फिर धूप किनारे

फिर एक दिन ढला
फिर एक रात जगी
उन दोनों के दरमियान
फिर एक शाम खिली
इस धूप किनारे के कुछ पल
जो दिन की लहरों से आये थे
बिन बोले सब जान गए
जो मन में बादल ढाए थे
जब शाम खिली तो मन फिसला
क्यों रात का साया आता है ?
नीला समुन्दर भी कुछ ठहरा
फिर यूँ सोच के बहता जाता है
कि इस धूप किनारे के यह कुछ पल
जो दिन की लहरों से आये थे
यह रहगुज़र हैं
चांदनी के
कल फिर उसी ओर से आएंगे

-पूर्णिमा

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एक रात की एक बात

If there is something I am learning to empathize with, is the conflict deep within.

In my last poem, I expressed fear of darkness, here I embrace the night.

अगर रात में सोना ही था
तो रात इतनी खूबसूरत है क्यों
आसमान में जगमगाती इस इनायत के लिए तो पूरा दिन गुज़ारा है
अगर रात में सोना ही था
तो भला दिन में जागे ही क्यों

Thesis on Museums in India

Mixed Pakodas

For the last one month I have struggled to decide upon the topic and core questions for my thesis on museums in India. The only certainty I have had in this chaos is that there are definitely a lot of models of community engagement, living heritage and representation of multiple identities that could be found within India, though not necessarily within museums. So are collaborative projects in placemaking, in offering democratized spaces for dialogue for different stakeholders, or at least attempting at that.

My knowledge is limited, and I feel I am delving into something much deeper than I had anticipated. To make sense of the chaos, I would be sharing some thoughts and ideas as I work on my thesis in the following posts.

If you would like to discuss on this, feel free to comment here or e-mail at ps2913@nyu.edu with subject line- “Museums in India”

I would much…

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For pain is real, oh so real

Because a wise man named Morrie once advised, delve deep into an emotion and then detach. I am experiencing an emotion I have always denied myself the privilege to truly acknowledge- pain, excruciating pain.

The pain of learning that it is not easy to continue to believe in the endlessness of time.

The pain of acknowledging that the world is not as nice as I dream it to be, that love is not as naive, that joy is not as unabashed, rather shy.

The pain of experiencing complex relationships, the pain of accepting change, impermanence of goodness.

The pain of being human. The pain of an endless endeavor to retain sanity and calm in a madness that engulfs all. The pain of giving with a hint of exchange, the pain of forgetting selflessness.

The pain of feeling homeless despite a house, the pain of feeling loss despite abundance. The pain of feeling hate in a world that yearns for love, the pain of choosing to be alone over togetherness with noise. The pain of no more meeting those who are long gone, the pain of not finding those who still do exist.

The pain in letting go, as the sand slips through nimble fingers.

The pain of experiencing desire but not expressing. The pain of learning that you are perhaps desired no more.At times I wonder, would my father read again the poem he would enthrall me with as a child? The pain of not being the same being, the pain of asking, is an adult not a child?

At times I do wonder, if pain is deliberate, a reason to nurture hope for love? For peace? For a better self, a better community, a better life?

As I slide down this slippery path, I do believe that I would reach a lake, where there would be a paper boat, and on it, I would sail again.

It is perhaps just fair to acknowledge and experience pain, it does not last forever. So said the clouds which flew above the window, and traveled thus far. So said the waves of the river, roaring with the winds. So said the setting sun, the watch that stopped, the cat staring from behind the glass. It is just fine. So says this little heart of mine.

I will be back soon, and be with us

The past one year has been perhaps one of my most prolific years on this planet. It has also been my first time in a space, at great physical distance from home.

I could not have felt closer.

However, this time has not been as simple as it appears. I have had moments of complex introspection, have asked newer questions, and reflected on past concerns.

In the process though, I have been fortunate enough to meet beautiful people and to be able to share these thoughts with them, to listen to their perceptions, to admire honest feedback and to nurture collective dreams of better selves.

One of my friends in my new city, who has witnessed my journey here, met me a few weeks ago. Over lunch, as  I endlessly narrated my stories, she shared that she is happy for me-she is seeing me change. I wondered what was the change. She said, “earlier it was always about others, and what you would do for them, now its all about you! You come first!”

This feedback has been most worrisome, if not jarring.

I have been unable to stop thinking about it.

Where my friend is celebrating my embracing of individuality and self-love, my conditioning makes me look at it as self-centered existence, and if I be paranoid, as sheer selfishness.

I feel both of us have binary perceptions of a condition that is perhaps somewhere in between.

While walking to work, while cooking, while standing by the river, I have been engaging with this thought about what kind of a person I wish to be. Do I want to continue thinking about my own self, regardless of what others go through? Is this the self I would admire? Or do I want to go back to an existence, where I almost ignored myself?

Maybe , stay in between.

But this does make me want to reflect upon individuality, or perhaps freedom. What is freedom? I realize, in my naive contemplation,  that many a times we borrow an image of freedom or individuality from another completely different context, and try to apply it in ours. If it does not fit in, we try and change our context, or move to the other context and adopt it. I have no judgement over this, I do not know if this is the appropriate step or not.

I acknowledge that freedom is perceived and expressed differently by different people, and in my situation, I do not assume that thinking solely about my isolated future is a form of individuality or freedom.

My freedom would be to continue to value my core beliefs and work on my dreams, while ensuring the happiness of my loved ones. My freedom would be to not be fearful when advocating for art and culture in my context. My freedom would be to say a no to a man or woman who I believe does not deserve me, irrespective of what my context proclaims, and to unabashedly love the one with whom I share mutual respect. My freedom would be to feel and give love, to provide and enjoy a spiritual security, without losing myself in it. My freedom would be to voice my opinion where there is injustice in the garb of tradition or values. My freedom would be to not be rude or angry , to not let the pace and stress of spectacular society get to my calm. My freedom would be to deny greed in a world that dazzles, to save when I am told to spend, to sleep when tired and to wake up early to hear the birds sing.

I am far from being free.

My freedom is what my innermost being wants, my freedom is to be that individual, my freedom is to be that individual at a place I call home.

I am yet to be free, but I am in the process, perhaps a lifelong process.

I also attempted at reflecting on why I seem to have only thought about my well-being in the past few months. Because I am unable to feel a sense of security that comes when you are surrounded by people you love and those who love you back. Because I am in an alien environment where I worry about my sleep so that I have enough energy to cook my food, to clean my room, to walk long distances to my work and ensure I make the best utilization of my time, alone. This makes me compromise on spending as much time with others as I would have otherwise. This allows me an excuse to not think of others’ needs above mine. This lets me think of “me first”.

Let me be honest,  for as long as I can recall, I have advocated being alone. I have celebrated and honestly cherished every moment spent on my own in that world which I am much acquainted with. For the first time in my life, in my new environment, I realized what is loneliness, and how painful it is. Don’t take me wrong, I have thoroughly enjoyed my year and new bonds, and am thrilled at the prospect of another eventful year. But even though I still cherish my moments of reflection and quietude, I deeply crave for familiar smiles, sounds, wagging tails of street dogs, ants by the window on a rainy evening, the soft sound of my father’s humming, the joy in my mother’s laughter. I miss the touch of my niece’s fingers, I miss hugging my brother. I miss my neighbor who yearned for a conversation , I miss my friends who met me at odd hours. I miss  being alone when I was surrounded by those my own.

I don’t want to worry about my mere existence, I want to be occupied in thoughts and exchange with all these beings who form my community, who enrich my life with meaning and purpose. Like stories untold, their lives unfold and add color to mine, together we create narratives of a lifetime.

As if the universe heard my queries, the other day I received a message, that an elderly mentor of mine, has been thinking of me. Dear Bhagwan Das Ji, I have been thinking of you too, of the depth in your eyes that speak so much when we often sit in silence.

I would be back soon, for you do give me a reason to channelize my energy and life towards a constructive outcome. I would be back soon, because you and all my nodes back home,  cause me to write from my heart and soothe my soul. Your words and actions cause me to weep and smile, to laugh and fight. And in experiencing these plethora of emotions, you all make me alive.

I will be back soon, and be with us.

Are you obsessed with my hair cut?

Are you obsessed with my hair cut?

Even if you are not, this post might be interesting.

Last month I cut my hair. And I cut them short.

(I am certain I am not the only human to have done this ever, but appears to be so by the amount of queries and comments that have traveled my way, some in the open, but most in personal or sheepish encounters.)

In public interest, no it was not an impulsive decision, it was well thought of, and in fact quite delayed. It has nothing to do with New York, and everything to do with me.

Kaise?

Janaab Aise-

I have usually had hair that fall on my shoulders and in the past one year had allowed them to grow longer, slow and steady. I did not care about their shape, their volume, their color, I just let them exist, in resonance with the pace and character of my life, moving with time, no pruning, no control.

It annoyed me. I deserve more attention from my own self.

When I would look in the mirror , I would feel that I am doing a disservice to myself by letting them be- I am doing a disservice to myself, by letting life be. I need more control. In order to live, I perhaps need to be like a gardener, to nurture and shape different segments of my life.

So I decided to begin with the most visually effective aspect of my being, my hair.

Not for anyone else, but to get my own attention.

Would that directly translate into a change in my entire way of life? No.

However!

I feel that these mornings ( post hair being cut)  when I look at myself, I find an imperfect self but alive. And that propels me to enjoy each day a little more- to break a few more self-installed barriers, to smile for no reason. I see possibility of experimentation, of taking a risky decision and facing the consequences- I see possibility of mischief and laughter, of dreaming and falling, of living. Was it not present before? Possibly yes. But I wasn’t seeing it.

I am thoroughly enjoying questioning a predominant expectation from me- that I should look and behave in a certain way. That I should be aligned with a certain image. No, I am not trying to rebel, I don’t need to do that through appearance or appearance alone, but I am also defying a sense of belonging to a forced identity. I don’t have long hair, I can still be respectful, have my set of self-defined values, and treat you well-as long as you respect me and are honest. Even if my haircut does not appease your sense of aesthetics, that does not bother me, because it pleases mine. I am learning to stay above  feedback from irritants and humbly accept appreciation. I am also learning to not immediately react to dissonance. And this, I do believe, would transcend to other activities in my daily existence, perhaps consciously or maybe silently without my apparent knowledge.

{I am wary of using terms such as “freedom” or “power” because I feel they are way too complex and I would not want to have their juvenile usage in a hurried expression. Maybe later? Until then, I would request you to not associate “feminism”, “journalism” or any other “ism” of your imagination with a petrified hair stylist’s tryst with scissors, and, my hair.}

The Beginning of Unhappyness- Board Exams

There was one event in my life, actually occurring twice, hence two events, when the entire nation  seemed to have shared the burden of my grief.

Every year these events repeat for some truly unfortunate souls, and their paranoia is catalyzed by each faintly related person, not to forget the special mention in newspapers, radio and annoying social media messages.

This event is fearfully known as Board Exams, it could also be honestly called The Beginning of Unhappyness.

Let us consider the year 2004, since that was my first trial in class X of secondary school.

Two years prior to it, family friends, educators, astrologers and forecasters of all kinds and levels of experience,  had started remarking on how only two more years of enjoyment were left for me- as if the exam was not a useless test, but a monster that would suck the happiness out of my life.

Little did I know that it was precisely so.

In fact my entire nuclear family had to suffer, as I struggled to ensure I answer every question in neat handwriting, and manage not to have a nervous breakdown in the process. This scenario is applicable to many of my friends in nearly similar fashion.

To say the least, the last four years of my schooling were the worst years of my life (in comparison) mentally, physically and spiritually. If we call this education, then the society should rather not have education, because the only thing I learnt was to mug under pressure, to compete, and to live an unhealthy imbalanced life .

Those years marked the beginning of a lifestyle that has left a bitter aftertaste. A lifestyle encouraging paranoia, relentless achievement and isolation from realities other than myopic success. A lifestyle where compromising on that which is essential to me as an individual could be justified as long as I could prove my relative worth on paper. Some people continue with this pattern all their lives without even acknowledging they are doing so, it could become a normalized way of being.

If you have already noticed, none of this includes actual learning, and yes I am certain I did not learn anything through my board exams.

It is a miracle that I am sane.

The amount of stress one deals with in these exams is sheer systemic torture which better be STOPPED. I really did not want ministers to be sending good luck wishes through campaigns, I needed a break where I could be mindful of life beyond school books and extra tutorials. None of these well-wishers told me to relax, to not be worried, that I would be as worthy of love and affection despite my grades, rather my grades seemed to have become the deciding factor for my entire future-  I would be doomed if I do not perform well.

My grades tell nothing about the person I am, they tell nothing about the application of knowledge I might have gained, they just tell that I managed to not give too many incorrect answers.

On another note,  grades are also a matter of privilege. I was privileged enough to dedicate four complete years to just rote learning. I did not have much disturbance, was provided with a comfortable study table and appropriate nutrition. I could afford to take coaching where I was told what was enough to learn such that I score well. Please note, the purpose of this education was acing an exam, not learning for a lifetime- “ICSE Board waale aise hi sum solve karna, CBSE ka method alag hai”.

I was also  privileged because in the heat and in the cold, I had someone pick me up in a car, to drive me from school to coaching and then home. This person himself never got the four years to dedicate solely to scoring well, his children did. They would now be attempting at scoring enough to get through a revered institution.

To get through a revered institution might require an obnoxiously high percentage, humanly almost impossible. I was fortunate because I got the subjects of my choice through an entrance exam, but to clear many of the mainstream entrance exams is a huge challenge. Some of these institutions would be chosen only because they are branded so, they may not have the subjects of interest or affordable fees for several students who do join under pressure or lack of a better option or counseling. This  would require a loan and hard work to get a well-paying job. The job may not necessarily be satisfying, but to have a satisfying job is quite a privilege.

This entire process is filtering chances of young passionate people to follow their own pace, to pursue personal interests, take risks and innovate, rather this process runs on fear and pressure. Stress therefore  becomes a way of life for many, reflected in dissatisfaction and leading to poor patterns of consumption and health. These values get transferred to the next generation, and are encouraged through praise or ridicule as per context. 

Yes, I am painting a darker picture, that’s my hobby. But wait, why not? The purpose of education seems muddled in our current system and rather than panicking and giving in to it, we would need to question it. It has to be a pursuit of growth, not beginning of unhappyness. And if that requires a poorly written post at ungodly hours, so be it!