Why do we look back when the natural way of things is to move forward? Because it’s easy? Because it’s nicer? Life never seems quite as wonderful when it is being lived. But in comparison with what we’re feeling and facing and surviving at this moment, the heydays seem like glorious times.
I know why this is so. An experience being lived is an onslaught of sights and sounds and feelings and thoughts and information hitting us faster than we can handle. Later, we examine our scars, our lint, our debris and flotsam. Sometimes, we add to it from what someone else said or something we read or learnt elsewhere. And we construct a story. We build a painting. The present has a way of being simultaneously overpowering and mundane at the same time. So in our stories to ourselves, we colour hard and deep.
The colour spectrum of life goes in the opposite direction from a ray of light going through a prism. The future is an unknown cavern of blankness. The present is a hard prism that’s simultaneously confusing and colourless. But the past, the past is every colour we choose to lay on it. We are light beams travelling backwards in time, just as we are conscious experience moving forward.
Small wonder then, so many of us spend our lives rapidly turning forwards and backwards, always worried we’re going to run into some disaster but unable to keep our eyes away from the alluring past for too long. The blankness ahead is inviting and scary and what we’ve left behind reminds us of the colour we turn it into. The past is technicolour and we are the prisms that make it so.
Sabu, an alien muscleman under the friendly stewardship of the moustachioed Chacha Chaudhry was an integral part of every Indian childhood. The caption that accompanied a panel preceding a fight scene said, “Jab Sabu ko gussa aata hain, to Jupiter pe jwalamukhi phatata hain” (When Sabu gets angry, a volcano erupts at some distant place in Jupiter). It was fun to imagine the drama of a planet far away responding to what was happening right on Earth. Sabu is the the primal, muscled alter ego to the mild-looking, benevolent senior citizen whose mind nevertheless works faster than a computer. As an alien, he is not as subject to Earthly rules and his primal responses were used for laughs as Chacha explained how the world worked. But even with Sabu, rage was a displaced emotion, bearing consequences in a far away place.
I painted this on a teeshirt for a former love. Curiously telling, since that relationship was pockmarked with suppressed rage and every form of twisted anger possible. The manifestations of rage happen up close and personal, inside our own psyche and everyone nearby. Yet is our anger any different from other emotions that we own more proudly?
Anger rises from grief, from fear, from caring even. It happens to us all. If you live in a busy metro, you’ve probably already felt it already today. Annoyance at flapping curtains. Disproportionate rage at the alarm clock. Irritation at fellow commuter. Mild venom at the colleagues/teachers waiting for you on Monday morning. These are you as much as the laughter that tickled you on Saturday night, the contentment of a good Sunday meal that you ate. Yet, you plod on past the grief, the micro-hurt, the frustrations because that is the way the world must work.
You my friend, carry both Chacha Chaudhry and Sabu in you. As do we all. Let them share the panel. They’re good for each other.
I am such a sucker for nostalgia that on a day when I’m learning to put the past behind me, I go and ask Reema to pull me into this dare. She picked a year and now I have to tell you the highlights of my life. Here goes my 1997.
I turned 18. Boasted that I was now old enough to drink, drive and get married. The first happened several years later, the second I officially got to be able to do that very year but didn’t and the third, well, most of you know my adventures with that.
I found myself midway through a course I HATED. Physics had been the bane of my existence since standard eight. After 12th, I’d slunk into the relative ease of B.Sc. (easier than engineering I’d thought) and picked a combo that would lead to Maths, the only science subject I could stomach. What I didn’t know is that this meant I’d have to tolerate Physics for TWO MORE YEARS! 😢
I found my solace in books and other classrooms. I yearned so much to study exciting subjects like psychology, sociology and literature that I would sneak into their classrooms. Even the teachers knew me. The psychology lab had ‘adopted’ me as their pet subject for the practicals they had almost every week. That’s where my references to Pavlov, Berne, Freud come from.
The pressure of 12th was off and final year seemed rather far away. I spent three years in the most fashionable college in the city before I got my first lipstick. I went into grunge almost immediately (yeah, Alanis was cool in the 90s). Deliberately dusty leather boots, loose fitting pyjamas, a cycle chain as a necklace, uncut long hair – this was my trademark look. I’m told I scared a lot of people (even though no cigarette, joint or booze crossed my lips and I never beat anyone up).
A little later, I chopped off my shoulder-length locks and went boy-short. I got mistaken for a boy several times. But I also got propositioned a lot (boys and men are such strange creatures). A very nice-looking boy from the model/dancer crowd took a fancy to me and would spend mornings pirouetting around for my benefit. Leo men have always been such a pleasure. 😀 But the only boyfriend I had was a stray dog that would hang around the college canteen. Never a dog-lover, I avoided it like the plague. But after a long weekend once, the dog looked starved and I put out some bread and milk for it. The dog refused to leave my side for the rest of the year and would follow me around EVERYWHERE. My friends christened it my ‘boyfriend’ after it chased one of my classmates through the campus for accidentally kicking my shoe. Kaalu was the sweetest boyfriend I’ve ever had.
I read like a maniac. There was nothing else to do for a teenager trapped in a stifling course and before the internet and smart phones. My college had a dream library (with cards etc.) and most students didn’t even know of its existence. The college peons who ran the library would let me browse unfettered and even let me borrow more books than the quota. I read about chess and astronomy and astrology and war and music and turn-of-century literature. PG Wodehouse, Ayn Rand, Eric Berne, Aldous Huxley, Jeffrey Archer all rubbed shoulders on my library card.
I was drowning and I didn’t know it. The universe threw me a lifesaver in the form of Ms.Suma Narayan. She stopped me in the college corridor and asked me if I’d like to write for the college magazine. If she hadn’t done that, I may never have seriously considered the idea that I could be a writer. She published me in the magazine that year, a poem called ‘Unanswered Questions’. And life was never the same again.
I also sang and drew a lot. Midway through the year, I fell in with a bunch of other misfits (or maybe wiser souls). They didn’t scream COOL, they liked books and they all knew music. Alanis Morisette, Kula Shaker, Guns n’ Roses, MLTR, Bryan Adams and Aqua were topping the charts at that time. (and by the way, ’18 till I die’ was sweeping across campuses and hearts). The boys would often bring a guitar along, one of them would start a song, I’d join in while sketching something weird and strange and dark in my journals. That’s the only memory that I can pin to the phrase ‘the best of times’. Now here’s some music and attitude from my 1997.
As a bonafide rum lover, I had to have one Old Monk’s bottle in my collection. I kept it for a long time, wondering how best to use the textured surface of the glass and the distinctive squat shape with its plain oval face (where the label goes). I finally decided to use them all to pay homage to one of my other favorite cultural icons – The Beatles.
Here’s my glass Old Monk version of The Yellow Submarine:
Who needs a lava lamp when you can create a slice of psychedelic paradise for yourself? This is an old olive jar, painted with a tropical beach scenery and inlit with a blue LED strip. It serves as a perfect (and portable) nightlamp.
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