jaadu hai

kuch nahin par kuch to hai

dancing to the beat.

The ball comes spinning from the other side, it hits the top line of the net, hops up for a bit and comes down to nick the edge of the table maybe some four inches away from the net. The moment I sense the ball hitting the net, I leap into action. The ball is changing its direction from the path that I had predicted, I have to get there fast. In this leaping and running action, I work on new prediction models. Where will the ball be when I get close to it? Everything happens so fast. The ball nicks the edge of the table, my secondary prediction models are wasted, too. Now I act on pure instinct. I extend my hand far as forward as I can, and the connect with the ball. The ball jumps back over the net on to my opponent’s side of the table. He lines up for the smash, and misses the table entirely.

“Noooooo,” he exclaims, “You weren’t supposed to get that!”

“Wasn’t supposed to?” I ask, “I try and hit every shot.”

“Yeah, you weren’t supposed to. That’s an impossible shot,” he says in his French accent, “Who takes table tennis so seriously?”

This shot is “impossible” for a few reasons. When the ball hits the net, it changes its trajectory. It becomes very difficult to predict where it will land next. Difficult, but not impossible. The other thing that happens when the ball hits the net is that it gains speed. So not only do I have to worry about placement and direction, but also velocity. I have to adjust how I will play the shot in more ways than one. But when you couple this with the ball nicking the edge of the table, playing the shot becomes impossible, as it were. I love it when my models are shattered and I have to build new ones. It isn’t easy, but it is very rewarding. Even when I miss.

“I do,” I retort.

And I do. I am a desirous man. I don’t just want to hit every shot. I want to win every point. We play games up to 21 points. I want all 21 points. But beyond the 21 for any particular game, I repeat: I want to win every single point. I think I can. In a very “the physical laws of the universe permit such a possibility” way. But the odds are so very low that I never will. But my desires are not swayed by facts of probability. I play as if I can.

I love this game. The rhythm and the beat, the continuous nature of motion; I love this dance. My opponent isn’t my opponent. He is my partner. Together we create this beautiful dance. It is both physical and intellectual, both exhausting and uplifting, both nurturing and destructive. I absolutely love it.

My desires do not stand still. They conflict. They are paradoxical. I said earlier that I want to win every single point, and I do. But with the same intensity, I want my opponent, my partner, to never miss. I want the beat to continue forever. I want a never-ending challenge. I am not satisfied with a few steps on the staircase, I want to scale mountains. I want to be at my limits. I want to be at the end of my wits. I want to win, of course, but in this continuous rhythm there is no winning or losing, there is only motion; there is only the dance. The dance is all that matters. It is the dance that I truly love. Winning and losing aren’t even concepts in my mind anymore.

Opponents as we are, we have to respect our partners. I don’t mock my partners when they make mistakes. A botched serve bounces back in his face instead of on the other side of the table. I do not laugh. That could easily be me. In fact, that is me on the other side. If I win a point by luck, I apologize. We do not celebrate luck. Luck happens so far beyond our control, we do not take credit for it. If my opponent celebrates on a lucky point, I’ll be damn as hell sure to smash the next point. We all learn our lessons somehow. I have learned plenty of my own, and plenty more to come, I’m sure.

But the self is not so spared. “Fuck,” I’ll yell at the top of my lungs. Angry at myself for missing a shot I ought to have clearly made. For not having the discipline I should. Ultimately, it is not the other that I play against. I play against the self. The self is all I can control. Ultimately, the self is all I have.

The conflicts of desire, like the desires themselves, are endless. I want to win every point, but I also want to be down in the game. I want to be down 16 to 6, and work my way up. I want a steep climb. The score is just a number. Nothing else. I take a deep breath, and look my partner in the eye. I want to let him know that I am here. I am losing, for certain, but for certain I am very present. “Bring it!” I yell at the edge (but not the top) of my lungs, trying to disrupt my partner’s rhythm. The game is played in the mind as much as it is with the dance. A few points later, the score is 16 to 10. What seemed a sure loss with a ten point gap is now within reach. The score is just a number. Nothing else. I am so focused that I am slicing up every moment. You couldn’t find my focus with a laser if you tried, my focus was more precise. The score is now 16 to 13. The game is on.

I sense a heightened nervousness in my partner. My heart, too, beats rapidly. Drops of sweat fall to the floor. The score is now 18 to 16. I am down just two points. The score is just a number. And now the game is tied at 19. From nearly nothing I am level again. The score is now 21 to 19. The game is over. I am down two points. I fought my way back to level the game, but I couldn’t tilt it my way. I am tired and defeated. I hate losing. I hate it so much. But I also accept it like it was my own skin. The moment is gone and there is nothing else. The score may just be a number, but I can no longer change it.

“Would you like to dance again?” my partner asks. I do not know how to say no to this question. The score is zero-zero. We begin again. I try and dance to a new beat. But every loss lingers. And all the wins, too. Every point, and all points of my past, they linger. I find the new beat. One step back, and one step forward.

jaana.

yeh haal-e-dil kahaan, jaana?
ke jaan se jaan kahaan jaana?

yuheen.

raat badal gayi, din badal gaye kaise yuheen.
hum badal gaye, humraha badal gaye kaise yuheen.

kaise badal gaye woh khawb jo dekhe the,
manzilon ki chaha badal gayi kaise yuheen.

dekho kaise badal gayi kadmon ki rahatein,
chalte chalte saara sheher badal gaya kaise yuheen.

kaise? kaise yuheen?
bas, bas yuheen.

intense.

I took the bus home on Friday. I usually sit all the way at the back of the GO bus since people don’t tend to go there unless the bus is getting full. I get carsick when I read in cars, but not on busses and trains. This makes commuting in this manner palatable.

I continued reading “Bombay Stories” by Saadat Hasan Manto. To take a break from the reading, I looked out the window for a while. I sensed a glisten on the snow beyond what the lights of the street lights would make. A full moon was out that night, that too with a glow. My eyes were fixated.

This moment, this fixation is fascinating. When you are in a moving vehicle with the moon to the side, you can see all the other things passing by but the moon. The moon was following me home with everything beneath it being left to the wayside.

And with that realization I felt an intense love for the world.

remains.

it might be unfair to say
that all that remains of the past
is memory.

unless you argue that
scars are a type of memory.
that the painting you painted
isn’t simply a painting, it
is also a memory
of you having painted it.

nearly everything then
is memory.

without these memories,
how do we even know
if the past ever happened?

what if every moment
is the start of time
with placed memories?

faint threads.

memories of memories.
things i saw but didn’t see.

melodies of melodies.
dreams i saw but didn’t see.

There is a certain delight in putting words together.
Though I’m not sure if the delight is certain.
After a while of not having written, you forget about this delight.
It is only the action itself that can remind you.
It is only the act that brings you back.

My clothes are tumbling in the washer.

At some point I realize that I am turning time into nothingness.
This realization seeps right into my bones.
Then motion becomes the mind’s mission.
There are better ways to treat the mind.
There are better ways to dance to the world’s music.

I’m going to go do laundry now.

weather.

I like it when weather happens.

Oh, yes! The delays! The delays! How dreadful. Let’s complain as if somehow this pain shouldn’t touch us. As if somehow we should be free from this pain. I like that the weather annoys us. I like it that it leaves us troubled. Because there is pain otherwise, and there are troubles otherwise. Today they are ours, too.

I like it when weather happens because it reminds us that we are not in control of all the things. That the wheels of the universe spin with or without us. The gears still churn. Look at us. We can compound concrete into tall buildings. We can bend electric currents to our wills. We can send messages from one round corner of our earth to the other. Look at all the systems and nations we have built.

And then there is the weather. Here to remind us again. I like this reminder that the weather affords me.

And how odd it is the world that we have created. How odd it is that we will toil and tremble through this weather to get to work. How odd it is that we build schools like prisons and demand attendance over learning. How odd is it that amidst all this the world that we have created won’t allow us to press pause and take a breath. To say, hey, let’s go down to the communal place with loved ones and strangers, let’s share stories and bake cakes.

We didn’t need the weather to trouble us. We were already there.

to her memory.

I just came across this letter by Roald Dahl encouraging the Brits to get their children immunised. I’ll reproduce it here before my thoughts on it:

Measles: A Dangerous Illness

Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.

“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.

“I feel all sleepy,” she said.

In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.

The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.

On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.

It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.

Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.

LET THAT SINK IN.

Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.

So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?

They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.

So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.

The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.

Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was ‘James and the Giant Peach’. That was when she was still alive. The second was ‘The BFG’, dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.

My thoughts aren’t about vaccination and the discussions around that. Vaccinate, of course.

As horrific as it is, my thoughts aren’t about the death of Dahl’s daughter either. My thoughts are about him writing this letter in light of her death. About him recalling that moment. I did some more digging and after his death they found a notebook in one of his drawers titled: Olivia. In this notebook he recounts the moments at the hospital where he learned about his daughter’s death.

This has me shaken. I want to know his mindset as he was writing these things. As he was recalling those moments. What was his emotional state as he churned thoughts into words and wove them into sentences? What was it moments before and moments after?

I attended the funeral of a friend’s brother a few years ago. He was in his late teens or early twenties. It was an open casket. The mother spent most of her time sitting beside the casket and crying. The father calmly greeted those who attended. He was thanking them for coming. The sisters doing the same.

My knees felt weak looking at the body lying in the casket. I had never seen a lifeless body before.

The funeral is one thing, but I want to know what was going through the family’s minds as they were preparing for the funeral. As they were choosing what to wear. Their thoughts the night before. The morning shower. The drive over. The moments that approach the moment.

Those moments have me shaken.

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