The fault in our wars


The fault with radical activism of any sort is that it is radical. It is fierce; it is aggressive and highly critical. Its proponents are a bulldozer, squashing you with their countless terminologies and dismissing you at the slightest hint of ignorance. It is the language of war and subdued violence, erupting like a volcano at the slightest provocation. While the use of activism to bring about social change and justice is validated, the use of aggression to make marginalized voices heard is not. Agreed, that people of queer identities or color face discrimination on a micro level—as an Indian studying in one of the finest liberal arts schools in the United States, I can safely say that the college itself is not so liberal. Despite its open dialogs and safe spaces of discussion about race, color, sexual identities, it displays ignorance at the most fundamental level. Racism, a vehemently opposed concept here, doesn’t cease to exist as my fellow classmates hesitate; trying to place my accent and nationality before answering my simple questions.  I have been the third wheel way too often during group conversations with my American friends—people forgetting to ask for my opinion on current topics or seemingly forgetting that I exist in the group eating dinner together. My conversations with the Indian diaspora in America consist of the latest Bollywood movie and reminiscences of the ways in which Indian food is more flavorful than that of America, as if the beginning and end of my knowledge spans only India. While writing and speaking about these issues deeply upsets me, I also realize that this is not a reason to lash out in anger at anyone who says, “Oh, are you from India? I know all about it, I have seen Slumdog Millionare!” or “How do you speak such good English?”

The reason why contemporary activism fails to make an impact on most occasions is because it polarizes, it strengthens the other as the activist struggling to be heard uses passion fueled hate. As an informed and educated citizen of this world, it becomes my duty as much as my audience’s to recognize the ignorance that exists in both parties. If their knowledge of India does not go beyond Slumdog Millionare, my knowledge of America does not go beyond popular TV shows such as Friends and How I Met Your Mother (this was only until I became a student in the United States). If my impatience stems from their blatant ignorance, their discrimination might stem from misinformation via film and other popular media. In order to truly connect and harmonize both worlds, I need an activism that uses the language of love and connection. One that does not divide, but one that joins. One that does not polarize but one that recognizes the other as an extension of oneself. One that does not vehemently dismiss but one that includes and gently educates. The idea of the other being separate from ourselves arises mainly from the Western individualistic society where the “I” is placed above everything and everyone else; it chooses to defend at the first signs of attack. This is where the socialistic model of society from the East can be useful.

Using this socialistic model, which stresses on the importance of connections and strength of interpersonal relations, we realize that at the end of the day we are all humans, all frail creatures looking for the same thing- love. Whether it is the queer Black activist in Boston or the white American heterosexual in New York,  both are searching for the same thing- ears that listen and hearts that understand. The term “open dialog” will only live up to its meaning when both come together from a space of curiosity, of wanting to learn and educate themselves and the other on the peculiarities of their own human existence. The “safe spaces” will only begin to take shape when there is patience, kindness and empathy in the hearts of those who watch Slumdog Millionare and Friends. When we begin to recognize that connections and the frailties that bind us, our polarities cease to exist, the You versus I and the Them versus Us crumble, giving way to We. Thus, the next time someone misreads your identity, take a step back and a deep breath; realize: I am just another You.

 

The quiet places in your mind

Quote


 “There are quiet places also in the mind,” he said, meditatively. “But we build bandstand and factories on them. Deliberately—to put a stop to the quietness. We don’t like the quietness. All the thoughts, all the preoccupation in my head—round and round continually.” He made a circular motion with his hands. “And the jazz bands, the music hall songs, the boys shouting the news. What’s it all for? To put an end to the quiet, to break it up and disperse it, to pretend at any cost it isn’t there. Ah, but it is, it is there, in spite of everything, at the back of everything. Lying awake at night, sometimes—not restlessly, but serenely, waiting for sleep—the quiet re-establishes itself, piece by piece; all the broken bits, all the fragments of it we’ve been so busily dispersing all day long. It re-establishes itself, an inward quiet, like this outward quiet of grass and trees. It fills one, it grows –a crystal quiet, a growing expanding crystal. It grows, it becomes more perfect; it is beautiful and terrifying, yes, terrifying, as well as beautiful. For one’s alone in the crystal and there’s no support from outside, there’s nothing external and important, nothing external and trivial to pull oneself up by or to stand up, superiorly, contemptuously, so that one can look down. There’s nothing to laugh at or feel enthusiastic about. But the quiet grows and grows. Beautifully and unbearably. And at last you are conscious of something approaching; it is almost a faint sound of footsteps. Something inexpressibly lovely and wonderful advances through the crystal, nearer, nearer. And oh, inexpressibly terrifying. For if it were to touch you, if it were to seize and engulf you, you’d die; all the regular habitual, daily part of you would die. There would be and end of bandstands and whizzing factories, and one would have to begin living arduously in the quiet, arduously n some strange unheard-of manner. Nearer, nearer come the steps; but one can’t face the advancing thing. One daren’t. It’s too terrifying; it’s too painful to die. Quickly, before it is too late, start the factory wheels, bang the drum, blow up the saxophone. Think of the women you’d like to sleep with, the schemes for making money, the gossip about your friends, the last outrage of the politicians. Anything for a diversion. Break the silence, smash the crystal to pieces. There, it lies in bits; it is easily broken, hard to build up and easy to break. And the steps? Ah, those have taken themselves off, double quick. Double quick, they were gone at the flawing of the crystal. And by this time the lovely and terrifying thing is three infinities away, at least. And you lie tranquilly on your bed, thinking of what you’d do if you had ten thousand pounds and of all the fornications you’ll never commit.” – Aldous Huxley

The violence of strength


I want to emphasize on the violence involved in the warrior approach that most survivor tales take on, after the death of a loved one, loss, or a break up. There is often implied aggression in the survivor tales we see being portrayed time and again in the movies, songs and other popular media. In a sort of Bildungsroman, the protagonist must go through the break up/loss to come out with a cleaner character, he/she needs to take on an approach of that of a warrior where he/she is taking charge and control of his/her life. It is because our society discourages failure. The helplessness we so often seek to combat catches up with us in the end. The aggression or the hatred stemming from the break up is often channelized into a hardened personality, one that of a “tough” individual who goes about life in an almost superhero way. The portrayal of these characters, specially females, overly aggressive “radical” feminists shows the assertion of anger at a very core level; an escapist attitude from the ultimate helplessness that we all want to avoid. We don’t like being helpless, we want to be bigger than our problems, we want to tackle life, and we want to be in charge. All this war terminology creates an armor that not only hardens, but also defeats the individual. At a core level, our soul is being crushed.

The true essence of the soul is not that of enmity, struggle or combat, but that of a relaxed surrender to the realization that we are all powerless in this grand orchestra of life. It is due to my continued practice of meditation that disallows any hardening; I have come to realize that struggle is not the way to achieve personal growth and change. That we do not own the powers to overcome every situation, that things happen in their own time, that love does not disappear easily despite a bad break up, and that we will make mistakes repeatedly. The marginalization of failure, of reality is one problem that must not be undermined. You are very likely to wake up with an aching heart or worse still, a sleepless night tomorrow. You will probably be quicker in doling out “I love yous” to your lovers than to your parents. You might skip a day in your exercise regime. Life is not always rosy and successful. We are creatures of comfort and ease and are highly unlikely to go through a character arc overnight. Sitting with failure is hard, when all you want to do is to rip out someone’s head or maybe even yours. It is harder to admit that you are powerless. But it is only through surrender to this failure that we learn to recognize the true strength in ourselves and emerge as the compassionate, loving, softhearted beings that we really are.

We


Identity.

Id-entity?

I’d entity?

I had an entity?

I have an entity.

I.

You.

We.

Let’s put a sex on this I. She.

Let’s put a name on her. Rachel.

Let’s put an age on Rachel. 20.

Let’s put a nationality on 20 year old Rachel. American.

Let’s give 20 year old Rachel from America a race. White.

Voila! You have a person with an identity!

Sex, name, age, nationality, race.

I bet you have many other labels too.

We hold on to these labels: he, she, they as if they will somehow define us.

We hold debates, write angry poems, and hold protests on capitalism, nationalism, colonialism and a million other isms as if they will somehow make the pain of our human existence more interesting than “theirs”.

We. I know you don’t like this word.

It makes you uncomfortable; I can see you squirming in your seat already.

It scares you; I can see you forming arguments in your head already.

It makes you afraid, it dissolves the line between you and I, him and her, black and white, Asian and American and makes us.

Tell me friend, are your labels the same ones that weigh down your brain with their countless terminologies and divisions as you struggle to sleep at night?

Do they make you different from that Asian guy in your class when you both reach out for the glass of vodka trying to forget these same definitions?

What makes your need for validation different from those heterosexuals as you both grind against a stranger in drunker stupor?

What makes you different from me when you say water and I say water in different accents when we both sound the same underwater?

We.

I know you’re still afraid of that word.

I know you’re not willing to let go.

I know you’re still clinging to those three words you have been taught- I love you.

I know that you’re terrified that if you let you and I drop, only one word remains.

Love.

And we certainly cannot have that.

Curly fries


Curly fries

Piano music

Good friends

The perfect recipe for a Saturday night, I thought as I walked back to my dorm. A certain heaviness weighed me down, a certain something I couldn’t pinpoint. My back tingled, announcing the presence of a building ache.

I walked on, absorbed in my beauty and silence- crisp, beautiful and palpable.

I felt Nature cradling me; the space around my body felt supported.

I was supported.

My bed felt comfortable.

I was safe.

I was with silence, in silence.

There were signs; they were subtle, but visible. Walking home one night under the stars I realized I had fallen in love.

With myself.

Addiction


I looked outside to the gentle but steady falling of snow, the paper snowflakes pasted on the window and the icicles that hung from the eves. The world outside was white; land, grass, house all covered in snow. It was a white country. Its exquisite beauty stared out at me from every nook and cranny. But it failed to pierce my heart. It failed to touch my soul. The more I tried to pierce the honey-dewed arrow of beauty into my heart, the more I failed. It was as if my heart had barriers built against it. I knew this wasn’t true. I was a product of culture and conditioning shaped my beliefs. It was unsettling to know that conditioning shaped even the deepest intuitive part of me.  It was unsettling to know that I was not as important as I thought. I didn’t know anything here, the places or the people. I was lonely here. I was lonely back home too. I was addicted to the loneliness among people I know.

cropped-pic.jpg

Home


Frozen I thought as I looked at the icy ground underneath. Through the sheer glass of the ice, I could see the blades of grass trying to wriggle out, squirming uncomfortably, trying to retain the last signs of life they had. I had found myself in the same position many times already. I had tried wriggling my way out situations and instead landed in the shiftiness of my body. I squirmed uncomfortably, in my million body aches, and tried to subside them by means of will, “I release and let go and I forgive. I release and let go and forgive myself,” I repeated mantra, an incessant effort to subside pain. I needed to forgive myself for many things- my inability to sustain myself, my need for validation, my constant quest for meaning and my need, almost addiction to bad company. As I thought about my “friends” I thought about how many of them I could actually call my own. There were none.

I realized how essentially alone I was. In conversations and fake smiles and love talks and gestures, I remained empty. I was a hollow vessel, waiting to be filled- by just anything or anyone that came along. Friends failed the test, alcohol let me down miserably, and love remained dry and blank, like a sheet of paper. In all instances, I was waiting, waiting to be filled. And then there was him. The soft perfume of his skin permeated mine and filled my senses with a wonder that was astonishing. Even in the passionate embrace of love, I remained incomplete. I was going insane. My body shifted uncomfortably, deforming itself to fit into pieces too small for it. It looked through the keyhole of hope and squeezed itself through it till it came out, painful and raw in its contorted form. Hope was what kept it alive. Hope for another day, another time, another man, and another light. But hope seemed to be an illusion- the more I chased it, the further it evaded me. It was a mirage, a distant possibility promising fruits in the future and disappearing in the timeless pain of the present. Nothing seemed to bring repose. My body was weary, my mind tired and I wanted rest. I wanted peace. I wanted home.

Home. I rolled the word around in my mouth with the whipped cream of the hot cocoa I was sipping. “Sorry,” I said, rolling my Rs like the way I had learnt it here as I accidentally bumped into a girl. Learning to be white I called it, as I picked up a new trait from the Americans everyday. I learnt that plastering a smile on your face while holding doors open for multiracial strangers was considered courteous, while excluding them out of conversation wasn’t. I learnt that open dialogues consisted mainly of individuals eager to discuss and determine their sexual identity while conveniently leaving out a majority of voices who defined identity otherwise. I mastered the subtle differences between a latte and mocha, used terms like “cultural appropriation”, worried about the fate of the country and complained about the throes of life to my therapist once a month. I was trying to erase the earth from my skin, the monsoon showers from my tears and the light from the dark of my eyes as I gradually donned the white of America.

In the crevices of my being I longed for the kiss of the sun, the earth of my land and the scent of hot frothing chai every morning. I missed the rainbow of my homeland; I had been living in white for too long. I longed to feel grounded in familiarity; I had imagined her smile soft and welcoming, her arms open wide promising settlement. But the more I looked down that road, the farther away it seemed. Would things be the same when I returned? Would anyone remember my absence? Would anyone even notice? I tossed around in my bed mulling over these questions trying to find solace in the darkness of my eerily quiet room. I was lost; I had contorted beyond my own recognition. I couldn’t settle anywhere- I felt incomplete in the face of love; I lacked recognition in my mother’s eyes and I felt lonely in the company of friends. Not a single soul was ready to anchor mine. Lonely and desolate, I proceeded towards the bathroom and pushed open the door. Scrawled across the wall in black letters was, “You can’t make homes out of human beings. Someone should have already told you that.”

The lover’s blanket


I feel your love surrounding me like a blanket, keeping me warm. Hold me close, lover; for when the wind blows your blanket away, I do not wish to face my wounds that you keep so lovingly hidden.

I am flawed, lover. Terribly and terrifyingly. In moments of despair I see my ugliness, my extraordinary ordinariness and my darkness and I run. I run for life. I do not wish to see these monsters. I want to be hidden safe and sound in the blanket of your warmth, your touch, your taste and your smell.

Yet, despite the love, I tremble. From beneath my toes to the tip of my fingers, I feel fear, gripping and raw, tunneling into my heart. I see demons, terrible, dark and menacing, threatening to kill.

And I give in.

There is only so much time before my fault lines show again and divide the ground on which you and I stand. There is only so much time before I shiver, holding your blanket close one last time. There is only so much time before I can take solace in three words that you so incessantly utter every day and every night.  There is only so much time before the trembling begins again.

I need to let go of your blanket lover. I must go and spiral into the incoherence of my tunnel.

And so I have.

I have held my misery and let it rain stones till I sat helpless and vacant, with tears as my only companions. I have let pain claw into the crevices of my being, stretching me apart and miraculously back together again.  I have been touched by the center of my sorrow in the naked solitude of the night and have found myself still alive, breathing and clutching at the pouch of my heart.

In the midst of it all, I can feel a noise: a gentle knitting, a weaving of threads that dissolve and mold into each other, a soft whispering, a reminder, that joy stands at the threshold of my door. I feel the threads taking a form, a form so utterly unique that I can call it mine.

I am building my blanket, lover. I am learning to walk. I am learning to see the beauty in your face, in your presence, in your voice and in your being. Above all that, I am learning to see the beauty in me.

The human experience


Stand at your window. Nonchalantly notice the greenness of the tree leaves and observe your windowsill. Let your eyes wander till they settle on a speckled red flower. Observe its yellow markings and lose yourself in marvel. Feel the stillness surrounding the trees surround you and hold it in your hands. Look at it- its overwhelming presence, its nauseating fear, its piercing clarity- feel the gentle thud of your heartbeat pounding against your chest in synchronicity  with the trees’ movements. Realize that the trees breathe too. Feel connected. 

Hold a rabbit in your hand. Feel its heartbeat running a million miles a minute, notice the gaping terror in its eyes, feel its pulsating clock reverberating with the rush of your veins and realize you hold life.

Fight with your mother. Know that the fear in her eyes brings tears in yours and turn away. Become numb, stoic and insensitive. Clench your insides and draw yourself into a shell. Bend over and internally release the silent conflicts. Let them play havoc in your heart. Feel the anger shaking within making no effort to release without.

Hug a lover. Feel the invitation of his heart stretch itself wide enough to make room for you and feel welcomed. Feel the throbbing vulnerability of his being as he kisses you. Feel loved.

Lie awake at night. Watch your heart, twisted, clenched, and dirty, suspended in mid air and hear its blaring conflict. Ponder over your miseries and your need for fervid self annihilation and know that you are gloriously, infuriatingly and inevitably human.

Freedom…salvation…redemption…


girl-waiting-for-train

The engine wheels chugged in, belching smoke on to the station. She looked at the clock. 11:53 am. He had promised to come at 11.

She sat on the rusty platform bench, mopping her brow with the loose end of her shirt. She could feel it coming- the shortness of breath, the perspiration, the anxiety, the confusion of it all balling into a giant mess. She could feel this mess, she carried it within herself, day in and out- a leaden weight in her heart- expecting someone to come along and make sense of it all.

He had come, a few months ago in the dawn of winter. In the dead silence of the night enveloped in his embrace, she had found the corners of her heart being tugged, gently indicating…maybe, just maybe, her time had come. This was it- her ticket to freedom, her time of salvation, her shortcut to redemption.

12:00 pm. No sign of him. Tired and sleep deprived she questioned the validity of it all. Her initial months filled with honey like sweetness had turned into a battle of existence, of making it through. But had she done enough? In the months of their romance she had flitted between the desire to love and the desire to take for a million times a minute. She was tired now. Yet, her love of those words continued to haunt her. Freedom…salvation… redemption…

She said each of them out loud, enunciating every syllable. Oh how well she had relished their piercing illumination and agonizing beauty! She wanted it all back.

12:00 pm. She looked at the faces in the train. The newly wedded couple whose dreams intertwined in a shared space no less than paradise holding hands, their eyes promising each other of happily ever afters; the old man, decrepit and withered, gazing at the station with soulless eyes; the young entrepreneur gazing listlessly at the pages of a book titled “You Can Do It” and herself, sitting on the rusty platform bench, waiting.

They were all looking for answers, be it in the eyes of their lover, in the hope of a miracle at the end of their life or in the leaves of a book that promised inner transformation.  Yet, they were all waiting.

She wanted to tell herself that in those silent moments of waiting, she had experienced a profound revelation…that she had taken charge and boarded the train after promising herself a better life…that he suddenly appeared and whisked her away. The cogs churned in her head, calculating her triumphs and misfortunes, her yearnings and desires, her pitfalls and failures. Freedom…salvation…redemption… She wanted them badly.

Didn’t they all?