community politics, but basically, the STP issue, and any decisions made on the STP directly affected residents that resided in our row, particularly 4-5 houses, but benefited the entire community without impacting their living environment as much [because people consider their living environment to be limited to the things next to their house, and not as far away]. A lot of financial and egotistical challenges later, things ended up getting better because the community pulled through and under some able guidance and direction, ended up implementing a solution that helped us all live better lives.

As a result, the stench is pretty non-existent these days. From time to time, I get a whiff of the old sewage smell and I think that not much has changed in my life. Other times though, I’m more appreciative that my kitchen windows can now be left open and I can actually smell the food that I’m cooking, as opposed to the food that’s been processed first by a human body and then by a plant. I even opened up the hall windows a couple of times.

However, in an extremely selfish sense, I refused to take any chances with my bedroom. Till this morning, that is. There was a lovely breeze blowing all through this area today, and I could hear the breeze hitting the windows in other rooms. Its rare that we have warm, sunny days with this level of breeze. Usually breezy days are typical non-sunny days in this city. This felt like summer though, so I really did want to try the cross-ventilation stuff my father had told me about.

I took the plunge and opened up one of the windows that faced the STP, because I was not confident enough to try out two.

Throughout the day, I have had the most wonderful breeze in my room. In comic strips, breeze behind individuals or objects is represented through these wispy, curled lines to represent a natural force that moves them around. I felt those wispy lines behind me as  I walked around the house today. That, with the added positive of a lack of smell, has made me grateful to the wind-powers today.

I do wish Bangalore had more wind-power plants though. Today would have been a good electricity day. Another set of reflections though, is how temporary all this wind, and smell, and such is. They were a fixture of my childhood – I used to get so angry about some decisions the community took, and the kind of odour that pored into my home and confounded me daily. I look back today and whenever I think about opening windows, I can only think about the smell and the correlated, consequential anger. Nothing else. Wind moves around though, and emotions do too. I no longer breathe the same air I breathed ten years ago.

So any way the wind blows, shouldn’t really matter to me.

Tubelight Moments

I would understand if you saw the title and expected a blogpost about a sudden realization I’ve had today, or sudden realizations I have generally. Those happen extremely rarely these days, and when they do, more often than not, it’s usually a realization of how much time has passed.

This afternoon, I managed to change the tube lights I have in my bedroom. As a result, my room is more illuminated than it was before. My eyes are still adjusting to the brightness. It’s around 12AM at the moment, yet it feels like it could be any time during the day. There’s a warmth to this light and the way it spreads across the room that makes the room feel bigger and more welcoming. I understood that only because I haven’t had the light on for the past two months, relying on a smaller, round, circular light on my ceiling.

When I was younger, this tube light used to be in our living room. It moved into my bedroom when I first was given a bedroom of my own, and it’s been with me ever since, which is now a period of 14 years. I can’t recall a time without the tube lights in my life, so I have a feeling the fixture was purchased before or around the time I was born. While that is a long duration of time, after the light turned on at night, I was thinking about all the moments of my life that the light has shined on, and some snippets deserve mentions.

Well, the first one that came to mind, is the fact that the tube light saw me sneak onto my computer to play RuneScape when I was meant to be studying. That’s an early memory, because I definitely needed the light on at night to be doing anything in my room at all.

Then I have memories of struggling to switch off the light and climb atop my bunkbed in Bangalore. I used to sleep before my parents went to bed, and climbing to take my place on the bunkbed was quite a bit to manage in the dark. I used to be terrified of the dark as a child, and I am, to this day, pretty scared of heights. Turning off the lights meant that I had to tackle both my fears together, which was not something I was particularly good at. I remember switching off the light and almost leaping up the ladder steps to get to the bed before the last flicker of orange that shone on the edge of the light went out.

Finally, of course, are all the memories from studying. The tube light was my companion on late nights, which was anything past 11:30pm on schoolnights and pretty much most weekends. It was also my companion during board exams, where my fear of forgetting things made me wake up and revise. I remember doing this for one exam in particular, my Chemistry Paper 4 exam, which took place on my 17th birthday in 2015. It was the day after the law entrance exam, the CLAT, and preparing for both had meant revising for the Chemistry paper in the car on the way back home from the entrance exam to University – an odd feeling. I went to sleep worrying that all my studying was going to be for nought because I had spent the Sunday meant for Chemistry doing something else entirely, so I woke up around 4:30 and began to revise away. During those board exams, my friend and I used to get to school and back together, and I dozed off in the car after I picked him up because I could not keep my eyes awake.

Thankfully, I stayed up through the exam.

It’s odd that the tube light in my room has also always meant the coming of evening. Lights in the house used to go on at different times, depending on the amount of sunlight available. I remember the kitchen and the hall going on first, because there was very little light poring through the curtain, and evening television always necessitated good light conditions. My room, on the other hand, was often without light when I came back from playing outdoors in the evening. I used to use those trips outside to the football field or to the basketball court to split up my days – into “school” and “after-school”, but it was only when I came back home and turned on the light that it struck me that my day was coming to a close.

Naturally, therefore, the tube light has been witness to several pieces of homework put-together at the last minute. The tube light was the first piece of electrical equipment I learned how to fix from my grandfather.

There’s just one thing to say in conclusion. The tube light rests above my piano and below my air-conditioning unit. As a result, it’s seen some of the most infuriating times in my life – the piano practice and the mistakes I used to make. It’s also provided the light to some of the most inspiring things I’ve done with music. Sight-reading, for example, is a skill I am extremely proud of, and the tube light provided the source that guided me to each note.

May these tube lights live longer than the last set did.

Goodbye, GNLU

Dear GNLU,

This evening you informed me that my seminar papers had been cancelled, effectively concluding our final-ever semester together. In the few hours that have passed since, I have not stopped thinking about you for even one moment. You and I both know that we will not forget each other, and that there are never really any goodbyes. Simultaneously though, we both know that we need the closure, to complete a journey we both embarked on five long years ago. I may never get to hear what you have to say, but I do know that I will wait forever for a chance to hear your voice once more. I don’t want to leave things unsaid.

The first time I heard your name, I was in Grade 11. Another one of your companions told me tales of the people you took in and the families you built. I learned about your tenacity – your willingness to push forth against the toughest of circumstances. I understood that not everybody viewed you the same way, that you split opinion, but that you were unwavering in your objectives and proceeded with them nonetheless. I heard of your swaying moods, your hallowed halls, your infrastructure, and your grey walls. I was enamored by the way your name rolled off my tongue, a single syllable when pronounced as a word, and endeared by how unassuming your companions were.

I just wanted to be your friend.

So, of course, you rejected me, and twice, no less. I flew from Bengaluru to Odisha, and Odisha to you so many times, I was certain I qualified for frequent flier miles. I understand now that perhaps you doubted my commitment. After all, I loved Odisha. In those three weeks, I settled in, made friends, and tasted Law for the first time. For a long time, you remained a distant dream. I thought of you when I went to sleep, and thought of you when I woke up each day. I struggled with an internal dialogue, urging me to try to strike up a friendship once more. I caved in, and I am so glad you opened up to me.

In the past five years, we have become best friends. We’ve spent eight months together each year, and even when we’re apart, I introduce myself using your name. We’ve organized events together,  and traveled around the country with each other. You’ve taken me places I had only dreamed of as a child. Literally, as a child. I was 12 years old when I fell in love with the idealistic image of the United Nations. You took me there. I was 15 years old when I first heard of the Jessup. You took me there too.

Most opportunities I wanted, you handed me on a silver platter. Timely internships, project resources, University-level debating, editing books, starting a blog. You just made things happen. You didn’t care too much about what it cost you, or whether I reciprocated your affection. You just made sure I had every single thing I needed to be happy.

You knew me so well, you knew I would enjoy trying things I hadn’t ever thought of – especially the food you showed me. Onion rice, Aloo tikki Chole, cheese paranthas? I knew none of these, but I love them now. Your favourite things became my favourite things: from music, to clothes, to the committee t-shirts I collected each year. You introduced me to your culture, your language, your other friend circles. You trusted me with that, and I am ever so grateful.

You helped me rediscover my passions of the past by reminding me how beautiful they all were. I was scared to quiz after Grade 8, yet, you showed me the way, sending along guides to help. I thought I would let go of Model United Nations after I left school, but year-on-year, you brought me back to a society of people I cherished. There were some things you couldn’t convince me about – public music performances remain one of them.

You remained my best friend, but you were never the jealous kind. You wanted to share me with people, and you gave me a community I loved. Across five years, you introduced me to people four years elder to me, and four years younger to me – so I always retained some inter-generational perspective (I cannot believe your new friends were born in 2003). I hope you never forget how blessed you are to have such a diverse set of people in your immediate circle, and that you forever ensure everybody gets to appreciate it.

Just like any other set of friends, you made an impression on me by imparting to me the strangest quirks. Today, when the electricity trips in my house, I long to hear someone scream “Shoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooot” into the void. All text needs to be formatted and justified in Garamond, 12 point, and I have begun to love blue font in e-mails. I love completing and making citations uniform. I am hungry at 1:30AM in the morning, 6PM feels strange without prayer, and cricket on the television is not the same as catching a glimpse of the sport as I scurried past the field you had. I double-check my WiFi is connected once I log-in, and each time I move my laptop around my house, I double-check that I wasn’t logged out automatically. I am unable to use a toilet without double-checking that the bidet and the flush work, and the door locks properly.

However, in my opinion, you were not without your flaws. You were reactive at times, not as responsive as you ought to be. You were discriminatory, harmful, and hostile. At times, you were a bully, attempting to shape people in your image, not fully allowing them to find themselves and flourish on their own. You were judgmental and authoritative. Some decisions you made were without reason. Sometimes power went to your head, and you failed to account for the opinion of your friends, your custodians. I hate how rigid you were about “attendance”, and how much stress you caused everybody around exam-time.

To be fair, though, I was not without my flaws either. You brought out the best in me, but you also brought out the worst. When I made mistakes, I am glad that you called me out on them, because I know they will never be repeated. When I made mistakes, I am grateful you forgave them when you could, but took distance from me when you could not, because it was that decision that avoided us both more pain. Each time though, as you have with so many others, and as you will continue to do, you made it a tremendous learning experience that made me better.

You taught me so much, friend. You taught me about love, unconditional, and conditional, and about loss. You taught me about people. You taught me about the Law in more detail than I knew before, and about where my own morality lay. By teaching me about injustices, by showing me what they looked like, you guided me toward my understanding of what I believe justice needs to be. By helping me understand hate-culture and hate-speech, you taught me where freedom of speech lies. While I am grateful I learned them in a protected environment, a smaller circle than what the outside world is, sometimes I wish these lessons were taught another way, I genuinely do. Ragging, for example, is something I hope you leave altogether and wean all your friends out of too.

Having to split off from a romantic partner hurts. Having to split off from a friend hurts equally. This one is no different. It sucks that we’ve come to the end of the road, because I look at some of our happier times and I wish we could turn back to those moments and live in them once more. We both know that we’re past our expiry date now though. We’ve given each other everything we could so far. At least, I know you’ve given me everything you had to give, and I know I tried. I only hope you feel the same way about me. Just with other splits though, it is going to take time to adjust to a new normal.

After five years of letting you dominate my facebook and twitter, I will now have to resist the urge of sharing your posts on social media. Unless you do something incredible, which I am sure you will, repeatedly, and soon – you will have a share from me, and a public display of affection and pride.

Thank you for giving me a home when I felt like I was losing one. Thank you for being my physical family when I missed my family who were far away. Thank you for giving me the privilege of your association, and your company, which I will miss dearly.

Thank you for making me the human being that I am today. I know this is bittersweet since we will no longer be together, but life has a funny way of connecting us all sometimes. I’m fairly certain we will see each other again soon.

I know we are going our separate ways today, but please, never forget, I will always be rooting for you. I will root for you to succeed at everything you choose to do. I will support you to be better, to improve, to innovate, to progress. We aren’t going to be as close from today, but if you ever need me, I will be there to help.

I see the good in you. The bad, I see as your unrealized potential. That said, I’m always going to be proud I am your friend.

Love,

Tejas

Indian Sweets

Today was the day after my birthday, and the last day I spent time with my family for a few more weeks as I’m returning home tomorrow. Therefore, all I wanted to do over the course of the day was to show gratitude for everything I was able to receive yesterday. I wanted to maximize the amount of time I spent with them, and I’m pleased as punch tonight because I’ve done just that. A large part of it boiled down to how much time I spent away from my phone and my laptop, taking a break from work and e-mails except for a few hours in the afternoon. The rest of it is down to cooking. Here are three stories.

I cooked pasta for my chikamma and my uncle this afternoon for lunch. At home, I usually prefer making penne. I find that it absorbs the right amount of sauce and cheese for the kind of pasta I like it eating. It’s also a lovely shape, and the most appropriated shape for pasta recipes, especially the Italian-American kind. This afternoon however, I cooked some spaghetti. I wasn’t sure how much sauce it was soak up, and tried adjusting the ratios, slightly unsuccessfully. The pasta was a little thicker than I think my family would have enjoyed. Cooking it, however, was a ton of fun, since my uncle was on a break from work during the cook-time, and was curious to see what I was doing and when I was doing things or making decisions about adding stuff. That conversation was very enjoyable, especially given that off-late, when I’ve been cooking, I’m usually listening to audiobooks or podcasts, or watching YouTube videos to keep me company. Some icing on the proverbial cake was having access to aerated drinks while eating. I haven’t had the sugary stuff since the lockdown began in India, and it was nice to enjoy Thums Up when I could.

The second and third stories are related.

I love Gulab Jamuns. They are by far my favourite Indian sweet. There is a lot of associative memory that makes it my favourite Indian dessert, but the emotion aside, objectively, I believe there are few sweets, when made even averagely, that can compare to gulab jamuns. My grandmothers are blessed with incredible jamun-making hands. Every holiday I spent with either of them, I had gulab jamuns galore. So many gulab jamuns. There has been one instance where I’ve eaten a box of gulab jamuns in Pune over three days, and then flown out to Bengaluru and eaten another box of gulab jamuns with my grandmother here over the course of the next three days. My grandmothers love pampering me with my cooking. While my paternal grandmother in Pune is respectful of my desire sometimes not to overeat, and knows to offer but not force, my maternal grandmother enjoys expressing her affection for me by smothering me with food from the second I step into her house.

My grandparents had no idea I was coming over here. To be very frank, we didn’t either – the logistics were dicey and we were not certain of our plans working out till I arrived. As a result, my grandmother didn’t receive the advance notice she relies on to prepare things. I knew it would bother here, despite the fact that she cooked me some kharabhaath and rice kesaribhaath yesterday. I ventured forth and got some jamun mix. Together, we made gulab jamuns. Learning how to make them was an excellent reminder of the kind of teacher she was in her heyday, and the kind of teacher I want to be. I often joke that my mother is overbearing in the kitchen and I find it difficult to pick up cooking from her because she doesn’t allow me to do stuff without showing me. My grandmother gave me the instructions, stood next to me doing her own things, while I attempted and picked up on the skill. The result was amazing.

My love affair with gulab jamuns continues, and my respect for my grandmother has grown manifold today. The dexterity necessary is something I struggled with, and I am in awe of the kind of work she manages with her rheumatoid arthritis. I was not an excellent child when it came to nagging my grandmother about her fingers, I admit that, but I respect her so much more after today.

After a quick tea break, my grandfather decided to get in on the act.

He enjoys making cobri barfi, a solid, dense, often milk-based sweet for the family. I always assumed that he enjoyed making it because so many people loved eating it. I am yet to meet someone in the family who has not enjoyed eating his cobri barfi, which is extremely consistent in its taste, and is never too sweet a sweet, which is an important criterion. However, today, while we chatted, I learned that it was actually his favourite sweet, and making it for people was the perfect excuse to get some for himself. Plus, he doesn’t let ajji enter the kitchen when he makes it, which I find hilarious. He couldn’t really remember exactly how he learned the recipe, but all I am grateful for is that I know how to make this now. I’m going to carry this one forward, tata.

It has become abundantly clear to me that as a family, we show our love for each other through food, among other things. I’d like to learn all of the dishes important to the people in my family, even if I’m not the biggest fan, only so I will never miss them. There are recipes they know, and feelings they have while cooking on the basis of which they make decisions – how much salt to add, how much chili powder to put in, and that judgment I’d like to develop. That way even when I’m far away from home, I’ll have a little bit of everyone with me, always.

Reflections on 21

And the world’s got me dizzy again / You think after 22 years I’d be used to the spin / And it only feels worse when I stay in one place / So I’m always pacing around and walking away

–  Bright Eyes, “Land Locked Blues”

Today was my 22nd birthday. I’m blessed to have this life and I’m incredibly grateful for all the affection I received today. From my parents, to my family, who were kind enough to ferry me across the city so I would not spend the day without familiar company, to the friends who wished me – I’m just very grateful for all of it. This is my third consecutive birthday in Bengaluru, the city in which I’ve spent the most amount of time in my life. It’s also my first birthday in three years without a guest appearance being made by Taco Bell.

I’m heading into a new year of my life today, so I thought it was apt to look at some reflections on my 21st year, and to write some thoughts down for the things I want to ensure I begin to imbibe in the upcoming year.

This past one year has been incredibly tumultuous for me. I achieved a childhood dream I had held onto for a while, but then went on to commit a mistake I didn’t believe I would ever commit – and had to rebuild from there. It’s been a difficult journey since.

The past two months gave me the opportunity to think about what I want year 22 to look like. A while ago on this blog, I spoke about how I didn’t like waiting around for a special day to reflect and hit a reset button, or to start something that I was interested in starting in. At the same time, however, I’m incredibly cognizant of the kind of heightened significance I attach to maybe doing these reflective things on particular days of the year. My birthday is one of them. It’s nice to hit pause and genuinely appreciate everything the world gave me last year, everything I am today, and everything I am able to enjoy.

So what do I want from year 22?

I want to be more mindful of everything I do, and everything that happens around me. I want to wake up each day feeling nothing but gratitude. Not stressed, or worried about exams, or upcoming deadlines – just immense gratitude in my heart for everything. I’d like to make gratitude and mindfulness the two central pillars around which I live my life. I’m not an ungrateful person, but I’d like to increase how much I prioritize looking for the thing to be grateful for. I’d like for it to be second-nature to me, so while I experience sways in emotions and in circumstances, I’m always centered around this.

The last call I made tonight was to someone extremely important to me. The last time we had met each other in person, I was only 16 years old. He couldn’t believe I was 22, and to be fair, I can’t quite believe it either. I’ll grow into it in a week.

Sharing Movies

One of my friends from University and I are learning Spanish together. We started this project with completely different motivations, at completely different points of time, but bumped into each other along the way. Since then, it’s been a lot of conversation over text in Spanish, aside from which we’ve both, admittedly been using Google Translate a fair amount to learn new phrases we’d like to incorporate into our ever-growing vocabulary. Last week, when we were talking about Spanish as a language, I made the suggestion that we read Harry Potter, a series we’ve both recently re-read, in Spanish, taking a cue from my best friend who has intended to read the series in French. This morning, I asked if he had seen Coco, a movie I hoped we could enjoy in Spanish. He hadn’t, so we set up a time and decided to figure out the mechanics later.

A few hours later, we reconvened and grappled with technology. We didn’t find the Spanish version, but I was keen he watched the movie, so we went along for the ride in English anyway, synchronizing time across devices.

The last time I went to a movie theatre to watch a film was probably a year and a half ago now, or even two years ago. In Bangalore, I’ve largely been for movies with my school friends, and with streaming services becoming so popular and movies available on the internet pretty much a week after their theatre release, I haven’t really felt that urge to go, or to share my movie-watching experience with people. My mum’s usually my movie companion. We watch a movie or two, or three, every time we get to spend time with each other. Quite often it’s biographical, or animated, and watching Coco today, an animated film, made me think of how many movies I would have watched with my family had we been in the same house in these times.

I’m yet to meet somebody, across the age spectrum, who has a passionate dislike for animated films. I do know individuals who aren’t particularly fond of them, but animated films feel like one of those few things the world agrees is universally good. If the animation is well done, the story can be absurd, and bizarre, but it will still be a lovely film (for me atleast). I can’t speak for everyone, but what I love the most about animated films is how child-like they make me feel again. Childlike innocence is a lovely thing, and animation, as a medium – even when you have sophisticated storylines and plots, seems to capture that innocence like nothing else ever has, does, or ever will.

Watching Coco today with a friend was an excellent reminder for me, of why I enjoy sharing the movie-going experience with my friends, and in a very strange way, made me really think about why I stopped going to the theatre in the first place. We were talking at different points in the movie, checking out Spanish lingo, mostly, but still, communicating what we felt about the film as we felt it – a laugh here, a tear there. That surprise when the plot twists, a pause to discuss and explain it.

When I was in Grade 10, Skyfall came out, and a group of us from school got together at the Central on Sarjapur Road to watch the film. To date, that has to be one of my fondest movie-watching memories. We ribbed each other so much as the movie unfolded, and then, before we headed our separate ways (since we all had curfews back then), we legitimately spent time discussing the movie, and the kind of things that would have to happen for the next one as a consequence of everything that panned out.

When Coco finished, my friend and I just chatted for a few minutes about how lovely the entire experience was. I’m going to try setting this up with more friends now. I don’t discuss film and TV much with many people at all any more, and maybe this is a way to get back to it all.

Cars

Today, a large amount of the day was spent watching reruns of Top Gear and The Grand Tour. When I was a child, we had a subscription to Gulf News, which came with these incredible supplements from time to time. Thursdays was Entertainment Plus, Fridays was Friday, and Wheels – I can’t remember when Wheels was, but those were the happiest days.

I fell in love with cars at a very young age. My father first spotted this affection I had developed, when he bought me toy cars, and encouraged it by helping me remember the models of cars and teaching me how to identify them on the road. He also took me along to the car showroom every time he went, whether it was for a cleaning service, or for a regular servicing. I remember falling in love with racing games too – the Need for Speed games that my mother’s cousin so kindly burned CD’s for me to ply on my grandfather’s computer in Bangalore, and the Need for Speed: Most Wanted which was my first PSP game. Aside from this, of course, there was the Midnight Club games, and Grand Theft Auto, games that my friends had which involved a lot of car racing and learning cars better.

I was thrilled about these and even did a scrapbook one year of supercars. For a very long time, I was certain I wanted to go into automobile design or engineering. I drew images of cars every chance I got. They were poor sketches, but I was so proud of the kind of configurations I imagined for these cars – the power they would have, the kind of technical specifications that would make driving these cars a luxury.

I’m a Formula 1 nuthead, and I’ve started playing the games online, which has naturally led to me falling in love with the sport more. Watching Top Gear today was a nice blast into the past, a fun reminiscing of my childhood dreams.

I still have a Lego set of a car I need to finish one day. Aside from that though, the only big celebration I’ve had that’s been car-related has been the day I got my Drivers License. Of course, the day my mother trusted me enough to sit in the back seat without running commentary was another milestone.

Watching Top Gear today was also a moment of attempting to reconcile my love for these fuel-guzzling machines, these engineering feats with my desire to ensure the environment is preserved and protected. There is a love that Top Gear hosts and motorheads have for these big, bulky engines, and developments of these engines. A large amount of the driving experience is determined by engine power, and engine sound.

I spent a chunk of time watching Formula E as well. That series looks incredible, and I hope we’re able to get to a point with electric vehicle technology, or hybrid technology that’s both fuel and cost-efficient, while preserving the noise/sound/experience that motorists enjoy.

I also really hope Codemasters incorporates the Formula E series into their F1 games. Those street circuits are fabulous. Would be so much fun to drive.

Cooking Coincidences

Today, for lunch, without any prior discussion – I cooked cabbage curry at home, my mum made cabbage curry at her house, and there was cabbage curry at my grandparents’ place too. This isn’t the first time this is happening – it occurred sometime last week with carrot curry, and I think some other day as well.

I wonder how these occur

In my mind, I imagined the cabbage Gods pulling us all towards that vegetable. I’m fairly certain we all cooked it the exact same way: mine with the least amount of salt, and my grandmother’s with the most. Mine with the most amount of spice, and my grandmother’s with the least. I could replay the resistance with which I combated the urge to cook and finish the cabbage, I wanted to eat aloo fry again – but I countered all those forces and reached for the leafy thing, chopped it up and cooked it as rapidly as I could.

Cooking coincidences like these feel like they mean far more when they happen within the family. In a lot of ways, it felt like a small reminder of where I get my passion for food from. Not literally, but in terms of the food I’ve first eaten – the food I’ve loved all my life. I could go eat all the pasta and pizza in the world, but I know I’d want to come home to Indian food occasionally. Palya is a reminder of that emotion.

Unconditional Love and Family | The House in the Cerulean Sea, by T.J. Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea,
by T.J. Klune,
Published by Tor (2020)
Rating: *****

Introduction

I’m a sucker for books that contain the fantastic and magical, especially when they’re heartwarming reads. The blurb to this book, on Goodreads, was pretty reflective of something similar so I dived right in. I was rewarded with a journey filled with positivity and love, everything I needed at the time put into words.

Plot

The book takes us through Linus Baker’s life. A quiet man, he is a Case Worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth (DICOMY). His job is to oversee the well-being of magical children who spend their time growing up at Government-sanctioned orphanages. It’s a job he’s worked for a long time, no promotion, no demotion, and he follows rules to the tee. Out of the blue, he is summoned by Extremely Upper Management at DICOMY and given a super-classified assignment: to travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage.

He is not told much else prior to his departure, but once he arrives on the island, he learns that six dangerous children reside there: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist – all under the care of Arthur Parnassus, who is charming and will go to any length to keep these children safe. Over time however, it becomes clear that not everything about the orphanage, or the island are as they seem, and Linus is faced with decisions to make that go against everything he believes in.

Riding on Characters

Good books, for me, center either around well-constructed worlds, or well-constructed character arcs. Naturally books that combine the two elements are therefore appreciated by me even more. This had a reasonably well-created world, you’re introduced to it early, and through Linus Baker’s view, it becomes quickly apparent what the distinctions from the world we live in today are. That allows focus to shift immediately on to the characters. Having nine protagonists on which the story rides requires meaningful relationships to be forged between each character, something Klune develops naturally. Additionally, each character arc is extremely well thought-out and the book concludes without any unanswered questions, which is a delight. The dialogue is a delight to read, leaving little thinking or effort on the part of the reader to understand each characters’ motives. This by no means undermines the complexity of the characters, but it’s just a pleasure to read something that feels effortlessly written and enjoyed.

Asking the difficult questions

All of that – the characters and the dialogue does not take away from the tough questions the book tries to ask of us. There’s a lot of internal conflict presented within the book about prejudices and differences, and the way we actually respond to these as against the manner in which we ought to be responding to these. It asks of us why we categorize people and experiences into extreme ends on a spectrum, or into pigeonholes, rather than looking at them as they are – complex, and not necessarily classifiable. A lot of the decisions Linus Baker makes through the book are a result of his own reflections on these topics, and they’re an excellent reminder of the need to reflect about these things on our own.

Conclusions

There’s so much joy in this book. I went into it knowing it was a standalone, but I long to understand and read more about the kind of joy Linus Baker is able to spread to the kids he learns to love. I hope there’s some fanfiction to keep me occupied while I wait for a sequel (should it ever arrive).

Hair Maintenance

This is the longest I’ve gone without cutting my hair. I’ve explored my relationship with haircuts on this blog, here, for example, but it’s only when you don’t have the ability to get a haircut that you’re able to truly define what the haircut means to you, and what, in a sense, it’s always meant. As a child, my father instilled in me very early on that I ought to have neatly cut hair. At University, I often relied on my benchmates in class to confirm whether my hair was long enough to necessitate the solo trip to the barbershop, and sitting through episodes of a Gujarati sitcom I did not want to enjoy but enjoyed anyway. The frequency with which I had my haircuts dropped from one every month to one every alternate month. My haircare routine was simple. Oil my hair once in a week, maybe twice, when it was longer, and shampoo every alternate day – to help with general cleanliness.

The shampooing felt necessary because of how much I sweat at college. There’s a humidity in Gujarat that just doesn’t exist in other States I’ve visited, and every two days I felt unclean if my hair wasn’t shampooed – because it began to smell, or something of the sort.

Now, this long hair I’ve now grown, which somedays, feels like a mane because it’s grown out the sides and the back, and merges into my beard when I grow that out, needs so much extra maintenance. It refuses to sit in place and behave the way I want it to. The thing I’ve learned about why haircuts are necessary, for me, isn’t just the practicality of having shorter hair. It’s also about being able to let go of this weight that grows on us month-on-month. It’s the same with nails. Each time you allow them to begin growing afresh, you allow yourself the opportunity to let go of all the stuff that’s burdened your head for months past.

Now? Things are a mess.

Open Your Heart | The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak

The Forty Rules of Love,
by Elif Shafak,
Published by Viking (2010)
Rating: *****

Introduction

This is the first audiobook I ever consumed. It was recommended to me the minute I opened up my Audible app for the first time. I saw it, was intrigued, checked out the plot, and knew I had to read it immediately. Of course, I didn’t audiobook it completely. I ended up reading more than half of it because I felt a strong desire to push forth – the narrative had me so hooked. This is also what has sparked a renewed interest in reading Rumi’s poetry, or beginning to read Rumi’s poetry.

Plot

This is a book with a plot-within-a-plot, a book-within-a-book. The narrator/protagonist, Ella Rubenstein is a housewife, who takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. Her first assignment becomes reading a manuscript titled Sweet Blasphemy, a novel written by Aziz Zahara. The book tells the tale of Shams-i-Tabrizi and Rumi, their respective journeys and how they find each other, and Shams’ role in transforming Rumi’s life. Ella is smitten, and takes to communicating with Zahara, finding that Rumi’s story apparently mirrors her own life, and sorrows, with Zahara being the person tasked with helping her find love, and joy again.

Nested Stories

Shafak does a beautiful job of switching between the manuscript and the real-life of Ella Rubenstein. The transitions between the two feel timely, never abrupt, and the chapters are never too long, so you never lose track of where you are in each story line. They seem to weave into each other purposefully, especially since they are meant to mirror each other – the pacing is well done, and Shafak introduces elements of conflict, or of communication and resolution in away that never seems to take your attention away from either plot. I appreciated deeply how Rubenstein’s letters to Zahara mimicked communications and the building relationship between Shams and Rumi. The conversations Shafak writes are deep and meaningful, opening up the minds of each of the characters in the book.

The Little Things

Shafak embeds the Forty Rules of Love into the book, exposing them by imagining that Shams revealed them throughout his life when the time was right for the person being spoken to, to receive them. You can see this across his interaction with common-people, with Rumi, and through Zahara’s quoting of the rules of love in his conversations with Rubenstein. I loved that each chapter began with the second arabic sound “ba”, and that each section of the book referenced an element. The story, in its entirety, with Shafak’s lyrical writing, made me more mindful and aware and appreciative of the beauty I have surrounding me, and for a while, all I felt like doing was sitting down and taking all of it in.
It opened me up to a new kind of love, and I cannot wait to read more Rumi soon.

Conclusion

Easily one of the best finds I’ve made this year. Worth reading for how well she brings Rumi and Shams-i-Tabrizi to life.

Calling Old Friends

I love keeping in touch with people I’ve met in my life, because it’s difficult to look at any of the friendships or relationships I’ve had in the past and say “my life would be better without that person”. I think I’ve been privileged and fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people – people I’ve had disagreements with, fundamental disagreements, people I’ve hurt, people who have hurt me, but all wonderful people with their hearts in the right place. So thinking back to friendships I no longer have access to is sometimes a painful thing. When my brain decides to meander along to that place, I often find it resting on my school friendships – because at the end of Grade 12 I felt like we had all just become one big blob of friends, but that vanished soon after. In a lot of ways this feels magnified in my head. My brain enlarges small issues, something I’ve been working on, and I’m sure this is one too. A small change in the way we kept in touch somehow magnifying that we weren’t friends, or as close anymore.

Yesterday I was thinking about three people I hadn’t heard from in ages, so I messaged them this morning and had short phone conversations with one of them. That’s what convinced me I had blown everything out of proportion. It felt like nothing had changed at all. We’d just gone our own paths, having stopped for a while to meet each other along the way, but taken different turns after meeting – with different destinations in mind. Those roads aren’t that far apart that you can’t find the space to meet again. Phone conversations feel like the best way to do that, even if you just recall how you met the last time. I think I want to do these sort of catch-ups more, even if I’ve derided the practice in the past. Maybe it’s just a result of the conversation today, and maybe it’s just the circumstances – but calling old friends and hearing from friends with whom I went to school will always occupy a special place in my heart.