I often get asked questions about marriage. My mother gets asked these questions more, since she is more accessible than I am. She provides more gracious answers than I would. She has more patience with the vice of prurience than I do. I think it might be easier if she didn’t have the patience and if she could merely ask them to sod off, instead of attempting to please everyone with vague replies speaking of the vague future. Why would it matter now to please anyone, after living for a very long while with a tapestry of love, loss and grief that is too cumbersome for most to look at?

It is easier to live having never had, than to live having lost. You can covet in an abstract and fairytale manner what you haven’t had. On the other hand, when you think of what you’ve had and lost, then the regret and grief is all-consuming. And sometimes, mourning the loss of the living is harder and messier than mourning the loss of the dead.

I remember what it is like to be wrapped in petals of safety (you were my safe house, painted royal blue and white), and my life would have been bleak without. It was bleak without, later. I remember what it felt like to be under the monsoon skies, drinking in the sight of verdant green clashing with drenched royal blue and white. I remember crying, inconsolably, when I crossed the ocean.

It is, usually, not the passion that ruins. It is the aftermath. It is the parting, the loss, the mourning. For the longest time, I could not look at stained glass windows, royal blue curtains and rooks without remembering. Everything was a paltry stand-in for the revered. Memory is a knife that strikes deep when your daily life is unpleasant.

The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.

I know how the flowers felt as the rain and the winds smote them. Mine was a life akin to that, for the longest while, as I circled like a bird in a storm, often buffeted by gales, until I was drawn into a lighthouse.

Life is not a song, even now, and likely never shall be. I have a lighthouse, though, and that is more than what I had hoped to have.

I remember wandering under Emory’s trees, crunching the red carpet of fallen leaves underneath my feet, mourning the ruins of my life, imploring some alien providence to have mercy. I’d like to walk under the autumn awning again, after a few years, when I finally have sorted out a few malingering aspects of my life and livelihood, and then whisper a prayer of gratitude to whatever providence decided to grant mercy.

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I have, with usual flair, managed to find a conveniently located cafe with internet and tolerable coffee. It is a good ten-minute walk from the apartment, allowing me a sun-soaked, leisurely weekend amble drinking in the sights of our neighborhood.

There is startling diversity in the patrons of that cafe. Today, stood ahead of me in the queue for coffee an elderly man. He courteously ordered his coffee (plain with a dash of milk) and then handed over coins. The barista fumbled, unused to customers paying in money. Credit and debit cards are the norm here.

The customer remarked, as he watched the barista trying to count the coins, “Do you still take American money?”

He seemed curious in his honesty and I sensed no bitterness. The barista apologized profusely for her slowness and offered him coffee on the house. He tried to decline that, but the barista insisted.

Later, as we waited for our coffees, he struck up a conversation with me.

He mentioned that Mountain View had changed so much from back when he had been a young boy. He did not resent the changes, he said, as he liked the internet and the other advantages that technology brought him.
~~~

I had chanced to see Evan Rachel Wood in a video with Marilyn Manson [Heart-shaped glasses]. I thought she looked quite beautiful, and investigated. I found out that she was an actress, and on IMDB I found the films she had starred in. One caught my curiosity – Mildred Pierce, where she shares the screen with Kate Winslet. Being quite found of Kate Winslet’s acting and curves both, and curious about Evan Rachel Wood, and more curious about how this re-adaptation compared against the first adaptation of Mildred Pierce with Joan Crawford, I decided to watch the telefilm. I liked Winslet’s acting and I found Evan Rachel Wood a compelling Veda. I thought my mother might like it, and sent her a copy. She liked the acting, but wasn’t very happy with the plot, especially towards the end.

~~~
A coworker has taken a shine to my car, and my mother finds it quite amusing. My room-mate too finds the episode of car-caressing hilarious.

~~~
I interview candidates often for my work area and I am saddened at the lack of resumes belonging to women that turn up on my desk. Is this because of the fear of lack of work-life balance? I believe it will be easier for a woman eventually to strike a balance between her pursuit of her career or causes and her role as a mother. I think that is not the reality now. I think more women need to go into STEM and stick to careers involving quantitative skills to make this reality change. I am the only female in the company working on something other than UI/UX or front end or sales or HR. I don’t think that these jobs require less work or skills. However, in choosing to stick to these as safe options, a woman might be foregoing other career paths (perhaps even easier ones). Sales is a very tough field, requiring investment of the same amount of time nearly everyday. Perhaps the initial investment required in terms of time might be higher in a STEM field, but after that it is generally a smoother improvement curve as you learn more from colleagues, and work, and become familiar with a subfield in depth while still retaining enough basic skills to be able to understand, and if necessarily make a shift, to related fields.

I don’t think that those who find no interest to pursue a STEM field should make the mistake of trying to pursue a STEM education. I do think that those who get scared of STEM fields by media hype or peers or family or society should give it a chance when they can.

~~~

A friend sent me a link to a Chinese translation of one of my earliest works of fiction. It made for quite a lovely morning to read the various comments on the thread. I also chanced to see another thread (thanks to the same friend) about the Sunbeam story. While there were a number of comments and discussion regarding the story, my favourite comment was: “This story embodies everything I love about reading. It takes me to the brink of a gapping gorge of emotions and tosses me over. It moves deep parts of my soul. It is what every piece of writing only wishes they could be, and yet so many fall short of.”

The story holds a place in my heart for the people I interacted with during its writing process. It was a difficult tale to write. I am glad to see that it still provides people with reading pleasure and occasionally food for thought.

~~~

I have wheels now. The past few days have been torn between the pleasure of cruising in a curvaceous, white beauty on wheels and the woe of another loan. The new acquisition makes me feel as if I finally own a piece of something material which has doors and can be locked. It seems nearly as momentous as the day when I was first kissed.

A few colleagues wanted to see the acquisition. One of them came and fondled the curves in an obscene manner, weirding out the rest of the company. The 101 is still a painful commute, but I think I mind it less now.

I got my hair cut. After a long time. It looks quite short now. I avoid looking at it.

My brother is in his final year of engineering. God, time flies! I suspect my mother will groan a lot when his classmates start getting married while I still flutter around unwed.

I was busy all week trying to fix a few financial issues, in a bid to start making good on promises. I can’t say that the outcome is as pleasing as it could have been, but I won’t complain and will try to give it a while before attempting anew.

I think I need one of those thin, summer-cardigans. They are useful indoors to keep the cold out and they aren’t too much of an encumbrance when running about outside. I don’t know if I can persuade myself to brave a shop and the chaos. Thank God for click-and-buys.

I am sore after multiple financial charges from Wells Fargo, who held my account for years, thanks to the virtue of their location by the Student Center of my alma-mater. I really need to get the account terminated. It has turned into a finance-charge churning machine over the last few weeks. I have been reluctant to actually step into a branch or call them on the phone, but I should get over that.

State of California hasn’t still been gracious enough to return my tax refund from last year. I had been a naive idiot who had actually factored their timely return of refund into my schemes. At this point, after multiple phone-calls that led nowhere and sending them truckloads of documentation, I am tempted to just give up.

Elisabeth sees the green dress bought after a long quest by her son (silk and green together seemed a hard find in this country) and promptly exclaims that I have grown fat enough to fill out the dress. I hold in my exasperation for all of a minute before her son exclaims the same, adding that he had never thought I’d manage to wear it any time soon without looking as if I’d drown in it. He also remarks with surprise that a year has gone by after the end of his internship here. I am not surprised that he hadn’t noticed it going by. It has been a difficult year for me, so I have been painfully aware of time’s passing in the last many months.

I have been thinking of the consequences of trying to have it all. In the context of relationships (friendships perhaps being the most illustrative case), I often see people trying to keep their friendships with two parties who might disagree vehemently over something, or with bad blood between them, without making choices (making choices is hard, sitting down and thinking whether party A or party B has the right of it is hard). I have little patience with most matters. Perhaps it is this failing of mine which causes me to write off people completely if they try to keep their relationship with me intact while still fostering relationships with those I have deep disagreements with. They pretend that everything is all right and continue pretending that as long as they can get away with it. Perhaps this is merely societal norm. Still, if I am involved, make a choice. I usually think better of you if you make a choice, even if it isn’t a choice favorable to me.

Berkeley is as beautiful as she stands in memory drawn from two years ago. She is full of treasures, just as I remember fondly. To have someone dear walk the shaded paths with me was to relive that solitary walk of discovery from 2012 again, as I felt in me freshness and reaffirmation of belief in the goodness of life. There is great beauty to be found in a place as Berkeley, regardless of whether you meander through her streets alone or with a companion. I remember Stanford as where I learned to dream high. I remember Berkeley as where I learned to hope.

I have been revisiting Dickens. I am reading his History of England now, and am quite overcome by the senselessness and cruelty of the human race in acts committed upon selves and others. We are born in better times, certainly, since we don’t live in the fear of being tormented, pillaged, quartered and murdered by both protectors and foes.

We have other fears. We fear the loans, we fear the tax rates, we fear blazing deaths or maiming on unsafe roads, we fear the possibilities of assault, theft and rape, and we fear a great many things besides. Many of these are fears that can be done away with. I find it difficult to fathom how we have advanced so far in the sciences, yet not succeeded in bringing down rates of crime. We study crime, in our ivory towers, where we plot graphs of correlation between various demographics and net criminal intent. We don’t seem to do much to end the crimes though.

I wonder if Modi will have success in India in bringing down the crimes against women. Women seem to be as precious to India as the Jews were to the old Kings of England. Very useful to have them around, for the assets, and very convenient to treat them callously, because you can.

Treatment of women. You hear the wise exhorting parents to teach their sons not to rape. I doubt that lesson is necessary. Anyone would go around pillaging the Treasury if there were no effective deterrents set in place to stop the pillaging. Condemning acts of crime and expressing condolences to victims and their families are poor substitutes for actual changes in policy to bring the crimes drastically down.

The lesson the parents need to teach their sons is not about rape being a bad thing to do. India, I think, does not have the need for that today. India does need parents to teach their children a different gender lesson though. The lesson they should try imparting upon their impressionable young children is about how people have a right to be treated fairly and with dignity, regardless of gender. If you make your sons feel that they are entitled to good women, if you make your daughters feel that all they can ever aspire to is being the wife of an accomplished man, you are doing something quite harmful to the society they will grow up to be a part of.

When I was in India, in an undergraduate college down in the south, and before that in a little town by the Western Ghats, I saw the sad charade first-hand. I saw the parents impressing upon little boys that they would be more than their sisters. I saw the little boys believing it, and growing up to be young men who believed it as well. I cannot remember a single man of my acquaintance who did not seem to think that he was God’s gift to any woman he deigned to pay attention to. Most men would be offended, mightily, if their attention was not returned. There were many who paid attention to me, and many who nursed resentment because I did not reciprocate, and many whose resentment turned to malice (after all, if you dared to not proffer me my rightful due of your attention, you can’t be a good woman). Then there were those men who resented a woman who thought, because that went against the core of their belief system (a woman does not think). There always are those men who hate success coming to a woman, regardless of the personal effort expended (how can a woman succeed as well as a man can? preposterous!).

As little boys from schools go to colleges, eve-teasing becomes acceptable, as do derogatory comments (after all, you are only a woman – a mostly hysterical, over-reacting creature not capable of much beyond looking pretty and validating my ability to select pretty things, and if you aren’t like this, you are a cold and stuck-up bitch, not a woman). I went to an abominably hopeless undergraduate college, where men thought it their right to often openly eve-tease and make derogatory comments about women in the same classes, while women took it meekly, and where most complaints were waved off under the blanket explanation of “boys will be boys”. I was quite relieved to leave that forsaken place.

The saddest thing, though, is that these men, well-educated though they might be, often don’t have the least idea as to what they are doing wrong, or why they are doing it wrong. Trying to make them see is often an exercise in futility that I don’t bother at all anymore. This is not to say that all men from that country are the same. There are other kinds of men in the country. It is just easier to find one sort than the other.

Berkeley is a beautiful place. I heard the bells of the Campanile again. They sing of hope, just as they had sung two years ago. It is a wonderful song.

Psalm 23:4 – I have, as per the accounts of my long-suffering intimates, walked in the shadow of ugly things throughout my life. It takes quite a bit to stir existential terror in me. A lack of fear had to be developed for survival. When I was involved in the car crash last week, I was not scared for myself. Later, when I had the time for reflection, while dwelling upon the fact that it would be par on course with the irony which is my life to have it ended just as I had reached a point where I was finally starting to succour my existence from the devils that had plagued it for years. Then fear struck me. I was frightened at what I might have lost – neither a victory over the ugliness of my past, nor an era of prosperity, but the first viable chance that held in it a kernel of hope. I am used to conjuring hope. It is necessary, after all, when there is little else to go on. This time, though, this time I had it handed to me (rare, precious hope in the form of my passenger). That is what I’d have lost. I can taste fear when I think of the possibility.

Psalm 23 was somebody’s favourite. I had thought, the first time when I had heard it read in the brightly lit foyer of an old school, then that it was remarkably easy for David to trust in higher powers to set things right. I had rued then that was far from the case for me. I had been all of fifteen and terribly unhappy. Terrible unhappiness has been an existential theme for my life. It was difficult, on most days, to be made unhappier, and hence the lack of fear. Change can be a bittersweet mixture, I am coming to find, as I trade unhappiness for fear.

“It is only just,” says Sibelius. “After frightening those close to you for years with your lack of self-preservation, it is only just.”

That certainly gave me enough fodder for musing bleakly upon. I have decided to be less unkind to myself, to spare those who care. There are many matters out of my hands. I can only change what is in my power to change. It helps that my grand manner of neglect ensures there is much in my power to change. In what time is left, it matters more to keep loved ones pleased than worried.

Project Life still is ongoing. I’ll have to make good on my pecuniary promises by the end of next month. I have a plan. It is going to be shattered to pieces by life, but I’ll manage.

Like most sufferers of the 101, I have a healthy anathema nursed deep in my heart for the freeway. I go ‘local’ when I can, taking the smaller roads as much as possible. I did this on Saturday, as we made our way slowly towards Palo Alto on Alma.

I think I should have taken the 101.

This is too late. After having been twice rear-ended by the same car near the San Antonio Caltrain Station, and pushed haplessly into the car before mine, I suppose I am entitled to my share of ‘I should have’s.

It makes nothing different. From tomorrow, I anticipate with no relish the numerous phone calls and trips that will need to be made to talk to people who have stakes in this. And here I was, slowly wading through to the clearer side of the financial moors I have lived most of my life in and beginning to entertain notions of stability.

I suspect I am meant to write, if only because I am a favourite of misfortune. Surely, such tales as extravagant and miserable as the ones visited upon me daily need to be told with flourish.

I’ll count my blessings, since life’s blessing came to no harm. I had been frightened.

I found the time to go watch Maleficent. I don’t regret it. The film could have used a tighter plot, but it was worth going for the sheer screen presence of Jolie.

I thought a great deal before writing this post. I was wondering about it was ill-advised to speak freely so. I rarely do. I have become remarkably adept at couching life in stories that carefully filter the living out. I think this is important enough to write plainly about. So I’ll make an exception.

Young Maleficent falls in love with a boy who strays into her woods. He gives her on her 16th birthday a true love’s kiss. I don’t remember if I was kissed on my 16th birthday. I do remember the first kiss though, and I am lucky enough to have faith in love because of the first experience.

Watching Maleficent reminded me of several episodes in my life, some pleasing and some tragic.

I remember a man who embodied most of the vices King Stephan had. He resented most good things and he had resented them fiercely in me. We first spoke of communism, and then robotics, and then academia, and then literature. We had much in common, hadn’t we? I was quite taken with him – he seemed freshly different from most Indian men I had the misfortune of attracting until then. The communism, the robotics, the academia and the literature were enough, I thought. He couldn’t stick to his stand on anything. He was quite vocal in calling me out as bold or brave or other things and had told me on more than one occasion that those attributes were wrong. He had done his best to drive home the point that a family as an unit would only work if the woman was subservient to the man and was willing to sacrifice her career for that. His view of sexuality was alien to me. He considered sex a tool in games of one-upmanship. It was a view I could not fathom at all. I have many faults but sexuality is one area that I have a better grasp of than most men and women, thanks to my early experiences all of which were sweet and wholesome, and thanks to my intuitive understanding of it on an emotional level. So there was this man who embodied all the vices Disney’s Stephan had, but had his share of virtues and a brain quite enchanting. Marcel called me nine kinds of a fool. Fools in lust or love are rarely willing to listen to good advice. I was no exception.

The scene where Maleficent wakes up without her wings, where we are shown her grief at what was done to her, is one of the more powerful depictions of loss that I have seen on celluloid. Having never had wings, and having never had wings stolen from me, I cannot say that I have felt exactly the same. However, in the summer of 2012, after I had left Atlanta disillusioned and heartsick following an episode I have no wish to recount here but which ended up with me waking up on the morning of the solar eclipse in May 2012 to see the consequences of the lies and the manipulation wielded by the man I should have never trusted enough to let come so close, I suffered two personal losses, one of death and one of harm, after which I believe I outrank most my age in terms of life experiences had. I had left Atlanta heartsick and betrayed. I returned three months later with that being the least of my concern, after my summer of losses. Yet, it was not without consequence.

“Why?” I had asked, shocked and disbelieving, for I did not know that someone could be so lacking in the most basic tenets of honesty or honour in the immediate aftermath of intimacy.

“You are a brave girl. You’ll cope,” he had told me, and smiled.

It is a horrific thing to undergo. I strongly recommend that others stay away from such messes.

It would have dictated the rest of my life for a long time, and he would have taken pleasure in that. I was lucky. I had known true love’s kiss before, under the rainclouds of Kerala. I had known what it was to be a man’s muse in lines of charcoal on canvas. I came to knew a man who had his crosses to bear and bore them gracefully, and yet found in himself heart enough to care for another and time enough to play Skyrim. I came to knew Sibelius, and learned to laugh again under the fall awning of Emory, and learned to take delight in the little joys of living again on the sprawling lawns of his family home. I returned in the December of 2012 to the hyacinth, and in 2013 I met Yoda. I can scarcely complain about my lot in life. It has been a deucedly bright one so far.

I am grateful for the love I’ve been given freely in my life. It doesn’t change the fact that I still hold deep in me a sense of regret, hurt and hatred for what that man tried to wreak upon me. He tried to break me, to take the ‘boldness’ and the ‘bravery’ and the ‘forthrightness’ and a hundred other things that he hated seeing in me. He hated that sexuality was a mess for him emotionally. He hated more that it was easy for me to understand since I harbored about it no negative or shameful associations. He hated that I inspired affection in other men quickly and tried to cheapen it explaining it away any way he could. He hated that I didn’t tell him ‘everything’ about my writing and writing contracts. Such resentment and such deliberation in malice does not come without consequences. He did the most he could to drive it home how much he hated it all, and he reveled in the consequences he had wreaked. (“You are a brave girl. You’ll cope.”)

There is the scene in Maleficent where she says that she likes Stephan begging. She does mean it. I remember that. I had liked it, later, after a few months, when the tables were turned, and he had more to lose than I had, when I had returned stronger after a hyacinth’s grace, when he begged. I savored it deeply. I still do.

In the end, it is not his actions or malice that unsettles me. It is that I had been naive and foolish enough to think that nobody could hide malice well enough in words and touches. We are all good actors and liars, but some are better at both than the rest.

I was happy for Maleficent, when she kisses Aurora and the girl wakes up, when she believes again in true love’s kiss. It does exist. I am grateful everyday, since I was thirteen or so, for being able to live secure in the knowledge that it exists.

I am happy that she got her wings back.

Marcel told me that I’d be all right and that he would be around to tell me ‘I told you so’ in a couple of years. He was right about the first. I wish he had been right about the second.

Perhaps, one day, I’ll have lived enough to forget that there was someone in my life who held vices we are shown in Disney characters, and that I was foolish enough to have overlooked them for the virtues that were plastered over them. I’d like to stop feeling that sharp pain of the past each time I see similar situations play out in life or on celluloid or on the pages of a book. It is fleeting, given that I have better matters to lavish my thoughts, memory and emotions upon, but even the sliver of a moment when I remember makes it unforgivable.

I’d like to forget.

Until then, I’ll nurse well the lesson I was taught – most men and women are confused about many things in life. They have no idea what they want, and when they see someone who has a clearer head or heart, they will hate, resent and covet the person all at once, and if they get the chance, they’ll drag the person down into the pit of confusion where they live out their lives.

TL; DR. Go see Maleficent. Jolie is a feast. The cheekbones, the wings and the horns suit the woman.

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