In Black and White
A richly vascularized brain lies naked to public view.
Like they say "here the dead revels to educate the living ..."
Shining, red , innocently living , its cells yet to reconcile to its corporal end. Like a new-born freshly extracted out of the womb it lay helplessly on the dissection board to the mercy of fellow humans while the digital documenter (just a flashy name for a photographer..! dont bother) clicks away with an unkind zeal to capture its last living moments for the archives!
I stood distracted and wondered if could remember anything - those innocent days of childhood, the sensation of its first kiss, the vicious schemes it had hatched , the feel of a refreshing breeze.... anything at all ? Or has it flushed it all away - a lifetime of memories of love, hurt , kinship, hope and sorrow....? Does it even see the tears of its family ? Can it feel their pain of separation ? Can it realise how much someone will miss the person it used to be ?
A stream of crimson blood silently trickles down its sulci and spreads over the board.Wonder whether its weeping at the pitious end of its worldly existence is it its lifeblood breaking free from the cage of its flesh and bones...?! Is this how "I" ends? ...Its ego smothered , its identity annihilated just because its body has given in to some terminating forces?
Suddenly I feel I am not sitting alone in this pathology museum. Each brain section preserved around me has a story of a lifetime to tell...of love, success, pain and betrayal .The paraffins just managed to trap a silly piece of organic material but the "self" has slyly slipped away ....
Its humbling to realize that all of us good bad or ugly will one day meet the same fate -
"to dust thou shall turn " but thats not the point . What bothers me is whether the definition of life is really confined to the display of some vital signs ? Is death really so full and final?
I find myself split into two - my head tells me memory is a hippocampal electrical phenomenon and the limbic system is the seat of all emotions but something in me likes to believe that we are much beyond that.What is this independent voice inside that promises me that I shall not die with my death ? Who is it ? Where does it come from and where does it go ?
If our brain and body is what we are, then why does the friend I made over the internet whom I have never shared physical space with seem more real than my reality? Why is it that I connected to just that one face in my whole class in college? Dont tell me its just because the electrical signals in our brains matched frequency !! Why do we sometimes at first meet feel we've known someone all along ? There is no preconditioning of the brain in such cases. Why does our brain which functions on economising principles even bothers to segregate these so called input signals into pockets of emotion related declarative memory and motor function based procedural memory if it has to bulk trash it at death? I like to think its our mortal brain's survival strategy beyond time and space, its visa to eternity ...
But I wonder if that timeless part torn away from it physical case ever misses its body ? Does it ever crave for a warm hug or just a gentle human touch ...? Does it see that its grandson has the same curve of the nose it used to ? Does it see that its loved ones have moved on in their lives ? What is eternity worth if you stagnate with just a bagful of old memories and dont create new ones ? What is it worth if it succumbs to time ?
You and I may never know .But what I do know is that the next time it rains , I will definitely go out for a walk , hands outstretched,my barefeet feeling the wet soil, my skin feeling the gentle prick of falling drops , my senses filled with the aroma of geosmin ... because for all I know its my only chance ...............
I have just managed to make myself jobless literally and otherwise. The initial few days were blissful. Co-incidentally my watch gave way at around the same time and that was the last I saw of it. I first lost track of the time of day and soon of the day itself. My weeks ceased to have any special sufferings like Monday blues or midweek crisis. Believe me just rip your work schedule from your timetable and u will realise Mondays can be as harmless as Sundays!! From a bumpy auto ride my life soon became as eventless and monotonous as doordarshan!!
Who said ‘nothing’ is impossible?? I did nothing for days and let dust collect in my house and blubber in my brains. Till one day in an attempt to dig out some books to read I was compelled to do some dusting. In the heap of things I found a measuring tape. Instinctively(u have to be a woman to know I am not lying) I unrolled it and put it around my waist (read ‘my waste’ coz it was purely the accumulation of my wasting days) and Voila!!! There was the BIG BANG!! I was struck by a meteor of realization .Yes I have PUT ON!!! My waist size was scarily approaching the oh so coveted ummm … hip size!!!! I realized if I don’t treat the matter with utter urgency my waist and hip size will merge and then the only shape that will faithfully describe me would be a rectangle and other undefined distorted versions of it!!!! Goes without saying that, that moment was the end of all the peace and quiet in my house, mind, body and soul.
The next few days saw me, well not exercising, but digging the internet for solutions to weight woes. Of course I started with looking for quick fixes and found a pattern.
Type I: Biggest promises and of course least effective. (most lucrative for couch potatoes like me)
“Wake up to a new you!”(basically such ones tell u to just stop eating till you die. I bet when u wake up arguably in heaven u will discover the new self which is blissful, formless and oops shapeless too!!) “Say bye bye to that flab in 3 days!!” “No exercise, no diet , just try it ” “get those dream abs without twitching a muscle”(ok , now I agree I made the last one up but c’mon that’s nearly what they imply and I secretly wish they were true too :p). During this phase all those otherwise invisible advertisements on the rear of buses and autos “to lose weight – call 991234567” became oh so stark. I would at unguarded moments itch to call just for probing sake but then something in me would thankfully tell me “dunno about the weight u will definitely lose some cool cash”.
Type II: Fad diets / Crash diets or just call it trash diet.
People turn to this only when they have an impending wedding plan or think they are so big they can be spotted by aliens!! Not everyone can do this. Such diet are only for the ‘driven’( towards masochism). They recommend u have some kind of trash (sorry I could not qualify them for food with that level of palatability) Even if your ‘hunger center’ doesn’t, your ‘satiety centre’, which has cross-talks with your olfactory neurons and gustatory neurons will revolt and inhibit the former to prevent further intake of that ‘food’. The worst of them is perhaps the ‘tapeworm diet’! Wonder how some desperate women could have skimmed past the words “parasite” “worm” “severe health hazard” and fixated on “causes severe weight loss”!!
The theory: the tapeworms are digesting your food, not you. So you can eat as much as you want and this will go into the worm's tummy, not yours. The tapeworm will get fat and become an outcast in tapeworm society, but that would be its problem, not yours. I am sure they must have seemed a good workout buddy as you try to lose weight, but after a month, they are using your toothbrush, drinking your milk out of the carton, and following you around on dates saying how nice it would be to wear your skin!! Uurrgh urrgh eeessh!! That was the last I read of this type.
Either way, the lesson is that your body is an evolutionarily adapted traitor that can't be trusted to lose weight for you. So no pain is only gain. Therefore I reluctantly started looking for
Type III: A balanced diet with regular exercise (most labour intensive, hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. Only for the ferociously motivated)
Don’t know why but it seems so right, it is annoying. Thinking of the other repulsive alternatives was the only factor that forced me to visit the painful world of crunches, push ups and sit ups. Counts of 10 workouts almost invariably found me cheating on the last few counts. Every muscle fibre of my body so long used to the peaceful inertia of rest rose in rebellion, hitherto unknown tendons made their presence felt by a streak of subdued pain and every occurring thought screamed out “QUIT”!
That was a week back. I flexed and twisted and turned my muscles almost regularly except for a couple of days in between for which I have very ‘valid’ reasons (read excuses). Well I have read somewhere that being a pretty efficient machine; the human body will shut down to a minimal level of energy consumption when asleep or extremely inactive. Even being awake and reading quietly will burn a fair amount of energy, as brain activity consumes a decent amount of calories
Calorie burn rates for various stationary activities:
• 80 - reading (PG Wodehouse)
• 70 - reading (Ayn Rand )
• 70 - watching TV
• 60 - baseline, comatose, asleep
• 55 - posting comments on the Internet
Wonder why we don’t get to see such encouraging facts more redundantly. So its not that in those two days that I lost in between I did not lose any calories at all. Oh yes one undocumented fact about this schedule is that it hones your defense skills like nothing else can. You will discover your talent of coming up with excuses for missing your regime that you never thought you were capable of!
I however think that this whole craze for a reed thin, anorexic, size zero body is just a fad. It will die a timely death like every other fashion statement does. Like the wheel of civilization they all reach a peak of demand only two give way to a blast from the past. Didnt the bellbottoms from the 70’s resurrect in the late 90’s? Aren’t the pipe pants of the 80’s back in vogue now, albeit in the fancy garb of “dangerously low body huggers”? Thin is in now but someday the thunder thighs and voluptuous curves will be back with a vengeance. Till then the only message I have for all ‘weighed’ down women is
“Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow thou shalt be desirable”!!
I’ve hit ‘suspended animation’. I feel like a virus – buoyant, light headed and inanimate. Plain existence looking for a piece of life to dig my greedy teeth of purpose into its flesh. Like the little leaf caught in a whirlpool I find myself turning with insane recurrence.
I have given up on being understood and even more on understanding. I realize I am too weird to live but I know I am much too rare to die. I am perhaps one of those freak specimens who give ‘typical’, ‘regular’ a definition. They are because I am.
I often find myself walking through a blur of urbanity like a lysogen, integrated into the system but not quite a part of it. I stand still frozen in time while years rush past me. I feel like the injured runner still stunned by the suddenness of his elimination.
There are straight ‘success’ stories redundant and then there are stories of the ‘initial struggle’ metamorphosing into unprecedented glory. My story doesn’t fit in any of the above genres. I am more of the struggle and no success sorts ;) So I have reconciled to live in a virtual reality…in a tomorrow’s dream…in an escapists paradise.
I speak with the least expection of being understood. Language has lost its essence. I get compelled by reality to talk to people who definitely don’t share my planet. Politics and deceit, I don’t understand neither do I wish to. The nail on my little finger on my left foot cares to be politically correct and therefore all my s**** ups. I am a victim of a system that says the said thing, does the done thing. Somewhere I feel grateful to my Primary School teacher for having blatantly told me to "SHUT UP"...while the rest of life..only gave me hints to do so…
Life stretches before me like a scary sea of tomorrow and I need to live through it with eyes wide shut, ears audibly dumb and lips screaming sealed. For someone like me it’s a daunting challenge.
I feel this surge of vitality in the deepest core of me pleading for a vent. It’s a formless nameless annoying creature that sticks its head out at my most defeated, vulnerable moments. The inertia of stagnation tries hard to douse it .But somewhere I still hear it telling me that I am meant to be more that just alive. As of now I intend to listen more intently...
The kitchen has always been my ma’s forte. It’s where she would caste a spell and turn raw vegetables into lip-smacking dishes. As an appreciative daughter my moral duty was to lap up every drop, every morsel of what she would make. For me a simple logic worked - if food tasted so magical then it would take magic to make it too and to juggle with the third degree hand trick was not my cup of tea for sure.
I remember the first time I had donned on the brave task of cooking was when I was about 6. Only being possessed can explain the devilry that followed. So here was I all ready to cook supper for my afternoon game. First I had to decide what I would make and who would get to have it.
Decision 1: anyone gets to have it APART FROM ME. Once that decision was made deciding the rest was easy ;)
Decision 2: Ingredients. What could be more easily available and tempting as bits of … paper!! Soon the table had a heap of neatly torn bits of dusty assorted cellulose. Just a few days before that I had overheard ma telling a friend ‘you know, you can make a good dish with just about anything’ Now you cant blame me if she didn’t qualify it as ‘anything edible’ right? Anyways I added sufficient amount of water to turn it into a squishy mass. But it looked gruelish and insipid. So I decided to add the greens. Getting if from the fridge would create too much noise and spoil the surprise. So I promptly went into the garden tore some random leaves and preempted myself by remembering to get a pinch of soil (read pepper) for a final sprinkle. From then on there was no turning back. Literally anything and everything that I set my hands on went right in, from exotic twigs to tooth paste!!! A sneak into the kitchen helped me add butter and inundate my batter with ketchup (the only two things my mom kept on a shelf within my reach). Suppressing the free expression of my culinary skills by keeping the spices and herbs literally out of my reach was sooo not done
Anyways, undaunted I went on for the final step of my recipe. Now this one needed some negotiations with our oriya cook (thakur). He was paranoid of lizards and I swore if he did not set my delicacy on the fire I would just pluck one wriggly thing from the wall and aim it straight at him! (Thank god he never dared me an execution of my repulsive plan…I am super reptilophobic myself :o)
So he put that bowl of my concoction on the fire and bought it to a sizzling boil all the while mumbling what a wretch I was under his breath and I ……………. AGREE.
Now for the best part. Mission: find target. That came easy with the victim walking right up to me! The cleaning maid had just come in when she found me pouring over this steaming bowl and asked me what it was. “taste and see for yourself” I said promptly. The unsuspecting maid gulped down the whole thing, yes the whole damn thing!!! Now this took me by unforseen shock. As she took spoon after spoon I could feel my pulse race. The trail of ingredients started flashing cross my mind one by one each threatening me with a greater potential to kill!! Hitherto sense of achievement volatilized and what overtook me was a sense of deep, all consuming blood curdling, GUILT!! No one would believe that it was an accident. They would charge me of murder most foul, they would put my behind bars, they would whip me every single day till I would become numb, they would hang me upside down and then … and then….. and then ….. they would feed me that thing ! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…… I got up sweat dripping down my forehead, my extremities cold, my ears red hot. (wonder which law of thermodynamics could explain the temperature distribution curve of my body at that point) I suppose fear and guilt had sedated me to a semiconscious state. The moment I collected my senses I asked my mom, “Maa, mashi achhe na gyachhe?” translated literally would mean “Mom, is aunt still there or gone?” Do I need to say that all the puns were very intended there?
Learning that she was still alive and kicking gave me a feeling which today I can only equate with seeing my experimental rats coming out of anesthesia after an implantation surgery of the brain. However till date it’s a mystery to me, how she managed to digest not anything else but the cellulose that made up the paper? Cellulase, any biochemistry book will tell you, is an enzyme exclusively present in the bovine digestive system!
Years later, during my undergraduate days, I happened to be alone at home for a fortnight. The initial days were obviously spent on Maggi - the universal staple diet of all Indian hostels and talentless singles. Soon I reached a point where my body got so allergic to maggi that it nearly threatened to produce anti-maggi antibodies if I would gulp in one thread more! Optionless, I landed up in the kitchen again. I have seen my Ma fry and sauté vegetables in oil, but where suddenly all the curry appeared from was an eternal mystery. So this is how curry revealed thyself to me. I had the humble intention of just frying two pieces of fish for dinner when my venture was interrupted by Ma’s call. When I went back to the kitchen I saw a column of thick smoke issuing from the Tadka! It was almost as if the souls of those little fishes were rising up in ether and I could just tell what remained in the pan were charred carcasses of their once delicious bodies. With feline agilty (puns intended), I grabbed the jug and doused the smoke with a generous splash of water. A noisy uproar came down to a gurgly simmer and finally to a thick sizzle. Eureka! And I discovered Curry!
Its been quite a few years hence. Today I love to cook. I can manage regular dishes all fine. But being the chronic adventurist that I am, what really lures me to the kitchen till date are the Pineapple chickens, the Camembert Hazelnut potatoes and Honey herb bananas.
Ive always heard stories of how troublesome it is to get any work done from an Indian government office even if it means just a signature! I always like to give people some benefit of doubt and therefore had chosen to think that they were all exaggerated versions of reality. But today I know for sure that it’s an experience only those who have been struck will be able to faithfully identify with.
Recently I had the misfortune of joining one such government institute for PhD and even greater misfortune of having to get my admission paperwork done from its office!!!! According to ancient Indian astrological science there is one particular planetary position where Saturn shrouds down with unprecedented vengeance and it lasts for 7 1/2 years! Saare saati is the name given to this untoward phenomena. I now firmly believe that you can live all those 7 years and get done with it if you survive just one such visits. After all it does take a very unfavourable planetary position to make one have any business in a government office in India in the first place.
So here was I basking in the glory of having made it to one of the premiere institutes in the country, all ready with my acceptance letter walking towards the office.Thats when I came across
Torture1: Queue i
nvariable and as complicated as its spelling. At some points along it u’ll see clusters while at others u’ll find bifurcations giving rise to ‘queuelets’. Goes without saying the end of it will be so split it can put any shovel to shame. I was already hypoglycemic by the time I survived the queue and went in.
Torture 2: Wrong number!!
The person you walk upto first can NEVER EVER be the person you should go to!! He will look at your papers with utmost indifference and will twitch every muscle of his face with so much disappointment that u’ll feel u’ve missed a clue of whom to go to as obvious as a picture of that person in those sheets !! With this he will just point a finger and say “not here, that side”. So keen you would be at that point to not interact with him any further that you will grab your papers and take his leave and THAT’S IT!! You have stepped into quick sand. You will realize the room is teaming with his clones even more indifferent and virulent!! From this moment onwards you’ll be reduced to a snooker ball impacting randomly on the walls of the board.
My honest advice is you pay extra attention to each part of the person’s designation you are supposed to meet. I wonder which jobless sadist ever had the time and the crookedness to have come up with such complicated and partial designations in the first place!! ‘special officer’ and worse still ‘super special officer’. Hit by the shear variety of the designations, the goof-up magnet that I am, I conveniently forgot the oh-so-important prefix ‘super’. Actually I did not anticipate there could be more variety to the already exotic post of special officer!! So when the man at the desk asked me whether I was looking for super special officer I quite involuntarily said “No I think he is less special”!! It was really a harmless slip of tongue with no derogatory intentions whatsoever but why should those clones believe me. So what followed was an uninvited lecture on how insolent I was and how all of them were sitting there just to make life easy for the students. You bet.
Torture 3: The Cascade.
Well even if you are looking for just a signature let me assure you it can never be a single step process. It will be a cascade of specimens each of who will feast on a little of your flesh and some of whose job may be even, just putting a pencil mark on your documents! (wonder how it feels to be employed to make undefined pencil marks on peoples document all your life).Therefore I feel they have found ways and means to hone their egos. This particular person told me I have to go to one particular Mr. Krupalingaswamy and I as usual thanked him and started my hunt for Mr.Kripaswamy nah krupa somethimg swamy …oops noooo karunaswamy..yessssssssss karunalingaswamy …. Ummm I guess…anyways there was “swamy” for sure!! Armed with this remnant of a name in mind I sure was doomed to meet all permutations and combinations of names that ended with swamy. I wish names were simpler and shorter and not deviously designed to prey on people with goldfish memories like me .But beat this, a tired defeated me finally found out that Mr.whateverswamy was placed strategically right opposite to the villain who had asked me to go to him !!!!
By this time it was already 12:45pm, very 1:00pm by IST (Indian stretchable time)and this is when all government employed blobs(that’s the only shape most of them take with years of incubating their chairs) add succor to their brains so that they can invent even more innovative ways “to make life easy for the students” !
Torture 4: procrastinate NOW
The day you get your work done in a days time from a place like this, President Bush will stop bearing the burden of world peace on his lonely shoulders, balaji soaps will start make sense and ofcourse random men will stop posting demented ‘fiendship’(friendship) requests on orkut. My final man told me to come two weeks later. I dint know whether to be upset that the work didn’t get done after all or should I jump for joy that I was granted respite for a fortnight at least. This particular specimen I later learnt through experience and campus gossip had a habit of saying “come after 15days” like a Tourette’s tic. Infact during a later encounter when I had gone to enquire why my stipend had not been deposited , he had told me on the 21st of the month to, yes as expected “come after 15 days”. This time around I, who had already earned the coveted title of Ms. insolent, told him “Yes Sir, I will, but that will be for the next months stipend”. That was the only time he had cared to look at me.
At present I am wrapping up from this institute of exquisite experience. Goes without saying the office will make sure it’s a very painful (literally) adios. Wish me luck and I promise to document the remaining tortures for you someday.