Bonds, Politics

#13. Bangladesh | The increasingly unrecognizable ‘sibling’

Since early last year, headlines pop up on my news-feed at regular intervals pertaining to events of Bangladesh. They tell me of atheist bloggers, secularists and religious minorities being hacked to death and run a chill down my spine. The latest addition was the terrorist attack in Gulshan, Dhaka which claimed more than 20 lives including those of foreign nationals.I see Bangladeshi people spewing hatred in comment sections of leading Bengali dailies and their Indian counterparts matching up with equal vitriol. I try to compare it with the imagery I have in mind of the country and her people. Nothing really fits anymore.

I grew up reading through the immensely rich heritage of Bengali literature. I engrossed myself in the world of Sunil Gangopadhay’s Purba Paschim (translated as East-West), the story of a Hindu and a Muslim friend whose lives take turbulent swings in the backdrop of the partition. I listened to musical collaborations between artists from the two sides of the border, songs which echo and repeatedly reminds of cultural brotherhood and the agony of separation.

When Pakistan was created in 1947 calling for a separate homeland for the Muslims,  comprising of two distinct blocks along the western and eastern frontiers of India, the political leaders of the subcontinent didn’t really perceive that a cultural nationalism would arise eventually above the idea of an Islamic brethren. A movement for recognition of Bengali happened and paved the pathway for another partition in 1971 leading to the creation of Bangladesh.

Cut to 2015, it seems that the clock is being rewound back to the days of religious nationalism where religion serves as a rallying force above anything else and pushes a section of the community to resort to extreme violence.  Liberal thinkers are being cleansed from a land which always championed her free thinking.

I had the opportunity of meeting and interacting with a handful of Bangladeshi people and I always felt very cozy and comfortable. In fact, I would feel rather at ease with a fellow Bengali from Bangladesh at times than a fellow Indian national from a different cultural walk of life. I still remember my solo trip to New York city last year. Reaching Manhattan around 3:30 AM at night with 30 F outside and raining heavily, I felt the immediate need of grabbing some food. I walked into a sandwich place and the South Asian guy in the counter confidently greeted me in his characteristic Bangladeshi accent: “Kotha theke astesen?” (Where are you coming from). My reaction was like: How did you even know that I am Bengali? He replied “O mukh dekhlei bojha jae” (You can easily recognize by face).

bangadeshI have a magnet on my refrigerator door which I collected after performing on the occasion of International Mother Language Day celebration at my university. A group of students sang to the tunes of compositions like ‘Amar Bhaier Rokte Rangano Ekushe February’ (a popular Bengali song written after the martyrs of language movement in Dhaka University). Today, I was staring blankly at that circular piece of token which depicts the Shaheed Minar, the national monument in Bangladesh which stands as a symbolism of the Bengali language movement. I am not really sure whether that means anything to anyone anymore.

I was going through the facebook profile of Ishrat Akond, a Bangladeshi professional who was in the bakery during the attack. When the terrorists were hacking people who couldn’t identify themselves as Muslim by chanting verses from Quran, she stood ground by not wanting to prove herself as one. She was murdered brutally just like the others. One of her recent posts read:

“Be a lover, not a fighter. But always fight for what you love”

We all need to keep the fight alive now.

Bonds, Friendship, Music, Relationship, Student Life

#7. Catch 22, Murakami & ‘Me’ time

“In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being

The very purpose of starting this blog was to give a channel to my hitherto stifled thoughts, which I was pondering over, trying to get across but couldn’t. An ideal alternative would have been to maintain a journal but that wouldn’t really help to attain my closure as I still ran into the process of locking the stream of thoughts essentially to my personal domain. In order to truly  communicate, I needed a space  where I could pour my ideas, frozen in sentences. But what exactly I was trying to communicate and who was my audience? Was I really trying to scream to the world reaping open my insides, showing I’m me? I rather always found the idea of sharing titbits of personal emotions in social media 24*7 nauseating and irritating. It wasn’t really my mouthpiece. I also didn’t want to justify others for who I am. I was rather unsure of why I was doing this. But I still wanted to register my expressions periodically for my heart wanted to let go of the burden of thoughts and I craved for the lightness. Probably seeing the words and polishing them also helped me to appreciate, to comprehend.

There’s a real catch with the age that is 22. You stand in face to face with the world outside from the comforts of a DSC_0015_editedcozy college life with its illusive sense of complacency. The fear of future, which was silently crouching in the dark comes and encapsulates you. And if you are a student with a prolonged research life ahead, you don’t really feel so excited about the journey ahead once all the intensive formalities gets completed and you start to mentally prepare yourselves for the gruelling ride which seeks perseverance and patience. You don’t really doubt your life choice, cause you have probably made this choice on your own without any peer pressure. But things change. The initial charm of science touching lives and the ‘muggle’-ish astonishment towards scientific wizardry  wanes away as you be a part of the school of ‘sorcery’ yourself. You see the world through a prism of pragmatism and anxiety sets in.

I never spent time in my home for a prolonged spell since I left my home for my undergrads in the summer of ’10. The summer breaks and winter breaks were always pre-occupied with internships home and abroad. But when I eventually got the time this summer to spend with my parents, in my home town before I leave it for good, I found things have changed. It wasn’t the same old place where I lived. These weren’t the same people I lived with. Or probably everything has remained same, but all what has changed is my dynamics with every entity.

“Memory is a funny thing. When I was in the scene, I hardly paid it any mind. I never stopped to think of it as something that would make a lasting impression, certainly never imagined that eighteen years later I would recall it in such detail. I didn’t give a damn about the scenery that day. I was thinking about myself. I was thinking about the beautiful girl walking next to me. I was thinking about the two of us together, and then about myself again.

-Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood

I had always an affinity for abstract, surrealist elements; kafkaesque themes. That’s why once I got a hang of Murakami it was difficult for me to let go of the obsession. I got hold of my first one, ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and End of the world’ from my best friend. She bought it for herself and before she could read it, it ended up with me. The easy readability, his characteristic narrative style, the magical metaphors and the reverberated use of music central to the character development diversifying from Dylan, Beatles, Coltrane to Beethoven drew me towards his other works and I started making a diet on his books in rapid succession. However, this period of life was running in parallel with the turmoil in my personal world. My long-term relationship came to an end. And with the termination came up the doubt, the regrets, the baggage of overwhelming nostalgia and the eagerness to go back to the past to tune it despite knowing nothing can be changed. I was looking for a closure, but neither the past, present or the future could assuage my mind. Till then, I stayed beside my friends and motivated them during their troubles. But once it happens to ourselves, only then we realize how difficult it is to follow suit.

“The truth. It is a beautiful and terrible thing..”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Staying in home elevated my frustrations. In a long long time, I had enough time with myself and had the trouble of adjusting myself to the obvious realities of life. I tried to engage myself pro-actively to derail myself from my train of thoughts. However being at the edge of my student life, I found my circle of friends generously distributed like pinheads in the map. And then there was Murakami. His penmanship bordering on the themes of loneliness and isolation pushed me towards my inner darkness. I started having mood swings and depressive feats.  However, as I went through these cycles I gradually learned to celebrate what I had in my life. The remnant of myself from my past which I was carrying with me. I felt like coming out of the storm and looking back at the changed landscape and the changed me. I stopped nourishing loneliness.

Whenever I finish writing a new post, I feel uncertain about what I am going to write next about. But then I saw that can’t be planned. Whenever words seem to come in moments of outburst, they just spontaneously trickle down through my keyboard and then I again reach the plateau of uncertainty. And that’s similar to our life. We are actors being pushed to the stage for a cold run. We can’t guide the course of the movie we cast ourselves, the only thing we can do is to perform our act properly. Es muss sein. It must be. We have no choice 🙂

I am not a happy person. I am not an unhappy person either. I am just not sure of the changing life around me. And I now understand that having doubts is perfectly normal.

Bonds, Life at IIT, Relationship, Student Life

#4. The ride | Coming-of-age | Final year

At best, I am a social drinker. Pushing myself over the edge and exposing my vulnerability in public does not exactly fall in my comfort zone. So that day, when I gulped down a couple of beers, climbed on to a flyover and clasped the railings as the winds brushed through my hair while I relished the sense of togetherness with my cozy herd of college friends for one last time, streams of tears rolled down my face and I realized that I was tipping quiet off the scale! But I didn’t care. Those were the people who had seen me sinking and swimming along the ‘times they are a-changin’ , and I didn’t mind letting go off my inhibitions for a while.

Sheldon: ….I’m a big fan of homeostasis. Do you know what that is? Homeostasis refers to a system’s ability to regulate its internal environment and maintain a constant condition of properties like temperature or pH.

Penny: Worst bedtime story ever.

Sheldon: My point is I don’t like when things change. So, regardless of your feelings, I would like you to continue dating Leonard. And also, while we’re on the subject, you recently changed your shampoo. I’m not comfortable with the new scent. Please stop this madness and go back to green apple.

– The Big Bang Theory, The Decoupling Fluctuation

The rhythmic, brisk paced life is our morning cereal. We find happiness in ignorance and certainty, seek pleasure at conceit. So we panic when things around us start changing very fast. Too much on the plate and we simply don’t know what to do with it. The same thing happened with me as my senior year came. As I started preparing myself for the real world outside, I got very scared. It twisted and turned me, and the people around.

One from the season of lasts
One from the season of lasts

The way I planned it, graduate school was going to be my next leap after college. It was cautiously thought over and not an impulsive one.  But only as I started preparing myself for the standardized tests and sit through the lengthy on-line applications did I fully comprehend what I was putting myself up to.  As I started seeing my peers landing up with jobs and taking a head start on their career, I started growing insecure. However, I am glad that I eventually realized that everyone around me was insecure in their own unique ways and it was worth putting a hypothesis to test than never to tread along a path I dreamt of and regret it  forever.

One of the scary aspects of being on the fringe is that it also forces us to be introspective towards our personal associations. It takes us a while to understand that talking doesn’t necessarily mean communicating and caring for someone is always not enough to stick with, against all odds.  The final year came as a rude awakening to me. I found myself standing before bifurcated paths and all I had was a binary choice. I was not happy with making a decision, but I knew I had to.

Till a point in my life, I looked up to others to validate every action of mine.  But things changed. Through the entire year of roller-coaster ride, I had to take a lot of decisions with a clear understanding of the fact that they were going to change my life for good, the present and the future. And I was solely accountable for them. I learnt to bear the responsibilities of my actions. And in that process, I fell in love with myself. It wasn’t a narcissistic love. I came to be aware of myself in black and white and accepted the shadowy me, nevertheless!

I was growing up.

“So, this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Bonds, Friendship, Relationship

#1. ‘Total empathy’. And the tryst

Still, this was on the order of a minor miracle — running across someone to whom you can express your feeling so clearly, so completely. Most people go their entire lives without meeting a person like that. It would have been a mistake to label this “love”. It was more like total empathy.

– Haruki Murakami, Man-Eating-Cats

We make associations throughout life. Some stay, some fade away. Some are marked by oscillating periods of light and darkness, while a few are accompanied by a prolonged period of stale following an ephemeral friction, before they eventually die their natural death. However, if we are fortunate enough, we can forge a bond which lasts a lifetime, even without resorting to a label.

I met her in my last year at university. We discovered each other like passengers from sinking ships, trying to avoid drowning by clenching our fists together; perhaps in the process unknowingly taking us deeper down the depths of the ocean! We spent a lot of time together, enough to raise a few eyebrows and invite curious looks here and there. As time passed our lives got intricately entwined. I am not sure, how we could have tackled that in past. But we were veterans, with fresh war wounds. We succeeded to disentangle and escape, albeit scarred. We went on savouring each other’s company, relishing every bit of the hourglass time we had. But like every eventuality, the time had to fade away. And it did indeed soon, and we drifted along bifurcated paths.

coffee-1

I was at Kolkata, on some personal business. Though I am proud of my roots and have a deep sense of belonging with my ethnic heritage,  honestly I never came to like this city per se. The urban chaos and cacophony repelled me. However, the ‘City of Joy’ was still special as some of the moments I spent with some of my dearest acquaintances happened to be here. Since I was coming down to the city, we had planned to meet each other, as near future holds fewer opportunities for a chance meeting. I had chosen a cozy cafe which I personally was quiet fond of. As I was waiting for her in the comfort of air-conditioning, all these train of thoughts were rushing through my head while I was trying to focus my attention on a periodical.

My thinking was suddenly disrupted and I was forced to look up as a very known voice ringed through my ears.  There she was, smiling animatedly, and it was her calling me by my quirky nickname that had brought me back to reality. She looked elegant and spirited. I was not sure how I perceived beauty and whether it was amplified by my meeting her after a month since we drifted or it was her inner happiness talking. She took a seat beside me and we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting, fighting playfully with each other, teasing, just like the old times (which were for the matter of fact, not so old at all).

I don’t know how it felt in olden days when departed souls used to meet each other after a long time without scope of any communication in the interim period. Digital progress had stripped us of that opportunity. We are connected every single moment of our life, albeit disconnected physically. But suddenly a realization hit me. I felt that even if there was no communication, things wouldn’t have changed much if we met in a similar scenario. When you have full empathy for someone, the ability to communicate with the person is as difficult/easy as communicating with oneself. It needed no extra effort once you knew how to appreciate yourself completely.

Towards end of our tryst, we sat beside each other in silence, just like we used to do in past. It wasn’t uncomfortable. Like that classic ‘Simon n Garfunkel’ song, the silence had its own sound. I suddenly had the imagery of a lady wearing a long skirt walking down the grass, producing a subdued murmur. Delicate, yet pleasant.

Image source: http://www.epicentercafe.com/gifs/coffee-1.jpg