The end of a beginning
I used to think of Riot as an unending force that lived inside all of us, much like the Green Day lyric that we hailed as one of our unofficial mottos from the beginning. But more than it being a force, we’ve managed to produce something very real, something that encapsulates our thoughts and emotions for the world to read. Riot’s ending makes me feel a peculiar sadness that is tinged by something golden: hope.
A Djo song, aptly named ‘End of Beginning’, was something I put in my college decision playlist. But college is too far away, too mercurial of an idea at this moment. But the end of Riot isn’t, and this magazine has given me more than I could have asked for. A column with the freedom to say the things I was too scared to, friends I’ll never let go of, and a sense of accomplishment and belief in my future.
This too, is the end of a beginning. A beginning we forged for ourselves out of a common passion of writing. I wave goodbye to the end of this beginning. I know there will be many other starts and ropes to climb, but there is something special about Riot that I can’t possibly ever forget.
To trace my own history with this column, I started off with writing articles on a variety of topics and issues; the fluctuating tone and register that I used in my articles mirrored my own insecurities and volatile sense of self that I had possessed. But as my column grew with the number of articles it held, I found myself in bougainvillea plants and jars of pasta sauce. I wrote with a voice that I was proud to hear and call as my own.
Riot exists not in the past or the present, but inside me, and all those who found themselves in it. It gave me a beginning. It showed me who I was. I will forever be grateful to everyone who has supported my work in this magazine, especially Brishti and Shravan, who knew how to make this magazine what it could be.
Goodbye Riot. Goodbye, to this wonderful audience I’ve had the privilege to write for.
Goodbye, to the end of this wonderful beginning.
THE END, PART 1
Life is pretty simple, if you look at it. We are born, we live, and we die. Like everything, life starts and finishes, limited by a domain on a number line capped on both ends by sureness. Usually, I would challenge this notion by exploring the nuance within the fact, the moving shadow behind the permanent object, just to show you that life is more than what it is.
Today, instead of reading between the lines or giving you a fantastic metaphor or commentary on the abstract nature of some arbitrary idea or concept, I’m going to teach you how to do it yourself. One day, this column will be nothing but a remnant of history; a lost vessel in the ever-expanding universe of the internet. And I just want to make sure you’ll be fine once I’m gone. Think of this as a recipe on a tombstone engraved by the dead cook herself. And be sure to bookmark this page for easy perusal once my column refuses to flush in with new articles for you to read.
I want you to take a breath on 3. One, two, and three. Let’s step into the mind of a 17-year-old with a very cluttered living room inside, amongst the hedges of grey matter. Push aside the aloe vera pots and make yourself at home in the overstuffed armchairs; you’ll need an emptier mind to start.
Every journey has a theme song that encapsulates the essence of its goal. I’d suggest ‘Top of the World’ by The Carpenters:
Such a feelin's comin' over me
There is wonder in most every thing I see
Not a cloud in the sky, got the sun in my eyes
And I won't be surprised if it's a dream
Imagine yourself at the summit of the world. Think Mount Everest, but higher. The moon, but a little more terrestrial. You lord over all that you see and more.
Now, imagine yourself shrinking. And shrinking. And shrinking. Your summit is gone, and you are but a miniscule grain.
Did you have the song playing in the background? Good. Let it play for a bit longer, till we’re done here. The purpose of showing you both these images is to make sure you’re aware of your place in this world, this realm of being. When you think of your own sphere of existence, you are at its centre, at the highest point of meaning and focus. But in the grand scheme of things, you’re just a little speck of nothingness, floating on a ball of water and sand. One lens gives us limitless meaning. Another takes it all away. I like to think of both lenses as important. I am the centre of the universe and I am nothing at the same time.
Now that both sides of the spectrum have been established, feel free to make it a sliding scale, and explore every level of importance you can give yourself, and to life. From complete nihilism to an unbounded sense of concern for all that is around you, play around with how much you care about it all.
I like to look at it this way: the importance we give to ourselves and the world around us isn’t going to remain constant. Situations melt and flow with time, and so do our perceptions and thoughts about them. I cared about some things when I was younger, and now, other things take precedence. Like this column, some of them will become a remnant of my history that I’ll look back on. I look down from my mountain at the top of the world, and this acceptance of flux and new things has helped me become better attuned to what all the tenses - past, present, and future - have to say.
Regardless of what you choose to focus on, remember that everything can have meaning. Your life doesn’t have to be empirical and purposeless; the miniscule and seemingly unimportant aspects of everyday life could be the very things that help you make sense of more than what you see.
Accepting change in what we deem important is the first step. Now, I implore you to think big, and think wide. Remember to play The Carpenters as you hammer away into a philosophical goldmine. And try not to think about this column ending, or the inevitable ending of everything that lies ahead; it’ll make for a less than saccharine metaphor when it’s all over.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE BLACKBOARD
The show Community’s ninth episode of its first season, ‘Debate 109’, tries to answer a simple question through one of its subplots: are we, as the human race, born good or bad? In true Community fashion, it leaves you half-thinking about a deep idea, but the essence of the show gives you exactly what you need to uncover the answer to the question it poses. And it’s really not a straightforward answer.
Call it bad writing or a dedication to showing some version of our reality, but when Community shows you the fluctuating moralities of its main characters, some of it feels realistic, and the rest doesn’t. There is no inherent ‘good’ or ‘bad’ person; even the morally righteous people make bad decisions, and there is sympathy evoked for the dishonourable. Personality and morality never operate in binaries, as seen through the show, and thus, an underlying assumption becomes clear through its episodes.
No one is truly ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
This article could be over now if that answered the question. Rather, it invokes some more thought. What about birth? Is goodness or badness passed on from mother to child, is it learned through the evils you find yourself surrounded by during your childhood?
I could invoke the names of psychological theories like the diathesis-stress model, which argues that every disorder and behaviour have both a genetic and sociocultural root, but the answer we’re searching for is probably more on the philosophical side of things. And we’re not going to talk about Freud here, because all he would have to add that it’s about sex. But none of these concepts or thoughts ever give a straightforward answer.
But no amount of searching, theorising or quantifying would give you a perfect ‘42’esque answer to such an earth-shattering question. To quench our own thirsts, all we can do is tell ourselves the truth we want most before we go to sleep in a world that makes it so difficult to find the right answers.
When I first bought my blackboard it was as clean as it could be. If I left the chalking up for too long, an ever-so-thin layer of white deposited itself upon it, never truly going away.
Maybe instead of being born as good or evil, we are born as blackboards. Blank slates. Empty, pointless, useless until a force scrawls some knowledge on it in thick chalk. And the longer it stays, the more difficult it is to get rid of. This idea is supported by the theory of tabula rasa, which argues that we are literally born with nothing inside of us - well, intellectually - at birth.
And yet, with all of us born as blackboards, with clean slates waiting to be etched upon, we all come out into the world, grown and with different markings. Forget about being born as good, evil, or blackboard; are we, as a race, only truly capable of the worst?
Think of climate change. Environmental degradation. Incarceration, hate crimes, whatever is happening with Twitter right now. All human-led catastrophes. Sometimes I think that there is no point in finding out if we are all inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’, if there is so much evil in the world caused by those like us.
But you’re forgetting the essence of what the blackboard is: you can always erase some of it and start again by unlearning and relearning, and I think that’s exactly what Community is about.
The title of the show isn’t because of the fact that all the characters went to a community college. It’s because they found the drive to help each other erase the most horrendous things on each other’s blackboards, and start afresh, as the best, kindest citizens of the world that they could be. Of course, there will be bumps when people will steal your dusters and hide the chalk with which you will mark your fresh start. But the journey to being better is what teaches you the things you need to become the best you can be.
At the risk of dehumanisation, I’ve called you a blackboard. Do you know what is already written on you? Do you plan on erasing and rewriting your values and morals through the course of the episodes of your life? Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter how morally ambiguous you were born. You can choose what your blackboard says to the rest of the world.
The Art of Creating Art
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved to write. Verses scrawled on the corners of math notebooks and pages of unfinished fiction written in hurried pencil and ink are testament to my persevering laziness and lack of follow-through. I love to start writing, but I can never finish. I love thinking of new, bizarre things to put into words, but I never seem to find the perfect way to turn it into something complete.
I know that I am a good writer. A little better than most, even. And that slight confidence has helped me find the courage to keep writing. Even when rejection emails from lit mags pile up in my inbox and I shudder at the thought of ever opening the Notes app on my phone, I get over it and write again anyway.
The folder titled ‘CW PORTFOLIO’ on my laptop slowly fills up with an eclectic collection of works ranging from 3-am poetry to mid-breakdown creative non-fiction. With every new Word document, I feel the title of ‘writer’ letting its warm red drapes sit slowly on my shoulders, guided by the faint glow of my laptop screen.
I know very clearly that I want to become a writer, and that I want writing to be my primary profession at some point in my life, and I do everything that I possibly can to make that a reality.
Writing is something I have never put in the effort to theorise and study. No one should be able to tell me how I ought to write because it’s my work. My style. No one is allowed to tell me that I use the semicolon too often; it could be a motif, for god’s sake. Whenever I type, I face a copy of the Cambridge Companion to Creative Writing, a book I’ve barely skimmed through past the introduction. And yet, I write; and most of the time, I write well.
With all this writing and the use of instinct and innate sense, I was able to make the connection that my writing, when good, is written during times of heightened emotional sensitivity and involvement. A lot of the work I’ve written has been in response to my life or what goes on in it. Simply put, I am a vessel filled with, and steered by, emotion - and I’ll tell you why I’ll never have it any other way.
Most of my life, I’ve felt things, like most others. I felt the normal assortment that everyone felt, but I never felt them as fully as I should have. Repression screwed a tight cap on this ever-growing, near overflowing big glass bottle of feelings that leaked out a little. When it did, I wrote horrible, depressing poetry that only the most performatively morose eighth-grader would like. My writing was fine, but there was something holding me back.
And then the bottle shattered.
Come high school, I finally developed a range of healthy emotions and ways of expression and coping. I wrote, I rewrote, I deleted. I wrote again. And as I got back into the practice of Feeling Normal Feelings, my desire to write and the quality of my work began to increase.
Now, I’ve reached the point where I am saturated with not just emotions - and by extension, things to write about - but with hope and power. I’ve found that the art of creating art is mastered when you channel all that is already inside you.
When I gained the ability to truly feel and understand my emotions, I imbibed my most sacred activity with it. The true reason why the pen is mightier than the sword is that it takes more willpower and courage to use your feelings to scourge the status quo with the former.
I hope that the purpose of my life satisfies my desire and absolute right to feel every emotion inside me, in unadulterated fashion, and then write a great column article about it.
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ can be found in most rankings of the best books ever written in English. It can also be found on my bookshelf.
I read it for the first time about two years ago, and found myself urged to read it all over again this summer when I noticed a portrait of Oscar Wilde staring at me in a hotel room. Within a day, I became reacquainted with what made me such an ardent fan of his writing.
There is something spellbinding about the Faustian promise and decadence and sin and image, all of which are intertwined with the story. To live a life where all your missteps and falsehoods remain hidden, making deals with the devil that lives in the gutters beneath your feet; as sinister and chilling as it was to imagine, I started to think about the choices I’ve made in my life. The paths I’ve chosen to follow, the people I’ve decided to surround myself with. Do I perceive myself as better than I am? Does the rest of the world think this way too?
Is there a portrait of my mistakes hidden in some dank, musty corner, waiting to sag and fall off the propped canvas, as I live a life I believe to be upright?
Becoming someone like Oscar Wilde’s most famous protagonist is a prospect I largely want to avoid. It seems like an odd fear; to be afraid of possessing a misconstrued sense of self when there seems to be nothing threatening about who I am. And yet, when I hear that someone thinks of me as ‘arrogant’ or ‘aloof’, I feel the paint crackle and the canvas wither instantaneously.
The essence of the book has reverberated within me, in more ways than one. But the silent horror, the fear of not knowing who I truly am, stays most immovably. This past year has been filled with leaps and strides that have revealed so many things about me, covered under years of dust and neglect, as I tried to emulate a version of myself best fitted to the world. I tuned the discordant strings of my mind, salvaged the clutter, and created a home within that radiates who I am. Knowing myself, now even better, I feel that I might have failed to reach the part of my mind that tells me to indulge in the wildest of my fantasies, regardless of how bad the consequences might be. But I can’t really address the portrait in the room if I don’t know if it truly exists or not.
I know it seems counterproductive to spend my days wondering if I’m evil or not. I don’t dream of setting fire to the nearest piece of fabric or create fantastical plans on how to execute the perfect murder. I don’t know if I’m capable of that. Yet. Dorian Gray was 20 when he sold his soul. I think I still have a few more years to find that portrait, and burn it once and for all.
“To be, or not to be,” proclaimed Hamlet. But to become? Isn’t that the real question?
I love talking about change and growing up; becoming someone who is better, happier, and more knowledgeable than the past version of yourself. Dorian Gray’s Faustian promise reminds me that we all have a little sprinkle of impulsiveness that could take over all we hold dear for momentary bouts of pleasure that feel like almost nothing at all. I could have a life like that, hiding secrets from the rest of the world like automatic plastic surgery, unnoticeable to everyone who perceives me.
What stops me is realising that I couldn’t probably find someone who would buy my soul. Mathematical calculations aside, I don’t think anyone would want to buy it, not in this political economy. And even when I think of breaking apart and reaching into my own darkest depths, I have to cross the peaceful living room of my mind, adorned with the achievements and progress I’ve made. Markers of my growth. No portrait in sight.
For now, I’ve decided that I don’t really want to sell my soul. I want to polish it and make it the glowing centrepiece in the living room of my mind. So, I’ve decided to read critically, eat well, spend time with the people I love, and look at the sky more often. I want to be better. Happier. I want to grow.
What I want to become is something. And I know that something’s going to be good.
Last time, I talked about Glass Animals’ Dreamland, and the positive connotations I attribute to some of the songs on it. And while it’s good to have some unadulterated optimism on your side, it’s always best to step back and take a holistic look at it all. Beyond the uptempo and catchy rhythm lies something darker, reminiscent of all that we suppress. Nothing is utopian, perfect, or blemish-free. Every dream is just that - a dream; it isn’t real. From this, a vortex of fear, anxiety, and downward mental spirals emerges.
In your dreams, you might feel safe in make-believe, but what happens when what you imagine isn’t something that leaves you with a smile on your face?
And of course, Dreamland manages to capture that side of relentless hope. The one that comes with such difficulty, but is felt with such ease. Beyond the veil of hot sugar and heat waves is something that’s a little more bitter than sweet. A little more melancholic, a little slower; lines like ‘it’s a blood diamond, flawless but for that one thing’ sting and ache like a bruise on a bad day.
Dreamland, with its inviting name and seeming promise of comfort, gives you something a little more twisted. There is no such thing as a direct emotion that can be felt in this world. There is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ dream. And that’s exactly what Dreamland tries to say.
In my previous article, I told you that ‘Your Love’ by Glass Animals makes me feel happy. But what is happiness, when brought to life only through beat? When I examined the lyrics and tried to unravel them, what I found wasn’t necessarily what I heard. Hidden behind the melody is a song that is not about the love and hope I wrote about last time; it’s about fear, abandonment, and clinging on to something that you know is bad for you, because you hope that it can be for the better.
No matter how much you dream, there will always be nightmares. It’s important to remember that your dreams can transform and contort into something far more sinister than you’d ever expect. No matter how much you believe in the power of hope and positivity, there are some things beyond human control.
But in these nightmares, there are always flashes of some future possible truth. If you believe in Murphy’s law, like me, you might often be fearing that the worst will always be waiting for you, somewhere in the dark. And that’s absolutely possible. Your dreams will never be as good as you may think they are when you’re awake. But there’s always shadows of truths that will linger, glimmering with hope, or as haunting as they come.
Either way, Dreamland isn’t a refuge or haven; it’s a place that’ll tell you things you may never want to hear. To suppress this all, it plays on the B-side, away from the catchy pop, into a cave of mellow magnetism that’s so hard to stay away from. But with Glass Animals, it’s a little better feeling all this, with music that never fails to complement any and every emotion, whether it leaves you with a smile on your face, or sweat emanata floating by your head.
What the Dreamland album tells you wholly is that life is… not as simple as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. There is so much grey area to feel, express, and revel in. Follow the light and the music. Listen to what they have to tell you. Dream a little dream, with hope on its seams, that’ll take you into a world unseen that lies inside you.
If there’s one album out there that I will think about till the day I die, it’s Glass Animals’ Dreamland. Considered a favourite within Riot, this album boasts a tracklist of songs that evoke more in us than we can ever understand. To me, Dreamland represents all the things we’re too scared to speak out loud about. Things we keep inside for ourselves to see and don’t let anyone know about. But these things, as vague and all-encompassing as they are, have to escape sometime from the confine of our minds.
What do you think your dreams are for?
I’m admitting that I only really thought about my dreams once I listened to this album. ‘Tangerine’ makes me think of picnics and walking in an apple orchard with my arms raised to the sun. ‘Hot Sugar’ reminds me of the time I learnt to drive, and subsequently lived out my desire to be unconsciously carefree. All in my dreams.
This album made me think about everything and nothing, all at the same time. In the midst of all this confusing and fantastic hollowness, I reached into the soft core of everything that goes on in my head. Underneath the tufts of grey matter, I imagine there lies a little Pandora’s box of tiny things that interlock like Lego bricks, waiting to escape into the darkness when I sleep.
The A-side of any album is the side we choose to listen to the most. What we’re meant to listen to the most. What is Dreamland trying to tell me about what goes on in my head when I sleep, and what chain reactions begin when I dream?
I’m not skilled or tonally aware enough to comment on the musical complexity of this album, but what I can do is tell you how it makes me feel. I’ve always been apprehensive about the future, and what it holds for me. And so, I dream. Fabricated realities that I wish would happen. My wildest desires come true. The pitter-patter of ‘all will be well’ against the window panes, as I drift into unconscious slumber. I haven’t been ‘dreamlessly sleeping for years’ like in ‘Tangerine’, but with the soft and soothing truths that Glass Animals have to sing to me, I feel a little bit more confident that when I dream, I dream well. What I don’t remember when I wake is probably nothing to be afraid of.
Dreamland, in all its intangibility, is powerful beyond words. Even in its subtle sinisterness, it encapsulates the bubbly, upbeat optimism that we all need at times. Can you feel its love, its (sadly) temporary touch? Dreams may come and go, but Dreamland is forever. And whenever I play it for myself in the middle of the day, everything seems to be a little bit better, a little bit happier.
Glass Animals, I feel your love. I feel your hope, resplendent and fickle, and beautifully so. And dear reader, if you want to feel what I feel, here’s a playlist with Dreamland's brightest hits.
Bougainvilleas rising high
In my very first article for this column, I introduced you to my mother’s bougainvilleas, dressed in pink and white, glinting of the summer heat that June brought with it. The weather has run tepid again, and even though my life has changed over the course of the past year, I’m glad to say that the bougainvilleas are still thriving, still growing. A symbol not just of a bygone summer, but of the many things I’ve learnt since last June, amidst all the change and transformation I’ve been surrounded by.
The plants sit comfortably in their pots on the balcony, greeting the sun at noon with careful, precise adoration. I’ve watched them wilt and grow, shed and shine, over and over again; cyclic blooming that mirrors the patterns and routines that I’ve become accustomed to. At the end, a bougainvillea is a bougainvillea. Come rain, summer, or cold, it remains rooted where it is, and never fails to flower once the time’s right. To stay what I am unfailingly, and to reach new heights even with the world raining down its sorrows upon me; I find these lessons woven delicately in the veins of its leaves, in the curves of its petals, and in the way its woody stem remains upright.
Each day, I try to be the best I can with the space I have in this world, just like the bougainvilleas that sit solemnly in our balcony, looking onward at the endless expanse of hope and growth that lies ahead. The fact that both I and a plain-potted bougainvillea plant have our own crests and falls, personal and seasonal, makes me feel more connected to the world around me now. It amazes me, shocks me, and delights me in the most pure and ticklish way. Because regardless of what we are, who we are, and where we are, we’re all growing and learning, inching upwards and downwards, hoping to find where we’re truly meant to be.
I find solace in the phrase ‘cyclic blooming’; it emits comfort and hope, and the fact that we’re not always supposed to be on an upward trajectory. Sometimes, we will fall. Our flowers might wilt, and the sun won’t guide us past the horizon. It’s okay to stay dormant, to sit and introspect for a while before you try again when the sun’s out, and the season’s just right.
There is a lot to learn from the world around us and the secrets it holds in its palm for us all to discover. It’s not always good news, like learning that you will droop and yellow sometimes. But there’s always something hopeful lying beyond a rough patch or a few fallen leaves. Someday, there will be a soft pink flower exclaiming its presence in your balcony; perhaps within yourself. Wait for the skies to clear, for the sun to shine, and believe with all that you have inside you. Bloom vividly. Bloom beautifully. Bloom cyclically, and give yourself the time and space to grow into the best bougainvillea plant the world has ever seen.
Even though I pride myself on knowing many words, there are some in the dictionary that just can’t be defined in simple ways. In the back of a book, I had read that people, by nature, seek stories and experiences; qualitative gateways into a world that is so seemingly rational and empirical, perhaps even defining some difficult words through those very stories and complex narratives that cannot be compressed into the mere lines in a dictionary. Then, I didn’t think too much of it, until that very evening, I opened a jar of pasta sauce and felt like the very manifestation of the word ‘love’ had wafted through my nose. I don’t think I stopped smiling that day.
As a self-labelled cynic, I believed that love as a notion is a faultless emotion, but that some types of it weren’t for me. I kept my family and few friends close, did the things I enjoyed, and carried on with my life. In that, I was happy. I felt love and gave love, in dutiful transactions, and saw the world around me become warmer and softer. It is one thing to feel purposeful love towards someone or something, but what about love for it all? For the fact that I am sitting here writing this article. For the lunch that I will eat today. For the ebbing and flowing of the endless passage of time that will rock me and usher me into the greatest events of my life.
Love comes in its endless forms and avatars, but sometimes it hits you with its full force (or the aroma of tangy arrabbiata sauce).
If I ever had to reduce love to an idea that I hold close to my heart, I think it would be pasta. A childhood friend, and a taste of comfort that will guide me to my impending adulthood. I remember the primavera from fourth grade after an award ceremony, the pesto spaghetti I’ll cherish perennially, long after its consumption. I believe that it is the truest manifestation of love in my life, because it has been by my side and held me up to the golden light of gustatory and all-around pleasure. You can call it reductionist to simmer down the significance of love to a dish, but I think it’s a step closer to feeling the trueness of it all.
To feel love, unencumbered, is impossible. As the purest and most deeply sought piece of the human condition, we find it in waves and bits and glimmers here and there, but never all at once. But love manifests itself and roots its presence in something ordinary in your life. A book, a trinket, a toy, clothes, or a perfectly-made plate of Penne Alfredo. Love is imbibed and kept in keepsakes of your past, and gateways to your future. Just because it is so difficult to feel completely doesn’t mean that it won’t manifest in physical forms all through your life. Give love, take love, and sometimes, feel it all at once, for anything and everything, because you can.
LOVE IN JARS OF PASTA SAUCE
When I started writing for this column, at the very start of this magazine, I knew that I wanted this place to be a haven for all the flittering, unpunctuated ramblings that were strewn around in my head. Somewhere along the way, I lost track of what I was supposed to do. I lost sight, went off-balance, and wrote things that didn’t even remotely sound like the voice in my head. I owe all my readers an apology for my disconnected writing; but I owe a greater apology to myself, because I simply didn’t look deep enough to realise that I wasn’t making the best use of what lay inside me.
Today, I understand the power of zooming in. Peering deeply. Magnifying the obstructed, the hidden, and the mysterious. What I initially set out to do was to enlarge the miniscule, and pay close attention to the details that were usually missed. But how do you know where to start? The world is, after all, gargantuan in itself.
During Biology labs, I stared at slides of onion cells, screaming pink and purple that demanded my attention. Microscopes showed me what the sticky, tear-inducing skin actually looked like: hued, crystalline assortments that looked like tiles on a paved road. As I think about them, I tell myself that this is the path that it has set for me, one that implores me to look deeply at the simple things, because they hold the indefinite and infinite secrets that we’re looking for.
I’ve come a long way from onion cells. Because the world is made of all kinds of peels, parts and moving pieces. I took time to create my own internal microscope, one that surgically introspects what happens in my own life, and carefully sews it with my own understanding of how the world works. Because we are all microcosms of a larger whole, cogs and screws that operate the larger social machine that runs endlessly.
If you think about it, it all started somewhere, from one person, one thought, idea, or mistake. Tracing back from this evolutionary line of actions and decisions, it puts into perspective just how much everything we do matters. A ripple effect; energy flowing out into the universe. We are all unequivocally making change, creating chaos, each second of every day. It’s not just baffling, but extremely interesting to explore just how much of the larger picture is painted by our own shuffling brush strokes that we consider to be detached from the way the world appears.
Starting from within gives you the chance to not just understand yourself, but the world you find yourself in. Dig deeper. Place your memories on a slide, and see how they play out under the microscope. What secrets can you unearth? What questions can you answer with what you already have? Look closer. All you have to do is magnify.
Mysteries, microscopes and magnification
I think about summer in january, winter in june,
because i love what i don't have, forget what i do and
the only time i've ever been happy is monsoon.
yet my arms flake in the heat,
yet i rust in the wind. i stay in my
bell jar of temperate consciousness, never cleaned
Of stale thought and warm breath.
Caged, strangulated, with a window to the world
i've never opened, because i fear the grass is
a little too green for my liking, and the air
a little too crisp for me.
bland, unseasoned weather is a comforter
that just doesn't wrap around me anymore.
but then comes spring, then come
little joys and littler flowers,
because spring is ours.
No Gift Like the Present (Tense)
I’ve never put any posters or pictures up on my wall, because I always thought about the fateful day that I’d leave home. I’d have to put in the effort to take down taped A4 sheets from the walls, as they carried with them the remnants of who I was before. I had always promised myself I’d have a simple room, with no decoration to make it unique to myself. All to save myself the sadness I would feel on an unmarked day I couldn’t find on any calendar.
Today, I broke that promise, and hung a mirror on the wall, and flung some flowered lights around it for added measure. No more future to worry about. All that mattered was my happiness in the present.
I remember when I tried my best to bake bread, but failed. I also remember that I planned to try once again, writing it down on a paper plane of a thought that would have now crashed alone in a forgotten corner of my brain. Lists and tasks, hopes and dreams, they all concern the future; an entity I know nothing about. And yet, I stare at crystal balls, refreshed inboxes, and multiple loading screens, all to see a glimpse of the future. All to forget the promises of my past, as I cling on to the loose string of a tomorrow, while the cool breeze of the present misses me, by an ever so tiny inch.
The present tense (in my experience), is the easiest tense to learn, in any language. But in reality, it’s also the easiest to forget.
Life seems to be weighed down by I have tos and I wills, lacking the simplicity of the present tense that has slipped so easily from our minds. We do have complex lives, enriched by complex thought, possessed by complex personas.
When you take a bite of stale bread, it is hard and difficult, and moves around your mouth like a stubborn asteroid. But as you put in the effort to chew, it softens and loses its ruggedness. The starchiness became pleasant, because you broke the complex carbohydrate into its simpler, sweeter form.
Let’s say I wasn’t talking about bread anymore, but larger everyday acts that involve more than biting and chewing. If it took a tiny bit of effort to make life a little simpler, wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you break out of your habits of speaking in the past and future, and implement a little of the present as well?
Surviving is learning from the past, and hoping for a better future. Living, on the other hand, requires you to be grounded in the present. For a while, forget about your to-do list, and the promises you’ve made before. Promise yourself now, that you’ll live a little. That you’ll bask in the simpleness of now, and remember that the future doesn’t exist, as of yet.
All that matters is the present. Because there’s nothing else like it.
Under The Lens:
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
It seems so funny to me, in retrospection, that I bought this book to end my reading slump, as a sort of warm-up before a more critical and thoughtful read. Never would I have thought that I would flip page over page, chapter after chapter, tantalised by the secrets and scandals it uncovers at a rapacious pace. I’m telling you, Evelyn Hugo herself drew me behind the moth-eaten curtains of show business, and winked when she pushed me into a rabbit-hole of murmured secrets, unsavoury rumours, and the seven marriages that spanned across her illustrious lifetime.
The book follows Evelyn Hugo, a Cuban-American armed with looks that made half the world turn, and a ferocious passion that led her to be the best actress in Hollywood. She narrates the events of her life to Monique Grant, a rising magazine reporter at Vivant. But as they meet, and as they unfurl Hugo’s own lifetime together, they find themselves in the midst of the harrowing secret that involves the both of them.
Taylor Jenkins Reid delivers a master-stroke of a plot; one that actively shocks, awes and delights even the most stubborn of readers. The story is easy and simple enough to follow, yet has intricacies and interconnections that are most cleverly thought out. The book forces you to initially believe that it is the husbands who form the core of Evelyn’s life, owing to the framing of the title, and the clear divisions in the book whenever she remarries. Yet, Hugo remains a near femme fatale, with most of the seven marriages having some ulterior motive behind them. The husbands establish a clear timeline, but are otherwise irrelevant. The truly interesting events unfold around Evelyn and the person with which she establishes a ‘forbidden’ romance.
Evelyn Hugo’s characterization is beyond flawless; the story marvellously displays every nuance and complexity of her personality. The same cannot be said about the other characters, especially Monique Grant, the reporter who interviews Hugo and also has a large role to play in the book. While the book clearly is about Hugo, some additional reflection on Grant would have made the story far more meaningful, especially when the stories of both intertwine towards the end.
Evelyn is Cuban, while Monique is biracial, with a White mother and Black father. While the book did show how Hugo reflected on how she whitewashed herself to fit Hollywood standards, very little discussion of her culture occurs throughout the rest of the book. A singular moment stood out when she thought of her own ‘Cuban-ness’, of how she changed her name from Herrera to Hugo, in hopes of becoming a Hollywood star. Apart from that moment, she holds no regret, no nostalgia for the culture she was brought up with, almost making it seem as if it had no permanent impact on her identity. For Monique too, there is a single moment of introspection. That’s all.
Having two people of colour as the main characters in this book was refreshing to see, but the lack of discussion on race and identity made the book lose dimensionality. It’s impossible that both these women aligned perfectly in society, never for a second doubting who they were, and where they came from. I would have loved to see how both Evelyn and Monique possessed entirely different cultural identities, yet how the female struggle in society persists across marginalised minorities and among people of colour.
‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ is a bold book, but it doesn’t bring anything new or revolutionary to the forefront of modern literature. It possesses a solid plot, a complicated and thoroughly interesting protagonist, and a slightly rushed ending, but proves to be a worthwhile read. If you’re not too picky with your books and just want to read something that isn’t all that consequential, read this book. I’d say it’s worth it.
WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW CAN'T HARM YOU
The human race is defined by its endless curiosity and pursuit of all that is unknown. We study a plethora of subjects to decode everything around us, trying to find answers that satisfy both rational and transcendental demands. We develop larger machines to inspect the miniscule, and even larger ones to find noise in the hollow quietness of the universe. We’ve learnt to question dogma and doctrines. We are constantly proving and disproving, learning and unlearning as we go.
The fact remains that knowledge is infinite. The sheer vastness of all that is there greatly outnumbers the cumulative capacity of what we can store and understand. There is so much to know, so much to explore, that there are questions that we don’t even know to ask. And no matter how many questions we put forth, there will always be some left unanswered.
There is satisfaction in knowing things. In predictability. Thinking that we understand the universe and its ways isolates us from the ifs and buts and hows that usually stir inside our minds. But not every question mark gets changed into a full stop. Sometimes, all that we can manage is an ellipsis.
Religion and science are two fields that try to answer the same questions, but through different ways. Science tries to generalise happenings into predictable laws and ideas, while religion consists of experiences that connect your mind, body, and soul to a higher power or force. It is evident that these are two very different schools of thought, but it is also clear that both of them may hold new knowledge that we seek.
If we think of our own existence, and trace the line back to the very beginning of everything, where do we reach? A singular point in time, where nothing existed, until everything did. Some people believe in the Big Bang, while others believe in divine power.
Regardless of what you believe in, it’s impossible to refute that we still do not exactly know about the origin of the universe. As we try to trace time back to its conception, we know that it extends indefinitely ahead of us. Suppose time was a line graphed on a Cartesian plane, and we found exactly where it started, and when it would stop. What if we realised that the plane is 3-dimensional? Or if there were lines running across every point in time, holding new information and knowledge for us to know?
There are new things and ideas formulated every day. Looking ahead and behind us gives us clarity on how far we’ve come as a race of thinkers and believers, and looking ahead shows us how much further we have to go. Beside this linear strip of time, that collects and juxtaposes all we know so far, is a cosmic arrangement of unknown fact and unseen knowledge that is yet to be understood. Travelling through this fixed line, we only see a singular take on the boundlessness of the universe.
Think of time as an endless escalator that has been carrying you towards an unknown destination from the second you were born, and will continue to do so until the second you die. You can look around you and see everything, but understand nothing, because for your entire life, all you’ve known is that escalator. All you truly know is that it will never stop going towards an unnamed location. All you can do is enjoy the ride.
So far, we have lived with incomplete knowledge of the universe. We may still struggle to understand what our reality is composed of (or if we even do exist), but it is certain that no matter how much we know, or where we gain knowledge from, we’ll continue to thrive. Once we’ll accept that we will never truly know everything is exactly when we’ll realise how much we do know.
The Path of missed takes
I remember the second time I broke a bone quite vividly. I believed that I could skate down a ramp that led to two different paths:
I had seen many people skate down this very ramp, swerve at the last second towards path A, purposefully trip on the speed breaker and emerge victorious in this daredevil act. I decided to do the very same.
I stood on top of the ramp, breathing slowly, calmly and with purpose. I revved my A-line skates and began on the longest and most perilous 5 second journey of my life.
The first two seconds went seemingly okay. I was, well, going down the ramp. My velocity increased. My heart began to thump the way it does when you know you’re doing something absolutely stupid that you’re going to regret later on. But then, I was ten. The next three seconds were the most integral part of the stunt; a culmination of the mind, body, and soul. The world slowed down in anticipation for what could only be called the greatest trick in history.
Obviously, I forgot to swerve.
I landed face first into the popcorn basement wall, left with a swollen lip and a broken wrist as some twisted consolation prize for my efforts. I was in tears. Mainly because my hand hurt, but I think some tears fell as grievances for my failed attempt at being a normal kid who had managed to skate down a ramp.
The painkillers and MANY injections up my posterior left me incapacitated. The world slowed down yet again, but in mockery. To see the extent of the damage to my hand, we went to get my hand x-rayed (which was just the beginning of my dad joking about how they’ll definitely have to get my hand cut off).
Now, this isn’t the first time I’d gone for an x-ray. In similar Snigdha try-hard fashion, I had broken my other elbow in a less intense freak skating accident. The lifelessness of that specific hospital wing was exciting. I sat on the cold steel bench with my limp hand, watching people enter cold steel rooms filled with cold steel machines, operated by doctors with cold steel faces. When my turn came, they made me wear a lead apron and place my hand in a tray. I kept waiting for them to bring out the meat cleaver and chop my hand off right then and there. Why else would they make me wear the apron?
The entire experience was exhilarating because I liked all the attention being directed towards me. People felt bad for me when they saw my little sixth-grader arm bandaged and set in a cast. The pity and sorrow I made other people feel really got to my head, to the point that I was almost sad when my cast got removed.
This bittersweet saga isn’t really that crucial of a point in my life. I fell, I cried, but I conquered. Not the ramp, not the votes of my peers, but I survived a fatal injury that now only serves as a humorous anecdote when I’m trying to impress people. And let’s face it, we’ve all milked these embarrassing or traumatic events at parties, at school or in professional settings where we want to appear a little more dashing or hardened.
I bet we’ve all done something equally stupid and lived to enthusiastically tell the tale. Every single person I know who was born in the mid-2000’s has scars on their knees from playground battles. A burn here and there, a scratch on the arm, and band-aid tans that never fade away; these are the marks that tell us that life is meant to be lived through constant trial-and-error.
Breaking my arm may not have been the greatest experience, but it taught me acceptance. Patience. And of course, left me with a great story for parties.
While I’m not an advocate for getting brutally hurt, I think it’s important that we remember to live a little. We may ache from the mistakes of our childhood, but what hurts us the most is that we’ve forgotten how to make those mistakes.
Gender roles and cheap toys:
Blue Kinder Joys aren’t just for Kinder boys
The monthly pilgrimage to the grocery store is inevitable. Mother dearest complains that ‘she misses going out’ and bribes us with the option of picking an item of our choosing. My indecisive self never seems to know what to buy, but my brother struts around the grocery aisles, with an assured air about him, and I know exactly what he wants to buy.
My mother pushes an overfilled cart to the billing counter, and just as the last item is checked, scanned and bagged, he brings an armful of egg-shaped plastic packets to us, coloured with the familiar orange and white. These ones also have a tinge of blue at the top; a warning sign for young girls, a proclamation of a backward notion and an instigator of unfair gender roles.
At the top, it reads, ‘For boys’.
I remember when I was younger, Kinder Joys weren’t segregated based on gender. There was that same egg-shaped plastic packet, sold at a similar overinflated price, standing innocently in checkout counters, waiting for children to notice them. The notion of a Kinder Joy solely for girls and boys in a time and age where gender fluidity, expression and exploration is at its peak is just not it.
The problem lies with the division of the toys inside the Kinder Joy. For the ‘girls’, you have the pink and purple princess propaganda, and for the ‘boys’, an adrenaline-inducing assortment of cheaply produced toys aiming to instil a foundation of rigid masculinity.
I wonder what’s going to happen when these companies realise that there are more than two genders.
The whole idea of gender is a social construct. Sex is assigned at birth, and depends on what chromosomes you have. Gender is part of your identity; it grows with you, changes with you, and you have every right to explore and discover what works for you.
Toxic gender roles are problematic for two reasons: they enforce the gender binary (i.e. the idea that there are only two genders) and unfair expectations for unassuming children who just want to play with something, without complex and idiotic societal notions hindering them.
Society has progressed exponentially, in terms of development as well as social attitudes. In countries like India, where cultural biases and norms lead to things like the Kinder Joy fiasco, this growth is held back.
We do have a long way to go, in terms of gender equality, freedom of expression, and the basic right to be the person we want to be. The Kinder Joy is just the beginning. It sets out strict (and might I add, backward) ideas for children, whose ideas and attitudes are still malleable. They carry these thoughts with them till they grow up, ultimately guaranteeing a future where things are no better than they are now.
Gendered products aren’t just a problem for people who don’t identify as ‘male’ and ‘female’. Evils like the Pink Tax (inflated prices for products that are essentially for ‘women’) exist solely because of gendered products.
The Kinder Joy is just the beginning. The ideas of the gender binary and absolutely ridiculous gender roles haunt us even till adulthood. Think of when you go shopping for clothes. There’s always a men’s and women’s section, but nothing more, nothing less. I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it louder for the people in the back:
GENDER IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT.
Classifying clothes based on femininity, masculinity and androgyny is ultimately something that will make a huge impact, as a forward one for those who think gender roles are stupid, and those who haven’t thought of them that way.
But let’s start somewhere simpler. At the root of the very cause. Let the Kinder Joys be gender neutral. For every child, for every person, regardless of how they identify.
Oh, and 35 rupees is WAY too much to pay for something like this.
Breaking Racial Barriers:
The end of apartheid in South Africa
Apartheid is a word strongly rooted in South Africa’s history, echoing the unjust regime under which racial discrimination and segregation took place in the country. Today’s South Africa shows no faint utterance of the word, and the term is kept locked inside history books and recollections of the past. Even though the majority of the country consists of black African natives, colonisation by the Dutch and British instated lawful segregation on the basis of colour: Apartheid.
The term ‘apartheid’ means ‘apartness’ in Afrikaans, and describes exactly what was being sought out by this ideology. The National Party government introduced this in 1948, calling for different racial groups to live and develop separately, in a horrifically unequal manner. While segregation based on race was common before the Afrikaner Nationalist Party’s introduction of the ideology, apartheid made the segregation legal.
The irony is that apartheid was brought about in South Africa when the rest of the world was moving away from such forms of discrimination. World War II opened the world’s eyes to the problems of racism all around the world, and encouraged demands for decolonisation. But when the world walked two steps ahead, South Africa fell a mile behind.
The success and widespread support regarding the apartheid regime was closely related to the ideas of racial superiority and fear possessed by the white minority. The minority feared that they would lose their jobs and culture, and the introduction of a segregating regime was widely supported by them.
The segregation of racial groups tried to put a stop to all inter-marriage and social integration between them. One of the laws that helped in the implementation of an unjust regime was the Population Registration Act, 1950. This act meant that the Department of Home Affairs would have a record of each person’s racial background, paving the way for discrimination and the introduction of apartheid.
Naturally, the oppressed racial groups resisted against the apartheid laws. Organisations like the African National Congress (ANC) struggled for liberation, with support from other coloured and Indian movements like the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and Coloured People’s Organisation. These fronts were led by figures such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambu and Walter Sisulu via the ANC, who started the Defiance Campaign. The idea behind the Campaign was simple: People would purposefully break the apartheid laws, and use facilities and transport cordoned off for the white, and offer themselves for arrest. The severe increase in prisoners would break the system and garner widespread international support for the ANC’s goal. Even though more than eight thousand arrests were made, it did not affect the functioning of the apartheid regime in any manner.
Revolts and protests continued to take place. By 1961, most resistance leaders had been prosecuted and imprisoned. However, their incarceration, most notably Nelson Mandela’s garnered worldwide attention and support for the anti-apartheid movement. From Mandela’s imprisonment in 1963 to his release in 1990, several moves by the international community aided in the downfall of the apartheid regime. The UN denounced apartheid in 1973, and the UNSC imposed a mandatory embargo on the sale of arms. Countries such as the United Kingdom and United States began to impose economic sanctions in the country, thus furthering the attention paid to South Africa.
After facing international pressure, Peter Botha’s National Party government was replaced by F.W. de Klerk’s, who instantly repealed all acts and laws that set the basis for apartheid, and worked with Nelson Mandela to end the regime. A coalition government replaced the previous one, and this marked the official end of the apartheid system.
While the legality of apartheid was erased, the ideology is slowly, but surely, waning away from South African society. Racial groups that were previously oppressed under the regime are now learning to live peacefully. South Africa has grown, after being freed from the shackles of apartheid, and will continue to do so under today’s generation, the first to grow up without legal segregation; they are the faces of the post-apartheid era, and the new future of the country.
Pieces of my Puzzles
The world is in constant flux. Call it dynamic equilibrium or spontaneity or anything else, there’s no denying that the laws and variables that concern our cosmos are bound to shift.
Change is good. Change is necessary. So instead of my usual bi-monthly article on abstract notions and worldly issues, I am writing about math.
Math isn’t something I’ve always liked. I’ve begrudgingly looked at math for most of my life, finding solace in complex sentences and difficult words. Letters were never an issue; numbers were. The twisted shapes of nines and zeroes, twelves and hundreds floated grimly in my nightmares. From afar, a dark figure threw multiplication signs shaped like ninja stars at me. I dreamed of a life where I wouldn’t have to ‘carry the one’ or ‘rationalize the denominator’.
I don’t know what made me change my mind (it certainly wasn’t circle theorems). I guess math grew on me. Solving problems now seems meditative and soothing, instead of panic-inducing. I remember formulas as easily as I remember new words.
Math made the world make more sense. I have a (bad) habit of overthinking the variables and constants that make up our reality, and math feels like an alternate universe where every straight line is a straight line, every equation has a reason, and most things have an answer.
While I might not be as knowledgeable about this subject as my other editorial counterparts at Riot, I’ve learnt more about the intricacies and connections of math through them. To them the Collatz Conjecture may be an unsolvable mystery, but as I’ve said before, 3n + 1 by itself can also be seen as the nth term of an arithmetic progression. But I digress.
Numbers, even when printed in grayscale, can show a myriad of colours. A difficult equation that took me a good five minutes to solve and a well-written descriptive give me the same level of satisfaction. But finding peace and common within the intersections of my brain has left me… confused.
There’s an opportunity cost between choosing to be rational, or choosing to be creative. Math has led me to become more observant, but has cost me the spontaneous spark, the swift creativity that made me who I thought I was.
I also keep forgetting that just like the world, I am in constant flux.
Rationality and spontaneity can coexist, both within me and in my surroundings. Why can’t I be logical and imaginative at the same time? The purpose of existence is to be. To be whole, to be different, to be the best one can be. If that means dividing myself into pie charts, or in the stanzas of verse, so be it.
I stand in the middle of the comfortable mundaneness of math, and the inexhaustible magic of random creativity.
I think it’s a great place to be.
My world’s on fire; how about yours?
4.543 billion years. That’s how old the world is. And yet, even at this ripe old age, with its temperature rising by 0.32 degrees Fahrenheit per year, it’s still hotter than you.
Global warming is real. A problem that is as catastrophic as it can get. We first learnt about this phenomenon in our fourth grade science class, hearing about the greenhouse effect and climate change as insurmountable things we would worry about when we were older.
It’s been a warm, nay, blazing couple of years. Now is the time to take action, or we won’t have an ‘older’ to reach.
Let’s start with a refresher on what global warming is. Simply put, the world is getting warmer. Globally. Hence, Global warming. It’s caused when gases like carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour escape into the atmosphere. Sunlight enters the atmosphere, but cannot escape because of the presence of these gases, causing an enhanced greenhouse effect. Thus, the world gets hotter and hotter, and this is only getting accelerated by current human practices and our lack of sensitivity to this growing calamity.
The Natural Resources Defence Council has a comprehensive guide on global warming, which you can access here if you’re looking for more facts.
As an almost sixteen-year old who spends a lot of time thinking about what lies ahead, tackling climate change is the only way to guarantee I will have a future. Things like the Paris Climate Agreement were created to ensure that we keep global temperatures stable, and control the emissions of greenhouse gases. People like Greta Thunberg advocate for better policies, but we still face the consequences of our actions. Wildfires, droughts, cyclones and extreme weather are all affected by the current climate crisis. And it’s not like this affects everyone equally; the marginalized and socioeconomically oppressed are worst hit by increasing catastrophic events, exacerbating poverty, hunger, and social unrest.
Since the Industrial Revolution, burning coal and fossil fuels has been society’s main source of energy, but it’s been proven that it’s not sustainable. The implementation of renewable sources of energy is the only way forward. But these steps are still worthless, when environmental injustice still prevails.
In a study done by Rice University and the University of Pittsburgh, it was observed that after a natural disaster, predominantly white areas had an increase in average wealth, while areas with predominantly people of colour saw a decline in average wealth. The latter also lacked access to infrastructure and resources to protect them from the aforementioned disaster.
Moves to reduce the aggression of climate change only benefit those that are privileged. Only the richest can buy electric-powered Teslas. Solar panels are exceedingly expensive, and many don’t have access to infrastructure, resources or shelter that protects them in the case of a calamity. Aid and reinvestment is unequally distributed amongst those affected.
So how can we promise everyone that climate change is being fought not just for the 1%, but for everyone that is affected by it?
Environmental justice will only be brought about when we instil equity in the allocation of resources. I doubt Jeff Bezos is going to need access to funds or food after a hurricane sweeps one of his beach houses. Why not redirect investment into lower-income areas? Or into funding for affordable electric cars? Give people money, shelter and care based on what they need, and not what they can afford.
Our world’s heating up. Fast. By fighting the fires that absolve our systems from taking the right actions, we’ll quench the flames that threaten to burn us all down.
baking bread, and staying true
I once tried my hand at baking a loaf of bread. I spent the day fussing over the recipe, kneading the dough, waiting for it to rise. I expected a golden-brown mound once it came out of the oven, but that moment never came. The bread looked odd. Misshapen. A product of an amateur, terrible baker that didn’t know how to follow recipes. Of course, I was devastated, and I never tried to make bread again.
I’ve observed that a lot of people are like this. We tend to try our hand at an activity that is new and unknown to us, but never try it again once we fail. Success brings with it satisfaction, but failure casts a dreary shadow of dread and regret. I’ll admit, I have a tendency to work around my strengths, almost never paying attention to my weaknesses. Being spontaneous isn’t my strong suit. So, when I try things for the first time, it’s more than likely that I won’t do it well. And if I don’t do it well, I won’t enjoy it, and I leave the activity behind.
These new things that I try aren’t replications of my fantastical dreams. My curiosity ignites when I see people doing new, interesting and bizarre things. A part of my mind urges me to do the same, to follow what everyone else around me is doing. That’s why I baked bread, wore clothes I didn’t like and listened to the music that everyone else was listening to.
Society is frustrating. What’s in fashion decides how hordes think, feel and act. The popularization of certain skills, activities and traits erases the spontaneous element of trying something new. But how? Societal expectations are subconsciously embedded into our thought process. When we feel bored with our lives and want a break from the mundane, what do we do? We try something new. But what constitutes something ‘new’? What is the driving force behind us choosing something to do, from the billions of things and choices we have?
In a world where being unique and unlike anything else is both good and bad, it’s impossible to fathom what decisions help someone both fit into society, and still enjoy what they’re doing. Subcultures, niches and aesthetics are somewhat helpful in creating a welcoming environment for people. People who listen to punk rock stick together, history fanatics pore over books and theorists conspire in their own little version of the world.
No matter which group, clique or horde someone belongs to, it is important to foster a sense of individuality, a belief in oneself that doesn’t come and go in waves, but is fixed and immovable. The world’s ever-changing rules and norms prevent that from happening. One day the world tells you to master the art of sourdough bread, and the next day you’re supposed to know how to make pasta from scratch. When will we be happy, if the act of being happy is camouflaged by the social need to fit in?
But then, our minds seem to be hardwired this way. When someone laughs, we laugh too. A yawn is infectious in a closed room. We all tend to follow and mimic what the majority does, because that’s what helped prehistoric humans survive. At that point in time, it was known as ‘acting human’. Since we’ve established that we’re all human here, it does seem pointless that this primitive part of our mind is still tugging strings and controlling us. The whole reason why things are popular or trending is because we think that everyone else likes it, and perhaps we pressure ourselves into liking it too. Just like when you’re buying something online. The first thing you’ll do is check the ratings and reviews. If people seem to like it, you will most probably end up buying it too.
Individuality is an important concept that needs to be popularized, as ironic as it might seem. Following the path most ventured is always the safest option. But the world doesn’t tell you that there are billions of paths to choose, and the possibilities are endless. Doing what everyone does and following the path set by the status quo seems great at first sight, because it prevents the clashing of different beliefs and ideas. Lesser chaos, lesser disagreement and ideally, more peace.
But isn’t diversity what makes the world so great? The existence of different perspectives on the same thing is quite literally what drives change forward, and solves problems. Look at it this way: Your intrinsic personality is making the world a better place.
I know we all want to do that thing we saw that person doing. Buy that dress we saw them wear. Listen to that song that everyone has been talking about. And there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s important to have something in common with the members of your community, as long as you remember to exercise your free will, and be true to yourself.
Summer never felt like it belonged to the year. All the other seasons were overshadowed by school or work. But summer was the time when everyone was alive, conscious of their own existence, of their own soul. Like a ripe mango plucked from the tallest trees, it was guzzled down in seconds, with the sweet aftertaste lingering long after the experience was over. The two or three months of warmth and endless laughter - the time to live a life with no agenda or purpose. The sun sets on everything. But in summer, the sun only sets after 6:30.
I look out of my window longingly at a coconut tree. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of coconut trees in Bangalore, but only this one in my line of vision. It’s the first day of June, and the sky is streaked with white brush strokes and the occasional eagle. It’s the first day of June, and I know that by evening the blue sky will metamorphosize into a fiery canvas of orange and purple. It’s the first day of June and I get up from my desk and walk to my mother’s windowsill, the home of two bougainvillea plants. They raise their arms to the sun, and I smile. My mother smiles along. We’re all in on this secret of life, of love, and hope and living.
It’s summer, and there’s no reason not to be happy… right?
As I’ve grown older, the whole idea of summer and the freedom it brings with it has changed radically. When I was ten years old, summer was about ice cream and books and waking up at nine in the morning. But now, the mirage of summer is tainted by thoughts and concerns about the future. The present isn’t concerned with what happens now, but what could happen to me, days and months and years later. A moment isn’t worth anything now that I measure value by the amount of work I’ve done. I can sit and look at the world around me, with the same level of incredulousness as I did six years ago, but it still won’t be the same. The world hasn’t changed. It never will. But I can’t say the same about myself.
It seems ironic that I’m trying to learn something that came so naturally to me when I was younger. I can see the beauty in things, but do I still remember how to appreciate it? The white flowers in the trees downstairs, I thought they were magic a long time ago. I would collect handfuls of them as they descended from the branches. And now, all I can do is watch them fall.
I’m scared that with the years, I’ll forget what summer means, and it’ll become a faded part of my memory. I’m afraid that I’ll muddle summer with monsoon, and the rains will quench my longing for the freedom that is rightfully mine. It would be a shame if I didn’t spend my days out in the sun, with no wind or caution to buffet around me like a blanket.
It’s the first day of June, and summer greets me in several forms and various avatars. The coconut tree in my line of vision, the ever-changing sky, and my mother’s pink and white bougainvilleas. It beckons to me, calls out to me, like a long-lost friend. It would be pointless to refuse this invitation.