Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Scaling the wall.

Right now, if anyone asked me to define life, I'd say it is an internal struggle that seeks to right itself. I often wonder why I struggle at all. It is the opposite of acceptance. It arises from judgement. Back to square one then.

When a guy told me recently that picking a bride was 'a privilege he gave his parents', I struggled with that one for a long time. I applied all my high spiritual thoughts. This involves techniques such as putting yourself in the others shoes, looking at the world through their eyes, justifying another's perspective, or failing all that, blindly making peace with the sentiment. As is often the case, I failed miserably.

Every time I fail, I struggle all over again- how do I accept my non-acceptance? You see the vicious circle? Not only do I judge the other, I judge myself for doing so. On and on it goes. I read in my psychology textbook that high achievers/perfectionists are very prone to psychosomatic illnesses. That explains a lot. Bring on the strait jacket and point me to my padded cell.

In effect, I am already a prisoner of my thoughts. The knowledge is not comforting, to say the least. If I didn't have to listen to people say things like the privilege statement above, would I fare better? But that sounds fundamentally wrong to me. I feel we are here to learn from each other. But it isn't easy. Is this why serious forms of meditation call for isolation? So that you don't receive input from the outside world that you end up struggling with? Then that is what I need. A dear friend went through a Vipassana course recently, one that I've planned for a couple of months from now. I hope good things will come off it since it is 10 days of near absolute silence. Sounds like sheer bliss.... Unless I end up bawling my eyes out the whole time. Then it would be hell - more so for the other people in the course. They'll probably have to put me in a padded cell again.

Sometime I wish people would talk about this 'under the surface' stuff more, instead of about movies or family stuff or relationships. That's all very interesting, of course, and I love it, but I find myself dying to push through and ask things like, "How does that make you feel about yourself? How do you deal with it? How do you accept it? Why does it hurt? " I want to learn, dammit. I want to know. But the walls are always there. They have a big black and white label that says 'personal'. Or a fluorescent sign that says 'pride'. Sometime it's a sad little sign that reads 'afraid of being hurt'. I'm afraid too, of that wall inside people. When I touch it, people shy away, sometimes never to return. I wish we were all more vulnerable with each other. That we dared to be.

No, I don't like walls. Padded or otherwise.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

When I rap, I rap.

Dedicated to the long list of men folk my relatives have unearthed to date- a rap song in Tamil, English and an occasional Hindi word, for the sake of national integrity. ;)

Hey there, Mapillai,
What are you thinking, puriyavillai
ponnu paaka variya?
bajji thinna poriya?
no chance, machaan,
wheres the romance, bachaa?
what d'you think I am?
some bloody program?
waiting for your rating
a number 1 to 10
like a laboratory specimen
your amma in her seat
the same maternal bleat
nalla ponnu, nalla payyan
beedi no, dhammu no
suyya budhi, double no.
I.T. job, U.S slob,
pakka local makku blob,
then I hear, loud and clear
your appa on the side
with your cv bonafide
caste is his pride,
all he wants in a bride
whips out a white sheet,
says raagu's in retreat,
rasi, nakshatram,
why are people still so dumb?
your aunty and your uncle,
escaped from a jungle?
head to toe, stare at me
I should charge a bloody fee
listen baby, listen well,
I don't want to go to hell,
no more jokes
dump the folks
hit the street
thats where we'll meet
dig deep, find your feet
takes courage to be offbeat
you don't have to, not for me,
build your own philosophy,
take a risk, look inside,
let awareness guide your stride,
stop the crap, flee the trap
you don't need no friggin' map
Gotta go, gotta grow,
see ya buddy, say hello.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Question of Language

There are many contexts for the existential crises that plague me from time to time. One of them that had been on my mind of late is language. To be more specific, the question that arose was, "Am I a language snob?"

Some history is required to put this in context. I grew up in a foreign country. English was the language I predominantly used- the books, movies, TV shows, friendships I had - I learnt to think in English. On the other hand, I adore Tamil, my mother tongue. I taught myself to speak it, and even today continue to perfect my vocabulary and pronunciation. I learnt to read Tamil and developed an appreciation for its poetry. To sum up, any language, for me, is a beautiful act of expression and must be respected for what it is- the hundreds of years that it has lived and evolved, its fascinating etymology, the rules of grammar that have striven to make it uniform across people, its idiomatic usage, the dialects.... everything about language is amazing. When you consider that unless we all become telepathic or attain nirvana thereby making language redundant, it's pretty much all we have to make sure we get each other.

So why was I battling this question? I do not look down upon people who have not mastered any language. But I do find it amusing. I studied in a college where not one of the staff members could speak fluent English, Not that that was any cause for complaint. From the electronics professor who said, "The atmosphere will collapse if you do strike," to the physics sir who talked about "sofa-stication", the only thing that I found bearable in those four years was this ability to be entertained by the systematic murder of English. Does that sound stuck up?

After that, the whole dating/matrimonial scene opened up a can of English worms. The 'good boys' my parents wanted me to meet had never seen an episode of Friends or heard of Wodehouse. They said 'can able to' and spelled Hi as 'Hai'. It was inconceivable to even contemplate life with them. That's when the question arose- these fellows may be extremely intellectual, spiritually deep, humorous and kind chaps. Yet, to this day, I balk at considering them in a romantic light.

When I visited my uncle recently, some intuition prompted him to bring up this topic. He mentioned his niece whom he had convinced a few years ago to marry a man who spoke broken English with a pronounced, almost rural accent. She has two kids now and still grimaces when her husband says something in English, frequently calling him 'country brute!' I laughed out loud at that, but it brought back my own dilemma to me.

When I came back to India in the turn of the century, I met with a lot of language fanaticism. Tamil people were openly critical of me, in some cases, derisive. I would have been accepting of this if their ire had been directed at my faulty Tamil. But what baffled me was that they had a problem with my fluency in English. One of the derisive labels that was in vogue then and still hasn't died away is 'Peter'. I'm guessing it's a nod to the British influence on language in India. I hated that term. Even as a teenager, I sensed that deep down, these people were ashamed of their broken English, which is why they adopted fanaticism- as a defense.

Last month, I was visited by the man who installed the fibre sheets on our car shed. He wanted to learn English, was enthusiastic about it even. He talked about being able to speak fluently in meetings and conducting business deals with style. I administered an assessment to see where he needed help. His performance was worse than poor. A college graduate, he could not construct a full sentence. I looked at his mostly empty answer sheet without expression. But before I could say anything, he started off on an analogy of how car driving is similar to language; how he couldn't maneuver hair pin bends before but can now, how a gap of a few years can make one rusty... He finished by saying in a tone of derision that after all, Tamil was more important since we are Tamilians. That's when I knew how ashamed he was. He insisted on taking his answer sheet with him and he never turned up again. In all this, he didn't let me get a word in.

As a teacher, one of the most important qualities I value in the field is being non-judgmental. The job asks us to impart knowledge, not to make people feel bad about their lack of it. That is simply ridiculous. Yet people have their own deep rooted shame. I've come to understand that no one who can appreciate the beauty of their own language could ever look down upon another. It's their shame which makes them defensive and derisive. An added dimension to this in Indian culture is the hostility leftover from British colonial rule. It doesn't help at all that their language has become global and needs to be used if one must survive in so many economic areas locally.

Coming back to me, and where all this began, I realized that when we talk about language, we're talking about culture. And culture is not region specific or race specific, in these times. I am Tamil and I am English, in different ways. Like many people today, I am an amalgamation. It is not impossible to connect with someone who's had a totally different upbringing. I have wonderful friends who are culturally different. But when it comes to a partner, my personal priorities do not include the vast gaps between cultures- territories would have to be left untouched, territories that are important to me, that someone I live with must have embraced in their own lives to understand. So no, to my relief, I've come to understand that I am not a snob. I love languages irrespective of their origins, I respect people irrespective of their linguistic skills and I connect with people irrespective of their mother tongues. I won't apologize for my priorities- to want to sit across from someone over a breakfast table and debate with them about quantum physics and its implications on spirituality- something I cannot do in Tamil, is not wrong, it's just me.

So there you have it. Not a snob. Phew. On to the next question.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Leaping Frogs

In my favorite sitcom Frasier, there's a sketch where Frasier is inspired by the leap year to take 'leaps', by which he means doing something new, or those things that you've always held back from attempting. After all the people he encouraged to take leaps crashed and burned, he chickens out from his own leap- by deciding to sing a simple ditty instead of the complex aria he had originally planned on live TV. When confronted, he frantically spits out, "It's an unwise man who doesn't learn from his own mistakes but it is an absolute idiot who doesn't learn from other people's." It's a really funny bit, especially since he forgets the words to the ditty and bungles his way through it. (Do watch!)

One of the reasons why I so cherish this show is because of these little bits of wisdom that are so breezily inserted into the seemingly light-hearted script. This line, about learning from other people's experiences, for example, is gold.

There are times when we shamelessly exploit this. In school, especially. If a teacher had to be approached, how many of us haven't selected a sacrificial lamb from among our friends, led the poor creature to the door of the staff room, and shoved them in with, "You go first, go ask, go!"? If the specimen came out roasted alive, battered and bruised, then the entire group would scatter like ants. That's how we first learnt to learn from experience.

It also happens when you're in a queue, doesn't it? You're standing in line, looking ahead and you see how the people in front of you get treated by the teller. If it's a disgruntled government employee snapping at everyone like a pitbull on a diet, you know there's no point smiling at the person when it's your turn. You also find out that you'll get a dirty death glare if you don't tender the exact change. Many are the times I have been terrified into digging into my purse for coins long before I reached the spot.

In spite of all this experience, however, I recently decided to take a leap of my own. I joined Tinder.
For those of you who aren't familiar with it, it's a dating app that displays people who have signed up to it within a certain radius of your location. Swiping left rejects the profile, swiping right can lead to a match, and you start chatting.

Three days in, and I feel like one of Frasier's unfortunate friends. At first, I took one look at the dozens and dozens of men lined up to chat and seriously considered "It's Raining Men" for my ringtone. In fact, I felt a growing inferiority complex reading the descriptions. 'Entrepreneur', 'Adrenaline Junkie', 'Designer', 'Free Spirit', 'Nomad', 'Adventure freak'... sometimes all in one profile! It sounded like these hordes of men were all jumping off cliffs, flying through the air with makeshift wings, wading through rivers teeming with life, catching fish with their teeth and still making a few lakhs a month by selling their incredible designs. Reality is not just an eye-opener, it also spits in that open eye. For this, I blame evolution. Maturity should have had an organ all of its own. Then at least some people could get transplants. Now, there's no hope for them. None at all.

So now, it's not raining at all. Or rather, I curled my lip at the whole scenario and went indoors. Goodbye, Tinder! Leaping isn't for everyone. For frogs, yes. For all the Tarzans on Tinder, yes. My feet's on the ground for now.