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

Four Boxes

Leaving University, particularly a residential University hits in different stages, I think. These have hit differently owing to the pandemic this year. Ordinarily, I believe, there’s the realization that you are going to relocate and move back home. That’s followed by an enjoyment of every last moment at University and hostel. Subsequently, there’s the packing up and the collection of provisional documentation. Finally, there’s the relocation and move.

I started my final semester knowing the first two – and experiencing the first two to the fullest. As I moved home (and packed up as much as I could), and classes went online, I tried to make the most of it. Truth be told, I hardly attended the online lectures, so my enjoyment about my days as an undergraduate student were spent wondering if my dissertation submissions would be cancelled and what the examination policy would be – and not much else. The last day of classes made me feel relief and a lot of emotions about the journey I had been on, whIMG-20200805-WA0004.jpegich I’ve documented here. Receiving my provisional degree marked the culmination of that journey.

None, however, have made me feel the emotions that seeing these four carton boxes made me experience.

You see, these four carton boxes contain everything I held at University within my room. Everything I had accumulated, everything I had shared.

Suddenly, before my eyes, was five years contained within four large boxes. All the experiences and all the memories presented and held in their most tangible form. Here.

And that was it.

Suddenly, all that would linger of me on campus was my name and the memory of me – not my belongings, not my presence. It felt like the last ties that connected me to the place I called home for so long had been severed. Not ripped off quick like a bandaid, which is how the flight home felt, but unwrapped slowly, like crepe bandage, leaving behind its own impressions on my body.

Before going any further, I have to thank a close friend for coordinating and liaising all of this with the packers & movers, and my roommate, for agreeing to everything so quick. It made the entire process feel so seamless. My favourite memory of this entire thing is being able to see our room one last time over a 1.5 hour long WhatsApp video call, where we saw everything get put into boxes and packed up – just as we wanted it to be. No confusion about stuff, no fluff. Thank you both for making that possible. Seeing that with my roommate was surreal because he had already lived in the room for a month before I moved in and almost turned the room on its head with my suggestions. Each year was an experiment in trying to get to the perfect orientation, and I’m so pleased we succeeded.

After leaving the boxes overnight, I opened them up the next day one-by-one. First, I was stunned by the amount I had hoarded. All my committee t-shirts and tags laid bare in front of me, but then there were the xerox textbooks and the moot compendia, all the stuff I wished to leave behind at University for somebody to make use of. There was the stationery, the memorabilia from competitions, and the gifts & postcards – birthday greetings from over the years. There was the care package I received in my second year, and one remnant sanitary napkin, from the hoard I had amassed from my friends in the girls hostel to help me with my pilonidal sinus in my first year.

There was my kettle, my trusty companion. An extra bottle of Vim. Some toiletries.

Everything I used on a daily basis.

Then, and this is what hit me most. There was the stuff I had “borrowed” from home before I left. Vividly, as I unwrapped the cardboard packaging, I remembered the day I had decided to pack an alarm clock. The day I discovered an excellent stationery manager for the desk lying around unused and told my mum I’d be taking it. There was also the stuff I had bought for home during my travels away: the miniature Delftware, some magnets.

That was all of it.

Suddenly home felt it had more stuff that represented my growth in the last five years, and less stuff that spoke of the more distant past. My room changed overnight, with law books entering the library and some choice pieces getting pinned on my softboard – reminding me of what had actually gone by.

The board examination stationery kit, which was the part of my room that made me feel like the house stood still in time, lay strewn somewhere on the side, now a part of a modern look that made home feel like the hostel, when I had tried hard to make the hostel feel like home.

All I needed to hear was unnecessary screaming as the electricity tripped, some loud music, some choice words, a whirring fan, and my roommate’s voice.

I’d be back in Ahmedabad again.

Until then however, this is another goodbye.

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

Take A Walk

Yep, the title of this post bears resemblance to the Passion Pit song. I’m sensing a theme with my writing in the sense that I tend to get into the rhythm of things whenever the story I’m writing about has a connection to music. Maybe it’s the rhythm of the song, the memory of the song, or even something as simple as the fact that this song is now playing on loop while I write this blog entry. Whatever it is, it works, and today, I’m grateful for it.

The thing I’ve been most disappointed by as a result of not writing regularly is how there’s no physical record of how I’ve spent each day in the last month. I love that about writing – about documenting. It helps me remember each day distinctly. I know I’ve been productive, there’s been a lot happening: spring cleaning, house repairs, a lot of thinking, and a fair amount of learning at the end of each day. It’s unfortunate not all of it was succesfully documented. Nonetheless, it’s integral that I look forward to all the things I will get to document soon.

Over the last two months, something I missed was the freedom of walking to places. I enjoy walking. When we visited New York, and when I took a trip through Netherlands and Germany, I was amazed by the amount I ended up learning about the city and the feel/vibe of the place by walking along the footpath and following a map till I reached my destination. I equally enjoyed exploring places with just the informational booklet and maybe an audio-guide with me, instead of tour guides showing me around. It just felt more organic, like my interaction with the environment I was surrounded by was not limited by how much another individual was willing to part with. So over the last two months, I’ve just missed the freedom of vast expanses I could explore – even paths I’ve tread on before.

Earlier this week, I had the first opportunity to step out. To do chores, no less, but step outside of my community by foot – to explore my neighbourhood once more, while taking the necessary precautions of course. I’ve never walked this stretch before in my life. Usually, I walk bits and pieces of the entire stretch – to get to a bus stop, or even go to the bakery outside the complex with my friends when they’re all around. I stepped out of the house to do bank work, and it was on that walk that I thought about how much the neighbourhood had changed since we first moved in. 

It’s getting closer and closer to 12 years since we relocated from Dubai to Bangalore, and something I’ve been quite vocal about is how protected I’ve been inside my gated community. When we first moved here, the place I live in pretty much had nothing surrounding it. The closest proper grocery shop was about 7 kilometers away, and you had to plan really carefully while stepping out so you finished all your work before getting back, just because of how inconvenient it was. The walk I took showed me the reality of today. Literally anything I could imagine or ever need was within the walking distance: from necessities like electrical supplies and staples (for which there are multiple vendors) to luxuries like bakery goods and fast food. I could walk and get everything I wanted.

I generally use my time in Bangalore to bring to  my parents’ attention that I wish I could drive our old Toyota Liva. I miss that car dearly. In the current circumstances with the coronavirus and the lack of public transport especially, I think the ease of access with a vehicle to move around (I could do with a scooter too!) was something I’ve brought up a couple of times, much to my parents’ dismay. It’s all a big joke – I’m very pleased they disposed of the car when they did, we had no immediate, urgent use for it. The thing I realized on the walk though, is that if we did indeed have a vehicle with us, I’d never take a walk like that.

It’s been a whole week since I took that walk, and a week since I started writing this blogpost. It’s the first post I left in my drafts for far too long, but actually completed, instead of trashing because it lost it’s relevance in my life. Since last Monday, I’ve taken these long walks every evening.

I love these walks. They get me out of the house, and they give me one hour to listen to an audiobook in peace, catch up on phone calls, and finish a bunch of other things I’d feel like procrastinating if I was in the house. Obviously there’s the fresh air and all that good stuff too.

The one thing I have mixed feelings about is that I’m becoming a pakka Bangalorean again. Three months can change you so much. Given the trope, I’ve generally resisted talking about Bangalore weather with people, even though I do boast about how wonderful it is on occassion. My roommate from college loves Bangalore weather far too much because of what his other friends have told him about it. Now, I can’t stop talking about it. I begin conversations with my parents every evening telling them how wonderful it is right now, how pleasant, how airy. My friend from Gurgaon tells me he’s suffering in some 40 degree heat, and I’m so grateful I escaped from Ahmedabad’s summer because here, the weather is the perfect representation of the Goldilocks principle. It isn’t too bright nor too gloomy. It isn’t too hot nor too cold. It’s bloody breezy, but it isn’t raining. 

It’s just right. 

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.

Gated (II)

The previous piece I wrote about the gated community I lived in was exclusively about the kind of privilege and protection this place offered me – aside from the obvious shelter it has given me for the last 12 years. I’ve now been here for three weeks. Since I moved out of Bangalore for University in 2015, this is the longest amount of time I’ve spent in my house barring one month in May 2017, which, despite the lockdown and everything, offers some time to think about how much time has actually passed since I’ve come here.

This is the only “home” I’ve known in India. Of course, there’s the family house, and well, the first house I visited in Bangalore where my dad resided, and places in Pune where family stays. However, none of those places are where I have grown up, or places where I have space all to my own. Actually, I’ll amend that. I do have space all to my own at my chikamma and uncle’s home – and I’ve laid down a marker for a future space all to my own wherever they are at all times. However, those places will not hold the emotional attachment I share to this house, even when its empty. Even when I return home to an empty house, and I have to maintain all of it, I consider having it a privilege, and I am oh so grateful for everything it has given me.

It is very difficult to think that 12 years have transpired since we relocated to India as a family. In several ways, both geographically, and emotionally, a small piece of my heart rests in the Middle East. Despite that, I have grown to love India with everything I can give to it, and love Bangalore especially. I have forged strong senses of identity here, for my city, my State, and my rural, outskirt, suburb, which is closer to another town than it is to Bangalore City proper.

None of this identity, or sense of belonging would be possible without a sense of community. I spent the first 10 years of my life in an apartment building, with several friends, but no real sense of community because “community gatherings” and celebrations, so to speak, didn’t necessarily take place in a manner that involved everyone in the building. Of course we played games and hung out with a large number of kids in the evenings, and naturally, sharing common spaces bred some amount of familiarity, I do not recall being able to identify very strongly with the values of the people in that building. It is a given that I was younger then, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that nothing really aimed to foster a community spirit. My sense of belonging to that building comes out of the infrastructure it has and the memories I created, as well as my parents and the fondest memories I have of the both of them from our time in that place.

Moving to India was very different to that experience. We lived in a larger community, which meant more people to share space with. When we first moved in, I recall there being 30 families – and a lot of empty houses. That meant you knew everyone in the complex. You knew which houses and lanes were unoccupied and were free-for-all cricket territory. That knowledge and familiarity bred so much security, and so much joy. You had a constant set of friends, and a constant set of activities to do. Age-groups were non-existent: we were all just one big blob, classified as “children”. Of course, those below 6/7 kept to themselves at the time, but the rest of us, right up to the eldest at 17 and 18 – we all pretty much played in the evenings together.

The community grew larger though, and as communities grow, identities change. This was no different, and groupism became prominent – everywhere. It wasn’t as easy to identify every person, because people came in and people moved out. The place was in flux – and still is, to this day. However, assimilation and understanding, or retaining that identity, for the most part, was easy. It was just a question of compromise. From the mundane: which sport to play in the evening, to the larger questions that adults fought over – a lot of it just boiled down to compromises being crafted.

Today, to me, I hardly recognize much in the community. In my mind, oddly enough, I’m able to live in the time that this community was just 30-50 families. They form this core that I believe the rest of the complex has grown around. It is natural that newer families will not feel this way – and after all, everyone has their personal history, but I remember those 30-50 families with a fondness that feels odd to extend to anyone else. This doesn’t mean I’m hostile toward anyone, not at all. But nobody knows the struggles of having to wait for the railway crossing to open up, or the pain of going 8km to get groceries like that first bunch.

In the past 12 years, as is natural, people have grown and changed. Take me – for example. I’m almost done with my degree. I came here aged 10, and I’m sure people who knew me at that age struggle with reconciling the image of me at 10 with me at 22. Even if people don’t, I do. I looked – and sounded, so different. For me though, it’s the kids I saw aged 2 and 3 who are now in their teens that make it seem like I’m far too old to consider myself a child. It’s rather odd, that these are people who in my teens I could not relate to at all, but with whose struggles I can now relate to far more than much else. For me, a mystery of the Universe will always remain why it’s tougher for a 12 year old to relate to a 5 year than for a 22 year old to relate to a 15 year old.

My hunch? Board exams.

Common enemies unite even the most distant of cousins – and so it goes with all people.

My identity though is so forged by this community, that seeing these little people grow up to become bigger people has really punched home that hard reality that I am, myself, a little person who has grown up to become a bigger person. My surroundings clamour that I ought to accept this – it is but natural. The little kid in me refuses, but relents. He cycles around cheerily with a half-functioning bell and waves to everyone he knows.

Unlike the adult who thinks four times about whether a walk to the gate is worth it.

Afternoon Lectures

Extra lectures should be prohibited. A few caveats before I make this argument.

  1. Unless they significantly add to knowledge or, in the alternative, the absence of the extra lecture diminishes the value an individual gets out of a particular course, lectures ought to be conducted within the scheduled class hours.
  2. Extraneous circumstances which may require extra lectures – such as the cancellation of classes. These too, however, should be slotted within the regular time-table.

Naturally, these thoughts stem out of the fact that I had a set of extra guest lectures this afternoon from 2pm – 4pm. I paid attention for some time and then, I must confess, I switched off and began to read a book. This is traditional/typical University behaviour. My reason for switching off was primarily because the afternoon is when I usually switch off and take time to do things that I consider leisurely, and there was no way I was giving that up for the lecture that happened today.

I think afternoon lectures are just unproductive for all parties.

I recognize there is no argument here. This is just a display of frustration in some keystrokes.

Also, it’s March, so the attendance calculations have begun every morning. Sigh. I will miss these days.

A Very Peculiar Problem

I face a very peculiar problem each night (or morning – essentially, at any time) that I go to bed. It’s the sort of conundrum that leaves me frustrated each morning. Every time, I think to myself – I’m going to avoid feeling this way tomorrow morning. I promptly forget to address the issue though, and I wake up the next morning feeling the exact same way.

My history with sleep issues is well documented on this blog and elsewhere. The largest problem remains the sleep cycle itself; and the ability to fall asleep. Other historical problems have been things like achieving the perfect body temperature before drifting off – the kind where you feel cool enough to snuggle up in something, but just about warm enough that you don’t sweat through the night. Then there’s this stupid thing.

Basically, my mattress, lengthwise, is shorter than I am. I’m not particularly tall – I’m average height. The mattress though, just about three inches shorter than I am. The result of this is that some portion of my feet juts out past the bed every night. No matter how high up I leave my below. I’ve experimented with tons of things, including crunching up the legs a little. At some point during the night though, I end up stretching out entirely and that’s when it gets bad. It’s irritating not because there’s some portion of the foot that’s always without support in the morning. The mattress also has this lining which some portion of my foot goes over – a little ‘bump’ of sorts, making all of this very uncomfortable.

One of the solutions I had in mind was to sleep diagonally, to apply the Pythagoras theorem. I soon realized I’d need a bigger bed to do that.

Golden rule for future mattress & bed purchases: always make sure it’s slightly taller than you.

Holding a Fountain Pen

My left-handedness has made this world a strange place to navigate. This comes with everyday things – including the use of scissors and nailcutters. The most frustrating thing I have to overcome though, genuinely, is the art of writing. There are so many obstacles as a left-hander. Desks in science labs are always on the wrong side. Spiral bound books affect your ability to write smoothly. You can’t see what you’ve written before because your gargantuan hand and the angle you hold pens in covers everything you write. It’s very frustrating. As a child, I used to come home with black hands because my hand would smudge lead from my pencil all over. It was awful.

When I graduated to using fountain pens, I started to discover angles at which I could make this art form of writing work reasonably enough. I practiced writing every day, using the opinion-editorial pieces from newspapers as things I would write out. It got me into the habit of reading the news, improved my handwriting and improved the speed of my writing – which is still devastatingly slow.

My handwriting went through several iterations of cursive before settling on what it is today. In Grade 9, my mother suggested I switch over to black ink and write straight and small cursive. In Grade 11, I rebelled by writing in the slopiest cursive imaginable. My cursive today sits at a pleasant 45 degree angle to the line I write on. Sometimes it goes even further.

All of this context is because this morning, I started studying for tomorrow afternoon’s examination. I realized, in that process, that I hadn’t picked up a pen all year – till today. All notes I’ve taken have been digital. Including the notes I take at meetings. So today was the first time I dusted off the pen, filled it with ink – scratched on multiple pieces of paper to get the ink flowing and started writing again.

Jee whiz is my handwriting terrible. In a way, that’s a good thing – it’ll mask some of the faffery I am bound to do in tomorrow’s exam. In other ways, it’s not so good. Maybe the next three days will be the duration in which I make a return to neat handwriting.

Ideas (and Inherent Value)

Over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of time to think about a range of things in my life. A large number of these thoughts have centered around the passage of time: what I’ve let go of from the past, where I am in the present, and what I’d like to be doing in the future. In the middle somewhere, I got very frustrated with myself because I kept looking to a benchmark I created and manufactured for myself in the future, without focusing much on where I am and what I want to be doing in the present. The purpose of these thoughts felt very useless. I didn’t fully recognize why I was thinking about them and where they were coming from, or what role they were playing.

I’ll illustrate this. I enjoy writing. I’d always think about – and get all these incredible ideas about what I could be writing next. Things I want to read and research about – thoughts I hadn’t seen expressed on any other medium I had read. Things that I would look forward to reading about and creating a piece about. Then I’d think about them more: crystallize plans for how I’m going to go about writing these pieces, what source material I’d pick up. Ultimately, I’d procrastinate. Most of these ideas were time-sensitive, they were highly relevant in the context of an event taking place at the time. So although I’d get around to all the reading I wanted to do, I’d never actually get around to the writing. Why? Because I felt it wasn’t as relevant anymore. This put my thinking and my ideating at a precarious position for me. It placed all of my thinking right in the middle of thought and action. See: the reading is always an excellent takeaway, but the writing would have been even better.

So I’ve been thinking about why these ideas, especially the unfinished ones, those unclaimed ones that lie in the back of your brain, matter. Since January, I’ve progressed to using OneNote over Google Keep to keep track of things in life. Not because I want to get hyper-organized, but more for this one experiment. Mentally, I decided that I would write down every grand idea I had. I’d jot them down and categorize them. I’d spent all of the thinking time writing. Even all these thoughts I had about reading plans – I’d type them out as I was thinking them.

This has led to a lot of random notes, including one that says “Read a book” under a heading that says “Cars”. I do not remember the idea I had anymore, nor do I have context apart from a time-stamp. For the most part though, the notes are reasonably contextualized. They’re almost a transcription of that little voice in my brain that talks to me for most of the day, so they’re reasonably accurate in depicting my thoughts at any given point of time.

What I’ve measured out is that for every 10 ideas or notes I write down, I execute 1 of them. The ones I execute are often the ones I execute immediately after ideating them and writing them down, ones that energize me enough not to procrastinate that idea. So, jumping straight into things helps me.

So, what’s the value of those other 9?

I’ve read back all these notes I’ve taken, and I see so much processing happening. For me, ideas stem out of sensory cues for the most part. Most of my ideas come from things I read, with some of them coming from things I hear. I think the value of these ideas I have just lies in the fact that it means I’m processing some of what I’m hearing and seeing. Then there’s the other aspect of things. I find that several of these ideas are interconnected, so there’s a lot of synthesis taking place – and a lot of connection of random pieces of information I would have spotted on two ends of the internet.

Of course, the value of having 10 ideas is that maybe 1 translates into action.

All of this thinking ended up with more thinking. Should ideas have value at all? Can’t they just be that: ideas, without anything attached to them, normatively?

The definition of an idea, as a noun is: a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.

Reading that definition pretty much answered that question for me.

It’s definitely possible. The value of an idea doesn’t rest in its conclusion, or on the action you take at the culmination of ideating. It’s in the ideating itself, and the application of mind that goes into thinking or suggesting, or figuring out a possible course of action for anything.

Which means I could have avoided writing all my thoughts down for a whole month if I had read that definition first.