The Terrifying Gift of Uncertainty

Considering the pandemic we’re living in, I keep my grocery dash to the bare minimum, once in 7 days or so. Medicines for an elderly mother and some food for a household of four are generally what is required. Since lock down, I remain conscious of how we consume and am reminded every single day that very many don’t have the same access. This morning I had to step out since the gas cylinder was out and the distributor had discontinued home deliveries. Since it was to be a run, I decided to try and replenish medicines and provisions as well. The last couple of trips were straight to the shops and back but today I took a circuitous route coming to the street where I usually find everything I need.

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Along the way, I saw that summer had made itself at home. The trees were bursting, the koels were at their shrillest notes and the first of the gulmohurs were beginning a display that promised fiery beauty. I also saw shop shutters were down and it was a sobering image to see what used to be a bustling cafe stand desolate. All around I could hear a resounding new lexicon that includes social distancing, quarantine, isolation, curfew, lock down etc, which have now become part of our every day conversation.

By the time I got to the chemist, there was a sense of something not quite right. There were far fewer people on the roads compared to last week and the four young girls who would loiter around were missing. Those young ones would wait outside the grocery store waiting for someone to buy them provisions. The grocery store was also shut today. There was a single vegetable vendor with a cart and I was buying a few items when a lathi brandishing cop came rushing at us telling us to scatter. The lady cowered trying to pack up while I looked on in dismay at the way fear and fatigue reduced that policeman and others like him to an angry force. Another cop did the same to an old banana seller and I found myself wondering how could that old man do anything if it went beyond a threat of a beating to an actual one. Threats are also delivered differently depending on who is the recipient.

Medicines were in short supply and I took whatever was available. I could see fear in the chemist’s eyes with every transaction that took place, every exchange of money and goods. Touch is such a primary way in which we experience the world and now the very air that glances off the skin seems loaded. At a time when a hug might comfort, we find that it could be potentially fatal. Every time I come back from a trip outside, I feel exposed and vulnerable. Regardless of the almost obsessive- compulsive levels of cleaning and sanitizing, I wonder if I am still a risk to people at home. I can’t begin to imagine how it must be for health care workers and their families, the constant doubt of infection.

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Not too different from how we live now

The gas cylinder distributor had a few people in line and we collected slips before heading off to pick the cylinders from a truck at another location. This is common for very many people where deliveries are difficult but a first for me. In the wake of a curfew like atmosphere, traffic rules and regulations don’t really apply, not that they did very much in this overgrown town. But I found myself thinking vaguely of lines in my car insurance document that mention something to the effect of not carrying inflammable goods.

On my way back home, I saw that one of the tiny stores selling coffee was open and my regular blend was available. It was a mixed moment, elation at getting a pack of indulgence while feeling a little guilty for my delight. But not for too long since my guilt would serve no one. While the scales may not be balanced always, there’s always atleast a feather weight of joy and love to the heaviness of fear and sorrow. At some point, the tide will turn one way or the other and hopefully the maverick virus will be contained. But until then, each person stares at the terrifying gift of uncertainty to ask what it truly means to be alive.





Why do I Write?

Earlier in the day, very early on in fact, the mind settled on a single word as a cue for the day. In the course of exchanges with a friend, the word cropped up a few times lately and yesterday as I watched the bougainvillea curve into a dip under the weight of violently pink flowers, it settled into an easy prompt. Often the word stays fluttering behind my mind’s curtain until threads start to appear and I can begin to weave it into a poem or a snatch of prose. There is no purpose save to see where a word or thought might go left on the wind. And then, it gathers unto itself something of an energy to become a piece that is self-sufficient. It mostly writes itself with very little intervention from my end, save a little rearranging like one might attempt with flowers in a vase.

Curve was meant to be the word today until I was asked, “Do you see your writing as an end in itself?

I suppose so. It wasn’t always so. Even now, sometimes it slips into a means rather than an end but that is reserved for my journals.

For many years, I didn’t consider myself a writer simply since I did not publish anything (blogs didn’t really count). I still haven’t done so. It was mostly in the nature of unpacking thoughts that would refuse to go beyond a point in the mind or then to capture a moment or how it felt or appeared. These remained private, anonymous and a way of making sense through the years. The form it took was mainly entries scribbled in journals and the odd poem or a patch of prose. These have been scattered in papers, notebooks, screens and pretty much anything that could be a writing surface. They’re coloured with the textures of my days and in retrospect I see changes that have happened as well as an intrinsic basic nature. It was and continues to be a way of discovering myself and allowing the thoughts to flow. These have led to explosive breakthroughs although the intent was never about using it as a means. The outcome just seemed to happen. I burnt my journals written until the age of 27 when I decided I didn’t want to look back. There are some old letters that I had written which have survived and somehow happened to fall in my possession.

Blogging was a tentative exploration and the initial few were to save my words somewhere lest I lose the papers in the process of moving homes many times. A few years ago, I decided to document my running journey as a means to keep me accountable to myself and discovered that it became an accompaniment to the sport. Running fed the blog and vice versa. I also discovered the joys of having someone read what I wrote. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that they connected enough for a two-way conversation.

Yoga came back to my life soon after and another blog was born and the two were primarily to document my journey so that another who might struggle with these things as a beginner might benefit. I also discovered my voice and that of others who began to read those musings. It was just a way to document my personal experience, subjective as it might be. Running was lost after a few years and around the same time, sarees made a re-entry into my life and through them, an entire world of memories. I found that the humble piece of clothing that had been a staple when I was younger also became an anchor for musings, mostly quiet reflections about the mundane every day. Maybe a witnessing of living in the now and how it has never quite been too far away from the past and the future. Lately though, that is also dwindling and I find myself withdrawing into the format of a letter.

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Something about sarees that makes it so easy to meander in thoughts. the lines on this cotton ikat remind me of the pages of a notebook.

Perhaps, it is a way to reclaim time, find a pause and release where instant communication is the norm. Does an experience cease to have significance if it is dated? Letters make it possible to pause in the present to share of myself in the moment and send it into an unknown time and place. I like the act of writing to one person and that is how I like to relate to the outside at present. The appeal of this format lies in its dispatch, once gone it is truly gone from my memory until a reply, if and when it came, jogged some of the contents. It also feels natural considering that it used to be a way of sharing myself as a very young adult, long before the time of facebook and texts. Of course in these days of a pandemic, I take pictures and send them on since the postal service has been disrupted.

Now, the three weave in and out of each other and their boundaries are blurred. And in a sense it has become a practice, much like my yog sadhana, a continuous striving with no end in mind, just the act of endeavouring. Call it a studentship maybe? Occasionally, there are aha moments when a sentence or a pose come together effortlessly but that’s nodded at, acknowledged and it’s back to working on the art.

Writing for me is an intensely solitary act of silence. It feels like painting in a sense, brush strokes of a present truth that are rarely edited simply to keep the truth of the moment of its birthing, both conscious and unconscious. There are crafted pieces too but the spontaneous fragments remain my favoured children. Most of what finds its way as a complete picture or a profile of one are raised from a pool of rememberings, colourings and learnings. It is a sum of all I have experienced, imagined or heard. There used to be a time in my younger days where I feared that all the thoughts were already thought, all the beautiful sentences had already been written before. I feared having my words resemble that of other writers and not being original but that perhaps was an insecurity of an immature writer. Writing just for myself released me to let the words flow through me as they deemed fit.

If I had to have a framework for my craft, it would be Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. Simplicity and restraint are the checks that I like to use in language. As much as writing is for my pleasure, it also gives me happiness when others respond to what I write from their own recollections. The biggest joy is when young ones find something useful and beautiful and true in my words.

So, why then do I write?

I write to wrap a hint of myself in the act, an act of ego perhaps, to mark this blip of a presence.

I write because I feel through words all that I may not necessarily be able to experience.

I write because there is pleasure in seeing words come together to create something familiar and new at once.

I write because the act of writing is a deeply sensuous one, an act of giving completely of myself.

I write because I cannot not write.

A letter to my daughter

Darling firstborn

We’ve crossed the halfway mark of the lockdown. It seems an uncertain world that we will emerge into whenever this forced isolation is over. What is certain though is that art created in these times, splashing a canvas with fears and desires across all kinds of media, will remain. Decades from now, a future generation will read about these times like we do about the ages gone by of older wars and plagues.

These days hand written letters have morphed into images sent electronically

A couple of nights ago, I had fallen off to sleep and then gotten up with a start. So, I thought I’d work on some writing when your sister came by. She craves company and says that she is like a bug to my light. It’s a cute analogy. For me though, at writing times, I want silence and complete isolation. I don’t like having anyone nearby. Long story short, I didn’t end up writing but indulged her drawing whims.

We spoke for a long while and she sketched me, I really like the picture. Sending it to you so you can see what I mean. She is gifted and doesn’t quite know it. That’s probably the best place to be as an artist. Perhaps someday, I might ask her to make illustrations for books I will write. Through my writing, I have started to discover myself and explore beyond the edges of what I thought I knew. It’s been exhilarating, this deluge of discovery. But that’s for another day when I get to see you in person, my love.

It’s late and I’m tired. My mind’s ranged universes today and I have no wise words or thoughts for us to ponder, just this little slice of my today. And a very big I love you.


A Folding

I’ve folded
a quiet

where time
ceases play
when isolation
doesn’t exist

a moment
just a moment
a room
just a room

no wishing
for lost time
no wanting
loved roads

not that
not this
just a
full IS