Shades Of The Sea


Recently I had the opportunity to go on a Photowalk with some really talented photographers one fine Sunday afternoon on the streets of Mumbai. Equipped with nothing but an iPhone, I tried my hands at street photography and turns out, I was pretty impressed with the results. I also learnt several lessons along the way.

1) Look. Notice. See. Watch every corner of the streetside unfold into photographic beauty as you peer at every pebble and sand grain through the lens of your camera. Beauty can be found anywhere. All you need to do is look.

2) Wait till your subject gets busy and resumes his/her own work before clicking his/her picture.

3) If a Mumbai fisherman tells you not to click a picture of his colorful boats, you DO NOT click a picture of his colorful boats.

Enjoy and comment below!

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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.

 

I am keeping my cup full


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Meditation is hard. It is not about sitting down as a way of de stressing. It does things, it changes your life. It makes you take actions that mark the death of the regular habitual part of you. For instance, you begin to notice the noise that you surround yourself with- your phone, your laptop, your social media, specially Facebook; you notice the effort attention seeking demands- constantly being under pressure of having to look good, having to impress, having to better yourself and being under the radar at all times. Attention seeking doesn’t signify a bloated ego nor does it denote a crime committed solely by movie stars and the media. It is human and it is what each of us do, on a daily basis- going through multiple romantic partners as we seek validation from one to the next, taking up multiple projects to decorate our resumes, constantly pleasing others to fit into their model of perfection, and always needing to be perfect, right, attractive and successful. While all of this sounds familiar and not necessarily bad, the effects that attention seeking has on our psyche are downright violent and toxic.

Attention seeking becomes like a pleasure inducing drug we all chase, going after the next big dose when the small dose ceases to please us. We are all drunk on the idea that attention and only attention can heal us. Only that final seal of approval from the girl/boy will make us complete, only having that PhD will make us good human beings. I talk about meditation often these days because of the ways it is gradually but noticeably starting to impact my life. It makes me realize the need to support the growing quiet in myself. I recently had to let go of an amazing service project I was appointed leader of to spend more time with myself. I had to cut down on the number of classes I wanted to take to focus only the ones I really wanted to study. I had to say no to myself over and over again when the desire to talk to an ex arose only to save myself from the additional pain and toxicity the interaction would bring. I had to stand up for myself during a heated interaction with my roommate. I had to acknowledge how mentally violent I was being with myself while I kept running from one thing on my to do list to another. I had to stop talking to a friend only when I needed attention. While all of this sounds impressive, it was no mean task. It took a lot of reflection, tears and letting go. It took a lot of painful nights. Starting to let go of the need for attention and validation has certainly not made others happy in my life, but has given me more peace. It has allowed me to make mistakes; it has given me the liberty to be imperfect. It has made me feel more comfortable in my shoes and above all, it has given me space to breathe.

It’s self-full to put yourself first, to be as good as possible, to take care of you, to keep you whole and healthy. You want your cup to be full. ‘My cup runneth over.’ What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine.- Iyanla Vanzant

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.

New beginnings


Being alone has a very negative connotation to it. Till recently, I viewed being alone as something lonely, something scary. I was out alone in the world, with no one to turn to, with no one to guide me. What I didn’t realize what that for the first time in my life, I had no one making decisions for me. I was free to craft my own circumstances, my own life, and my own identity. I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. This got me thinking and I realized we fear change, we fear this aloneness, when our supports are withdrawn. We feel crippled. We no longer have our supports enslaving us; we are free. We resist freedom not enslavement. Enslavement is comfortable, it is something we know. It has the scent of familiarity.

I was talking to a friend about the difficult and challenging experience of living abroad and he told me, “I understand you’re lonely there. I wouldn’t be able to live there. I surrounded by people here, yet I feel lonely. I guess I am addicted to the loneliness among people I know.” This showed me we are weak, vulnerable creatures willing to cling to the first semblance of enslavement because the new scares us. It holds no promises. It shines in the bleak horizon of uncertainty. We fear the new, we fear new creation. We had rather cling to the old than build something new.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

– Marianne Williamson

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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.

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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.”