Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Dealing with fairies doesn’t end well. They take yours and leave little behind.  It’s never what you wish for and it’s usually never something that you can live with.   I know so, but It was hard to say no to their wiles when the world is full of weeping though.  On the rain-swept greens, spread over ferns and flowers, there had been kisses in the fairies’ keep. Memory grants only sepia wisps of green and warmth and words (“Come away, I’ll keep you and they’ll never touch you again”). How do I return to Eden after being cast out? The first dream of my soul was green and drenched in rain. The dream and the fairies are gone. And Beatrice is beautiful and cold, a whisper of yesterdays taunting in her unreachability.

“Why did I buy you a long hard road out of hell?” Sibelius muses. “Maybe because you won’t let me buy you an easier road?”

Eden now is a jagged gorge of butter stretched through plains. It’s a land with an alien beauty all its own. I find strange treasures and stranger beliefs here. But the world’s still full of weeping.

 

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Sibelius decides his theme music for the rest of grad school will be Awolnation’s SAIL. We speak of old days, when our music had been Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky (1812, always 1812).  He asks me if I’ve had a Manson relapse. Strangely enough, I haven’t. I am content enough with Cohen and Yiruma these days. And Bowie (the tale of 22 and what you’ve done).

Any advice or counsel I can provide is probably worthless. So I don’t try. Ivory towers everywhere might be the same, but what if they aren’t? I don’t like the thought of making it all bleaker.

Advisors. While Sibelius’s current advisor does not seem as prone to hysterics as my first graduate advisor was, it still sounds bad. I feel sorry and sad about the whole mess he deals with. I sympathize too, knowing what it is to have someone like this persona breathing down your neck every day and night.

Sibelius says that he’ll probably never make a friend during grad school. I had come to the realization, just yesterday, that I had made only one friendship in the last two and a half years that was built not on circumstance or loneliness, but on true interest in the welfare of each other. it had been so unexpected, a measure of grace unlooked for. Thank God for orchestras.

I’ve been collecting thoughts and coming to terms with a number of things that have happened in the ivory tower. I find that social networking (online) aided me in the last two and a half years. It was less pressure, more mindlessness and exactly what I needed to not think about everything important that had fallen to the wayside due to the lack of time. It was damaging though. The fakery required to fit in within acceptable parameters, the grin and bear it attitude expected, the requirement to be less or more than what I am capable of being – all of that has taken a toll.

Now things are changing. I feel an awakening of sorts. I feel the itch to even log into a social networking site has gone down to near nonexistence.  As I age, I find it harder to make connections that I value enough.  I waded through undergrad and grad-school without much in the way of relationships that mattered.   A reason could be that I was singularly fortunate to have been under an umbrella of a few good friendships and had never really needed anything else.  Set a bar a tad too high, perhaps. The meaningful friendships I’ve made were mostly in school, thanks to time and familiarity, or later in my writing circles, thanks to meeting of minds and ideas. These were, and continue to be, the relationships where I’ve had the peace to be myself.  I think it is time to retreat from spaces where these aren’t the only connections. It is time, perhaps, to retreat to emails and phone calls, to places that are as old and familiar as the threadbare carpet before Elisabeth’s hearth.

I think I am as picky about connections as I am about anything else in life. Trying to tell myself otherwise for the last few years hasn’t worked well for me. Just thinking about the sheer, mind numbing waste of efforts in the wrong direction, in the wrong places, makes me want to head-desk. The magical moment on the orchestra steps, and all the magical moments that followed, so surpass any of touch-and-go connections of the last many years that were conditional upon a hundred and one matters. I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.

 

Most conversations are forgotten. Some linger in memory.

Unmaking. Going back to what was before.

“What is your birthday wish?”

“One that I’ve made every year since 2010.”

The wish to be unmade to a time where things were simpler (were they, though?).  I am myself rarely tempted to return. The better days are all ahead of today – I have believed in that long enough for it to become a creed clung to. Nostalgia tries to overtake it, tries to supplant it with rosier memories of what had been, but fails eventually – there is only so much rose nostalgia can add before it all fades to dull red.  Spend two decades stuck in local minima and everything looks dull red.

“Everything – I’ll do everything once this settles.” I am not surprised by the lack of faith though – this is a broken recorder that’s been whirring away the words for a long time now.

There is all the rest. The circumstances, the choices, the others, the weather – thinking about any or all of them is inevitable, but futile. Knowing that only makes it worse.

A lady who calls out of the blue, after a long time, and tells me about the Sun. Wonderful. I ask her to lay off her crystal ball. Life is singularly made a farce of by the number of people I know, who don’t know each other, and insist on talking about a star made of hydrogen.

Perhaps the birthday wish isn’t difficult to understand, now that I think about it more. Like Mario, perhaps, who gets extra lives to go save his princess, we’d all like to be unmade and start from the beginning again and again. Even then, I have a suspicion I’d get stuck in the same local minima. We can’t all save the princess.

Fettered, quite, looking in from the outside (can i enter?) and looking out through the bars (can i leave?). The paradoxes of us.

The first Spring I witnessed was during the monsoons, in July, at the height of the Edavapaathi. But it was Spring, blooming, long before Onam was due, and with it children bloomed into women. It isn’t the first Spring that matters though. Before my memory’s reach, before I had been born even, the first Spring that mattered to me had bloomed. Before I had read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Neruda, before someone had whispered Keats and Milton in my ears, Spring had already bloomed.

Nosce te ipsum, they had told me. Spring bloomed, I stumbled into Delphi, and then there was a hyacinth.

“life of my heart, and the heart of my life.”

Picking up a pen and putting it to paper is as natural and necessary as breathing. Doing it for someone is significant too, and perhaps nearly as significant as deciding to breath (live) for someone. It takes something out of you, and it puts something of that person’s deep into you, until all of you has been coated inside and out by that something.

It’s a strange world. It’s a stranger world between the sheets (not those sheets; sheets of paper).

It’s rather overpowering, when I sit down and think about it. I don’t want to bleed onto those sheets the stories of love (not when every love story is potentially a story about grief). I’d rather go ahead, and go (because what happiness is there in the memory of happiness?), instead of having to learn how to unravel (when two people that haven’t met before are put together, the world is never the same). Nabokov was luckier than Barnes (lucky enough to die before his muse died), but both of them and the spouses they loved were luckier (and unluckier) than most, in how deeply it melded them (because love is the meeting point of truth and magic, because the golden age of my soul began when I met you).

It’s all not in the now. It could be though. Ironic sometimes how fate decides to be fickle and grant us what we ask for (so that we may spend the rest of our days fretting about if it will be taken away in one fell swoop).

(At some point, sooner or later, for this reason or that, one of them is taken away. And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible; but it is emotionally possible.)

It doesn’t do to dwell on that. There is luck. And I am grateful for that. (Early in life, the world divides crudely into those who have had sex and those who haven’t. Later, into those who have known love, and those who haven’t. Later still – at least, if we are lucky (or, on the other hand, unlucky) – it divides into those who have endured grief, and those who haven’t. These divisions are absolute; they are tropics we cross.) Having crossed the tropics,  sailing is all that can be done. It gets hard as you cross each tropic, as the sum total of those you can speak to and be understood by decrease. Little comfort that when you finally stand alone unravelled, after the last tropic has been crossed, murmuring “life of my heart and the heart of my life” to fast-fading memories. Being able to murmur that (and mean so, and live so) is a boon (of knowing and being known) that makes up for the curse that comes after, and now I look at my levels of life.

It has been snowing.

“2 inches?” Sibelius asks. Extreme condescension perforates the words. “2 inches? Boston doesn’t call that snow.”

“It was white and cold,” I tell him. “It definitely looked like snow.”

“Reed shut down a city because he hasn’t yet figured out how to handle two inches of snow?”

“We have more snow plows this time, though.”

He doesn’t have anything to reply. Well, he does, but it is mostly about Reed’s incompetence. It will take time before he understands that politics isn’t generally for the competent among us. Then again, it might have been better where he grew up. He looks forward to Ms. Nunn’s adventure. I think back to Lalu’s nepotism.

~~~

Met a very pretty batch-mate today when I made a stealth trip to Starbucks. We exchanged updates on our lives. I realised, as I tried to explain the major changes in my life, that the last many months had been an eventful bunch. There is a disconnect so huge between then and now that I am not surprised that I surprise people who haven’t spoken to me in a while when I chat about goings-on.

Walked back, coffee in hand, and remembered a headmistress who drilled it into me that life has a flavour the protected never taste. I had known that before she had taught me, but I was glad that she had taught so anyway. Distilled wisdom as pure as menthol crystals (the chemist at home ordered some) has strange beauty all its own.

~~~

The Weather Channel has been a bit nutty of late, if you could call a website nutty. I can understand why they name storms so that people can post updates with hashtags on social media. After all, everyone cares about data and mining it these days. And naming storms after Greek heroes is really cool. The strange news headlines that are plastered all about the actual weather information are something I have become used to ignoring. “Farting cows cause explosion; methane problem”, “Groundhog Day 2014: Top 11 Groundhogs to watch” and “Why he is in a Tutu” have no relevance to me (unless they were speaking of Bowie in tutus). I need a weather site without exploding cows and groundhogs.

~~~

I remember an Indian man, whom I briefly was acquainted with here at grad school, who had been extremely discomfited and near outraged when I spoke of sex with an active female partner.  He considered it completely wrong, because sex to him was a man thrusting into a hole, and he expected everyone to have the same idea about it. Worse, he expected every woman to have the same idea about it and to be content with that. He was well-educated. He was called intelligent. He was all for equal opportunities in professions for men and women. He was not sexually inexperienced. He is what constitutes most of modern India. Sex is a gateway, it is a rite of passage, it is cool, it is modern  - young men and women, blessed with prosperity and economic independence, go wild on it with all the wrong notions.  They are getting to do something that was forbidden to their parents, after all. Then they get ready to marry. The men wish to marry virgins. The women lie about being virgins. Both men and women lie about their sexual history. After the marriage, all hell breaks loose. The woman usually gets more of the blame. After all, the parents and the other meddlers say, the man is a man – it is expected he would have been a little wild in his youth. Perhaps it is just the case in that country, I thought, and I came here, to find that a woman promiscuous is a slut while a man promiscuous is a stud.

As long as we mix sex and sexism,  we aren’t going to go anywhere better.

I spoke to a friend after a long time, and she was teasing me about euphemisms that have crept into my language over the last two years. Yoda and I were speaking yesterday about the sexual repression in this country. It is different from the kind practised in my motherland. In India, repression results in poor sexual awareness, poor know-how of how the other gender works, gender discrimination in terms of opportunities, dowry and other evils. Here, though, it results in divergence – greater divergence between man and woman, practised from kindergarten where girls wear pink and boys wear blue, to high school choices where boys are encouraged to go into the hard sciences and the girls fall behind and stick to the arts. There is nothing wrong with choosing science over arts, or arts over science, if you have actually made the choice without playing to the gallery. The emphasis on the difference between genders here, shown in everything from kids’ toys to job choices, from clothes to everyday merchandise (Bic for women!), from political speeches to religious brouhaha, makes it harder for young women and men to make choices without being influenced.

Something I came across a few days ago, intended as satire, raised many of these questions again for me. It is sad but true that women are seen as legs (and heels), breasts (and bras), 3 orifices (2 if you are conservative) and a womb.  That’s all you are in most male eyes, usually,  despite education or achievement. I don’t think we are going forward, most of us. In some circles, things have changed, for the better. Those are as rare as oases in the desert. Everybody talks about this. Everybody agrees (mostly) on how things should be different. The terms are all agreed upon – objectification, repression, awareness, discrimination, rape-culture, sexism. If we are still not making progress, then perhaps it is time to think about what we have been doing wrong. With concerted effort as this, we should have been somewhere else, and that somewhere should have been a better place for men and women. We aren’t there. We’ll never get there by talking about and signing petitions about bras and heels, or size zeros and plus-love, or pink, or equal opportunity laws or anti-discrimination measures. All of that might take us a bit further, but no more than that. They are important but they are not what will get us there finally though. We’ll need parents and teachers who think and don’t fail to point out nonsense to the kids wherever they see it.  I think that might be all that we need.  

 

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