Sunday, September 15, 2019

347 Monday Musings: The Earthworm and the Gazelle

347 Monday Musings: The Earthworm and the Gazelle
‘Can you hurry please’ asked the gazelle to the earthworm. The young earthworm could only smile. The earthworm did not know then that even if he was fast in the earthworm sense, he would always be slow in comparison to the grasshopper, who in turn would not know what was being fast like the gazelle. Being fast or slow was such a strange thing. When an earthworm and a gazelle talk about being slow or fast, one would forgive both for not knowing and not understanding each other. The earthworm would have to be a gazelle and the gazelle would have to be an earthworm for that to happen, and since that is unlikely to happen in a hurry, they would have to reconcile to not knowing what is slow and fast to each other. They could be talking at each other even when they were talking to each other.
‘Why can’t you slow down please’ asked the earthworm to the gazelle, this time with a smile. The gazelle also smiled back. She knew that no gazelle has ever known slowing down. Gazelles are known to run, hop and scamper all the time, sometimes in joy and other times to preserve. ‘I will be hunted down if I slow down’ said the gazelle. One could not have argued with her fear. It is a fear that has been passed down through hundreds of years and its now the very nature of the gazelle – to be constantly on the watch out for the predator lurking around the bushes, behind the rocks and along the stream. Being afraid is the best gift the ancestors could bequeath to the gazelle – it shall keep her alive. However, being fast owing to these fears would also make her friendship with the earthworm difficult. The pace would differ forever because the fears would differ forever. The lament of the innate incompatibility between the earthworm and the gazelle is futile. The anguish of lost possibilities does not keep too many awake, particularly when the realization of those possibilities requires the status quo to be challenged.
‘I am beautiful’ said the gazelle to the earthworm. It was obvious that the reactions both evoked in others were quite different – and to make matters worse, both knew that. The earthworm knew it was creepy, slimy and almost disgusting to look at. It skin was wrinkled, its colors were unappealing and its movements were awkward. The gazelle knew it was delicate, stylish and beautiful. She evoked poems and sonnets as she strutted. Beauty and constant adulation can cause vanity and it did. It can make you lose touch with things around you. The beautiful and the capable know it and assume it to be their birthright, for there is no better intoxication than knowing you are better and more beautiful than others. The more the gazelle spent time with the earthworm, the better she felt, for the contrast only accentuated her sense of superiority.
‘Can you be selfless, like I am’ asked the earthworm to the gazelle. The gazelle did not quite understand. The earthworm knew all its life the drudgery of eating away and excreting the soil only made the soil richer. Life grows better where earthworms are aplenty. Even when they are not good to look at, they are useful. In that sense the earthworms are selfless – or at least infinitely more useful to others. Their life meant something to others, even when others were blissfully unaware of the contributions made by the earthworms. It takes a large heart to be disliked, abhorred almost, treated with distaste and continue to do something that will make a difference to others lives. It takes a large heart and the earthworm don’t have one – perhaps that is why they are able to do it. Gazelle is busy in her vanity, consumed by the cause of her own beauty and survival. She did not understand the question the earthworm had posed. She was not supposed to.
‘what should we do together’ finally asked the earthworm. The gazelle replied – ‘Continue being who we are. I will keep strutting, and you keep crawling. I will keep being the beautiful one, you keep being the useful one. We both have a role today and rather important ones. You will be crushed one day and I will be hunted one day. The difference will hardly matter.’

346 Monday Musings : The fishes that swam together.

346 Monday Musings : The fishes that swam together.
All the fishes started at the mouth of the river. They were a tight knit school of fishes but each of them had a unique journey, as it would eventually dawn to them, many years later.
Young fishes can jostle with enthusiasm and with an overt display of competitiveness. The competition may not necessarily to achieve something, but many a times for the sake of it, although this also would eventually dawn to them only many years later. The jostle of the early years is just a jostle for space, a jostle of being seen and heard, a jostle to make the presence felt, a jostle to overcome the fear of being left out, of being a nobody. Nobody wants to be a nobody. The jostle between the fishes, even if they are all travelling together towards the same destination, and even if the river is big enough for everyone, gives a sense of importance – even though they know that they are up against the river and all the predators out there, and not up against each other. This would eventually dawn to them, albeit many years later.
Fishes can also be a nervous lot. They disperse at the hint of danger even when they travel together. The moment they sense fear they leave the school and fend for themselves. So by the time they come back together again they have learnt a lesson that will change them forever – they now know that when it comes to matter of life and death, they are alone. In the purest sense, they are never of the school anymore, for the school anymore and with the school anymore. They are individuals who just travelling together but alone. The river looms over them; it’s vagaries takes over, the idealism and camaraderie becomes an innocent casualty. This should not be – but the river is inescapable. The fishes may have learnt a lesson a partial lesson but that error shall dawn upon them, if ever, only many years later.
The rivers tide is a nightmare for the fish. Its uneven, unpredictable and full of tantrums. The river also has to live up to its reputation. Its water must surprise, its flow must shock and its meander must evoke incredulity. In delivering the surprise, shock and incredulity the river is being the river, not only being true to its reputation but also being true to its essential nature. The fish has no business to complain, fret and fume. The fish has only one business – swim. Swim forward. Dodge deftly but swim forward. Make a delicate dive or a bold maneuver or make a radical about turn, but eventually swim forward. The tango between the river and fish must continue. It’s a dance – nay, it’s a romance in a lot of ways.
Fishes swim for most part of their lives. Some swim better than others. Some faster than others, some dive better, some turn better, some dodge better, some longer than others. Each one has swim in their fins, some better in this way and some better in another way. As they began their journey at the mouth of the river, there was a distinct tendency to show off what they could do better and guard what they could not. The vanity of abilities was at full display and everyone was culpable. No one could claim a swim bereft of vanity – what one could claim at best was the refined art of camouflaging it. One must not hold it against the fishes though – vanity is the opium of the youth. It keeps them going – for a while. It won’t keep them swimming forever. This is something they did not know now but they will, eventually.
Everyone in the school of fishes would hold a regret. Some would regret having done something, some of having not done something, some of taking things easy and some of taking things too seriously, some of being misused in relationships and some of not having forged any relationships. It would just not matter eventually as they would discover many years later.
All the fishes that had begun at the mouth of the river may not reach the ocean, but they travel what is due to them. Some stop on the way, some reach the end of the journey and flow into the ocean. There is no way to find out what is a better fate – reaching the ocean or remaining in the river. It does not matter at all – this would also dawn to them many years later.
Many years later the only thing that they would rejoice and be thankful about is the camaraderie that gets forged by swimming in the same river at the same time – of swimming together.

345 Monday Musings: I am guilty of Fears !

345 Monday Musings: I am guilty of Fears !
I received a whatsapp message on fears a few days ago. It was a remarkable ode to the subject that quite literally haunts us all the time and yet a subject we mostly keep at bay.
I wrote almost the full piece on the anatomy of fear as if it was a phenomena that I have witnesses from afar and about which I am now pontificating as an observer at best or an expert at worst. I realized by the time I finished writing about fears that way, was that I missed the point completely – that the idea of the talking about fear authentically, is to admit fear and what it does to you rather than explaining it away. So I deleted the whole piece and I am beginning afresh and this time let me begin by admitting – ‘I am afraid’. (I guess there is something that can still be salvaged from the tsunami of the whatsapp forwards, eh?)
I am afraid. I am afraid all the time. I am afraid of many things. I envy those who are not afraid. I wish I could be like them.
I am afraid of all kinds of things but of those, three come to my mind instantly. I am afraid of snakes, morbidity and penury.
A snake has to just look into my eyes and say hello and it should do the job – no need to waste venom on me. I would be dead with the hello.
I am afraid of morbidity, of illness and sickness and being bed ridden. The prospect of being bed ridden, and dependent on others, senile and not in control of my mind or limbs scares me.
I am afraid of penury. I see a terrible contradiction on the subject of money all around me. I hear the narrative of the futility of money in our lives, (often from those who do not have it) and yet I see in equal measure a mad rush to earn it, accumulate it and hoard it. I am not sure what is my philosophical position on money is – my opinion goes up and down, often with the rise and fall of NAVs and markets! Finally I must say, that I would much rather opine on the futility of money sitting on a pile of cash rather than a bowl in my hand.
I am afraid of insignificance. There are moments when I derive satisfaction from the little that I achieve but most of the time I know I am too small, too unknown, too powerless and too remote in the larger scheme of things. I want to be more.
I am afraid of getting exposed for what I am not. I know that many times my friends and foes overestimate me – in ways of mind, ability and intent, in strength and in goodness. I play along. I am afraid one day I will be exposed and the world will see that I was not what they thought I was.
I am afraid of loss. I am afraid of losing my good fortunes, and my friends. I am afraid I will lose love. I am afraid of losing parents. I am afraid I will lose credibility. The prospect of loss is a demon whose company I always keep.
I am afraid of fear itself. I hate the moments I fear for any of the above. It makes me feel numb and dazed. It makes my limbs go weak and the pulse to rise. I feel the heart heavy. I feel my feet heavy and leaden. The fear of fear itself is enough – it need not have a face, a name to it. Most of my fears are those have escaped neat descriptions of the kind in this piece.
I am afraid of not knowing enough. I am afraid of not being good enough. I am afraid of being the dumb one in the company of experts. I am afraid of being a bore. I am afraid of being too shallow. I am afraid of not knowing what to say or do when the moment so appears.
I look around and see bold and courageous people. I wonder if they have as many fears as I have. May be they don’t. May be they do. I look at people who go about leading their lives without a crease on their forehead and a doubt in their steps. I envy them. I want to know – if they do not have fears or they are what they are, despite their fears.
If someone were to put me through some test to ascertain if I have been good enough despite all the fears that plague me, I have only this last one for them – I am afraid of being assessed and judged too !!

344 Monday MusingsFreedom for the bird

344 Monday MusingsFreedom for the bird
The birds in the next nest woke her as they were waking her these past few days – and the lake beyond the balcony would gleam in the night moon. Waking up to the whispers of an about-to-be lit sky was joyous. It was not always that she was aware of the changing hues of the early morning sky. In his earlier days she was like most – not even knowing what the early morning looked like, leave aside the sights of the early morning sky, and even on days that she was fortunate to witness the early mornings, she was too engrossed and dumb to experience it.
One must look at the skies change their moods in that short while during the mornings – it’s faster than the human mood swings, only more fascinating and intriguing. The darkness pixilates into the various hues of grey as the sky bares itself, almost disrobing in slow motion. One is not prepared for everything to become clear but it does. It is like we were understanding life – one moment a mystery and then the slow motion of gradually unveiling of the meaning of it all, and then with the snap of a finger, it is all clear. She did not know much about life, but this much she had grudging come to realise – understanding it was the easy part; accepting it was tricky. All of us are prisoners of something or the other, someone or the other, she told herself. She had to put aside such philosophising because she had to deal with the onerous task of getting up and getting ready to fly. Survival is a full time job. There is no independence from it.
Everyone leaves behind something at the nest as she steps out in the morning and having spent the whole day outside, comes back a little more incomplete every evening, she remembered hearing it. It was becoming apparent to her only now, albeit partially. She also remembered older birds mumbling something about their search for completeness. She had never understood them and that search. Daily, and every moment passing away, we are not nearing completeness; we are actually inching away from it, if at all we are moving. A child is complete because she misses nothing. Every adult is incomplete in a peculiar way and because of peculiar circumstances. He might believe that those are unique and one of its kind, but they are not. There is only face of incompleteness– and that it is its incompleteness. Rest all is just there so that the story must move forward. The plot is usually held hostage by the characters in the drama. There is no independence from them.
‘We are withering away daily’ a bird had sung long ago. She was going to need this solace that others in their time had similar experience before but had articulated it better. There is no running away from this fear of time being short. It’s not only those who have a plan suffer from this fear – even those who don’t know their journeys suffer from it, just that they don’t know what torments them. There is nothing more tragic than having wings, having strength in them, even flying, just not knowing where!! The bird knew, that the poet knew, that we are a prisoner of time – of what is left of it. The burden of what is left is only increasing by the moment. There is no independence from it.
She had once been in an iron cage. She had felt miserable in it. Every cage has a peculiar curse, it torments in a certain way. Some owing to lack of space, some not airy enough, some the iron bars, and in some cases there is nothing to see beyond those bars – but above all the worse thing about all cages is, Captivity – that is its own curse. She had fought her way out of that cage and flown away to freedom. She still remembers those moments and trembles at the mere memory of it. In many ways she was still in that cage. There is no independence from the cages we were once into.
She was thinking of all this and much more as she opened her eyes to yet another day. The morning was upon her. She was thinking of all the prisons she was a part of – of those she knew about and those she was not even aware of, even though she could feel the burden of it on her soul. She was jolted by a loud roar which was coming from down below, from a group of human beings – apparently they were wishing each other ‘Happy Independence day’’. She dived below to be a part of the festivities.

343 Monday musings: the Tweets of the Sparrow

343 Monday musings: the Tweets of the Sparrow
The Sparrows Tweet.
‘’The trouble is that we focus on the wrong part of the word human being’’, the little sparrow tweeted in a croaky voice. ‘’We must be more worried about the 'being' rather than the 'human'.
He was astounded how little sparrows could sometimes tweet so profoundly even as they are perched on slender branches balancing their lives precariously. Survival and the profound often do not go hand in hand. One is so used to witness the drudgery of the mundane kill the propensity for the sublime. The sparrows could be philosophers even when they clung to the branch for their dear life. No wonder they say that the best bravery is when one is most feared, the best poetry when most anguished.
Sometimes the little sparrows turn out to be not so little after all nor are the tweets as incongruous as they appear in the first instance. One must listen to the little sparrows more intently. Little sparrows who are gentle and lovely and quiet. There is great power in their quiet. The quiet is often heavy with the weight of the unexpressed. The unexpressed often extracts a heavy toll from the ‘being’.
‘’Being? Being! Being.” A question mark, an exclamation – or full stop. Each laden with so much mystery.
He wanted to ask so many question to the wise sparrow. How does one figure out what was his ‘being’? - he had not yet figured out what was it to be a human? Do other animals feel the burden of the ‘being’ as much as humans and does every human worry about the question of his ‘being’?
Does an increasing awareness of the darkness of the soul and its imperfections improve our connect to that ‘being’ or sully it? He knew of good people and bad people who had no scruples in doing bad things and virtuous things when life had thrown at them the unexpected. He wondered what was their ‘being’ when they flipped- does our core finds it easy to flip? Is there pain flipping – is that pain exaggerated? Must there be shame in flipping?
Love dies. Loyalty erodes. Goodness rots. Kindness begs for mercy at the altar of survival. He wanted to ask the wise sparrow what she had to say to all these questions on the subject of the being.
He wanted to check with the little sparrow if the ‘being’ ended with an exclamation mark – a wonder that was at the mysteries of human heart. Was there shock at what one encounters when the ‘being’ bares itself; was there surprise at its malleability – circumstances could beat it into a new shape almost at will? Is there one ‘being’ that one inherits at birth and is condemned to die with or does one have the free will to change it if he did not like it?
Finally, he wanted to ask the little sparrow If all these questions were futile on the subject of the ‘being’. May be the full stop was a better companion to the word ‘being’ than a question mark or the exclamation. Being. Full stop. Period. It’s the end of you. One might have begun deciphering the many mazes of his mind, one might have begun moving into the many dungeons of his heart but all of this had to come to an end at some point. He wondered what that point was. He wanted to ask the sparrow.
As the little sparrow prepared to fly from this perch, as is the wont of little sparrows, the last question on his mind were – will the sparrow come back again to ask a question as unanswerable as this. He knew it was not the answers we always cherish as much as questions that we do not have answers for.

342 Monday Musings: The most unique story

342 Monday Musings: The most unique story
The cow was telling a story to the calf. She believed it was the most unique story. Not the way she told it, although she also relished the way she told it, but the way the story had unfolded. In her bones she knew that the contours of her story were rare. She pictured it as the story no cow ever had lived through before.
The celebrations of her life were like no others. Like rare gems. The highs were higher than the notes in a symphony. In her mind the achievements were amplified and had acquired a size larger than they actually were. She was also mindful that in hindsight the start point always appears modest and humbler than they really were and the hardships one faced along the way were always amplified to be large enough, portraying us in the image of a giant slayer. We are the raconteur of our own stories and when we tell it to others, there are often no eyewitnesses. She told about the meadows she had travelled, the plains she had grazed and the hills she had crossed over. The calf was in rapt attention and seeing this the cow could only become bolder.
She remembered what humans had to say about the past – ‘’In the rearview of the car the objects often are closer than they appear. In the rearview of life, objects are often further away and dim than they really are’’. Thankfully she was not human, she told herself with a smirk.
She stared at the starry eyed calf and continued. She told him about the predators she had escaped, the rocks she had managed to jump over and herd she had spent her whole life with, being the cynosure of everyone’s eyes. She told the calf anecdotes funny and sad, stories of celebrations and grief – the way she remembered them now. A tiny voice in her asked her if she was sticking to the facts or if she remembered the exact way in which the story had actually happened because with time memory does play pranks with us. She asked herself if she was taking small liberties with the truth. She had seen many in their old age telling their stories with a similarly misplaced sense of grandeur but she had sufficient confidence in her own ability to remain objective, although she had not checked with anyone if she did appear objective in her story telling to others.
One can always glamourize the modesty of means and the add some spice to the challenges one faced to make the story a little more dramatic, a little more compelling. She knew very well that the loyalty of the story teller is to the act of story-telling and not to the absolute accuracy of facts. In any case she knew her story was unique and it was her responsibility to make it appear unique. After all, how could one go wrong with recalling one’s own story. Who was a better custodian of facts if the facts were our own? If she would tell her story, how could she be inaccurate!
A tiny voice in her had felt that after a few times the way she had told his story, the narrative and words started to acquire a sense of permanence. The embellishments started to look truer. After a few more renditions the truth and the embellishments fused together. There was no way to distinguish between the two. Even she could not tell the difference.
The agonies of her life were also unique. The pains, the grief, the disillusionments and the regrets even more unique. When she sat to ruminate on the years gone by she would relish the victories small and large but she would she would relish the falls, the slips, the bruises even more. The dense forests she got lost to come back, the close shaves she had with crevices big and small, the herds she mistook for her own only to be rejected and the long days she survived of thirst until she found a stream worthy enough to satiate her – all her life experiences she talked about in which the circumstances were always different but the ending was always the same – she emerged out of the shadows just in time unscathed to tell this story. She recounted each of those stories almost self-deprecatingly – the hint of humility manufactured so beautifully that it almost appeared to be genuine. The calf was young and listened without blinking and in this moment that is what mattered. If only the young knew the tales the old weave!!
The cow believed in the story. She believed her story was unique. What she did not know as she told in all earnestness this story to the young calf, that just at this very moment in the same jungle, there was a lion, a tiger, an elephant, a grasshopper, a bee, a louse, an earthworm, an eagle, a parrot, and an amoeba who was telling a story that they believed was the most unique. The jungle had enough patience for all these delusions.The jungle was also wise enough to know that if for not for the delusions of such uniqueness, each one of them would go insane by the burden of meaninglessness of those stories.

341 Monday musings: As the butterfly mourns

341 Monday musings: As the butterfly mourns
The butterfly was forlorn as she looked around. She was to go her usual garden visits tomorrow again, the last few times she would go there this season, for spring was coming to an end - and she was dreading the prospect of it. She has been visiting gardens all her life. She had come to know every tree, every shrub and every flower in the gardens she had been visiting. The trees, shrubs and the flowers knew her back. Knowing takes effort, she realised. Knowing deeply takes deeper efforts. It is easy to be carried away by the pretence of knowing. You could just scratch the surface and delude yourself that you know the other. The butterfly had come to know of such charades in her short life. As she flew past all the known flowers once again she could breathe the familiarity in the air – that familiarity which makes the onus of such flights easy. Today was different. There was more dread than joy in her wings. She knew all this familiarity was coming to an end – for the next spring will bring new blooms, new fragrance, may be better, but still not the old. The prospect of better is not half as good as the familiar.
The butterfly would hop from one flower to the next going through romanticism of her companionship and the exhilaration of creating the nectar of love between the two. What could be more sweet in the world than this routine. She thought of herself as the luckiest. It was years the butterfly going through these motions whose end result was always sweet. She wondered if the process itself was becoming jaded even though the nectar at the result of it still remained sweet. She thought to herself how things changed. It was not long ago when the outcome was more important to her – she would fret and fume if the nectar at the end of the day did not measure up to her expectations. The new gardens and new flowers and new flights almost paled into insignificance in comparison to the promise of the nectar. Here she was after all those years wondering if the nectar was indeed as important as she had always thought or were the gardens and the flowers and her flights even more important. The burden of her ambivalence on this remained heavy on her soul.
The flowers still bloomed and the nectar still happened and the garden still swayed in the morning breeze. The seasons changed and every time new flowers bloomed as they were destined to and old ones withered away when their time was up. She was used to this or least she thought so. Earlier she would not even notice it. She took it in her stride because she thought that was how it has always been and that is how it will always be. There is great comfort in our ability to explain things saying that ‘it has always been like that’ - as if the pain and anguish will go away just because we can give the pain a name, a description. This morning she knew she was beginning to recognise that the withering of the flowers and the changing of the season was not something she was able to ignore anymore without a tiny voice mourning for it. Mourning was new to her. No one had taught her to mourn.
Today when she had left home she knew she had to sit on many flowers to make the day worth the flight. Nothing was new - flowers were not new, neither was the garden, nor was the flight, neither the fact that this spring was coming to an end -but the feeling was. She could not place her finger on what that feeling was but she knew it for the way she felt it. The feeling rose through her heart, choked her and dragged the strength from her wings. She was dreading her flight because yet again she would go through the muddle of her feelings without recognising them and she had not yet developed the large heartedness to deal with a feeling she could not name. She knew from experience that naming the pain is the first step to dealing with it. It was always those feelings which cannot be ascertained and named properly which traumatises the most and longest. It did not matter if the name was wrong or the identification of that strand of feeling accurate – it just had to have a name. She had to name it even if she got the name wrong.
The butterfly flew past the gardens, sat on the flowers and went about doing what she was doing. The spring had one day less to its life. The butterfly knew it. The spring knew it. The flower knew it. They all pretended that spring will never end. No one had
told them that pretences that are shouldered to keep the painful hidden and away often pains the most.