Since the past couple of days, I often think what to call myself in the ‘general taxonomy’ of people out there in the world. How do I fit in? Where do I belong? Is there a category that I fall in? If yes, can I narrow it down to some pre-defined tags that I can self-attribute to the category that represents my personality? Further, can I pick a name?
A name that is not chosen by my parents.
A name that doesn’t discriminate me on the basis of religion, cast, creed, colour and country.
A name that defines me globally yet locally.
I often get derailed pretty quickly from this train of thought the very moment I start pondering over it. My inadvertent incompetence in taking far too long to come up with this ‘name’ makes me edgy, and I try to push the thought deeper into the recesses of the memory pool, into the partially submerged subconscious, tucked away nicely, I leave it there – to be pondered upon some other time, some other place.
But I confess, the more I try to push it away, the more prominent it becomes. Like a drop of ink in water, it slowly takes a definite colour and settles on the pool surface, completely submerging your other thoughts into its depths.
It flashes unceremoniously at times; in the dead of afternoons when I am working, at 2 A.M. in the night when I am trying to recollect the previous day’s work, and even during morning dump hours when I am thinking about the work to be done that day –
“What do I call myself?”
But today, the train is on track, on time (straight from a night-owl’s watch), and billowing volumes of smokes in all directions – illuminating things in a clear cut picture, lifting the haze off obscured notions, channeling through the right memory courses, shaking hands with its fellow thoughts and shouting –
Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem! Carpe Diem!
And to tell you that the answer to that question finally dawned upon me as a revelation while having a talk with my dad makes me believe more in the above two words.
What was it? You will need to be patient with me. When I usually write, it’s mostly a blend of fiction with reality. But this is different. I am writing about me. So I will need to choose my words carefully if not meticulously. After all, I don’t want to give you a chance to point out the fiction in my reality.
From Callused Palms To Crooked Fingers
I really don’t remember when my palms of my hands lost the calluses they had so abundantly formed. The last time I checked i.e. after an intense game of badminton in Tulsi Baag, I still had them. They were rough and dirty after the game. I remember I used to scratch them a lot. Not because they were itching but to immerse myself in that zone of gameplay where I could think of a strategy for the next one. I think it was an involuntary reaction by my subconscious to a good game. A happy reminder that said-
‘You scratch them calluses real nice to do better in the next game’
I never really thought much about them until today.
They are gone. There is an extra layer of fat on my palms. When I look at them, they look plump and healthy. It’s like fate (mom’s healthy food) decided that I don’t need them calluses anymore.
If I think about it, in the bigger picture of things, it hardly matters. But right now, it bothers me. It feels like there is this part of me, which has been replaced by a newer one – more generic and more mundane. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I dislike it. I just didn’t want the previous part to go away go so soon. Was that too much to ask?
Now what bothers me more is the crooked shape my fingers take when my hands maneuvers the mouse for more than 15 minutes. It looks something like this –
What’s more appalling than that? The little finger seems to twitch all the time, signalling me to somehow scratch the itch that wasn’t there anymore.
I realized that the journey from calloused palms to crooked fingers wasn’t a tough one. It involved some ‘common’ sacrifices and two four-layered paranthas packed for lunch. Somehow, these sacrifices became a part of me, of who I am.
Honestly, I won’t like them calluses now. But I want that little finger to stop itching. How?
It’s like my conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind have spoken their truths and are constantly reminding me –
“This is just a phase. You shall pass. Chill”
Hiding your lies under a canopy of your truths is a devious thing to do.
But I have hidden my callused truth under the canopy of my robust lies and moved on. It was phase after all.
As I write this, I acknowledge the power of time and the leverage that it holds over us. But each time phase brings something new into our lives, which, like it or not, becomes a routine eventually.
** If you are clueless to what you just read makes any sense or not, I would never suggest you to read ‘1984’ by George Orwell.
From The Crying Metro Couple To The Drowsy Working Class Hero
To me, just when the metro goes underground, it feels like the world is the end of the coach you are in, and the fellow passengers are my brothers and sisters trying to sing a song which has no lyrics.
I am a chronic eavesdropper and an adamant observer. As I see my new family for the next few hours struggle, I put myself to use. I try to catch the furtive flicker of dreary eyes, the sound made by careless yawns, the angles made by lolling heads, the words uttered in hush tones, and turn them into the lyrics of the song which captures the essence of their lives (if only in my mind).
One day, a lady entered the metro accompanied by her (assumed) mother and sister. A guy with a medium built, and dressed in casual clothes followed her. They caught my attention almost instantly as they entered owing to their half-puffy half-teary eyes and intermittent breaths. There was a remarkable synchrony between their demeanors. If she looked at him, he looked away. If he tried to do so, the mother and sister looked back sinisterly. This went on for a good 30 minutes until they de-boarded the train.
All throughout the journey, I could feel the control they tried to exude, trying their best not to express their misfortune (if any) to their new family. But they didn’t succeed completely.
What killed me the most was that despite knowing so much about them (or so less), I never would be able to know their names, or for that matter, tell them this
“I think your song needs more than just words. It needs action.”
After them, I saw a routine guy trying to do routine things – yawn, browse and stare. Everything about him was simple. He represented the majority of the family. I didn’t know his name either. But I could tell that his song was getting viral. The number of yawns he could take in a minute genuinely impressed me. And within minutes, majority of the family followed suit. Like I said – viral.
I realized the importance of actions that day. You will become time’s charioteer only when you know how to yield it in its full potential. And in order to do so, you will need to take actions at the right time.
From The Pani-Puri Guy To Underpaid Rickshaw-Puller
My liking to pani-puri as my staple street food has nothing to do with my gender. If you can agree to that, go and read ahead.
My routine says eat pani-puri twice a week. It’s usually a Wednesday or a Saturday. One Sunday evening (I had a craving), I went back to my pani-puri guy and told him to fix a plate. While serving the suji ones, he narrated a story to a guy standing next to me. Here’s the gist –
‘I serve pani-puri to people after looking at their status. If he/she looks well off, I don’t serve the extra helping of khatta pani. If he looks poor, I offer him a complimentary suji puri.
Yes! My curiosity meter dials went berserk. I thought that this guy would definitely know which category to put me in. I tripled my swallowing speed and as my hands lay stretched ready to catch the next suji puri, I put a wide grin and asked him politely –
“To hum kis category mein aate hain?”
In which category do I fall in?
He replied back almost immediately, and with an obsequious frivolity so apparent on his face that I almost choked on the puri.
He said “Sir, app to middle class ho!”
You belong to middle class.
I fake laughed in front of him to be in his good graces. But lost my shit the moment I reached home. Why did laughter roar as wildly as it did? Because without knowing my name, the guy got me to reconsider my quest to find myself a new name.
How important was it to me to find that name? If I even found one, would I be able to stick to it? For all I knew, he spoke a language that I understood well. So why go to the trouble of defining yourself at all?
I found the answer to that question another day later when a rickshaw puller undercharged me – Rupees 10 instead of 20. After my idiosyncratic small talk, I asked him the reason behind such generosity, his curt reply was as humble as his stooping shoulders covered with a ragged piece of clothing–
‘Wo battery rickshaw wale bhi itna hi lete hai”
The auto-rickshaw drivers charge this much only.
If I say I wanted to empathize with him, I would be understating it. I wanted to gift him a ‘battery rickshaw’ so that he could always have a fair chance to bargain with his savari (like every other rickshaw puller) before choking under the guilt of quoting too much.
This troubled me. There was enough underlying friction between man and humanity. With technology barging in, it just becomes worse for both.
Had I not asked his name and birthplace in the conversation that preceded, I doubt I would have been so genuinely affected by his words that carried more weight than he was actually pulling. I gave him thirty rupees, and in midst of basking in part humility and part arrogance, I saw gratitude flash across his face in the form of an imperceptible nod after he heard my leaving remarks –
“Agli baari se 30 manga karo”
Ask for 30 Rupees next time
I realized that in some manner, knowing someone’s name could make a lot more difference than speaking the universal tongue of Internet trolls.
From Over-Socialization To Under-Socialization
There is a certain eerie silence, which circumscribes you, pulls you into a well so shallow that all surrounding noise – the (slow) rhythmic hum of the fan, the whirring AC, the barking dogs in the streets fade away in the background. All that remains is silence. And I – in it.
And as I write it, I realize how far have I come – as a son, as a brother, and as a vivid projection of my own dreams. I am trying to scale myself everyday. Constantly looking for loopholes and cracks through which this new me could slip through and disappear, I try to push myself to the boundaries in all three verticals – work, family, and me.
But it is an ongoing process where the definition of socializing reduces to popping a couple of cans of beer after a long week.
I was aware of the idea of getting lost in a gathering of one’s own thoughts. But I was not aware of the definition of ‘getting lost’. Does it have a limit? Or was it scalable too?
I try to see people from the lens that they themselves wear. After so many years of story building and story breaking, I found it easy. But what I found more difficult was how to define/see myself. Whose lens should I wear? A Kashmiri Pundit? An Indian Engineer? A Delhite? A Mumbaikar?
And then I happen to be present in the company of my dad one fine evening. And lo and behold!
After 15 minutes of talk, I could hear the happy burst and pop of my thought questions being pricked by dad’s answer needles.
I asked him one question –
“Should I look after myself or look after my family?”
He raised his eyebrows suspiciously and asked me twice if I had had a drink that day before answering very cautiously –
‘You are free to choose on that. But take your time while making that decision. You are still young for it’ and then he went back to his newspaper.
Afraid I might have lost his attention, I prodded further –
‘I think I need to make that decision now. My actions depend on it.’
He looked at me, trying to fathom the root of this question, so that he could find the correct branch to water with answers. I think he found it was rootless.
This was followed with a 10-minute speech, which almost made me feel guilty about asking that question in the first place. Here is a gist of it –
“Bid your time with your family. Try to acclimatize with the rules. If you don’t feel comfortable, tell us where did we go wrong and we will try to fix it. But remember, out there, alone, you can very well survive in this world till you have a name and a birthplace. But if you want to win in this world, you will need yourself more than any other title or birthright.”
‘I will need myself’
I slept a good deal that night. After all, I was the proud Indian millennial – a solid cross between western and Indian cultures, a thought-provoking train of motivation and self-respect, I had to write my own story – kartiknama.