The inverse of sugarcoating

This post comes more than a week late, but then, I have never been known for my punctuality. Fortunately, it just so happens that the person to whom this post is dedicated understands my ongoing feud with time and deadlines, and so I am (I hope) off the hook.

This being a birthday post, I suppose timing was of the essence. Indeed, I had sat down to write this post in an alcoholic stupor last Sunday night; I soon discovered, however, that inebriated and articulation are not the best of companions. The post, as a result, came to a standstill. As anyone who has ever missed deadlines will tell you: once the time has passed, delays are easier to actualise than effort. However, I like to cling to the desperate notion that everything happens for the best; had the week not intervened between this post and the birthday itself, maybe the post wouldn’t have been as meaningful as it is now.

The title of this post is a phrase which the said person (to whom this post is dedicated) has used, often, to describe the way I express my views and opinions; implying, of course, that I use words which are too harsh to convey emotion which is, in essence, very pleasant. The original draft of this post was a smattering of powdered sugar on a mountain of maple syrup and honey, which is yet another reason this post feels more natural to me than the one which would have gone up on my friend’s birthday: it’s more honest.

Usually, when I undertake the Herculean task of dedicating a post to someone, it involves my assessment of their qualities and the subsequent zeroing in on the quality which I feel most strongly towards. This, however, is not the case today. It is not that the person of whom I speak is devoid of any startling qualities, nor that the person is burgeoning with a plethora of qualities from which it would be impossible to choose. No, the reason that this post doesn’t fixate on any one aspect of the person is because he, in his entirety, has done something for me which I value greatly: he has educated me in matters of which I was painfully ignorant.

Much of this educating took place after the rather tumultuous but exceptionally well-timed end to our brief courtship period. The subsequent friendship is something that I’ve come to cherish and learn greatly from. Wisdom, however, isn’t at the root of these teachings; it is not as though I have been specifically lectured on certain areas. This teaching comes from one of the most rewarding human experiences I have ever had. Not wisdom but honesty, I feel, drives this education home. The honesty of expression and feeling which my friend carries; his ability to wear his heart shamelessly on his sleeve, despite how much ever pain it may cause him; and his need to derive emotional sustenance from those he loves are the things I look towards when I feel lost in my own warped emotional psyche.

My friend has, on more occasions than I can count and with substantial damage to his inner peace, challenged my notions of correctness and emotional complexity. He has provided me with the perspective of diversity by showing me how powerful emotions can be, all while being highly delicate. He has shown me, time and again, what it means to be truly honest with oneself, even as I champion brutal honesty to the world. But more than anything, he has helped shape my ideas of the kind of interpersonal relationships I would be willing to have; ideas which were founded in reason, but perhaps hadn’t been actualised until the development of our friendship.

One of the greatest things which I will always be indebted to him for, though, is pushing my tolerance to limits I did not know I dared approach. I have always been less tolerant of dissent than I would like to believe, and this reflects heavily in my interactions with people. This beautiful, honest person showed me that my insatiable need for learning and growth, which I’ve always claimed was at the centre of my being, would never be realised unless I opened myself to things which I disagreed with and, far more than this, things which I had never even considered.

Even as I write this, I find myself edging dangerously close to a pit dense with the sorrows of nostalgia, which, I am afraid, is a luxury I cannot afford at the moment. However, one essential aspect of my friend remains to be mentioned, and poetic convenience has decreed it such that it be the last thing I discuss, glorifying it all the more. The aspect of which I speak, of course, is unbridled growth. It amazes me to see him growing as a person in every second of every day, but not being afraid to build again should he fall back. Whereas I take things from him and use them to further my own arsenal of introspection, he takes things from all around and uses them to accelerate in life. Indeed, it is satisfying to see that he is able to sustain his rate of growth, even as I am mine, and yet remain in tandem with both our ways of life.

Ah, but now emotional indulgence veers dangerously close to this rather well thought out, and unnecessarily long, (belated) birthday wish. Before I submit myself to the annals of sentimental gratification, I feel it best to set my (metaphorical) pen down, and wish my friend a lifetime of growth.

Happy birthday, my love.

One step at a time

Dear 2017,

I hope this letter finds you in the best of health, perhaps just settling into your cushioned armchair for yet another day in office. I am, I realise well, by no means the first person to send you this letter, and I certainly won’t be the last. We know for a certainty that twelve months from now, you’ll have a barrage of letters either thanking you for all you’ve done during your term or chiding you for the things you got wrong.

By today, I hope, you are done with your celebrations. It seems like you got ahead of yourself a little there during your victory gala, what with Istanbul and Bangalore, but that was before you were officially sworn in, so I guess we can let that slide. Maybe you even made some rather hasty decisions in your first two days here, but, again, we can get past that. After today, though, I hope you have gotten serious. You have had plenty of time to learn the ropes, and I hope you have gotten the hang of it.

On your desk sits a red folder labelled “Catastrophe”, which chronicles the events which occurred during the reign of your predecessor, 2016. The folder also contains a list of deaths which came too soon, or too suddenly, or just at a wrong time. You will notice that towards the end of 2016’s term, things got violently out of hand. Perhaps due to the constant berating that it had gotten throughout the year, or because it was eager to leave office with a bang, or maybe it just wasn’t ready to leave yet, 2016 lost control of what was happening. I hope, and trust, that the same will not be the case with you.

We all learn from our mistakes. Some things, of course, are beyond your control. Anyone who has ever held an office of any sort will realise that tough decisions need to be made. We will try to not begrudge you your hard, and seemingly cruel, decisions, but we are creatures of hope after all. The good thing is that your predecessor set a very low standard of how a year should progress, so there is a lot of room for you to shine. My only advice to you, and I realise that I may be overstepping my welcome here, is that you take it one step at a time.

Your office, at this moment, is probably cluttered with documents detailing the events that took place in 2016, both good and bad, large and small. All I ask of you is to not be alarmed. Glance periodically at the “Catastrophe” folder and remember that most of those events haven’t gone down in history as the best of times. Do not feel the need to catch up to 2016. Remember, fires that burn bright usually burn for a short time. Be the steadily flame that we need; give us light when we need it, and warmth when we want it. You do not need to follow in the footsteps of 2016. You are your own entity, and it is up to you to create a name for yourself.

Though, this may just be the same advice that 2016 was given when it took office. Maybe everything that 2016 has done has been its way of making a name for itself. If that is the case, then you have to be careful. It is better to go down in history as careful than fiery. Making a name for yourself doesn’t mean that you outrage against the people, for we are the reason you exist. We have defined you and brought you into existence and have chosen you to carry us through the next trip around the sun. Do not ever forget that. Do not bite the hand that feeds you.

A hundred years ago, your predecessors decided that they would like to make a name for themselves, too. 1914-1918 were bad examples of how this office should be run. Learn from them, as 1918 eventually did, but do not get inspired by them, as 1939 probably did. Do not worry about oblivion, though. Just because you haven’t been exploding all over the place doesn’t mean we won’t remember you. Yours will be the term when hundreds of people are born, close ones die, great things are invented, and many discoveries made. And even if it were not so, you become a part of a chronology when you swear yourself in, and chronologies don’t exclude one of their own. You will not fade out, I promise you.

Knowing how much you have seen, you would already know this, but I feel it is my duty to remind you nonetheless: there is no such thing as universal popularity. There has not been a single year which has been liked by everyone, and, conversely, no one year has been completely hated. The best example of that is 2016. Amongst the hate mail which was sent towards 2016, a large part of it was my own, I saw a lot of fan letters. I was astounded at how many people held 2016 in a positive regard. One of 2016’s earliest judgements was the death of Alan Rickman, so my affection for it had never picked up to start with, but for millions, it was a year of self-discovery.

So you see? You can do everything right, and still be hated for it, and you can mess up on colossal scales and still have people who love you. Remember, though, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Do not let the affection of the few deter you from the path of what is right and, what is infinitely more important, what is sensible. There is no rush to prove yourself. You have been given a fixed time and no one can take this time away from you. Use it well. It just so happens that you have taken office when we have to give you one less day than we did 2016. Please don’t take that personally; it’s just the way things are done around here.

We have faith in you, 2017, please do not let us down. One step at a time, my dear, and you should be just fine. The world is caught in a maddening race, and you need to be the one who provides us with the stillness of surety. Do not get roped into the race yourself. Do not try to outrun your people, because we will keep going on even if we lose, but this is your only shot at it, and you cannot waste it running races.

One step at a time, my love, and you should be just fine.

Yours,

Anirudh