En route

I am on a train. I will get off soon, and there will be sun outside.

When do I get off?

I ask the same thing. But you’re asking me and I don’t know anyone else too.

Nothing happened

Nayar sneaked out of the bustling dining room, now packed with madness and rhythm, to find a corner to stand at, preferably behind a plant. There are many potted plants in this flat. And many paintings. About half an hour back he was taking his time appreciating a Jamini Ray-esque painting in the narrow hallway to the bedrooms on the second floor. The painting was of animals only, with a single human figure lurking in the background. The animals – the cows, cats, dogs, and goats had their eyes drawn wide and big, probably as a tribute to Jamini Ray’s work. Nayar soon realized, the fern wasn’t providing much cover. His ears still needed a way out. He decided to visit the painting again.

‘I’ll grab a drink before heading upstairs,’ he set into motion a roadmap for the evening.

‘Do they have a terrace,’ he wondered.

‘Ah! One step at a time, he said to himself.’ He’s been trying to live in the moment. He doesn’t know how long before he can muster the courage to let go of his painting of the future. He knows it is difficult and will take time. His thoughts accompanied him on his way upstairs. But he couldn’t get to the painting as he had planned. There was someone already hooked to it, a glass lingering lazily in her fingers. Is that scotch! Nayar remembered, he forgot to grab his drink.

He leaned to look down the stairs as if to check on the prospects of going back to his plan – the drink, the painting, just him, and a quiet sneaky exit when no one’s looking. He has become particularly adept at this last bit. Reconsidering the options, his gaze returned to the Ray-esque painting. The girl is gone! He didn’t waste a moment getting back in front of the painting. Just as he stood in front of the wide eyes, he heard a door close nearby. He felt fresh air stealing its way in and treaded away from the canvas to find the source. He found a small balcony and the girl from before, standing. Hey, is that, what’s her name! From State College, his last roommate’s colleague from his lab. She will recognize him. He must say hi!

‘Hi!’

‘Hello’, she said in a tone politely, her eyes silently wondering – how can I help you?

Is that her? God, it’s dark over here. ‘Did you live in State College?’

‘Where?’

‘Penn State? No?’

‘Ah. No. Sorry’. Again a polite smile.

‘Good! It would have been embarrassing if you were her. I have completely forgotten her name.’

She didn’t respond. The balcony is nice. There are plants here – creepers. It’s quiet too. Is it customary to leave now? Can she leave instead?

‘Would you mind if I stood here as well? It’s quieter than the dance floor,’ he asked.

They stood there in silence. Nothing happened.

My mistakes in teaching

‘I make way too many mistakes when teaching.’ I have said this to my students a few times, and to myself countless times. When saying it to a student, I am myself and I have a smile on my face. When talking to myself, I have a disapproving frown.

I teach undergraduate students of Architecture, and today, I realized a mistake I made teaching the first year studio. They make really good drawings. They are hardworking and talented. These were probably the supporting arguments in my head when I was making their design brief. I must have been so confident in their abilities that I did not realize that I had to teach zoning from scratch. Today, as I was zoning another student’s home kitchen on the board, the class was ogling as if watching a movie. Why did I not think of this before and why did I ask them to draw plans and sectional elevations before asking for simple zoning with bubble diagrams? Why the rush?

As I kept a stern voice with myself throughout this evening, I thought of making it a point to not repeat it. The next thought was – why not document them, so I can do a better job next time? Hence, I have a new blog post today. I have always wondered what to write about. I can definitely write original pieces about my mistakes in teaching. My dear student, if you happen to read this, I confess my mistake. With your blessing, I forgive and permit myself to keep going. I am still learning.

Dear Eliza, you had said this to me before. Today, I realize that being able to teach is a privilege. Thank you for giving me my first opportunity to teach.

P.S.: Disapproving frowns tend to influence more of my life than I would like to let them. This post was one such instance. I looked at the brief later and realized that I wanted them to try zoning by themselves first, without spoon-feeding what it is. That is why the brief had a textual description of what zoning is and examples to illustrate the differences between vertical and horizontal zoning. I saw a note scribbled on the margin of my copy of the brief – explain zoning using an example of reorganizing the studio space for a jury (keeping in mind functions and circulation). In class, I forgot about this and used a student’s home kitchen to explain zoning, which was way easier and more relevant to the problem they were trying to address through design thinking.

Night-time rant

Today is September 11, 2020, and the clock says it’s 2:37 am. I could not fall asleep. Probably, I did not want to and ended up watching Frances Ha, a film on Netflix, directed by Noah Baumbach who wrote it with Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances. After having watched it, I wanted to write. No, Frances is not a writer. She is a dancer in New York City. She kind of always knew that she wanted to be a dancer. Wait! I want to put it another way. I have grown since I entertained thinking in that manner. Frances loved to dance and knew that that is what she wanted to do. She would even cross the pedestrian crossing in New York, dancing. When an opportunity arises for a moment in her uncertain awkward life where she is offered an admin job in a Dance Company, she refuses. She wanted to dance.

After having watched the film and liked it, I wondered if I wanted to be a writer. There, again! Let’s try putting it another way. I wondered if I would want to write when I could not sleep, did not feel hungry, or were upset. Filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson said in an interview, if you really love it, you would want to write without being distracted until the house was on fire. I would not go so far to ask if I would write until the house was on fire. I get distracted a lot. Distractions run my day. Somehow I am more concerned about fear. When tonight I could not sleep, I hesitated if I should fantasize about my daydreams and hope that the thoughts would drift me to sleep or if I should try belly-breathing which calms one down and subsequently helps one fall asleep, or if I should write. The thought of writing frightened me. Not because I cannot write, but I feared being pulled down by the numerous thoughts in my head that tell me I should rather do something else. I will try to explain in a bit more detail.

I have tried writing and quit when I felt my hand aching (when I was using pen and paper). I didn’t quit, actually; I cut it short as if there was something else I had to get back to – such as working or going to sleep. What I did after I finished my write-up in a half-assed manner was going back to worrying about my work or my sleep. Once in bed, I would worry about waking up late the next day, or worse, tired, which would not let me want to do anything for the rest of the sea of opportunity, the voyage into the unknown, the day that is yet to be touched (as the doorman said in Modern Love). Today I decided to just write. I decided I won’t use pen and paper, in case my hand ached. Are you still reading this? I don’t know why, but I feel happy. Don’t feel obliged to read on if you soon find yourself losing steam. I am not writing for you. I am writing for me. When I got out of bed a while ago deciding to write, I thought I will write for Frances Ha, the character, the movie, its filmmaker, its writers, and all cast and crew who produced it together. But it seems, I am just writing for myself.

Right here is the point in my writing, when I have more to say but fear that the writing will get too long or lose its point. There is no point, at least none that I can see right now. But this late night/early morning urge and its associated fear reminded me of my tepidness in accepting life as it is and constantly being scared and cautious about the tiniest degree of uncertainty that lingers on every moment of my breathing this planet’s air. I am tired of being scared. I told myself before leaving my bed – ‘the brave seize the day’, and then tried to remember where I heard it. I could not. I did, however, repeat myself a few times until I finally got out of bed. I have decided to talk about my fear of failure and the consequent lack of drive. Not to you, but to someone I have never talked before. I think I want to get to the bottom of this. Last time I talked to someone about this, I was handed a book on Jesus written by someone who believed in capital punishment. She thought being self-centered was a possible issue of my grief. I considered her idea and started reading the book. I did not finish it. The writing seemed shallow, insincere, and judgmental, and reflected a one-track mind of the author – the track of God. I do not have mixed feelings about God. As of today, I have failed to believe in deities or a superior power with intelligence and a sense of right and wrong (as humans do). I have found another meaning of God though, which aligns more with a spiritual quest rather than the relief brought to the mind depending on the idea of faith. We will talk about that another day. Today, Frances Ha got me to write.

I did want to share that I watched four movies today – Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Mayurakshi (2017), Due Date (2010), and Frances Ha (2012). I have nothing more to add to that. I will get back later. It’s 3:07 am now. I want to finish a half cigarette on my balcony before going back to bed. Why half a cigarette? Well, these are the days. Maybe one day I can tell you more about that once I know more. See you soon!

A sincere breakdown

I see us,
Wannabes, drifting
Swiftly and steadily
Away from each other and
Ourselves.
A veil of what could be a dreamland
Eats us from inside, leaving behind
A hollow shell and empty pride.
Too scared to ask if what we are is real,
We choose to deny, keep our minds shut
And our selves high.
It is when we fall, and hit
That sweet spot of despair,
I want to see you again
Hold close our hearts
And cheer.
A sincere breakdown was hard to come by.

Existential queries

Do you write?
Why?
What would be different if you didn’t?
What would stay the same?
Would the words matter?
Do you know which words would matter?
But, who do you write for?

Don’t you start with
‘Oh, but I can’t do without writing my heart out.’

Let’s go deeper.
Why do you write?

Also, why don’t you?
Because, things change when you do –
The words, the matter, the Soul
The one you write for, and
The one you write to.

So, why don’t we?

Mistakes

Do breakdowns have patterns?
A network of mistakes woven,
Blended together
Churning out meaning as needed?

Do breakdowns have to mean something?
Can’t they be debris of the soul
Weary after fights
To win over Time?

Have I shed too much in one place?
Am I lost in a mountain of mistakes and vices?
Do I change my place? My body? What about another life?
Do they mend souls?

Rain

It is one of those nights in Happy Valley, Pennsylvania. The rains arrived at the Appalachians shortly after noon. I was on video call with my parents, and constantly being pulled to steal a glance, see the beautiful downpour, the tango of the twigs, bristle of the leaves, just outside my window. It’s past eleven now, on a saturday night. My neighbors across the street still have their lights turned on, as have I. Somewhere, the HVAC motor keeps maintaining a low hum, occasionally accompanied by the sound of cars passing by. A gentle breeze meets the oak in front of my door.

‘Does one want to know where I live?’

The breeze and I are locked in a gaze. My windows are open. The small lucky bamboo plant on my desk is excited to feel an old friend in his arms after a long time.

‘Even the moon has come and gone now, since it last rained’, the fried up tips of the long leaves complained. But they are happy now.

‘When will it rain again?’

Dear Dido,

I have imagined a thousand times, of writing to you. I didn’t write, because I was caught up in the silly, singular prospect of those words reaching you. It has been a long time since I first heard you; about fourteen years. I have grown since and you have too. I am 32 now, and have only recently realized the outcry in ‘Life for rent’. I listened to your song ‘Take you home’ a year ago, and refused to accept it. I didn’t ask why, but simply refused. I listened to it a while back, and I see you again. I see you have changed, and I see how. To ask why is above me. I see us again. Being true to my vivid imaginative self, I visualized a story set in a Victorian balcony in the dark. You were draped in a white dress, and I was there as myself – glasses in our hands, half filled, with space for moments to come, words to burn, letters to keep, songs to sing along when you’re there, and for company when no one else is around.

I thank you, your words, your stories, your hopes, your disappointments, your failures, your mistakes, and your journeys of coming back home. I look forward to seeing us again.

Sincerely

Last words

Every night before going to bed, he switches the lights off. As he went to turn off the staircase light, he could see the trash can is still out. They had just received a notice couple of days back about keeping the trash cans outside throughout the night. Apparently, they attract wildlife. He climbed down, brought the bin inside, turned the lock clockwise and whispered softly – ‘I locked the door’. He does this everytime he locks the door. He heard somewhere that it works for those who forget if they have locked the door, or turned off the gas, or something that our thoughts may spin their magic on to turn into a nightmare. Was it a Ted talk? The presenter had actually said to say it loud, but he whispers. ‘Should do the job’, he says to himself. He put his eye mask on and slept off. He woke up the next day, made a cup of tea and the entire day went by without him leaving his house or talking to anyone. He had leftovers for lunch, took a nap, and soon it was dark outside. ‘Is it already time for dinner’, he wondered.

The hot bowl of soup, held carefully in thick, padded mittens, survived the journey from the microwave to the counter, as the clumsy thirty-two year old almost tripped over the hand-woven cotton door mat. It had formed a bundle of utter neglect and trapped his foot as he turned towards the counter. On other days he could have blamed his roommates. But both of them leaving him with his lonesome dissertation has added to the disappointment of finding no one to blame when the need arises. The mat used to be at the entry, right after you have climbed up the fourteen steps, when he first moved into this apartment, with two other Bengali graduate students. The four by three woven creature kept crawling towards the inside, dragging on our snow-boots salt-stained, weary shoelaces until one day we felt the need of a doormat at the sliding door to the really spacious balcony. Where would we keep our sandals smeared with ash and snow just after we have taken a nicotine break and complained about how the winter felt too long! The balcony, and its perfect wooden planks meeting the red bricks of the wall – burnt, not painted, with the beautiful view of the mountains, and the night sky, and any chance of stealing glances at night get ruined by a bright white light installed at the corner of our building. The doormat at my balcony didn’t mind the bright white light. But as the sandals by the balcony stopped carrying snow, somehow the mat moved to the front of the kitchen. It was then inside the kitchen, right at the center. It was actually proving quite useful, except now, when our Ramen-loving Bengali almost tripped over a loose flap of cloth that’s strayed from its path. Soon, the Ramen was safely set down on his desk. He went back to the kitchen for a spoon, and to fill his bottle of water. He came back inside, closed the door with his elbow and slumped on the chair. He is hungry! As he sat down, pulling closer the steaming bowl of Ramen noodles, his favorite quick meal, be it breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner, he felt two hands covering his eyes.

Startled, he reached for the hand, but couldn’t recognize who it was. He heard a giggle, and then one hand took off the glasses, bent over, and kept it on the desk while the other hand, almost soothingly chilly, stretched to cover both his eyes. Leaned, head hung back in submission, he could feel her fingers, her arms, hair, ears, and eyes. A tiny smile was forming at the corner of his lip, as he heard a stale whisper from last night echo inside his head, his last words.