At the College Gate…

xaviers gate

Standing at the college gate you wonder what your future holds in store….looking back at the college walls I remember my first day. 

A letter I wrote to my past self. It has been published on Campus Diaries, an online self-expression platform for the youth, but please do check it out. And I hope you like it.

https://campusdiaries.com/stories/at-the-college-gate

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Footprints in the Sand

DSCN0716

Footprints linger in the sand….till the tide of time wipes it away. 

…..I guess I was never there after all. 

(The picture is taken at Kovalam beach in Kerala. I approached the water alone, as my family did not want to wet their legs. It felt nice — I remember, standing there, alone, staring at the vast blue ocean in front of me, till the point where it touched the sky).

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?

The Soundtrack of Life: Writing 101 Day 3

Writing 101 Day 3 Prompt: Today, celebrate three songs that are significant to you. For your twist, write for fifteen minutes without stopping — and build a writing habit.

I will be frank – this was a difficult prompt, and it took quite some mind and memory rummaging to come up with three songs that are associated with some significant memory in my mind. But here are the three songs that you can play if I ever get amnesia, and I think somewhere in the deep recesses of mind a memory will start blossoming.

  1. Les Chaps Elysees by Joe Dassin: Last summer I took an intensive French course. Our teacher had an unique way of getting us attuned to the French accent. She played songs, and gave us fill-in-the-blanks sheets of the lyrics. It was our listening exercise. But the day she played this song, after we all had finished the day’s exercise, she suddenly announced that she was going to teach us to line-dance! With great trepidation and excitement, the benches were pushed to the sides to be our silent spectators. That was probably one of the best days of the entire course. We danced and giggled to our heart’s content. Every now and then, someone would bump into their partner, and begin a domino chain of people bumping into each other, but nobody seemed to mind. We were too busy having fun to notice stubbed fingers!
  2. Katiya Karoon by Sapna Awasthi, Harshdeep Kaur from the Bollywood film ‘Rockstar’: I still remember the date – 14th November 2011. It was a friend’s birthday, and as a treat she was taking all her friends to watch the newly released blockbuster movie ‘Rockstar’ starring Ranbir Kapoor. All of us were still new acquaintances, having joined high school together, only six months ago. Like new leather shoes, we were still getting the feel of each other, a little afraid of getting shoe-bites. That movie screening was our test and we passed it with flying colours. We laughed and cried through the film together, and did not leave the theatre even after the end-credits had rolled, as we were too busy acting as film-critics. It was only after janitors arrived to clean the theatre for the next show that we realized we had to leave. Once outside nobody seemed to want to go home. So, still hung-over from the film, we started singing the lyrics of Katiya Karoon out loud, and dancing on the street. We were young, carefree, and surrounded by friends. Nothing seemed to exist except that moment. Even today when I remember my friends from high school (most of whom I have lost contact with)an image rises in my mind of a deserted street at twilight and a group of teenagers dancing down it.
  3. Summer of ’69 by Bryan Adams: This song embodies in my mind all the sweet concepts of nostalgia, companionship, memories, childhood and friendship. My favourite lines in the song are:

When I look back now, the summer seemed to last forever

And if I had a choice, I would just wanna be there.

Those were the best days of my life!

I Hope We Meet Again Someday!

It is funny how I seem to spend every summer with a new set of close friends! The same set who might have become my rivals by the next summer, or worse, just drifted out of touch. If I am lucky one face or two might remain constant, but the dynamics of our relationship never have. Yet if you take a time machine and go back and ask any of us at any one of the summers (including the present one) we swear we will be friends forever. The very thought of the opposite is ridiculous. We share everything, we know everything about each other, how can we not remain friends till the end of time?! But things change, and friends drift apart. Kind of like two railway lines, running parallel to one another for a while, but sooner or later they will have to drift apart, and all that will remain are sweet memories on the warm summer breeze. This song is the most fitting ode I have heard to lost friends and to Time.

 

Just another day in the city…

In the morning rush-hour, the Mumbai local is jam-packed. Sweaty bodies packed against each other like sardines in a tin. All you can see around you is the coloured fabric of your neighbours clothes, or the shiny leather of her handbag; sometimes, the quick glint of her watch, or bracelet, or mangalsutra as it catches the sunlight. Above you there is a veritable mess of hands, clutching at the rods, and all around the pervasive odour of dozens of different perfumes mixed together. Amidst all this serene and regular chaos there was a woman, maybe 50 or 60 years old, placidly knitting. Her needles clicked, and the bright orange jumper materialized before my eyes. Something productive amidst the mad frenzy of ‘office time’. 

In this crowd you would go mad with claustrophobia if you didn’t distract yourself. Some, like me, listen to music on their i-pods, mp3s or cellphones. Some squint at newspapers or books in the dim light that slants through the jumble of bodies; while others, with a snobbish shrug, use a Kindle. Some play games on their tablets, while some others are busy issuing directives on the phone. Amidst all this, there was also this lady, who was busy praying. Her eyes closed, she sat placidly, completely ignoring the mass of people around her, clutching her prayer beads, and serenely reciting the name of God. 

Outside the station, the hawkers had already set up stall and were screaming out their wares. The food stalls made the most business at this time of the morning. All those who had sacrificed breakfast for a few minutes of extra sleep now tried to cram some nourishment into their bodies. Others who had forgotten to pack their lunch this morning, purchased food packets for the afternoon. Among them, there are also some mothers who had packed their share of into their kids’ tiffin boxes, because it is his/her favourite dish. For them the roadside dosa/vada is the only option now. 

After the train, it is time to board a bus now. Just as crowded, but if you run, and are lucky you might get a window seat. I was extremely lucky today. I got a window seat. So while everyone else had to clutch at the handlebars and try to hold their insides in while the bus rolls onto its destination at breakneck speed, reminiscent of a roller coaster ride, I got to sit and admire the scenery of the urban jungle. Our bus stopped at a traffic signal, and beside us another car stopped. In the front seat there were two women, busy gossiping. In the back seat, there was a young child, about 2 or 3 years old. He stared at me with wide-open eyes and I looked back. After a minute I waved. A minute later, he tentatively waved back. A bond had now been established. Soon we were playing peek-a-boo, and laughing uproariously – at 9 o clock in the morning, at a busy intersection. Soon, the lights changed, and the traffic started moving. The car carrying the child vanished in a puff of smoke, and I was left waving. My quota for magical moments of the day was over. 

The bus stopped and half-a-dozen people poured out.In front of the bus stop, there is a Sai Baba Temple, with a golden spire. 5 out of 6, stopped for a second to fold their hands in obeisance before the idol, sitting placidly in its marble sanctum with a golden spire. Only one stopped to throw down some coins to the dust caked hands of the beggar children with matted hair, sitting in the sun, with their arms outstretched. 

It’s just another day in the city of dreams. Broken hopes galore and the defeated sit back and watch, while others persevere for a golden illusion they have heard whispers of. Still others have given themselves over to the rhythm of the city, allowing it to take them where it will. 

(My first Writing 101 post).

Talking about the Future on the School Bus

10320348_757120340986332_8630196627970622781_nHave you ever wondered why we only remember snippets of our memories? Like one precious moment in time we managed to catch just before it slipped away, and stored it in the treasure chest of our minds. It might be a little dusty with time, but the essence remains pure.

This is one such memory carefully preserved in my memory box – the details are a little dusty, but it is still cherished.

What do you want to be when you grow up? – the favourite question of every adult whom you met. Today we had just written a paragraph in class on what we wanted to be when we grew up, and the topic was still fresh in our minds. By we, I mean me and my two best friends – who for the sake of anonymity, I am calling S and M. 

“So” I asked, looking out of the school bus window, at the receding building, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” 

“You tell, first”, M demands, testing the waters, testing if it is a trick question.  We were only 4 years old. 

“I wanna be a doctor” I replied proudly. “Like my uncle. He stays in London”. I never knew which held more fascination for me – the profession or the distant land, synonymous with all the magical places I read about in books (maybe that is why when I finally visited the city, a few years ago I was vaguely a little disappointed). Whatever the case, that was the only career path I knew of and deemed fitting back then. 

Now, S followed, a little tentatively, “I wanna be a teacher”. We turn up our noses. Being a teacher is the worst thing you could want to be at that age. A teacher was a wooden ruler wielding monster back then, who mercilessly gave homework to students. “Not any teacher”, she is quick to defend. “A good one, like Rina Miss. I will help students. I will be kind and never shout at them”. This was, still understandable. Rina Miss was all of our favourite teacher. She was kind, and always took extra interest in the underdogs – those who were bullied in the playground, those who didn’t seem to have friends, those who had problems at home. She would call them and talk to them at length. Sometimes she would give us chocolates and small gifts like pencils or ball-point pens (a rare privilege allowed to kids). She would take interest in what books we read and what films we saw, and when another teacher scolded us, it was to she who wiped our tears. 

Now it was M’s turn. She proudly puffed up her chest – “I want to be a wife!” We broke into peals of laughter. Marriage only had two meanings for us – 

  1. A game to play with when we were playing with our dolls.
  2. An occasion where we had to go dressed up and would be served tasty food, and would have our cheeks pulled by a dozen people we never remembered meeting. 

Once we managed to resume seriousness, we gave some serious thought to the question. “You will have to leave your parents”, I said gravely. As a girl, that was the biggest obstacle to marriage, in my opinion.

“I won’t”, M said, confidently. “I will make my husband leave his house, and come to live with my parents. My mother said that long ago that is how it happened. Men left their houses after marriage to come, stay with their wives”. (I have thought of this strange piece of knowledge for long. I guess my friend had misunderstood, or maybe her mother was talking about matriarchal societies)

“That is such a nice tradition!” I said. “Why did they change it? Why did our mothers shift residence after marriage?” 

For a moment we ponder this incomprehensible question. This ridiculousness of our mothers. “My father has a nice house” S said, almost defensively. We all were quiet. We couldn’t really debate this topic, without debasing either one of our parents, so we left it.

“When we get married, we won’t be like our mothers” I decide. “We will bring our husbands to our home. I will never leave my family!” images (1)

More than fifteen years has passed since this conversation took place. None of us are married….yet. I am pursuing a journalism career. M is pursuing English majors, and S just cleared high school. Very little remains of that ignorance and confidence now. Back then, all insurmountable problems had a simple solution. Sometimes I wish I could view life as simplistically now too.

(This post is in response to today’s Daily Prompt: Futures Past)

 

 

 

Let’s Teleport!!

Today’s Daily Prompt says: Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?

SquareVendor-AnywhereDoors

A nearly impossible choice in my opinion, but if I had to pick just one I think I would buy the anywhere door. I mean I would love a time machine or an invisibility helmet, but I want an anywhere door the most. As a child, one of my favourite books was ‘The Wishing Chair’ by Enid Blyton – a chair that could take you to any place you want. I always dreamt of owning it, but an anywhere door will do too.

Here are the 6 reasons I chose this product over all the others:

1. I love travelling but hate crowds or traffic. With the anywhere door I can visit the entire world in fractions of a second. I could study in Oxford, party in Las Vegas, shop in Paris, and stay at some beautiful place in the countryside, without worrying about travelling time. I can even visit exotic locales like the top of Mount Everest, or the deep recesses of the Amazon Rainforest, without breaking a sweat.

2. I would get to sleep in for longer. If I cancel out the time I spend in travelling every day, I could probably have more than an hour left on my hands. I could sleep in, watch TV, read a book, really the options are endless.

3. I would never be late for any appointment, ever. No more running in late to class, muttering hasty apologies to the professor as he glares at me with livid eyes. I would get up, get dressed and just open the door – tada! I am at college.

4. I can attend all my favourite concerts, movie premieres, book signings, fairs or any other event, even if they are happening across the globe. Shopping would be so much cooler with this – pick up bread from France, olives from Italy, milk from Gujarat and chocolates from Switzerland. The best of the entire world right at my doorstep, literally. 

5. I will never be out of touch with my friends and family. I could pop down for a visit, any time I like.

6. As the product specifies ‘anywhere’ I could even visit fictional places from books, like Hogwarts, Narnia, The Enchanted Forest, Camp Half-Blood…..the possibilities are endless. Get me my Anywhere Door already!!!