The ’30 under 30′ list!

At one point or the other, do we not all want to be in some kind of list? List of students who move on to the next class in school. List of students who got into the prestigious college. List of people who can buy land in Mars. List of people who survived an accident. List of people who would make it through one more day. Endless lists of endless things. Endless feats. 30 under 30, 40 under 40, 50 under 50… but why? Lists give you a sense of accomplishment. Ticking every item, striking off each accomplishment – a list is a definitive way of measuring success at a personal level. Impersonal lists may or may not be definitive, but they still are a means to see how far you have reached.

Sometimes I wonder how cool would it be to be actually featured in some ’20 under 20′ or ’30 under 30′ list. It would feel super amazing I suppose. 20 under 20 is gone and 30 under 30 is also slowly slipping away. Never mind though. 40s and 50s are right there intact. Okay, now it sounds very weird. It’s almost like I believe there has been any such actual accomplishment in life. To clear things up, that wasn’t quite the intention of this intro. I am only trying to put my thoughts about lists and their relevance in our lives.

You and I – we all have lists. From grocery to daily to-dos – the list of lists is endless. Do you often wonder how these lists take control of our lives? Marking things on it and striking them off are so satisfying, aren’t they? The feeling of accomplishment of something. And it is all that we all live for. Some mental lists, some paper lists, some unwritten lists – reminders on the things to chase for. It is fascinating how aimless one feels without a list of action items. What happens to free will and thinking on the feet? Oh well, they do exist. But almost always enveloped by a big picture of some bucket list or to- do.

There were times in life when I had more than 3 to-do planners. With groups and folders and RAG status and what not. I still have some of those kind. But all of them are for work. I’m too scared to keep one for myself these days. It just feels like a blaring proclamation of my failure to strike things off them. Or some such weird thought. And lost in that fear and uncertainty, I guess I’m just missing out on some really fulfilling moment of life. Exactly like so many other moments in life.

P. S. This is a writing I’ve been working on for some months now. With many interruptions and excuses, I managed to delay this forever to be published. Ironically, this one strikes one thing off my ‘not-written- down’ list – write away with an endless expanse of ocean outside the window! Last word written exactly in time before my last day with this view – oddly satisfying!

The Tamarind Shade

‘This is the last batch from here’, said father, tossing in the final jackfruit into the trunk. Inching to probe why, I retracted my words as an afterthought. It’d only pave way to another round of blaming. How much I don’t care about the construction, how I’m not paying attention to its details and on and on it’d go. Why else would I not remember that the jackfruit tree is going down to make room for the Vaastu appropriate kitchen! Sigh!

Decades later, that scene still stays fresh in memory. The chopping down of the tree, starting of the construction – I wasn’t there for any of it. It was only way after the completion of the house did I even come back home. But for some unknown reason, that random conversation and a vague memory of the ‘plot’ linger.

Sitting down in this tamarind’s shade, I feel connected to this strange land and place. Like it was never so strange or unbeknownst. Life has always been full of gratitude for me. Many things to be grateful for and many people to thank. Appumash tops my list of people to be grateful to. Ironic enough, I’d perhaps never thank him for I’ve never really known or met him. A wandering soul in an ottamundu ( ‘a slightly dignified version of a loincloth) that I spot once in a while in the neighborhood. That’s all I knew of the man. But as I learnt that he is the one throwing tantrums and standing against the slaying of my tamarind shade, there grew a new sense of kinship with the nameless soul. And I learnt he has a name – Appumash – as a memory to be grateful for, forever.

After all, it is just a tamarind tree, isn’t it? What’s there to be grateful for a tree? One could say nature’s balance, sustainability and global warming or whatsoever. But it’d be far from the truth. I do not possess such great visions for the future of the world or concern for our existence. Neither would Appu mash have them, I presume.

A companion in my solitary afternoons. The majestic branches arching over the house as a shade. And the fond memory of mother cribbing about the fallen
leaves that ruin the yard. And father dividing and distributing ripe tamarinds to everyone who pass by. That is what the tamarind holds for me. An image of my past, a shoulder in the present and a hope for the future.

But is it also the darkness that takes away our share of the sun and the moon? Does it not appear as haunting hands through the windows? One could view it, in all its vicious and dark shades. But to my eyes, it is a magnanimous tree in the brightest phase of my life, being my shade and shelter.

After every withering autumn, I wonder if it’d ever turn green again. With its luscious green, isn’t it protecting my soul more than what I could ever do to save its existence? Somewhere then, a tree becomes more than just the shade as it embraces you and holds you tight to its roots.

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.

To New Beginnings!

These days have been about masks and PPEs. All in an attempt to protect ourselves from an unknown (do we know it yet, really?) enemy. The way I see it, what came in handy with these masks is the fall of facades. There’s no compulsion to smile broadly, or acknowledge an acquaintance. Not even an attempt to hide a frown. The mask does it all for you. The ease of covering up all that you feel or forced to express. Does sound like a blessing in disguise, doesn’t it?


The above is a write-up from a while ago when Covid-19 was still ‘news’. Somehow, I was convinced to find a silver-lining even in those dark times (maybe not entirely silver – let’s settle with bronze!). Over the past few months, however, the wave of optimism died a slow painful death. Work was growing beyond acceptable limits, friends grew further away with almost no see and less talk – life was stalling in short. When all else fails, you turn to family. But for me, that also failed when they threw my fancy dinner suggestion out of the window. So yeah, New Year’s Eve is a complete flop. Rather, it almost was. And suddenly, it rained! And in that instant, everything changed for me. The drizzle, the fragrance of the earth and the gentle breeze! New year is always new hope, no matter how clichéd it may sound. Happy New Year! To new beginnings!

The transience of time,
The newness of each moment,
The lingering hope of each dream,
And a will to chase them all.
That’s what I wish for the year,
For you, for me, forever.

The light is inviting

White gown and the lavender lillies,
The long trail and my flower girls.

The brown shade of drying mehendi,
And my own troupe of dancing gala.

The turmeric paste and the saffron bindi,
And my flowery garlands and the three knots.

The well-begun tale of my dreams,
And the ill-fated days that followed.

Says every men and women,
Embracing the halves that make them better.

Like yet another fly and its drawing to the light.

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.

Depression

Depression is a very loosely used term. People don’t mostly understand the full meaning and scope of the word and throw it around so randomly. As an onlooker, it hurts to see that happening. The more cliched it becomes, lesser is its impact on the listener and the gravity of the situation gets lost. Depression is not merely a mental state. It is a disease that cripples life itself. You losing a loved one, not landing the dream job or being heartbroken in love doesn’t necessarily make you depressed. What you experience then is sorrow, sadness and despair. Some days, weeks or months pass by and you pull yourself together and move on. But if you try your best to get past it but cannot even bring yourself to rise from the bed, that is when you suffer from depression. When no amount of positivity can help you, when you break down in the middle of the night for reasons you can’t understand, when you lose the drive to just be – that’s when you are depressed. You sneeze one random time or catch a common cold – you wouldn’t proclaim you are suffering from COVID right? Every passing sorrow or a phase of grief shouldn’t be associated to depression for the very same reasons. The last thing you’d want to do to a loved one is to make it more difficult for them to open up, just by trivializing the term ‘depression’.

P. S. Above are my thoughts from experiences in person, through others’ experiences and some random reading. By no means do I intent to define the term ‘depression’ or limit its depth. You never know the full story unless you are a part of it.

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!