Just Be – the Conundrum of a First-Year College Student

The four years of my high school I spent in studying as hard as I could….so that four years down the line I could get into my dream college, and I did. I topped my class, passed out with flying colours and a lot of accolades, and before I knew it, I was standing at the gates of the college I had always wanted to get in, doing the course I wanted.

I should have been happy — but instead I felt lost. Where do I go from here? I wasn’t the only one. A few of my friends reported feeling similar symptoms of lethargy. We had lost the drive, the one goal that had been guiding our life till now. I lost interest in studies. Everything felt worthless. I tried planning for my career after college, but the road beyond the three years of college seemed so dark and gloomy, so full of unexpected twists and unknown obstacles, that thinking about it gave me goosebumps and panic attacks. I was almost in the midst of an existential crisis. I had spent most of my teenage life driving at breakneck speed towards this destination, and now that I was here, I had no idea where to go now.

It struck me quite suddenly, randomly out of the blue, but one day I just shook myself:

What are you so melancholic about? This is where you wanted to be for the last four years. You worked hard to reach here, and now that you are here, you are thinking of what to do when you leave?! 

Idiot! (Being me, I am allowed to call myself names 😛 ) Enjoy these three years to the fullest. Revel in the glory that is today. The rest will sort itself out, as and when it happens. Don’t think about that. 

Just BE!

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Festive Tidings On The Autumn Breeze

After 4 months of torrential rain, dank days and humid air – finally the dark clouds have passed. The sky is a lovely azure blue, with fluffy white clouds, and a just the merest hint of a cool breeze. The birds sing. In India, we do not have a ‘fall season’ like that in Europe or other parts of the world. For us, the end of monsoon brings with it the festive season. It’s time for joy and celebrations, for sharing happiness and beauty everywhere. Soon after autumn begins, there are various festivals celebrated in various regions of the country. Be it Navratri in Gujarat, or Durga Puja in West Bengal, or Diwali, all parts of the country cheer up as the festive season draws up on us. Shops across the city suddenly come up with massive festive discounts, and it’s time for innumerable shopping trips to purchase not only your festive wardrobe but also gifts for friends and family. This is a time many people choose to renovate their homes. Walls are painted, dusty corners swept, leaks fixed and every single bit of grime and dust washed off in preparation for the arrival of gods and guests. Houses are decorated with lights and rangolis. Fragrant, mouth-watering smells start wafting from the kitchen, and the larder over-filled with dry fruits, packets of crisps, and many more tasty delicacies. Most schools close for a month or so, and relatives flock to each other’s homes in masses. It’s time for laughter and loud conversation, for sharing old jokes and stories. Women from different generations gather in the kitchen, to talk and to cook together. The children are thoroughly spoiled by all the various uncles and aunts who come a-visiting. It’s a time for family.

Durga Puja

I have faint memories of Durga Puja at my hometown in Kolkata. Our locality, like many other localities, had its own pandal with our own idol of the goddess. It was a community affair, and the entire neighborhood would pitch in to help. The stage where the idol was kept would be decorated by the neighborhood women, all dressed in brand new saris. Young girls would braid the garlands that would be used for the idol. The men hurried around making sure that everything was proceeding smoothly. In the afternoon, the bhog would be prepared by the wives, while the men would serve it. In the evening there would be singing and dance performances by people from within the neighbourhood. We children would roam around in herds, utilizing all the money we had got from our parents and relatives to buy food and trinkets from the various stalls that would have popped up here and there. The trees all over the compound would be festooned with lights. Long strings of fairy lights would be hung off the apartment buildings. There would be no fixed bedtimes, and everyone would be up way past midnight. Sometimes there would be fireworks, and the sky would be lit up in gold and red. At Dashami, or Dusshera after the idol is sent for immersion there would be time for sweets. The ten days that followed is the time of reunion in Bengal. Relatives and friends from everywhere come visiting, and gifts and sweets would be exchanged.

After I moved to Mumbai, the celebrations changed. Now we don’t have family to meet during Durga Puja. Face-to-face conversations were replaced by long talks on the phone (never a good enough substitute). My parents, I think, feel the loss sorely, but my sister and I, as kids often do, just adapted ourselves to the change. Instead of running to the Durga Puja pandals, we would visit the mandaps of Lord Ganesh, during Ganesh Chaturthi with our friends. We would bow our heads in deference before the idol, and then stuff ourselves with the sweets kept as prasad. It grew to be a sort of practice for us. In the afternoons, when we were playing down in the compound, every time we felt hungry, we would run to the neighborhood mandap to munch on the prasad. During Navratri our locality hosted a dandiya raas, and we would dance riotously to the loud beats.

Diwali

Diyas at our home in Mumbai

At Diwali, when earthen diyas and fairy lights illuminated all homes, together we would burst crackers at eventide. Those friends have moved on now, to some unknown distance, far far away from these childhood reminiscences. I still celebrate Diwali and Navratri. With new friends that can never completely replace the old, but still provide unprecedented joy. We dress up in sequinned traditional garments that we will never wear again throughout the year (unless it’s for a wedding) and go dancing to some dandiya party. My High School Alumni Organisation hosts a reunion dandiya raas every year, and if I go there I meet all my old classmates, and it’s still a time for remembrances and nostalgic joy.

The Autumn Breeze brings with it  all the sweetness of a distant, innocent past. It brings with it faint memories of old friends and joyous times – the sound of forgotten laughter, the smell of my mother and my grandmother’s homecooked sweets and the smell of shiuli flowers (a white flower with an unmatched fragrance that blooms in Bengal during autumn). But it also brings with it the promise of a happy future.

It reminds me of who I am, where I come from, and where I need to go. It gives me the strength I need to stand against the cold winds that would soon follow.

It is my Favourite Time Of The Year. 

Shiuli Flowers

Shiuli Flowers

Today’s Daily Prompt: Autumn Leaves

My Struggles With Brevity

I love to write.

I love to write a lot……Unfortunately.

I don’t remember how old I was when my mother, an English teacher, told me that I should always while writing answers in a literature paper take it for granted that the examiner knows nothing. Explain everything. Provide as much context as possible.

I don’t think even she realized the widespread repercussions her words would have, but since then my answers in the examinations, especially my literature paper, have just grown in size. The smallest answer I ever wrote for an English literature paper was three-quarters of an A4 size sheet! A close friend joked that if I had written the entire Shakespeare play verbatim in the answer sheet my answer would probably be shorter. It wasn’t even that big an exaggeration. For one exam, I remember taking 11 supplements or extra sheets, after finishing the initial 12-page booklet. I would probably have written more, but I was running a mild temperature  that day. The same friend joked, that next year our juniors could probably just bind my answer papers and read it instead of the textbook. It never hurt me however. In my final Literature exam at the end of high school, I wrote more than forty pages and scored 99 out of 100.

Verbosity has always been a loving friend to me. My essays in middle school used to be six-seven pages long, and I would only stop writing, once the final bell had rung, and my teacher had more often than not literally snatched the paper away from me. Writing till the last possible second is a habit I am yet to curb, during exams.

I remember one glorious day in tenth grade when all our lectures had been cancelled  due to some emergency teacher’s meeting, but unwilling to leave us all free for the rest of the day, our teacher had asked us to write a story on the topic ‘I wish I had wings…’ Unsurprisingly, no one in the class did…except me. When in the last period, our teacher came to collect the essays she found that no one had written anything, and the one who had was unwilling to give it. I had written ten pages, but I did not want to submit it yet. I told so to my teacher. Surprised, she urged me to tell her why. After a little pushing, I confessed that I had yet to finish my story….or to begin it one could also say. You see my plot was simple: a young village girl dreams of flying and on Christmas Eve, Santa Claus gifts her the ability to fly, and what she does after that. When my teacher came to collect the stories, I had only written till the part where she dreams of flying, and even Santa Claus’s grand entry was yet to be made. After I had explained this to my teacher, she was speechless for a second, and then groaned, “Archita, you shall be the death of me! Please, please don’t do something like this in your Board examination!” She was afraid I would waste so much time on that one question that I would not have enough time left to finish the rest of the paper. Despite her warning, my essay in my tenth board exams nearly reached twenty pages, but I made sure that I finished the rest of my paper beforehand. Yet this was the first time that I realized that as much as I loved my verbose style of writing with grandiose descriptions, brevity has its own charm.

Since then, I have trimmed my style a lot. I write my answers in bullet points, and try to be as concise as possible…at least in academic examinations. But at home with a pen and a sheet of blank paper in front of me – I run wild. My journals are filled with pages and pages of the day’s account in excruciatingly precise details (this year, I have already finished two 400 page journals. Last year, I used up 3 notebooks as my diaries). My ultimate dream is to write a diary entry so intricately detailed that when I open my journal, ten years from now, I can experience all that I am experienced a decade back with the same intensity that I felt then. Needless to say, I haven’t yet been successful in my attempt, but I am trying hard. I write in as much detail as Time and Memory would permit.

For me, words are the path to immortality. Maybe when I am 80 years old, I shall flip through the yellowed pages of my youth, and through the faded blue scribbles relive once again the forgotten past – laugh at the old jokes, chuckle at a daring prank, fondly remember forgotten friends, and for one moment someday the lines between the Past and the Present would blur. 

My verbosity is well known among my peer groups. My friends might tease me, but I am also pretty much in demand. Whenever someone has an important essay to write, they seek my advice. Sometimes before a literature exam, I have had to turn my phone off, so that I could ward off advice-seekers and study. For friends’ birthdays, I don’t have to waste a lot of time looking for the perfect gift. I usually give my friends a book (usually a personal favorite) with a personalized message inside. For some I might even write a poem, and those few scribbled lines alone often overshadow any extravagant gift anyone else might have bought 😛 On the last day of middle school, I was the one everyone wanted to have their slam books filled by. I remember, a girl with whom I had throughout my school life barely ever seen eye to eye with came up to me with her slam book, handed it to me, and said hesitatingly, “Write something good, ok?” 

Yet as much as I love verbosity, I do believe that brevity has its own utility. Sometimes the lesser you write, the better it is. I love reading and occasionally writing Flash Fiction.

For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Earnest Hemingway’s six-word story, written as part of a bet, is according to me more poignant than dozens of thick volumes of tragedy taken together. It is one of my favourite works in literature. The story leaves you wanting more, like any good short story should. You yearn to know more about the individuals who published this notice, but you can’t, and that’s when your brain start filling in the blank space underneath the words. You imagine the pain, the angst of the dead child’s parents. You question yourself is the child really dead? Was it a miscarriage? An abortion? Was she kidnapped? You try to imagine the mother’s pain, the pale face of the father …and the story stays with you, because it has, through its brevity transcended the world of fiction and entered the sphere of reality.

Someday I would love to gain that much mastery over the elusive skill of brevity. But never at the cost of losing my verbose style!

Today’s Daily Prompt: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal          Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

Things You See On Mumbai Locals #5: The Hand of the Modern Indian Woman – The Best Of Two Worlds

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From in between the half a dozen Nike and Adidas armbands, the symbol Oum tentatively peeks out

…..

– this is the arm of the modern Indian woman. The red tikka or vermilion mark contrast sharply with her GreenDay t-shirt. She is just as punctual for the first day, first show of the latest Tom Cruise thriller, as she is for every puja or religious ceremony in the temple. She revels in her culture and is unapologetic of her bold sexuality.
The way the young girls in Indian metropolitan cities have assimilated the modern day trends with the traditions of the past is admirable and worthy of being written about.
In my college, for instance, girls have the option of choosing between two ways of dress – ethnic or western. A girl can, if she so chooses dress in tight figure-hugging jeans and a tee or a short black dress, but she would look just as attractive in an azure blue salwar suit with silver lace on the duppata and dangling silver earrings, with a tiny diamante bindi to finish the look. You could also, and many do, combine both forms and mix ‘n’ match – an ethnic kurti over jeans, a duppata thrown casually with a dress, or something as insidious as a traditional block printed dress or a tie and dye shirt….options abound, and the modern Indian woman is determined to make best of all of them.
If you move from her wardrobe to her food habits a similar fusion prevails. For instance, today on the train it was the birthday of a passenger. She is in her early 40s and travels regularly to work with a group of her middle-aged friends, who all wished her with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!’ today. She distributed packed chocolates and wafers among them, and they gifted her a packed red box that contained coconut barfi. Or the other day, I overhead a 30-something woman tell her friend that the manchurIan balls she prepared for her son’s birthday party had been praised by all, as had been the rice payasam she had cooked.
Just like the sacred thread which hides underneath the more modern accessories, underneath the modern exterior, the Indian woman has preserved her heritage and culture. Over the years, instead of discarding one for another, we have chosen to learn from all that’s new and modern while not forgetting the wisdom of the ages. Be it in her wardrobe or her kitchen – the modern Indian woman has skillfully fused the best of both worlds.