Four Months On: Learning the Guitar

In April, I wrote about beginning to learn the guitar through daily lessons with my best friend. In the past four months, the longest gap between lessons has been three days. Earlier this week, he flew back home, and we relived that gap of three days without speaking to each other. That break gave me an opportunity to think about where the last four months have gone musically, and all the things we’ve covered since.

My best friend and I messaged each other on WhatsApp fortnightly across my five years of law school. We never really spoke much over the phone, but the pandemic changed all that, and we’ve been speaking every day. Aside from the amount I’ve learned from him, the thing I’m most grateful for is the conversation we have each day. In a very strange way, the world placed us both in similar circumstances for a short duration – both away from our parents, desirous but unable to travel back home, figuring out living alone in these times. Daily conversation provided insight into who we were as human beings, and after 12 years living away from each other, it appears as though not much has changed between us at all. We’re both pretty much still peas in a pod, insofar as we struggled for about a week, recognized the need to develop a routine, and then set about creating that out for ourselves. It’s been a lovely reaffirmation of something I knew about our friendship already.

Turning now to the guitar, or broadly, musically.

The last four months have been really transformative. I started with the guitar just knowing I wanted to be able to strum along to songs I like listening on the radio, went through a phase – and a realization, that I could leverage the classical music I have learned to learn classical guitar as well, and finally, have reached a point where I just want to enjoy the instrument and continue to learn daily. Through all of this, my best friend, and teacher, has been the most supportive guide I could have asked for. At no point did he think I was grasping at straws beyond my reach. There have been points I’ve been over-ambitious, I think, but we’ve figured out how much time it takes me to learn a new skill with the amount of practice I put in, and we’ve amended expectations accordingly.

He’s also been incredibly patient with mistakes I’ve made and expressions of my thoughts about the instrument. We’ve approached lessons with the idea that I should be enjoying/playing songs all the time to learn more, and as a result, I’ve always been working on learning songs alongside the technical side of things.

The trip he took back home gave me the opportunity to sit and learn songs that I could perform for him, and this afternoon, I played a full song – with some out-of-tune singing, for the first time for him. It wasn’t too shabby, I was pretty thrilled, and more than anything else, for me – it was a really nice opportunity to look back at what we’ve accomplished over the last couple of months together. The song I sang, Kabhi Kabhi Aditi, has this wonderful line that says, gaana toh aata nahi hai magar phir be hum gaate hain”, which is basically, “I don’t know how to sing, but I sing anyway”, and that’s pretty much how I felt throughout.

Over the last month, what I’ve enjoyed the most is that the focus in our teaching-learning has moved onto the theory side of things. We’re covering scales and more chords now, and talking about more music theory, which has coincided with my own preparation for higher music theory grades.

On the piano side of things, I’m reasonably comfortable with what I’ve done in the last couple of months. Slowly but surely, I’m working towards a repertoire that will help a music teacher identify where I’m at in my piano journey, so when I’m in a single place for a long amount of time, I’ll be able to pick up from that level. One day I will give those examinations as well. I’ve been working on sight-reading a lot, and listening to classical music along with the orchestral scores, just to better understand how much is going on in a piece. It’s been very, very rewarding.

I can’t wait to see where I go with music next, and a lot of it is down to how much joy my best friend has managed to bring to me by making it seem effortless, enjoyable, and not something to be stressed out about at all.

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.

Wakin’ Up Is Hard To Do

The title of this piece is a reference to the classic Neil Sedaka song, Breakin’ Up Is Hard To Do. There’s a Wakin’ Up Is Hard To Do as well.

This is a universal truth. It’s difficult to wake up each morning. I’ve met people who enjoy waking up, who are happy to be at the start of a fresh day, but I haven’t met somebody to whom waking up comes with ease. For me, waking up feels like rebellion. Every cell in my body wants to continue sleeping. All my brain cells tell me to sleep more too, but in an act of defiance against all of them, I push aside my comforter and wake up.

I was terrible at waking up at University. My roommate can attest to this. At my worst, I was a representation of Newton’s First and Third Laws of Motion. I remained at rest until acted on by an external force, specifically, my roommate. When said external force acted upon me, I simultaneously exerted an equal and opposite force on that body, namely, “I’m awake, will lie down for another 5 minutes.”

My history of being this human being goes way back to my school days. At that point, my mother was the external force I relied on. No alarm clock would ever work.

This pandemic, and the lockdown period, has seen a massive change in how I approach my sleep cycle – and sleep in general. First off, I’ve understood it’s value and impact on my life a lot more. My sleep cycle at University was non-existent, and being the kind of person I am, I thought that I’d be able to sustain that forever. It felt like sleep was just time spent not being awake, and not doing things, which is something I find difficult. A lot of reading later, I am convinced about how essential sleep is in my life, and how much having a regular sleep cycle can improve my days, and my quality of life. I’ve also noticed a significant impact on my mood.

Naturally, I’ve tried to sleep more.

The other thing I’ve been trying to do is become a morning person. Given how difficult waking up is, this has not been easy at all. It’s been a 3-month struggle, and it’s likely to be a struggle for quite some time, but I’m finally at a place where I regularly wake up before 6AM and stay away from my phone, actually get things done.

I always assumed I was a night owl, and I was most efficient at night. Now that I look back, I don’t think that’s fully true. I’m most efficient when I don’t have social media to distract me – which is late at night, when nobody uses social media, or early mornings – when it’s easier to stay away from social media.

What I find when I wake up in the morning is that the day feels longer. By extension, I’m beginning to feel like there’s more I can do each day, more time to seize, to relax when I want to, when I need to.

I’m not completely a convert though. There are moments, and days, when I’m up late at night, where I feel like Michael Scott, “I’m an early bird, and a night owl” – because I find it tough letting go of what now feels like it’s been a lifetime habit.

Maybe waking up will get easier soon. My new solution is to try waking up and smiling immediately. Subconsciously trick my brain into believing it enjoys this activity. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Janta Curfew

In essence, the Government requested us, very kindly, to stay at home for the day. That wasn’t new, given that most people were at home anyway. Aside from that was the instruction to ensure that you give support staff the day off as well (so they can stay at home too), and then the request to applaud healthcare workers and staff at 5pm.

This novel coronavirus situation is the first time I’ve seen a pandemic of this kind. I was relatively younger when the SARS and Swine Flu outbreaks occurred, and was not directly impacted by Ebola because it was so concentrated. This is the first time I think we’ve felt the brunt of something that could directly affect all of us, and I think it’s why we’re all collectively trying to stay as informed as possible about everything taking place. Information breeds a sense of security, and a sense of power over the unpredictable. It carries with it a sense of safety as well: that having the information we have, and staying as informed as possible will help us take better individual and collective decisions that will lead to the most positive outcome: containment and reduction in the spread of this virus across the globe.

I’m no different. I’m sitting at home reading as much as I can about this, particularly on the regulatory side. Looking at the responses States have been taking – individually and collectively has been fascinating. Some States have clearly placed people at the forefront of all their considerations in their decision-making, while others place things ancillary to people themselves – things that rely on human labour (like economies) at the forefront. India’s response so far was puzzling – and it continues to be puzzling to me for several reasons. It feels like everyone’s taking it one day at a time, and I feel like a more thorough analysis is only possible in hindsight.

However, today, following the Prime Minister’s address a couple of days back, was the first time we heard the Center issue this kind of public clarion call for individual action. I have my reservations about this whole one-day curfew business, given the weight of scientific evidence suggesting the need for a longer curfew – and I have my reservations about why financial stimuli and aid to the largest extent possible has not been granted to State Governments, aside from other policy reservations as well. What this entire exercise told me about though, was the cult of personality that the Prime Minister is able to ride on at present.

We may be critical of several things, but it felt like hearing the Prime Minister’s message and phrasing brought some peace to individuals who were panicking, and led to some unity in voice and collective direction to stay at home – forcing smarter decision making by some people who continued to go out at all times. Aside from that, I saw a lot of videos of applause, and people genuinely took to it. If I was applauded, I know I would’ve been motivated to continue putting in the effort into anything I was being applauded for, so I understood how this would impact the psyche of most medical professionals.

I don’t support the ruling party – I ought to make that clear. There are multiple reasons for that. What I do hope for though, is that decisive action is taken over the next few days. It is clear that the Prime Minister enjoys the support of a majority portion of our nation – people will trust what he says, so I’m curious to see what his next words are – and what is called for.

In that hope, however, I remember that there is a lot that the Prime Minister has not thrown his words behind, and remain cautious about the things to come.

Leisure Time

I’ve spent a large portion of the past three months revelling in the glory of having fewer classes to attend than a majority of my University’s population, and fewer responsibilities than I previously held. All of that meant a large amount of free time pretty much after 12 each day. My winter was spent figuring out how I’d spend all this free time, and for the most part, I’ve been able to stick to doing whatever I had aimed to do with all this extra time I had been granted – a large goal of which was to chill a little by focusing on my other hobbies.

Coming back home and not having online classes to attend has essentially stripped me of three hours of moving around physically that I would ordinarily have partaken in. And thus, I am left with these swathes of free time. My day is essentially my canvas, and I appear to be left in the sweet position of being the artist. My conundrum is that I’m rather poor with paints – they make me feel very fidgety and if given a chance, I would throw paint across my canvas, the entire thing, and call the outcome art. Which naturally means that the extra time bothered me slightly.

I’m ever so grateful however that I’m in a position where I need to figure out meals, so cooking is occupying some of that free time. The other thing I’m extremely thankful for is that I rediscovered the reading bug a couple of years ago. That, coupled with YouTube, and some FIFA and piano – and everything else thrown into the picture has seen the day go by in a jiffy, and I have reached the end feeling rather tired and ready to be tucked into bed.

Tomorrow, I will do more household chores – and fill all this leisure time with everything I have put off for years together (and conveniently blamed Law School for).

Gated

The onslaught of COVID-19 has seen us evacuate the University premises and find safe havens elsewhere. After considering some options, as I had to, I have returned to my childhood home. Today’s my first full day back, and with my new routine and the task of managing household affairs, I feel like a regular neighbourhood Uncle. Minus the job to go to, I can, in my present state imagine a life like this.

Wake up early, go for a run, meditate, bathe, read the newspaper, eat breakfast, do some work, cook & eat lunch, get household chores completed, get to more work, cook & eat dinner, spend time reading, and sleep.

And repeat.

Today, on my run, all I could think about was how much I feel like I’ve taken the gated community I live in for granted. Growing up at least. I loved living here. Never complained about it or anything, but it feels like I took the amenities and facilities I was provided, and the comfort that I lived in for a ride. My friends visited me in my compound in May 2019, and a distinct thought they all relayed to me was that I lived in a resort of some kind. I’ve always maintained that the locality I live in is distinct and atypical of the rest of the city. You would be forgiven for forgetting you were in this city. It smells different. The people are different, the roads are different. The rules are different here. Within the gated community I stay in, things take on an even more absurd shape and colour. Squabbles are more petty than anywhere else I’ve ever seen in my life, and egos run high within a small community trying to get by.

It’s essentially a microcosm of any society, so to speak. I guess it just takes on a different sheen in this part of town.

However, the other part the run showed me was the protection this gated community offered. It was my safe place. It always had been. I had come back here on terrible days at school and let those terrible days subside. I had allowed good days to get better. I had used the community as a crutch on innumerable occasions, especially over the past five years at University.

Now with this COVID-19, this gated community offers no unessential human interaction, but a supply of groceries whenever you need it.

It’s the perfect isolation zone.