Of Conscious Mistakes

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It was a Wednesday. The lecture before lunch. With a rumbling stomach and motivation that I had quite frankly exhausted on Monday itself, I oscillated between indifference and exasperation.
The only upside to sitting in class was that time had stopped (I kid you not – apparently even time looses motivation to move forward on Wednesdays) and I was beginning to finally comprehend Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s a different matter that as an MBA student the theories I had to be appreciating were of a different sort but never mind that.
Somewhere between my fantasies of food and sleep, passive hearing transitioned to listening. I caught the professor offering an anecdote that took my fancy. Perhaps my brain decided to latch onto this nugget of wisdom because it had nothing to do with the subject. Oh by the way, meet Brain – Brain is immune to information of any practical importance – Brain lives in a universe conjectured to amuse itself. In other words, if I were stuck in a burning building… it’s my reflexes I’d count on to get me out of there, not Brain.
“If you’re going to make mistakes, at least make conscious ones”,said the prof. I liked the sound of that. Mistakes, I have made plenty. And a sundry assortment of them at that – conscious, unconscious, whatever. Sadly there are only so many mistakes I can attribute to my butter fingers and cheesy toes. Plethora of bruises to remind that I have a long way to go before I master the art of coordinating my limbs.
If I stretch my imagination and get a little crafty, I can share the blame of at least some of these mistakes on other poor unassuming souls. Okay, so if I decide to drive to the nearest grocery store instead of using my excellent motor skills to walk, it’s fair to say that Karl Benz is to share some of the blame for my poor decision. Going about inventing cars without factoring in the lazy ones like me. Reckless. Absolutely reckless.
But even after all the disingenuous justifications, I am left with a set of mistakes that are mine. Actually no. Sadly, they aren’t mine at all. The compulsive, unconscious ones that choose you instead of the other way around. The only mistakes you ever live to regret but in all honesty are the ones you have no control over. Primal, visceral and impulsive. The kind that gets the heart pumping while the head decides to vacation? If you haven’t already caught the drift, I was referring to caffeine. When my heart took to it like moth to a flame, what say did poor Brain have.
But who knows? Maybe someday Brain will decide to step in and envelope a couple of my unconscious mistakes into it’s conscious realm. Goddamn thing consumes a fifth of all I eat, high time I see the fruits of all it’s free loading. So until then prof… matters of the heart, vagaries of the mood, and of course, fluctuations in body temperature are unconscious mistakes that we’ll just have to make peace with.

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Intractable Insinuations

Dear Readers,

Gosh! I really flatter myself when i assume that there will be more than one reader for my article. Anyway, it’s 11:39 p.m and am mulling over philosophy. Usually, I allow my mind to trail off into philosophical conjectures only when am driving or in an office meeting. Perfectly acceptable, I know. Well readers, let me tell you one thing, give a person a challenging situation and an internet connection and they will get through at least 5 self-help articles before they come up with their own brew. Their unique philosophy of life that they will probably feel compelled to force upon the world… much like what am putting you guys through *insert smug smile*.

Anyway, if you’ve made it through the first paragraph, let me just tell you what’s been bugging me. Recently, during an ugly spat with a friend, I said nasty things in reaction to nasty things that were said to me. Or were nasty things said to me because I said nasty things first? Hmmm, probably the latter this time around. Readers, perhaps I should give you some more context. Well, it so happens that this was not the first time nastiness was exchanged between said friend and me. Now usually, I take a lot of pride in saying that I am very patient and tolerant of human companionship. On most days anyway! However, with said person I had fallen into a pattern of nasty exchanges. I am not proud of this. But I guess once you form a habit, to come out it, requires you to give more than a damn. And I was invested in this relationship only three-quarters of a damn. Of all the nasty things that were said, there was one snide remark made by “friend” (now acquaintance) that really disturbed me. “You are what you are”. WHAT?! It annoyed me because I realised it was an insult but could not gauge its value on the Richter scale of insults. In any combat, verbal or otherwise, to craft a response one must be able to calibrate the opponents insinuations. I am what I am? An unstable combination of the five elements? Possibly what he meant. A feline-loving, reptile-hating homo sapien? Maybe. A confused 24 year who can’t decide if my skin tone is better suited for a wine red lipstick or a nude-brown shade. Most likely meant this…

I am what I am.. I am what I am.. I am what I am.. it is around this point that I fell asleep while my brain chugged along trying to find a resolution to this statement.. after a few hours of sleep.. I wake up feeling inspired! I’ve figured it out!! What said acquaintance meant.. it was a typo! He meant to say – “You are what you eat.” One part protein, one part carbs, one part fibre, half-part minerals and vitamins and ten parts nutella. Wow… that’s a shady, nasty remark even by the standards to said acquaintance. Well guess what acquaintance (now a blob of matter) you are what you eat too. Equal parts bitter, sour and bland. Humph.

Yours – forever distasteful of open-ended insults,

Panya.

What’s truly yours?

Alan Honnold is famously known for free-soloing some of the most difficult terrains on this planet. In his acclaimed documentary, ‘Free Solo’, there is a clip in which he engages in a candid conversation with another free-solo climber, Peter Croft. During their exchange, Alan asks him about his most challenging climb and the number of times he attempted it. Almost casually, Peter replied that he had scaled the Astroman a few times and the Rostrum around 50-60 times. Out of curiosity, I googled these mighty rocks of Yosemite. If he had scaled a rock those many times, I was expecting to see a rather demure-looking hilltop. The kind you lumber along so that you can enjoy a picnic and a half-decent view at the top. These rocks were anything but that. Just looking at these unforgiving beasts of nature sent a shiver down my spine. However, what was even more intriguing was the fact that Peter had turned down several offers to be filmed while climbing the Rostrum. He could have been as famous as Alan, basked in the warmth of fame and glory. Peter, being more adept with his hands and legs than the gift of gab, mumbled that this was something he did only for himself.

He reached the top not once, not twice but so many times that he lost count. He brushed aside the idea of capturing what was probably the biggest achievement of his life. At the core of his being he knew that he had tasted the pinnacle of success. All that his faculties could deliver… they had. What a profoundly beautiful paradox- to be able to create something that you can truly call your own, you have to resist the temptation of documenting and freezing that moment in time. The most delightful moments of my life were never preserved and how grateful I am for it. The beautiful painting from ninth grade that I drew over two weeks? Not laminated. Made it’s way to the kabadiwala that probably got recycled and is perhaps now page 3 of a sleezy tabloid magazine. In fact, none of my truly rewarding experiences have seen the light of day.

Everyone deserves this moment of complete intimacy – to combine the five elements in a way one knows best, to create something beautiful – a poem, a song, a sketch, a souffle… and then exercise the freedom to simply walk away. Because you can… When you look back, you’ll realise that you missed the chance to convert the intangible to tangible but you chose to shrug it off and walk away, unabated. Because you could…

When these moments are no longer tethered to us, can no longer be traced back to us, it is then that they truly belong to us.

Gnomes and Centaurs over Rainbows.

Dear Readers,

Conventional wisdom will tell you to fight for what you want and until recently I believed it quite fervently as well. This Saturday, I felt like challenging conventional wisdom. I guess it’s becoming something of a habit. Honestly, if you really have to fight for something, it probably doesn’t have a place in your life anyway. Here’s a rule of thumb -unless what you’re fighting for is the last trace of Nutella with your sibling, it probably isn’t worth fighting for.

I guess it’s only fair to explain the context for my new-found attitude. I recently turned 25 and while I am cognizant of the fact that no one’s going to come knocking at my door for pearls of wisdom, I still believe that 25 brought with it an insight or two. For lack of a better word, turning 25 was *bleh*. I woke up with a throbbing headache from the night before. My body was clearly sending me signals that it’s done putting up with whiskey and vodka in one night. It was 7 in the morning and my first instinct was to clean my room. Yes, that’s right – clean my room. If you ever find yourself wondering when you became so ancient… I assure you it’s the day when you voluntarily wake up to clean your room. After tidying up my humble abode, I was struck by a series of consecutive adulting attacks. Two hours later, with my laundry done and room presentable enough, I started to show the first signs of normalcy and started getting excited about making plans for the day – plans that did not involve any more cleanliness drives, just fyi. My birthday happened to fall on the day just after and mid-term exams. It was the first time in months that we were able to relax without the overwhelming feeling of guilt. But my friends took their opportunity to relax to new heights xD … with a few of them hibernating well into the afternoon. As the time ticked by, my frustration grew exponentially and my plans withered away to a distant hope. Don’t get me wrong, I have some of the sweetest friends… but friends who love their sleep unconditionally none the less! Anyway… long story short, the day ended alright. We did eventually drag our lazy asses to the city and fill our bellies with sumptuous Japanese food. If you think that was an anti-climactic end to the day please read the part where I started my day with cleaning and laundry-ing, nothing about the day was building up to a climax anyway, ok?

What does this rant about my birthday have to do with my initial premise? Quite a bit actually. It struck me that the only disappointment we ever face is the resistance we put up to all that comes our way. It’s this annoying notion that has been drilled into our head since the inception of time – “fight for what you want”. Most of us squander through life knowing jack shit about what we want anyway.

If you’re fighting for someone to stay, it’s most likely that they’re the puzzle piece you assumed to be as part of the rainbow. Let them go, because I hope your puzzle’s interesting… filled with Gnomes and Centuars and what have you. If you’re fighting to push someone away, they’re likely the piece you fit right at the end – just let them be. They’ll complete the picture eventually. Lastly, if you’re fighting to change the puzzle altogether… please don’t. Gnomes and Centaurs over rainbows, any goddamn day.

Yours – hoping to be a part of at least some of your puzzles,

Panya

Exceptionally Average

Dear Readers,

Fortunately or fortunately for you, Cyclone Bulbul has decided to keep me hostage in my hostel room for the weekend. Why Bulbul, why? Such devious behaviour from an innocuous name. But I guess I have no reason to complain. Blanket? Check. Unlimited access to mind-numbing online content? Check. Coffee within a radius set by my acute laziness? Check. With my most basic needs met, I feel optimistic that my secondary need for food and water will also be met. 😊

Typing the word ‘blanket’ made me feel cosy which for some inexplicable reason triggered an image of being stuck in the middle of something. If you’re thinking of being stuck in the middle, the only natural progression of thought for any rational person is to think of averages. Duh. If you did not follow that line of thought, it’s alright. Just goes to show that you are …. How do I put this nicely??… SANE. Don’t worry, the word ‘average’ did not trigger further unrelated thoughts in my brain. So today I will rant about averages.

It’s one of those words that goes largely unnoticed. Why though? Just because it’s so average? *Excuse my terrible humour but I should probably warn you that it’s not going to get any better as you progress through this article*. Until recently, I too, used to be quite pompous. The amount of time I would worry about being average was underwhelmingly below average. (Ok I couldn’t help myself 😛 ) I guess I always found myself in an environment where doing well did not require much of an effort. Teachers and mentors, who although did not qualify me as a prodigy by a long shot, did lead me to believe that I was well above the pack. Much good that did me! Anyway, fast-forward to my current scenario.. let’s just say that I will never underestimate the word average again.  

Being surrounded by a bunch of bright people in B-school can do wonders to keep your ego in check.. and your grades too :/ It’s unnerving how my grades have shown such an affinity for hovering around the middle in the last couple of months. It’s a torrid love affair that I did not give my blessings to. Continuous persuasions that they can do better fell on deaf ears.  Even if a solid ‘9’ comes their way, they aren’t going to bat an eyelid. Looks like they’ve settled for average *sigh*.

But you know what, I just realized that it’s the average Joes that go down in history! They’re the ones mentioned in every survey that you can get your hands on.. “The average Indian believes…” , “The average student aspires to… “, “On an average…”.. you get the drift. In fact, if you are an over-achiever, your achievements are most likely to be ignored while calculating most metrics. All that hard work just to get your scores branded as “outliers” and dropped off from most calculations? So sad. xP . Oh and another thing.. apart from contributing to society quantitatively, we also do our fair share of qualitative work. One half of the society aspires to be at least average and the other half feels good being above average. Are we awesome or are we awesome?

“Here’s to the crazy normal ones, the misfits averages, the rebels medians, the troublemakers modes, the round pegs in the square round holes… the ones that see things differently exactly the way are – they’re not fond of rules the ones that abide by the rules… it really is a blessing to be in stuck in the middle.” – Yes, I’ve butchered Steve Job’s beautiful ’97 speech..

Yours – forever in the middle,

Panya.

Where is Home?

Dear Readers,

Is there a place that you can call home? A place that pops into your head as soon as you are confronted with the question – “Where are you from?” It seems like one of those straight forward fuss-free questions. But is it? Nope, it’s loaded. It’s a question that forms the edifice for a lot of relationships. If you happen to belong to the same place as the inquisitive questioner turned best friend for life, that’s it! You’re in; welcome to the tribe. You can seamlessly alternate between your native tongue and English, share your grandmother’s pickle recipes, discuss the 10th generation bakery that serves fabulous vegetable puffs at the intersection of some latitude and longitude that Google maps has no idea of yet, cluck your tongue at the sad state of politics… you get the idea. But if you happen to belong to a place outside the permissible 100 mile radius of inquisitive questioner turned awkward encounter, at best, you can shuffle your feet, discuss the weather and at worst, still discuss the weather. Discussing the weather is one of humanity’s most under-rated achievements. Salvaging uncomfortable conversations since the inception of time.

Well I happen to be someone whose origin is as blurry as my vision without glasses, which is to say, very. Actually, no. It depends on how far back in time does one want to delve to find common ties. If only we could discuss apes as our common ancestors *sigh*. Anyway, with grandparents from Lahore and Karachi, parents from Delhi, born in Mumbai but having spent most of my life in Bangalore, to say that I have an identity crisis would be an understatement at best. So when someone catches me off-guard and delves into my murky family tree, my mind draws a blank and I fumble “Del.. sorry Mum.. I mean Banga.. no wait..”

However, when I ask myself the question “Where is home”, my mind still draws a blank but in the most tranquil way possible. Home is wherever and whoever I want it to be. Home is all that I have accepted unconditionally. It is the nook in my grandmother’s house in Delhi where the cooler is most effective, it is the laid back yet full-of-life electric vibe of Mumbai, the comfort of a strong cup of filer Kaapi in Bangalore and home is all the people I have had the privilege of discussing the weather with… 🙂

Yours – in need of an actual home,

Panya.

Eh, what are you going to do?

Dear Readers,

While taking a trip down memory lane today, I stumbled upon an amusing yet jarring memory. Amusing for others. Jarring for me. This incident took place when I was quite small. I really tried to jog my memory to get a ballpark figure of my age but all that my brain could cough up was “Quite small”. Eh, what are you going to do? My parents and I were on a holiday in Goa. My recollection starts off pleasant enough. Strolling down an over-crowded beach with my hands and mouth preoccupied with devouring a cob of corn with the sun setting in the background. Okay, to be honest, the taste of the corn is my only vivid recollection.. the probability of being on a beach( I mean it’s Goa!) with the sun present somewhere in the sky is fairly high.

Maybe my small size made me extra vulnerable. Maybe the sight of me attacking the corn with such fervor was really off-putting but either way I found myself being chased by a cow. That’s right, a COW! Now Readers, there are moments in life that strong arm you into prioritising. And any person in their right mind would choose safety over a corn cob. Not me. Nuh uh. The corn cob and I were one entity. So me, my misguided zeal, and my recently added appendage ran like a maniac fuelled by their nonsensical priorities.

Had this incident taken place outside of India, any neutral party would have declared the cow guilty, and me, just plain crazy. However, in this country, most people’s assessment of the situation would have been clouded by the deep emotional bonds that they have with cows. I understand that they are harmless – not in my experience – but to others, perhaps. Even though I am a little weary of them, I will be gracious enough to admit that their innocent, gigantic eyes do have an endearing effect, and their contribution to providing me with tasty dairy products is much appreciated.

Through the journey of telling you this story, two thoughts struck me. The first one – Why were we holidaying on a beach? We hailed from Mumbai – a place with abundant beaches. Strange. Secondly, why was the cow holidaying on the beach? Come to think of it, their taste in real estate is quite lousy. Why would they spend all their time on our roads amidst us? I mean, let’s admit it, even on our best days, we are tolerable company at best.

Wait a second, have we compelled these creatures to endure our company and compete for our corn cobs? Could the haphazard planning of our country and complete disregard for other creatures have something to do with the accidental sharing of holiday destinations? *Sigh* When did my unreasonable rant turn into sympathy for the nemesis.

Maybe this reality is one that I’ll just have to live with – a cow squatting in the middle of the road, chewing on a blade of grass and the rest of the city whizzing past it… accepting diversity – taken to a whole new level. Eh, what are you going to do?

Yours – in need of a better nemesis,

Panya