Summer report: the definitive text of inadequacy

This is perhaps the most personal of all pieces that I have added to my little corner of the Internet. This post has no topic of discussion, per se, nor a sense of purpose. It has come into existence solely because I sat before my computer today, with the full intention of charging into work much as a bull hurtles towards the Matador, and realised that I had not written in what I can only describe as an eternity.

And so, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I am writing for the sake of writing, and already the blood feels calmer in my veins. As this post has no agenda, I fear it will tread perilously close to the realm of surrealist literature, only it will be much less pleasing to the eye. Indeed, even as I write this, I know little of the direction towards which this post is headed. Bear with me, though, my faithful reader, as you have over the past years (and here, we pause for a moment of introspection and the such), for I promise you mild, sub-par comedy at the very least.

Truth be told, it’s not that I haven’t written anything over these past months; it’s more of a case of me not having written anything. Before you (justly) call me out to be the raving lunatic that I seem to be, let me clarify: there’s a sense of satisfaction mingled with a curious tingling in the stomach and the extremities, that comes with writing something which has taken thought and some measure of literary skill. That very feeling has been missing for some time. I have been writing, yes (if my angst-ridden posts on Facebook can be so called), but I haven’t been diving into the oceans of language and selfishly picking out the words from the mouths of stingy oysters. It is something I sorely regret, and something that I would like to talk about here.

These months have not been good, my dear readers. They have been frightfully disappointing in ever sense imaginable, more so because I have been disappointing than anything else. I have been lazy, uninspired, dirty, unambitious, and, worst of all, I have been un-curious. Nothing has picked at my mind enough for me to want to delve into it further, and, again, that’s not for lack of stimulus but a personal shortcoming. I have been tired; more tired than I have ever, ever been as far as my (abysmal, truly abysmal; if only to be an elephant) memory is concerned. I remember taking to my computer time and again, adamant to spew into this little corner of the Internet the wiring of my brain, only to be distracted by the lights or the rain, or the little spider climbing up my left leg as though foraging through the Amazon thicket.

Then again, I have also found myself distracted by the sound of my own breathing. It’s a curious sound, really, not nearly as tidy or as even as it sounds on TV. It’s uneven, as though the heart is pushing the left lung upwards with every intake of breath to lighten the load on itself. Even as I sit here writing about the sound of my breath, I am curiously distracted by it, as though noticing its presence for the first time, every time. How can something that has been around for as long as I’ve been around (barring nine months; yes, my dear pro-life readers, I know you exist. I don’t agree with you one bit, but I know you exist) be so unfamiliar to me; moreover, how can it be a distraction?

And yet, irrefutably, there it is, like an obese manatee wrapped in seaweed, basking atop a rock in the middle of the sea, very much the gap-toothed mermaid to my drunken sailor’s telescope. But, oh, what a manatee, that I want to swim alongside it in the depths of the clear blue, and also tear it limb from limb and drown it in its own blood. It is almost a crooked love-hate relationship if one is so inclined: you love to hate every last bit of it. I love the feeling of loathing that overcomes me when I am cognizant of my breathing, as though it is my life’s purpose (hark! How is that for a paradox, Zeno?) to hate my breathing, and without my breathing, my life would have no purpose (and here I trump the Grandfather Paradox; quite the roll I’m on today).

I don’t wish to die, though. My intense melancholia (when one is at the point where one needs to advertise one’s own writing on one’s own blog, one has hit the rock bottom of writing; one is now free to socialise with Terry Goodking, Stephanie Meyer, and the horny, discount Stephanie Meyer) is not precipitated in my need to die, but in my need to kill myself. That I am my own master in my death is important to me because it reinstates that sense of control that was taken away by the erratic breathing. It’s a multi-part joy, if you think about it: being in control of circumstance when your breathing ends is a win that you have scored over your breath; holding responsibility for your inevitable end, something that life has always held over you, is yet another victory; and that you end up where everyone will end up someday, but you do it on your own terms, is the greatest victory of all.

Of course, now I sound like a brown-haired, pasty white bitch who slit her wrists (horrible method of suicide, by the way; very low chances of your dying that way) in her parents’ bathtub because the pasty white boy she liked didn’t want to bother her when she asked not to be bothered (and twelve other equally ridiculous reasons). Just to avoid stepping on any toes, I’d like to make it very clear that THIS IS NOT A TAPE OR ANY NOTE OF SUCH KIND because depression doesn’t work that way. Galen got it right, I think, when he prattled on about Black Bile, but what depression is and isn’t has been covered before (I’m not going to be cheap and provide two links to the same piece in one post; I have standards). This is merely me talking, more to myself than anyone else, about how shit the last few months have been, and how, despite everything, the fucking breathing goes on.

And on.

Melancholia

A host of events have transpired to bring this post into existence; events which, if it were possible, I would choose not to dwell upon. However, choice itself is a rare privilege afforded to few of us who suffer from this ancient malady, and it is, unfortunately, not a privilege I possess.

What those events are is not of consequence, and, indeed, needn’t be mentioned here at all. Suffice it to say that those events were not of a favourable nature; my reaction to them, albeit, is a result of my pathological inconvenience, and not how one would “normally” react. Ah, yes; there I go again, characteristically deviating from the topic at hand. Today, I shall attempt to put into words perhaps the greatest evil I have come to know, and come to know more intimately than I would have cared: depression.

Many of the few people I have spoken to regarding the subject at hand seem to have rather ill-conceived notions about the malady. I shall forego the medical and psychological explanations, here, for the vast web that is the Internet would do a far better job of explaining that aspect than my little corner ever could. No, instead, I’d like to show what it means to be depressed, and how it is not, in fact, your everyday case of Monday morning blues.

Imagine, if you will, a world which is tinted brown, like a town from the old wild West movies, except the sky is constantly covered with clouds, and the sun only barely manages to shine through. This world contains nothing but a road, a single road, leading somewhere into the distance. The world is densely covered with fog, and so where the road leads, exactly, is something which you do not know. The fog is not a normal fog, however; it is a fog made of some thick, gelatinous substance which makes movement difficult, as though the mist is resisting the advances of motion. It is also impossible to tell the time of day, as there are no watches, and the brown haze constantly presents itself with the same hue throughout.

Now, imagine you are woken up every morning if, indeed, it can be so called, and forced to put a heavy bag on your back. What this bag contains; who is making you carry the load; what you are supposed to do it with are questions which you are neither allowed to ask, nor have any answers to. You are then made to walk down the single road into the obscure distance, through the gelatinous fog in a brown tinted world, with the load on your back, towards a place which you do not know.  All of a sudden, presumably at the end of the night, you are asked to stop and take rest, but you are not allowed to take off the bag. Rest comprises reading through horror upon horror, penned down by a malicious writer who knew well how to make disaster seem close to home. The next morning (?), the rigmarole repeats itself, only now the load has increased from the previous day.

That, my dear readers (the plurality is assumed), is how I view depression. In the end, it boils down to a whole lot of nothingness; there is no aim, there are no dreams or hopes, there are no goals, there isn’t even the promise of a tomorrow. There is just a long, straight road, going ever onwards. The only way out of this insane, pointless ritual seems to be an absence of existence, and it is easy to see why so many of us would rather choose that path than the brown tinted one: it may not be more colourful, but black is better than brown.

It is from this melancholy that I, and hundreds of thousands others like me across the world, seek escape. Tell us now that we are just weak, or that it will get better, or some other inane shit along those lines? The dense fog that covers our world drowns out the sound of everything other than our deepest, darkest thoughts, which seem to take a personality of their own and insist upon their presence being acknowledged. It is not about weakness, my privileged friends who do not know the true meaning of despair, and it most certainly isn’t about sadness.

The cuts on my arms are not from my inability to handle the stresses that life throws at me, or my hate for myself (though that plays a major part). The cuts on my arms are from my desire to feel something, anything, other than a gnawing sense of regret for being alive. The cuts on my arms are from me trying to take back control; from me trying to tell myself that the pain which I am experiencing is my own doing and that I have the power to stop it when I wish.

This, however, is an elaborate illusion. The cuts on my arms are lies I tell myself to make the world more bearable, prolonging my journey down the road in the process. With each cut I make, I give myself the motivation to remain in this brown, murky world; it is almost as though there is a contorted feedback mechanism preventing me from escaping this very cruel, cruel world. All forms of self-sabotaging that I do, be it in terms of my relationships or to my body or in my work, they are all forms of me clutching at straws, desperately trying to regain control, knowing that I am destined for failure even before I start.

If you resonated with this, dear readers, tell me, such that we can plan our journey through this world together, and maybe find solace in knowing that others are as doomed as we are. For the only way to alleviate suffering is to not suffer alone.

Good day (hark!)

The more the merrier

 

This post was cleverly scheduled to come out on Valentine’s day; but as those who are familiar with this little corner of the Internet will know, I am not the most punctual of people. Indeed, when asked why I do no take up writing as a profession (assuming I could write professionally), the foremost reason I cite is my inability to meet deadlines. What is life, I daresay, without a little bit of procrastination, and the gnawing regret that comes after the time to affect change has passed?

Ah, but there I go again; prattling on about something that has nothing to do with the theme of this post. Today, sitting by a steaming mug of filter coffee, I wish to talk about the nature of romantic relationships; rather, the nature of relationships in general. More specifically, I wish to present my case in favour of something we’ve come to learn more and more of in recent years: polyamory.

I have long been of the opinion that for any relationship to be truly sustainable, it needs to have a certain degree of “openness”. Relationships which are rigid in their definitions and closed off in their approach to society often find that a claustrophobic environment is non-conducive to their growth. The reason for this, to me, seems quite simple: we are complex beings with complex needs, and so we need to derive our sustenance from a host of people, and not just one person at a time.

Don’t you think it’s a little impractical, really, to assume that one person is able to satisfy all your emotional, physical, and intellectual needs? Conversely, isn’t it a little unfair that you are required to fulfil the very same needs, single-handedly, for someone else? I can, of course, see the charm in this: that one person is all you need for everything, ever, is undoubtedly a charming concept, but how much practical value does it really hold?

Humour me for a while, and picture this: you have your significant other with whom you have a blossoming relationship. Yes, there are fights, but you are able to “kiss and make up”, and you perceive things through rose-tinted glasses. Now it just so happens that you are plagued with an issue which your partner is not adept at handling, or which requires a view which your partner is unable to provide. You seek solace in another individual to whom you attach some value, and your qualms are put to rest.

Polyamory, most people fail to understand, is not just about having multiple sex partners, though that is very much a component of it; neither is polyamory a way to justify promiscuity. Polyamory is about understanding that more than one people should be allowed to influence your thoughts on love, career, sex, and all the other facets that make up life. Polyamory is about embracing the change that is brought by opening up to more and more people, instead of being confined to a box, with only one other mind for company.

Yet another aspect I’ve seen people have trouble with is that of relationships being a spectrum, and not a binary switch between polyamory and monoamory. It IS possible to sustain an emotionally polyamorous relationship without also making it physical. In fact, that has largely been the nature of my relationships for a long while now, and it has caused me little to no discomfort. On the other hand, it is also possible to have a physically polyamorous relationship without having an emotional one. There are hundreds of other combinations which abound when one truly considers the diversity of people, their needs, and the rationale behind relationships in the first place.

As is often the case with my personal posts, I shift the blame for things onto society. Society has conditioned us to make two things an integral part of our lives: labels and definitions. We spend our early years growing up in a society which has an obsessive need to label and define everything, relationships included. A couple who does not wish to label or define their relationship is still called a couple, because how else are we to attach stereotypes and conventional tropes to them. Even the most progressive of us get caught in the rigmarole that is the need to define, if not label.

There is a person, of remarkable intellect and a face which the gods must have forgotten to fault, with whom I sustain a relationship. What kind of relationship, you’d be tempted to ask, and therein lies the problem. Is it not enough that there is a relationship of some sort? That there is something physical (barely, to my displeasure), something intellectual, and something emotional in this relationship is enough of a definition. Our need to define things by assigning labels to them limits our expansion and growth as human beings; this is a belief that has only strengthened with time.

It is not as though I have taken a pledge against labelling, however; I understand the need for certain labels, such as defining certain things as harmful versus safe, or correct versus incorrect. Where relationships are considered, though, I cannot understand the obsession with monoamory, which seeks to lay possessive claim on another person. Relationships are deeply personal things; in fact, they are deeply interpersonal things, and with over seven billion people in the world, to limit the interpersonal interaction of a person to just “the one” other person seems to me inherently selfish.

Bonds are fickle things; they break and form in the blink of an eye. Bonds strengthen when they are allowed to mingle with other bonds, and form a network. Polyamory provides for that chance; the chance to strengthen not just one, but many bonds, by exposing the individual to the treasures of the human mind. Yes, there is a chance that in a polyamorous relationship your paramour would give someone else more importance than they would give you, but that is a risk you both are taking. And, in my very honest opinion, the risk and the (possible) jealousy are worth it, because at the end of the day, you are developing a more honest, a stronger relationship.

 

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

On the flip side of obsessions

It would seem that my fidelity to this little corner of the Internet is in doubt. Once again, I have become the harbinger of neglect by staying away for so long. Thus, for the umpteenth time, I extend an apology to my readers (here, once again, I assume plurality). However, my conscience isn’t as burdened this time around as it was the past few times, as my absence has been more due to factors beyond my control as opposed to procrastination on my part.

In fact, the entity which caused said preoccupation is a huge contributor to the contents of this post. By a stroke of good fortune, and strenuous effort on my part, I managed to secure a month-long internship at one of the best research institutes in the country (bragging rights must be awarded here). Said internship was supposed to train me in basic laboratory protocol and techniques which may be of use to me later on in life when time came for me to take up science professionally. Things, by yet another stroke of luck, took a steep turn for the better. It so happens that I am now as involved in research as one could possibly be at this stage of their scientific education.

That more or less lays the background for the post (and gives me an excuse to feel better about myself), and so I feel confident when I launch into this post, which discusses one of the greatest ills which plagues me.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with “mixed obsessive-compulsive disorder”. The small black ink writing was definitive proof of a suspicion which I’d been harbouring for a few years, and it was bittersweet seeing that diagnosis officially confirmed: on the one hand, it told me that there was something the matter with me, something which would require an effort to overcome; on the other hand, it told me that a lot of my shortcomings were not entirely my fault. The latter, I think, was more therapeutic than the months of therapy that followed.

For years, the obsessive-compulsive tendencies had been getting on my nerves, and the glorification of “OCD” by western television had done nothing to help. All around me, people claimed to have, or worse – be, OCD, thinking that somehow having an all-consuming mental disorder made one “cool”. It bothered me that something which made daily tasks an ordeal for me was being mimicked and mocked around the world. You don’t pretend to have cancer to be cool, I’d say to anyone who would listen, so why OCD?

Until my internship started this Monday, I had always given a negative connotation to obsessions. Having been incapacitated by them all my life, it was only natural that I should have a sour feel about them. However, this week changed things, hopefully for the better. I realised the value of obsessions as I saw my guide poring over anomalies in the data which we had obtained from our experiment. He ran the same test multiple times, always getting visibly distressed, and intrigued, with the anomalies which repeatedly cropped up.

The following days involved me getting involved with the data analysis too, and I found myself obsessing over the data as well. There were times of introspection when I would curse my obsessive nature for causing me to get hitched on to trivialities, but then a rationalisation would intervene. I realised that this maniacal obsessing was essential for scientific advancement, and the ability to get hung up on tiny things which people wouldn’t normally give a second glance to was perhaps the greatest asset of anyone hoping to be anyone in science.

I’ve always been fond of dramatics and have been justly accused of melodrama and exaggeration of circumstance, and so maybe it’s me tapping into the inner drama queen when I say that this realisation was accompanied by the world spinning all around me.

Scientific research is inherently a slow process; it consists of visiting and revisiting of the experiments and the data, reviewing of basic principles and concepts, and so much more. Science demands reproducibility and repeatability. The simplest of experiments must be conducted over and over again to ensure that the results obtained aren’t anomalies but follow a pattern. I realised that obsessiveness plays a vital role in science (something which was reinforced today when I had to weigh out an infinitesimal amount of a compound, and obsessiveness wouldn’t let me go even a little over or under).

I have undergone many regimes to help me overcome my obsessive tendencies, none of which have had much success. Usually, I’d be awning for something therapeutic to come along and put my mind at ease. Recently, however, I’ve realised how big an asset obsessiveness can actually be. At the end of the day, it’s all about realising what you want to be obsessed with, and coming to terms with the fact that your obsession will consume you utterly.

Of course, things never really work that way. Despite this realisation, I found my obsessions just as disabling as they were before. I still spend half an hour this morning deciding what I would wear to the lab, and a further ten minutes deciding which route to take. However, these are quirks which have been an annoyance for years, whereas the positive spin is new, and by virtue of it being new and positive, it is more dear to me than the regular rigmarole. For a long time, I plan on revelling in the benevolence of my obsessive nature, and to channel as much of that obsessiveness in my work as possible.

As a poster in my lab proudly proclaims: “Research requires dedication and money”. Thanks to the obsessive tendencies, the dedication part is taken care of by itself.

 

66 kilometres per second

I have found, over the years, that I am drawn to a great many things and that my interest in these varied fields is very volatile. It is as though these interests are competing for more “brain space”; trying to make sure that at any given point of time, they are the first thing on my mind. Amongst these diverse interests is astronomy, otherwise known as the science of feeling irrelevant. Astronomy recently won the Brain Space Contest, successfully managing to dominate every waking moment of mine in what can only be described as a landslide victory.

You see, the world recently played host to the Eta Aquarids meteor shower. The shower is nothing special, so to speak: it happens every year, lasts two to three days, can be seen throughout the night but you have to wait until dawn to see it properly, and each meteor streaks across the sky so fast that there is barely time to get a glimpse of it (how fast? Take a guess). And yet, for reasons I still cannot exactly recall, I was adamant to see it.

So I picked up my phone and called (I texted, really, but called is so much more dramatic) up the few people I know here who would be interested in accompanying me to a faraway spot in the middle of the night. I was not very disappointed. At three in the morning, I set off from my house with my band of followers, blindly placing their trust (and, more importantly, their sleep) in my hands. Needless to say, I had been subjected to a plentiful of threats that past evening, warning me that there had better be something worthwhile to see if I wanted to return home in a recognizable state. I was, expectedly, terrified. At around four, we rendezvoused with some more of my friends on the way and together headed off to the isolated, hopefully light-free, area which would host us for the remaining hours of darkness.

A bit more walking, mostly uphill, and we were there. I had somehow managed to gather seven eager souls, all of who were expecting the dome to come to life at any moment. Two of them, busy bees that they are, left us atop that lonely hill, but the other five resolutely stayed back, cementing their interest, and their ominous warnings, for yet another time. And then, we waited.

Speaking from a very honest, very objective, point of view, it was not a comfortable wait. The hill on which we were perched was riddled with stones and twigs, making reclining extremely unpleasant and mosquitoes had waged a war against mankind, launching the first of their attacks on us. Despite all this, I still maintain that I have rarely been more at ease than I was on that night. I frequently found myself lost in concentration with my friends, or gazing up at whatever few stars I could see (the most inopportune of all cloud covers prevailed that day).

The walk there alone had been astoundingly refreshing. We had had a run in with quite a few guards, stationed specifically to stop this kind of nighttime strolling by the students, but had found them almost compliant with the state of affairs. A pack of dogs seemed to take a particular fancy to us, before deciding that the sexual pleasures they derive from their own species are greater than interspecific, platonic love. Even the murderous glares I had received when confessing that I did not exactly know the place to which we were going seemed to accentuate the perfection of the night. And then we had reached, and the tensions which had been climbing seemed to alleviate. Breathing was easier (mostly because we weren’t climbing uphill anymore), and there was an inherent feeling of a relaxed atmosphere which prevailed.

The hour and a half before dawn passed by very slowly; the movement of Pluto across the sky was one of the fastest things in our surrounding. Complaints had started ringing through the air, accusing me of leading them on a wild-goose chase, or of wasting their time; complaints which I deftly ignored in the anticipation of the sight, I was sure, we were about to see. Harbouring blind faith, I stared eastward, glaring in the direction where I knew the Aquarius constellation hung smugly in the sky, daring it to disappoint me tonight while also pleading for it to come through. I frequently checked my phone, reassuring myself that dawn would bring with it the promised shower.

The passing minutes were dampening to the spirit, and it truly seemed as though the night would be a fruitless one. Religious, though, in my expectations of the night, I remained undeterred: the sky would blaze with meteors this morning, I knew it. And in that moment, the sheer magnitude of, well, EVERYTHING, seemed to crash down upon me. All my beliefs and opinions on the grand cosmic scale of things came to me at once(opinions which I have once spoken about at length: The Great Cosmic Dice), and I found myself staring in awe at the steadily brightening sky. That we were here, waiting eagerly for a few bright flashes in the sky, seemed to me the greatest testament to the beauty of the universe, unphased in its entirety by the existence or absence of mankind. The universe, it hit me, didn’t care. However, it also struck me just how far we had come in our understanding of the universe itself: that we were here, waiting eagerly for a few bright flashes in the sky, was the greatest testament to how well we had understood the mysteries of nature.

And in that moment, it didn’t matter if I got to see the shower or not, because we had already acknowledged the universe and the existence of a phenomenon which didn’t need to be validated by mankind’s limited observation. It didn’t matter if we got to see the shower or not, because the hours we’d spent waiting for this little display meant nothing to the universe, and would mean nothing for the years and years to come. The Eta Aquardis would happen whether we were there to watch it or not.

I have often been of the opinion that the Universe is able to hear what we say, and while I acknowledge that the opinion is very faulty, sometimes the evidence is overwhelming. Even as I thought about how it wouldn’t matter at all whether we saw the shower or not, a bright light streaked across the sky, whiter than anything in the sky, so fast and so sudden that it was barely visible, and a small smile came upon my lips.

All this, for a faint white light, moving across the sky at sixty-six kilometres per hour.

 

“You can’t call people fat!”

The past few weeks have been remarkably eventful, thus launching me into another spell of absence from this little corner of the Internet that I have come to be so fond of. More importantly, however, these weeks have given me a lot to think about, thus, as though by some crooked sense of consequence, a lot to write about. Dwindling between the sweetness of slumber and the cruelty of consciousness, I find myself unable to give much thought to the topics at hand, and so I’ll write about something which has been on my mind for quite some time.

Recently, in an attempt to show that we care about society as much as we care about ourselves, the institute where I study commissioned a trip to a cancer hospital and a nursing home, to be headed by the Student Council, of which I am a part. And so a meeting was scheduled by the president of our council to discuss the trip and our respective roles in the project. For reasons best left to the imagination, philanthropy isn’t my strong suit. My distaste for charitable activities is evident for the best of causes, and here I was at the centre of one of the most pretentious undertakings I had ever seen. Needless to say, emotions ran high.

Using every last device of cunning left in my arsenal (pardon the exaggeration; it was more along the lines of trading favours with the council president), I managed to get out of going to the ghastly place, while boisterously announcing my relief. As expected, tones of disapproval rang sharp in the background. People who have very questionable morals of their own started lecturing me about my heartless nature, and how I need to “get over myself” or need to “have a heart”.

And once again I was face to face with an arbitrarily defined sense of social correctness. A set of defined morals was somehow governing my life and deciding whether or not my opinions were socially acceptable. People who were vaguely aware of society’s definition of good or bad carried the license to judge me on my beliefs, while completely disregarding their own in favour of what the “world” deemed correct. Almost all the people seated in that room were of a similar opinion to mine, and yet when I voiced mine, pandemonium seemed to reign. Hypocrisy, it would seem, had once again dominated a social gathering.

It wasn’t just here, though, that I had spotted such behaviour. Every once in a while, I’d make the grave mistake of stating my opinion amongst people who, curiously enough, shared that very same opinion, and almost every time I would get shot down for being rude or uncouth or insensitive or, in the particularly amusing cases, inhuman. Not four days ago, I was given a present by a good friend of mine, and I reacted in a way which wasn’t particularly warm, but was certainly not hostile, and, above all, it was honest. From the tone of this sentence and the post in general, it is not difficult to infer the discussions that followed with my friend, who seemed thoroughly upset that I had reacted the way I had.

These examples, and so many others like them, seem to deliver a clear message: you can’t speak your mind if what you think or feel isn’t socially acceptable. Leaving personal opinions aside for a second, we are faced today with a society which condemns even the most objective of statements, if they seem to clash with social correctness. The title of this post is an allusion to the same, but it is also a small reference to something which I’ve always had problems with. I still remember being forcibly told that calling people fat was wrong, and being given no good reason for it.

Such pointless doctrine has been instilled into society so forcibly that any kind of social reform is a distant dream. We are so oblivious to the value of unadulterated honesty and so sensitive to our own insecurities that having them realised in the form of words is deeply unsettling. Instead of coming face to face with the ideas of one another, we wish to shy away from our thoughts and insecurities, because someone sometime ago decreed certain things incorrect.

The end of this spiteful posts hopes to see some kind of a social reform in the near future, so that I can speak my mind without threat of persecution.

It’s time to come out, now.

My writing desk has faced some neglect of late, for which I would like to apologise. Societal obligations have kept me both busy and uninspired, leading to a sorrowful lack in any literary endeavours I may have chosen to undertake. Indeed, even as I write this, I have a plethora of books and documents open on my computer, which is adamant to drag me to the bottom of the endless ocean that is the mainstream education system. The world, it would seem, has taken a grave disliking to my episodes of deep thinking and subsequent contributions (and here, I do take the liberty to assume that my ramblings are a contribution) that follow.

Society, as though under the obligation to maintain the karmic balance, has provided me with very many things to write about for the past few weeks. One of those fleeting moments of literary inspiration is the progenitor of this post. The conceptualisation of this post had taken place many months ago, but the actualisation is almost entirely due to a post which came out (no allusions to the title), written by my extremely talented friend. The post, cleverly titled “Closets are Claustrophobic” (the post is a great read, do check it out by clicking on the title and letting technology control your every move from there on out), spoke about much the same issue I wish to discuss here, but in what I opine as a much more refined manner.

I’ve always had trouble with the phrase “coming out”. It always seemed unfair to me that people of a certain sexual orientation were deemed living “in the closet” until such time as they chose to reveal their sexuality while their heterosexual counterparts could go about daily life in a decidedly un-Narnian fashion. It sickens me to my core to say this, but having been a homophobe for a large part of my life, I didn’t give much thought to this phrasing, something which I now sorely regret. Far more than the phrase, the actual discrimination which exists on the basis of something as deep-rooted and involuntary as sexual orientation is a cause for concern.

I have been fortunate enough to have very accepting friends (family is beautifully ignorant until this point) when it came to my sexual orientation. However, I’ve had a fair few encounters with woefully misguided people, who have been left scandalised at my “revelation”, visibly cringing away from me at times and changing the way they talked and behaved around me.  Then there are those who treat sexuality like an alien, fascinating phenomenon, mixing together their sense of wonderment and prevalent stereotypes in the crudest of ways. But of all the different reactions that people have, I find the worst ones always fall into the category of “it’s not your fault; it’s not something you choose or have any control over”.

Even though I have had quite a lot of practice dealing with these varied responses, it still takes me a few moments to calm myself down before I explain that it’s no one’s “fault”, and that there is nothing at fault in this case. Between the throng of people who pretend to be understanding of the “situation” or the “condition” and the cold-shoulder-turners, it’s very understandable why such a great number of people wish to remain “in the closet”. This is a scenario which is exceedingly seen in India, which is ironic considering that the country boasts of its diversity to anyone who can stop taking pictures of the slums for even a second, and refuses to be accepting of a whole social demographic.

It’s not that the country is vehemently homophobic, even though it may seem like it, but the people are shamefully unaware of the nature of sexuality. Yes, India has very many issues with acceptance, and that predicament is only heightened due to the lack of awareness. To many Indians, and certainly to the government, homosexuality is still a disease, something “unnatural” which must be stamped out of the population and criminalised. In many circles of India, homosexuality is an affliction which can be treated by religion, brute force, shaming, or, ironically in the more educated circles, therapy. One of the times when I have been the most taken aback in my life was when a junior resident of psychiatry at one of the most renowned hospitals in the country insisted that “reverting” to heterosexuality was better for the mental health of patients.

What bothers me the most about all of this, though, is the hypocritical nature of the Indian society. Having spent my final two years of high school in an all boys residential school, I, unfortunately, have first-hand knowledge of what usually transpires in sexually starved communities. Four classes of people seemed to exist at my school: the vehemently heterosexual, for whom any kind of homosexual contact was both unfathomable and repulsive; the ones who were exploring their sexuality and who would make sure that news of their experimentation never leaked; the ones who had been so starved of sexual contact that flesh was all they needed, be it of man or woman, but who would never let this side of their identity be seen; and the homosexuals. All these classes, however, had one thing in common: they were all very outspoken and wore their distaste for homosexuality proudly on their sleeve.

The post which I have linked covers a lot of the things that I wanted to talk about, but there is one point which I feel can never be stressed enough. Ridicule of homosexuals and the LGBT has been a long-standing cultural norm in modern society, from way before the time of “Gay Related Immune Disorder”. It is good to see how many people have undergone the political reforms which prevent them from mocking people of specific sexual orientations, but at the same time, it is disheartening to see how much abuse is still prevalent. Using words like “gay” in a derogatory context remains to this day a common practice, and it baffles me how a progress civilisation can think that this is at all acceptable. The freight-train doesn’t even remotely stop here, though. Psychological and emotional abuse, if not physical, is constantly doled out in buckets, not only to individuals of a non-heterosexual orientation but to anyone who “seems gay”.

People will spend hours of their time watching crude homosexual pornography, and then turn their faces towards the world and comment on how gross and unnatural homosexuality is, making it a point to equate everything even remotely displeasing with a non-heterosexual orientation. Yes, it was inspiring to see countless Indian take to the streets when the Supreme Court recriminalized homosexual sex in India, but if it takes gross injustice to raise a voice against such discrimination and to show solidarity for the LGBT, then it isn’t hard to understand why so many people choose to hide their identities for their entire lives.

India has a history of teaching its children to not be proud of themselves and making them understand that unless they conform to a manner that is acceptable to society, they are not worth it. As gut-wrenchingly sick as that is, it’s even more wrong in the case of sexuality. Countries across the globe place so much importance on “fitting in”, that members of the LGBT have no choice but to prevent their identities from ever being revealed, lest the predominantly heterosexual society consider them as outcasts. And no one, absolutely no one, should have to live with that kind of psychological trauma or stress.

I realise that I have made any generalisations here, and I would like to apologise for any feelings that may have been hurt. It is not my intention to cause discord, but to make sure that society acknowledges the LGBT as on of them, and doesn’t make it their mission to create a rift between two halves of humanity.

The Science of Cooking

For many years now, I have been dabbling in the fine arts of the culinary and, indeed, have come to associate cooking with my hobbies and, I may be deluded here, my talents. Hard as I may try to think back to my first excursion into the kitchen or my first “dish”, I find that I cannot in honest faith recollect those initial incidences. I had what would seem an Athenian birth; wielding spatulas and cooking pans as I emerged fully robed in Chef whites.

Though I cannot precisely point to the event where my journey into the world of gastronomy began, I can certainly illustrate the time period where I finally realised that there was much more to food and cooking than the utilitarian nature which I had thus far believed. Soon after indulging in the sacred practice of cooking, I began to appreciate the skill of cooking for its aesthetic appeal and its sheer artistic value. My cooking procedure, which had earlier consisted only of following the recipe to the teaspoon, now comprised the usage of the appropriate amount of ingredients and making the food look good. Of course, being all of nine years old at the time, the extent of my presentation was chopping up some coriander and sprinkling it on top of whatever it is that I had cooked.

From there on, my journey through the world of cuisine was unending and unblemished, even by the sheer number of erroneous experiences I’d had. I then started to pay more attention to the ingredients, and the way those ingredients interacted with other ingredients, and every other concept of food imaginable right down to wine pairings, but vehemently ignoring calorific content, for obvious reasons. I soon reached that point where cooking became as intrinsic a way for the expression of myself and as great a necessity to my existence as writing itself, which is saying something.

Maybe a year or so ago, some of the steps during cooking which were a given (using a cold egg for baking; marinading meats in oil; allowing butter to melt before adding in the garlic; etc.) seemed to me to stem out of nowhere, and yet they were very necessary pieces of advice. If you have tried to use a warm egg for baking, you’ll know that the result is never quite as satisfying. Being the curious little child that I am, I found myself thinking on end about the reasons behind these idiosyncrasies and realised that since all food substances were, in fact, chemicals, there must be some reactions taking place here. And thus began my journey into the scientific approach to food.

I have been berated many times for “ruining” the artistic nature of cooking by making it technical and scientific, but I see it as further beautification of an already mesmerising phenomenon. To find out why ingredients behave the way they do, and what you can do to accentuate them even further, is to me a very stimulating idea. Of course, being an aspiring genetic engineer means that the idea of manipulation of natural entities for greater output is much more romantic to me than to others, who see the calculated precision of modifying ingredients as nothing short of blasphemy.

Of course, over time I have become rather skilled at ignoring the pointless droning on and opinions of those I obnoxiously call less aware. And so bearing my scientific approach proudly upon my sleeve, I set forth on my journey to explain the unfathomable divinity that is cooking with the help of science and thereby using this newfound knowledge to excel in the field of amateur chef-ness.

And so, earlier today, The Science of Cooking was born. It is yet another blog which I have started on the very nurturing platform that is WordPress (the other one is “Archives” if ever you have the desire to delve into amateur poetry). As the name suggests, The Science of Cooking is all about the chemistry and biology and physics and math of cooking and takes an empirical spin on the classic cooking techniques and recipes, as well as bringing up new, and experimentally tried, ways of making the kitchen life easier.

Please do check out The Science of Cooking; it promises to be great.