Monday, January 25, 2016

More or Less

As a kid, there would always be someone, be it parents, role model, the neighbour’s cool kid or your teacher, who told you to be more. More than just an average Joe, more than a good student, or a passable singer. More than just a good human being, more than loving. You always needed to be more than where you were, or what you were. Success, would be scaled on how many mores you climbed, or how many such levels you crossed. Social, academics, spiritual or emotional. Hence, growing up, you never rested with just 90% in your grades, or just one friend or a degree. There was so much more outside your window.
However, after 27 years of being alive in a world full of mores, I have realised how we forget to tell our children to draw the line somewhere. That sometimes, being lesser works for the best. Works better for him. We don’t tell him that with all the mores that you accumulate in your hat, you are pushed farther away from others and from the normality defined by our skewed society. We don’t teach him how to separate the mores that are accepted by people as good, wanted, and those that just make him weird or too much to handle.
You cannot be too good, too sweet. You cannot be too open or too strong. Too talented, or an over achiever. Not to the extent that people around you feel uncomfortable. For being normal, in the banal definition of the world, the standards of more are defined as well, and the moment we exceed that, the red lights of “Outlier” flashes on our heads.
We don’t tell him that somewhere down the line, in 20 years, people with lesser range of emotions, lesser range of achievements, somehow end up happier. Content. We don’t tell him that at the end, being happy is all that matters.
So, after a mindless struggle of conforming to nonsensical rules, and being torn apart by others’ expectations and our own responsibilities and desire, we reach at a point to wonder, was it worth it at all? It isn’t enough to be more. It isn’t enough to want to know more, be more, and learn more. Explore or feel more. You have to eventually garner the strength to tolerate isolation. As this is the breed that is never satisfied with the mundane normal levels. They look up to the sky and feel the need to fly. To travel to a thousand worlds on an imaginary ship made of shells. Or paint pictures of the sea on the sand with a permanent dye. Intensity and passion is what their blood is made of. Their minds are beyond cages of normalcy. Yet, such a thing is dangerous. So many levels, so many layers to a person is exhausting, it is a thing of fear. It doesn’t excite people to take the pleasure of peeling such layers off that person, to know a different version every day, every night.
To know that today she is the lamb, tomorrow the vixen.
That today, he is my saviour, and tomorrow my destruction.
In a world that is over simplified with science and technology, with intelligence and detachment, why would such a wondrous task not fill us with enthusiasm, the joy to look forward to learn of more such dimensions, to tear through till we reach the core, and hold his/her beating heart on our skin to warm our own. What is the point of extending our reach to more than just three dimensions in reality, if, in life, all we are up for is dealing with one dimensional humanity?
No, don’t get me wrong. I have no objections to simplicity – in liking just one flavour of ice cream, or just one movie. Having read just one book end to end. Or being simply nice. Or completely evil. I am not advocating to complicate your life just for the sake of it. For the sake of being more. The thin line separating those two existences, of why we don’t fully grasp the concept of accepting it as it is, worries me. Simple. Complicated. Circle. Square. Hideous. Fresh. Straight. Jumbled. It just is.
So, I would tell my children, that it isn’t enough being more. That there is a clear choice in being different and being accepted. I would tell her to have the strength in order to be a misfit. In order to be complicated. If she likes both blue and green, it presents a problem to the concept of simplicity. If she wants to be nice and slutty. If she enjoys parties and her isolation. These questions, these mere thoughts cause confusion, a hassle to people, as loving her would be exhausting, and require so much efforts to just know her all. I would tell her, to be prepared to be alone, or to bear the pain of breaking her bones to fit in the box. I would tell her to not look beyond the simply sweet girl for a friend, to only be reliant on make-up hobbies but not to cherish a monster truck fetish along with it as well. I will tell her to reduce the number of dimensions she adds to herself, as it makes her exotic – a thing worthy of a 10 minute discussion, or jealous whispers, but never a cherished possession, or wanted company. Very few would dare to delve into her depths, or find joy in the layers she adds to the diurnal mundane walks of life. I will tell her, not to be too much. Too much to be herself and be rejected. Or be rejected, and yet find that happy bubble of self-worth to keep her life afloat, even when I am not around anymore. I will tell her, the world is only ready to walk on moon, and understand the core of the earth. That the world wants to fight over God and be moved when animals are slaughtered. But they are yet to understand their own need for acceptance, an insane desire of being a part of the society when most of them are misfits. They are yet to overcome the fear of isolation, of being associated with that weird kid in their class. Of being responsible of understanding and embracing the many layers within them and others.
Simplicity is a treasure to enjoy, and cherish. Of course. But were we made to be simple, at all? With 206 bones, and the inexplicable lines on our palms, with the grey and white matter both, and an appendix that can be removed with no visible harm to the body functions. If nature designed us to be a complex jumble of sweat, blood and bones, of emotions and wisdom, why do we settle for lesser, why do we force unwilling participants to join an abysmal race of normality? Where is this book of normality anyway? Who wrote it? Why do we adhere to it with such fear and vigour?

Why do we always aim to fit in the box, when we could fly to the stars and conquer our dreams? Why reduce the purpose of being alive to commit to the rote of monotone, when it was to enjoy and bask in the wonders of the world? Until our wings fall off, or we are burnt away to cinders. Until there is so much love connecting us, that no one is left alone. Until we stop defining the mores and lessers.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

For the love of Thira

If I were to sum up 2015 in a few words – I would say, a crappy year. That’s it. But, then, I will take a pause, breath in and let my mind astray into the closed box of memories that I keep away from the reach of my monsters. And there, by the end of the lane, where the bulb in the lamp post flickers incessantly, while the rest of the area is plunged in darkness, I arrive at my hidden portal. It houses those bits of happy places that still warm me, when the cold outside is biting or the heat is intolerable.
Amongst the sheaf of memories is my Christmas of 2015. Amongst those very heaps is my new year of 2016. That snowy night, counting down to midnight in a small club by the road, hidden from view by more of those pretty houses and the rocky roads. A shot each, with best of friends. Music thumping in our ears. Pretty, pretty Fira. You stole our hearts, locked it away for good in your mystic enthralling air.
A note here for the people who plan to visit Thira – everything is closed on January 1. We walked on for endless miles in search of highly reviewed eateries, only to be disappointed. Not even the towns, or churches were open. But that’s the catch, as, dear traveller, I cannot begin to tell you what that does to you. That you are there. In the cradle of that unsurpassable beauty, alone. With no sounds of modernity, the din of human intervention. You are there, alone, to absorb in all of that intoxicating aura, undisturbed. That your voice echoes through the small steps leading up to a blue domed church. Pine cones litter the streets, and you walk on them to reach this place, where, as the sun spreads its splendour in the horizon, the colours brewing in front of you make you feel small and yet so lucky.
So, before we start, even the idea, that I can describe Santorini and pen down an experiential treatise, is laughable. This can only be a mechanical journal of the places we covered. Because, to write down, what that experience actually did to our minds, is an impossible feat for mere mortals like me. So, just take my word, save up a little and take that trip that you have been planning unconsciously, when those blue domes and white walled pictures creep up on your social media pages. Nothing can do justice to what you behold when you are there. The caldera, the calm sea waters and standing aimlessly at the Ammoudi Bay. That is exactly what I did. Stared.
And I walked. Walked in those narrow lanes of white walls, looking over the sea, and a hint of sunlight bouncing off the bluest of domes, and that stationary windmill. I heard my heart race, and my breath mist in front me, swirling into shapeless forms, dissipating in the chilly winds, and the shallow snow. I was blinded, breathless, almost as if my soul, at that moment left my body to fly over that mesmerising sight. Oia, that little village of those ethereal pictures captured by travellers. And I stood in its narrow lane, trying to memorise every particle of that moment in my air, my taste buds. The magic of the gods and humans to create such a thing of pure joy and wonder. The touch of two shades blending in with nature to burst in your eyes into a plethora of all things good. And finding that little book shop, tucked in its corner, a smiling cat and a happy dog.
A slice of heaven, is what I would say if someone were to ask me to describe that moment. For it is a place where colours come to life and dance mysteriously to hypnotise you. Where rocks, water, trees and earth twist and turn to make you wonder at how such beauty is even possible. The red sea, the black sea, the meandering passages of those little towns of Firostefani and Immerovigli, the village of Pyrgos. I don’t think I can ever cease this list of the secrets of Thira. The secrets that you unravel with your stay, the little moments of pure awe and then a feeling of thanking your stars for this moment in your life, where nothing sad, no misery can touch you. Thira makes you feel special, beautiful, it makes you embrace all the happy parts in you and hug yourself in joy. You don’t want to leave. You don’t really want to leave.  
It was, in a way, truly fortunate, that we chose to visit at a time, when Santorini isn’t crowded. At all. It almost felt like we were the only people there, basking in all of that majesty. Summers would definitely have a lot of holidaying crowd. But I am told, early December, is an ideal time to visit this breath taking Greek island as well. Although, if you were like me, you would have fallen in love with the isolation, and the feeling of getting lost in those pine shaded roads, or the white washed little homes, the majestic volcano view and the bright and riveting Aegean Sea. No man can return from Santorini without realising what true beauty is, without being awed to the marrow of his bones. Without wanting more, a slice, a morsel of that, forever in his blood. Without leaving his heart behind, to mesh in with the air.

Somewhere down the line, I would like to hope that petty money matters will cease to be the purpose of my life and, marriage and children wouldn’t be the sole destination of my existence. No, they aren’t unimportant. Don’t start bickering with me on that. But a 21st century female participant of the rat race, is hardly a master of her destiny. All I say is for hungry souls like mine, for thirsty eyes like I have, for taste buds that want to forever churn the salt and sugar of wonders and fear, for ears that yearn for the sounds of magic and the tinkle of fairy dust from the church bells, for brains whose nature is too volatile to be contained in jars of jobs and happy homes – that we take that one way ticket, get a job in the bakery round the street in Fira square, right next to the music store and never come back. Till the senses have had their fill, till the art in your veins have flooded the air, and you have soaked in all the glory of the place. To be lost to something of worth, of dreams. Just once, for a while.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Istanbul's invisible magic

I have often wondered about déjà vu. How some things would suddenly feel like a part of you, like they have always been under the skin – running through your veins quietly. How you have been here before, maybe aeons ago. Or many lives ago.
Istanbul. Having read so much about it, to prepare for the dream tour, and, more so in one of my comfort fantasy novels, nothing could have prepared me for the pulse in that city. Like one of those echoes that sometimes rings through your soul. The ones that go unnoticed. The regular day job of living, leaves no scope of listening to those unnerving sighs from within your heart. It just doesn’t.
But Christmas 2015 was like a trip to the boulevards of my mind. Istanbul, you have made me more than the usual invisible wreath of bittersweet blossoms that I paint myself to be. More than the whining winds that rattle in my head. There is a place between the mysteries of the times past, and the fast paced modernity of the present – a place where time stops at wonders, smooths over rough patches and flows on effortlessly. Yes, Malachi had it correct in his words. Istanbul calls out to your soul.
Was I biased to the streets and monuments that I had read about numerous times? Istanbul was a place, where angels fell in love. How could I not be? Just with the vibe. The air. The music. An almost physical presence that I could, if I wanted to, reach out and hold for a beating second.
I don’t think words would be enough to summarise my three day visit to the magical city. I don’t think it can be summarised in three days. I would take a week to just walk around in Sultanahmet – the old roads, the tram routes, just walk past the shops, the little cafes, the road signs to different cities of the world. Walk aimlessly. The food that you see through the glass, or the thick black coffee.
Hard bread and cheese. So much cheese.
And you stand near the Hippodrome, surrounded by the majestic architectural wonders of Topkapi, Blue Mosque or Aya Sofia. And you breathe in the old air, with the cackling electricity of life's secret - the way all religions had been churned together to create such glory.
So, all you can do is walk and soak in. The summer air, the winter chills. Not too cold. Not hot at all. The buzz. The talks.
The incessant sounds of the Grand Bazaar. The colours. The vibrant, seducing colours. Some muted, or incandescent. Shining bright from the glass shards in the lamps in consecutive shops. Or the flavoured teas, so many, calling out to us tea lovers. A cacophony of life, music and joy.
I don’t want to pen down a travelogue, about the mystical Aya Sofia, or the Galata tower. And the effervescence of Istiklal. The ancient charm that still kissed some parts of the city, yet the present times meandering through Beyoglu. I would rather talk about that constant presence of something, a spirit, a whisper, in the streets there. A mix of everything that I can think of to define life. Of sometimes a glimpse of the misery. Of people in love. Trying to escape. Just being. Different colours. Tongues. Of a fleeting moment of joy in finding a Bengali trying to refill her Istanbulkart. Of the man by a restaurant balancing 5 wine glasses on his head, in tune with the street musicians. There was never a moment vacant. Of not wanting to explore more. To stop.
There was nothing empty there.
Could these be the rantings of a tourist? Yes of course. But as I stood there, staring at the cavernous, magnificent Underground Palace, wishing a little wish, watching the fishes swim past the coins, I would always be filled with awe for that moment. That breathtakingly, still moment of my life, where I was a character of history, fantasy and dreams. Out from the book, looking at the normal people. Basking in the magic. I almost had wings. Or maybe fins. Red horns. Maybe a blue beak. And feline eyes. A mythic creature, in a mythic land. And then again shape shift into a human to melt into the streets of the bazaar, the city.
This article wasn’t meant to be a journal to point out what you should definitely try, or the tops 10 things to do in Istanbul. It was more on what you would feel. Just beyond the horizons of beauty, the wonder and the city itself, the realism of the brick and the roads, is that realm of magic that you would feel inside you.  I hope that you do. Atleast once. No pictures, or pen would do justice to what the city is.
Istanbul, you chimera. You have bewitched me. And I would crave for that magic in every turn of my life. And I would suck on the spirit that I borrowed from you to imbue in mine. And carry that charm, in my blood henceforth.
An awestruck, hungry-for-more tourist, signing off.