“Conversation. What is it? A Mystery! It’s the art of never seeming bored, of touching everything with interest, of pleasing with trifles, of being fascinating with nothing at all. How do we define this lively darting about with words, of hitting them back and forth, this sort of brief smile of ideas which should be conversation?”- Guy de Maupassant

confused homer

In a wonderfully diverse country like India there are so many opportunities to have conversations where both parties barely understand and still feel some semblance of good will towards the other for the words exchanged. Where you feel enriched by sentences you do not understand.

To have a genuine befuddling yet elevating exchange you have to be willing to laugh at yourself and make an effort to talk when you have nothing to say that the other person can possibly understand.

One of my routines after office is to go to a Café coffee day outlet where the cleaning lady started talking to me one day and I started answering back to barely understood sentences with my broken Tamil and forced smiles. But soon the smiles weren’t forced.

I go there routinely and we exchange some pleasantries with me making some effort in my broken Tamil and pretending to understand what she says. When I turn up after a long day and she makes some reference to time I smile and tell yeah that’s the deal with the job. I don’t know whether she understands but she smiles understandingly.

Then there are those conversations with auto drivers in  Chennai where I nod along to barely understood sentences and many times feel like an idiot when  I don’t know that with what passionately expressed opinion  I am agreeing to exactly. Sometimes it’s just small talk but not understanding the language makes me feel  idiotic but I nod along trying to make the appropriate sounds for agreement or sympathy based on whatever little context I can understand.

On train journeys, buses or any mode of transportation for that matter engaging in conversation with strangers you won’t see again is a high in itself, but when language barrier makes essential a greater effort along with lending the exchange a touch of humour and awkwardness, it’s just an ounce more memorable.

smiling stranger

Each time such a conversation ends in a genuine exchange of smiles and a fleeting gratefulness at the parting moment, it’s more than worth it. Humanity shines through in such conversations because the words don’t matter. Its empathy and the shared human condition that just enables you to have an ephemeral connection and a genuine conversation.

Here’s to having many more such barely understood conversations, mostly unintelligible yet clearer for the lack of words.

 

By- Aseem Mahajan

Share


Alone

The silence was deafening. The oppressive freedom and the desired bondage were equally attainable. The clock ticked to signify passage of time or perhaps at its whim, it was easy to determine which and everyone tried to not figure out what it was about but couldn’t remember what they were trying for in the last place.

The weather was sunny and rainy making the day a bright overcast one. The cloud cover was thin and the smell of dry earth preceding the rain was making him remember what it was to experience Petrichor, the despoiler of the sweet smell of the last moment before the rains. He decided to remain dry and went out in the rain. The deluge left him dry and giddy with sorrow.

Something was broken or something had been fixed. But he was not alright or perhaps he was alright again. The world was not so confusing and the meaning of life was clear as the sky on a rainy night. He could define what was wrong and do something about it. And he did do something or nothing about it. The world was chaos and order. The fires were cold and the ice was scathingly hot. Everything was alright and nothing was fine with the world.

INSANITY_CERTIFICATE

This was heaven and hell, this was life and death, and this was nothing and everything. What was this again? He knew and did not know. He could fly and swim and he could fall and drown.

He tasted the air through his skin and touched the world with his eyes. Then the lights faded and turned bright. There was nothing left and everything was still remaining.

This was Life and this was death. Nobody dead or alive could figure out which.

 

By – Aseem Mahajan

Share

man

He thought he was the hero of the story but it was a story without a hero, a villain or an anti-hero. It was a play with multiple bit roles and no main cast. It was as abject or as grandiose a tale as there are perspectives in the universe.

There were trials and tribulations, romance, heartbreak, tears and laughs, death and birth, loss and gain, betrayal and loyalty; an experience of every type of emotion whether words were ascribed to describe it or not. It was a random assortment of events, ruled some by happenstance and some by efforts and decisions.

He had touched highs he could scarcely remember, which seemed like dreams he had somehow invaded and which he could only re-enter through the miasma of scrambled time and half-forgotten memories. There were lows when he had to scrape his broken self from the ground to get through the day. There had been those butterflies in the pit of his stomach- first love, second love and some random instances inspired by some face in the crowd. He thought he was born for an epic romance, some great success and perhaps even fame and his fair share of glory, but things had a way of bringing him back to reality. And not gently at most times, his imaginary castles had crashed and burned more often than not; and even when they had lasted they had crumbled with the passage of time and ultimately turned into ashes he had swallowed and kept down for the sake of maintaining the farce of propriety and adhering to some imagined honour code. Every time that happened, he kept to these codes for a while and then wisps of doubts pervaded his consciousness; and some reminder of his mortality and fragility made him believe that perhaps it was time for the next try at doing something else.

 

success

He commiserated with himself saying fame was but a worthless pursuit for today’s fame fades by the morrow and if not by then ; perhaps it may last for weeks, months or years but entropy affects glory and ignominy as much as an anonymous existence. Nothing remains in the end except naught.

Only one thing was constant and that was impermanence and confusion. He felt decisive at times but eventually realized that those were fleeting moments of self-delusion and he was back at the crossroads again and again. The crossroads felt like home finally. So he travelled to many places; always seeking he knew not what. Sometimes he wondered whether not belonging to a place was the only thing he subconsciously desired. For putting down roots always tended to hurt him or bore him sooner or later.

Not belonging, that was a fine way to be. No heartbreaks when there are no cues for love, romantic or platonic. Tasting morsels from the platter of existence and not gorging at the buffet of a defined life was the thing for him, he decided. He surrendered himself to being a nomad who reveled in uprooting himself and discovering himself and the world anew. He was not likely to drown in the cesspool of existence if he was a man with no depth and did not aspire to attain it. He was content to be a surface dweller in others’ existence; in the morasses of morality; in events important and insignificant; and as he eventually realized pretty much everything. For every human he met was a mess of contradictions. There was seldom any definitive truth about anybody. It was a journey of discovering truths or what felt like truths at the time within and without; and yet not knowing anything conclusively; he was always on, to his dying breath. It was beautiful, yet pitiably scarred. There was the tantalizing promise of some ultimate destination dangled in front of him, mostly by his vanity, ambition and desires. But the destination was a mirage and harsh or not the journey was the reality.

traveler

Perfectly imperfect was the only way this voyage could be almost accurately described. For it was a life like any other. Uniquely common and similarly different to what millions were going through, have gone through or will go through at some time or the other. The conformity to a type was an irritant to him but we have so many types of existence if we seek to qualify them as so. Although subtle variations may exist within these types but there’s a similar human existence somewhere else. Uniqueness is a hoax. We humans and our lives are remarkably unremarkable.

Life and its’ messy undertones clung to him till nothingness brought the blessed cloak of oblivion. So he began; he experienced the exquisite and excruciating events that mark any life, some lives more so than others, or so it seems to our circumscribed perspectives; and eventually he became extinct. As his consciousness dispersed into the corridors of the infinite multiverse his last thought was – Ah! I lived an exceptional life, perhaps just like yours and everybody else’s.

By- Aseem Mahajan

Share

languages

When you think about the etymology of words don’t you wonder how words for emotions and more complex phenomenon evolved?

I often wonder who coined the term ‘Happy’ or its predecessors in various languages. I would have loved to have been present there to experience the indefinable joy of knowing what to call that warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of one’s stomach.

Sadness, perhaps simply definable as the absence of happiness, but oh so much more. Every emotion such a complex phenomenon that to label it with a word somehow lessens it.

 

happy

 

Love, or any of its variants, how undefinable is that? There are thousands and thousands of definitions out there but I would like to describe my own knowledge of non-platonic love, based on my experience or lack thereof. I love her, but who is she and why exactly do I love her? She is the object of my desire, the one I truly love. But where is she? There she is!!  A semiconscious dream hidden in the alleys of my mind. She escapes my notice time and again and the hollowness I feel because of that non-attributable pain somehow stays with me. But I know not who she is or will be or whether she would ever exist. Perhaps she would remain a figment of my imagination or somehow manifest to assuage my unnamed quest.

undefined love

Words string together a sentence undefinable yet remotely recognizable to each. The meaning may vary with the individual perspective but what a magical thing language is, a fountain of knowledge and expression contained in perhaps the most important invention of mankind. To the caveman who scratched on the wall for the first time and the maker of the first Hieroglyph I salute you and envy you. May our words multiply and heal the deepest of wounds and assuage the most restless of souls. This is my homage to language and words therein; our succour , our tormentor and our saviour but most of all what enables us to define everything and nothing.old languageTo conclude: More than anything I could write, this excerpt from the movie ‘Waking Life’ sums it up-

“Creation comes out of imperfection. It seems to come out of a striving and a frustration. This is where, I think, language came from. I mean, it came from our desire to transcend our isolation and have some connection with one another. It had to be easy when it was just simple survival. “Water.” We came up with a sound for that. “Sabretooth tiger behind you!” We made a sound for that. But when it gets really interesting, I think is when we use that same system of symbols to communicate all the abstract and intangible things we’re experiencing. What is “frustration”? Or what is “anger” or “love”? When I say “love” the sound comes out of my mouth and hits the other person’s ear travels through the byzantine conduit in their brain through their memories of love or lack of love. They say they understand, but how do I know? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead. You know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable. And yet, you know, when we communicate with one another and we feel we have connected and think we’re understood I think we have a feeling of almost spiritual communion. And that feeling may be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.”

By- Aseem Mahajan

Share

death

“Just under the surface I shall be, all together at first, then separate and drift, through all the earth and perhaps in the end through a cliff into the sea, something of me. A ton of worms in an acre, that is a wonderful thought, a ton of worms, I believe it.”- Samuel Beckett

Well I know I am kind of obsessed with the topic of death. It may seem like a morbid fascination but birth and death and everything in between is all we have anyways, so focusing on a third of what  human existence entails isn’t such an esoteric pursuit.

As cells age and wear and tear takes us one step closer to the long sleep/ state of kaput as I like to call it, we reflect more and more on what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead. But sometimes death sneaks through the back door when you least expect it. It’s a tricky one, it is.

A-Traveller

So what is the ideal approach to life and death, to such random events whose odds are astronomical yet they occur. Believing in a higher power does provide a degree of comfort in such an arbitrary existence but those of us who have lost their faith and belief in a benevolent higher power, and believe the universe to be an indifferent entity; we have lost that slim vestige of comfort too. I have given up on heaven and hell; rebirth and afterlife; and any variant of these themes. For me it would be the end, of thoughts and of what it means to be me. Only comfort I can derive is my constituent matter will return to the universe in one form or another.

So how to approach the interval between life and death, seeming so prolonged at times and so fleeting at others? I believe in the mainstream mantras of the yuppy generation – Do what you love, You only live once, etc. etc. But we all hear them and they sound so appealing too, how many of us are able to follow them? For not every dream can provide financial security even if successfully pursued, there are more failures than successful people, there are innumerable times when all seems lost for many people who chase their dreams ignoring the practicalities of an average existence, the pain of uncertainty; and a thousand other legitimate reasons to stifle dreams and ambitions.

Dreams

But what is the point of living if we can’t have those little slices of joy every day, when each day is drudgery?

 

I am alive for now, and I know not when that would change,

So I will follow my dreams wherever they may lead, and however many label them as impractical and strange,

I may suffer and I may bleed and end up broke and broken,

But I know in my heart of hearts, that against the tyranny of an indifferent universe I will have my victory even if token,

Live I shall according to my terms although death may be a different matter,

I don’t want to live a life where every day ashes of my dreams I hither and thither scatter.

 

I end with another quote by Samuel Beckett – “It is right that he too should have his little chronicle, his memories, his reason, and be able to recognize the good in the bad, the bad in the worst, and so grow gently old down all the unchanging days, and die one day like any other day, only shorter.”

By- Aseem Mahajan

Share

pondicherry street

Those streets, those damned streets. A memory tucked in every corner. Of loneliness and friendship. Of success and failure. Of discovering and losing something. Oh Pondicherry, you are like an old flame. I don’t know whether I love you or hate you.

I entered from the JIPMER side of the city. JIPMER somehow grander than ever before. Old hostels crumbling, new ones springing up. You somehow expect time to stop at a place when you leave it. Time and inanimate objects are brutal in their ways in this regard, utterly indifferent to human desire in the direction and speed of their flow. They refuse to be faithful to your idea of how things should be. Almost everything was the same and somehow it was all different. So much change, yet riding around the campus I could imagine every walk in that humid environment to the classroom, labs or the clinics. The visit to the 2 rooms I spent most of my time in medical school, 226 and 227 Lister House, bringing back memories of those thousands of hours of conversations, of heartache, of tensions, of loss and of friendship forged in the fires of adversity and the cauldrons of camaraderie.

jipmer

The most regular snacks haunt Casino somehow lessened. Changed layout, fewer visitors. New places having their day in the sun. The noisy JN street unchanged. Casablanca still as popular as ever. Many new swanky hotels dotting the roads around the city. The French quarters pristine and as always out of place geographically and somehow out of sync with time. The coffee shops all the same. Just with some of the staff gone and the family-run ones with older people at the helm.

The bakeries as good as ever.

Promenade still one of the best restaurants  in terms of ambience and cuisine.

baker street

The beach road with the Gandhi statue somehow strikingly similar to the Johnny Walker label also same yet subtly different. The abandoned port nearby , undiscovered by most tourists, but perhaps not for long as changing times were reflected in the cleaning up act going on there and the sand that must have been kept to create an artificial beach. Still peaceful and secluded but not for long if the activity around was any indication. Those sunrises when an unknown flautist  used to come there and play almost every day, every day I went there to see the event at any rate. We were silent companions apart from the shared music for over 6 months at the time of sunrise  never exchanging a word yet silently acknowledging each other.

The feeling of being at home in a city which I am now effectively a tourist to, the pain and joy of familiarity, the memories that are like webs in every corner, nostalgia hitting me in the gut as I take any and all turns; Pondicherry you will always be a home to me, no matter where I live. For I truly grew up in this town, this beauty and beast of a town, the one where I truly belonged and yet never did.

Au Revoir – at least for now.

By- Aseem Mahajan

Share

cell transparent

He had been a happy cell and then reproduction had disrupted his happy equilibrium.

With consciousness had come discomfort and the constant flirtations with the twin serpents that joy and pain are. He had been a happy child but with age had come heartbreak, ambition, joy, envy and pain.

Imagination had diminished with the years passing by but longings had increased in magnitude. Thus the universe conspired to deny him his newly enhanced desires and the possibility of even imagining a fulfilled existence by limiting his access to the panacea of drudgery a.k.a. his imagination.

Growing Up

As he drifted through life stumbling on to one perceived success to another, the more miserable he felt.

Then came the day he abandoned it all. Material possessions were frittered away on his whimsy.

As a homeless guy he had been cold but dry and then came freezing rain.

He had been alive through the misery and the joy but then death had provided the final solution to both these states.

His last but nought thought was -The universe is at best indifferent, at worse positively malevolent.

 

By- Aseem Mahajan

homeless

 

Share