Living out YouTube

It’s now been five days since I moved to the United Kingdom. I’m still in self-isolation. In accordance with the NHS guidance, every day, I take a walk downstairs in my garden to get some fresh air. There’s a massive garden in the apartment complex I’m currently residing in, which gives me a wonderful view of the rest of the city while respecting my self-isolation restrictions.

This evening, on my walk, the prevailing thoughts that came to my head were largely centered around the fact that the life I will live and experience for the next nine months is a life that I’ve only previously seen on YouTube.

YouTube is a wonderful medium. I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but the true joy of short film for me is the perspective we receive. Watching vlogs gives you the opportunity to look at life through somebody else’s eyes, and documentaries and film always give you the chance to examine a character’s take on circumstances around them. I have loved YouTube for democratizing the content creation space for a long time now, and I’m grateful to have lived in a post-YouTube world for most of my childhood. I remember watching Ryan Higa and Dancing Turtle videos back in 2007, and the platform’s influence on my life grew massively when I was in Grades 9 and 10, largely owing to how much music I discovered there.

However, in that period of my life, I discovered several vloggers, and began to watch these videos of students in University towns in different cities. I claimed this assisted my research, enabling better decision-making when the time came for me to apply to University. In all honesty though, the vlogs were just ways of looking at different cities from a 20-something year-old’s view. I found the Oxvlog project, and Simon Clark, and all the Camvlogs and Jake Wright, which provided fuel to my UCAS application when I was younger. A few years later I discovered PaigeY, IbzMo and Ali Abdaal, who provided these wonderful views of Cambridge.

This afternoon, from my garden, I saw Spoon’s. The Regal Wetherspoon was a place Jake frequented in his vlogs, largely for dinner, and seeing it was surreal because although I was outside and rather far away from the place, I knew exactly what the interiors looked like, and what kind of discounts to anticipate once I showed them my student ID card. I saw a Nando’s and instantly Example & Ed Sheeran’s rap, The Nando Skank, began to play in my head.

This is just the beginning, but it really does feel strange to be in the locations I’ve only seen on YouTube. I remember in 2018, when one of my seniors moved to Oxford, my YouTube knowledge meant I knew about the closest pharmacy to her College. I used YouTube to learn about all this. My dad uses Google Maps. He’s given me some restaurant references already, and I’m sure he’ll know the geography of this place really soon, which I appreciate, because it means I have to explain less about my locality to him. It’s weird though. I’m living a YouTube life.

I’m not one for making films, but maybe this marks a opportune time to begin.

Dear Cambridge

Dear Cambridge,

At the time of writing, I have described your weather to everybody as British Test Match weather. When I was younger, I used to spend days watching India’s tours of England. I’d watch the day’s play and then watch the highlights. I’d pretty much be glued to the television till my grandmother came home and insisted I do something else. That passion continued through as I grew older. Since I started following the sport, there is not one season of English test cricket I have missed till date. Every match, I hear commentators say the same thing late in the day. Lots of cloud cover, the sun shining through in the batsman’s eyes. Ball swinging, difficult session. That’s precisely how you look today, and how you have looked for each of the five days I have now spent here.

Cambridge, you will be the fourth place I call home. Thus far I have resided in Dubai, Bengaluru, and Gandhinagar, falling in love with each for different reasons. I’m curious to fall in love with you, to find out why I fall in love with you. I’m curious to understand your character – what you enjoy, and what frustrates you. I’m eager to find out your story, your stories, each and every one of them. The folklore that birthed you, the myths that continue to help you survive, and the reality that draws people like me to you from far and wide.

You represent a closed loop in my life, Cambridge. It feels surreal being here despite the fact that I am sitting in self-isolation, because for years, I have seen your logo on my certificates as I completed my IGCSE’s and A Levels. I have seen your logo across International schools in the cities I’ve visited. I have repeatedly watched CamVlogs, and Jake Wright’s Vlogs on YouTube, and have heard stories from seniors about breathing your air and experiencing your grandeur.

I cannot wait to earn your trust and be your companion.

I hope you feel the same way.

Love,

Tejas

Dear Bengaluru

Dear Bengaluru,

This evening, your skies turned a dull grey, and ever since, you’ve been crying. It’s almost as if you’re preparing for me for where I will be next, as you’ve done ever since I’ve been done. I know the real reason for your tears is that you’re sad that I’m leaving. Believe me, I am too.

I’ve been struggling to come up with the right words to say Goodbye. For the past week, knowing that I’d be departing today, I’ve been thinking about how to tell you about every feeling you’ve given me that I’ll miss – and how to tell you that this isn’t really Goodbye, and that there are no Goodbyes. I’ve been wondering how to communicate that this isn’t a full stop, but a comma on a sentence that’s still writing itself. Each night I’ve come up short. I don’t have another night, and so I shall tell you how I feel, and I hope you feel the same way.

We were acquaintances till I was 10 years old. We flirted, yes – for a month every single year, but nothing really materialized. I don’t know if you believe in the stars, but I do, and I know that they weren’t aligned at the time. Every time we met I’d burst in with excitement and energy, and you’d sap it all away with your rains, the insects, the dirt. You’d tire me out with the traffic, the smell, the sound. I’d leave each time knowing I was going back to someone who gave me all the comforts you couldn’t offer. I’d leave each time knowing that it was not meant to be. You had bowled everybody in the family over, my dad included. Not me.

I can’t quite put my finger on what changed in 2008, but I spent a month flirting with you and I knew you were the place I wanted to call home. I knew, from the moment my world spun upside down and brought me to you that we would be okay. That we would last. To my idealistic mind, you could do no wrong, so I told myself I would try to do no wrong either, to prolong our association. There are forces in this world that are beyond our comprehension, and my pulse, when I saw you on that June evening, slowed. It steadied in gratitude.

So for the last 12 years of my life, I have tried to live with that pulse. I look back this evening and I know I have faltered at times. I was not grateful when you decided to give me the long road I had to travel to school, nor when you belatedly gifted me a bridge to smoothen my ride. Nor was I grateful when the closest grocery shop was more than six kilometres away. I know I did not display gratitude in my first year with you, when you offered up tempermental transitions in weather. Nor when livestock stopped me from getting deeper into your heart – the center of the city.

I know I was not grateful when Namma Metro arrived in a purple ribbon as a consolation prize for missing several anniversaries.

I look back tonight and all of this seems so pointless.

Since I was 10 you have given me family. Falling in love with you meant learning your history and stories, learning the language better, learning about my identity, learning about community – and gaining a stronger sense of acceptance from my family. You have introduced to me people I would not have had the opportunity to meet anywhere else in the world, and people whom I would not have wanted to meet elsewhere. People who loved you more than I, people who loved you, and lost you, people who begrudged you, who disliked you thoroughly. You seemed not to care what they thought of you, turning a blind eye to their opinion because of your love for them. You did swalpa adjustment, I know – but you made me find my place when someone called you overrated and I lashed out at them without hesitation, caring not for the consequences. When I left for short periods, to study at University, you gave me family there too – a family I love deeply, with whom talking about you felt like a Bengaluru Anonymous meeting, with all of us relapsing in the middle of the semester by flying back to you.

You gave me food and provided me shelter when I needed it the most, when I felt like everything else around me was crumbling away in the abyss – you were my anchor, my rock. Visiting a gaadi, eating dosas, chaats, and Corner House. You have given me a lifetime of exercise I need to do to get in shape.

You gave me your weather, and with it your soul. I know that in my first year I called it temperamental, but my goodness, you beauty. You have spoilt me for all eternity and I do not know if I will be the same anywhere else in the world, with anybody else. I love how comfortable you made everybody feel, exhibiting the Goldilocks principle in practice – you were just right. Not too hot, not too cold.

I have loved you so intensely that I am unsure if I will love like this again. Yet for that, I thank you.

I thank you because you were only the second place I called home – and the only place I thought of when I thought of Home. I thank you because you have set the bar so high that I am unsure if anything can live up to the billing. I thank you because you know, like you always do – that now is the right time to let go, and that you didn’t wait for the last night possible to say it. You said it six months ago, when you clinged on to me in the middle of a global pandemic and held on so tight, knowing that we’d have to part ways. You said it all when you allowed me to live with you and spend time with you alone, something I have desired for years now.

As I said earlier though, Bengaluru, this is not a goodbye. This is an au revoir – till we see each other again. This is a hogbarthini, because I’m just now only going – but I’ll be back soon to see you. This is a solpahottu bit siganna, because our time might be over for now, but you will always be in my heart.

Please be kind to everybody you take in. Please be yourself. It’s what people like I have thrived on.

So I won’t stop writing you letters, and I’ll keep calling your name. This isn’t a break-up of any kind, it’s a pause, I’m just switching lanes.

I hope you feel the same way.

Till next time,

Love,

Tejas

Home Court Advantage

Last evening I stepped onto the basketball court within the complex I reside in, ball in hand, to do some shooting drills. I’ve been experimenting with the idea of doing this over the past week, thinking about all the precautions I need to be taking while I’m at it. Speaking to friends about the idea gave me a lot of ideas, and taking the plunge felt great. It’s been about 3 years since I last played on the court here consistently. I used to try getting up before my internship and shooting hoops each day before I went to work when I worked at a place close to home. That was good fun.

This is the first time I’ve picked up a basketball in over a year, easily. Last time I played was probably April 2019 or something, where we had the interbatch tournament at University.

Shooting around for a bit felt really good, yesterday. I instantly felt like I had lost power in my wrist, and that I had to support the ball at all times with my weaker/guiding hand. I didn’t have the range that I did earlier at all, nor the accuracy. It was just me, the ball, and the court though. With earphones on, it felt incredibly blissful. It got me thinking about all the conversations I’ve had about basketball in recent weeks.

One of my closest friends from law school circles is a prolific, passionate basketball player, who studied in Bangalore. Just last week we were talking about the tournaments we went to, and we discovered I attended a tournament he was in charge of organizing, and he came to our community to participate in the inter-community tournaments our coach used to host (you can read about those here). So we met each other in Grade 9, and then probably came within inches of meeting each other again in Grade 12, but only actually met at University, and kept in touch ever since. He’s one of the few people I talk to every day. That discovery showed me how small Bangalore really is, but also how I may have just-missed so many people in my life in the past, only meeting them when we were both at the right place, at the right time.

Standing on the court made me think of that again. I’ve met so many really cool people through basketball, and my school friends and I are close because of how terrible we were as a basketball team, but how much we enjoyed playing the sport each day. Honestly, if you saw how seriously we took our games during the PE period, and during lunch sometimes, or even when we were messing around, I don’t think you’d think we were all terrible players. It got very intense. It’s one of those memories that you know you can hold on to even when everything you’re striving for goes wrong: that if you love doing something, the results hardly matter because the journey is far more enjoyable. We won only one basketball game as a school team, in 4 years of playing the sport together. We won a medal because we got a walkover. It was honestly absurd. We complained, became unmotivated, but continued going for tournaments anyway.

The other thing that came almost naturally to me was the drills themselves. I didn’t have to think about them as much. The movement was sluggish, and the scores were abysmal, but everything felt like muscle memory. Every single movement I made, every shot I took, and every angle I stood at felt like it came from someplace wired deep within my brain. Professional athletes must feel like this every time they play a match, what with the amount of practice they put in and the number of years they’ve practised. It felt mathematical and methodical. The drills my coach taught me were based on breaking up the shooting arc into parts and figuring out exactly what angle, speed and height you had to release the ball at to get that “perfect” shot.

The reason I enjoyed this so much was that during the initial years basketball coaching was offered within my community, I was the only boy who went for classes, and the only person in the “above 10” age group. As a result, for quite some time, my drills were separate. They were things I did alone, with the coach monitoring and instructing. This was especially true after classes when coach didn’t have to rush off anywhere else. He just hung out with me, and I’d end up going home sometime only around noon, when I used to leave home at 7:30AM for tennis coaching followed by basketball. Playing alone brings that back. That comfort of knowing so much is within your control.

It was beautiful. I may not play as regularly anymore but I don’t want to forget how much I enjoy the game. I don’t want to forget how much I gained from my home court, and the kind of confidence I feel when I’m home. 

La Madre

Dear Mother,

Yesterday was your birthday. Over the past two years, I’ve been in Dubai to celebrate it with you. One year we’ve gone to Bollywood Park and had a full day out as a family, and another we’ve gone out to a wonderful dinner to share in your joy. This year I was not there, and it’s the first time in a while that I haven’t gotten to see you up-close, behaving like a giddy child and excited by the smallest of things on your special day. I’m glad we did what we did though. The zoom sessions, a free-entry/free-exit policy! The entire thing made it feel like it was a real party. Staying online for the entire thing brought me as much joy as it brought you – mostly because I heard lots of your childhood stories, and people laughed along with you about them.

Every single year I’ve racked my brains to figure out how to make your day memorable. Appa and I have really struggled, especially after all the things you do for us. Let’s take this year only as an example. I was fully prepared to chill at home alone on my birthday, and at the most, consider ordering some outside food. I’ve been home alone for a while now, and while I’ve enjoyed it, you were perhaps the first to sense that maybe I wasn’t a 100% sure I wanted to spend my birthday alone. Chikamma, you and the family figured out all the logistics, Uncle came and picked me up, and I was with them the entire day. But it didn’t stop there. You gave me explicit instructions to stop doing whatever I was doing at midnight and log on to a zoom call with you and Appa. Then you showed a 10-minute video that brought me to tears. It didn’t just make me well up a little the first time I saw it, but I was visibly moved by it each time I played it through the day.

Usually, people make 1-minute videos. Attention economics premises itself on the fact that human attention is a scarce commodity, but boy oh boy do you know how to make me concentrate. You managed to reach out to friends: old, new, surprises – through e-mail, facebook, and Whatsapp! I feel like if I had friends where technology had not fully penetrated, you would have sent them a postcard requesting for their co-operation in this endeavour. You got family to participate, and, you put in the effort to bring it all together, with detailed instructions, illustrations, and learning how to use Windows Movie Maker.

This is not new. It’s just this year’s story.

Do you see how much pressure Appa and I are under?

Which is why I’m glad you take your own initiative in planning your birthday parties. It makes our lives so easy to know that you’ll be happy with everything as long as we follow your instructions and comply with what you’ve envisaged in your head. For us, I think Appa and I are happy to contribute in small ways – helping with your technical setup, proofreading the party invites. Who can forget your 40th birthday celebrations – where we had instructions to play the keyboard, and dance with you, and write a prepared toast!

Just you wait though. One day we will surprise you. I just hope you let us.

Happy Birthday, again!

Love,

Tejas

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Theory of Music: A Personal Arc (II)

In the first part of this personal arc, I basically explored what theory of music had become for me at the time: a personal project – something to set my mind to. I wrote that post in the first week of March, having just completed my ABRSM Grade 5 Music Theory exam – at a point where I didn’t worry too much about the result at all. Truth be told, I frankly didn’t think about the results past that first week. Too much has happened in the world generally, and to me, personally, since. The events of that week, and of that day feel like a blur in my memory, since most of my time went in preparing.

My results came in this morning, and I was elated to discover I had passed.

I was thrilled. Of course, some portion of this joy came out of passing the exam and not having to think about that Grade anymore. A larger portion, however, stemmed out of the fact that I had accomplished these results by self-studying. Mind you, these are not excellent results – I achieved a Pass. However, the satisfaction of seeing my own effort bear fruit and reflect well according to the yardstick to which I prepared is not something I’ve experienced to often before. Large swathes of material have been taught to me, or I’ve been fortunate to have good teachers for. With the ABRSM exam, I had access to the same resources everyone preparing for the examination did: the standard examination content. It felt nice to look at today’s result, and say – hey, I did that!

About 15 minutes in, after telling my parents, I had some time to step away from things and look at these results a little more carefully. Yes, I had done that. I had actually put in the effort to prepare according to the curriculum designed, and actually learn everything I was interested in learning for the exam. It was uncanny, therefore, to think about the role the Universe had played in all of this. What prompted me to look up music theory, when I was at home in December – when I could have chosen any project at all? How great was it that an exam was available in March, giving me precisely the right window of opportunity to prepare? How fortuitous was I to be able to study for that exam – and write it, exactly 7 days before the number of coronavirus cases in India began to rise?

I looked at the results a little differently. They felt blessed – like some conspiracy had worked in my favour, and I felt more grateful – not just for all of this, but for the background I had in classical music that allowed me to tap into a reservoir of knowledge while preparing for the examination. For the network that enabled me to ask my friends doubts where I had them, and for the means to afford the preparatory material and the examination itself.

When I looked beyond the results, I thought about how much this examination gave me. It gave me a chance to study and drive myself toward an objective of mine, and an opportunity to rediscover classical music in a way I had only shallow knowledge of before. I am no expert on theory today, but I loved learning all the information I picked up during the examination, and I’m eager to see how much more I can learn. It rekindled and reactivated a part of my brain I had put to ‘sleep’ mode for 6 years, since Grade 11 and my antics on FL Studio.

Aside from all of this, it got me to think closely about why I gravitated toward theory. Why does theory fascinate me? Why do I enjoy studying theory? Of course, the easy answer lay bare in front of me – these were the only examinations I was confident of preparing for without guidance. Other optional answers also felt easily accessible – that the theory examination is a prerequisite to the practical examinations with the ABRSM at higher grades, and that they help with a holistic understanding of the music we are training to play, and all sorts of things.

My love affair with the theory of music, however, pointed me to something very fundamental about the way I approach things. I thought back to Grade 11, and why I struggled with Physics the first time around. The theoretical foundations we had built in the subject at the IGCSE were toppled on their heads, and with poor guidance, coping with that change felt seismic. I thought back to things like fractions: the easy stuff that people understood in Mathematics because they could envision fractions as practical problems, but I found ridiculously difficult because they felt so abstract. I struggle with videogames that don’t have explanations for actions: which is why I couldn’t play Ratchet & Clank well, ever, but I could play Runescape reasonably okay.

It pointed me to how I prefer understanding and studying things – from the ground-up. Theoretical information somehow feels like it brings a sense of order and stability to the practical. Even if as an afterthought, or an aberration that helps to elucidate a creative passion, the theory underlying artistic license fascinates me because it suggests that things in this world as explicable. That fundamentally appeals to me, and the fact that there is a dynamism to this explanation owing to varying perspectives and schools is something I find most enjoyable.

So yes, I passed my theory of music exam, and the theory of music has become a part of my daily life. Along the way though, I had the chance to think about theories generally – and I liked that very much too.

Equanimity

This is a word that’s been floating around a lot in my vocabulary and the literature I read over the past few months. I haven’t actually ventured forth and written down my thoughts about the subject because I didn’t feel like they had formed entirely. I do, however, use this blog as a place to keep track of the way my thoughts progressed, and in a sense, it seemed appropriate to write about this as well.

I’m trying to be more equanimous in accepting reality as it occurs. This is difficult, for there is always a version of things in my head – the way things ought to be. For me, I build off of what I envisage taking place, and where that does not occur, I struggle to cope with that. It places a stress on me that feels inescapable when things anticipated or expected do not take place, and in the past, I have fallen prey to that stress.

It’s impeded relationships with other human beings. My relationship with my own parents, for example, very often, slips into conversation where I begin doling out information on what I believe should be the response to a particular situation – and not as a matter of opinion, but rather as a matter of fact. It feels to stray into the absurd very frequently, when I remove myself from the scene and view it as an outsider.

Learning about equanimity, the word – and the depth of interpretation that arises to the word has injected fresh perspective in my life. At present, all I feel about it is that I mistook the phrase and the attitude to mean surrendering to reality completely. My original understanding of the expression was one of nonchalance, that you stopped trying to impact reality – because you accepted this is the way things were. I can’t accept that because it feels purposeless, and observing things around me without impacting them feels like being a spectator and a participant in the game of Life simultaneously. I can’t do that.

I understand today, however, that equanimity is accepting reality as-is, to fully understand it, and internalize it – so it does not push you to extremes in any decision-making, or activity, or life at large. It doesn’t mean you stop impacting reality, but rather, you do so with heightened awareness about what that reality is.

I don’t have much else to say about it yet. If I do, there may be a part-II.