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? 

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On a starry, still night

In the stillness that is the call of the night, the lights reflect on the dark black irises that inhabit my face, embedded deep under layers of natural protection as God had fashioned. A tiny mist forms every time the human me inhales and exhales for oxygen. Somewhere a cricket sounds out to its brethren, what for, only it knows. That is all the action happening in the dead night. Miniscule movements – which would go unnoticed in the history of time, but universal enough to be as true as the starry sky.

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The pale lights twinkle, unaffected by their failure to lighten the dark sky. They simply go on, shining, blinking, and twinkling in their own right. Simple not bothered, embracing the stillness of the canvas.

In the stillness that is the call of the night, the lights reflect on the dark black irises that inhabit my face, embedded deep under layers of natural protection as God had fashioned. A tiny mist forms every time the human me inhales and exhales for oxygen. Somewhere a cricket sounds out to its brethren, what for, only it knows. That is all the action happening in the dead night. Miniscule movements – which would go unnoticed in the history of time, but universal enough to be as true as the starry sky.

Yet, the stillness is only a perception. Just like my lack of movement fails to reflect the inner restlessness that is waiting to burst free. No, not the action that keeps my heart beating, my blood flowing, and my organs alive. The restlessness keeps my consciousness alive, constantly aware of the lack of poignancy in the meaning of our existence. It is the teacher that subsequently pushes us to drive up to new heights, and then once there, humbles us to accept our smallness in the universe.

I see the mountain peak, white with snow and shining as the stars reflect off its surface. It is there, waiting to teach me my lesson. Yet, here I lie in the grass, surrounded by stillness and nature. Already learning the lesson of the universe. Does that make the mountain useless? Does it realise that I will never climb the peak to learn the lesson? That it was only a means to an already ended ‘end’? Does it suffer from the realisation that it is not indispensable?

I call out for an answer.

“No,” a voice like rumbling rocks grumbled. “I am not here to be the means to your end.”

“Then?” I ask, demand, beg for an answer.

“I don’t have the answer. It’s within you.”

Silence. The restlessness builds within again, waiting for an exit in the form of a scream. It builds, slowly and powerfully, like a tsunami waiting to ravish the landmass ahead. At the tip of the tongue, though, the mind exerts control. The tsunami inside abates, unfulfilled and unsatisfied, but by no means destroyed. After all, there cannot be a body without some darkness within. Light is always accompanied with shadows.

“Maybe there was more to be learnt over the course of the journey,” a meek voice sounded. Lost in the restlessness, I looked for the voice. Where did it come from?

“It was not just the mountain, but also the grass plains, the rocky plateaus and the vicarious mountain slopes that were to play a role.”

The voice seemed far away, but was steadily drawing nearer.

“Not just in shaping your lesson, but learning their own lessons too.”

“What lesson?”

“The same lesson you were to learn, and thought you learnt in the stillness of the starry sky.”

“Thought? I did learn the lesson. I am inconsequential. My presence or absence won’t cause any ripples in the universe.”

“Why?”

“What have I done that would have an impact? Nothing.”

“Haven’t you?”

“Look around, what do you see? Nothing. Who would remember me after I am gone? No one. Nothing I have done is out of the ordinary. Nothing that would last.”

“Do all ripples last forever in time?”

Silence.

I could see a shadow moving closer. Its clothes were billowing, even though there was no wind. A soft shine was emanating, stopping me from making out its details. It finally arrived and stopped in front of me.

The dark black sunken eyes, the squarish straight eyebrows, the dimpled chin looked familiar to me. Vaguely so. Its beauty was distracting, stopping my mind from making the connection. Caught in that moment, the restlessness within lost all impulse.

And in that moment of clarity, brief as it was, the beautiful shadow opened its mouth and spoke.

The voice came from inside me. “You just ‘are’. That’s all. Nothing else matters.”