Literary-isms

Ever so often, I catch myself say something that feels like it’s taken out of a young-adult novel with teenage dramatis personae. You know exactly the type: where one of the central characters is a boy who wears hoodies and jeans, with headphones on at most, if not all times, where this clothing is emphasized, repeated as foreshadowing the character who becomes his love-interest and makes him take off his headphones and indulge in conversation – their meeting trapped in time, space, and the novel becoming about everything aside from the routine that interrupts the meeting of their minds. I catch myself having a sequence of thoughts when I’m dressed in similar attire (perhaps a consequence of associative memory), and think to myself, right after, that belongs in a book. A book filled with tropes, but my masterpiece, my Michelangelo. 

I associate my foray into this genre with John Green, an author whose work amazes me for how riveting and unputdownable the novels end up being, but equally, after a friend pointed this out, for the sheer profoundness crafted into people who are wise beyond their years. My friend told me, teenagers don’t talk like that, referencing Green’s use of a cigarette as a metaphor in The Fault in Our Stars. I chuckled along in agreement and queried other nuggets of wisdom I had gleaned from these younger characters. For all my quips about seniority being immaterial to respect or knowledge, I dismissed them, till my reading journey got me along to a point where I realized the generalization, that all these characters be pooled into one single space within a Venn diagram marked with a circle teens was flawed. Their wisdoms, their quips stem out of their lived experience – and disassociating, taking a step back, those pieces seem to fit. Granted, this create a hero arc in their lives, but, it fits. Chapeau, my friend, what else can I say? 

It’s in those moments, when I speak or text these sentences – sometimes compliments I’m passing on to people, or explanations of something I’ve said, oftentimes apologies, and even mundane observations, that I think, I need to write that book. I have that one sentence, maybe a handful, and here I am, dreaming of these long young adult novels that are as page-turning as I found Green’s work. You see the problem here, don’t you? I’ve identified myself as that character making these quips, and placing the onus on myself to write. It takes a couple of hours, but eventually, I come to the realization that at best, this belongs on a twitter thread, and dismiss them completely. No record, no memory. Like the first step of editing a poorly crafted tweet before the internet sees it, my lack of record means I have no recollection of the sentences I’ve waved off into the abyss. 

I caught myself having one of these moments yesterday while exchanging texts back and forth with a friend. In the casual conversation about how much time felt like it had slowed down and days had morphed into each other (a sign of this pandemic for most), my friend said every day feels like Sunday. I seized my literary moment. With no hesitation, in real-time, I said, I’m caught in a sea of Wednesdays. I can recall, vividly, my pride at typing this masterpiece. In dissecting the novel in a Grade 7 Book Club or English Literature class, perhaps a teacher would say, Why did Mr Rao choose to use the word “sea”? To which the bright spark that lingered in greys, hood down, at the back of the class, would shoot back, because he felt like he was drowning. And so the English teacher would have found her star, and a new student-teacher relationship would foster the creation of a Dead Poet’s Society, bonded together by the one moment someone really understood what an author meant. Except, in this case, the author, me, didn’t use sea because he was drowning. I used the word sea deliberately, because I’m floating, one day to the next. More than that, I picked Wednesdays deliberately. An odd choice, as my friend suggested, but one I easily explained, below:

I don’t know. I think it’s the fact that it feels like the middle of the week, despite there being no fixed middle because it’s the closest you can get to a middle on the work week calendar. Or maybe it’s the memory of having good lunch in high school with friends.  Or the long forgotten but never really gone memory of being yelled at for saying régle wrong in french class.

And for the Dead Poet’s Society that emerged, there would be the one kid that researched the author’s background, found this post, and got the actual meaning behind the tour de force that is a sea of Wednesdays. For an outsider, a sea of Wednesdays would make no sense. What does he even mean?, they’d ask, and when someone explained it, they’d say, then why on Earth couldn’t he just have said, “every day felt the same”, to which, literary flair, would be the only appropriate response.

So I had this moment, right, on the train yesterday, coming back from London, and I said to myself, that belongs in a book, and for the first time, having a record of that moment and the realization that followed, I can see now that at the very least, it’s given me enough content to fill a space on a blog that serves as a daily reminder of my place as a writer. 

As I’ve decided to start recording each of these phrases I concoct, these literary-isms that occupy space in my heart as novels that are never written. The plan is to blog about them and what they meant when I said them originally, for anyone to adopt if they’d like, but more crucially, for me to remember what on Earth I actually meant, lest I think someday that a sea of Wednesdays was a number of shops called Wednesday’s, like Sainsbury’s

Tintin / Captain Haddock Meme - What a week, huh? Captain, it's Wednesday -  HD Restoration / Remastered (2864*2480): MemeRestoration
This twitter account has become a favourite of mine: What a week, huh? all Wednesdays

Technological Dinosaur

This idea for this post originated on last evening’s call with my mother. While on Zoom, I became a little perturbed (she’d say aggressive) about her poor technology skills. It was really nothing major: one was poor technology etiquette (not muting one call while taking another), and the other was poor effort (claiming to not find something that was easy to search for with ctrl+F). Neither of these so-called “misdemeanors” deserved the disproportionate wrath I unleashed. I chided her for her poor technology skills, and told her she had to up her game if she wanted to be able to adapt to a changing world. She took it on the chin with a smile, but I felt guilty enough about what I said to write her an apology WhatsApp message. In the 5 minutes that passed between ending our Zoom call & writing her that text, my mind cast itself to the shores of the distant future. 

Thus began the montage of a fear that’s been bubbling underneath the surface for a very long time. Me, much older, in the future, struggling to get onto a spaceship that will get me home. Me, much older, not knowing how to access the mainframe cloud computer that houses all my memories. Me, forgetting. 

My maternal grandfather and my own father are two of the most flexible people I know. Although rigid with planning and organizing in advance, once things are in motion, they are the least likely to resist to occurrences along the way. Contrast this with my own style, being in a constant state of flux between organizing & being chill about life. Their flexibility gives them a unique leg-up in this fast-paced technology driven world. While they are both creatures of habit, they find a way to use new tools as they are made available for them. I have no doubt the two would have thrived in the 1970’s. Actually, there’s evidence for this. My maternal grandfather did thrive – with his cameras. My dad would have too, I’m certain. I’ve seen this play out since I’ve been a young child. Here are my top two illustrations. 

The Computer: Personal computers gathered steam in the late 70’s, early 80’s, and my grandfather, an early adopter made sure he had one at home. My mom did some work on that PC, while my chikkamma learned how to type properly on it – it’s why she’s got one of the highest words-per-minute in our family. Of course, this is also down to the lifestyle they led, but my grandfather took his knowledge of these computers and ensured he was never left behind. I saw him move to laptops with relative ease, moving these gargantuan database files he had gathered over time with him – and developing the tools that he needed to ensure that the database could sustain itself on the latest technology. He knows the most code of us all, and learns new coding languages if they fit his project requirements. With computers, he’s a real geek, and he’s wholly responsible for my computer literacy. His partner-in-crime is my father, who ensured that from a young age, I was exposed to the computer. I’ve interacted with every Windows OS that’s come out since I was born – because I played computer games and watched CD’s on our Windows 98 and 2000 computers, and that is due, in large part, to my dad’s desire to stay up-to-date. My dad used to present regularly at GITEX, so when the time was right, he used to ensure we upgraded, as a family, to the current systems in use – we moved to a family laptop, and on my mum and Uncle’s cajoling, I ended up with a PC of my own in Grade 4. His work has seen him move across the various versions of Microsoft Office & cloud computing with ease – and I used him as a guide while learning how to make the best use of OneDrive. He also has – and uses a tablet with much more skill than I can. 

The Mobile Phone: Similar story. Without a fuss, I saw both these characters move from User Interface to User Interface as their needs demanded it. My grandfather of course had to learn how to interact with the phone from scratch, but he moved to a touchscreen smartphone around the same time we all did. My dad, however, is the star here. He moved from the old brick Nokias to the Communicator range to the Blackberry to the iPhone – where he’s planted himself currently. As a working professional, this makes perfect sense: the Android OS was never intended to be an office-use driver. 

So basically, I look back at the 23 years I’ve been in this world, and I can see both my maternal grandfather and my dad transitioning seamlessly across platforms and across devices – and last evening, I’ve lost my patience with my mother for not doing so. Of course, this is putting it crudely. My mom is a star with technology in her own right, and both my dad and my Tata have asked me several questions about the latest technology – which I’ve either straight-up lied about with unabashed confidence (to then be told I was wrong), or assisted with my limited knowledge in.

But those five minutes were moments of serious reflection. 

I’m not as flexible as either of these generations before me. In fact, I struggle more than most with technology changes as they happen. Learning about how to interact with new user interfaces takes me some time. I’m good with hardware switches and hardware generally, but software is definitely a bit of an enemy. Again – this is putting it crudely, but you get my point. 

You see, I’m a little old-school. If I was given a chance, I’d go back to the non touch-screen phones. I’d add most of the smartphone features, but I would want a physical keyboard. I used to love Blackberry’s. Things just felt easier to do on them – typing felt so much more natural. Even with touchscreens, I never have been able to understand how to use the swiping keyboards – where you can type just by swiping? I much rather prefer typing out each letter that I need to – to see the words construct themselves, letter-by-letter. I loved the Windows phone – not because of anything except the fact that it looked like something familiar: the OS on my PC. Till this year, I almost exclusively used Android phones. Transitioning into the Apple ecosystem? It’s been hard work. I’m still not sure if I’m extracting the most out of my iPhone, and frequently, I speak to a friend of mine who made the same transition alongside me to sort out my doubts. 

I’m skeptical about moving to macOS. I’m skeptical also about how I’ll interact with tablet devices like the iPad. I’m not sure if they’re worth their cost, or whether I’ll be able to use them as nicely and comfortably as I use my current set up. I took a good eight months of going back between Chrome and Edge before settling on using Edge for the foreseeable future to browse the interwebs.

I am slow, relative to the industry.

A lot of this is fear. Of what, I’m uncertain. But, given my outburst with my mother, I think I’m scared of becoming a technological dinosaur. The world moves very quickly, and to be able to exist in the world of the future, it feels like I will have to, at the very least, accept some of the changes and innovations that come with it. 

I don’t think I can keep up. It takes a lot of capital to keep up – and just existing takes enough capital from us all. I don’t think I want to keep up either. My goal is a de minimis, so to speak. I just don’t want to be a relic of a bygone era when there’s something more efficient that is accessible to me for my use. I don’t mind being somebody who prefers old technology. Retro tech is very cool. I like it. But, I can see myself becoming someone who struggles with new technology and adaptation. 

That scares me.

My dad’s been telling me I should move to a Mac soon. He was also one of the first people to ask me to use secure cloud services to save files, and to scan everything important just to ensure I never lose an accessible version of it due to natural circumstances. I usually just dismiss him. Most of the time it’s because of the investment these transitions take, both financially and in terms of time – but, perhaps, I should give him more of a ear. Maybe he spotted my rigidity at a young age, and this was his way of nudging me toward a path of more flexibility. 

It’s now time I listen. Hopefully I’ll become more open-minded, empathetic, and comfortable, both with elder people like my mother struggling with current technology (she’s going to grill me for calling her elder), and me using new, modern technology. 

Vaseline Jar

“What you looking at me for?
I didn’t come to stay . . .”

I was in Grade 9 when I was introduced to Maya Angelou and her writing. In particular, we read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The book made a lot of impressions on me as a young child, ones that continue to linger in the mind even today, working away at my perception of this world. I remember reading and re-reading that book. For my academic study, I hoped to be able to quote the book verbatim, and I think most of us got there – with quotes we took to.

As I sit down to write this, all I can think about is how Angelou references Vaseline. In the prologue, when describing her thoughts reciting poetry at Church, she describes the image of her body, with her skinny legs greased with blue seal Vaseline. In introducing her daily routine under her grandmother’s care, she tells us about applying cold, stiff Vaseline as moisturizer. In showing, rather than telling us about heat, she describes how the sun had baked oil out of her mother’s skin and melted the Vaseline in her hair.

I was born in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, and spent ten years of my life there. As the impact of global warming was felt, peak summer temperatures rose well beyond the 42-43 degrees Celsius threshold I experienced as a younger child. I have no memory of wearing lip balm at the time. Despite hot temperatures, I can’t remember having chapped lips. If I look far into the pits of my memory though, I can recall some instances of my mother wearing lip-balm – apart from all the times I messed up the tipped shape of her lipstick by pressing the lid shut when it was fully open. I can also vividly remember a big jar of Vaseline at home, available for use.

My first brush with any lip moisturizing products was in Grade 6. We had this History project where we had to bury some objects in the sand pit near Primary School, and then, as we excavated them, write their descriptions and imagine their possible uses for early cavemen. My contribution to this was an old lip balm casing my mother had. It looked archaeological enough, so we thought, why not? That episode was also when I learned the word chapstick, which was another sign of the Americanisms I was picking up. I had never heard the word till that point.

My lips started to chap frequently after. At least once a year. We’d invest in the blue labello lip-balm roller, we tried out the Himalaya lip-balm, but with the chapping of the lips, I never felt like I could prevent it. I could only treat it. On regular days, with unchapped lips, I never moisturized them in particular, nor did I wear lip-balm or lip-protection of any kind. I didn’t care too much about my lips being chapped – except when they burned as I ate hot food. It also made me crave water. As such, I drink a large quantity of water. This increased that volume.

University is where the entire lip-chapping business really took off, and that’s where this story begins.

Gujarat is not a moderate clime. In summers, there’s a dry heat that captures Gandhinagar. It’s enough for soil to crack; and for turning cricket pitches to develop wherever a strip of lawn goes unmowed. It’s enough for you to see the heat, enough to be described as sweltering. In winters, the breeze turned frigid. The open architecture of the hostel and my broken window didn’t help, and I felt the cold to my bone, every bit of it. The hostel is where I really got into thermalwear and sweaters.

Every January, and every April, my lips would chap. They would take a week to heal. In that week I’d purchase a new lip-balm, lose it, and then rely on regular Vaseline moisturizer to get me through the week. I’d increase my water intake, avoid spicy or hot foods, and eventually, as these things do – they’d heal, returning to their soft texture and pink shade.

They’d never chap in Dubai, or in Bengaluru. Just when I was in Gandhinagar.

This one time it got so bad that I woke up and I couldn’t open my lips. It felt as if I had some skin growth on the lips themselves. That was winter 2016, my second year – and it was a scary time because Gandhinagar still felt super new to me. I called my mom several times to understand what was happening, and my friends helped a lot too – introducing me to branded lip-balm, for example. Something you paid a lot more for, but got better value out of. I really got into the lip-balm thing for a bit, exploring all these wonderful tastes they had. As someone who really enjoyed the chocolate-scented moisturizer that Vaseline put out, some of them caught my attention, and I gifted one of my friends Coca-Cola flavoured lip-balm too.

In April 2018 I took a trip to Washington, D.C. for a competition. It was cold there, far colder than anything I had experienced. Thankfully for most of the competition, I was in a suit, which made the cold bearable. After it ended, my friend and I went to Boston to see my school friends, and then onto New York, exploring Universities and the city itself. We were in New York for four days, living in Jersey City and taking the bus through the Holland Tunnel straight into Lower Manhattan and to Times Square. On our second morning there, I woke up with chapped lips, and before we got onto the bus, we took a detour to a drugstore so I could buy myself lip-balm.

Everything at the store looked way too expensive. I was only willing to buy something I wouldn’t lose immediately, so I decided to buy myself a portable Vaseline jar. Not that small round box, mind you – I knew that’d slip out somewhere. I picked up a proper jar, and shoved it with my power bank into my pocket. I was wearing large jeans to accommodate my expanding belly (given everything I ate in America), and pocket depth was not a concern at all. Over the course of our day, I must’ve scrubbed the petroleum jelly across my mouth maybe 6 times? After every meal for sure, and once in between. By the next morning, my lips had healed.

I remember thinking to myself that this would cure me every time I had chapped lips in the future. It’s not that other products hadn’t worked for me – it’s just that this did the job without making me feel like my chapped lips were a burden, and it did the job quick. Real quick. Alongside that, and without me asking – it healed the dry skin at the periphery of my lips that usually came with them being chapped, something I had taken for granted.

That Vaseline jar has been with me since 2018 April. Every trip, everywhere I go. It’s a part of my toiletry kit, and I never take it out unless I’m using it. It’s worked, every single time. Like some magic cream. I’ve been floored in the best possible way.

I’ve never been cognizant of it’s waning power, or it’s expiry date. I remember reading that petroleum jelly just begins to become less effective after three years or something. As if on cue, in December 2020, as my lips began to chap for the winter cycle, I noticed that my jar of Vaseline was at it’s last mile. There was very little petroleum jelly it had to offer. As if to prove a point – that it was getting close to three years, it stopped being as effective. My lips have been chapping off and on since December – healing for a week, recovering for half a week, and chapping once more. I’ve been hoping every week that the jar would serve me well, praying that it would succeed as an effective remedy for my lips. Unfortunately, this was to no avail. With the last sliver of jelly I could get, I tried once again, but yesterday, I saw I had extracted maximum use out of it.

And that was that. This jar, my traveling memory of a trip that made me fall in love with the world, with the subject I study, and the people I was with – now, emptied. When skin cracks, it mends, it heals, rarely leaving behind a trace of the crack. Vaseline helped that process, and today, I’m left with a fragmented piece of my soul that no jar of jelly can cure. Even where it mends, I will be left with scar tissue that carries forth this experience of loss.

I’m reminded of how much I want to take care of my lips; to prevent chapping, to prevent this horrible cycle I put myself through each time it happens – and yet, as this jar sits empty, I wonder if, when I buy a replacement product, I will remember to care.

I think about this rhetorical question, searching around for answers, and all I am faced with is my now-empty, lifeless Vaseline jar, which, with it’s lid, open from last use seems to mock me, as if to say,

“What you looking at me for?
I didn’t come to stay “

Thank you for your service. My lips & I are eternally grateful.

Deep Cleaning

If you’ve followed this blog, you must know that since news of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself spread, I moved back to my childhood home and I’ve spent most of my time here – barring a few days in May. While that has provided the opportunity to work on several projects and knuckle down to use the time as best as possible, it has also given me the opportunity to reflect on how I lived here while growing up.

I stayed in this house full-time between the ages of 10 and 17, moving away to attend University and returning only as a part-time visitor. As a result, I came back home to the house being in the same condition as when I had departed. My room even had my Grade 12 board examination pouch and all the copies of my hall ticket I had made. That prompted a lot of clean-ups.

While my approach to cleaning my room was defined by Marie Kondo and trying to eliminate everything that did not spark joy, cleaning up the rest of the house has been a bigger challenge. There are several reasons for this. First, I am not the sole owner of everything within the rest of the house. It is a common space, and there are attachments to those objects that my parents and other members of the family have. As a result, I could not be the sole judge of whether an object sparked joy – my judgment would have led to several things being disposed of, that perhaps brought happiness to somebody else at home. Second, I was not aware of everything that lay hidden around the house. I have perfect knowledge of the items within my room. Beyond that, is a world of adventure. Given how my parents and I have taken turns visiting the house, it was difficult to actually collect information on what was located where, and what category of items I may find in a particular spot. Third, I did not know where to start. The house is the perfect size for our family, but when it comes to storing items – and cleaning, it suddenly starts to feel very, very big. I felt this way for the first couple of days in April where I fended for myself and did all the brooming/mopping. It is overwhelming.

I had to figure out a fresh approach.

I spent most of April and May thinking about what I wanted to clean-up/fix, deciding the areas of improvement I could see for the house and discussing strategies with my parents. We figured out how to tackle each of the problems I listed. Since transplanting the Kon-Mari method here was futile, we decided to prepare an itemized list of the big items so my parents could make a joint decision on the same, based on why the object was with us. The smaller ones, I had agency over. While discussing this, we realized that it was not necessary to know what I would find prior to cleaning-up, but that I would have to adapt my cleaning-up method as I went along and discovered new items. This meant localizing the clean-up and fixing particular areas to clean – emptying every cupboard out, and then segregating to clean up. Finally, I decided to take control of what areas of the house to clean, by asking myself: what caused me the most angst? It felt like a natural consequence of this would mean that when that place was cleaner, I would be less angsty, and happier. That led to three places: the kitchen, the guest bedroom, and the bureau.

I started with the bureau. It was closest to my room, and so meant that I could return to the sight of a clean space within an instant when I passed by a mess. The reason the bureau frustrated me was that there were way too many things we no longer used or required, and they were all over the place. It took me two weeks to clean the bureau, which yielded a large amount of electronic waste but provided the opportunity to examine more closely two parts of my parents’ lives I had no involvement in: the foundation years in their relationship, and their academic study. The first was just really lovely because it prompted a discussion on how much my parents valued letter-writing and how that has translated to e-mail. The latter showed me why my parents placed expectations upon me: their own credentials, experiences, and efforts in getting their qualifications. It was lovely to find their dissertations, read them – and try to get them to remember stories from their University days, just as I came to the close of my own journey. There are photos from that time where my father, in his early 20’s, looks exactly like I do today – minus the glasses, which was fun to look at.

Then I moved on to the kitchen. I couldn’t really clean much, but what I really wanted to do was to look at the appliances and try to get them all working. To my parents’ and my dismay, we had to let go of our oven, but the microwave was repaired. That was sufficient. It has helped me cook potatoes quicker, and I imagine that my chili con vegetales would have cooked faster if I had it in April. That was a quick job – not too much effort, and a useful break before taming the giant.

The guest bedroom.

There was a lot to work through here because it was delightfully clean on the outside, but I had to organize the cupboards and I had no idea where to begin. It’s why (apart from work), it took me a month to actually finish up. I finally managed to segregate all the materials into four distinct categories for the ease of my parents’ access, and sort out things that did not possess utility any longer (for us), to give to society.

I don’t know if you can tell (you probably can), but my enthusiasm to clean-up started out really high, and tapered off as time went by and I understood the magnitude of the task I had taken up. I’m glad it’s done now, to be honest.

There is a lot I’ve learned, however. Deep cleans are worth it. If nothing, they teach you how to better appreciate what you have, while giving you the opportunity to evaluate whether there is somebody else in this world who may be able to use the same in a better way. That process itself is extremely rewarding because it really puts into perspective two things. Privilege, and priorities.

Couldn’t have managed this without my parents’ trust – and I’m really hoping I haven’t disposed of something they value. I think I’ve scared my mother that I may have.

Time-Tabling Hobbies

Yesterday I wrote about how much not having clear time-tables affected how I measured progress on my hobbies and my passion projects. Today was devoted to rectifying that by plugging the gaps that existed within my time-table for the past two weeks and trying to craft a schedule that would allow me to get back to looking at how I was engaging with the things I am passionate about.

I feel like I’m constantly trapped in this state of combating my desire to enjoy hobbies as they are in the present along with my aspirations of engaging with my hobbies more deeply.

For the time being, I think I have resolved that conflict by creating goals – where I want to see myself with all of these passion projects, and trying to figure out how I can get to that level while having the most amount of fun.

Striking this balance is really proving to be tricky.

Losing OneNote

Over the last two weeks, I had to knuckle down and focus on a singular project that consumed me. While I did relax, and carry out other leisurely activities, most of my work time was taken up by this individual project. As a result, I didn’t really feel like I needed the daily planner I usually used on OneNote. I relied on an approximation of what the day needed to look like to slot out the time I had on hand and figure out how best to spend it. I used my whiteboard to keep track of anything that came in which demanded priority. Speaking to my parents and recounting my day to them helped me keep check of whether I had actually done what I set out to do. I completed the project I had to complete, but in the process, not using OneNote for 14 days, after using it religiously for 6 months felt like quite a shock.

I didn’t see any impact of this move on my habits – because I think they’d formed by then already. As a result, I still woke up early, tried exercising a little each day, played my instruments and learned new things. I didn’t notice a dip in my happiness – which was very gratifying in a sense. One of the fears I had with daily logging is that I’d associate all my happiness with ticking things off a list, but it was nice to know that I was able to keep myself happy without searching for an external validation or metric/measure of that joy.

One of the things I did observe though, is that I have no record of how I’ve progressed in the last two weeks on some of the bigger things I want to do with my time.

For me, what I’ve taken comfort out of in the last four months or so is being able to track how I’m doing against the kind of things I want to be doing. Some measure of progress of some kind. I never felt anything out of this, but it helped me see how much the small things I did on a daily basis led to immense learnings in the long-run. The guitar, for example –  I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate how much 15 minutes of one activity daily could influence a larger goal as much if I didn’t keep track of it.

That’s what I’ve missed in the last two weeks. I can roughly say I’ve made progress, but on what – and how much? I have no clue.

It’s nice that I’ve hit reset at the start of a new month. Back to OneNote I go.

Writing Fatigue

Over the last two weeks, my time has been spent writing applications of different kinds. As a result, I haven’t blogged about anything. Most days I’ve felt like there hasn’t been anything to write about, but on the days where I felt I did have a story to share, the amount of energy spent on writing application essays, or e-mails drained me. I haven’t experienced that as much in the past three years. When I started out this blog, I felt like I’d never tire of writing, or of sharing. Yet now, spending so much time in front of my computer, with my keyboard, I do feel drained.

There are different ways to address this I suppose. Taking time away from writing has helped me out in the past, and there’s nothing to suggest that won’t work this time around. However, there’s also the other angle to everything – that if I don’t write, and I continue to use my fatigue as an excuse for not writing, I may perpetuate an everlasting cycle of not writing at all. That wouldn’t sit well with me, particularly given my affinity for attempting to catch my rainbows with this blog.

Naturally, I’m going to force myself back into my writing.

I’m also doing this because I’m acutely aware of what the next month might bring with it – and it’s not something I want to leave uncaptured.

Autopilot: Breakfast Edition

While speaking to my mother earlier in the day, she told me how she was thrilled that I was able to enjoy the same breakfast every day. Well, virtually every day. As far back as I can remember in this lockdown, I’ve eaten the same food for breakfast each morning. Cereal.

Speaking to another friend in the evening, I was telling him how the past four months have been this massive experiment in my life, all pointed toward answering the question: if I was given all the time in the world, how would I use it?

We’ve often heard about these industry leaders who declutter their brains by delegating or removing unimportant decisions in their life. Prominent examples include Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg – with their wardrobes. Net-net, the goal appears to be some form of freeing up brain space.

I’ve been thinking about that a fair amount – how much of my life can I set into autopilot? What decisions can I eliminate from my life to retain the same, or increase the amount of joy I receive, while being more efficient? My initial response was that I didn’t want to set anything in autopilot because I personally enjoy the process of decision-making a fair amount.

However, given my difficult relationship with my mornings, I’ve figured out that the more I can bring myself to enjoy it – the more I can work on changing that relationship. One way I wanted to do that was to go back to where I was when I was in school – my morning breakfasts were a quick bowl of cereal before running off to the bus. I enjoyed that bowl of cereal a lot, because my mum would sit opposite me and ask me about what the day had in store. When I was studying, morning breakfasts were a bit of breathing time before the day’s onslaught.

The only reason I’ve gone into autopilot mode with cereal is to recreate that feeling. I’m reaping the rewards of it.

On Education

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to pick up my phone and call my high school Principal. My parents have been asking me to do this for years, but it felt appropriate on that day, given that I had closed off one part of my learning journey, and was taking my next steps. I’ve maintained a good relationship with most faculty who have taught me or interacted with me, so it didn’t feel awkward picking up the phone and calling her.

I’m so glad I did.

You see, about two years ago, my mother met my high school Principal on a flight to Dubai, and they spent a day together. Something I appreciate tremendously about my parents is that they’ve never forgotten that my teachers are human beings who have lives outside of teaching classes. My HKG teacher actually came home to visit the day I graduated from preschool and got me a cake and everything. While hearing these stories may seem out of place to others, for me, interacting with my teachers outside of school, while maintaining a respectful distance, has been the norm. I remember the day my parents spent with my Principal vividly. They called me up that evening and told me how fortunate I was to have been led and mentored by someone like Ma’am.

It was the first time in five years I was speaking to her, but the warmth in her voice felt like it had never left. Once I introduced myself, I could see Ma’am smiling, and was instantly taken back to meetings we had with her when I was on Student Council, where most feedback she had to give us was always encouraging and offered with a patient smile. At one point she said, “I didn’t think I made an impact on you kids because I never taught you”. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

At my school, as with most schools, the Principal represented a bridge between the administrative day-to-day and the teaching day-to-day. Ma’am made an impact on us because she chose to do so. This was true of most Management staff at our school – their doors were only closed when they were in meetings, and if you had something you really wanted to take up with them, you were free to do so. The first time my mother interacted with her was in Grade 8 when she requested I be allowed to take 9 subjects for the board examinations instead of the usual 8. Ma’am agreed, with the caveat that the extra subject would be difficult to timetable, so the school would provide support as best as they could, but I would have to self-study a fair amount. Ma’am was a part of the decision-making board that awarded me School Captaincy, reposing faith in my ability to lead. She was a part of this dressing-down we got given as a French class when we failed to study for a vocabulary test in Grade 9, but a part of this motivational brigade that allowed 3 of us to study the subject further in Grades 11 and 12.

Someone like that leaves an impression on you instantly. She told me how she continued to teach even today, and all of the outreach and support she offered to younger schools without access. As someone interested in engaging with academics, I always wondered whether it was a life-long journey, whether that passion would carry you through forever. Ma’am’s own admission says it does.

After catching her up on what now seems like the trivial details in my life, our conversation moved onto other pastures. I was able to ask her about her philosophy toward education. Her reply came instantly, backed with the most heartwarming story of somebody she taught who returned home to his village in Nepal as an ayurvedic doctor – that teaching, and education, has to be child-centric. Given that I plan to work with the Law, I’ve always wondered how this is possible at higher education. How is it that you can make a mark on somebody who comes to learn from you pre-moulded? Her advice is something I’ll keep with me for a long time: learn their stories.

I look back at my own University years now, fresh from completing them, and all good faculty learned our stories. Each of us developed a rapport with the faculty that sought out information about us – and tried to encourage our individual potentials. I aspire to do that one day.

Similarly, though, she reminded me of how crucial it was that I engage in improving access. I instantly thought of one of my batchmates who has practised this for the past five years. As part of Community Outreach programs at school, I taught English and Math at a Government School, but only when provided the opportunity from school. Ever so often, I’d see posts on social media from this batchmate of mine about his experience teaching at a school close to our campus, and how rewarding that was. It was only in our final year that I was able to ask him a little bit about it – and learn a little bit more about how he put it into practice so early on in his life. His reply is in my memory: education is a goal that’s bigger than ourselves.

My roommate has told me something consistently since our first year. All of this education stuff, all of these degrees, they’re all things we’re getting for ourselves, but in a way, society is entrusting us with this knowledge in the hope that we can improve society in some way.

For the past two days I’ve been stirring my own thoughts about education – led by memories of this batchmate, my roommate, and my high school Principal. That’s what led to this post – I thought it was a worthy place to come back to if I ever had doubts about teaching and lost sight of the idealism I possess today. I know I want to join the academy – I want to read, research and learn continuously. I’d like to teach courses that leave students as enthralled by my favourite subjects as I am. My outlook to education, and to learning, at this point, is that, humans are born learners. It’s why we smile, for example, when we learn how to walk as babies, or pick up new skills when we’re children. It brings us joy. Somewhere in our lives, something makes us forget that. As a teacher, I’d like to try reminding people of that joy.

Most of my teachers did that for me. They crafted this atmosphere in which I loved learning. So much of what I want to do is derivative of how I was taught things – at school, at University.

But I want to engage with school students as well, if I teach at the University level. I’d like to work on improving access to education – which isn’t something I can do in theory if I’m just at Universities, there’s such a high barrier to access. I think I want to volunteer in schools more, and help in whatever way I can. Right now, I’m teaching a module on Constitutional Law and Civics to high schoolers at my alma mater, but that’s just a trial run. I’d like to expand that and teach it in my regional language, Kannada, to as many schools possible.

I only hope people don’t sleep in my class because they’re bored. If they’re tired, perhaps.

Colour Theory

Redesigning the blog and the newsletter with the help of a professional was a wonderful decision. For me, it’s added the splash of colour I’ve wanted for a while. Doing so was such a privilege, and such a fascinating experience. It was the first time I actually expressed the design that I wanted for something, and I’m thrilled with the way it’s turned out.

When I was younger and we relocated houses in Dubai, I was given the chance to select the colour I wanted the walls of my room painted. We had split up the house to give each member of the family the opportunity to select what a room should feel like. My mother picked out the colours for the hall and the corridors, cream-yellow and red. My father picked out an olive green for a single wall in the master bedroom, and I picked out a sky blue for my own room. I spent hours looking at all of these colour palettes available at ACE Hardware, and when the paint consultants visited the house as well, and I struggled to pick between specific shades of blue. Ultimately it was my mother who suggested that I pick a sky blue, given that I had dark blue furniture. I remember her saying it would provide excellent contrast. I agreed, without completely understanding what contrast meant. All I knew was that I liked the colour blue.

My sense of colour was very off when I was young. There are tales in the family of how I dressed up like a multicoloured rainbow, with some shorts that didn’t go with the shirt I was wearing, and different coloured socks that didn’t pair with the shoes I wore. I don’t think I did it deliberately, but I’ve always been the kind of person who wears the clothes that are the most comfortable rather than worrying about whether they combined well together – something that irked my mom for several years. I think she began to gain some faith in me when I went off to University and didn’t look terrible there – mostly just lounging around with different kinds of jeans on T-shirts, but ensuring no clashes of colour.

Picking a colour for my room in Bangalore was easy – it was sky blue once more, this time because of the contrast offered by my dark blue felt board, chair, and beanbag. We had decided, as a family, to have one wall per room with textured paint, just to highlight the wall and bring it to life – so to speak. I picked this spatula like effect, and wanted a dark blue background with a light blue accent, but the painters overruled us and convinced us that two light blue shades would go better. They didn’t. Of the multiple things in my room I may change someday, opting for a different paint scheme for that wall would be the first.

Given this checkered history, the opportunity to express my ideas of colour to somebody who would be able to transform it into something aesthetically pleasing was something I relished. Over the past couple of months I had thought about what I desired, and it was delightful to be able to communicate that to someone else. Through the process I understood how difficult graphic design and digital art actually is, but also the multiple opportunities for editing it offers. Mokshada, whom I worked with, made these incredible iterations of every design idea she had, and made the most minor tweaks to ensure it looked exactly like what I wanted. I loved how I could see the detailing come to life – it gave me a lot of joy.

More crucially though, through the process, I discovered my own biases. I realized I have a heavy bias toward bold pastel colours and watercolours. I have a huge bias toward anything that stands out on white – which I found very strange, given my recent affection toward using Dark Mode on pretty much every application I use on my laptop. I also realized that I’m not a fan of too much colour. Just a splash. It almost felt as though these biases were literal reflections of my own personality. There are some moments where I feel like I can be shades of whatever I choose to be, but for the most part, I prefer the monochrome. I also understood how incredible Pinterest and Coolors are, for inspiration. There are so many tools out there – and I know that one day, I’d like to be able to design everything my heart desires. It’s a very satisfying feeling.

The last thing I remembered while doing all this was something I discussed with my mom when I was in Grade 9. I had just started attending Model UN conferences and wearing formal clothing outside of school. One of the things that stood out to me when I was younger was how boring the boys’ wardrobes were. I told my mom then, that I really wanted to have an expressive, colourful formal wardrobe. The irony of going to law school and becoming a lawyer is not lost on me. Hopefully academia is more accepting of colours.

This is why I’m glad ties and lapel pins exist. And funky socks.

Anyway, the redesign is now done – and I am so pleased with it all. Long may this blog continue documenting parts of my life.

The Writing Habit

This writing habit of mine is a funny thing. I say habit, but I break it every once in a while and end up coming to the same conclusions. At this point, this is probably the tenth time on the blog that I’m writing about breaking my writing habit and the kind of things it has made me think about. However, each time, although the conclusion is the same (that I need to write), I find that it is a different thing that triggers the break. Recognizing those triggers for me is as important as anything else I do, because if, one-day, I ever read my own blogs again, I’ll be able to understand why there was a random gap between posts when I considered myself to be a daily blogger.

So, why’d I end up on this break? Three things happened all at once in the past two weeks:

  1. Fear: I was talking to a high school friend of mine when I first vocalized this fear building up inside of me that I would run out of stories to tell, particularly given that most of my stories, and most of my writing revolves entirely on observations I make in a given day. During this lockdown I’ve been really fortunate to have found a routine that works for me, and I’ve stuck to it almost religiously, but being slightly confined, I began to get scared that my writing would reflect a broken tape-recorder, with the same observations about the kitchen, or maybe something else I found in the house, but not much else. My friend told me this wouldn’t be the case, especially because I notice new things so frequently, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by that. The realization I’ve come to now is that life will go on, and this blog has essentially always been a chronicling of the things I find fascinating on the day to day. Letting that fear stop me from writing, and this is something I’ve felt before as well, is premeditating that nothing story-worthy will happen in my life henceforth, which is simply not true. Life goes on, things will keep happening, so I shall continue to weave stories out of them.
  2. Longer conversations with parents: My parents and my family are the most ardent readers of this blog. It’s weird to think that now, especially given the kind of things I write about, but I’ve never been conscious of my audience while writing here – given that I am not writing for an audience in particular, so there’s never been a filter on content. Over the last few weeks, my parents and I have spoken for longer durations each evening. It’s a combination of things again, but they are free-er at the end of the day, as am I, and we have these free-wheeling conversations about everything under the sun. I usually end up telling them my stories, and they’re the best private audience to observations I’ve made throughout the day. Writing about them almost feels repetitive. In short, I became lazy. If a story is good enough, there’s no harm in saying it twice. In fact, I think my parents will get the preview to all future blog posts, because it’ll probably be one strand of the conversation that ends up making it here.
  3. Lull: The last two weeks have been a lull for me in terms of actual productive output. There’s been a blip. I’ve been consuming more content, but I’ve not reflected or written about it. In some ways, that’s because I’ve been changing up my routine – which has tired me out a lot. In other ways, it’s because I’ve not noticed where the time has gone. For example, it actually only occurred to me yesterday that I hadn’t written for over 10 days now. Inconsistency is easy to cultivate I think, especially without fixed, tangible deadlines. Hobbies don’t have those unless you really want to set them. Lulls seem a part of life as well, you know, but I think the ambition moving forward is to have stories in reserve – those longer stories that deserve telling when there is time on our sides.

Time to write away.

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.