The story is always there!

I haven’t written much frequently in the last 3 years. I blame having nothing to write about apart from the misery of the world and the personal drama. For a long time, I thought there was nothing ‘happening’ around me. So finally took a step, and decided to venture outside my 4 walls to see what the world is dealing with. And what I saw, in a single day, are all worth pages of stories each. Let me summarize today, so that one of these days when I have nothing to write, I have something to brood on.

  1. Scene 1 – a vaccine centre in urban Kerala. Sparingly crowded, with enough and more frontline staff taking care of the entire arrangement. And then I notice, the crowd is almost fully elderly. Not surprising since free vaccinations are mostly for the 60+ age bracket. But what struck me is how all of they were alone. One or two couples, one or two with a bystander. But most of them, alone. For a vaccine that keeps them safe from a fatal virus. But, alone.
  2. Scene 2 – a town bus stand in urban Kerala. I enquire bus timings and walk away as I was running late. But the driver reminds me he is my best bet and assures to reach my destination in time. And he does. Drives safe, but keeps his schedule. Kerala private bus? Oh yes, I was surprised too.
  3. Scene 3 – an office reception in the heart of a Kerala city. I rush in with my share of food delivery (juice for the scorching heat). The guy at the reception insists I try out his food recommendations. Casually mentions vaccination, Covid deaths and how he lost his family members. Casually? Is he over it? Or is he just too much in denial?
  4. Scene 4 – security guard at the office reclined on a sofa. The building is empty except for me and him. Is cctv all that’s making me feel safe? Or is it his occasional checks on me? Or is it his taking away the earphones as I approach the door? Or is it just his greeting and enquiring if I’d be there the next day?
  5. Scene 5 – an auto rickshaw in urban Kerala. The mobile app is screwed and I am struggling to make him understand how to ‘fully’ quit an app and reopen it. App lights up and we begin our journey. Visibly distant to conversations I initiate, he looks new to the city, with his distinct slang. I get down a bit too away from home so that he finds his way out of the maze quickly. I explain the route and walk home. And I turn back to see him still parked where he dropped me off. I walk again and turn back again. He is still there till I take the last turn and out of his sight. Then I hear him accelerate and go his way. Was he looking out?

Patriarchy and misogyny

I casually throw these words away in friendly conversations with my people. Sometimes jokingly, sometimes desperately trying to hide the hurt with a joke. I understand I am not entirely fair in throwing these words around so easily. But, it just makes life a bit easier to hide under these blanket statements than pinpoint this person or that incident.

Patriarchy. We are all victims and survivors of it. Men, women, others. Young, old and ‘lost in the middle’. You, me and them. But often, the grand layer of privilege helps you look beyond it. Privilege of money, people and freedom lets you move forward and leave it all behind. But yet, once in a while, it creeps up through tiny crevices and hits you before you know it. Misogyny soon follows and drowns you in a pool of guilt and helplessness. That’s not to say we are bunch of helpless clueless beings. But when the blow comes from unexpected directions, it’s only naturally you fall and struggle.

Very evidently, this blog has been all about me and my experiences and how I perceive life. This is also one such, but I am unusually hesitant to write this down. It brings me shame and sorrow to quote people from my life this way. But I need this to be off my chest. So here it goes. Fair disclaimer: none of these is immediate family/friends. Phew!

  1. Doesn’t matter what you achieve or do. A woman is a burden to the family. ‘It’ needs to be unloaded onto another family through marriage.
  2. You will be defended and protected because we care about you. But only as long as you abide by the ‘rules’ we lay down for you. Else you are an outcast. An immoral woman.
  3. You may be 30 or 50. You better check with ‘family’ before you decide what to do with the money you earned. Oh this credit card? No, that’s not for you. Why would we waste our time trying to sell it to you!
  4. You may be on the right track, driving abiding to rules of the road. Bang! But that accident is all because of you. Why did the men of the house ‘let’ you drive?!
  5. Okay, let’s say the mistake is on both sides. But now if we go to the police, it’d be ‘uncomfortable’ for you. So let’s just say your male family was driving, and not you. 17 year old teen boy would also be okay, just not you.

The list doesn’t end, but let’s just stop with top 5 for now. So is the blame all on the world and none on me? Absolutely not. There a lot of times I have played the ‘woman card’ and got of annoying insurance/loan representatives. Many times when I have been over protective and unnecessarily worried about a female family member or friend. I have enjoyed a childhood favourite movie overlooking the spewing misogyny. It’s one step at a time to break this century old thoughts and ideologies. One step at a time.

Katha kettutha…

Katha kettutha.. – the words echoing in my ears for a month now. Did you hear the story? That’s the literal meaning of it. But the depth and profoundness of those words are unfathomable to me. Every time he asks if I ‘heard the story’ , there is a great deal of wisdom, love and thrill in his words. The undying spirit of a man eager to live life to its fullest. The man who’s only a memory now. But his words and his stories are etched forever in my thoughts.

So he died. Big deal. People die. Hundreds of thousands of people do. A hundred lives passed as I typed this sentence, all over the world. But when it’s close home, that’s when it halts the world. It was unexpected now. He was doing good, going by his life and taking care of ammammai, and watching over all of us. But I wouldn’t say it’s out of nowhere. He was old. And I thought he was dying a decade ago when he was hospitalised. Somehow with a certain age, you think people are ‘die-able’. And he was in that category. More than anyone else, he was the one who made peace with it the most. He wrote down his obituary, funeral arrangements, last wishes, and namesake will of all his and his wife’s belongings to the last detail. Neatly folded the document and entrusted with my dad for safekeeping, only to be presented when the ‘time’ comes. Without exaggeration, I literally wrote down his exact words with some fillers for his own obituary in the newspapers. I couldn’t believe I was doing so but did that without a thought anyway. Thatha never stops to awe you, never ever. He was a meticulous man, even in death.

It’s been exactly a month now. Am I seeking closure? A week ago when I started writing this, closure is what I sought. From the time of hearing the news, until this moment, I can’t stop hearing he asking me ‘katha kettutha’. Through the rites, I hardly cried. I was in a trance, shocked by this voice in my head. It felt like there are more stories he wanted to say, more memories he had to share and more about him that we all had to know. With time, of course the voice is fading. And that’s when I realized what I seek is not closure. What I seek is for his memory to stay with me. Not once a year during thavasham. Not when I taste a food he liked, or when I hear his name, or see ammammai. I want to bear him in my thoughts as a constant. A random story he once said, his mannerisms, his appearance, the ring he never let me have but always let me try steal..

I thought seeing ammammai without pottu would be the most heartbreaking thing after. It is the empty arm chair and the missing ring to steal that kill me though. It’s not what he was to others, it is who he was. S. Narayanan.

Perils of an empty head!

Being stupid is perilous? Being called an idiot. Being taken advantage of. Being easily skipped over. It must be a hard life being stupid aka an empty head. Then again, how would I know. I am not stupid. But the head is almost empty. Barely some strands of hair and that’s it. And that’s usual for my age, totally. But then it was not a big huge deal for me for a really long time.

It was a weird feeling though. People would just randomly start staring at my baldness mid-conversation and just wouldn’t stop. That was very awkward. You’d relate better if you are woman when I say this. You know those instances when someone’s gaze would travel down your neck and stop further down at an uncomfortable angle. Well, I had the twin challenge. I had to resist people’s eyes wandering neither north nor south of my face. Trust me that’s an absolute challenge with an average face! It’s not like people get caught in their trails with ‘looks’!

People would eventually stare and offer their condolences for my ‘passed’ hair strands. Some offer oil prescriptions on the go. Some offer exuberant hair therapies. And there was this one lady at the railway station once, couple of years ago. She offered to make an offering to a local ‘hair-specialist’ goddess for my sake. That warmth indeed shook me, and I am pretty sure I have already written about her. Apart from some rare crazy moments, it’s mostly an annoying experience to hear people lament about hair.

Lately, have been feeling bad about it myself. Probably because it’s all locked down and there aren’t much people to whine over my hair, that I thought it’s my turn now. I could use some more hair perhaps!

P. S. All references of self-loathing should be ignored as side effects of having too much time to stare at the mirror, even while on office calls. It’s all about working things out from home after all.

A conversation

Person:
Why can’t all people be equally happy or equally sad?

Why are some more happy and some more sad?

Another person:
I guess that’s an eternal question that doesn’t have a solution.

It’s also similar to asking why are some people rich and some poor.

Disparity is rooted in humanity.

In material and immaterial attributes.

Wealth, happiness and what not!

Person:
Beauty is in disparity is such a cringing statement that I can’t stop uttering.

Another person:
Isnt it not?

What drives us to live?

Desire?

Where does desire come from?

Disparity.

If all of us live unhappily, or equally happily, what do we look upto? What makes us live for the next day?

Person:
Yeah, that’s what I meant. But we can say that philosophically because we are on the other side of the equal.

Another person:
Yes.

Person:
It’s simple. When problem hits us, it stops being beautiful in disparity.

Another person:
Disparity is not really beautiful or ugly.

It is merely something that exists. And could be a root cause of all human existence.

Exactly like ego.

Without ego, there is no humanity.

These are some abstract constructs that keeps us alive.

Desire is driven by despair. Despair is driven by ego. God knows what ego is driven by. Our human nature?

Person:
😊

Person:
Some equals are more equal than some other.

How (un)fortunate!

So this weird thing happened today. Mom was upset about something in the family. And she was loudly retrospecting on why does this happen to us alone. Me, not okay with mom feeling bad about anything, immediately pitched in on how it is not just for us. Things go wrong for everyone and we just don’t get to know since its private. Tada, did my part and I was ready to move on from the topic. Out of nowhere, my sister weighed in her perspective of things and elaborated my point with some neighborhood stories of similar experiences. And mom seemed visibly calmer. Maybe because she realised our point is valid and began to share the perspective. Or maybe because she was surprised about how her daughters are all grown up. I’m not sure what she thought. But I personally am quite proud of how insightful my sister has grown up to be. Last I checked, she was just a kid!

Off topic, if you feel bad about how 2020 has made your life horrible and feel miserable, take a deep breath and close your eyes. Now think of all those 2020 desk calendars eating dust on the locked up office tables. With no one to flip their leaf and with no realisation of life’s purpose! How does that make you feel now? A tiny bit better is the right answer. 😉

Janaki ammoomma

Janaki bhai. Or Janaki ammoomma? She made a transition to and fro between the two. She came into my life as my pseudo-nanny. She didn’t really baby-sit me, but picked me up from kindergarten and walked me to a day-care nearby. I’d spend my evening with Valsala ammoomma till dad came to pick me up. Valsala ammoomma had many kids my age to cater to, and an assistant, Mani chechi. By the time I reach the day-care, everyone would be up, having their evening snacks. Mani chechi would play with us for a while and soon leave, as the kids start leaving. One by one, all of them would leave, and it’d be just me and Valsala ammoomma. She’d then take me to her home adjacent to the day-care. I’d watch her make tea and crush the areca nut, layer the tobacco and make a cute betel leaf pocket with a touch of slaked lime. It is a beautiful sight to watch her meticulously prepare the murukkaan (paan’s Kerala version). Then she’d offer me a piping hot cup of tea to relish. I was hesitant initially, mostly because tea was a new thing and I was worried if parents wouldn’t approve of it. Mind you, I was barely 5. But when I finally took the cup, I tasted the most exquisite ‘chaaya‘ and the taste still lingers in my tongue. Every ‘good’ chaaya ever since takes me back to Valsala ammoomma’s kitchen and the kitchen doorway where I sat watching the bustling traffic. Memories like these come with a tinge of loss and a lot of happiness.

That was an unplanned digression. But one is incomplete without the other. Back to Janaki ammoomma, somewhere in the middle of all these, she got promoted as a house help for my working mom. As kindergarten came to an end and when day-care was not very exciting, I started coming back home to Janaki ammoomma who waited for me at the door. She’d clean and I’d watch TV, and she’d keep me company till parents come. Things changed when sister came into the scene and I grew old enough to be home alone. Amidst and beyond all of that, some things haven’t changed. The memory of she running to reach home lest I be alone, the rare occasions where the ‘auto chettan’ who picked me up from school picked her up too, panting and running on her way to our home. Her overgrown mole in the middle of her chin, her frail build, her rough hands that used to hold my hand walking from school to the day-care, her alcoholic son, and most of all her calling me “Soumyakkutty…”!

P.S. Ammoomma is Malayalam for grandma.

Tears make you…

Strong, or weak? It’s a debated topic. Boys shouldn’t cry, men shouldn’t show their weakness and so on. Sometimes it’s beyond gender. Crying is somehow always associated with weakness and fragility. It’s weird though, that the other extreme of emotions aren’t associated with weakness or vulnerability. If you ask me, I think a person is the most vulnerable when they are angry. Of course, crying is perhaps the saddest phase, but anger is when you have no control on your words, your body language, your psyche as such. Anger is when you say things you wouldn’t have said otherwise, anger is when you lose your mind – anger is your vulnerability. When you cry, you expose your vulnerability, of course. So do you, when you are angry. The difference is, one vulnerability is exploited in favour of others but not necessarily against you, and the other vulnerability is almost always exploited against your own interests. When in tears, you might agree to give away half your wealth to someone empathizing with you. But in anger, you might just end up breaking the most expensive vase you bought last week. Without having to explain, wealth and the vase are all just metaphors and not literally about their physical worth. I always fear being exploited in a way that I lose something cherished, than someone else gaining something from me. But again, I cry as often as I lose my temper and throw stuff around (atleast inside my head!). It’s a balance most people struggle to establish. I would totally like to say crying makes you stronger, but that could be very one-sided since I don’t know how strong you get without crying. One thing I can, however, is that anger makes you equally fragile and weak in the knees. Should we not start a saying that ‘Boys shouldn’t be angry’? Perhaps, take out the gender and rephrase – ‘People who make it are people who start with inner balance!’

Lessons in Forgetting

Kavitha kurikkuvan kaminiyayi, omanikkan ente makalayi,

Valsalyamekuvan ammayayi, nervazhikattunna thozhiyayi,

Pinneyen jeevante spandanam polum nin

Swararaga layabhava thalamayi. Arinjathalle nee arinjathalle…

Ninakkai… Aadyamai… Ormakkai.. . iniyoru sneha geetham!

I was probably 10-12 years old when East Coast Vijayan released his music album series – Ninakkai, Aadyamai, Ormakkai, Swantham (For you, For the first time, For remembrance, Yours truly). Music albums had only started being a ‘thing’ then, atleast in Malayalam. Despite how long it has been, I find myself humming these lines quite randomly even today. The image of the hero and heroine of the album and their poetic love have made a very deep memory in my mind. Though I’ve relished many other romantic poems and versatile lyricists, East Coast Vijayan and his trio series pop out of nowhere every time. Being the first has such lasting impressions. It is just not about music for me. I seem to remember an unnecessary load of things from the past that I just can’t get rid of. I remember my first (and only) dentist, first hospitalisation, first time of hearing about someone’s death, first burn, first conversation with my longest standing friend (it has been 24 years), first news of heartbreak (I very clearly remember how my mom broke the news to me – that I won’t be the only apple of their eyes – that’s 20 years again). Just too many of first time memories – all well before I was 10 or 12. There’s nothing really wrong about remembering things. I remember the good and the bad equally – from random conversations to life altering moments. But I wish a part of it just fades away. I don’t want to feel the pang of nostalgia every time I hear a music, see a person, be at a place or notice the date. Ah dates – don’t even get me started! You remember your birthday. Family’s. Friends’. Significant other’s. Some anniversaries. Some deaths. Maybe some more. Do you remember the birthday of a colleague you worked with barely for a year? Do you remember the anniversary of your distant cousin? Death anniversary of a relative you never really knew? Naming ceremony of your neice? Birthdays of classmates whose faces you’ve forgotten? Well, I do. And that is such a painful experience. You remember it’s special for someone today, but you don’t even care about it sometimes. It is an ugly reminder of some memories from the past and some people you’ve lost on the way. It’s just a memory of your memories.

By no means does this mean that I’ve a stellar memory. I forget routine stuff like a normal person. I can’t find a book I read and cherished just a year ago. I misplaced the title ‘Lessons in Forgetting’ by Anita Nair and it’s frustrating!

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How do you use your social media? Do you regret using it too much? Do you feel like you aren’t using it enough? I am not sure if these are thoughts everyone would relate to. People don’t deeply think about their social media usage patterns. Duh, that’s such a pointless exercise! But then, there could be a select few like me who just can’t stop overthinking. Lately, I’ve been analysing how I use this medium. Well, I’m not particularly bothered by the extent of usage because I’m on very select platforms only. What got me thinking was the abundance of content around me. I’m fairly active on Twitter, but there is no mention about any political affiliation, any social issue or any other ‘trending’ discussions in my profile. It is a quite space for myself, where I share my musings, my tiny random thoughts and follow things that are of importance to me. Not ‘tweeting’ about something doesn’t mean I’m in support of it, or I’m against it, or worst yet, that I’m ignorant about it. By ‘I’, I mean a tiny set of people who don’t comment about every single thing around us, but still live a full social life. There’s this one particular Twitter handle I’ve been following for some years. It was a contact through a Tech conference and I see regular updates from that person on tech alone. And once in a while about personal life, but never about the ‘alarming’ social issues. That has been my happiest part of the Twitter feed ever since. It feels good to have fresh thoughts to relish, breaking the monotony. I am not very vocal about my political opinions generally. It is not because I don’t have a stand, but because enough and more being discussed already. The deluge of opinions and comments about everything under the Sun (of course, above it too) – it is causing a rampage in the cyber space. Each one of us have our rights to express, I agree. But do we have to execute it as a duty shoved onto us? Too many are speaking, yet too less is heard. Listening is so underrated after all.