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

I Run… Yet I Remain

Whenever I lose a dear one, am hurt by someone close, or when I make a mistake—I try to console myself. The collective wisdom asks me to learn from life-lessons and move on. But the anger and the angst keep hurting. Memories never fade. Sadness doesn’t leave. Good, bad or ugly—sounds, sights and smells linger. Yes, with time it becomes easier to forgive. But can we ever forget? I can’t. I run…Yet I remain.

People and experiences are never alike. There is no template for life questions, answers and lessons. Each time I cry, my tears are different. My laughter is never the same in every situation.

The way each tragedy kills is unique. Happiness gives joy in myriad hues. We can’t copy- paste life’s dimensions, times and relationships. Perceptions differ and keep changing. These can’t be framed in formulae.

We live and die moment to moment. And each moment we are reborn, we are different—so is the world. My thoughts echo in Heraclitus’s words: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Wondering Mind Wandering Thoughts Series

Self Portrait: Fireside Thoughts

Fireside Thoughts-Self Portrait

Living Bridges And Walk Of My Life

I was awestruck when I encountered ‘Umkar’—the jaw-dropping ‘living root bridge’—while exploring the woods of Cherrapunji in Meghalaya. The breathing roots of trees met, merged, and melted into a spectacular living bridge. ‘Umkar’ called me to connect, lured me to climb,  urged me to cross.

The primitive relationship between trees and people echoes in these living-root-bridges, such as the legendary ‘Double Decker’ of Nongriat village. Villagers of West Jaintia and East Khasi Hills in Meghalaya create these marvels from the living aerial roots of Ficus Elastica—Indian rubber tree. 

The merging bridges signify the possibilities emerging from enduring bonds among humans, and between humans and nature. These bridges implore us to build, not to burn or break. Trees and roots teach us the ancient law of existence, infinity, and eternity—to rise but to retain and remain rooted.

Walking in the whistling woods is the walk of my life—a journey within and without. Sights, scents, and sounds of surroundings seduce my senses; heart wonders, mind wanders. The wind caresses; the morning warmth envelops and spurs me to sing Denver’s “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” Dawn enchants me, dusk enthralls. The stars and the moon play hide and seek among the silhouettes touching my melancholy.

I hear children laugh and clap when the birds coo and flap. My eyes see a lass flutter her eyelashes when the butterflies dart and flit. Swinging trees remind me of dancing lads drunk on youth.

The walk of life takes me to times, people, and places—near, far, and forgotten. Nostalgia overpowers, reason raises existential questions. The heart hums Tagore’s “Ekla Cholo Re”, while the wind whispers: “I am with you in your quest.” I discover the search is never complete, the journey never ends.

Great minds join my life-walks. I regain the lost paradise when the music of a Mozart or a Beethoven seeps into my soul. The world is worth and a wonder when a Wordsworth or a Wodehouse exhilarates with his words. My thoughts ask people petty and pompous to ‘take a walk’, but never with me. I imagine scenarios from Orwell’s “Animal Farm” when I see dogs on the leash—what if the roles are reversed?

People closer than closeness betray. Men and women use even the beautiful and the fragile—a flower, a ‘Parijat’—to deceive. Parijat wilts, love withers, memory mourns, treachery torments.

If we forget the count of time, forsake the weight of living, and embrace nature with abandon, we can drown in the ecstasy of “dolce far niente”—the sweet pleasure of doing nothing. Exhorts us Mary Shelley—to live by leaving: 

“Let us… seek peace… near the inland murmur of streams, and the gracious waving of trees, the beauteous vesture of earth, and sublime pageantry of the skies. Let us leave ‘life’, that we may live.”

Nature’s rhythms sing songs of bliss. Its spirit tells stories of love and kindness. Her sounds are symphonies of silence and solitude. With nature in the heart, soul breaks into a dance; the Wordsworth in us serendipitously finds a hidden beauty.  But this mysterious temptress never reveals all. It delights with the innocence of a nymph and entices with the coquetry of a woman wily and wanton. 

Mother nature provides shelter, solace, and sustenance. She gives us sense, sensitivity, and sanity, and sanitizes our souls. We return to roots and answer our calling when we come home to her. She invites us to feast on her, on life—to drink and devour from its abundance. Forever fecund, life pours from her pores; but we kill this very life. We pilfer, pillage, plunder.

The universe is unity. Humanity, the most conscious member of this singularity, must keep the harmony intact for its survival. Call it an epiphany, or awakening of ecological conscience—we share the pulse of existence, and in this sharing lie human hope and destiny.

“Wondering Mind Wandering Thoughts -Trees Series”

The edited version of this article was published in The Economic Times dt. 11.01.2021: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-speaking-tree/the-living-bridges/

Images

  • Umkar Living Root Bridge Pic: Sukumar Bardoloi;
  • Double Decker Living Root Bridge: Arshiya Urveeja Bose

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

Cede & Concede… Lose Senses & Control

Decided to cede control? Cede all the way… And sooner the better.

Putting someone on the steering wheel and continuing to caution and correct from the back seat is a perfect recipe for disaster. The driver has a nervous breakdown; many times the passengers are burdened with broken bones and the unfortunate others suffer collateral damages. Two drivers are too many.

Having ceded management and control of affairs at home or work, why be a leech? It is foolish to nag, instruct, and enquire repeatedly. Trust people, let them make mistakes and learn on the job.

Try to pull the reins forever and be sure to lose respect… and self-respect. Limit yourself to offer help in changing the punctured tyre or filling the tank. Be subtle when pointing out a wrong turn.

Sit back in the back seat and enjoy the luxury of being driven around; after all, you have driven the people crazy all your life. Feel and fly like a bird and sing “Una Paloma Blanca” at the top of your voice. Consume chilled Corona*, sip nimboo-paani**, or savour a Shandy. Be sozzled, spill—it makes sense to lose senses… and control.

*the bottled version; ** lemonade

Wondering Mind & Wandering Thoughts Series

Image: LA Times

JPEG-backseat driving-LA Times

S I S T E R

‘Sister’…the word echoes and evokes all that is good and beautiful.

Sister gives us love akin to parents, shares strength of a brother, and brings happiness like a friend. She is our go-to person – in joy and in sorrow. She gives us her shoulder to cry on, stretches her hand to pull us up, keeps our secrets like her own…sister is our ‘man-friday’ in woman’s clothing.

Sister is a person for all seasons. A selfless soul, she gives all of herself and more…mostly unseen,  unsaid, and unacknowledged.

Some sisters laugh and slap our backs, some hide their smiles and slap nothing; few offer ‘kadha’*, others snatch and finish off our beer in a gulp. Aren’t they amazing?

Good that we can’t choose our sisters, for we will not have any others.

Our sisters paint beauty and create joy in our lives.

(I write this on behalf of all my bros and friends, and dedicate it to all our Sisters: sisters born to our parents, and sisters who left their homes to make our homes).

* Kadha: an Indian herbal concoction

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