What’s your Life word? 

It all started when I read a book review. Or rather, it reached a culmination. 

The review talked about this new book called ‘Grief is a Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter. A description in it set off my musings. Or more specifically, a word did. 

Distill. 

I learnt this word in school in Science class. Distillation, the teacher and textbooks explained, was a process of letting water evaporate so that it leaves behind its impurities. Back then, the impurity in question was Salt. 

Funny how I did not know back then that it would become a dominating theme of my life. My life with Words. Yes, with the capital W. A proper noun. 

The review spoke about how the book “distilled a grieving family’s expression of loss”. Immediately, it painted a picture of a white bowl full of non-abstract grief (gaseous liquid. Something like JK Rowling’s Pensieve). Slowly over time, the bowl gets distilled to leave behind a few words in the bowl (think cereal or Kelloggs). 

It sounds stupid when you describe the imagination, but I realized this: Quite well, the brain does this every waking moment of the day. Of course, it does this in reverse order. The brain takes words, actions and other stimuli, and distills the meaning to leave behind feelings and emotions. 

Think about your favorite song or book or movie—it must evoke some feeling in you, touch some raw nerve. So much that the first thing your brain recollects is the emotion being evoked. Then and only then does the brain put together other information—like a Lego tower slowly being built with detail pieces. 

This also sounds similar to that Masterchef episode I watched a long time back. The three four contestants had to create this intricate dish (as always!), the centrepiece of which was a clear broth. 

It fascinated me to no end. The ability to take in all the flavors of the ingredients and distill it into water, whose quantity was probably just 10% of the quantity of all the raw ingredients put together. Like this:

I find this incredible! 

This reminds me of the part in Eat. Pray. Love. Julia Roberts’ character (I watched  the movie, didn’t read the book) came across this concept in Italy about ‘A Single Word or Phrase’ that describes the person’s life. It essentially ‘distills’ the whole life story. 

As a writer, especially one taught to appreciate and follow Brevity, this caught my attention. Immediately, I started thinking: what would my Word be? 

Many fiction stories too deal with this concept. They call it the ‘True Name’, which can give a person power over that individual. It sounds different, and yet (to me) quite similar too. 

Anyway, I wrecked my mind. I thought and thought and thought. What would my Word or Phrase be? 

The saga continued until two conversations with my colleagues. (Side note : these are people I look up to, who I’ve identified as teachers and mentors). 

The conversations were about Ambition. My whole life, I’ve been conscious about ‘not getting stagnant’. (Not always consciously, though). So it scared me when I was faced with the possibility that between ‘ambition’ and ‘comfortable work-life balance’, I’d choose the latter. The implication was that I wouldn’t grow; that I’d become stagnant. 

Long story short, my colleague made me realise that ambition can be many things. It’s not one-dimensional about being the first in your career or field of work. 

The more interesting part about this conversation, my key takeaway from it was this: I love dance. I love studying. I love food. I love traveling. I love math and science. But the one thing that trumps it all—the live wire of my existence—is writing. It’s Words.  

That moment, I realized, if my perspective were to be reconstructed on a Matrix screen, everything would be built by words. The foundation of the entire world in my head is a combination of Words. 

That was just the first step of my self-realisation. The last leg of the journey happened yesterday. 

I was retelling my travel experience in Turkey. At the end, moved by my description, my colleague commented: “What are you doing with your life?! You should be in Travel. You should be a Travel writer. You have a way of painting pictures with your words.”

Initially, I felt flattered and genuinely considered the possibility. 

Later, though, I realized that I can do the same, that I light up and become animated about other subjects too. Things that I love or that which fascinate me. 
No, the thing drawing the connections is different. 

That’s when my brain finally connected the dots. 

If I had to distill myself, ‘Words’ would be my choice of description. 

Yep. I search for Words everywhere. I breathe Words. I write and speak Words. More importantly, I attach Words to abstract things in life. Body language, experiences, meaning, emotions—anything and everything. 

My favorite pass-time is to take synonyms; play and feel the texture of the Words; dissect them, and find the difference between the Words. 

Words even leave a taste and feel in my mouth, as if they are a morsel of food I’m tasting. They’re that real for me. 

I’m pretty sure that when I die,  you’d see invisible words evaporating from my body and soul. Much like the Kingfisher bird in the movie, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. 

What about you? 

Move on

“Move on.”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“…..”

“Why?”

“Because it would be murder. All those memories we painstakingly collected, they will be long forgotten. No, I’d rather smile and cry whenever I remember you and our memories. Some day, the edges of these memories are going to get frayed and dog-eared like a beloved book read again and again. I’d rather our memories too die a natural death. I don’t want them to meet a preemptive end. You move on. You need to. I’m happy here.”

You do not have to like to love

I’ve reached the age where relationships taper. (And before you jump to the conclusion that I’m very old, let me clarify: I’m referring to the late twenties.) Everywhere I look, I see people starting to get out of the phenomenon of ‘groups’ that were formed because of shared experiences in schools, colleges and maybe even workplaces. There’s a transition to a life filed with “your chosen few”. These are people who fulfil different criteria—they stayed by your side all these years; they know you inside out; they don’t judge your whacky behavior and pet peeves, so on and so forth. You get the gist.

These are “your” people. You hold them dear to your heart. Maybe even love them with an intensity that takes you by surprise. (Usually there’s copious amounts of alcohol involved in such cases.)

But every now and then, you go through an evaluation phase, when you wonder if the people you’ve retained in life really do deserve it. Anything could spark such introspection—a mistake, disappointment, or maybe even literature (Internet junk included).

And if you’re even remotely like me, you may go through these dark phases when all you can see is the flaws in people. You recount all the past mistakes, the hurt and the disappointment. You recount the times you gave them more than they deserved, forgetting that you’re equally flawed. It’s akin to a “self pity” trip.

During these phases, you may draw the conclusion that somewhere deep down, you may not actually like the person you hold so dear. That if it weren’t for the shared experiences, that if you were to be introduced to this person afresh, you may not even befriend them. That all that links you two is the past.

I often take this one step further. I wonder if it’s time to leave the past behind and move on. Sometimes, the bitterness can cause chemical changes in your brain structure (not to be taken literally… I’m no scientist, yo!)

And then, a light shines later through the dark hole you’ve dug yourself into. (Insert a clichéd line about how love is the light). You realize that flawed as they may be, and hurt and bitter as you may be, you go back to the default setting of loving them. Unbeknownst to you, your actions to back to the normal, where you look forward to more shared experiences, insipid as they may be. You look forward to having your heart fill with a brand of joy, friendship and love that only they are capable of. And you realize, you do not have to really like a person in their entirety to love them.

Why I don’t celebrate your relationships, bestie

Dear Best Friend,

We are in our 20s, widely considered the marriageable age—at least in India. Most of us have been asked when we plan to get married.

I dread it, you getting married.

We’ve spent years together. I know from memory the shape of your eyes when you are feeling happy, sad, nostalgic, far-away, thoughtful, unsure or plain joyous. I know from memory the way they twinkle. I know from one look how you feel for me. You don’t know I notice all this, like you’re my lover. But I do. And I love every single expression those eyes convey.

I know the nuances in your voice or your silence. I’ve heard you when you had laughter in your voice, and when you tried hard to restrain the sorrow in your tones. I’ve heard everything that falls in the range.

There was this one day I was sitting on the sofa in your living room waiting for you to arrive. And when you did, I heard you first before you walked in, talking in the low tone that is so you. I noticed. It made my heart sing in silent joy.

There was this one time when you were humming—have I told you how much I love your voice? But not everybody sees it so. Some hated it. It disturbed their sleep. And I felt the most putrid kind of hate flow towards them.

But, that’s the way people are—not everyone can appreciate your silent beauty. No, not physical beauty—everybody can do it. I am talking about you—who you are in entirety. The beauty that you are.

And that’s why, in all these years, I always let a silent scream when you introduced a potential partner. I jealously guarded you against any potential invasion. Sometimes, I even cried myself to sleep. I could never see the pure love in their eyes, touch, walk—in their whole body.

And that’s why I dread you getting married. I don’t mind losing you to another person if they are worth it. Not just for the moment or a few short years, but over the long-term.

You see, you are family. And when you get married, it is not just your parents handing you over in your partner’s care. Even I give up my rightful place beside you for your partner. And how can I possibly do so if I do not see them love you like I, a mere friend, do?

I want nothing less for you.

And I dread every moment you settle for less—for a lifetime!

Yours lovingly

The observer, the observed

Today, I saw a line of Chawls spread along the road. I was in the rickshaw, aloof, at a distance, observing.

All along, I could see one story after another passing me by. Hopes, dreams and insecurities littered the street in great numbers.

A few sat on their doorsteps, staring into nothing. Wonder what they were thinking. A few were occupied by human actions. A few kids played with rubber tires. I saw a well-dressed lady amongst the kids, carrying a purse. A social worker? I turned back to check if my sight was right. I missed it as the rickshaw zipped past, with a single focus on its destination.

And then came a new set of crowd, middle-class men and women going about their business of buying plants and flowers from the roadside. A different set of dreams, aspirations, worries and insecurities altogether.

Only a twist of fate placed them in either class. The same fate could’ve swapped their places. The dreams and insecurities, though, would’ve remained the same.

Vision

Source: http://cs.brown.edu/courses/csci1430/
Source: http://cs.brown.edu/courses/csci1430/

In the film ‘Matrix’, we were told our idea of reality is skewed; it is just an illusion. In a way, it hit the right chords if we take into account the different perspectives of a human mind. Some of these we brush away as figments of imagination; some we celebrate as creativity; some we meditate upon as the ‘inner-eye’ or ‘subconscious’, and some, we tolerate as reality – something we are part of, but is out of our control.

To those who are aware of these, it will feel like there is a constant buzz in your head. Like a desktop window with multiple operations under process.

In reality, at the click of a button, you push one up; prioritize one—albeit temporarily—over the others.

But, what if we did not have this option? What if the default setting was that all these perspectives were constantly at work in non-hibernation mode?

Imagine a world, where you wade through every moment of life across three-four layers. Imagine if your vision was divided into four sectors (vertical or horizontal as you please) – one, where your imagination unfolds, is portraying night time; the one, which deals with creativity, is a mosaic of bright, interchanging colours; the subconscious or inner-eye, a dull throbbing gold, and the reality reflects the normal landscapes that mark your life – like a local train, your workstation, television, etc.

The idea seems, at once, enthralling and perverse. Enthralling, for who would want to not live not one, but four vibrant lives at one, especially in a state of higher awareness and consciousness? But perverse all the same, because it will make you realise how hopeless and powerless reality is; also because, there will come a time when you would want to switch off, for it would simply feel overwhelming, like your brain is about to burst.

I am sure the creative sort of people would relate to this, those who have powerful urges to step out of reality and capture their imagination and thoughts by penning down (or painting). Those whose brains are bursting with too many thoughts and feelings.

Perhaps, this is what we already do unconsciously, though, on a smaller scale. This is why we box sections of our lives into categories, and make sure they are processed in hibernation mode.

Who knows!