The ups and the downs
I’ve never really fancied trigonometric functions.
When I was first introduced to the soh cah toa definition of trig functions, I thought I learnt everything there was to learn. It seemed easy enough. I rushed to Khan Academy from my quick access toolbar, like a duck to water, and tried out a trig worksheet. The first question - Calculate sin(45°). I was stumped.
To calculate the value of a trig function, you needed a right-angled triangle, right? So how can we do it with just one angle?
But then, the unit circle definition of trig functions presented itself to me, and all was well. Although inverse trig function identities continue to baffle me to this day, I’m going to keep that aside in the interest of time and space (spacetime? Don’t mind if I do).
Taking a closer look at the graphs of trigonometric functions, I’ve always found them to be rather quirky, to say the least. Even the simplest one, the sine function. They’re all repetitive, like they’re stuck in some kind of a rut.
At first, it goes up. And then comes back down. But then it goes up again. Only to come back down. It’s periodic in nature, just like your mundane daily routine during the pandemic.
The only problem happens when you look at it too closely rather than looking at the big picture. If you zoom in enough on a trough, it’ll almost look like a straight line - a straight line on -1. If you zoom in enough on a peak, it’ll also look like a straight line - a straight line on +1. It’ll seem like it never ends.
But both of those things, a peak and a trough, they don’t stay that way. That’s the definition of a periodic function - eventually, a peak moves forward and becomes a trough and likewise for a trough.
Thing is, you can transform these functions as well. Increasing a sine function’s amplitude makes the peaks go higher and the troughs even lower. Increasing its period effectively makes its peaks and troughs last longer, in essence, stretching the function itself. The most beautiful thing, though, is shifting entirely. Translating the function up by 1 unit makes it go from 2 to 0 and back to 2, but never below 0.
If you think that trig functions are reserved for textbooks and blackboards, I’ve got news for you. Life is a sine function in itself. It has its own peaks and troughs - peaks where you think nothing can go better, and troughs where you think nothing could be worse. But it’s periodic; it always goes back. After a peak, there’s always a trough; and after a trough, there’s always a peak. It might not be as regular as the function makes it out to be, but it happens. Give it some time.
The beauty of it is that the peaks and troughs are mutually dependent on each other. Without any one of them, the sine function will cease to exist.
But you can always translate the function. We all have our ups and downs in life, and that’s what makes life so. But by translating your function upwards, the ups of life will go even higher, while the downs might become a little less horrible. If the peak is a raise, make it a promotion next time. If the trough is a D in your exam, make it a C next time.
If f(x) = sin(x) is the function of your life, you would want it to be f(x) + 1. So make it that way.
Do you see that I despise transformations?
The Simple Art of Saving
For the most part, I am a person who holds onto things.
Call me a saver (although the more appropriate term would probably be ‘hoarder’), because I’ve always found it difficult to part with things that hold any fraction of sentimental value to me. Be it silly things, like a jar of dangerously crusty slime from one of my haphazardly-conducted science ‘experiments’ as a child, or more important things like people that raised and (metaphorically) rose with me, I’ve never really been able to let go of them without obscene amounts of internal battle.
I’ve come to discover that I’m not alone here - it’s something that runs in my family. I distinctly remember going to the homes of my grandparents and marvelling at the numerous rows of dolls that they had collected throughout the years. In their cupboards, China dolls replaced China plates. Matryoshka, Channapatna, and other varieties that I can’t bring myself to pronounce filled them up till they were on the verge of bursting. At their age, they had no use for those dolls; but despite that, and everybody telling them to throw them away, figurines pervaded their cabinets.
Research suggests that “those with compulsive hoarding have at least one first-degree relative with hoarding problems, suggesting that hoarding is hereditary.” Although I don’t have extensive knowledge about verifying scientific inferences, I could clearly verify this in a heartbeat.
The Japanese, as they often do, have given an exquisitely poetic name to describe another type of hoarding that my family is familiar with. Tsundoku, as it is often called, derives from two words - tsunde-oku (to let things pile up), and dokusho (to read books).
Evidently, there hasn’t been a single person who has been able to describe my dad as accurately as the people of the 17th century.
It’s always been a thing - every time anyone ever came home, the first remark they made would be about the amount of books there were, shoved into every nook and cranny available. Cartons overflowed with books, spilling out of the little boxes and onto the floors of the storage room, car trunk, and other little empty spots that we converted into depositories. My mother would beg us to give them away, find different homes for them - we would convince her that we would read them all, crack open the spines of every book inconspicuously hidden around the house. The tipping point, quite literally, came when I was about 12 years old - a bookshelf had given way in my room in the dead of night and the whole thing had come crashing down. Be it fate, or God not wanting another blow to my significantly small brain, I had not been sleeping there at the time. The next day, my mum clucked her disapproval and told us they had to go. She hated to say she had told us so (false; she revelled in it), but there was simply no space for us to keep them anymore and we had to get rid of them.
We never ended up giving them away. Just found different places for them.
I don’t mean to make this all profound and metaphorical (I totally do), but I think tsundoku is more than just hoarding. Not knowing what you might invariably miss out on if you let go of books you haven’t read yet is unsettling. And I think that logic applies to other things too - we’re afraid of letting go of people just because we haven't made all the memories we think we could have, given the right circumstances. Giving up on a skill is hard, because what if we haven’t exploited our abilities to the fullest and left the land of opportunities barren?
It’s impossible to do everything, to see everything, to read everything.
At fifteen, I don’t know when you should let go of complicated things like relationships and jobs. However, when it comes to books, I’d say hold onto them. Realistically (and much to my poor mother’s dismay), we were never going to read all of those books - but knowing that we could return to them whenever gave us more solace than some cubic metres of free space would.
Things that give you happiness tend to quietly make themselves known in your life. What was wrong with saving that, regardless of the clutter?
Maybe in time, you’ll find your own place for them as well.
Mixing Things Up
I just turned seventeen years old. I try my best to act and think like an adult, as best I can, but sometimes I feel my inexperience and naïveté show through. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking that this might be a flawed way of looking at it; I’m seventeen, and I am possessed by a sense of urgency and wonder I expect most people lose with age. I’m going to milk it.
Recently, I’ve been feeling excessively like everything is getting mixed up. I’m old enough now that I understand larger, global problems, but I also attach an incredible level of importance to my interpersonal issues. As I learn with age that things can be nuanced, I’ve noticed that everything has grown extremely important to me - and that it’s all escaping the neat little boxes I put it in. As much as we try to pretend otherwise, everything is connected. There’s no separating the state of the world from the state of your friend group, because you are an active participant in both.
In today’s article, we have a poem from me, and some recommendations that acknowledge and play with the fact that everything is gloriously intertwined.
By Brishti Chakraborty
Previously published in Volume II of the borderline
come on, pick up, do you really think being sixteen is worth it? i only repost the instagram
infographics that are the right shade of pink and i never listen to the wrong bands / it’s
true that hands are all you need to make music but then again / a beating heart is all you
need to make a difference, and i never fucking do / build bridges over oil spills, smile / for
the camera, strike outside school, strike a pose, grab my hand,
there’s everything to do so let’s lie on my bed / i’m empty on a thursday night, i throw
out whatever i can, scream like a bat so no one hears me / when you’re a teenager you live
a hundred lives, but mostly you live none / i sit at the bottom of my fig tree, at least the
wasps are getting a good deal out of it / and the tree will burn soon anyway, so i’ll find
another analogy / i want to push myself out of my body, brown-red splat! / but my parents
rented this apartment with its too-white walls / anyway, i’ve never been to a real teenage
party, and i hope i do soon / text me when you get this
Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.
Our Beautiful Life When It’s Filled with Shrieks by Christopher Citro
Christopher Citro is the author of If We Had a Lemon We’d Throw It and Call That the Sun (Elixir Press, 2021), winner of the 2019 Antivenom Poetry Award, and The Maintenance of the Shimmy-Shammy (Steel Toe Books, 2015). His honors include a 2018 Pushcart Prize for poetry, a 2019 fellowship from the Ragdale Foundation, Columbia Journal‘s poetry award, and a creative nonfiction award from The Florida Review. (christophercitro.com)
As Good as Anything by Alice Notley
Alice Notley has become one of America’s greatest living poets. She has long written in narrative and epic and genre-bending modes to discover new ways to explore the nature of the self and the social and cultural importance of disobedience. The artist Rudy Burckhardt once wrote that Notley may be “our present-day Homer.” In an interview with the Kenyon Review, Notley noted: “I think I try with my poems to create a beginning space. I always seem to be erasing and starting over, rather than picking up where I left off, even if I wind up taking up the same themes. This is probably one reason that I change form and style so much, out of a desire to find a new beginning, which is always the true beginning.” (Poetry Foundation)
The Night After You Lose Your Job by Debora Kuan
Debora Kuan is the author of two poetry collections, Lunch Portraits (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016) and XING (Saturnalia Books, 2011). She has received residencies at Yaddo, MacDowell, and the Santa Fe Art Institute, and is the Poet Laureate of Wallingford, Connecticut. (Poetry Foundation)
The Perfect Student Conundrum
As I talked about in my previous article, Mohan and Rahul are two school-going, sixteen-year old teenagers. Rahul is someone who spends every waking moment doing work. He does his best to study the maximum possible amount in a single day, practises tennis for tournaments, and plays piano in preparation for his exam. Mohan, on the other hand, gives himself free time and does his best to balance his work and leisure. He too plays the piano, but for fun and not because he is being forced to play it by his parents. During the day, along with studying, he does things he enjoys, like playing with his cat, reading novels, and hanging out with his friends.
Rahul is an overworker who scores 98% regularly, while compromising on having fun with his friends and doing the things he loves. He feels pressured to study and work all the time instead, by his parents and everyone around him. Mohan on the other hand, still scores a good 85% in his tests while also doing things he enjoys and he is generally happier than Rahul because he strikes a balance between work and having fun. In my previous article, I spoke about how Rahul is an unrealistic idea of a person created by society and how we should strive to be similar to Mohan rather than Rahul. However, I think it is important to acknowledge why this is not possible in most cases.
Rahul is an unrealistic idea, yes, but he is an idea created by an Indian capitalist society, an idea that has existed for a long time, and will continue to exist as well. It is an idea that forces millions of students to compete against each other in every possible way and only rewards those who turn out to be Rahuls. As someone with privilege, I failed to account for the fact that although being like Rahul isn’t ideal, it is sometimes necessary for an individual to adopt that kind of lifestyle to get into a good school, a good college, and find a good job. Because no one has asked who Mohan and Rahul are, what are their backgrounds? Where are they from?
For someone from even a marginally lower financial background than me, they spend every second of their life trying to prove themselves to others because they have to. Rahuls generally come from backgrounds where they cannot afford to spend time “living life”. There are a lot of parental and familial expectations that come for Rahuls that are almost impossible to avoid. Why? Because there are only a limited number of seats in a college, only a limited number of vacancies in a job, but an abundance of students who go to school. This forces students to idealise perfectionism if it means getting into a good college and job in the long run. And especially in India, this creates high expectations from their parents because they spent a chunk of their money on their child’s education and they need to know that it was worth it. This further forces students to constantly prove that they are worth it.
However with someone like a Mohan, they might generally come from financial backgrounds where they have the money to afford to go to an international school which could open avenues for them not accessible to Rahuls. They can afford to do the things they enjoy because the higher financial status generally reduces the pressure on them and they often hear phrases from their parents such as “Study what you are passionate about”, which is something that is almost impossible for a Rahul because they have to always study what is seen as attractive by colleges and the Indian society as a whole. Taking my example, as a student of an international school, I will apply to colleges outside of India, which are different from the system in India and give me more opportunities to do the things that I love, because I can afford to do that in my situation.
But what does that mean? Mental health is only for the rich? Well that’s not really true, it is for absolutely everyone in the world, but sometimes compromising on their mental health, compromising on doing the things they love to study hard and score well on exams is not a choice for Rahuls but a necessity. Whether we like it or not, in today’s world, colleges still look at your marks when taking you in. Marks open up avenues such as scholarships, honours programmes, and advanced classes who couldn’t have accessed them otherwise due to the large absence of equity.
Equity is said to exist when everyone in a community has equal opportunities and resources. However in our lives, in reality, equity is highly dependent on the financial status of an individual. If you have money, like Mohan, then it's extremely easy for you to access resources to get into an amazing school, college and job. This is much harder for Mohans, who have to work twice, thrice, even four times as hard to reach a position where they can get the same opportunities. They have no other choice most times.
One of my friends talked to me about Maslow's hierarchy of needs which is a psychological concept saying that the things people require are in a prioritised list.
The list works in a way that makes someone have to fulfil their basic needs before their psychological needs, and then self fulfilment needs. So, someone like Rahul will have to study hard every single day to achieve his long term basic needs of a lifestyle above poverty in India. Because especially in India, it is not enough to be okay, you have to be the best to succeed. Only after fulfilling his basic needs can Rahul afford to look up the list towards psychological needs, taking note of his mental state. Whereas, Mohan might already have his basic needs covered, enabling him to fulfil his psychological needs without much difficulty and also strive towards self actualisation.
I think if you take an example of engineers, due to the abundance of them in the market, unless you are a really good engineer it's really hard to find a job. Rahuls are willing to spill blood, sweat and tears to become the best engineer possible, because what’s the point of having a degree and working as a Swiggy driver? And who can blame them?
I do not think being a student like Rahul is ideal, and I do not think anyone should have to overwork. Due to always having to prove themselves, in most cases, Rahuls have to study the most they can even if it means overworking themselves. Unless there is a major societal revolution sometime soon, Rahuls will continue to exist in our Indian capitalist civilization as long as institutions here laud people with higher marks and percentages and look down on those who take free time away from work. Rahul is a caricature, sure, but Rahul is a caricature that we as a society put on a pedestal and worship.
The picture frames in my room only have printouts of quotes in them. I’ve always been scared of putting actual photographs in (not because I think ghosts will possess them; the ghosts in my house are very well-behaved.)
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then I think that the frame it’s in is worth at least two hundred. The type of frame used generally provides a certain amount of context for the photo and helps capture the memory in a more three-dimensional way.
In my opinion, certain frames are meant for certain photos. Frames that have been decorated by messy kindergarteners hold either their class photos or photos of family vacations. Spray-painted handmade frames with stickers and glitter are meant for a group selfie with your friends from craft camp. Your mugshots would go in wooden or solid-coloured frames while pictures of the various buildings you burnt would be placed in red ones with glowing hearts.
Photos on a phone or camera can easily be swept out of view with a simple touch. However, putting photographs in frames is a courageous act. You’re showing the entire world what matters to you most, and in exactly what way. The frame, the place where you keep the photo, and its size show everyone that you do, in fact, care about certain creatures and are not a heartless witch. But apart from making you terrifyingly vulnerable, photos also drag you on a trip down memory lane.
Photos of myself in the recent past fill me up with memories of the day and time when they were taken. But photos of myself that were taken more than four years ago fill me up with memories of the person I was back then: freer, more obstinate, and happier. I inevitably ask myself the same questions — would she be proud of who I am right now? Will the person I become four years from now approve of who I am today? Where did I get those red frames and why do they glow?
This train of thought always leads to me doubting every single thing I have ever done and not trusting myself to make the right decisions. I get tangled up in thoughts that are as difficult to navigate as our legal system. Because if the person I was doesn’t like the person I am, then the person I am won’t like the person I will be. And if the person I will be doesn’t like who I am, then I don’t like the person I was. But do I like the person I was? And if I don’t, then why am I trying to make her proud?
I hate time.
After years and years of thinking and overthinking, the only conclusion I have been able to reach is this: it doesn’t matter whether the past and future versions of myself like or approve of the person I am right now. I would prefer to make mistakes and actually do things instead of doing nothing out of a fear of disappointing myself. And that red frame was probably a gift that my cousin got me years ago.
I get to choose the person I will become. And I am choosing to forgive myself. It’s not easy, but I’m really trying. I’m trying to forgive myself for the mistakes I have made and the mistakes I will make in the future. I’m also trying to trust myself to learn from these mistakes, become a better person and get rid of the red frame whose hearts have the annoying tendency to explode. The hope that every version of myself will be this kind allows me to make decisions and actually live life without questioning every step I take.
To me, living in the present doesn’t always involve throwing caution to the wind or throwing myself (or someone else) out of a plane, it also involves finding the courage to trust myself and finding photographs to replace the quotes in my picture frames.
you hear about biomagnification in biology class - the accumulation of toxins as you go up a food chain. your teacher looks like she wants to die, probably on account of the classroom full of boisterous teenage delinquents (she doesn’t get paid enough); the sweltering summer heat and the fact that the power has been gone for hours. you don’t blame her.
as she continues, you think about inherited traits, the way your hands curl into fists like your father and when you cry, how your brows crease - a perfect picture of your older brother. you think about the trophic levels in your family - which way does the energy flow? you are born with the very best and the very worst of the ones you love.
you remember the time a distant relative let slip that you were never meant to be alive; a mistake. you remember how living everyday feels like an act of defiance. you think of pea plants and your grandmother’s house; and how no amount of mendelian genetics can make you feel like a better person.
STEEL MAGNOLIA AHEAD
- ILANA DRAKE
steel magnolia ahead
it is easy to change
based on your surroundings,
like a chameleon’s ability
to use camouflage.
because that is steel magnolia.
is holding her
she has to,
but, lord, oh lord,
she wants to speak.
but steel magnolia cannot roar
because her voice
should be as sweet
but she is tough as steel.
so she writes about
of the words she cannot
say out loud.
and the memories
bring back the times
she was an outlier.
steel magnolia has
grown up stiff
of the exclusion,
and so many sticks
have been thrown
but she still stands.
- SHAURYA ARYA
BLINK OF AN EYE
There can only be one of two explanations. I’ve either slipped into an alternate dimension, or this is a dream.
Things changed in, quite literally, the blink of an eye. One second, I was out on my evening walk in the park, the sun gliding towards the western horizon, spraying a blast of orange across the sky. And, in the next, a darkness I can attribute to nothing but an indescribable phenomenon cast its shadow over my surroundings. The people in the park had magically vaporized, like some invisible hand had come down and, before I could even start to wrap my head around what had happened, swept everyone up. The sky had as if metamorphosed into a chilling, malicious dark blue. The grass all around, though still technically green, was devoid of its earlier colour, of its vivaciousness.
The path in front of me had cowered in the shadows of the trees overhead. I looked up, and could only see the silhouettes of the leaves as they held absolutely still. Not a leaf moved.
I took a step forward, my shoe grinding the loose dirt underneath. The crunch was like a gunshot in the absolute silence. I could even hear my breath, the beating of my heart. I took another step forward, and then another. Gradually, I started walking. A dream or not, I realized staying put wouldn’t serve any purpose.
Crickets started singing their irritating creek-creek in the distance; and then, abruptly, stopped. A bird flew overhead, crying a shriek. It startled me. I stopped, pulled in some air, blew it out, let the dark world I had fallen into come into perspective, and moved.
I knew the way around this park like the back of my hand. Over the years, new features – including a cemented basketball court, modern swing sets, and an expansive flower bed – had been added to the park, but the graveled path remained the same. No one had thought of paving it with tiles. After rains, water clogged it in patches, inconveniencing strollers like me.
I also knew that, a hundred meters ahead, I would need to take a right. And, after a few more paces, a left. That would open into the west side of the park, where the basketball court was. At this turn, behind me, would be the lonesome house I have, in my evening strolls, found myself being fascinated by. A hand pump stood atop a wide platform in the large veranda outside. Around the house, a staircase opened into the terrace above. Next to the verandah, a curved walkway led to somewhere out of sight. I know that was an exit, but for reasons beyond me I don’t go there.
Straight ahead was the gate that led to the neighbouring colony. I decided to exit from that gate instead, which, though held by a rickety chain link, could open just wide enough to let a skinny man like me sneak through.
Even with the darkness still hanging about, I could make out the bend a few steps away. I rounded the corner, my feet now more confident. Just a few more steps, I reassured myself; and started walking faster. My head felt lighter. I took a deep breath, calming myself. The next turn was maybe a few meters ahead. By now, I was rushing towards it.
But something – an invisible force is all I can describe it as – in the darkness was clinging to the back of my neck; and, no matter how much I wiped my hand at it, it stayed.
Even though just a few steps away, I couldn’t get close to the turn I had to take next; it was like walking on a treadmill. My feet were moving, but I couldn’t get nearer. Something was pulling me as I tried pushing ahead. The anxiety was creeping its way back in me. I could imagine its slimy antlers on my skin, pushing themselves within. The air I had been breathing didn’t come as freely now. I gasped and, then, started running; my feet eager, the crunch on the gravel more urgent.
The turn, still visibly a stone’s throw away, seemed farther than the moon.
A sound, of something creaking, came from my right. I turned, and, in the distance, saw the house.
It was bathed in a gorgeous, magnificent light. Such was its brightness I had to shield my eyes at first glance. As my eyes adjusted to its glow, I saw the door opening; and, from within it, someone – a silhouette at first – walked out.
A boy, no more than ten years old, wearing a blue t-shirt and red shorts.
He extended one arm, beckoning me.
“It’s okay,” he said. “He won’t hurt you anymore.”
I wanted to pretend that I didn’t understand what he meant, but I couldn’t. “You promise?” I asked him instead.
In the bright light, I saw his head – cast in a golden light from an unidentifiable source – move. He nodded. I wondered if the boy was playing a trick on me; that he was the Ghost Man from all those years ago. The creature who had come into the house and robbed my family before killing them and escaping; as I, a ten-year-old dressed in a blue oversized t-shirt and red shorts, was crouched behind my bed, crying but not daring to utter a word. Sometime in the night, I must have passed out. Because the next morning I found myself in the police station.
“A robbery gone wrong,” was how the inspector described it. “Your mother woke up as he was closing the cupboard. Don’t worry, we’ve apprehended him.”
But he – he who I started recognizing as the Ghost Man ever since – didn’t leave my thoughts for years; tormenting me, anguishing me.
“You promise?” I asked the boy. “You promise?”
As I neared the few stairs leading to the house – my house – the boy turned and went inside.
And I followed him.