In this personal essay, Prerna Kalbag and Nishant Singh muse about the changes in life post the pandemic and how reading and working has changed during isolation.
The world has halted. The clocks have stopped. Perhaps for the first time since the advent of the Enlightenment, humanity is in headlong retreat. Every experience of going outside, even for such mundane things as getting groceries, is tinged with the terror and the superstition that the first Men who sailed the seas must have felt. An invisible Gorgon stalks us everywhere, her evil eye is warded off by a diligent ritual of cleansing and sanitization. This fails many times, as people still succumb to the horrid unknown, un-understood illness. Yes, the promise of Enlightenment, which was deemed to have been a mirage a century ago, has finally, completely disappeared, as humanity has once again embraced the irrationality that had been deemed by smug college professors as “medieval”.
Yet, we live. We must live, and we must work. If only because we have absolutely nothing else to do.
In this personal essay, Kalyani Raghunathan explores her love-hate relationship with the rains.
Last year I told a friend that monsoon was my least favourite time of year. I have held this view for as long as I can remember, and so, like many of my long-held and staunchly defended views, it hadn’t been challenged for a while. In making my case I cited, like any good scientist, what I thought was overwhelming evidence in my favour: the oppressive stickiness, the streams of mud that send brown flecks up the backs of your legs as you pick your way through the streets, the stagnant knee-high pool of water that surrounds my home for days on end because the municipality drains are too small and too clogged to be effective. It has been embarrassing to have friends stay with me, I tell him, for us to spend a day shopping in Delhi’s high-end Khan Market only to stop the car at the gate of my apartment complex, roll our pants up and wade through the muck to get home.
This piece walks the line between a personal essay and a book review (Zadie Smith’s On Beauty)
If we are in the habit of being honest with ourselves, we can admit we all have that seven-year itch in our marriages.
Now whether the seven-year itch happens in year four or year ten differs from person to person or couple to couple.
I had mine not-so-long-ago. In year nine, if we are also being precise. On first impulse, I toyed with the idea of venturing out to look for new pastures. But I was hesitant, fact being that I’m three children in, and my body’s been their playground for almost a decade.
In this deeply personal and moving essay, Manish Gaekwad talks about his experiences of growing up in a brothel and being queer
I was five when the boys started petting me and kissing me in places other than my flushed cheeks. Once, when I was at home in Kolkata, a lady peeped through the door and saw that a boy older than me was lying on top of me and rubbing himself vigorously in ways that adults do. He must have seen someone do it to his mother. He was trying to replicate it to see where it goes.
It went sore.
His mother thrashed him. My mother thrashed me. I did not understand why I was being beaten for doing nothing. I was merely lying down and I don’t recollect how I got there. I did not have words then to express what I felt. I sensed that what was giving the boy pleasure was not acceptable to adults.
Soon, I too got a taste of that pleasure.
We were disappearing behind curtains, playing hide and seek in the afternoon when the women were sleeping after lunch. We were kissing and fondling behind those curtains, in plain sight of the very women who had objected to it. A boy once pulled my trousers down and shoved his face in my crotch. Another time he spooned me under a quilt where we were hiding to be startled. My body tingled with the thrill of these secret games. The games children saw adults play through peep holes.
For the longest time I took pride in the fact that I would listen to only Begum Akhtar and the like. I took pride in naming several world movies and having remembered their directors. But what is not on record is that I started reading fairly late into my teenage years and started out with a railway copy of Bhagat’s Two States during my high school years, which I discreetly disposed of on my bookshelf in my later years.
My journey to develop a ‘refined taste’ was a rather self-imposed one; the one where I decided not to listen to certain genres of music, or avoid watching certain films. This intent to culturally ‘polish myself up’ was my regular homework, which was led by an unconscious need to fit into certain sects of society and a need to appease an imaginary audience.
A personal essay by Anupama Kumar on how Odell’s book how changed her experience of work and writing in the pandemic as it speaks about opting out of the attention economy, and taking time away from distractions.
What if, Odell asks, augmented reality simply means putting your phone down?
What if, indeed. Odell’s book reminds us that while the world is structured on having our attention on something all the time – even if it isn’t all our attention, all of the time we’re paying attention, there is perhaps another way to be. We have been heading here for a while. Results Only Work Environments and employment in the gig economy require us to be on our toes and “available” for anything. Time is a valuable resource in today’s world, too valuable to not be spent productively, and certainly too valuable to waste on not allowing our attention out. Odell exhorts us to disconnect, to “opt out” and re-engage with the world on our terms. She cites an instance from her own life, where she began to walk through a park in San Francisco and identify individual birds by their calls. By focusing her attention on the moment, she gained a far deeper understanding of the world around her.
This does not mean a complete disengagement with the world, or retreating into complete solitude like a hermit. To Odell, complete disengagement, and a complete retreat away from the world as we know it is impossible. Instead, she advocates that we step away from a culture that requires that we pay attention all the time – to social media, to technology, to the relentless pursuit of productivity – and instead enjoy the one life we have right now.
While I was growing up in Tokyo, there used to be a cherry blossom tree outside my apartment window, a ‘sakura’ tree. It bloomed, but just for one week during spring every year. The branches would fill with riotous pink blossoms, heaving in the breeze like big sticks of cotton candy. They would wave about gaily like they were saying hello to whoever was beneath them.
It was common to see people sitting and making merry under these blossoms. New loves being found, hearts being broken, friendships being forged and life decisions being taken. But within a few days, the gossamer pink petals would curl onto each other and gently fall to the ground. Their lives would be done, the sole purpose of their existence being to lend happiness to people and beauty to nature.
Living with a pandemic can be testing and full of surprises (both pleasant and unpleasant). Verena Tay shows us a glimpse of her journal entries during the pandemic to show us life, as she sees it.
Some say there is value in writing down the minutiae of life, no matter how trivial, as a record of what happened for posterity. In this pandemic period, some say it is even more important to do so because these are unique and historic times that one must remember. Surely future generations will be keen to find out about the experiences of those who lived through Covid-19 so that they can draw some kind of significance for their own lives?
However, why journal about these times when so many of my contemporaries are making their own chronicles, now that literacy and art-making are more widespread? What about the importance of noting down my own perspective? Ah… Not much has really happened during the last few months for me.
My bathroom door at home requires an extra push to be opened. This frustrates me a little, because the one in my hostel functioned differently –all I had to do was unbolt it. I think about how we know things. And people. I know that if I position myself between the beige sofa and the plants in my hall, I can watch the sun sink into a patch of green trees, between two skyscrapers.
I am so accustomed to a certain kind of life, but change is here. She is sitting with me by the staircase, waiting for me to walk through the door. When I’d wake up in the morning and see my roommate still in bed, I knew I could afford to go back to sleep – she always rises with the sun. Back home in Bombay, I have been robbed of this unique way of telling the time.
It didn’t sink in until the grocery store, staring down a $9 jar of pickles. And it was only when I got to the candy aisle that I turned around and said, “I graduated!” out loud, defending the non-essential purchase. After that, I said “I graduated” to everything. Organic apple cider from Atkins, an extra bottle of Arizona, recipes from home via BooksActually’s free international delivery for any 3 local titles.
The family Zoom celebration spiralled into politics: crackling voices fighting for the same cause, but to be louder about it. When the lack of a Premium plan ended the conversation at precisely 40 minutes, nobody was dismayed.