Thursday, September 18, 2008

Retracing My Steps

I've been thinking a lot lately about my cousin M. With less than three years' difference between us, she and I had always been very close, from the time we were both toddlers. She was my first playmate, my first actual friend, and I loved spending time with her. Part of it was some sort of hero worship, because she was funny and pretty and everyone around us, young or old, really liked her. As a kid, these things put me quite in awe of her. The good thing was that she remained sweet, cheerful and completely unaffected by all the renown she was getting for being some sort of singing prodigy, exceedingly good at art and good at most things in life.

I remember her telling me that she was convinced that Vivekananda was her grandfather, because she thought his name was Vivek Kanungo, which matched with her surname. I, of course, was thoroughly convinced. She used to live across the street from my house, and everyday after school we spent our time playing and coming up with elaborate games. On weekends, her mum used to give her a bath in the courtyard while I used to stand at the gate with my arms stretched out wide so that no one could see her from the street. Such naivete seems almost precious now that I remember it.

After my family moved to a nearby quarter complex, our interactions became less frequent, except for those three odd years when we commuted to school and back together. We used to get the princely sum of two rupees for the bus fare to get back home. We always walked instead. It was a long walk, atleast a half hour long. We spent the money on roadside aloo chaat, the dirtier the better. One rupee was saved to buy sweet lozenges in case the chaat proved too spicy. We were quite the resourceful team.

On our walk back home, we discussed the impossibility of God, the perverseness of God in creating boys, the shapes hidden in clouds, the way our shoes squelched when we walked in the rain, how Shillong was doomed because of pollution, the fascinating polka dots made by mud on our white socks in the rain. What strikes me now is how these conversations were held with such seriousness, punctuated by the sound of our huge umbrellas tapping on the ground. We could have been a couple of miniature British adults on our way to the pub after a hard day's work.

The inevitability of growing up did put thousands of miles between us as I moved away and she stayed put. We met when I went home on vacation, and there was no need to reconnect. It was always there, what we had, the bond forged in childhood that had transcended time.

The last time I went home, I learned that she was engaged to be married. As I write this, less than a month remains for the wedding. I would have been happy for her had she not told me the precise reasons for the wedding, none of which had the slightest relation to love, or the longing to be with someone, or even companionship. She's a stronger person than I am for walking down this road, and this time I can't keep her company. I hope that eventually she is happy, and the ones who 'love' her do not manage to completely wreck her life. I feel a strange sort of disloyalty in thinking these things. I really wish that I could toe the official line and make merry at her wedding. But things are hardly ever as simple as that.

So, M, I don't think you should get married, but I know you will. I hope that you get everything you want, but I pray you get what you need more. And I wish I could honestly say that I'll always be there for you. Such things don't happen; we hardly even manage to keep in touch. But maybe when I go down the corridors of our memories together to a time when we were both truly happy, I hope to believe that this sort of unqualified joy will find its way back to you. And I believe that whatever else happens, we will always be the ones who can see roast chicken in the clouds, surrounded by mounds and mounds of vanilla icecream.

Luck and love, S.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Why I Laugh In My Sleep Sometimes

Yesterday I was dreaming about these actual conversations I had with seemingly normal, rational people. I remember each of these conversations really well, mostly because they were so dazzlingly stupid and they have the potential to entertain me even now, years (or months or days) later. And because very few things in life can make me laugh when I'm asleep.

Conversation One (with a cousin who is a software engineer, God save her soul. It happened when I was in second year of college).

Cousin: So you're studying history.
Me: Er..yes.
C: Why?
Me: Eh?
C: As in, what's the point?
Me: What's the point in software engineering?
C: It's relevant today. What I do makes a difference. How does it make a difference if you study about dead people?
Me: *mouth open, jaw slack*
C: I mean, what is the use of studying the past when you can't do anything about it?
Me: It may surprise you to realize that you've been studying history all your life.
C: No, no, I was very glad to get rid of it after Class X.
Me: All history isn't called 'History'.
C: Huh?
Me: Everything that you learned in your course; every sum, every code, every theorem, every formula - that is the history you studied. Without it, every generation would have to start at zero. We would need to rediscover gravity, heliocentrism, DNA, the fact that certain chemicals smell like rotten eggs, over and over and over again. You spent four years studying the history of software engineering. I'm studying the history of people. My learning is relevant because I can perceive this and you can't.
C: But how is studying a formula history?
Me: Because someone before you created that formula which is why you're using it today. And everytime you use it, you are using the past to understand your present.
C: Doesn't make sense. I still think history's useless.
Me: You'll be your children's history. I hope they don't feel the same way about you. I'm going to bed.

And I went to bed, angry as hell.

Conversation Two (with a random 'family friend', after I'd opted for Humanities after Class X).

FF: So, you're going to be the next engineer in the family, aye?
Me: What?! No! I'm studying Humanities.
FF: Humanities? Oh you mean Arts. But why? You did well in your exams. Why Arts? You won't get ANY jobs.
Me: Please don't worry about me. Plenty of 'Arts' afflicted people manage to make a living.
FF: All nonsense. In the past it happened, yes. But now there's no way it can happen. In fact, all schools and colleges are going to shut their Arts faculties in two or three months. And why is your dad allowing you to do this?
Me: Must be nice to have all the inside information about school management decisions. And my dad's 'allowing' me coz it didn't occur to me to ask his permission and it didn't occur to him that I needed it.
FF: Change your stream while you can. Computers are the way to go these days.
Me: Okay, thanks. Now can I get some potatoes please?

Again, I was angry as hell. But then I considered the circumstances and realized that I shouldn't be mad. After all, he was a fifty year old grocer, not known for temperance or wisdom. Being a newlywed at 50 must be hard on the brains. And he did manage to run his grocery business into the ground.

But what made me laugh in my dream was wondering how a conversation between him and my software engineer cousin about the reasons why crazy kids study Arts might go.

Excuse me while I nap. The hilarity awaits.