SIMPLY BEING

Category: This-That (page 1 of 225)

Pure Sense

Recently I wondered, are we truly capable of experiencing what the senses bring our way?

Because it seems that when we encounter a sensation—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral—the mind faculty steps in to intercept the pure feel of the experience. It then relates the sensation to a past experience, or a future expectation. Or, a scene from a book or film. Or, the mind itself is transported to a past time and place. So, a plate of sev puri takes you back to Andheri railway station, eating street side chaat. A whiff of petrichor brings to mind Kerala, monsoons, loneliness… or perhaps “Rimjhim gire saavan,” featuring a tall, lanky Amitabh Bachchan and a petite, adorable Moushmi Chatterjee. Or you are drawn back to your own youthful romance conducted along the Marine Drive promenade, tetrapods and lashing waves for company.

It doesn’t really matter what images flash across your mind, or where you are transported. You are someplace else, no longer here and now. The taste/touch/scent/sound/sight sensation is not important any more because its sole purpose appears to have been to act as a connector to an ever-expanding trove of memories, ideas, hopes, expectations, fears. And it makes a real proper mess with our idea of time because we are no longer sure… Am I dreaming of the past? Did this event actually occur? Or maybe I am day dreaming? Is this from a film I loved? Or is this something I wished for but it never really happened?Ahh, it is a lovely mess.

This tendency of referring back from an immediate sensation to a story, an idea, a familiar concept is an old habit. These stories and ideas stand in for the actual sensory experience, and what we are feeding off are the stories, not that steel tumbler of filter coffee at MTR, or plate of rajma chaaval from Guru Da Dhaba, or a youthful Aamir Khan crooning “Papa kehte hain…”

(And this is a powerful habit… hence the inability to see that Andaaz Apna Apna is a silly, bad movie!)

And this is also why we sometimes continue to eat foods we don’t really enjoy, or watch films featuring our once-favorite actors, or wear clothes that don’t fit (literally and metaphorically). Why? Because of the compelling stories attached. (And we don’t even derive any actual pleasure from these activities.)

If these stories vaporized, we’d see the experience for what it is, and we could have a spontaneous response to it . “Oh, this sambar is too spicy for me.” “Sonu Nigam has a lovely voice.” “Why do I drink tea twice a day? I don’t really like it.” “I adore wearing my black skinny jeans, I just do!”

And we’d also be able to see that we are truly dynamic beings who can savor and draw pleasure from a variety of experiences… Unlike what the stories might have us believe.

Life Ganga

Had a (sorta) epiphany recently.

If I liken my life to a movie, then it has two separate “tracks.” Visual: Girl is born in Mumbai, girl goes to school, girl joins college, girl meets boy, girl and boy go to the movies, girl and boy meet up at a beach, girl marries boy, girl boards flight to ATL, and so on. Then there is the inner soundtrack. A mind that is making sense of the visuals, questioning, wondering, sifting through what-if scenarios, analyzing. And I realized early on that these two tracks were nearly 100% independent of each other, seemingly together, yet miles apart.

If I liken my life to the Ganga who unfolds merrily at her will, heeding no advice, fearing no dams or boulders, simply dancing down the mountains… no amount of rationalizing or discussing ever stopped her from following an unknown direction. And I guess that’s why I never actively directed my life, one way or another. (I often remark that the “decisions” in my life weren’t even decisions.) There is a clear recognition that the inner soundtrack can speak, consider, weigh, etc. all for its own sake. Not that it has ever been able to change Ganga’s direction. So, even as I wondered briefly, “Have a child?,” things didn’t proceed that way. (I went to grad school.) Even as I thought, “Go to MBA school?,” I turned down the admission and scholarship.

Not to imply that Ganga’s path is all roses. She travels through mucky places, ferrying dead bodies and plastic trash, along with fragrant flowers and lit lamps. I think my wisest “decision” thus far has been to not question Ganga. She knows where she is headed. So, the inner soundtrack has mostly fallen silent. Sometimes questions arise, and so do answers. They linger on for a bit, then disappear. There isn’t any kind of resolution, though.

I am not your …

Watched this film last year, and I am in total awe of James Baldwin’s clarity, insight, and articulateness.

“I have always been struck in America by an emotional poverty so bottomless and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep that virtually no American appears able to achieve any viable organic connection between his public stance and his private life. The failure of the private life has always had the most devastating effect on American public conduct and on black-white relations. If Americans were not so terrified of their private self, it would never have become so dependent on what they call ‘the n**** problem’.”

“What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it is necessary to have a ‘n*****’ in the first place, because I’m not a n*****. I’m a man. If I’m not the n***** here, and if you invented him, you the white people invented him, then you have to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. Whether or not it is able to ask that question.”

(To me, this speaks of a kind of “fractured self.” When you feel broken on the inside, or you have a deep sense of conflict between who you are (or perceive yourself to be) and how you present to the world, and/or you experience a kind of disgust/hate toward yourself that you are unable to accept or contain, and you have little understanding on how to digest or neutralize this experience… all of that is close to spilling on to the outside, and now you need to find an object/recipient for that emotion.)

(Each one of us needs to find objects for the negativity within. We have to offload it someplace else, or we’d suffocate and die.)

(I love this title because what it signifies to me is Baldwin’s refusal to be anyone’s N****. No, I refuse to be the recipient of your angst and self-hate and dread and demons. They are yours to deal with, not mine to carry.)

Chasing Experience

Rewinding back to Christmas Day…

It started on an inauspicious note. The morning chai was awfully unsatisfactory. Something wasn’t right with the coconut milk. Then, my beloved poha chivda recipe, the one I had perfected over many attempts, didn’t deliver. I had made a fresh batch that morning, and it just wasn’t good enough. Aargh! In a totally unplanned move, I made a second batch of chai mid-morning. I wanted to erase the memory of bad chai and bad poha chivda. But the 10:30am chai was equally dismal.

Lunch was a tad better. Husband had made a delicious biryani in honor of Jesus’s birthday. It was SPICY yet spectacular. I had a strong feeling that I would regret all those additional helpings but I badly wanted to overwrite the less-than-perfect food and drink experiences from earlier in the day. So much so that I cleaned up the biryani that evening, and well… it was a bit too spicy for me.

I recognized clearly that I was so eager to have a good experience because I wanted to erase the memory of the previous one. And I also knew that a new experience, no matter how phenomenal, couldn’t/wouldn’t deliver. It was too tall an order. And yet I kept chasing it all day, Christmas Day. Maybe lunch will be better than breakfast, the evening chai can make up for the miserable one from morning, and so on.

And when all attempts fail, there is sugar. I have seen time and again that I reach for sugar when I am dissatisfied. We don’t have candy around but there are figs! Dates! A dried fig with a couple of cashews works. Or perhaps a date laced with almond butter. All healthy and delicious but again, trying so hard to fill that gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. The days when meals are great, and I am supremely sated, there is no need for additional sweetness. It’s all perfect. And of course, when there is a steady sense of happiness within, a feeling of joyful creativity, even a less-than stellar meal can’t make a dent.

What helps in these situations? A palate cleanser! Raw fennel seeds are perfect.