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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Exam Results, and The Friendship Rant

First, the news: AISSCE 2015 results are out, and I scored 96%. As far as we know as I write this, the highest score in the Science stream from my school is 97.4%, and from the Commerce section, the highest score is 96.2%, from my friend and former colleague Nihal Singh. The newspapers reported today that the highest scorer in the country is a Commerce student from Delhi, with 99.2%; the highest Science scorer is not known to me yet. My congratulations go out to all the toppers as well as everyone else who cleared this very important milestone. The Class of 2015 has come of age, and hopefully we will go far. Now we await the results of our attempts at getting into college. Bystanders and bygones, wish us luck!
Since the last of the competitive exams were done, I have been struck by a crushing sense of emptiness -- though in reality I have plenty to do, especially things that I did less (or none) of in the past few months. I have a pending storybook in my hands; I have a ton of French that I can learn and a ton of Runescape that I can play; and today after a long time I picked up my tanpura. Yet, I feel devoid of a purpose. At the end of Class X, I knew that I was going to spend Class XI in HSMS and Aakash Institute. Now, I have no such certainty. Even if I get a barely decent result in the competitive examinations, I will have a formidable list of colleges to choose from -- and once I get there, I have to take the wobbly first steps towards an adult, independent life. Don't get me wrong -- the prospect of that life does not intimidate me; instead, it excites me that I will have new friends, new knowledge and new experiences. What I do not have is immediate motivation. Sure, career prospects and even the possibility of being able to do some meaningful charity someday is great motivation; but as I leave school life for real, I have no meaningful connections to show for it -- no people whose faces, far away, will give me strength in my future endeavours; no tangible, living representatives of the spirit of youthful idealism that I hope to carry into my life of nascent maturity. To put it simply, leaving school life, I do not have a single friend that I can possibly allow myself to miss.
It is a well-known fact that anything worth doing is faced with stiff opposition, and that anyone worth their salt is never too well liked. A low friend count is a cross I can bear for the path I chose in my school life, because that path was important to me -- and the burden of that cross is much lightened by the few friends I made in passing -- but none to know and trust, none to call at 3 a.m., none that accept me for the exact person that I am and are yet not afraid to be close to me. I revel in solitude, and I've always hated so-called friends who are too clingy, but sometimes I wonder if one absolutely must suffer indignities to one's conscience, privacy and principles to maintain friendships. If it is that way, trust me, I'd rather not have friends -- but sometimes I wonder if that whole 'adjustment' story is bullshit. Adults (technically, I am one now, but bleh) have always told us bluntly that true friends are a near-impossible rarity, and we youngsters grow to believe it. The other day when I visited HSMS and spoke to my class teacher, she agreed with me when I mentioned the improbability of true friendship, and praised my maturity in realizing the truth!
And yes, it is a truth I realized long, long ago. Back in CCHS, I had realized as young as Class II that being betrayed by friends was routine procedure. Right up to Class VIII, each and every year, without fail, I made a new friend in the beginning of the year, who hurt me horribly by the end of it -- with such scathing regularity that I came to expect it in the beginning of every school year. In Class IX, I gave up hope of ever making new friends. In HSMS, I didn't expect a fresh start, at least in this regard, but I was given one nonetheless. I often tell people how, much of HSMS and Aakash was a concise and accelerated version of the CCHS experience for me -- and part of what I mean, is that numerous people flitted in and out of my life in these two years, and bonds were made and broken not in a year, not in a month, but in days, hours and minutes. I made and lost nearly as many friends in HSMS as I had in CCHS. Talk about history repeating itself, and that too six times faster!
No, I wasn't a quiet kid. I wasn't a wallflower, I wasn't timid, I wasn't invisible. I was well known, I was popular among juniors, I held the top posts in the student bodies and everybody knew my name and who I was -- but that was the end of it. Any friendships I had left at the end of my school life died in a series of sad encounters in the days leading up to our Farewell Day, and lastly, crushingly, excruciatingly, on the very day that I bade Farewell to HSMS, and thus my school life. Reconnecting with some of these friends worked out quite well, actually -- but it was never the same. When I look at these people now in photographs, when I hear them now as disembodied voices over telephone, when I run into them at the odd exam centre, I find they've changed, or perhaps revealed some truth about themselves that I had been oblivious to. I find them different -- just like, déjà vu, I found many of my Carmel girls metamorphosing into unrecognizable skeletons of their past selves in post-Carmel meetings. My maturity be praised, I understand all of this as a normal part of adult life -- people can't be forced to like each other, and true friendships don't exist -- and I am ready to accept it if someone can convince me that it is always true: if someone can refute me when I debate that it is still worth my while to try making new friends.
Yes, I know -- I'm an adult, and I'm supposed to have my life all figured out, including my bunch of age-appropriate, status-appropriate, gender-appropriate, culture-appropriate, brand-appropriate friends to show off to myself on some bloody list that I'm supposed to check off I don't know when. But I have no shame in admitting that I actually don't. I don't know how to make friends, and I don't know if trying is even worth my time. What I do know, however, is that I'll never, ever change myself, never ever remain silent against any injustice, never give up even a single bit of my personality to keep myself glued to some friend. I'll never, ever, do all the things I wrote about in that poem. Silence is not the price I will pay for friends, and silence is not what I will expect of any friend that decides to accept my voice.
I also promise, however, that while I will forever be careful, and never too trusting, and never too easy to make friends with, I will never, ever, stop trying to make friends. Because, you see, every friendship I've ever had was wonderful while it lasted. Even the people who weren't who I thought they were, were a joy to me as my imagined versions of them. So no, oh wise grown-ups, while I won't ever endanger my identity for the sake of a friend, I will always remain on the lookout for one -- even if it is ever reduced to a selfish tool of giving me joy. And while I'm at it, I will remember the principle that has always held together my most treasured friendships -- summarized by this C.S. Lewis quote:
"Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: 'What! You too? I thought that no one but myself...'" 
So, past friends, thank you for having been there. Present friends, if you exist, let me know who you are because I haven't the slightest idea; and, world full of potential future friends, here I come!
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I actually have one friend, just one, outside school, outside the country in fact, who has always been wonderful to me despite having never met me in person. This post being about school friends, I didn't talk about you in it, but thank you, +Paige Marie / +SuperPaigeT .  You're a dear.

Image courtesy: Unknown creator via Google Images

Saturday, May 23, 2015

You're Mean

Bookkeepers, bets and gambles, risky investments, desperate choices. I am a statistic. I am someone's project, I am someone's way to live their dream, someone's card out of the rut. I am someone's point to prove or disprove, someone's shortcut to fortune, and the receptacle for someone else's self-loathing.
When I was weak, when I was but a seed, they made me strong, yes? Cold water, stinking animal shit, painful cuts, etcetera? Pruned to help grow, they say-- oh, I see, so that's what it was -- and I must pay. My opinion of their pruning be whatever it may, I must pay -- for being sneered at, for being lied to, for being manipulated and dragged into none-of-my-business feuds, I must pay. I must pay with lifelong thanks, with folded hands. I must pay in infinite gratitude.
Bringing out my inner potential by convincing me that I had none at all? Cool story. I believe you. I am where I am because of you, eh? Well, though I don't know where exactly that is supposed to be, hey, I believe you. If this goes well, it's all you; if it doesn't, it's all me -- per public trend, and per tradition of this here glorious country.
If this goes well the sweets are on me, for you. If this goes well the applause is for me, but I'm supposed to deflect it towards you. Oh, and, the respect is for you, the feather-in-résumé is for you. If this goes well, some four to six years of tolerating more people like you is for me. Still, if this goes well, I stand to gain, you say. Well, by force of habit, I believe you.
I believe you, and I bless you. I bless your automobiles, your smartphones, your children's educations, their new clothes -- all paid for by my willingness to let you, essentially, be paid for being mean to me. No, it's not a sacrifice that you made! It's not a sacrifice if you, well, sacrificed nothing for it, and are working the best-paid job you could get. It's not a noble profession as per tradition if nobleness is no longer considered a requirement before allowing you to get into my head.
Yet, I believe you when you say I must pay, because that's just me -- and pay I will. Whichever way this goes, whether I buy you sweets or not, I bless you and your goddamn life -- and your ugly car, your stupid phone and your children who  you are, probably, already raising badly.
So consider that your payment, you, uh, you... well, ugh. This blog is supposed to be PG. So here:

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Of Heights, Quakes, and How Everything is Wrong

We clawed at walls. We smiled at the world till our cheeks hurt and our lips bled. We did everything right -- to what end? Rickety buses filled with sweat, drudgery and depraved machinations; the morbidly obese sweating at the gym after eating far too much; young people dying because someone, somewhere, does not know better -- and what have we accomplished?
Rumbles of suspicion arise somewhere deep in our brains at every kind word, every kind touch, every holy gesture, because somewhere between the Value Education classes and the deadbeat degree our evaluation of kindness quietly shifted -- from the scale of people served, to the adult and practical yardstick of social points accrued -- and by those measures we give and receive what was preached, to the gullible child by the hypocritical adult, as gainful only in the afterlife. And so we were kind and we are kind, because it helps to be kind. Even if the fear of God didn’t convince us as kids, we’re all so kind, now that we’re grown -- for convenience in this here mortal life. Everybody and their mother is kind in adulthood. Everyone. Not just the pious with season tickets to paradise but atheists like me too. Because it's useful. And so we're kind. So, so kind. Parents are so kind to children that kids don't have to take the trouble of dreaming their own dreams -- don't worry, baby! Mum and Dad lived in the 80s and have a lot of dreams left over from that hopeful era! Here, take them. Fulfil them. Parents will pay for whatever you need to get that done. You just do it. How convenient, right, baby? No need to waste your time being yourself! We're doing you a favour. Just like the government is doing us all a favour! No one has to lift a finger to build an identity. It's all encoded for you by our freely and fairly elected masters. Here are the basic rules that define your identity as an Indian:
1. Government decides what you eat. Don't eat a cow, it's your Mom.
2. Government decides who you have sex with. 'Honey, not now' is something that only men can say in a marriage and expect to be respected. A woman's sexuality is an object promised to her husband by her father who similarly ‘received’ her mother once, so married women beware, you can't be raped by your husband. Because in India, marriage is a sacrament which makes marital rape a non-issue.
3. Government decides who you don't have sex with. Because gender is so binary that all hell will break loose if someone explores outside the extremes. On second thought, we don't understand such sophisticated stuff. You want a reason? Well, because, tradition or some vague thing like that.
4. Women, don't be a woman or you will be raped. Men, if you denounce rape, you are not man enough. Children, there is no such thing as rape. You see, ignoring the very dictionary definition of rape, we believe that she was asking for it.
5. If all of that is difficult, just do as you’re told. SURRENDER NOW OR PREPARE FOR A FIGHT! (Meowth, that's right). Because hey, be grateful you don't live in Syria. At least we don't behead you.
Alright, alright. I'm sorry about the ranting and the discombobulated writing and the fact that the lettering above probably gave you a seizure. But hey, I'm right about the routine, muscle-memory survival summarized succinctly by the movements and conversations of commuters on public transport. I’m right about the hypocrisy in pretending that the luxury of affording good food is not a luxury at all since it makes you fat, as well as the homogenous beauty standards associated with ‘fat’. I'm also right about the pointlessness of parents dictating to children and in turn being dictated to by the powers that be. I'm right about the micro-aggressions we face every day for not fitting into the boxes built around us. You know I’m right.
Before you say it: no, I don't know what to do about it. This is a rambling, whining, selfish, elitist, pseudo-activist piece by a tired young adult who has no idea how to fix the dog-eaten world she inhabits. This is an immature outburst in response to frustrations accumulated over many months of walking on the streets feeling unsafe, navigating online and offline interactions with narrow-minded judgmental dimwits, being irrationally mistrustful of new people because of being hurt and disrespected too many times, and reading the newspaper only to be left thanking my dumb luck that I'm still in one piece.
And yes, this is a rant about everything that's wrong around me, and it’s triggered by survivor's guilt – because Anik Mukherjee, my senior by a year from Hem Sheela Model School, a troubled guy, a flawed guy, and an extraordinary aesthetic, comedic and literary talent who I had the privilege to know and watch performing live, recently succumbed to the crisis of dreams versus conventional careers, and committed suicide -- late last week.  Pragmatically speaking, I am saddened, grieved even, and my thoughts are with his family who must be going through hell right now. On a less pragmatic note, however, the only thought running through my mind is what this all is worth. Anik was a rebel; he didn't walk the straight and narrow. But even those of us who did everything right, as I wrote in the beginning -- what do we get? On good days, we get financial security and false bliss, with a faint hint of regret for having never rebelled. On bad days, the pathetic nature of our robotic existence hits us like a block of ice to the face and we fall into a damaging periodicity of low self-worth and bully-like egotism -- essentially either pulling ourselves down, or rising up by pushing down on others – and so on and on it goes. Our consolation is that some unknown heights are reached in the process. Some unreachable correctness is apparently achieved when we let our lives be copies of a set template. Some comfortable predictability, some spinelessness mistaken for likeability, some ingratiation of the world at large -- that's what we get. That, and the fact that young people die.
Because someone, somewhere, prefers that one or two youngsters die if only to reinforce in the minds of the others that they are being so very strong by doing exactly what is told instead of giving in to weaknesses such as dreams and individuality -- and thus a generation is born who make fun of two friends for discussing the loss of someone they knew (yes, that happened) because it's so funny and so stupid and EHMAHGERD TOO LOL that the idiot killed himself, ROTFL such a wuss. "Oh, look at me, I've never dreamt, never built anything beautiful. Look at me, because it took me such strength to conform and never say enough. I'm gonna be an engineer and my Momma will love me more and cook me bigger pieces of chicken..!" Well guess what, strong-man dear -- Anik lost a battle. You never fought. I wish he were alive, because he was nice to me while you are horrid to me. I’d have him alive and you dead any day.
Sounds harsh, I know, but those are my words for those who ridicule suicide victims. It's a lapse of judgement -- a fatal lapse of judgement -- but it means that the person did something, be it good or bad, to land themselves in deep enough trouble, so there. The strongest are the ones who came back from the brink. The weakest are those who don't know what it's like to be criticized and made to feel worthless. Those who, unfortunately, tip over the edge are somewhere in between. Because:
“It's not worth doing something unless someone, somewhere, would much rather you weren't doing it.” -- Terry Pratchett
So yes, with many apologies to my readers, I will be irrational today. I will be a pseudo-activist today and you can judge me all you want from the great heights you've reached in your quest towards homogeneity. Speaking of those heights, Congratu-fricking-lations to you.
Don't get me wrong. I am probably on the way to a deadbeat degree -- fortunately, for the better part, not because of external pressure but because my academic tastes happen to be conventional. But at least I know that it's much, much harder, and not weak or lesser at all, to be doing something different. As for the non-academic stuff, I know exactly what it's like not to fit in -- and as I said, it's my dumb luck that I'm in one piece. No pedestal here for me to stand on!
Today there was an earthquake here, again – thankfully yet again non-fatal. Now, as anyone with half a brain would, I'm not partial to earthquakes. However, I wouldn't mind a non-fatal earthquake once in a while, especially of the metaphorical kind -- because we as a society, we as a country, we as a species, need a mad shaking up from time to time. Our fake heights need to crumble, our veneers need to be rudely torn, our sense of mortality needs to be reinforced, if we are ever going to get real about how pathetic all of this is getting.
Ergo, we need a quake. A significant one.
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For the sake of preservation, here is a link to my original Google+ post reacting to Anik's death. Feel free to talk about these posts, or not. Thank you for putting up with me.
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