The Revenant That Did Not Confront a Bear

Dear Blogworld,

It has come to my alarming notice that the following things have happened (in order)

  1. I’ve graduated from college! (More posts on the musings of real life are definitely coming)
  2. I have time on my hands to write about all the things I wanted to! (Expect more of my attempted science fiction stories)
  3. I’ve been notified that it’s been exactly one year since my last post on this blog. (Hence the title, since I’m literally back to this blog after some sort of death)
  4. My writing skills are borderline dysfunctional. (Isn’t this parenthetical style annoying?)
  5. I have 80 days before Real Life begins.

With this terrible excuse of an apology, let me not waste your time any longer and begin by *slowly* resuscitating this blog back.

Cheers and best, etc.

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“What is college like?”

Is it just four years of your life that you will spend a lot of money on, trying to be an adult, knowing that your family and financials are a safety blanket which you don’t need to immediately worry about? Is it the four years of your life when you discover that a science or an art that you wanted to make your life about is something you detest completely and that you’d rather do something else? Is it the guilt of exploring better options out there with someone else’s money or hoping that whatever else you find better be an investment which brings returns? Or the shame that you are wasting youth and time and emotion in trying to attach a few meaningful letters after your name when the trauma is done?

Is it the beauty of discovering independence? Of learning that sometimes loneliness can evolve into quiet nights of watching police sirens blink away three blocks from your dorm window and feel comforted knowing that at least you will never grow into that person? Of learning that there are times when the sun rises and you are trapped into a conversation that is stripping your soul of lies? Of discovering the true dimensions of people as they show and hide different aspects of themselves?

Is it the competence of doing your laundry right? With the colored clothes sorted into one pile and the white things in another? Is it realizing that the high of managing to complete your gym routine, homework, breakfast and room-cleaning before 10:00AM is the same as the turning out to be the only student in class who scored 94% and that this, in turn, is the same as being asked out by that shy boy who you secretly crave looks at your eyes more often than he does by hiding them behind his fringe? Is it the awkwardness that will follow when you realize that he thinks you’re a creep and that the line between romantic and weird is very fine? That superficiality is sometimes heavier than souls and thicker than the measurement of your chest-waist-hips? Is it wondering if they are even on the same quantifiable scale?

Is it just the four years of eating extremely oily pizza and a ton of bagels and oceans of cream cheese knowing that you’re one of those few girls who will graduate with your body looking the same, but being exhausted from within, deprived of the enforced maternal nutrition at home? Is it just the four years of coming across people who will have parents who have been in jail, who will have parents who will have cheated on each other, who will have parents who are unable to fund their child’s education for lack of understanding their child’s major, who have parents who have only dreamed of higher education? Is it the four years of learning why alcohol, drugs, drinking, sex and depression, TV, badly-edited writing and five consecutive bottles of Nutella are extremely dangerous because these things let a person run away from the reality that will inevitably slap them in the face? 

Is it the pride with which you will tell your stories back home, by saying, yes, I go to this college and how prestigious it is and look at all the things I’ve accomplished? Will that matter so much to their glazed over eyes who are waiting for you to tell them that you have not found affections in a “foreign” boy and are keeping yourself chaste and perfect and naively unaware of things like depression, suicide and bars? Will that matter so much when you try to explain what your research project is about when they are too busy trying to use you to inspire their own children into poring over books they hate? Is it the shame you will feel when they will hold you to be the perfect example, and your conscience coughs loudly at the back of your head, knowing that at their age you were no better than them and the atrocities you have committed to yourself and to others are nothing compared to what this sheltered oppressed being can comprehend at the age of 13/14/15?

Is it praying that your “gentle” preview of life will carry you though right when each semester sets fire to a different part of your soul and carves mountains out of another? Is it praying that this accompaniment to adulthood is not just the engineering degree but also the capacity to negotiate, argue, deduce and rationalize or even philosophize life into terms that you will feel less terrified of running away from? Is it the many nights of parties in cramped rooms and bent objectives bouncing off the walls as stress, tension of unexplained natures, political and sexual maneuvers and finding the right to belong in an ocean that sweeps in the new everyday?

Is it realizing that you are no longer a child and yet, a child of the world?

Aroma

You know what the air smells of in the cold early mornings that I wake up to? Not the bacon I could have got the supermarket for $3 off, not the cheap coffee brew that is $5, not even the Starbucks brew that is $7 and most certainly not the $11 aromatic shower-gel which claims to give my skin a shine it will have never worn before.

When I was younger and I heard the children coughing in the 3 degree warm streets, I used to hurriedly stub out my cigarette because I felt responsible somehow for their wellness. Now the very same children share lighters with me, and I regret having unnecessarily squeezed out many of the good ones before I had used them to their fullest. But it will not do for me to hide in the shade and the poverty, I have to find something to eat before I am reduced to chewing my own sweater. And it will be a shame, because I am not nimble enough to steal another one at this age.

I was told, in my youth, that the posture of a lady speaks a lot to her beauty. Sit up straight. Walk upright. Never slouch. Walk confidently. Sway your hips if you have them. Set your feet on the ground with determination as if you have a right to walk the earth. Wear the shoes that scream your birthright. Keep those legs in shape, my girl. You never know when they will come handy. I cannot prowl. I cannot lurk. I cannot sulk or stalk. My old, worn out, uncomfortable heels that I have stolen from someone’s backstage clatter down the unfortunate alley as I sashay my way to find food.

The grubby little girls stop and stare. The grubby little boys stop and stare. When there are so many pairs of poor, filthy and uneducated eyes on me, I have to obviously do something spectacular. I take a long pull on my cigarette and blow it up into the cloudy sky, like the dream-catchers at fairs blowing up sparkles into the night. I live off the idolization of children now. This is what has become of me. It doesn’t even spike my guilt when I hear the children break off into groups behind my backs and practice blowing circles from their thinning lips and fragile lungs into the foggy air which heralds sub-zero temperatures.

Clack. Clack. Clack. Do you hear my heels talking? Exactly. They’re counting out how much I care. I can’t be responsible if they grow up and decide that the only way they seek their worth is by ruining their hard-earned money on cigarettes.

I try to enter the subway station, where the morning rush hour has started. I squeeze my form in their midst. A few of the “Excuse me, please”, “Oh, I’m sorry, don’t mind me”, “Lady, can’t you see where you’re going?” -s later, I have already brushed past 14 different kinds of coats and retrieved 6 different tickets and 3 different denominations of spare change. They smell of perfume and money and leather coats. They smell of the things I can’t have. The smell of the life that I have dreamed of beyond my cigarette-ensconced hell-hole which is comfortably warm because I burn both my money and health to keep it alive.

Finally. Finally I feel equipped. There is the store nearby where the old shopkeeper makes it his business to evaluate the functional operations of my legs, critiquing it from shape to how accessible it is. Clack. Clack. Clack. Clack. My wispy hair tries to follow the wind. Clack. Clack. My presence is announced into the store by the little bell that hangs by the door. All eyes are on me, the show must continue. I pull out five of the seven dollars from today’s conquests in notes that I haven’t bothered to carefully fold. I must dispense with someone else’s money as though it were rubbish and not as if it were my blood. After all, it’s not my blood.

“Two packs,” is literally the first thing I have said all morning. My babies are transferred to me over the counter and even though I am weak in the knees at the thought of tearing off that paper, I hold my ground.

“Will that be all?”

See, this where life is unfair. It should have been all. It should have sufficed for everything. It should have made everything okay, especially in this dingy little world and this pathetic store where I am being leered at and the air is the smell of last decade’s subway.

“Uh….And uh….a soda.” I have declared a momentary truce with my stomach and perhaps I will smoke out the rest of my hunger if that is what this war will take.

For $1.39 and taxes, I have two dollars left. Two dollars that will be negotiated afterwards with my stomach and my escapism and my hopeless need for attention.

The wrapper on them claims that cigarettes are injurious to health, and that there are versions that are “cancer-free”. It almost sounds like the “I will leave my wife and marry you” line that the man says when you realize that only one person out of the two invited you to their life.

You know what the air smells of in the cold early mornings that I wake up to? Happy little cancer-causing lies. That’s what they smell of.

Apologies and updates about what’s going on

My regular readers may have noticed that my posting pattern is getting rather erratic. I wouldn’t want to simply brush off all this under the carpet called life. So here I am explaining what I’ve been up to and why my life is notching up another throttle.

Let me save myself from the very unfair (and possibly judgmental stare) that my readership is liberally eyeing me with,by explaining what I’ve been up to.

  1. I have signed up for two graduate-level classes in my third year. I really really really really REALLY wanted to study Artificial Intelligence since forever and so when I discovered that they were allowing a limited number of undergraduates to take the class I lunged headlong into it. Also, this semester a visiting professor from University of Michigan is here to teach it and he’s doing a fantastic job of it. However, this also means that I, a young blundering fool, must now keep up to the academic level established by graduate students (read: adults who [possibly] have their life together). It has not been easy, mind you. But I would rather have it hard than not have it at all.
  2. The second class is Natural Language Processing, which is being taught in a reverse classroom method this year. Which means that it not only has oodles of experienced grad students who are absorbing everything on the fly, but that my actual face-to-face interaction time with the professor is seriously limited. I’m a bit worried about this class actually because I wanted to make this my career, and I feel like I am floundering at the very basic introductory level class (which is still primarily for grad students, but how will I show my interest in the subject on my transcript if I haven’t taken the plunge?) It’s also on coursera, by Professor Michael Collins.
  3. Hackathons. If you’re an insider of the coding/geek/start-up/tech-start-up community, you might be all wise smiles and sage-like head nodding. If you’re not, let me explain. Hackathons are derived from the word “hacking” and “marathons”. They are literally between 16-18 hours of continuous code-writing in order to build an app or create software or make fancy tools. These are the estuarine waters where novice to experienced student coders meet company representatives of sponsors of the event. Sponsors are usually companies whose technology/code you would like to borrow or integrate into your code. Often, they will award a series of prizes based on creative usage of the data or technology they’ve provided.
    1. There are some major league hackathons that happen this time of the year in the region that I’m in. MHacks (hosted by Michigan), PennApps (hosted by UPenn), HackGT (hosted by GeorgiaTech) and HackMIT (hosted by MIT) are some of the very popular ones. They award apps with nearly $4000 dollars for their work. Although some offer even more $50,000 was offered this year by HackGT.
    2. Since Major League Hacks like those posted above invite every institution across the country, it’s a great meeting place to meet cool new people.
    3. Fun fact: I was privileged to attend HackMIT this year, where I built my first hardware hack. Basically, my team constructed a prosthetic arm using cardboard and motors and then we used a Myo armband to record human hand-motion and transmit it to the prosthetic in almost real time. There’s a video I would have loved to post, but I’m not quite sure I have the time to make it happen.
  1. Another fun-fact, I’m going to about two more hackathons this year: YHacks (hosted by Yale) and HackPrinceton (hosted by….come on, you should know by now).
  2. Searching for internships: I am literally scouring the web (and the websites of companies that I would LOVE to work with) for what they are offering and seeking from people like me.
  3. Lastly, getting health and everything back on track. I lose sleep a lot due to the aforementioned reasons, which just makes exams and tests and life incredibly hard.

Thus I must be off noble readers. I hope you’ll forgive me if the next post isn’t crisply lying in your reader feed (or whatever other mechanism you use to access my content). The month of October is crazy for me, but I promise things get better next month.

Cheers and love and prosperity and longevity!

Nostophobia

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I usually post in a flurry at the end of the holiday season, not knowing when I’ll be able to give free rein to my writing. I also sometimes tend to pad it up with inspirational messages about how the holidays have changed me and how next semester will be vastly different from the last and all the mechanisms I have established in place to prevent me from making the same mistakes as before. 

This summer, I was supposed to be interning, and taking a summer class and working on research all through three months. Until my parents put their foot down and insisted that I stay at home, get my food and sleep schedule on track and work passively. I enjoyed the traditional vacations that most families schedule every few years, and honestly, I hadn’t been on a holiday since 2008. For a while, my life seemed more defined with experiences and photos and maps and managing my parents, than it appeared to be of deadlines.

But I was terrified that I would lose the punishing schedule that I had imposed on myself. I believed that if I wasn’t overworked and sleep-deprived, I wasn’t living my life right. When my parents insisted that I stay at home with them, I was sure that I was going to have the most boring and unproductive summer of the lot. I felt insecure about the fact that all my friends had secured internships at fancy places (J.P Morgan, McKinsey, Con Edison, etc) while I was living the pampered lifestyle:  occasionally writing code, blogging and swimming. 

Except now, the three months are over and I find myself saying something that I never thought would pass my mouth. “I don’t want the holidays to end.” I don’t want the holidays to end because I have grown so much healthier and happier since these months and I’m scared that once the onslaught of college begins, my “disciplined schedule” as maintained by my parents will not withstand the vagaries of undergraduate life. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am trying to internalize it so I don’t have to be dependent on close monitoring all the time. But I also don’t want to go back because of differences in my friend group. I have mandated that I find new friends this semester, people who truly make me happy and feel worthy, instead of continually trying to please a group of people who abuse my compassion.

But it’s the third year of college and work will be upon me faster and heavier than before. How am I supposed to find the time to make new friends? Or am I destined to feel alone as the deadlines slam into my days with unstoppable ferocity? 

Hence the nostophobia. I want to go back. I really do miss college, work, classes and some people. But I know I will miss these moments too. I just don’t know which one I will miss more. 

Daughter I

When Sudha had been born, Nikesh loved her just as much as he loved her older brother, Akshay. He had even chosen the name for her: Sudha from the Sanskrit word for nectar. Nikesh had always wanted a daughter and he spoiled Sudha with his constant tender affection. The elders of the community often laughed at his doting parentage. After all, daughters are destined to be married off in the future. They declared that Nikesh was inevitably setting himself up for a heartbreak when the time would come for her to leave the nest. Nikesh would reserve his sharper comments and politely mention that such a departure was quite a while away.

Rohini however wished that Sudha was anything but a daughter. She had chosen to marry Nikesh because he was such a refreshing break with his liberal ways, but she knew that her choice was limited to the fact that their families had arranged their alliance first. She often feared that the liberalism would peel away to the years of tradition and conditioning, and that someday her beloved Sudha would find herself bearing the weight of conservatism just as she and all the generations behind her did. She could not predict when Nikesh would succumb to the pressure of their community to let Sudha be treated just as any other girl child in their community.

Rohini still remembered the night before Sudha’s third birthday. Nikesh had come to her room after ensuring that Akshay and his little sister were safely in bed. He held both of Rohini’s hands and led her to the edge of the bed.

“Listen, I want to talk to you about Sudha,” he began and Rohini suddenly began to feel alarmed from the serious tone in his voice. Nikesh instinctively sensed her fingers curl up and began to softly rub his thumbs across the back of her hand to calm her down.

“What is it?” Rohini was unable to mask the anxiety in her voice. The fear of bearing a daughter was catching up with her and she began to suspect the worst.

“Sudha is almost going to be three, and I was wondering how you would feel if I sent her to a school. An English school.”

“Send her to a school?!”

As the only daughter from her family, Rohini had bowed to the Draconian rules which had denied her an education. From the archives of her faded memory, she remembered a time of classrooms and slate-boards and homework. One day, when she was ten, she was forcibly withdrawn from the school by her family. Rohini had to then learn the exhaustive skills of being a good housekeeper so that she would have some claim to marriageability as she grew older. School ended with her childhood.

Nikesh felt the need to hurriedly explain himself to his wife and he was unsure of how she was processing the information. He did not want Sudha to grow up with the same deep gender bias which was so strongly rooted in their customs. He wanted Sudha to be as competent and capable as Akshay. He was willing to invest time, money and emotion into equating the gap. But he wasn’t going to proceed without his wife’s consent. She was after all more knowledgeable in how a woman would grow and he had come to respect her common sense, despite her lack of formal education.

“For how long?” asked Rohini tentatively after Nikesh finished his speech. Nikesh was caught unawares by the question. “For how long do you want to keep her in school?”

“Rohini, I think school is just going to be a start. I want her to be properly educated and accomplished. I want her to be a member of society who does more than just be a mother. I hope that’s what you want too. I am only one of her two parents.”

Years of suppressed feminism came to the fore and Rohini agreed. Of course I want my child to be educated. Of course I want her to succeed, to be just as good or as capable as any man. It sank into Rohini just what a marvel of a man her husband was. Even though he was the better educated of the two, he had asked her opinion. He had not mandated an order. At the back of her head, she could hear the sneers of her community. Educating a daughter? Completely? What a waste of time and money.

“What will the others say?” asked Rohini, drowning out the chastising whispers at the back of her head with her own voice.

“I don’t care,” said Nikesh almost nonchalantly. He did care somewhat, but only to the extent that it made him feel like a rebel, uprising against the treatment that his mother, his sisters and his wife received. He was not going to restrict her mind and opinions and thoughts and feelings. He could not bear the thought of raising his beloved adorable child like a ceremonial cow, to be disposed off with pomp when the occasion arrived. But he wasn’t going to show his fear to Rohini.

“…But they will ask…”

If they did, she would have to share the blame. The women would ask her why she dared to let her husband educate her daughter when she could be far more useful at home. The women would ask her why she didn’t influence his decision strongly enough. After all, he was a man. What did he know of growing up to be a woman in their society? The gossip would fly. The women would say, “Oh, they probably didn’t think their daughter was pretty enough or skilled enough to be married and keep a home, so they probably educated her in a desperate attempt to make her more desirable.”

“Their talking doesn’t change anything.”

Rohini felt his hands grow cold and she realized that she had to be strong for him and for the three year old toddler cuddled up with her brother in the next room. Some part of her mind despaired why she was going against the tide. Perhaps it would be easier for them as a family to go with the flow and manage their lives as the generations before them had. Then, she realized that being a part of Nikesh’s individual rebellion was a part of the struggle that she had endured all her life and she was no stranger to difficult circumstances. Sometimes, Rohini sought the comfort of religion to soothe her anxiety. She used to bristle at the fact that nowhere in the scriptures was it mentioned that the women should be denied an education. If anything, their numerous pantheon hosted some of the most powerful goddesses. Perhaps time, convenience and biased interpretations had eaten away at the legends like dust. She comforted herself knowing that she wasn’t doing anything sinful. If anything, educating her daughter could enlighten her about religion and perhaps bring her closer to spiritual service than Rohini herself could be.

But then another calamity befell. She remembered that he had insisted on an English school. What if Sudha grew up absorbing the Western culture? What if Sudha should completely forsake and abandon the social customs that had rigidly maintained their world for so many years? What if this education turned out to be their imminent downfall, and Sudha somehow brought disgrace to them and her ancestors by adopting the alien ways of the West?

“Why English?” asked Rohini, hoping that she could find a loophole in his argument this time that her feminine charm could distort back to reality.

“I don’t intend to stay in this city forever, Rohini. If we are to go places and accomplish things, we have to speak the language that the others speak and English is the most common of them all. It’s not too hard to learn, don’t worry. My brother and I had to learn it, and it’s a part of Akshay’s curriculum from next year.”

“But…..do English schools teach our scriptures? Why can’t we send her to a local school? Surely they teach the same numbers and things?” she asked again.

“I don’t know, Rohini. I feel that an English education would be wholesome,” said Nikesh, sensing a real cause for concern. Rohini remained silent but Nikesh felt her fingers retract in the unmistakable way when she found her strength shaking, and his determination faltered.

“If you’re worried that she will grow up wrong in any way, she will still be housed under our roof.”

He felt empty saying it because he felt as though he did not have a strong argument to support him. Now it appeared that he was resorting to the value-system of the very same mechanism that he was rebelling against. Any culture that stagnates is eventually doomed to die. But Nikesh was unsure that Rohini would accept his abstract philosophy. Some part of him claimed that Rohini didn’t need to understand and she probably didn’t. Why should he bother with asking her opinion anyway? She was no more than a product of strict upbringing behind narrow walls and narrow minds.

Hypocrite. Nikesh banished the thought immediately, recognizing that he was giving in to the pressure. He would have to provide the safety net for Rohini and himself, and he wanted to treat her as an equal in this process, no matter how difficult it would be. It was easy to point out the flaws of the culture they lived in, but as parents he had now taken on the additional responsibility of filtering the better aspects of a cultural upbringing to their child.

“Rohini, I know this is difficult. But please trust me when I say that we are doing the right thing.”

“I’m not questioning that but…”

“I may not know all the pitfalls that come our way, but I need your support,” said Nikesh and he had never sounded so vulnerable.

“…We are bound together in this,” admitted Rohini rather lamely as she tried to rally all her strength.

“I’ll fill in the paperwork for Sudha’s school,” said Nikesh rather suddenly and he left the room. He wanted to distract his mind with action so that the deeper ramifications wouldn’t eat away at his conscience. He was also very suddenly alarmed that his guard dropped before his wife, and he needed some time alone to figure that out.

When Nikesh left, Sudha invoked the divine in the practiced Sanskrit whispers and prayed that the deities would protect and guide her family. As she chanted the names and legends, she felt that she would take Sudha’s religious education personally into her own hands if required. Let the schools teach her what they will. Sudha would not grow up to dishonor the universal force which kept Rohini’s world together, even though Nikesh was radically restructuring the methods behind it.

On how the competence of a human being can be condensed to a number

http://www.hindustantimes.com/lifestyle/books/chetan-bhagat-tells-us-a-short-story/article1-436685.aspx

I read this story and while I don’t actively devour Chetan Bhagat’s literature, this piece resonated a little too deeply with being a prospective college student and wondering if scoring a 90%, or even 92 or 95% aggregate is ever good enough.

After I read this story, I reflected a bit on how far my life has come. I study in a prestigious Ivy League university now, yet I complain about my struggling GPA (which is still better than most), how difficult life is and how stressed out I always am. I forget that I have survived worse moments of uncertainty.

Today, I’m sensitive about the fact that my GPA is not 4.0. I forget that there was a time when I had scored 10/50 in a very important Math test. I constantly hear from my peers around me (blame me for being easily influenced) about how their GPA is at 3.9, 3.8 or even 4.0. I forget that there are many others among that privileged 3% admission rate who have GPA’s of 2.0. Columbia’s own Nobel Prize Winner had a GPA of 2.8 when he graduated. But I can’t seem to stop beating myself up for that fact that I’m not on the Dean’s list, even though I have two research projects and a hackathon victory under my modest belt.

The following paragraph summarizes the awful whispers I pick up from those who frequent job fairs and recruitment events and networking events.

“Jobs look for GPA and how good you are at what you do, combined with all your extra-curriculars and how well you present yourself and how essentially superhuman you are because you need to differentiate yourself from everyone else. Nobody wants ordinary. You’ll never get anywhere without a big name on your resume. Don’t hold back from writing your skills on your resume. Don’t be a machine. Show them you’re a human too. Laugh, smile, dress like so and flatter like so. “Network”. “Connect”. Know people and stay on their mind because that’s the only way you’re going to make money and be someone.”

Obviously, the fact that making it to Columbia is a difficult task for many and the hardships they may have gone to be there and the person who they truly are will never make it to that crisply edited, sharply formatted glossy paper that hides among a possible million more. So you’re applying to be a computer science researcher or technology developer? You’re from Columbia? Okay, so you’re good.  But that GPA isn’t 4.0. Like the protagonist of the story, being good is never as worthy as being good enough.

There were so many other subtle hints in this portrayal that stuck out to me. The indirect ways parents hint at their children, and the sometimes futile lies children have to maintain in order to preserve the social fabric. The idea of your classmates having girlfriends and/or boyfriends and wondering if the elusive and confusing process will remain as awkward as ever.

But maybe in the quest of trying to fit in and stand out and find multiple identities and be good at something, I’ll find the way to strike that balance. And maybe that will be more than a number, let alone in base 10 than in binary. Maybe that could be an elegant function whose solutions I still seek.

Rainy Neon Dreams

I have a memory of the rain. On every day that we moved from one city to another, it would rain. I remember staring at the blurry streets that I was leaving behind knowing that I was perhaps feeling emotions too deep to put into words.  Often, I have caught my reflection weeping in the glass windows as the raindrops slide down the translucent cheeks effortlessly and I have scoffed because I have always been too optimistic about leaving my past behind.

Mumbai, Bangalore, New York. The offspring of an urban jungle, I have seen rich, poor, metal, grass and people alike and I know that I have yet seen nothing at all because I do not know where this life will take me. I take comfort in the sound and bustle and noise of the city because I know that it is a tangible evidence of the world’s ruthless progression.

I used to partition my life into small objectives: complete Grade 6, complete High-school, get into college, graduate from college and so on. Yet the more I grow up, the more it appears there is to do. Be a good person, be a good daughter, be a good student, be a good engineer, be a good friend, be happy, be kind, be compassionate, be less abusive towards yourself and so on and so forth. These are the fluid goals. The ones that have no deadlines, the ones that will inevitably come to pass, the ones in which I can’t seek a solution manual because there is no right way to do these things.

I have memories of the quiet mango tree alcoves of Kolkata suburbia, the asphalt-melting heat and the unbearable humidity. Even in that heat, we seek to ruin mangoes and interrupt afternoon siestas because we are too young to feel languor. Yes, grandma, I really would like to have cool coconut water. The protests that we had against the second evening shower because we were in denial of the sweat-clinging clothes. The ground burns as the sun sets and people gather around with hand-made bamboo fans and sigh, my goodness, wasn’t it a hot day?

I have memories of the lovely cloudy days of Bangalore, days which were so beautiful that I wish I could capture the rain forever, memories of playing in the rain and watching the paint run from new walls, muddy school uniforms, puddle-jumping conquests, mud and piping hot coffee huddled inside. Cloudy days that were so dark that the lights had to be put on in the afternoon. Cloudy days where the fog protected the nest of pigeons nearby from the dripping water.

Days when the sky was so picturesque that it seemed unreal, and the times in the café I have spent trying to become one of the many typical tomboy nerds, trying to make myself matter, trying to belong and eager to cast aside my stark differences. I have tried too hard and yet, I am grateful for the shelter and comfort of the all-girls’ school environment because it appears that things look a lot easier in the past.

It is raining again today, and the faint memory of a Bengali song makes me weep in the corner of the library, because indeed it had been so long since I have been home. I’m waiting for the future. I, who has constantly been pushed forward in my life, is waiting to come back to the past, to wrap it up in some dripping neon-colored memory that will smell of nostalgia, childhood, adolescent melancholy and the burning need to feel like I belong.

Excuse me, I murmur to my past, and start walking along Manhattan streets faster than my past is catching up beside me. I have things to do, places to be, I repeat endlessly striving to find meaning in this perennial madness of being trapped among geniuses in the world’s best city. The brutal wind will not let me stop and think about deadlines and work and the pressure of performing well enough to find that niche in which I belong. I have to be constantly aware of not stepping into a puddle because my winter boots are supposed to be on a holiday, and the Starbucks on my hand is my guiding beacon to warmth.

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls”, say Simon and Garfunkel and I hear the million clattering shoes on the asphalt paved roads to futures that dissolve behind innumerable avenues and crossings as large pools of people drift in and out. In the echo of their multilingual, multicultural identities, I hear the ghosts of the cites I’ve left behind and the ones that will come. If I have to call that one absolute place where I belong my home, then what of the transient journeys through the places where I have found different pieces of myself? Will I ever find that one perfectly shaped hollow in the geometry of life, where all my edges and curves will fit perfectly?

“Please stand away from the platform edge,” says the station recording and the train rushes in to scoop millions of aspirants to the future. Excuse me, I say to my future, taking a step back. Excuse me while I wait for the rain to fall.

Defining boundaries: Breaking up with a friend

Hear me out because this is not the sort of thing I do everyday.I made the cold-blooded, rationalized, well-pondered decision to tell one of my friends that we were not going to be friends any more.

I think I would have tried to reason with her why, but she was too busy feeling her feelings to hear me out. She feels very deeply offended by my actions and I am given to understand that she has been incredibly hurt. But I think that I have made the better decision for both parties. Let us explore the problem statement.

Problem: A formerly close friend and I have grown distant for the last few months. In the beginning of this academic year, we were very close and I sought out her company often. But she doesn’t actively seek my company any further and being a great believer of reciprocity, I decided to maintain the status quo. I am not the kind of person who will actively impose on another human being, especially for company.

Whenever I did hear of her, it was about her fan-girling about one boy after another. I don’t mean to say people shouldn’t do that, but my friend is under the mistaken impression that she will find “love” through her methods (to which I have some objections as well), and that “love” is likely to boost her own low self-esteem. I’m not one to judge here because I have suffered the same affliction as well. And I have grown out of it. But she seems to continue with her self-destructive tendencies, and it bothers me immensely that as a friend, I am unable to do anything for her.

I understand that I am in no position to claim that my philosophy to life is better than hers or anything of that sort. But I feel as though I have failed as a friend if I cannot help them overcome their own demons. Due to our extremely large differences in our life philosophies, and because I think I am mature enough not to ask her to change herself or anything, I have decided that it would be advisable for both of us to end our alliance. I am tired of feeling pity and disgust for the ways that she chases men, even though I respect that chasing men deserves to be her priority as much as being competent and independent is mine.

Very recently I discovered, quite by accident (since we haven’t been frequently in contact for a while), that the boy she is perpetually raving about is simultaneously dating two other girls. It was an awkward conversation because she personally hadn’t informed me how vested she was into him. I just got to hear it through all of our mutual friends. I had to break it to her, and it made for some awkward conversations, but I really wanted to get away from all of it. I asked her why. Why did she have to put herself through these emotional messes every time? And she gave me an answer that has taught me a very valuable lesson: “I couldn’t control my feelings”.

We were already distant then, and I was willing to let things drift because not only do I feel completely useless as a friend, I also feel that she doesn’t want me in her life anymore because I won’t tolerate her listening and talking about boys all the time. (She informed me afterwards that she was very offended that I would think her main interest would be something so superficial). That’s not the point. I’m not judging her interests. I feel that I cannot extend my compassion and understanding to her any longer. We’ve both changed as people (or maybe it’s just me), to be able to tell each other “I love you” honestly.

As circumstances happened, I was in a research panel with her new nascent love interest. We were discussing structural design and machine learning when all of a sudden she appeared from nowhere, claimed that she missed me and what not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume what her intentions might have been. But the timing of her sudden need to reconnect with me felt as though she was using me to get to him. Given the kind of stories I’ve heard from people who are close to her, who are not her haters, I wouldn’t put it past her to be like this. I was just so completely sick of her trying to use me, and that too for something as pathetic as the supposed illusion of “love” in an immature environment like college.

I evaded her response for a while. And when she came knocking at my door, I told her the truth. I’m not sorry if it offended her, because what she has been doing has offended my sensibilities long enough. I think she could be grateful that at least I let her know where we stand to her face instead of hiding it behind false smiles and hidden disgust. I don’t have to cringe every time I hear another incident of how “desperate” she was being. I don’t have to feel like I have failed as a friend for not helping her overcome her insecurities. Again, I repeat myself, I don’t want to say that she is wrong or reprehensible. To be honest, she hasn’t even done anything to hurt me. But I am tired of wasting my time and emotional energy onto her, hoping for a rekindling of our friendship. Even then, even if we went back to being friends, I would not put up with her constant chatter about boys.

I am tired of accommodating the large differences in our philosophies. She likes being the state she is in. I don’t like my friends to be like that and I have the right to choose that. Therefore, the problem is with my terms of friendship, and not with her. I deserve the right to have certain standards to uphold of my friends. She deserves the right to be/do whatever she likes. So the solution is to simply not be friends, because none of the other variables that are in play here are mutable. If she is no longer my friend, then I no longer have to feel like a dead-weight and she doesn’t have to feel like she has someone who is close to her who disapproves of her idea of fun.

I will still insist on being polite and civil, because I think every human being deserves that. But I will no longer have to cringe at the thought of how she may or may not grind up against a random boy in a crowd to boost her self-esteem, because she is not my friend anymore. I don’t have to deal with that.

 

1: A tribute to the last week of being a teenager

It’s going to be my twentieth birthday in two days. All the growing up I have had to do has happened within a span of seven days instead of 10 years.

24th of March, 2014 has till date been the worst Monday of my life. One of my dearest friends committed suicide.

I’m usually not one to support emotional writing, especially on my blog, because I feel that my opinions that I express here should be carefully thought out and balanced. But to possibly convey the depth of something as devastating as this is beyond words. For a long while I rambled on and on in my diary, trying to provide some form of expression to the sudden, mind-numbing grief that made time stop around me.

I discovered what true grief feels like. I discovered what it means to remember all the memories that were said and done, and more importantly, all the things that were left unsaid. There is this silent screaming that goes on inside, and the only thing you can do about it is wear a smile on top and pretend that everything is proceeding as normal. Only 7 of my friends know, because I don’t want anyone to pity me, or know the turmoil that I am going through.

More so, this is a suicide. There’s a large blame factor involved, although you cannot blame anyone. The sole authority who had to shoulder the blame has left us all on this earth to seek his happiness in a place far beyond us. I used to think that Death was the sort of happiness that is earned when you have survived life’s challenges. This restful, complete, full sleep untouched by any sort of sorrow or fear is a paradise that can only be earned. Except my friend has acquired it at a cost that is too expensive for us to bear.

I don’t think my wounds have healed enough that I can write a respectable eulogy to him. Or maybe keep writing eulogies to him forever.

I have discovered how strong I am. I never thought that I would have to go through this, but he has left me with no choice but to be strong on his behalf. His mother had called me earlier in the day asking of his whereabouts. I had spent the last month being upset with him because he simply refused to pick up my calls, talk to me or hang out with me. I have sent him several ignored texts and messages through ever possible communication media. When his parents called, and I was worried, I began to search for him all over campus, sure that I would find him physically. I waited. I searched. I wandered. Repeat.

He wasn’t anywhere. He was literally off the grid for four hours and nobody knew where he was. I excused his absences as perhaps a chance occurrence, maybe he wasn’t around when I had got to the venue. Maybe he went to buy a new phone and was distracted. Maybe networks were down. Maybe there were a million reasons that he couldn’t be there.

Turns out that there a million reasons he left us all. Except I cannot extrapolate what they are.

Later on in the evening, we were all informed of a demise on campus. I have never survived blind shock, but I know now that the only way I was functioning was on some sort of auto-pilot.

25th of March left me with the conflicted discovery of managing the waves of grief. First came the phase in which I felt nothing. I was empty and numb and filled with memories of him. The way he touched my hair. The arguments we had. The times when he, his younger brother and I were a trio. Our myriad adventures. Our myriad stories. The promises we made, and the promises that are left broken. He had promised to get me rain-boots on my birthday, and now he will never be able to celebrate my birthday.

Perhaps the waves of grief were compounded by the fact that this friend had once asked me out. He wanted me to be closer to him emotionally. My reasons for graciously declining were many: his mental instability (perhaps we was projecting another’s feelings onto me?), the fact that his mother and I were really close and this would have been a problem, the fact that he didn’t know me well enough to let me be so intimate with him.

I blamed myself for a while, unable to suppress the survivor’s guilt. I blamed myself for not being proactive enough. For not reaching out to him enough. For not being able to change his mind. I also carry the hidden layer of blame that maybe if I had agreed to the relationship, we both could have been in an infinitely happier place. More maybes. More what-ifs. More what-could-have-beens. I am not prepared to deal with the world at all.

I was conflicted about whether  should I tell his friends or not. Making a pathetic transient Facebook post is not something he would have liked, and it would only earn me the sympathy of many, not the respect of his memory. I am desperately searching for ways to remember him, to contain this flood of memories and feelings and emotions, to accept this pain because it is taking a lot out of me.

26th of March was the first time I went to a funeral. It was beautiful. And terrible. The family is beyond devastated. The younger brother is in denial. They broke down once again, when they saw me. I have to step up to fill in the shoes that he left behind. I have to be the surrogate older sibling. I have to be the replacement, if such a deplorable word be used, daughter to fill the gap in their hearts. I know I will never be able to take up such a responsibility completely, but I have to try.

This grief is so tiring. It is so exhausting. It remains like a heavy weight begging for expression, even when every single tear that could be cried has been wept, and every possible despair that could be felt has been felt. Why did he have to go? Why is this so hard? Why is there this never-ending capacity to feel pain and compassion?

As my professor said, “The human spirit cannot be denied to right to search for light, when it is in the darkness.”  He is in the light now. He is so eternally peaceful. He looked so rested in the box, and the world around his is destabilizing.

Everything that is now Sikh, or Punjabi or that remotely reminds me of him in any way has now become a source of attachment. Now that he has gone, I will do my best to respect the culture that he was raised in, so I can remember him in a fashion that feels right. There is no right for these things.

Afterwards, I was informed that when his phone was recovered, he had deleted all of his contacts except four of them. His father. His mother. His brother. Me. Even in his dying moments, he chose to think of me. I cannot even comprehend the depth of how much I touched him. His mother wept into my shoulder as she held me tight. “Take care of yourself. Children never know just how valuable they are to their parents. You are so special to us, you will never understand.”

The dry spell on my soul has lifted. I have to let this sorrow out.  I must depart abruptly now. I promise to come back later.