you stood there silently
the gates of heaven.
i stood there motionless
that it was for me.
your hands tired
and heaven had sent
all the doorstops
to the other side.
you stood there silently
the gates of heaven.
i stood there motionless
that it was for me.
your hands tired
and heaven had sent
all the doorstops
to the other side.
i reach my heights on days like these,
i wonder why on days like these.
perhaps fine wine and a dose of cheese?
but those won’t do on days like these.
i could strum a song, if you please,
i lose my voice on days like these.
when was it last i prayed on my knees?
and i do not still on days like these.
the look of joy and eyes that crease,
i miss your smile on days like these.
oh, the solace and ease of winter’s breeze,
my frozen heart softens on days like these.
I’m on a train right now. I was planning on reading, on maybe writing something, or coding something. But I don’t want to do any of those right now.
I am either sleeping, and when I am not sleeping I am just looking out the window with this one song on repeat. ‘tu kisi rail si‘ written by Varun Grover, sung by Swanand Kirkire.
There is one particular couplet that has me taken:
tu kisi rail si guzarti hai
main kisi pul sa tharthara hoon
you pass by like a speeding train,
and i shiver like the bridge below.
(Translation mine, though I’m probably butchering it.)
Wow, that’s some good shit right there. I don’t know. There’s something about using this metaphor in a romantic song. Turns out that this couplet wasn’t written by Varun Grover, he writes about the song in an article for the Indian Express. It was written by Dushyant Kumar, a Hindi writer born in the 30s. He wrote poems and ghazals, short stories, novels, and dramas.
There’s something about that metaphor that has me mesmerized.
So I listen to the song on repeat, doing nothing else on this train.
(Yes, I know that this a simile and not a metaphor. Please do not write to me about this.)
I was amidst madness. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for madness. The madness that flings ideas far into the whirlwind and brings them back into delightfulness. The madness that sways me from side to side, where bodies move and dance to the tunes of Arabic music. I’m all for that madness. This madness was small talk at a party. Can’t really call this a party. I’ve been to parties and this ain’t no party. It’s a get together, really. I’m here as a favour to a friend. Small talk I cannot stand. Oh, the things we do for friendship.
Two men stand in front of me. Drinks in their hands. They’re talking about something or the other. All I can focus on is how the light reflects off of one glass on to the other and back; how slight motions of the glasses change the entire lighting in the room. The wonder of photons. That’s where my mind was. These men, in their ties and eight-piece suits, spoke about the dreadfulness of their jobs and about how they have to sprint to their cars in the parking lots when they get off the train coming home to suburbia. The reason you want to sprint to your car is so you can be of the first to head out of the lot. A casual stroll to your car could mean anywhere from half an hour to an hour of waiting in a car line. Oh, the dread.
I wondered where the conversation would go next. I wondered if these men had any dreams remaining in their souls. Perhaps over time the dreariness of their lives had slowly eroded the mechanisms in their minds and hearts that gave birth to dreams. Maybe they were just ashamed to share how impractical their dreams were. How they were chained to the routines of their lives. How they were now stuck upgrading sedans to minivans that would mostly sit rotting on their driveways. The rest of the time they would rot in the car line waiting to leave the lot.
I tried. I drifted my attention from the variations of the light rays in to the conversation at hand. I asked them what they wanted to do, you know, with their one wild and precious life. Mary Oliver would have been proud of me. But the question was lost on them. As if they were thrown into some foreign land the language of which they did not speak, scurrying to find their tickets home. One man finally spoke about trying to figure out some PowerPoint animations so he could impress his bosses at the next presentation. I drifted back to the photons. Did you know that if most photons had consciousness they would barely have time to even realize it? From the moment a photon emanates from its source it already reaches its destination. We’re talking fractions of a fraction of a second. This is the speed of light in action. Light from a flashlight barely gets to experience its own existence and yet is able to illuminate so much and guide us through forests. We only see where the light shines. Without these photons we are nothing. I’m glad I have human consciousness, though not in this moment. Not in front of these men talking about some whoop-ti-do and whoop-ti-dumb.
They’re talking about sports now. They argue with an invigorated sense of being. Back and forth they go, with the confidence of handsome politicians. Sadly, they’re both wrong and equally unconvincing. This must be some fucking ploy to edge my patience and make my mind numb. It was working. I’m sure this is the same conversation these men have each time they see each other. They’ve got it down pat. Their ability to repeat the same words over and over and yet exhibit facial expressions as if these thoughts were fresh was remarkable. I think they get off on it in some weird way. This is how they enjoy their lives. I, however, was ploying ploys of my own. I sunk into my heart’s desire and asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do. This would be an immense list of things, longer than all the ties in this house laid from end to end. But what did I really want to do in this moment?
So here’s the scene: With my right hand I would take the glass from the man to my left and splash the drink on the face of the man to my right. While they reeled from the shock of such an unimaginable incident, with my left hand I would take the glass from the man to my right and splash the contents on the face of the man to my left. Then I would give the glass that I’d taken from the man to my left to the man to my right, and vice versa. So that each man would not only end up with the contents of the glasses on their faces, but also the very glasses from which the contents came. Thus completing some circle of absurdity. By this point the others at the get together would have gathered around to watch the spectacle. I would then, with a supremely calm elegance never witnessed by anyone present here, say, “Gentlemen, this has been a rather life altering conversation, it really has. I would love to stay,” I would look at my watch in disappointment, “but I have an appointment to be at. Perhaps the next time you can get straight to pulling out my nails with a plier. Good day. Good day, everyone!” I would leave the house with a graceful gait that would mimic a model’s walk down the runway, making sure that everyone had the chance to experience my exit. The door would shut and drops of liquid would continue to fall from the faces of these men to the ground.
This is what I would rather do than stand through small talk. But I didn’t. Instead, I stood there swirling into the the blandness of the sentences spoken before me. I haven’t had a lick to drink, but I know I will wake up hungover tomorrow.
I didn’t follow the barest of my desires. Oh, the things we do for friendship.
There are compromises and then there are compromises.
You hear it said all the time, “you have to compromise!” We’re told that compromise is important to maintain our relationships, at work, with family, friends, partners, lovers, and for marriages and so on and so on.
I don’t disagree, compromise sounds dandy. But not all compromises are created equal. Situation and context matter. They matter deeply. Not everyone who compromises in a relationship gets equal compromise in return. Some sacrifices are much larger.
But there are also types of compromises. Two I’d like to focus on are: compromising of the heart and compromising from the heart.
The difference between the two is a willingness and desire to compromise. When the compromise comes from the heart, it comes with a willingness – perhaps even an eagerness. It is a happy compromise. You give of yourself but you feel greater for having done so. In contrast when you compromise your heart (a compromise of the heart), you feel like you’ve lost something. You feel at loss; you feel incomplete. There is hesitation and unwillingness.
There are compromises and then there are compromises.
I don’t want to compromise my heart. I want to follow its beats.
From the heart, I would compromise a thousand times over and a thousand times under.
I dozed off. This is not unusual, but this time I dozed off on the train. That isn’t unusual either. But this time I was carrying too many valuable things in my bag. The thought of losing the bag, the thought of having it stolen scared me. Sure it would suck to lose the material things: the laptop, the tablet, the e-reader, the camera, and all those things. That would have sucked, for sure. But much worse is the contents, the insides of the materials. The photographs I’d taken, the things I’d written stored off on the laptop. Losing that material would have been devastating. I can’t afford to doze off in public.
It was just a split second, too (give or take another split second). I’m not even sure if anyone even noticed. Except that I dropped the book I was reading. Well, at that point it was just the book I was holding. I had my finger stuck in between the pages as a bookmark. I dozed off and the book fell through. Maybe if I had a tighter grip on the book it would have survived the moment? The lightest of touches fall through the fastest. One split moment you sense what you think is everything and the next moment it’s all gone. Oddly enough, it was the very fall of the book that woke me up. Gravity pulls through in split seconds, too. Or maybe it was the thought of losing the book? Maybe it was the slip that sparked my senses, and I awoke before the book hit the ground? I don’t know for sure. Everything happened so fast.
I finally got where I was going: the steps of the New York Public Library. The library was closed but it was the steps that I wanted. Nothing too exciting. I just wanted to finish reading this book. Not just the book, I wanted the sense of motion in my periphery and the cool breeze. I wanted the sounds of people talking. I wanted to watch the footsteps of lovers as they passed by. I wanted the ants to climb from the steps onto my shins and weave through the hairy jungle. Okay, I didn’t want this, but it would happen either way. What I did want was the unfailing presence of the pigeons who would always come by but never say hello.
Some lady came across the pillar from behind me, she was panting as if a couple of lions – a married pair – had been chasing her.
“Where is the entrance?” she said. The worried expression on her face changed every second, as if every second a piece of the sky had fallen.
“It’s right here,” I said, pointing to the three large doors behind us. She disappeared from my view, only to return after a few seconds. “It’s closed now,” I continued, standing up this time and following her as she pointed to the closed doors. In my previous times on the these steps I’d hear tourists complain about the lack of knobs on the doors.
“No, it can’t be closed. I have a class here at 6:30.”
It was 6:48 at this point. She was late to a class in a building that had already closed a while ago. The universe wasn’t being kind to her today. She scrolled through her phone to show me the time and I noticed ‘Mid-Manhattan Library.’
“This isn’t the building you’re looking for,” I told her and we walked down a few steps, “See the orange and red flags there?” I pointed across the street, “That’s the building you want.”
She thanked me with a look of relief and hurried down the steps. The sky was no longer falling and she navigated her way through the fallen pieces to the other side of the road. Late for certain, but some how she found the spot she wanted.
I went back to reading and people watching. On the street I could see tourists with too many selfie sticks. I could see tourists asking each other for directions. It’s sometimes hard to tell the tourists apart in this city. The lack of a selfie stick is a good start. The lack of a camera, even better. But even then. It’s hard to tell the tourists apart in this city sometimes. I wondered how much time the lady would have lost had she asked one of these tourists for directions instead. Whether she would have gotten where she wanted at all. I was the one she picked today, the universe wasn’t all that unkind.
I went back to what I’d come for.
I went back to reading.
I dozed off.
The exhaustion shears away at my heart. And other parts.
I feel exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally. Yet I still want to try and do everything. Then I have to come to the hard realization that I cannot. I cannot. It makes me feel like such a failure. My goal for this year was to get back at everything. I couldn’t do it. I had to step back from my involvement in certain projects because I just couldn’t balance the time.
My main internal goal this year, beyond all the other ones was to rebuild the body. My knee has been wonky for almost two years now and it was eating away at me. It was preventing me from getting into the types of physical activities I wanted to get back into. I probably won’t be able to get it to a hundred percent again, but I can get it somewhere in between. There was first the pain of injury, and now the pain of recovery. And it’s leaving me exhausted. If it’s the only thing I do this year it will be worth it. But I’ve dropped things in the process which is not cool; I’ve had to let go of things. That eats away at me.
So what now? I still want everything. My movement towards everything has been so stunted it ought to leave me stunned. Too many years ago I posted on this blog about wanting to take long train rides. It wasn’t just a want, I said I needed it. I never did it. I didn’t do it. I just let it linger. For years! How silly is that? How stupid do I have to be to ignore a need like that? To make excuses instead of creating ways? For not making enough space for self at the expense of others and other things? This stuntedness needs to disappear. That is my work.
Sure, it’s not like I didn’t accomplish other things. But I can’t keep measuring myself with what I’ve done. The missing parts need to be measured, too. They are a measure of me and I’ve come short. It is what it is, it gives me more to reach towards. The curse of everything is knowing that you will never get to the end.
So what now? What’s next? Do I keep clinging to what I can do now? Do I label myself as a programmer? A writer? A photographer? A magician? Fuck labels. It’s what I do that matters. How do I extend myself further into learning and experience? How do I take that desire for a long train ride and turn it into an extended life around the world? Eight months around world. Why 8 months? Because 4 months in, you still have 4 months to go. Maybe a year. Why not? Why let the lack of practicality get in the way? Which dream starts with, “well, this is rather practical!” How can I make this happen? How do I get my ducks in order? There is just one world and I’m only ever going to get one chance at it. How will I spend that?
So what now? Do I keep doing what I’m doing now? I love it when people can demonstrate range. When people dip into things beyond what the type dictates. People who write, direct, dance, compose, and more, and more. People who do everything. So where do I stop? Where do I say, yeah, I did these X number of things and this is it. Do I say that now I’m done and satisfied? Hopefully never.
I don’t just want to listen to songs, I want to make the sounds myself. I don’t just want to learn to make music and learn to dance well to its beats, I want others to dance to my music. I want others to sing my words. I want people to ponder, laugh and cry by my words. How extremely distant is that desire? I have no idea how to make that happen. It may never. Still, I want everything. And I’m going to fail at it over and over. Still, I should be extraordinary at everything that I love and desire to do. Why shouldn’t that be the goal? Why shouldn’t I reach beyond my reach? Why shouldn’t I struggle?
Nothing comes without its pains, and everything is the same.
I want everything, still.
I want everything,
and everything in between.
hazaaron khwahishen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle
bohat nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle
phir bhi bawra mann dekne chala ek sapna …
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.
yeh haal-e-dil kahaan, jaana?
ke jaan se jaan kahaan jaana?
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.