Who can estimate you?
Is happiness the same as contentment? If you ask me, which you won’t, and shouldn’t, they are not the same but are heavily dependent on each other. Being happy can be fleeting; being content sticks. We chase happiness all the time because it never lasts long enough. We don’t chase contentment even though it promises to stay around for long. Lame priorities. The two meet each other during the simple act of gratitude. Cherishing what we presently have is all that it takes to be happy as well as content. Doubly blessed.
Although my spoken Tulu sucks and I haven’t learned the Tigalari script yet, I must say that this ancient language is profound. My conclusion is based on the proverbs and idioms that the good old speakers drop for every conceivable situation. Of course, in our country, it goes without saying that with every passing generation, languages take a hit as they lose ground to more dominant tongues like English and Hindi. However, it’s equally important to recognize what is subtle and poetic about one’s native language. Two weeks ago, I visited my village after a considerable gap and over the weekend, I kept hearing several phrases that are non-translatable. The essence is so rooted that English sounds inadequate. To give you an example, my mother said, “You can tie a jackfruit seed at the edge of a saree into a knot, but you can’t tie a jackfruit tree.” The point being, you can mould a child but it’s difficult for parents to do that to grownups. Similarly, there is a saying on the concept of charity: “what you give away is what you get, what you hoard eventually goes to random people.” These ideas sound much more effective in Tulu, according to my limited lingual understanding. I asked a grandma in the village about her age and this was her deadpan response – “I am older than the river that runs through this land.”
Of all the five senses nature gifted us, we least appreciate our nose. At least the beauty of eyes are mentioned in poems, nobody muses about the nose. While dogs can figure out your intentions just by sniffing you, we sense the fire in the kitchen only after it’s too late. Yet, despite these limitations, our olfactory memories are pretty strong. A smell can drag us to the past instantly: food, attic, books, trees, skin, and so on. A noseful of nostalgia, if you may. Not all of them are desirable though. Some are welcome and some not so. For me, popcorns are a ticking time-bomb of nostalgia. Whenever I smell them, I am immediately transported to my journalism days and time spent in multiplexes between 2011 and 2014. Weekly press screenings of movies to be released. Now, the reason I feel attached to those days is a bit dark—quite literally. That feeling of sitting in the dark cinema hall, safe and sound, unrecognized, completely unbothered, all to myself, watching films after films free of cost, every passing week, was simply exhilarating. Can’t be replicated by popcorn anymore.
The difference between a truth and a lie is basically time. We tend to forget this thanks to the advent of social media. Our impatient self wants to believe what is convenient for us, and will make an extra effort to push forward the same. Online algorithm thrives on these tribal proclivities. You can see this unfold everyday on the internet. Tailoring a story here, nitpicking a bit there, making false equivalence everywhere—it’s quite beautiful to observe this play in motion. The problem isn’t that we aren’t prepared to accept the truth. The problem is in accepting ourselves for who we are. What we consider to be the truth defines us, so there is a lot at risk. Under such circumstances, it’s natural for a person to lose perspective and gain narrative. Like a blinkered horse. Humans are pathetic, aren’t we? On that note, do you remember the first time you lied? Or for that matter, the first time you spoke the truth?
When India held its first general elections in 1951-52, it was no small task for a massive, largely illiterate, country like ours. But somehow, we did. Voters’ turnout was above 45%. Very impressive for a debut. What’s equally interesting is, close to 3 million married women voted but their ballot papers weren’t counted. Why? Because these ladies refused to divulge their actual names, out of traditional naivety. Instead of sharing their actual names, they registered monikers like Bablu Ki Maa, Pooja Ki Amma, etc. That was then, and as of today, I know a nice woman residing in Navi Mumbai who is called Sheru Ki Maa by her neighbours. Sheru is her pet dog.
Speaking of motherhood, isn’t it amazing that mother is someone who nurtures and protects you? That’s it. I realized this distinction during a recent city bus ride. There was a young woman seated with a boy clad in KG uniform on her lap. She had her arms around him and an old woman with a big bag on her lap was seated next to them. As soon as I spotted this young mother, I started wondering at what age she must have gotten married to have a 4-5 year-old kid. Anyway, after a few stops, the boy got down the bus with the old woman. Turns out the ‘young’ mother was not his mother. She was just being, well, humane and accommodated him in a crowded bus. Before leaving, the boy looked back and waved her goodbye, and she smiled warmly. Like mothers do.
When my maternal grandma (ajji) lost her first child within a few months, she was obviously crestfallen but a village operates differently from a city. One of her neighbouring houses featured a woman who had delivered twins, and the new mother was struggling already. So, here’s what was done: my ajji used to visit this family and feed her breast milk to the infants. It was a common practice back then. Survival was scarce and infant mortality was high. And the best part was, the babies grew up knowing that they owed their existence to some unrelated woman’s kindness. That sense of community is almost impossible to be replicated in today’s so-called modern era.
Last year, I wrote a piece on some of the memorable women from my childhood days in Bombay slum. In this list, I missed out on an old woman we all called Paatti (grandma in Tamil). One fine afternoon, she had her regular lunch of rice and sambar (with drumsticks; murungakai in Tamil) and some buttermilk, before leaving home to meet her neighbours, one by one. She handed 20 rupees to Kalyani-maami, insisting that she forgot to pay her earlier. After two hours or so, she returned to her empty home, laid down on her carpet (paai in Tamil) for a bit, and passed away in her sleep. Such stories make you want to believe that there is some force in each one of us that whispers gently when it’s time for us to leave.
During my six years in Gurgaon, I was often invited by colleges/institutes to deliver a speech or a lecture on marketing-centric subjects. I politely declined and never attended any of them. My logic was, there was no logic. Just that I was plain lazy to get under the sun and visit campuses. Cut to 2022, last Saturday, I delivered my first campus lecture at NITTE (Karkala) on three of my favourite subjects: life, love and literature. It was quite an experience: a two-hour-plus bus commute both ways, spotting a bird of paradise in the campus park, standing in front of about 300 students in an auditorium, speaking for over an hour, and interacting with a few students as well. Glad this happened. From saying ‘no’ to everything, I am fast becoming that person who says ‘yes’ to something.
In other news, there is a turf war going on in the world of academics, if you haven’t noticed. Indian academics, to be precise. What is interesting about this development is the protagonists are behaving exactly against the grain of their (supposed) ideologies. The Right-leaning historians are presenting evidence-backed relook at our history; their position is to challenge the status quo of knowledge—which, in essence, is a liberal value. On the other hand, the Left-leaning historians are behaving like the very Brahmins they have utmost disdain for—knowledge has to be their exclusive domain and nobody else can infringe on their divine right to dispense truth. It’s quite a spectacle to notice how the Left cabal—when they are cornered by empirical data—can quickly adopt techniques we associate with the Right cabal. Almost cute. Whatever be the consequences, a field that is considered too bland to acquire newsprint is finally seeing some real action. Maybe this is a positive sign in all probability.
Dank humour doesn’t mean that a person is a lost soul. Stating this from my own set of experiences. Full disclosure: I am a depressive soul by nature; under the garb of practicality, I unleash humour to predicate cynical views about the times we live in. But what keeps me afloat is my unshakeable belief in hope. Whatever happens, good or bad, I tend to remain hopeful. Even when my words sound bleak, I focus my energy on what can be done to make things better. I always try. That’s something I inherited from amma. During my Gurgaon days, Vivek used to joke – “Shakti wakes up every morning and hates himself for not dying in his sleep.” But the greater fact is, I dream a lot too, and unlike most people, I often remember them in detail even after waking up.
There is no nobility in underestimating yourself. False modesty can only turn into a curse. Be yourself, yes, but not at the cost of amnesia. People often forget that we are here to improve ourselves on a daily basis. Whatever happened in the past doesn’t have to affect your tomorrow: today is the game-changer. And it is very important that you measure yourself against yourself, not others. Get the right amount of estimation, leaving little room for underestimation or overestimation. After all, you ought to remember that you aren’t the person today that you were yesterday. Not sure whether this is a good thing though.
I would really love to here your writing journey some day. I am trying to find an inspiration here to grow my own writing.