Story of Our Stories

“I am me”—I shout from the rooftops. But am I? Since everyone claims to be himself, I am no different.

Somebody, everybody, or nobody—we are all storytellers. We tell stories about others and about ourselves. And we colour those stories, we paint pictures—as we want or imagine. Whereas we can’t twist others’ stories beyond a point, we have a field day with our own.

The narcissist in me loves myself. I repeatedly tell myself and others about myself. And I put chosen stories within my story—to showcase what I wish to. This creates ‘me’ I want to see and to be seen. This imaginary ‘me’ takes over the real me, my life, times, and relationships.

Layer upon layer, we weave fantasies to display an identity that is phoney and false—at least in parts. We select or discard the realities, the essentials, and the history which have shaped us. Our subjective interpretations and biases change our person, persona, and personality.

We become the stories we keep repeating about ourselves to ourselves and to others. How we project ourselves in our stories could be very different from what we are. It’s easy to convince and deceive ourselves that the situations and people have forced us to be what we are not.  

Becoming crafty while crafting our stories, we plant prejudices and embed distortions. We ask our stories to tell us what we wish to hear. As we believe in the make believe, we become what we pretend. So we make the stories or stories make us? These stories coax, cajole and compel us to think, believe, and act in the way we portray our characters in these stories. 

At times we make stories of others our own. We become other people—living a vicarious life of sham and show. As Oscar Wilde wrote: ‘’Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’’

How do we overcome illusions and delusions? How do we quit living in paradoxes and frameworks of fakery? We can begin by telling our genuine story to ourselves. Telling others is optional, for others sense our truth sooner or later. To twist Huxley’s words—there are things said and things unsaid, and in between are the doors of perception. The world knows the story of our stories.

Image: ClipcartKey

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Human or Humanoid? Who Am I and Am I Me?

How do I know who am I and am I me? Usernames, passwords, passwords for passwords, and passwords for remembering passwords have usurped my identity. The OTPs—one time passwords—make me look like an all time fool. But I console myself that my enemy has a constantly constipated look, not finding any password even for passing the wind. As I can’t bypass, and pass out many a times living by the leave of passwords, I wonder whether I will need a password to pass away.

Negotiating the maze of passwords transports me to the secret world of deciphering complex codes—and I live my adolescent fantasy of Sherlock Holmes’ cloak and dagger life. Attired in his trademark hat and overcoat, and smoke oozing from the curvaceous pipe, I follow the fugitives in the foggy eerie nights in London’s dark slippery streets shrouded in sinister shadows. Life is spooky—Corona or no Corona.

The toll-free number too takes its toll—“Please wait, you are in the queue… Kripaya intezaar karen, aap katar main hain…”. After waiting for the Godot, when I get connected—I am coaxed into playing a numbers game. For a 3 years old seeking electronic adventure—pushing 1 till 9 and hearing humourless recording over n over again could be thrilling. For me—having pushed luck all my life—it is the endgame. “For English push 1, Hindi me jankaari ke liye 2 dabayen”—whispers a melodiously morbid and monotonous voice. Whatever number I push, I hear what I don’t want to. I go on fishing from 1 to 9 till eternity—only to get disconnected. I repeat the cycle with sadistic pleasure yearning to hear—“Ab aap apna aur saamne wali ka gala dabayen… Now strangulate yourself and the woman at the other end”(men always put women in the firing line). Customer delight or customer fright? It’s death—digit by digit. One resigns, reclines, n recites:

“उम्र ए दराज़ मांग कर लायी थी चार दिन, 

दो आरजू में कट गए, दो  इंतज़ार में…”*

(I begged four days from life, 

Two I lost in longing, two in waiting…)

*Couplet by Seemab Akbarabadi

 While Corona kills—the sinners and the saintly, the gadfly and the godly—all are perpetually online. Appropriate all the inappropriate Apps—these are abundant and free. Tweet taunts and tantrums or face-off on Facebook; be an instant hit on Insta by posting the latest pics in bikini with a bunny or do Zumba on Zoom; endlessly forward ‘gyaan’ on WhatsApp making friends n foes writhe, wince n weep or be a darling dude on YouTube—you never lack social media choices. First these ‘apes’ tempt n lure, then they coax n cajole. Coercion from the likes of ‘WhatsApe’ apart, we continue to fall and remain in their trap for FOMO—fear of missing out. We can’t shake these monkeys off our backs.

Even emotions are electronic. Emojis express it all—anger or anxiety, love or lie, smirk or smile. Forget the back-slapping bonhomie—one can go hug a pillar.

The unescapable World Wide Web, Goggle’s googlies, and the machines on our palms, laps and desks manipulate us to download miracles, mischiefs n miseries without measure. WWW answers all our Whats Whys n Whos whenever we plunge into this unfathomable ocean. We wish to find one tiny pearl of wisdom, and it places millions on our palms—we don’t know where to begin and where to end. The plethora of goodies so confuse n confound that one leaves the humongous store without robbing it.

Bored with your life on this earth and on the web? You can live it up in an online “Second Life”. Then there is the Dark Web, which offers you A to Z of the ugly and the illegal—from arms and drugs to thugs. You are a nut case to enter it, and a gone case once into it.

The email story is astounding. We don’t talk or walk, we email—children email parents sitting in the same room, colleagues email each other from adjacent cubicles. We are so scared of others and ourselves that we put everything on instant electronic record. Hail email—it won’t fail, has a trailing tail.

As Ambani urges us to “Karlo Duniya Muthhi Me”—hold the world in your palm, and we ‘rely’ upon him to “Jio” (live) a life of ‘mobile’ dreams, life for most remains a static nightmare.

The binary life—can we ever escape its tentacles? Can we live a life of our own ever again? Digital life is relentlessly marketed and sold to us where we must have it all, else we are nothing. A perfect 1 or 0—everything in-between is meaningless, mundane, and oh…so middle-class.

Caught between being a human and a humanoid, I ask myself—who am I and am I me?

Image: pxfuel.com

social media internet-pxfuel.com

I stole but I was never a thief

I stole but I was never a thief.

In my early childhood in Sujangarh—when I knew neither a kiss nor a miss—I stole dadi’s kissmiss n cashews, kaka’s kites, cousins’ crayons, and friends’ fries.

As a young school-going kid in Guwahati I stole stamps from ‘Pick Me’, coins from maa, and comics from the Wheelers’ station stall. And in typhoid’s hungry stupor I engaged with a distant relative’s engagement laddus in stealth while the satiated slept.

Stealing cashews n kissmiss were hit-n-miss affairs and earned me terms of endearment camouflaged in the choicest Marwari curses—O’ let your nerves shatter, O’ burn alive wherever you are, O’ go sell balloons etc. Kites or crayons, I came out with flying colours in my exploits.

Stealing coins was never a big deal. Though the danger of getting picked up always lurked in ‘Pick Me’, the triangular ‘phoren’ stamps lured me time n again. The whistling trains pumped adrenaline in the book-thief turning him into the ‘ghost who walked away’ with the ‘Phantom’. The pleasure that I derived from devouring king-sized laddus during my nightly prowls surpassed that of Count Dracula when he sank his sword-length sharp canines in an unsuspecting succulent neck under eerie shadows.

Paradoxically, I stole when I was innocent—when neither money nor material mattered.

With innocence, I also lost my appetite for stealing.

Coming of age, I have been at the receiving end of the organised thievery perpetuated by many business associates, most lawyers, and all governments. They steal in ways subtle, in-your-face, or crude. I am left winking while they hoodwink with impunity. I harbour no ill-will towards my lawyer friends. I too have LL.B—“Best in Legalized Loot” degree, though I don’t practice : )

My childhood stealing skills are no match for the sophistry of the sophisticated.

I stole, but I was never a thief.

The thief in me was a child.

(Sujangarh: small town in Rajasthan, India; Guwahati: city in Assam, India; Dadi: grandmom; Kissmiss: raisins; Kaka: uncle; Maa: mother; Laddu: Indian sweet; Marwari: language of Rajasthan; Phoren: foreign/imported; Pick Me: A popular store in Guwahati)

Dracula neck bite

In Search of Mergings

Rooted apart, trees crave to unite, intertwine, interlock. They grow to reach out and connect. Their trunks long to meet, branches yearn to mingle, roots lust to merge. They sway in unison and sing the song of togetherness with whispering winds, or in silence. Trees dance in euphoria when they touch and embrace.

I see it every day when I look out of my window, when I take a walk in the park, or when I pass through a forest. Trees support each other, give space, share, and spread the shadows—but never sinister. Trees are the same everywhere.

Humans too are the same everywhere. But they differ from trees. They grow apart when they grow. They seek separation, not closeness. Proximity causes anxiety, affection is affected, feelings are faked.

Trees put me to thoughts like none else. I wish humans were less like humans and more like trees.

Robert Macfarlane captures the magic:

“I think of good love as something that roots, not rots, over time, and of the hyphae that are weaving through the ground below me, reaching out through the soil in search of mergings.”

“Wondering Mind Wandering Thoughts”—‘Trees Series’.

Pic: Jacaranda sings n sways to meet mingle n merge

Jacaranda Pic

Soul has no Secrets which Behaviour doesn’t Reveal

Recently I read a true story. Takeaways:
There are two kinds of advisors in this world:

(a) Those- who hear both sides of the story, filter all exaggerated nonsense and obvious lies, and give advice based on basic principles of truth, fairness, equity and empathy… If they err, they err on the side of kindness;
And
(b) Those who hear only one side and ill-advise—gloating in their bookish knowledge and wisdom without considering human values, and short and long-term repercussions. They put a price to each emotion and act, and dig long forgotten graves to bring skeletons out. They do enormous harm to all.

The ill-advisor and the ill-advised either have no soul or have sold it.

As a wise person had said— “Soul has no secrets which behaviour doesn’t reveal.” 

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Wise in Foolishness

Religious rituals perhaps have their logic and use, but they don’t sit easy on my shoulders.

Not for me the rituals with no relation to the real. If feelings glisten my eyes, if emotions touch my heart, if sentiments stir my soul—I am alive. And being so alive exhilarates me.

If I can keep my sanity, achieve equanimity, and forgive myself and others for the dark deeds… I would have found Nirvana.

I believe—I am good enough if I am human, and better if humane.

My prayers were answered whenever parents held my hand; I find heaven in the smile of innocent children; I see Gods in the humans who are kind.

My simple routines uplift me—work gives me a high, reading a good book delights me, I am buoyed when I don’t write nonsense.

I am intoxicated in nature’s embrace; I am thrilled when children bring out the child in me; I am awesome and in awe of myself with friends.

My little rituals and elaborate idiosyncrasies—brewing a heady mix of Earl Grey, Assam, and Darjeeling for 3 minutes for that perfect cocktail in a cup, admiring swaying Jacaranda from my window every 33 minutes, listening to Richard Clayderman’s ‘Souvenirs En France’, ‘Theme from Romeo & Juliet’, and ‘Ballade Pour Adeline’ (only in that sequence) for 13 minutes in the shower every morning—transcend me.

These unadulterated rituals and routines fulfil me and reward me a life uncluttered, uncomplicated, and uncompromised. These put my feet firmly on the terra firma and the head high in the heavens while my middle meddles with the mundane.

I am religious about my rationality, fanatic about my fancies, and stubborn about my story. I don’t pretend, nor do I fake.

Perhaps I am wise in my foolishness.

“Wondering Mind Wandering Thoughts” Series

These are my personal thoughts. The intent is not to criticise or belittle anyone or any views.

Jacaranda Tree

To Guilty With Sarcasm

Some people perpetually impose guilt—in ways subtle or crude. Swinging like a pendulum from being aggressive to wearing sorrow on their sleeves, they resort to emotional blackmail, portray themselves as pathetic losers, and wear underdog’s hangdog expression.

They seethe, shout, and sulk; they throw threats, taunts, and tantrums. Locking themselves up, becoming incommunicado, or aiming abuses at themselves are their hallmarks. Leaving food untouched at home but hogging hamburgers in hiding, tossing the teacup to spill and spell their strategic sensitivity, or spewing sweet sarcasm are the tricks of their trade.

Brazen like crazy, to them flinging and foisting guilt comes easy. They cover their cruelty with cunning—wrapping it in sugary words which wound. Past masters at putting others down, they invent sophisticated systems to suffocate.

Bravo, good they are. They inflict injury with elan and hurl guilt with aplomb to hide their own.  They play victim to victimize.

Those who impose guilt are the ones who are guilty. Shall we then be guilty of feeling guilty because of someone’s guilt?

– “Wondering Mind Wandering Thoughts” series.

Pics: unsplashGuilty Sulkingadi-goldstein--KobSuU7b3g-unsplash

When Some we appreciate, Some self-depreciate.

WHEN SOME WE APPRECIATE, SOME SELF-DEPRECIATE.

IS IT THE LOUSY FEELING I CALL ‘GUILOUSY’?

 Under the shower I was seized with an uncomfortable thought- should we refrain from praising some, because some other wise ones take it otherwise? They don’t express it, but the sulking and ruing are in the air; we feel their absent presence… like ghosts.

They feel slighted merely because some one else is delighted. Desperate, they love praise heaped upon themselves, even if undeserved; but recoil in jealousy, if not horror, when someone else is applauded, particularly when that someone is close or known.

Is it inferiority complex? Or guilt? Or jealousy?

Or is it guilt-jealousy combo…the lousy feeling I call ‘Guilousy’?

But how to assuage their hurt? Their deeds or lack of them are so awesome, one can’t voice admiration…for the mouth is agape in astonishment. : )

                      chimpanzee pic: pixabay.com

When Good is Bad.

We can face the world, but it is difficult to face ourselves. Solitude compels us to look within. It brings us face to face with our ugly self; and forces us to vividly recall the injuries we have inflicted upon many including our close ones, and our unfairness in many a relationships born out of  selfishness, presumption, ego and  arrogance. Our soul knows us well, we can’t lie to it.

Selfishness invents justifications; integrity, empathy, and understanding do not need crutches of justification.

And within us, there is a kind of selfishness which lurks and masquerades as selflessness. Even while thinking for the good of our children, spouse, parents…we think from our angle…we look at their well-being through the prism of our own pleasure, our joy…not from the lens of their space, their feelings. If I am being kind, I do not realize that perhaps I am being unkind. If I am truthful, I don’t realize that truth also hurts. When I am trying to be righteous and upright in correcting others, it doesn’t occur to me that being so very correct is sometimes incorrect. We want to see the image of their happiness in our mirror, and the picture is always blurred. Many a times we try to be good for the selfish reason of feeling good, but is it really doing any good?

We forget the individual identities; that the fist is one, but fingers, though joined together at the base, are still separate; that at the very basic level, persons, persona, personalities and perceptions are all different.

Due to misplaced love and kindness, we grown-ups unconsciously tend to control…be it our adult children or our elderly parents. We try to decide what is good for them, and we preach and specify the ‘dos and don’ts’. Whereas our ‘for their own good’ instructions to children alienate them; the ‘kindly limits’ we set around our parents sometimes compromise their dignity, trample upon their feelings and sense of independence, and end up manipulating them.

Should we be so helpful to our grown-up children and our elders that they look helpless and feel hopeless? But we put them either in nappies or on pedestals. Needed or not, we constantly provide crutches.

We try to control (even if unconsciously and benevolently) because we have the arrogance to assume that we know better. Ceding this control sets everyone free, and there is nothing more beautiful than the sense of freedom.

Lifelong we don’t cease to parent children, and we parent our parents too. Grown-ups want to make their own decisions, at least some of those decisions. No one likes being coerced into a situation or an act. We need to be sensitive to their sense of shame and embarrassment arising out of unwanted dependence. What is needed is understanding and empathy, not control or sympathy. We are sensitive to what we want for them, but not to what they want for themselves.  

By doing away with parents’ responsibilities in totality (in order to give them so called ‘peace of mind’), we also snatch away their involvement and authority…be it personal, financial or pertaining to the family…making them redundant. There is nothing worse than being consigned to irrelevance.

So, let them be….so they can be themselves…in their space…with their identity and their perspective.

And let’s ask, not assume. For, there is no absolute in life. There is right and there is wrong, and in between are the doors of perception. And perceptions differ.

Photo Credit: Old Couple: wonsung.jang; 4 persons: Dimitri Houtteman (unsplash.com)

Chances We Take, Choices We Make.

The chances we take and the choices we make throughout our lives, decide the course of life. Life itself is a result of choices and chances.

Chances present choices before us. We make a choice to take a chance, and we take a chance in choosing that choice; for nothing is certain, and the calculated outcome is, at best, an intelligent guess.

We have no control over chances, which are circumstantial, and therefore, could result into good, bad or ugly; sample these: an understanding spouse (good), losing all the money in gambling (bad), infection by Covid-19 (ugly). However, we do have control over choices; though we can’t altogether cast aside the chance repercussions of our challenging choices.

This is true in all spheres of life and living at all times – education, occupation, love, marriage, or family setting. Confusing it is, but every challenge and each change is an outcome of this chance-choice conundrum.

To lighten the mood, take my case. I was at Guwahati and had the option of leaving for Bangalore just before the lockdown. But I took a chance and made the choice of staying back another week. My choice of taking a chance has confined me and confounded others. In this extended, albeit unintended overstay, I embrace embarrassment, while many lurk behind feigned amusement.

Choices create chances and chances cause choices. But we can make our choices independent of the chance-fate presented to us on a plate by the past. It is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to us by life. We can choose to build new alternatives. And we have the choice to act or not to act.

The chances we take…

And the choices we make,

Give us life, or drop by drop…

Bleed us to death.

                      Picture Credits: internet/unsplash.com