What’s the new normal?

In India, smaller towns can’t wait to turn into smaller cities and smaller cities can’t wait to mime bigger cities. The only factor common…

Chess made me very anxious but that doesn’t discount its unparalleled charm. [Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash]

In India, smaller towns can’t wait to turn into smaller cities and smaller cities can’t wait to mime bigger cities. The only factor common to these temporal aspirations is the indiscriminate usage of plastic. It’s a domino effect of the silent kind. I noticed this pattern during my brief visits to hill stations in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Barely 20 years ago, you wouldn’t find so many essential items sold in plastic. If you wanted to buy sugar from a local store, you had to carry a jar from your house. With the large scale introduction of FMCG products, even in the remotest of locations, hilly or coastal, plastic is everywhere — strewn by the roadside or simply stuck inside the grass rustling to the window. I observe a similar trend in Mangalore now. Locals have embraced the use-and-throw convenience of plastic but have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. As always, the problem isn’t the collection and recycling of water bottles or polythene bags; it’s the menace of smaller pieces such as chocolate wrappers and gutka sachets. They will remain hidden inside the grass, disrupting the ecosystem, for centuries to come.

Every morning, I drag myself from the bed and within 30 minutes, I am at my table preparing my to-do list for the day. Without this list, I am a zombie. I need some direction to get through in the best way possible. When you accomplish something, no matter how small the task, you feel alive, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. However, the uncertainty of productivity looms. What I am doing or at least planning to do add meaning to my life? Or is that too existential a question to be asked in the 21st century? Are you really productive when you are doing something or are you deluding yourself? In other words, do you want to be productive or do you want to feel productive? Personally, the difference lies in your next big task.

Hollywood is singularly the greatest marketing tool of all time. Through cinema, it not only managed to capture the imagination of the world but also consistently pushed for American interest. Why do you think it’s always the Americans who are saving the world in all those sci-fi movies? The Russians might have contributed immensely to the birth of cinema, but when Soviet kids in the 1950s watched pirated American films, it was quite obvious who made the most of this art form. Yes, it’s true a lot of human sacrifices were made on American soil as well: due to the highly-flammable nature of celluloid film, it was estimated that one American cinema projectionist died on the job every 18 days in 1936. However, that was then. As of now, with more and more productions moving to online streaming — another global phenomenon in recent memory — it’d be interesting to note what the future holds.

There was a time when I used to watch two movies during weekdays and more than half a dozen films during weekends. Back then, my aim was to cover as much as possible. There was always so much more to consume and not enough time. This phase thinned out with time. Until recently, the weekly average was 4-5 movies along with an affair with some TV series. As of now, I barely watch one movie a week and even if I commit myself to completing a TV show, I give up even before reaching the middle ground. Amazing how people change, no? If somebody had told me in 2010 that I’ll be that person within a decade who doesn’t care about cinema anymore, I’d have gawked. But that’s exactly what has happened. Over the past few years, in Gurgaon, I realized that I should be writing a movie script instead of binge-watching on Saturdays or Sundays. And that guilt kept gnawing deeper and deeper, to the point that I actually stopped downloading movies the good old style — Netflix and Prime killed the joy of seeking — and grew more and more apart from the medium. The saddest part about this me-little-story is I haven’t written a script either.

Last week, while watching The Queen’s Gambit, a must-watch miniseries whether you are a chess fan or not, I realized why I lost love for the game. From being obsessed with the chessboard for over three years, I finally reached that stage where I uninstalled the chess app, deleted chess reddit pages from bookmark, and effectively stopped following chess tournaments. It’s a different story that when I was actively propagating my fondness for chess on my social media channels, nobody cared. But as soon as I gave up on the magical 64 squares, online chess’ popularity shot through the roof. Almost like it was waiting for me to stop playing and more importantly, stop screaming about how great the game is. Anyhow, I wasn’t improving at all. After crossing the long-held barrier of 1300 points, I just kept nosediving. There was no coming back.

Isn’t it funny kids remember throughout their lives that the race was between a hare and a tortoise but for the life of them, wouldn’t tell you the difference between a hare and a rabbit or a tortoise and a turtle? Not that it matters — nothing that can be googled matters — but it’s an element of perception English allows as a language. In other languages, there is hardly any distinction as far as wild animals are concerned. The word ‘magar’ is liberally used for crocodile or alligator. Similarly, ‘sher’ can be confused with lion as well as tiger. And when you dig down to vernacular languages, you’ll learn that such non-human identities becomes more vacuous.

In the 1980s, the Indian government took some drastic steps in dealing with the cleanup of Ganga (one of the very few rivers in the world that enjoys the status of a human being). The UP government decided to release thousands of flesh-eating turtles into the Ganges to deal with all the dead bodies disposed there. Long story short, it wasn’t a biting success but made a fine lesson in harmonizing with nature. Besides, cleaning up Ganga has been a mammoth task but the most striking piece of paper I read was in the month of May this year. It claimed that coronavirus did more for the cleaning of Ganga than all the efforts of the past 30 years did. It’s amazing to conclude again and again that nature can heal itself as long as we let it alone.

I was thinking of all the gifts that I can give you. Could be a pen or a book or something much more valuable in terms of money: a laptop maybe? But then, even if I give you a piece of my liver or my whole kidney, will it ever be enough? What is it about humans that we find ourselves stranded in the middle of gifting and receiving? Being a non-materialistic person who enjoys wearing old shoes and older t-shirts, I’ve concluded that the greatest gift you can give somebody is your ear. Listen without interrupting. Hold them when need be but more importantly, appreciate their presence in your life. When you do so, you internalize the fact that time is the most incredible of all gifts.

Earlier this month, Pakistan received 45 stolen Buddhist relics back from the USA. It was an intriguing news because some Americans actually thought it was a great idea to hand over historic material to a country that is not at all in sync with its geographic past. What’s the point in assembling two entities that are already alienated? So, I started reading a bit about the role Buddha plays in Pakistan’s modern identity. Turns out there are areas, especially in the northern parts, where ruins of Buddhist temples (viharas) can be found. With little to no interest shown by the establishment in preserving or restoring these epic locations, they are simply wilting away with time. Going back to the original news, relics belong to museums but more importantly, they belong to countries that truly accept them in the first place.

Being flooded with a million ideas is not the solution for creative bankruptcy. Most ideas fail naturally. Why? Because there is a clear difference between thoughts and ideas. We often mislabel them. A good thought is momentary. A good idea can be eternal. Saying that the sky is clear blue in Kudla today is a thought. Replicating that shade onto your bedroom wall is an idea. Unfortunately, this generation has lots and lots of thoughts but very few ideas. And that explains the tardiness in getting any shit done. On that note, have you ever wondered when exactly does a thought transform into an idea?

Now that the US elections are done, we can all go back to normal. Whatever that is. For some reason, we were made to believe that Donald Trump was the problem when in all fairness, he wasn’t. If anything, the fault rested on the Republicans. No man is bigger than the party but over the past four years, it was showcased as if an idiotic vain man was bigger than the country. No small country either. Arguably the most popular of all countries that ever existed; wealthier than the wealthiest empires that ever existed. Yet, the optics belied us. Also, it was yugely ignored that Trump was the oldest ever president to take the oath. He was 70 in 2016. Biden will be older at 78 when he checks into White House early next year. Young blood? What’s that? USA isn’t ready for that. It’s not even ready for a Jewish president yet. Why else do you think Bernie Sanders missed the mark twice in a row? First female president? We’ll have to wait and see. Kamala Harris might be the first female VP-elect but she didn’t win the elections. Hopefully, the Tamil in us will cheer louder when she becomes the first woman POTUS. That would be a good normal to begin with.