Machinations

Of fear, I had learnt a lot
Been told of what to be wary of
Been told of what might kill me, in body or in spirit
Never did i fear either

Of love, I had learnt a lot
Been told of what is ‘necessary’
Been told of what might set me free
Never did I believe either

The comfort of pessimism worked well for me
In the madness and chaos, it brought synchronicity
It showed me heaven, it showed me hell
And neither seemed much the worse to me

I shall march on, till the sunset embraces me
Till the shore of an unseen ocean sets me free
Till the fires of a thousand wars, a million tears
Allows me, finally, to let go of my fears
And be one with what every man hopes to be

At peace with an apathetic, yet comfortable eternity.

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Phoenix

A black raven took flight, flapping its wings with a strong burst into the wind. The old man looked up at the bird, knowing that it was probably off to pick at some open trash bin somewhere – mundane, filthy, and absolutely essential for that bird to live. Even so, the sight of the bird spreading its wings to fulfil the purpose they were built for was a sight still good to see. That is when he saw the dejected young man walk up, with his hands shoved in his pockets, head bowed down a bit, and shuffling along slowly before depositing himself at the other end of the bench the old man was sitting on.

“Rough day?” asked the old man. “Rough life”, said the young guy with a rueful grin at the old man, the kind which was directed at everything and nothing. “I suppose it’s easier when I’m your age. Provided I get to live to be your age.”

“Oh, you will”, said the old man, with the polite smile old people reserve for a kindred spirits much younger than themselves, and yet living a life as difficult and confusing as the ones they themselves have lived. “So, what’s making you look so dejected, if you don’t mind me asking?”

The young man responded with an exhalation of breath the old man was all too familiar with, that being the unspoken, universal response for ‘Where do I start’. So the old man did what he knew would help – he kept quiet, while looking at the young, troubled fellow, less than half his age.

“Well”, began the young man, “I’ve recently tried to bring about some changes in my life, starting with my job, and a few other things I desperately need to sort out – only, it isn’t working out the way I thought it would. For one, the thing I’m trying to do seems so difficult that I find myself trying to find excuses not to do it. My life – at least to me – is an absolute mess. I’m twenty seven, and I’m nowhere close to being where I thought I would be at this age, when I thought about it six or seven years ago. I see my friends settling down into comfortable lives, even if they are routine, and one part of my mind keeps telling me that’s probably what I don’t want, and the other part says that’s probably exactly what I need.”

The old man sat silently, letting the young boy – for at his age, anyone short of forty was a boy – let it out at his own pace. He knew the ‘boy’ would run out of things to complain about soon enough, and that thought brought a quiet chuckle, which he kept down so as not to make the lad feel worse.

“I’ve come to realise one thing, though”, continued the young man. “It’s dangerous to dream big, in some ways. Because when you do, you always keep wishing and hoping for better and better, and sometimes – well, most of the times – it’s just not possible. Because there really isn’t enough room to do everything you’ve always wanted. And that is unsatisfying in an almost physically painful way, because a guy sets out to live out the life he wanted, and is handed a life that is nowhere close to how he imagined it would be. And that’s something I wish somebody could tell me the answer to! How do I convince myself I’ll do something or the other when there’s so much I’ve told myself I’d do and never did?”

The old man nodded, cleared his throat, and asked, “Why do you believe that you need to ‘convince’ yourself of anything? Has it ever struck you that if you need to ‘convince’ yourself, it probably isn’t good enough?”

The young man, befuddled now, said, “I don’t think I understand what you mean…?”

“You don’t have to understand me, son. It’s yourself who you need to understand”, said the old man with a smile. “Think about this. Ten years ago, at age seventeen, did you want to do something that doesn’t really hold much value for you now?”

“Actually, yes. I have faced that. There was this one thing I had intended to do which I ended up never doing, but yeah, you’re right. I don’t really feel like doing that anymore”, replied the lad, looking at the old man with eyes that were now fully absorbed in seeing things in a way he hadn’t looked at in before.

“I can’t tell you with absolute certainty that this is what is right”, continued the old man. “No one can. But what I can tell you is this: there’ll be plenty of tough spots in your life that will probably make the fix you’re in right now look easy in comparison. You’ll have highs and lows and ups and downs and most of all that is going to come from directions that you will least expect. But chances are, so will all the good things. You know why we can’t see the future? Because we haven’t made it yet.  You may think you’re confused right now, but the clarity with which you described what you feel your main worry is, makes me feel otherwise. Stick to that.”

“So what do you suggest?” asked the young man, his doubts about himself not gone yet, showing as they were on his face.

“Nothing.  I suggest nothing, except that you live. If you feel you’re doing something wrong, do it anyway. See it through to the end, just so you know if it was wrong or right. But don’t hold back from doing something because you felt you wouldn’t make it through successfully.  Because – and I’m sure you already know this – whatever it is that you feel like saying or doing, however many things there may be, just wake up in the morning, eat your breakfast and get down to it. You’re not a reincarnation of the Buddha, so yes, whatever doubts each situation brings will persist one way or another. You will hold some regrets, of having done this, or not having done that – maybe not having tried hard enough. Let those be lessons and not wounds you carry, otherwise they’ll fester and not let you be comfortable in your skin. There is no way you can do everything that you plan to do, and there is also no guarantee that whatever you do, you’ll do right. But beyond a point – you can believe this for a fact – beyond a point, beyond a stretch of time that you live, all irrelevancies will go away, and it’ll leave you with what’s most important. Do you remember any of the number of times you’ve cut, nicked and scraped yourself through school, or do you remember your mother always being there afterwards?”

The young man smiled – a real smile this time, as the gravity of the statement struck him along with the levity of the description. “You know my answer to that”, he said.

“That’s what you probably need to do, son. Think as much as you want. Act the way you think is right by you. But honestly, just learn to believe that old adage of ‘Live each day as it comes’. Because that really IS all you get. Ask me, that’s all I’ve been doing for so many years. And while I haven’t always had the best of times, I’ve always known what I’m worth even at my worst. And that has more often than not made the best times feel even better”, said the old man, leaning back on the bench, reflecting on all the struggles in all those years past, of all he had won and lost and lived through. And speaking to this young man seemed to unlock something deep within him too – a strange sense of satisfaction of having made it, of having lived a life which still had a few embers burning in it. So he turned once again to the young man, and said “You’ll make it.” The young man sat a little straighter, breathed a little deeper, and said, “I certainly hope so. That’s all I could ask for.”

The old man looked up, and saw the contrails of an airliner flying high in the upper reaches of the sky, in a place beyond the clouds – and as always, marvelled at mankind, creatures built to live on the ground, for having built something that spread its wings to fulfil a greater purpose.  When he looked back, the young man had disappeared, a little like a wisp of smoke, as if he had never existed. The old man shook his head, because he knew the young one did exist. And he looked into the distance, and said to the setting sun, “Oh, you already have.”

Before we sleep

There are very few instances in life when everything falls into place just the way you wanted them to – and even when they do, it is mostly with things that are inconsequential. On the few times that they do, whether for us or for anyone else, it is such a cause of wonder as to merit disbelief. “Did that really happen? Wow! It’s such a miracle.” And so very often, probably due to what can only be our latent cynicism – stemming from causes lost and lived – we tend to oversee the real reasons why things worked. For the guy who seems to have a brilliant life at age 30 or 35, we probably don’t realise the import of the ten years of late nights he pulled without us ever realising it. For the girl who landed her dream job, and now jets around the world while we work in our cubicles envying her, we probably don’t know how she skipped meals for days at a stretch to hang on to what little money she had while working as an unpaid intern at a whole lot of tiny places where the work was hard, but each job she did was a stepping stone to where she is today. We’ve heard it often enough: there are no shortcuts. But more than the fact of not realising what they did, it is probably the fact that we fail to take the same steps that people like that did. And there is no more logical reason to ‘why not’ than the fact that we are inherently afraid.

This pervasive fear that holds us back from unlocking our truest potential comes in many forms. It may be the fear of not being at a target you set for yourself to reach by the time you’re a certain age. It may be the fear of being rejected by peers, or maybe a lover’s idea of what you ought to be. It may be a fear of not matching up to the expectations of your parents and family. Or perhaps, it is the fear of already having tried and failed. I know for a fact that I have been through all of these, and I have not yet found a convincing way to beat it back. I may have lost out on a dream because of certain circumstances I had no way of changing (said circumstances being medical in nature, so it’s not an excuse, it’s a reason). But what of all the other things I have done? Could I have done better? Possibly. How would I know? I don’t. I would just have to do it and see how it works. And here’s the crux: do I want to? And try as I might, the past is gone, and there’s no chance of certain things coming back. Only one thing remains – where do I go from here? And where do you go from where you’re sitting and reading this right now?

Even money on the probability that you see yourself as headstrong, motivated to do something or the other – and trivial or life-changing does not matter here – rooting for something good, and hating some major aspect of your life as you run through that morass of thoughts and ideas in your head every day. Sure, a lot of people will come up and say “Don’t like your job, quit it”, or “Don’t like the relationship you’re in, end it”. And you’d respond with either a “Hell yeah!” or an “Easier said than done”, depending on your level of commitment (or intoxication?). But once that conversation is over, what do you really do? Do you change overnight, or set a date by which you’ll want to accomplish the five biggest items on your to-do list? Chances are, you make that list and hope for the best. And that’s all right. It’s okay to hope – but if you want to see the change, you don’t have to be the change. You just have to stop wanting it. Take a step back, assess your priorities – chances are, you’ve got them all mixed up anyway. Rewire yourself. Don’t stop dreaming, but focus more on the ones that have more than a snowball’s chance in hell. It’s not fair, but that’s how things are, and we’d best learn to deal with it.

Many of us have a tendency to believe that you need to have that all-consuming dream or aspiration of doing something you ‘love’. Sure, you know you love it. What you need to know is if you can live without it if called upon to do so. Because if you can’t, that’s not a dream, it’s just a limitation. Purists will ask what the point is if you’re not living for something, or standing for something. You are. You’re living and standing for yourself. Your dreams and hopes and aspirations are intangible things that your mind and heart tell you to follow. You, on the other hand, are the real deal. If you stand for yourself, you’ll find a way out – in all likelihood, every single time. I have as much of a way to go to convince myself of this fact as perhaps you do, but neither you nor I have the option of giving up. Not as long as we live and breathe.

We put so much stress on expectations that others put upon us that we forget that we cannot keep everyone happy, and when expectations mount up, we begin to question ourselves, as to whether we’re good enough, or if there’s something lacking. There may very well be something that’s missing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to change. Unless of course, we don’t take the pains to try. Fear of change? In some things, yes; in others, not. But until we learn to differentiate between the two, this morass is all we’ll get. A rut you’re stuck in isn’t always just a rut – most often it’s just a lack of the patience that you need to be able to properly plan and execute a move that makes sure that you you’re able to get out of it without sliding back in.

Where do we fail? Where do we give up and say this is all? I’d like to believe it is where we expect more than we ought to out of ourselves and from the world around. There will always be detriments to everything we do. Half of us live in fear of not being able to pull it off, while the other half lives with the regret of having tried and failed. How many of us go in all the directions that would make sense, and give ourselves a chance to live fuller lives? And how many of us let that constant fear of failing at this or that or the other literally affect the decisions we take, and the way we play out this existence we’ve landed up with? Wouldn’t it just make better sense to get up in the morning and say “I am happy today” and not care about yesterday or tomorrow at all?

It’s not easy. But it’s life. One day at a time is all we get, and what matters is not where we’ll be 5 years from now. It’s whether we can thank the universe for where we are this day, who we are with and what we have, before we go to sleep. And if you can come to terms with the real you – the person you see in the mirror but do not *really* look at – you’ll sleep a little more at peace with yourself.

The Vanquished

Spend your every moment being denied the dream you dreamed

Know that what you wanted the most shall remain incomplete

Your ambitions, of simple bent and purpose strong

Your reasons misunderstood, your aims dubbed wrong

The hope you had of meeting a purpose unfulfilled, unmet

Will twist and turn and burn and die

And you will still not learn to relent

 

Like every loser in battles fought, victory, each of them had sought

And what cruel twist may the world have wrought, leaving their memory a mere blot

The winner shall get glory, and the accompanying spoils

The ones who lost shall receive mere mention, this return for their toil

Ecstatic the world shall remain, of glories yet alive

And you shall still not learn to repent

 

A thousand crimes have come and gone, a thousand yet remain

You will fight and you will fall, and die and still retain

A smattering of applause from a chosen few

In future they shall know, as in the past they knew

A feat of arms, this life, spent in the blink of an eye

Glory was not meant for you, but you shall still abide

And the world shall yet learn, of clashing swords glinting sun

And you shall for eternity, remain alive

 

For we persist, we are still here

Living, and sometimes breathing the rank smell of fear

The banner you bore, the armor you wore

Lives yet in some hearts, for evermore

And we know, this, your titian blood flown

Are the tears of your dreams, now cast in stone

 

This fear may die, or it may live

But we shall not yet forget or forgive

For in the odds you fought, you stood yet firm

Even the favoured victor may yet squirm, and cry

To remember your cold flash of steel, the fire in your eyes

This is our promise, of men much like you

If lose we must, then we will, fall victim to the victor’s kill

But to the last man standing, a solemn oath

We have learnt our lesson, and fight we will

 

For no cause is lost, one that is fought for

With hope and true belief in mighty hearts

The world shall judge as it always does

But in honour, if not in glory, we will embrace the dust.

[I’ve always read poets and authors singing paeans of praise for every victor in history, while the defeated are given mere footnotes. For some strange reason, this entire denial of what the defeated stood for – perhaps at times for ideals even greater than what the victors came to fight for, seems, for the sake of reflection,  important to me. This is a result of that thought. In a way, this was brought on by the sentiment captured in a quote by a man who died fighting for his country. And while that war was won, many others were not. But sometimes, an ideal is bigger than anything else. The quote follows:

“Some goals are so worthy, it’s glorious even to fail” ~ Capt Manoj K. Pandey, PVC (Posthumous)]

Words

Write those words. That’s your only release. Beyond time, space and all that stands between you and what you wish and hope and pray for. You’ve probably not seen it all, but you have seen what has probably mattered. It has shaped who you are, and how you came to be this way. You know that there have been times when in moments that were as close to perfection as they could get, there was always a minuscule void somewhere. And you took recourse to those words to fill that void.

Every moment you live and breathe, you’re fighting something or the other. Worry, anger, a fear of slipping into sadness over things that you can’t change. These words, the ones you write, are your way of discovering the tiny, and yet so very important, bits that you can change and mold in a manner that fits into those jagged edges of the life you have created for yourself. And take it another little step closer to being complete.

You’ve taken your calls, you’ve made your choices – sometimes with due consideration to what others may have expected of you, but most of the time by following your mind or heart or whatever else told you that you were right. It doesn’t matter if you were. What matters is believing it, and doing it, so that you leave no room for regret.

You’ve come quite a way. You’ve still got quite a way to go. And you’re moving – walking, running, stumbling, falling, and yet, inexorably moving.  Write those words. They are your strength – sometimes being little drops of poison you’ve actively expunged from your body and soul, sometimes being the flowing water that cushions your falls, but mostly, these words are your friends. The ones you create yourself. The ones that will always endure.

Mumbai Local

That girl over there. Heading home from work. She’s newly married. The mehendi’s still fresh on her hands, along with those bangles, which certainly don’t suit her jeans and t-shirt clad frame, but all the more apparent for it. Maybe she’s married to a guy who’s already reached home and dinner’s ready for her.

That man over there. Glancing through that newspaper, finally getting the time to catch up on what’s happening in the world at large. He has to worry about his own world first. Two grown children, in perhaps a one room apartment somewhere in the suburbs. His mind is caught up, between his hectic, taxing job, his son’s mediocre grades and concerns for his daughter’s marriage at some point in the future.

That lady over there, dozing off every now and then and then waking back up because she doesn’t want to miss her station. She probably has to go home and cook for her family too. And more likely than not, despite the grumbles of household chores after a day of work, she probably wants to do just that – give her family a decent meal, switch the lights off after her kids have gone to bed, and turn in for the night.

That teenaged boy over there, hanging onto one of the handrails near the door. Between his job as a waiter at some hotel in the city, and a bunch of quarrelling roommates at a his small dormitory in some forsaken corner of the outskirts, the breeze on his face is his small measure of freedom in a city that takes it out of him every day.

This guy, observing all this, heading to a friend’s place for a night over, with dinner and drinks and music and good cheer, before he heads back home to the nearby town the next day – he can’t forget his days in this city. Because there was a time when, as with the people he’s observing, this city brought him down to his knees, and then taught him to stand on his own two feet.

It’s never perfect, ever. But what it is, perhaps, is fair to everyone, in some measure or the other. This city is usually a place where one seeks to make his own fortune, and in some measure or the other, most do – even if they don’t realize it in the rush of their lives. The fortunes of that man and that lady are their children. The fortune of that newly married girl is the promise of a wonderful life ahead with someone she loves, and building a world of her own. The fortune of that young boy is probably the joy of sending money home to his family, back in the village, where his mother can send his younger siblings to school.

Every face here has a story, and each one, as different in circumstances as they may be, are the same in what counts. A quiet resilience, and an unabated hope. Every face here is the reflection of many lives, and it is because of these faces and the stories behind them that this city lives, in actions and hopes and dreams.

That holiday

That hitting the road to see a new place, to discover new things.

That touristy feeling of holding the camera at arm’s length and taking pictures of yourself.

That coming across a signboard with horrible grammar, and the subsequent uncontrollable guffawing.

That feeling of wonder at seeing centuries of history right there, and taking photos for posterity.

That rushing to a different city, because a friend needs to catch a flight.

That unexpected concert in the evening, out of the blue.

That feeling of finally meeting a friend, and making new acquaintances.

That late night tour of a brightly lit city you’ve seen for the first time.

That getting home late, tired and going to sleep early, surprising even yourself.

That dragging yourself out of bed at 10 after promising you’d wake up at 8.

That actual waking up with a cup of tea, then realising how late you are.

That planning for the day, knowing full well that all plans will be shot to hell.

That walking tour of the city, each moment replete with new discoveries.

That wonderful moment when you realise you’re forming a bond with a place and its people.

That running around to buy something you won’t get anywhere else, and getting a shut shop open to get it.

That planning to meet up with other friends, and having the original plan blown out of the water.

That trepidation of getting people to where they perhaps don’t want to be.

That ride uphill for a view that no one in the group will ever forget.

That thrill of realising there’s more, and heading towards an even more wonderful sight.

That satisfaction of having done all you could, seeing all you could have, in the limited time you have.

That familiar feeling of being with friends, at the end of a tiring day.

That peace of rolling into a late-night joint for food, and gorging on local delicacies.

That fun of hitting the highway for an after-dinner spin.

That guilty laughter on hearing an innuendo-laden song on the radio.

That sudden realisation that there’s work after this, and then silently telling the world, “Bring it on!”.

That strange, early morning craving for streetside food, which, once eaten, will be talked about for ages.

That knowledge at the back of the mind that these few days aren’t enough.

That pulling up a little short of the airport, sharing a last snack with a friend.

That promise to yourself, that you’ll be back as soon as you can make it.

That holiday.