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Waiting

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In line at the bank. Queuing up at the fuel station. A slow-moving procession at the passport department. In an endless column to get gas. At the window on a dreary February morning, sky overcast, with a light drizzle beginning.

We wait. Everywhere we wait.

We wait for everything, whether in the physical or the metaphysical. We wait for materials like gas and petrol as much as we wait for intangibles like freedom and equality, respect and identity. The promise of being Nepali is an eternal longing, a wait so long no one knows when, or if, it will ever end. It is an absurd wait and we are all Vladimir and Estragon, Didi and Gogo. For like those two, we too don’t know if what we wait for will ever make an appearance. Godot is always just a day away, not today but surely tomorrow. Meanwhile, our masters have gone blind and we slaves have lost our voices. For those very masters, those Pozzos, once promised many things – a glorious republic, a vibrant democracy, development, progress, wealth and standing – just like Godot promised, not today but surely tomorrow. They have gone blind now, for everything is immaterial except for the dark that hides behind their own eyes (or glasses), that very dark where reason sleeps and produces monsters. And we slaves, we Luckys, once we spoke with conviction and feeling, a passion born out of what we thought of as values we should aspire to – freedom and equality, respect and identity. But now, in the midst of that long wait that never ends, we speak volumes of gibberish that pour liquid gold into the ears of those who would only deign to listen, poisoning them from within. Until, until, we don’t speak at all, struck dumb and yet, yet, still leading the blind.

But if we are Luckys, we are also still Didi and Gogo, waiting always. And this waiting, it’s not really a choice; it’s a compulsion. Since April’s disaster, thousands have been waiting. First, they waited for rescue, then relief, then reparations. Now, they wait for anything that will come. They braved the monsoon and they braved the winter. Not because they chose to, of course, but because is there any alternative really when the whirr of a helicopter’s blades triggers, Proustian, the palpitating rush of the earth rumbling underneath and the obliterating crash of an avalanche.

Sometimes, the waiting seems to come to an end. But it is almost always a false dawn, a sham of a thing, made up to look like something it’s not. So it was with the constitution, which finally arrived in September. Only it wasn’t really what we were waiting for. A celebration was held, a masquerade, where all dressed up in finery, the statute was unveiled, touched to forehead in reverence. And while some of us asked if this was really what we had waited for, others burned it angry and yet others marvelled at the elaborate farce. Much had been promised, that something wondrous would arrive. Instead, 10 arduous years, 10 long years, for something so meagre. Godot had metamorphosed.

Waiting implies hope and hope implies aspiration. In these godawful times, when we are neither here nor there, reeling from one natural disaster and a few unnatural ones, we wait for anything that might provide some semblance of inspiration. So when a football team runs a blitzkrieg and despite all odds, comes out on top, it is a rousing moment, especially when one considers the long years spent waiting for one Supreme Leader, among many, to vacate his toasty throne. Overnight, men become heroes. It is deserved, no doubt, but we have learned to reach for champions like drowning men clutching at straws. A prime minister dies and we extol his humility, his poverty, meagre qualities that have become all too rare. We have been waiting too long for another kind — a visionary stalwart, honest and open, global and local, respectful and compassionate, erudite and wise.

We all do our own personal waiting, whether it is waiting for a love or waiting for the bus, waiting on the rain or waiting for a friend. This is the waiting we do every day of our lives, not for some grand solution or some abstract ideal but for things simpler, the breath of a newborn against your chest, the touch of a longed-for hand against your own. But waiting is so much easier when you know the outcome is all-but-certain; it is much harder when you don’t know if what you wait for will ever arrive. But what else can we do? So much of the time, circumstances dictate where you are and what is coming your way. The universe is indifferent to us, but at times, it can feel so wilfully malicious.

So we wait, in lines, in queues, in columns and in rows. At the side of the road, in our bedrooms and every so often, day after day of our dreary, workaday lives. Maybe there is some romance to this waiting, some personal meaning to this cosmic absurdity, like Sisyphus with his rock. Perhaps, it is as Didi reasons, “What are we doing here, that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come.”

What keeps us going is that there is light at the end of this abysmal dark, that we are not just waiting for waiting. But there is always that nagging fear, that maybe there is no end to the waiting and that life for us is just this, an endless delay. We were promised, not today but surely tomorrow. And we are afraid it is already tomorrow.

[Published March 5, 2016 on The Kathmandu Post]

 

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Written by Pranaya

March 6, 2016 at 10:12 AM

Don’t talk, just listen

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(The Kathmandu Post Constitution Special, September 20)

I am a Chhetri man, born and raised in Kathmandu. Today, the new constitution of the Federal Republic of Nepal will be officially promulgated and it is my constitution—it has been drafted by people who share my gender, my complexion, my language, my customs, my religion and my traditions. It is a document that preserves my standing in society. It takes pains to ensure that my kind, we Bahun-Chhetri men, will not lose much, if anything. And it sends a message to those pesky Madhesis, Tharus, Janajatis and women—all those who oppose this ‘historic’ ‘epoch-making’ document—that we will prevail, whether by ballot or by bullet.
On that vaunted public sphere that is Facebook, there is triumph, a sense of victory for having persevered against those who would try to derail us. There is a very real geist present, that of a battle won. We the winners and they—the protesters who are against the constitution—the losers. After all, we tried to reason with them, but they just wouldn’t listen. We invited them for talks but they never sat down with us. Of course, we had armed policemen, ready with their tear gas, their rubber bullets and their live ammunition, but that, of course, was just for our protection.

Winners and losers
By all accounts, I should be ecstatic.
But there is little euphoria. Unlike most of my acquaintances on social media, instead of joy and celebration, there is only a deep unease and a sense of foreboding. There have been more than 40 deaths in the Madhes, of both protesters and security forces. Half of the country has been shut down for weeks. There are still curfews in place. And yet, the constitution was issued in Kathmandu amid a flurry of handshakes between ageing men in daura-suruwals and Dhaka topis. Once again, it is as if Kathmandu is all of Nepal and the Madhes might as well be Syria or Kosovo.
On social media, among those who would call themselves ‘liberal’, the tone is both triumphalist and defensive. It celebrates the ‘historic’ constitution with the caveat that the document is not set in stone and that it can be amended. Certainly, it could’ve been amended even before it was passed. But that wasn’t allowed. The party whips saw to that.
This triumph has been a long time coming. Ever since the protests started in the Madhes and the Far West, Kathmandu has treated them with deep suspicion. Despite media images of thousands of people on the streets of Tarai in protest, there are those who refuse to believe that this is a legitimate protest from legitimate citizens. The Madhesis are being misled by opportunistic leaders, or they are being instigated by Indians from across the border, or the favourite refrain, they are ‘uneducated’. There is little attempt to listen and try to understand why so many would want to march on the streets when there is a very real chance that they might be shot.
Instead, everything is taken personally—“I am not anti-Madhes”, “I didn’t oppress you”, “I didn’t call you dhoti”. The distinction that the Madhesis are opposed to the state, not individuals, is lost. And that is because our, we Kathmandu elites’, identification with the state is complete and total. The state has always been there for us. It is at our beck and call. We can march into any government office and know that the man (and it is always a man) behind the desk will speak our language and understand what we want. We can rest easy knowing that the police will never call us dhoti or Madhise or Bhote. We are the state and when it is opposed, so are we.

Know your privilege
Because Kathmandu is so divorced from the rest of the country, we have the privilege of sitting back and allowing things to take their course. We can celebrate the constitution because we have something to celebrate. We find it difficult to identify with those in the Madhes because we have never lived the lives they have. Our privileges have insulated us from everything that they go through. Empathy is one thing, experience is another. And it is just so hard to admit that one is privileged. It means coming to terms with the unpleasant fact that perhaps it is not our innate talents that have gotten us to where we are. It is difficult to believe that we had a head start when we’ve already won the race. So we choose denial. No, they must be wrong. Their grievances are illegitimate. Structural inequalities don’t exist anymore because now, there are no seats in the Lok Sewa reserved for us.
And we actively seek out faults in others. They’re lazy, they’re uneducated, they’re violent, they hate us when we’ve never hurt them. And when that doesn’t work, we choose to patronise them, treat them like children with no minds of their own. Poor Madhesis, they’re just misled. We, with our degrees from foreign universities, talk down to them in English from our op-ed pages. We delude ourselves into thinking that they don’t understand what federalism entails. And when they write to us, outraged and angry, we dismiss them as the ramblings of the ignorant. We accuse them of wanting to break up Nepal—the Nepal they’ve never really gotten to know because this Nepal sees them as Indians.
This is a malaise that infects everyone from the top rung leaders of this country to the ‘educated’ upper and upper-middle class. Those who’ve gone to school in America post Facebook links about how #Blacklivesmatter, but back home in Nepal, the quiet comfort of Kathmandu cannot be shaken by protests because Madhesi lives don’t matter. It is a symptom of a small privileged population that continues to see itself as the custodian of democratic values and the harbinger of anything progressive. Kathmandu’s elite young people have benefitted so much from a rigged system that they will do anything in their power to maintain that stranglehold.

Just listen
The approach then is of excessive benevolence and magnanimity. Kathmandu is the benefactor and the Madhesis, Tharus supplicants. And if they finally come to talk, first, we make them beg and then we talk over them and down to them. At first, there is the patronising ‘Tharus are not violent people, they must’ve been instigated to do this’ and then ‘You were misled by your leaders’. When that doesn’t work, the bigotry comes to the fore, ‘You are violent people’, ‘You want to break up Nepal’. And then the admonishments that dangle ‘being Nepali’ as if it is a gift to be given away. The age of hectoring from a bully pulpit is past. Whatever happens in the coming days, amendments or more protests, Kathmandu needs to learn to listen.

Written by Pranaya

September 21, 2015 at 4:24 AM

Death on the streets

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Seven years ago, on a balmy September morning, I saw a man die. I was standing by the roadside at Satdobato, about to alight onto a waiting microbus that would take me to further south to Hattiban and my place of employment. A blue Pulsar motorbike came careening from Lagankhel, swerving madly around cars, buses, other motorbikes at the Satdobato chowk. Piloting was a male and riding pillion was a female. She held him close around the waist, her face off to the side and her hair blowing in the wind. They sped past me, throwing up clouds of dust in their wake. Perhaps awed by the audacity with which this man was navigating the streets, I watched entranced. From the opposite end, from up the Hattiban incline and down the long, narrow, straight road that leads right up to Satdobato chowk, came another motorcycle. The collision happened in a fraction of a second.

There wasn’t a single scream, just a metallic crunch as the motorbikes met each other head on, and a long drawn-out squeal of skidding tires. People gathered quickly, as they are wont to do anytime an accident happens. A nearby shopkeeper called the police and an ambulance. There were four people lying on the road–two boys and two girls, barely teenagers. I noticed a highlight streak in one of the girls’ hair, until I realised it was fresh, bright blood. Three of them were motionless while one boy was moving slightly. The boys were safer, helmeted and in jackets. The girls were much worse off, empty-headed and with exposed arms and legs. Blood was pooling and as I watched, the man moving slightly was attempting to sit up. His left leg jutted at an impossible angle and he flailed before falling back down. He lay like that for a while, his jacketed chest rising and falling with each laboured breath. And then, as I watched, unable to look away, he stopped. The chest no longer undulated and the limbs no longer twitched.

The ambulance arrived and carted away the bodies. The police arrived with a truck and hauled away the wreckage. Men stood around pontificating. Now that the bodies were gone, I moved closer, out of a macabre sense of curiosity. Dark smears from rubber tires marked the asphalt and pools of black oil shone in the morning light. The blood was already congealing, turning brackish. Teeth glinted like pearls.

Years later, when I would get on my scooter to ride to work and especially on the long, dark ride back home, this is what I would think of. The morning sun and the teeth in the road. I drove with caution, always afraid of a speeding vehicle from the opposite end. At night, I cursed every car, bus and motorbike that had their high-beams on, blinding them each time they passed. Night was also the time of the darting pedestrian, those vague, shapeless, bundles that would leap onto the streets, paying little heed to the tonnes of metal barrelling towards them.

On the Ring Road, the buses and trucks hold dominion and on the inner city streets, motorbikes and microbuses. Road rage boils and seethes. Once, at the Tinkune petrol pump, waiting for my turn to fill up my tank, a young man on a red motorbike cut in front of me. I protested, saying there was a line. Easily, he called me a name implying I had illicit relations with my mother and threatened to kill me. When I laughed it off, he got off his bike and took off his helmet, ready to swing it like a weapon of war. The altercation ended when I backed down and let him have his way. In Kathmandu, more than anywhere else, might is right.

This past week, two girls were crushed to death on the wide, freshly paved stretch of road from Maitighar to Koteswor. They were both in their 20s, fresh-faced and young. Stories appeared online detailing their last moments and their hopes and dreams. Each story like a dagger in the heart. Young lives crushed carelessly under the tires of buses and trucks. And that was just in Kathmandu. Outside, on the perilous highways, dozens of people die every week, at an average rate of between three-five a day. Like Deepak Thapa said in a recent column, these are war-time casualties.

And meanwhile, in the Capital city, the traffic police embarks on a campaign to name and shame pedestrians who cross haphazardly that fabled stretch from Maitighar to Koteswor. Photos are taken and shared mercilessly. Comments roll in about these peoples’ lack of civic sense and how ‘uneducated’ they are. Never mind the fact that zebra crossings are almost non-existent, that traffic lights never work, that no one ever gives way to pedestrians. Never mind the fact that public vehicles stop anywhere and everywhere, packing passengers like stuffing gundruk into a jar. Never mind that private cars and motorbikes pick up speed instead of slowing down when they see pedestrians on a crosswalk. In a city where muscle matters, those who walk are at the bottom; every one else has a metal machine to run you down.

The spectre of death is always over your shoulder if you make regular use of Kathmandu streets. One unlucky day and it could easily be you, lying on the street, bleeding out of your ear. This might not be a pleasant thought to start a morning with, but it is necessary. And it not just immediate death or injury from an accident but slow, cancerous death from the daily inhalation of toxic fumes from ancient buses and trucks and the thick dust that rises in eddies around roads under construction. As for me, I don’t ride a scooter to work anymore.

Published on The Kathmandu Post, December 13, 2014

Written by Pranaya

December 14, 2014 at 5:01 AM

Regimes of Truth

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In his book Believing is Seeing, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris investigates two photographs by Roger Fenton from the 1855 Crimean War, one of the earliest examples of war photography. The two black and white photos, collectively titled The Valley of the Shadow of Death, show an empty landscape with a dirt road cutting through it. Both photos are taken from the same spot but in the first one, the road is empty while in the second, it is littered with cannonballs. In her book On Photography, literary icon Susan Sontag accuses Fenton of having “obviously” faked the photographs by deliberately placing the cannonballs on the road to make for a more dramatic photo. Morris, for whom nothing is so obvious that it needs to be said so, investigates.

The conclusion is that yes, Fenton faked the second photo. But while investigating, Morris reports an encounter with a photography expert whose take I find much more interesting. This expert believes that the second photo, despite having been faked, is much more “authentic”. To him, it doesn’t matter that the cannonballs were deliberately moved onto the road. Cannonballs were flying and people were getting killed and the photograph accurately reflects the milieu of the war and expresses the threat of danger. This understanding points to a more abstract notion of truth, let’s call it ‘affective’ truth. In this age of science and facts, that which cannot be corroborated by hard evidence is false, or a lie. As we now stand, ‘Truth’ needs proof.

When it was invented, the photograph was held to document truth, a passing moment in time that could be captured objectively and reproduced again to display something that had actually happened. We’ve since learned better. The moment that photography captures maybe staged, faked, concealed or cropped out. Now, with Photoshop and technology, it is much easier to alter photographs and much harder to detect the alterations. This became the subject of controversy over the winner of this year’s World Press Photo Award. After many accusations of the photographer having substantially altered the photo of a group of men carrying the bodies of two young children killed in an attack on Gaza city, an expert committee declared that the photo wasn’t a “fake.” While a photo’s authenticity is definitely a concern for purists and photographers, this photo, regardless of alterations, conveys an affective truth—that of the trauma and cost of war—that speaks beyond its frames.

Given their ability to impact, photographs have long been used politically for a variety of purposes. Glossy fashion magazines do it every day. The airbrushing, the lightening, the tucking in, all push an ideal of beauty that is fair, thin and unblemished. There is also the other end of the spectrum, where photos are used to horrify. Like the famous 1993 Kevin Carter photo of the emaciated Sudanese child and a predatory vulture waiting for him to die. Conflicting accounts that the boy’s family was just out of frame, collecting food from the UN and the vulture had been attracted by a nearby manure pit. Nevertheless, the photograph shocked the world and possibly even led to Carter’s suicide.

But of course, it would be foolish to compare fashion and journalism. Fashion defines itself and sets its own standards while journalism is held to loftier standards—that of truth and objectivity. But as gonzo journalism pioneer Hunter S Thompson has said once too often, “There is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” Thompson isn’t even alluding to the corporate, political and vested interests that drive many journalists. He means the simple fact that it is a human doing the reporting and hence, everything that this human sees and hears is subjective.

For photojournalists, the subjective comes in the choice of content, the framing of the photo, the tweaks and alterations of post-processing and finally, the choice of a select few photos from among the many. For written-word journalists, content is filtered through the subjective command of language, words chosen, structure, narrative and angle. In today’s modern newspaper world, there are even more subjectivities at play as desk editors, copy editors and proofreaders go through the piece before it is published. How then is journalism ever objective? And if it cannot be objective, is it ever the truth?

This raises some heady questions of what truth even is. Philosopher Michel Foucault describes a “regime of truth” where there are discourses that serve as the ‘truth’ for particular epochs and particular spaces. For Foucault, truth is something that happens; it is created. Unlike our standard supposition that truth exists independent of us and is waiting to be ‘discovered’ or ‘uncovered’, Foucault’s truth is an active creation of the relations of power.

Given its relativity, truth is always in a state of flux and is always being challenged. Just a few hundred years ago, the world was thought to be flat and that the sun revolved around us. Now that truth has been replaced by another one—the earth is spherical and that we revolve around the sun. We know this to be ‘true’ as far as the limits of our understanding of physics and astronomy go. This is what science, that ultimate iteration of Enlightenment rationality, tells us. But science too has its limits. When it comes down to the quantum level, even science treads into the realms of the uncertain. When an elementary particle of matter such as the quark has never been directly observed and behaves differently depending on the act of observation, science too becomes subjective.

However, this is not to say that there is no truth, just that the kind of objectivity found in football scores and mathematics is hard to come by. There is a world of difference between recognising something as subjective and something as a lie. In journalism, outright lying cannot pass for subjectivity. Order, rationality and truth are different ways in which we try to comprehend an increasingly chaotic, arbitrary world. But this understanding must be recognised as subjective and personal, especially when it comes to journalism and the business of truth-telling. Who is saying it, where it is being said and how it is being said are often more important than what is being said. Like Marshall McLuhan said, the medium is the message.

Understanding must be shaped by different points of view and varying schools of thought that are often at odds with each other. To exist in a constant state of flux, being buffeted from one point of view to the next, must be welcomed, for that is the only way we can make sense of things as they exist for others and not just ourselves.

(published in The Kathmandu Post, July 21, 2013)

Written by Pranaya

July 21, 2013 at 6:48 AM

a catalog of injuries

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1. nasal fracture

2. skull fracture

3. subtemporal hematoma (blood in the brain)

4. broken clavicle

5. mass fracture of two vertebrae (C7 T1)

6. swelling in the brain

7. bell’s palsy (facial paralysis of the left side)

8. a hole in the ear

these are the most extensive injuries i have ever suffered in my life. i don’t quite know how close i came to death but i assume i was spared. most of my injuries have healed now. the nasal fracture was little to begin with, the skull fracture has healed and so have the mass fractures in the vertebrae. the broken clavicle was operated on and now i have a metal plate in my shoulder. the ear is healing slowly, although a sharp ringing accompanies most of my day. the only thing that remains is the paralysis. its more of an annoyance than a real injury. it doesn’t hurt but it nags. i cannot eat properly, i cannot drink properly and every word i speak sounds as if it comes through mush. its like the left side of my face is under novocaine forever. its frustrating to not be able to move a part of your own body. to look in the mirror and try with all your will, all your might to move that eyebrow, that side of the lips, to hold that eyelid down. but they don’t respond. a connection has been severed somewhere and it is unpleasant. 

i think about the fairness of it all and then remind myself of the stupidity. what fairness? has there ever been any in the world? there is no balance, no ying and yang. its all absurd. life is most random and to try and look for patterns is not just foolish but inane and stupid. and yet i feel a desire to scream, to yell, to vent, to be angry at something, anything for doing this to me. i want to believe in god so that i can curse at him. because all i feel right now is impotent rage, an anger at nothing, that has no object and hence, is useless. 

what is it about me that the world cannot stand? is that a question i’m allowed to ask? or does that infer some faith in a higher power? whether that be god or nature? depression is anger without enthusiasm. and i feel myself sliding down. what is to be done? the doctors say the medicine isn’t working yet, give it time they say. i have. i just don’t know how much time my sanity has left. its frayed already and on edge. it might snap any second and then what? reduced to a blubbering idiot? not just foaming at the mouth but frothing at the brain. 

and you know the worst part? i can’t think straight. i can’t focus. my brain feels sluggish, as if its dragging something very heavy behind it. what if i lose my brain? what if this dullness is permanent? what if what if what if? i live in perpetual fear. i don’t want tomorrow to come, for who knows what crisis it might bring. this is what its like to live in mortal fear. the fear of losing your mind. 

Written by Pranaya

February 3, 2012 at 7:35 PM

what makes a human

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days and nights seem too arbitrary to separate. after all, one is just the other side of the coin. i have bled for a few days now. and i have come close to losing my life. and i cannot say that i feel more alive than i ever have. my near-death experience was not a near-life experience, no matter what cliche-spouting characters in hip films might tell you. my near death was just simply that, near death. the experience of coming close to nothingness. that moment when you come head to head with the conclusion that there might very well be nothing beyond this and even this, is ending slowly, a second at a time. 

there are things i would’ve liked to have said to so many people. i would’ve liked to make a list and recite one after another the long eloquent testaments to their love and support and unfailing devotion to all that i have done and thought was worth dedicating my life to. these people never really expected much from me. but they loved me as friends, as family, as equals maybe, as fellow sojourners. what is it that i wish to say now? i don’t quite know. there is no grand epiphany that comes to mind. there is no moment of clarity where you see it all and understand. there is just the faint letdown that this is all there is. that when the blood in your brain runs out, you will pass, slowly and quietly, into nothingness. there will be no fanfare, no light at the end of the tunnel. no welcoming angels and harps, no dead relatives, no four-armed deities. this measly scrap of earth we call our own is all we get. that is it. nothing more, nothing else. 

when i sat in that hospital bed and went though the barrage of tests that my cognitive therapist put me thought, i passed it all. my brain kept up, following patterns, making connections, remembering and recalling information. it didn’t let me down. it stayed with me. but my body: the left side of my face remains immobile. i can barely hear anything out of that left side where the blood has congealed into a fine mess of scabs and clots. my balance is a little off and i am weak but these are things i will get over. the doctors tell me my face will make a full recovery in a few months time. i only hope that it will. my neck vertebrae have been damaged so i can’t really move all that well until they heal but they will heal, in six to twelve weeks. my skull will repair itself, the swelling will go down with the steroids hopefully. 

so what makes a human? is it my cognition, my brain function that i seem to have retained most of? what about my bodily function, the extent to which i am able to function in the world and interact and hear and see? i do not remember anything of my accident or how i came to be so injured. there is a long spool of tape missing from my brain. there is a time when the record button popped up and no one remembered to push it back down. who was i then? what was i then? is my identity cogent upon contingency? this me, pranaya at point A and this is me pranaya at point B. what about in between? what happened then? 

i am rambling. my thoughts aren’t in order. i just wanted to write something. something to prove my own existence to myself. to all of you who have stuck by me, i thank you from the deepest cockles of my heart. as long as my breath keeps pumping, my hands keep writing/typing and my brain keeps functioning, i will not stop wondering what it is to be human. this is my return. i’m not going anywhere.

Written by Pranaya

January 20, 2012 at 12:48 PM

a dedication

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to all those i haven’t written to in a long, long time:

there comes a time in every person’s life when it seems like there is nothing left to say. everything feels tired and old, rehashed, redone, painted over and presented as new. every thought it seems has occurred before. every idea it seems has made its appearance before. and outwardly everything is fine, everything keeps moving, but inside, your mind is like a derailed train going off its tracks. the entertainment is mindless, the drugs and alcohol are mere suppressants. there is no inspiration anymore, but deeper, there is no will anymore.

it feels endless, this melancholy, this sloth. it reminds me of murakami and falling into a well, a hidden well, while walking in an orchard (or was it a clearing in a forest?). but this well is familiar to me. it is one from which i have drawn water countless number of times. it has fed and watered me. only now, the well is dry and i have fallen in it. the bottom is hard and rocky, the sides slippery and smooth and there is no light except for that full-moon circle when i look up.

at times like these, a person of sufficient will is able to haul themselves out. they grasp the rim of the well and pull themselves up and out. sweating and heavy breathing, dirty and grime-coated, they emerge victorious. but then there are those like me, who choose to stay down. that brief of circle of light that appears when the sun is high is enough to go on. we don’t dare make the climb, for what if we fall and shatter every bone in our body. what if we emerge from the well only to find that nothing remains out there, that everything has been irradiated and devastated, that all is barren and nothing fertile. that circle of light is our sustenance, it is what keeps us going. but it is never enough to attract, to persuade, to fill us with the heat we need as warm-blooded animals. it is only enough to promote a kind of lethargy, a slow-witted sickness, a damning of the self, a return to Plato’s cave and its shadows. we who are content with shadows and a circle of light. we who wish to never see again. we who will grow blind and white like moles. we who will claw at ourselves, drawing blood from our arms and chests, only to realise that even the blood is not enough, even the pain is not enough.

to all of you, i hope you know who each of you are.

to you who taught me what it means to survive: there is no bigger gift you could;ve given me than what you already have. it is the gift of perseverance and stoicism. it is the gift of living when all else dies. it is what camus means when he argues for suicide only to say “but the point is to live.” because the point is to live, it is not to escape. the evidence is in the effort and your evidence is strongest of all. you express that which cannot ever be expressed: the will to live and in living, not let the absurd, the banal, the hateful and the painful intercede. you create patterns more beautiful than any spider or any snowflake. they are patterns of the mind and they find expression in your poems, strung together with heartstring and tears. when we took one walk, and it was a sufficiently long walk, i felt emboldened. when walking beside you, i wanted to say just how much you have grown to mean to me, in such a short amount of time. you have taken care of me and my writing. you believed in me when there was absolutely no reason that you should’ve. maybe its because you saw something in me that was similar to something in you. with me, what i write is all there is, but with you, there is so much in between each word you write down and outside of every full-stop, every comma that you leave hanging, there are worlds.

to you who taught me true expression: everything you did, you made yourself an example of. there were ideas you believed in but they weren’t simply abstract and lodged inside your mind, you were always actively attempting to locate it in yourself. you gave yourself enough so that you yourself became an expression. an expression beyond ideals, beyond stratified systems that the education you so loathed taught us to internalise. you who had courage to rebel, to stand aside and say enough, you who chose not to work within the system like i did. i knew what it was but i exploited it because it was easier to do. but only you said enough and you were shamed for it. you saw it was wrong and you took the much harder road: that of being true to all that school tried to kill in you. you who i think of each time i hear a certain voice, singing certain songs: “betty said she prayed today, for the sky to blow away, or maybe stay, she wasn’t sure.”

to you who writes under a pseudonym: sometimes you pretend that the name under which you write is mere form, an irony in a post-modern world where everything means something else and nothing really means anything. but you give yourself away, in your concerns and your habits and even your complaints. you might feel discomfort where you are, might feel like this place is no place for someone like you and yet, when you write, it is with a yearning for that very place to become something better. you write fervently, scolding and haranguing, cajoling and complaining, it is that which tells us who you are and what you wish.i wish i could do that, i wish i could care so much, and pretend so little. once you were afraid. there were bottles of pepsi (or was it 7up) and choila in a dark, dank patan bhatti and you said you were afraid and i attempted to persuade you to not be. be fearless, because there will always be people who dislike you, who hate you, you wish nothing but harm upon you. and that’s something to be afraid of. for all my posturing that day, let me say now that i am afraid too. but of slightly different things. i am afraid of the well and how its going to dry up. i am afraid of writing for ever and no one ever noticing. i am afraid of everyone and everything.

to you who flew in from across the sea: there are days when i wish of nothing but to speak with you. there are times when i wish of nothing but to write to you and tell you everything because very few people have listened to me the way you listened. and that is an inherently selfish thing on my part. a desire for you that ultimately satisfies something in me. but that isn’t all there is. there is a manner in which you synthesize all that you take in and make it appear profound. reading you writing about me and things i know is like looking into a strange warped mirror and seeing a reflection of myself that i know is me but i do not recognise. there is that talent, that spark that lets you in, how you worm your way into people’s hearts and make a nest there, how you reappear unexpectedly when i discover something new and exciting and wish to share it with someone. there is a story i wrote because you gave me an idea for it. there are stories i’ve written where there is more of you than you might ever discover. you’re a best friend if those words are ever able to encapsulate what there is between you and i.

to you who was my first real friend: i don’t quite know what passed between us but those were days of youth, when passion and ardor meant much more than morality or friendship. it was a time of being ruled by hormones, a time when we think we know everything only to discover just how flawed and stupid we were. we haven’t really talked in more than five years now and i can’t say that i miss you much. there are times when i think of you and my stomach feels a little empty then, as if it were filled with nothing but air. i think i take a deep breath and release it slowly like a low drawn-out sigh. i doubt you ever do something similar for it was you who chose to be something different. i know it was an active choice on your part, not some happenstance. i know you always dreamt of it. times are different now and i doubt i can ever be friends with you again. i think we both have changed irreparably. we are like two jigsaw pieces that once fit together but left out in the cold, or the heat, or the rain, we have deformed and changed into shapes that don’t fit anymore. it doesn’t sadden me anymore. it simply is. you cannot really expect to hold on to people, its foolish to try to. people are as capricious as the weather. you can’t ever expect anything. this is how it goes. i hear you’re getting married soon. regards to the lady.

to you who was my second real friend: i’ve said i would write to you and i haven’t really. i said i would get you a present and i haven’t really. like most promises, i’ve broken them all. this is my apology. once we were best of friends, we are not anymore. it is sad to say and think about but this is how it is. we have attempted to stay friends and we still are. not the best of friends but good friends, better friends than i deserve to be with you. you have tried much harder than i have because it takes so much effort to simply just try and it is much much easier to just give up. i tried to give up but you wouldn’t really let me. you kept at it and that is what has kept our relationship going for so long. i used to think it was crazy the way you took things in stride, that unwavering optimism, that bright, bulb-like idealism, how much effort must that have taken? i cannot even imagine because i always took the easy route, the one that led to pity, self-deprecation and boredom. little by little, which gave way to misanthropy. you were never like that, i don’t know how you stuck to me. you’ve really shown me that one doesn’t need to be an idiot to be happy. you can be smart and funny and articulate and intelligent and outgoing and still find the time to be happy. maybe you know some grand secret that i don’t or maybe there just isn’t any secret at all. maybe you just are the way you are because that’s how you are.

finally, to you who loves me: there is nothing to say to you in prose anymore. everything that i want to say to you, i already have. there are no words left anymore. all i can rely on now is poetry. my sad stringing of words together that masquerades as poetry. my sad attempt to say what i have always meant but never know quite how to say. when i write for you, i expect you to understand what i mean without me saying it. its an understanding born of reason or logic. it is not the understanding that says x = y. this is an understanding that you feel. you don’t have to explain it to me or even say that you understand, just feel something, maybe something under your skin that feels warm and tingly, maybe something in your eyes that stings and makes you want to tear a little, maybe a lump in your throat, dry and scratchy that takes a lot of effort to swallow, or maybe just a smile, that would be best. you know what i mean when i lie beside you and talk for hours about the things that most frighten me, about things that i am too afraid to mention in daylight. to love is to have faith, to love is to go beyond reason, love really is like faith, Rumi had it right. for someone as disbelieving and cynical as me, love really is the only thing left having faith in. not love for all, not love for humanity, love for you, love of you.

Written by Pranaya

January 9, 2012 at 5:01 PM

Posted in arti ra upadesh, attempts.

Tagged with