Us and them

The indigenous community, sometimes known to belong to the scheduled tribes, are unknown bands of humans around us. Their skin – darker than ours – is often adorned with tattoos, their bodies pierced with jewelry. In this semester’s last major architecture design assignment, we asked our students to design a community center for the indigenous people in a village of population 2500. They had to design something keeping in mind the culture of the place and its reflections on built spaces – the nature of the designs and materials used. In the first phase of this assignment, they had to conduct case studies from secondary sources (that is, from sources others have produced, without visiting a place in person) to learn about the ways of living of the indigenous communities, about how their required spaces can be informed by set standards of design, and collect insight from existing structures by studying some of them based on their quality of space, materials, used, and functions provided. This was a group of three with its members assigned randomly.

A girl in one such group of tried googling about indigenous communities but could only manage to find a list of names, which was far from any in-depth information she could use to inform her design. She was too hesitant to ask a guy member of her group if he knew anything about the indigenous community. The guy was shy around girls. But when I knocked on his shell gently and asked how he would approach this fact-finding mission, he said he would ask his family and friends about it. This made sense because he is local and may know people in the community who could help them inform their design. In the next few minutes, we were lost in our discussions about how indigenous communities were a unique source of rich social capital which we dismiss as traditional or backward. I was telling them how I had misconceptions about the indigenous community until I came to Jharkhand. I did not realize how many of them are Christians. How clever of us humans to make them follow our ways when they are in need, and we have a way to help!

I am curious to see how these designs turn out to be. But I am wondering, if I am also a bit scared; and I don’t want to ask why.

Advertisement

Not another ‘new blog’!

This is me choosing against another ‘new blog’ and sticking with one that I already have. I heard the inner critic banging a gavel demanding order. Did you? Bang! ‘Now what do you have to say when someone asks – so, what is your blog about?’ I did not have an answer to this question when I jumped between blogs. I still don’t have one. I know that I had started this blog to build a habit of writing – to allow myself space to build on something I enjoy doing. But what to write about? Just about writing? And how I couldn’t write? And how I crawled through years of shitty writing to one day see my skin shed off? Dear reader, were you expecting a happy ending already? But I went back to shitty writing – embracing it like a familiar, warm pillow of mediocrity damp with shaming guilt. Did somewhere I follow a chain of logics responding to – why take the pain of objective assessment when I can just blame myself? I didn’t know that the skin wasn’t me. I was clinging onto a set of attributes that have evolved into my skin and didn’t realize that it was only meant to be shed off. I am trying to remember how it felt to be myself, just writing plainly in a flow uninterrupted by guillotines made of sheaths of doubt and vanity. Maybe I am still crawling, and don’t recognize the shit in the shitty and only see perseverance. Slowing down has been a key aspect for me – someone who keeps jumping from one thing to another fueled by infinite energy with an agenda of going through the day as fast as possible with no apparent purpose for the persistent sense of urgency. As I type this out, I realize, I didn’t say why I started writing again. I still don’t have a reason. And I don’t think I will find one if I don’t write.

Dear writer, when do I see you again?

P.S. There is a creeper in our window which drew my attention today afternoon.

Gawky

I learnt this word a few minutes back in a cricket commentary, spit out and left there on our aural wall by Ajit Agarkar – former fast bowler of the Indian National Cricket Team – to describe English spinner Jack Leach who failed to stop a boundary hit by Vihari against Potts (?). The match was coming alive for a few minutes, as I was zoned in on the cricket ground at Birmingham. Suddenly, the tv screen lost its proportion as an advertisement popped up from below, flattening the image of the play above. The advertisement – a proportionate eyesore – forces one to miss the prologues to crucial moments in the game such as Pott’s run up to the first ball after lunch to Virat Kohli. Virat played on the ball, which missed the stumps by an inch and sprinted towards third man for a boundary. Six overs later, when a similar ball bumped back to the stumps after ricocheting off the inside edge of Virat’s bat, they skewed the screen again, when the replay showed what happened and again, flattening the view as English players celebrated the best player’s wicket in the opponent. Soon, follows – cutting through the moments of desperation, celebration, and shear love for the game – another ad. This time spewing on the entire screen its clumsy, hurried, and pitiful cacophony of the gluttonous Indian economy, the advertisement wanted its space in the attention field of the audience at any expense. Funny, we don’t ask what it could cost! Undoubtedly, we don’t know the value of our actions because we are not curious. We don’t ask what the meaning is of being embedded in the game, with the entire heart, feeling the tension of the players, the grass on the pitch, the young batter avoiding the follow-up glance just after he ducked from a bouncer by someone playing cricket for as many years as he has been breathing in this planet. We don’t ask what’s at stake and bulldoze our values, love, and sense of meaning as our butts are parked on the sofa amidst our half-hearted celebrations of a lifestyle sponsored by the market.

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?