While we speak of the future, I cannot bear to meet your eyes and stare at the wall instead. It’s there I realise that much like the wall, my heart has developed cracks of its own.
Somewhere between indiscriminate mistrust and naive loyalty lies adulthood.
Tidbits from the brain is a new attempt of mine at sorting out all the material that keeps floating around in my cluttered brain. I hope to make at least weekly posts with one or two liners that pop into my head every now and then. They’ll talk about friendships, relationships and what I’ve learnt from life in the short score of years that I’ve been around. A lot of them will be inspired by the books I read and the people I know and not just my own life, so don’t imagine an emo-chick who sits in misery all day churning out dark rhyming poetry ( well I can’t deny that I didn’t have a phase like that, but seriously that’s behind me now, no poetry).
This was my maiden post in this segment and I hope that it resonates with at least a few of you readers. Tata!
It’s been a few weeks since I wrote and during this period I have had a blissful vacation, done a good amount of introspection and learnt a lot of life lessons. The thing about introspection is that it inevitably leaves you with a bunch of conclusions that are often less than pleasant.
I sat with my friend today, discussing these faults and follies that I had introspected over and she suggested journaling as a way to deal with my stress, academic as well as emotional. Well maybe I’ll start journaling again but blogging seems like a pretty good way to vent too, as long as I make sure to leave the details vague enough.
But do you know what is the one other thing that I think is more cathartic than writing? Tears, that’s what it is.
Crying, weeping, sobbing, the whole deal gives me relief when nothing else can. And crying is something that comes very naturally to me, no it’s not because we come into this world crying. In fact when the doctor yanked me out of my mommy I did not exactly cry, it was more of a squeak is what I hear.
It just is very easy to make me cry, just talk to me in an angry voice and voila tears. Once I wept inconsolably during a hostel meeting where a senior was being generally nasty to us first years and I started crying out of frustration, sobbing more like it. When people tried to ask me what exactly happened all I could say between hiccupping sobs was, “It is involuntary!” and involuntary it was.
Another side to my crying is what I share with all other women who face extreme surges and dips in hormones thanks to PMS, I weep at the drop of a hat starting 10 days before my period but that’s not what this post is about. Sometimes you just know you need to cry to deal with an upsetting situation but for some reason it just does not happen, tragic books and movies help in these situations, try it you’ll find your kryptonite soon enough. Mine is parents or pets dying, or even heartbreak with a dash of humiliation.
My penchant for crying can get me in a pickle in my professional life but I think I’m getting a hold on that. I even start crying out of frustration in the middle of fights and arguments, last it happened seriously was more than 6 months back, I have improved though. But somewhere during this process of controlling an embarrassing tendency to cry at the wrong place I forgot how much it helped ease my mind when I cried.
Recently I’ve had a couple of emotionally charged days involving facing some facts, having a very difficult conversation with a friend and last but not the least the demise of a classmate. I wasn’t particularly close to this classmate and wasn’t exactly grieving, but today sitting at her memorial service, listening to her friends talk just struck a chord and I just could not stop sobbing.
After I was done crying I felt incredibly light; intellectually I always knew that crying is healthy but this was a confirmation of the same like never before. Today when I cried it wasn’t just for the departed soul or for her family and friends, I cried for everything else that I experienced in the recent past. I cried for the friendships that I have lost on the way to adulthood, I cried for the well-meaning but hasty decisions I took, I cried for all the ugliness I came to see in people recently. Now that I think of it all my major crying jags have started off due to a particular stimulus but contained a myriad number of issues propelling them.
But the bottom line is that crying has always been cathartic, not just for me but for most people, just have a look at a few research papers. It is not a sign of weakness and nothing to be ashamed of; it helps you deal with trauma, stress and just pure sadness. Life hands us situations where we really can’t do anything more than just accepting them. We are bombarded with strife, disappointment, betrayal and failure, in the midst of these letting it all out through tears is something that will give every man woman and child at least a modicum of relief when faced with turmoil, be it internal or external.
I rarely dole out advice and despite what some people might think it’s even rarer that I ask for it, but hear my out dear readers. Whether you identify as man or woman, or both depending on your mood or neither, don’t let toxic emotions simmer inside you like bubbling concentrate H2SO4. You. Need. To. Cry. Don’t let society tell you it’s an unattractive quality or a sign of weakness, remember it was society that said being left handed is a sign of evil, that people should only pursue the profession of their ancestors and all other kinds of hogwash.
Crying once in a while will help with those dark feelings festering inside you, but fair warning it might leave you with a red runny nose like mine and maybe even a mild headache.
“So where are you really from?” is a question that I often get asked as a child from a Defence background. Thanks to being posted all over the country I never could claim one city as a “hometown”, the best I manage is that I finished the last years of my schooling in Bangalore, where my maternal Grandparents stay. But this post is not about the transient nature of a an army/air-force/navy kid’s life, my confusion about geographical and linguistic origins goes deeper than that, right down to my very ancestry.
When people aren’t satisfied with the above answer of a vaguely mumbled Bangalore, I usually take a deep breath and launch into an explanation of my origins, which sounds simple enough to me but even my closest friends took around a year to remember the whole dynamic. I happen to be one of the relatively rare people in India who are a product of not one but two generations of inter-State and inter-religion marriages and this is something which my peers often find very hard to fathom. One of my school friends, while studying Biology affectionately termed me as a “Hybrid”.
Let me give you a short run down of where my roots lie, starting with my father who is the easiest to place. He traces his family to an upper caste Uttar Pradesh family but he has managed to add some mystery by changing his garden variety Sharma Surname to the family middle name of Dutt which has evolved in our official documents toDutta, a name commonly identified as Bengali.
Next we move to my mother, another hybrid Indian like yours truly who comes from a love marriage between a Brahmin boy whose Telugu(from Andhra Pradesh) ancestors chose the area around Bangalore as their home thus making him more of Kannadiga; and a Christian girl from Allahabad whose ancestors fled the restrictions of Rajasthani upper class society and choosing joining the ranks of those converting to Christianity in Pre-Independence India. Do note, my mentions of caste are in no way self congratulatory in nature, I merely mention it because even within the same linguistic or religious group, culture and cuisine change as per caste.
Coming from this eclectic mix of languages and religions, I have had a somewhat liberal upbringing when it comes to the realm of culture and traditions. But this also means that I just cannot pinpoint one single cultural identity to claim. I am at the center of a Venn Diagram with a colourful variety of cultures where I can’t lay claim to just one particular circle. This also means that when I am around my maternal grandfather’s side of the family, I often find myself feeling like an outsider as I don’t speak the language or practice simple habits like taking shoes off outside the house or being able to eat all kinds of food comfortably with my bare hands. Nor am I a church going practicing Christian like my Grandmother’s kin and let’s not get me started on some of the issues that I have with organized religion.
You would think that having lived for a considerable amount of time in North India among North Indians, that I would be completely comfortable with that side of my family. But this isn’t so, the divide between the Norther and Southern states is such that even people from my generation often can’t look beyond rude stereotypes and satirical portrayal of the people of the Southern States. Two year ago, I attended my cousin’s wedding who was marrying a Telugu girl thus bringing another stream of culture into the otherwise homogenously North Indian family. It was at this wedding where I repeatedly felt hurt and uncomfortable with the behavior of my relatives; I heard all your usual comments about making fun of the Language they couldn’t understand, observations that the Telugu traditions were making the wedding longer and more boring. I tried to diplomatically tell my cousins that traditions differ and that’s okay, I couldn’t do much about the older generation but at least my peers could maybe understand? Usually I would just roll my eyes at such juvenile behavior but the continuous onslaught of negative comments was getting to me in the Delhi summer heat. I wondered, do they not realise that this is not a snide inside joke, that they are insulting my heritage, or is it that they simply don’t care?
I ultimately got over their ignorance because really, they are a part of the larger problem of the divided society of India. A symptom of which you will see in places like elite law schools where the initial friend circles are based on place of Origin, the Bombay group, Delhi people, Lucknow people, Bangalore circle, Kerala, Chennai, Bengal and so on and so forth. I didn’t fit with any of these but luckily I could safely identify with the group of wards of defence personnel and therein I found my acceptance.
After whining at length about how I don’t identify with the individual components of my ancestry I conclude that I am not without a cultural identity, it might be a melting pot but it does exist. It manifests in the form of my need for sambar-rice at least once a week and in my preference of paysam over kheer. It is in my love for Hindustani classical music and poetry in Braj Bhasha and Awadhi. My grandmother regaled me with stories of the kings of Rajputana and maybe it’s her influence that till date attracts me to Rajasthani folk music. Comfort food for me is moong ki dal, bhindi ki sabji (okra) and rice, but when I returned from hostel for the first time my lunch request was beans sambar.
I am a product of the lives, experiences and blood of my ancestors; I carry a little bit of them with me every day in my DNA. I see them in the mirror when I see my Nani’s eyes and my Dadi’s nose on my face. But DNA isn’t passed on as an exact copy all the time, there is recombination of genes that lead to new and often improved qualities in the progeny, similarly, family unit of three may not replicate traditions of our ancestors but with every meal, every festival we are creating our own. We put up the fairy lights during Diwali and the Christmas tree before Christmas, neither of them are brought down before my birthday in January. My birthday generally falls on the festival of Makar Sankranti, but we don’t fly kites or make jaggery laddoos, instead we have my favorite homemade Hyderabadi chicken biryani and chocolate mousse.
One day I will start a nuclear family of my own, with a man who understands or identifies with the multicoloured tapestry that my cultural identity is, and we will weave a few more strands into the same for our child to experience, embibe and start a weave of her/his own.
“I think the single gals, anti-Valentine’s Day thing is a little played out. The romantic Valentine’s thing is a little played out too.”
It was these wise words of the actress, comedienne and all around boss ass bish Anna Kendrick that made me realise what my opinion of the “day of love” truly was. I am not what you would call a hater, nor am I like my mother who has made adorable heart shaped edible goodies in honour of 14th of February.
That being said, I am also absolutely addicted to all forms of Romantic fiction and no, Fifty Shades of Grey is not even in my top 500 books in terms of romance or good sex scenes. Let me give you a little background, my journey with romance novels started in the summer of 2010, during the long vacation post Class 10 board exams when I discovered my mother’s old Penny Jordan Mills and Boons. Mind you these books my mother read only after she got married, now that we have the hawwww factor out of the way, let’s get back on topic.
Starting with Penny Jordans, moving onto the online Harlequin reads and then graduating onto the wide world of the internet which has scores of eBooks of the romantic nature to be devoured,where I read all kinds of sci-fi and supernatural beings in love. Outside the paranormal genre I discovered the numerous contemporary and historical romance, but the best of all are the Young Adult and New Adult romances, because nothing can beat the hopefulness of 15-25 year olds who think love can conquer all. Mind you a lot of these books sought to describe how love can’t exactly conquer all and life gets in the way, so do jobs, and geographical distance.
By now you get the idea of just how many such books I have read, according to my laptop memory I have read double digit GBs of eBooks since I joined Law School so go figure. My take away from all these books is not unrealistic standards of romance and dramatic trysts or explosive lovemaking, sorry but that’s not it. What I have imbibed from these books is the fact that love brings happiness, you don’t have to be in love to appreciate the concept of love and sheer joy that it can bring. Some say it is the tragic nature of love that is beautiful or that no love is devoid of pain. I agree to an extent, life cannot be devoid of harsh truths and negativity and hence we can’t expect love to be all about puppy kisses and kitten purrs. It will be difficult, but ultimately it will be worth the smile your loved one puts on your face. It is the fluttery feeling inside your tummy and the crazy anticipation to see them which makes people go searching for love, the comfortable companionship and (pardon me for the cliche) the feeling of being home.
Now how does my opinion of Valentine’s Day figure into this? Well as I sat struggling to work on a paper about Financial Fraud I had an epiphany. Why is that when I read novels about other people in love, it just makes me so happy while immediately uplifting my mood; but the whole hullabaloo around Valentine’s Day leaves me feeling vaguely embarrassed, lonely and grumpy? If we can appreciate RomComs and novels, why can’t we just accept that people need a particular day to represent one of the nicest things about being human: The emotion of Love.
All the arguments about it being a commercial gimmick for capitalists to sell more cards, roses, teddy bears and chocolates are valid of course, but that doesn’t mean we need to boycott the whole event, let’s just take their idea and own it. Ideas can’t be copyrighted, so why not re-purpose this day and make it about the feeling of all kinds of love rather than being all about Hetero-normative Couples. Without supporting the whole mandatory on giving your special someone a gift angle, why can’t we just celebrate the fact that there are people in our lives who love us? Romantic love, filial love, love for your animal and human friends, the key is to celebrate this wonderful and probably chemical phenomenon to the fullest. In the rat race of life we often forget to make people feel special, and here is this day reminding us to do so by waving red heart balloons in our faces and saying, “Hey! If not before, you can express your love and appreciation today!”
Just because you aren’t currently in love or can’t have the person you want doesn’t mean you have to be glum about the V-day, let it give you hope that there is so much love going into the universe, sometime, somewhere it will get back to you. And no, it will not get back through those impulsive text messages to your crush or your ex; that my friend will only leave you sad because you’re likely be ignored, pitied, patronised or rebuffed. Just hold on to your horses, the reasons that made you decide to be unattached and single will continue to exist on 15th of February, or maybe sometime soon that status quo will change.
But you know what won’t change? The fact that you are a good person who has an immense capacity to love and care. The other 364/5 days of the year you will learn a little more about life and living, use that wisdom to bring happiness in the lives of the people around you, and in the bargain you might find the person who wants to do the same for you…
This blog started as a way to voice the continuous stream of thoughts that crowd my mind and share some interesting ones with the world; well I hope they are interesting. I have always consciously or unconsciously tried to stay away from emotional topics that make me vulnerable in order to distance myself from the “emo writer” archetype that I have observed. But as we grow so does our writing, and my recent experiences tell me that not only do I shy away from letting others see my vulnerability, I am actually very bad at voicing thoughts that do the same. I have had better luck discussing such things over text messages with friends so I thought, why not finally try writing about my vulnerabilities? Maybe this post will make someone feel that hey, I am not the only one who feels like this, I know at least one such person. I also know another person who will think, why does she think so much unnecessarily?
My parents made a decision even before my birth that they would have only one child, and I have never really missed the presence of a sibling, being an only child merely led me to live inside my head a little more than others and made me comfortable entertaining myself. I have known people who extremely uncomfortable if they have to spend time by themselves, they require the presence of another person to truly enjoy themselves, but nope that’s not me.
But there are certain times where being unaccompanied leaves me feeling slightly unsettled, these are tendencies I thought I had grown out of but it seems that I haven’t, let’s take an example from a time when I did not even realise that this was a problem. Back in the last three to four years of school, whenever I was by myself around but not included in a group of people, friends who seemed to be having a good time amongst themselves, I always felt like that ragamuffin child with their nose pressed up against the window of a candy shop, looking in and looking forlorn. The reason for this feeling was that I had a select few friends (still do) in a school where most people knew each other from kindergarten while I was the new girl who joined halfway. It was not by design that they excluded me, because I know I am not the center of the universe, but it was just how the social dynamics were at that moment. Over the years I realised that these seemingly “cool kids” were fraught with nasty gossip of the betraying nature and a host of other teenage unpleasantness. I thought I was done with the vague sense of loneliness that struck me sometimes around such people.
Clearly these insecurities are harder to get rid of, this I learnt recently as I sat by myself in the college, people watching as I usually do when I am not in the mood to read. I noticed a group of acquaintances sitting at an adjacent table and suddenly I was struck with the same feeling being excluded and unwelcome. It was bizarre because intellectually I knew that if I did try making conversation it wouldn’t be rebuffed, but the niggling sensation of feeling unwelcome wouldn’t leave me. If I were to be rational I would say that you can’t please everyone and there is always someone waiting to pass judgement over you in trivial matters, but that doesn’t stop me from needing to be liked and crowned Miss Congeniality (I am certainly too moody to be named that).
As I write this I again wonder if it is a mistake making myself so vulnerable to people over the internet, it’s not the strangers I worry about, but the friends and acquaintances who might be reading this. But this is one of those risky decisions that I take rarely, which are designed to give me life experiences and practice in what pop culture refers to as “adulting”, meaning growing into a mature, functioning and contributing member of society. I am under no illusions that this post will be life changing for a fellow member of society trying to traverse the submerged and algae covered rocks of social interaction. But there is always the chance that someone stumbles upon this and it helps them understand what they are feeling, something which took me the better part of my adolescent years.
The funny thing is that after a day of wanting to be a part of group interaction, all I wanted to do was sit all by myself on the porch while reading, looking up only to watch leaves fall from the trees and butterflies flit from bloom to bloom. I guess I do love my own company after all.
This is the first time, nay the only time I didn’t have to agonise over what to title my piece, which is indeed an achievement for a person who spends a considerable amount of time over titles for even academic papers. But this time the title emerged from my mind fully formed, just like Athena from Zeus’s head.
So what is that about the olfactory sense that I obsess over? Is it the fact that I have a sensitive nose that triggers nausea at any sweet strong smells? Men and women who walk in a cloud of perfume and deodorant are the bane of my life thanks to this. But no, I am not chronicling the lists of fragrances that nauseate me. This is more about those scents that hit the chord of nostalgia in my mind.
I had been mulling over this post for a while when I came across the Awkward Yeti cartoon that I have featured here, it perfectly captured the essence of what I wanted to convey, the special relation between our sense of smell and our memories. Material sentimentality is something frowned upon in my household because there is no space for sentimental knick knacks when you have to move houses and locations every two years; as a result I have collected an incorporeal box of keepsakes in my head.
These keepsakes include songs that trigger memories of people, places and times in my life and more importantly smells and fragrances that lead me straight to particular memories. The easiest smells for me to remember are the fragrances that people around me wear, certain perfumes that my mother wore only to parties that take me back to my those days when I watched my mother get ready for parties, perfecting her make-up and coiffure. My association of smells to people is so strong that I get seriously disconcerted when I smell the same perfumes that I or my loved ones wear on other people, of course it is irrational to expect that these scents are exclusive to me and mine, but what can I say it is what is it.
My close friend is a connoisseur of cologne’s, she always notices if a person within sniffing distance is wearing a good cologne and often associates them with certain men in her life. Most of you will agree with me on the fact that how a man you’re attracted to smells is something that doesn’t fade from your memory easily. There was one such moment in the recent past where one such man wore a fragrance disturbingly similar to what my father wore, a scent that I loved because thanks to my nauseous tendencies my father always takes my sniffed approval for body spray or perfume for himself. But associating a similar smell to a guy I found interesting? Stuff of nightmares, but to my utter relief I did find differences between the two scents that convinced me to stop feeling uncomfortable about it.
Turn back the time machine to a few years ago, to my first and last official college crush that lasted well, half my college life and maybe more, that sounds more pathetic once it’s written down. This boy-man wore a particular scent that reminded me of a subtle spicy version of the desi gulab i.e. the Indian rose. But the plot twist is that none of my friends who have been around him have ever smelled the same, not even my cologne connoisseur friend! It was even suggested that I was having olfactory hallucinations; do they even have an official name for this? Must Google it, also I love how Google has become a verb since the noun has become so popular, but I digress.
Coming back to this phenomenon known as Phantosmia, meaning phantom smells which I generally experience with respect to food. I know I am really craving something when I start smelling the aroma in the air without this food item being anywhere around, like the smell of cheese omelets in the middle of an exhaust smoke full road, or the smell of pav bhaji when I was fed up of hostel food. So when I crave for certain foods strongly enough, my brain pulls these memories out and starts playing them for me, sweet isn’t it.
It is not just mine, but all our brains are a repository of all the smells that we ever experienced and that made a mark on us, remember all those Facebook posters about petrichor, the smell of rain on dry soil? That never really did anything for me, rain is not something I like so things reminding me of impending monsoons are memories I want to revisit.
On the other hand the smell of wood smoke, accompanies by a slight nip in the air that marks the beginning of winter holds a special place in my memories. For this smell reminds of the festive season that replaces Autumn in India, Dussehra, Diwali and all the colour, beauty and simple happiness that accompanies it. Fast forward a few months to late February- early March, the Indian spring is pretty much done and so is Maha Shivratri, the mark of winter ending, this time the smell is of dusty gardens and roads along with the prickle of sweat the beads my neck as even the evening sun makes the environs considerably warm. You will ask what is so memorable about the hellish heat that Indian Summers bring; it’s not the season of summer that is so appealing, but all the interesting times of my childhood that it reminds me of.
Summer season meant a new school session, new school books to read with fascination, the possibility of new friends being posted in and of course Summer vacations. Roughly two months of uninterrupted naps, reading and occasional games of teacher-teacher and other immersions into the world of make believe. If we were to play the word association game in smells, summer would also remind me of my brief visits to the swimming pool and the accompanying smell of chlorine, you all remember it don’t you? Did it make you smile? Swimming pool memories must make most of us smile, unless there were some traumas like near drownings or bullying attached to them. Negative memories attached to smell aren’t as rare as we would like, who can forget the smell of spirit from hospitals, or the smell of your teeth being ground down by the drill at the dentist’s, not something I would like to remember but these associations are also retained by the brain, such is life.
But the point is that smell is one of the all-important five (or six if you ask some) senses of the human body that tell us more about the world around us. Inferior beings that we are, our sense of smell is not of practical use as that of our canine friends (unless you are a perfumer or a winemaker) but it’s not completely without it’s uses, it does give us the gift of relieving some memories that could possibly bring a smile to our face and elevate our spirits. Candle makers have started making scented candles with all sorts of interesting scents like those associated with the Harry Potter fandom, which in itself values scents greatly due to the existence of the notorious love potion “Amortentia” which smells different to each person depending on what attracts them. If it were up to me, I would make capture all my memories in vials but instead of silvery memories directly visible in a Pensieve, they would be swirling scents that would take me back to moments from the years passed.