Day 131: Class Bully

B for Bala. B for Boss. B for Bully.

My class teacher chanted, laughing at her exquisite sense of humor. I have to give the lady the credit for at least being man enough to say it in front of me. I heard today that it’s the general term that teachers use to refer to me when I’m not around – bully.

I don’t know what bothers me more – the fact that the very teachers teaching us about professionalism, and the negatives of labeling children, are the ones that are guilty of breaking that moral code; or that none of my classmates have stood up against the teachers’ “joke” every time they made it. It specifically botheres me because I feel strongly against bullying and bossing around and being called that when you’re not is hurtful.

I am definitely guilty of voicing my discomfort when I feel it in class. I’ve said this before; I did not quit my career of  ten years to put up with sloppy syllabi and teachers that don’t plan their lessons. I am also guilty of being the first to respond to teachers in class, because the other two have either spaced out or do not have an opinion on the matter of discussion. And if my expressing my opinions about things that I’m passionate about warrant a tag on my head, then guilty as charged. Put me on the chopping block.

Pics4mswiss: colors of a day that ended well.  

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Day 130: Being mean – not! 

It’s not easy when you act out what you’ve been meaning to for a long time.

One of the most powerful, and irritating, experiences that I’ve had on campus was at the kiosk; I was waiting to pick up some tea. This was almost a year and a half back, in semester 1, when I was fresh from my professional and western sense of personal space. This college, and most of India, knows nothing about personal space. There was already a row of students directly behind the counter, picking up tea and snacks that they needed. I stood in the next row, behind them, waiting to move in and order when they were done. Yes, life would be wonderful if we had a queue system now, wouldn’t it?

As I waited there, money in one hand and my phone in the other, a young lady joined the melee at the kiosk, in the circle (the crowd equivalent of a queue) behind me. How did I know she had joined our little, uncomfortable party? She was breathing down my neck (literally), was close enough to check my hair for split ends and her arm was stretched above all of the 5 foot and 7 inches of me. The icing on the cake was her shrill-pitched voice yelling ‘Bhayya, ek chai, bhayya, ek chai’. I realized that subtlety and hints were generally lost on this lot when none of my shuffling and mch’ing did any difference to her yelling. I wanted to turn around and shush her. I wanted to ask her if she thought I enjoyed standing where I was, stuck between a sweaty boy in the front and the shrieking her in the back. I wanted to remind her that I was there to pick up tea too, and it would only be fair for me to be served first, before she got her turn. I wanted to remind her of the sad situation that the anna was in, where he had his 2 hands and 2 ears competing against at least 100 hungry hands clawing at him. I stood still and waited for the sweaty boy in the front to get his job done.

Not a second later she yells ‘Abey chai dena, kutte ki aulaad’. It was of course drowned down by the rumpus around and never made it to the guy behind the counter. But I heard it crystal clear. I was fuming red. I turned around to let her have all that I had subdued only a second back, but all I could muster was a cold-dreaded stare. She got the message and walked away.

I think of that episode a lot, especially when I am at the kiosk and I see the persistent commotion. I often think of that young girl that I stared back at, and I wonder if she had learnt a lesson. I beat myself up for not coming up with a wittier response than a simple stare down. I worry for a generation that would go out of the safe confines of the university, and into the world, thinking that it was their legal entitlement to be served without a minute’s delay, and that it was okay to use any words they deem needed to get that done.

With all the thinking that I had done on this matter, today I was better prepared to respond when a similar incident replayed. I was waiting my turn for chai (I should probably stop drinking this much chai), and a young girl butts in from behind me and yells ‘Anna, ek tea’. I smile at her, she smiles back, and I ask her if I look like I was standing there for fun. Her smile drops half-way down, confused. “What happened?”, she asks. I explain my protest and her smile is completely gone. We stand there awkwardly as I pick up my tea and egg puff. As I head out, I say “Now is your turn. Luck!”, and she smiles, sheepishly.

And I felt miserable at the end of it all. Maybe more so than the previous time. I beat myself up this time for not picking the stare-down route. It actually hurt me to vocalize my discomfort because it made me sound like a bad person, where as I was not. Stopping someone from walking all over me made me feel like the one at fault.  Why did I get disturbed for simply expressing something that I had played out in my mind many times before?

I finally understand something that I had heard over the weekend at Diversity Dialogues. Some of us are very comfortable being the victim; being the one oppressed. Some of us never speak up against what troubles us simply because we are comfortable playing the role of a traditionalist. We do not want the world to think ill of us because of our conflicting opinions. We play along in order to get that gold medal, a fake smile and a nod of acceptance. We conform!

Pics4mswiss: One of the chairs of Einstein, in the old city Berne. Sit with the man and talk about conforming. 

Day 129: Mind work

The last discussion with the psych was an interesting one; it felt satisfying to review a recent decision made with a certain mindset and to revalidate it with a mind in a different space.

 

I blame it on the cliché about distances and the hearts growing fonder and on the hallowed mental image we build of people when they are not around us. But in the middle of my first week in Switzerland for two weeks, it dawned on the SoulSurfer that we were meant to be something more than just friends. Between discussions about loyalty and support systems, and what makes people gravitate towards a few and not others, he asked me to be his exclusive ‘girlfriend’. And I said yes.

 

Fast forward two weeks, and there is an exciting surprise pick-up at the airport, there are new friends in my life that I hadn’t anticipated or planned on having, and something doesn’t feel right. A day of being back in the country, and I am already worried by that decision from two weeks ago. He is extremely raw and inexperienced; Who talks to their Mounts at such an early phase when even the other partner isn’t sure?; How far can you deal with the naiveté before it becomes too much?; And all of the discussion is based on some “Gold-coin” grand scheme of things that might not even interest you in the first place. What if?

 

I turned to H for her expert advice on the matter and at the end of that conversation, I had convinced myself about how difficult this whole relationship felt. That’s exactly what I shared with the SoulSurfer, when asking for a time-out. Relationships are supposed to be like well-oiled machines shifting into gear; smooth and effortless. Here, between his immaturity and his Mount and my absolute confusion about whether I wanted this or not, it all felt cranked up and rough; it felt like we were sanding the edges too hard to make them fit. The man walked away with a new compass in his hand, completely lost.

 

At the psych’s couch, I retold the whole conundrum that lay ahead, half expecting her to revalidate my decisions and to tell me what a wonderful move I had taken in my life by asking for a break in this complicated situation I had put myself into.

 

Instead, she gave me a theory about the different ‘kinds of minds’ that we all have. The emotional mind – the one that makes all the feeling-related decisions; the rational mind – the one that analyzes the pros and cons of every decision; and the wise mind that consolidates information from the other two before making a balanced decision.

 

It made absolute sense. In Switzerland, away from the physical reality of the SoulSurfer, my emotional mind had felt comfort in his proposal and had jumped to accept it. Back in the country, grounded in the reality of the day-to-day, my reasonable mind had researched on all the negative data points that predicted trouble and had immediately withdrawn from the bargain and boxed itself up. The wise mind had stayed quiet through it all.

 

As I sat in her couch, eyes shut, and reflected on what both the emotional and the rational were telling me, the wise mind finally took over. A lot of my worries with the man were related to my mental image and impression of the Mount, all formed purely based on my discussions with the SoulSurfer. Biased and unfair. Unfair twice over, because we cant really blame someone for how their families are, can we? Moreover, if I myself wasn’t sure of a future together and the expiry date of such a future, then why was I worrying today thinking about that unclear future? It was evident that a powerful, subconscious fear in me was to get into an engagement similar to the last one, with the mallu man. If you knew that there would be no forever and beyond in a relationship, would you still get into it because it felt right today? But, we didn’t know enough to validate that there wouldn’t be a forever and beyond in this one. And we did not even know if the forever and beyond was truly what I was looking for. And it did feel right today, didn’t it?

 

The wise mind reviewed the question from earlier, and answered with a ‘Yes’. There were things that needed clarifying, there were issues that needed resolving, there were priorities to be sorted and there was growing up to do. But all of that could happen, together, as we gathered more data. During that growing up, and gathering data, the wise mind always had the power to reevaluate and decide on the next course of action. It would have to deal with the consequences of that decision then.

 

But why worry today about something that needs to happen tomorrow?

Day 128: Dil-pasands

Runaway Beast

It had been a productive morning, interviewing a counselor for an assignment. As I drove back home, a serene pace in, a certain nostalgia took over and I remembered the amazing cakes and goodies from The Iyengar Bakery in Domlur. While I don’t seem to have too many fond memories from growing up in that that over-crowded, dingy locality, I do remember the bakery. Every time we’d drive by on the Airport Road, the smell of their freshly baked bread would waft into the air and my mind would wander.

I quickly pull over, smack in front of the bakery, and examine the wares in the display case that hasn’t changed in the last 20 years. Half dil-pasand, 2 honey cakes, 1 apple cake, 2 masala sandwiches – I would eat their goodies for breakfast and lunch for the next few days. He packs my loot into an eco-friendly cloth bag, I pay him a little extra, wait for the change and turn to look behind me cursorily. I see the Red Beast standing a few meters away from me, diagonally opposite to where I was standing, at the Bakery. I turn back to the boy hunting for change, and wonder what all the commotion around the Red Beast was!

Had I parked it obstructing traffic on the road? Wait! Did someone scratch my car? I look back urgently to spot signs of an accident. I see a rider in a scooter and a pillion point at me, frantically.  I think the spot I’ve parked in bothers him and I wave back – “One minute, sir, I will move very soon”. I turn back to concentrate on my goodies and it hits me! I hadn’t parked the Red Beast where it stood right now. I had parked it right behind me, while I could see it diagonally away from me. It had found itself a new parking spot. All the while, I was busy buying sweet bread.

I run back to the car and the words of the scooter man become clearer “Can’t you see that your car is rolling away, madam?” I quickly jump into the car, stare in wonder at the disengaged hand break, and imagine the tragedies that I would have caused with this little act of stupidity. I pull over closer to the kerb, shut engines, turn on the hand brake and run back to collect my goodies.

I had fallen down in my own standards as a good driver. I was on probation until I decided when.

Glum Baker

I had seen the owner of the Bakery today, after a few decades. He was much younger then, with more blacks than greys; Heck! So was I. A certain fondness took over me, a certain familiarity or willingness to connect. Would he know if I told him that we used to visit him as kids? Would he remember the number of times we bought his apple cakes and dil-pasands? He smiled back with knowing. But, would he remember the scrawny 10 year old and her chubbier older sister who would buzz around their bakery for those delicious honey cakes?

I lost my train of thought as soon as the man opened his mouth and yelled at the two assistant boys in the store. He wanted them to pack some breads, and weigh some cookies, and repack the bread, and attend to the lady waiting for her dil-pasand, and stop talking on the phone, and run to the back to check on the ovens, and do a million things more. As he started talking, I noticed a distinct change in the demeanor of the gentleman serving me. He suddenly felt emasculated, unimportant and stupid. He hurriedly stuffed all my goodies into a bag, and whispered my final bill.

It instinctively reminded me of how rude the baker had been when we were kids too. I do not remember a moment of smile or mirth from him. He’d always treated us with disdain, yelling at us for bringing too much change or too little. He would speak with just an ounce of respect when my dad came along, and in those occasions he’d ignore the fact that we even existed. All that angst and discomfort came right back to me. I no longer wanted to make small talk with this guy; I was ready to leave.

The thing, I see, about morose people is that they never change over the years, and continue to be miserable all through their lives.

Day 126: SoulSurfer I

A million thoughts run through my head and the SoulSurfer has been a major partner in all of that. What started off as a reality check for the SilverGhoster turned into a crucial inward journey for me. Was I ready to let another in after all the pain of the past? When I had finally accepted that I might be by myself for the rest of my life, for lack of another with a similar mindset, was the universe sending me a message through this company? For all that I complain about the society and its unwarranted needs, was I truly ready to stand against it and fight every triviality that it worries itself with? Was any of this worth it?

  • Midnight babbles from Valley school eased me into the novelty that came with the environment. As we spoke about strange topics that mattered, and that did not, there was a strange comfort in knowing that there was someone to listen to me at the end of the day. We worked through the major disagreements after the birthday night, and it felt like I had someone in my corner. As discussions about each evident difference in us popped up, it seemed like I was talking to a sorted individual, influenced by the checklist and affected by a plan. The babbles made sense.
  • There is apparently a car whose review completely fit me. The all-white Civic Type R was the kind of city-road sports car that was a bumpy and a choppy ride, one which would make any passenger question the buyer’s intent. But ask the driver, and you’d know exactly what the car meant, and where it stood out from the crowd. Coming from a car guy, this felt like a great proclamation of the thoughts the SoulSurfer had for me. And who can complain! The sweet ride has VTEC.
  • At the end of week 1 at Valley school, I was craving an entirely different palate from what I was eating every day. I wanted a biriyani, and some dosa vada, and a pani puri, and maybe some parathas. But what did I  crave the most? An ice cream. I got cornered when I invited SoulSurfer along for a trip to the House. We found the quieter version of the store, cosy enough for a conversation, and yet with the same amazing DBC. There was a mirth and glee in the light banter that was refreshing.
    • I sensed a certain unraveling in the SilverGhoster that was comforting. I could sense certain layers getting pulled off. As we walked around neighborhoods familiar to the man, it felt like homecoming; walking through familiar roads with an unfamiliar face. I felt a need in the SoulSurfer to share his life, his stories, his roads and his streets.
    • I also perceived an evident hesitation in the SoulSurfer when walking the streets. Hands locked up in the back, a safe one-arm distance from me, and an instant apology in case of any unintended brush against me were all signs of a certain refrain in the man. And, I was surprised by how little I felt any of it.
  • Considering how close traveling is to my heart, it seemed like the right time to put the SoulSurfer through the second litmus test – the day trip. A lot of planning went into deciding the destination, the pitstops and the ride – the SilverGhost, and there was a mutual excitement going into the weekend. And come Friday, Mt Vesuvius erupted. There was some major argument, a more major disagreement, and the plan was off. It only seemed apt for me to propose to cancel, and it hurt a wee bit that the SoulSurfer was all too quick to jump on the plan. A general consensus that came out was that the universe worked on its own schedule, and you couldn’t force it to be any faster or slower than what it actually is.
  • Back at the Valley, and there was a sense of newfound calm in me that I hadn’t felt in a while. The conversations at the school had moved to them wanting to have me join them. And, on the personal front also, there was a meaningful turn of events; discussions with the OldMan were not too confrontational; and the SilverGhoster had started digging a little too deep into my soul. It was getting easy to let him open the book, read a few pages, and maybe recommend a few corrections too. The dark side of the moon was slowly unraveling and it was not going to be such a scary event after all. The SilverGhoster was slowly, but surely becoming the SoulSurfer.
  • Research wrapped up and a surprise road trip popped into my schedule. A holiday in the middle of the week meant that SoulSurfer and I could head out of town, in the RedBeast nonetheless, and with a curfew at 1 PM for the Cinderella turned SoulSurfer. I headed out late, he brought in a detour to an ancient building, but soon enough we hit the road. Turns out our music interests matched and both of us didn’t mind singing at the top of our voices. Turns out I was comfortable letting the SoulSurfer drive, while I unwinded up front. Breakfast at Shivalli was nice; we picked the more quieter, more ancient one, than the more loud, noisy and refurbished one.
    • SoulSurfer popped the biggest surprise of the day by proposing that we change plan and head out to Mysore. As we pulled up at Shivalli, I felt a sense of regret for the trip already ending. So, when the man suggested something off, which meant that we’d be on the road for longer, I jumped in immediately. The element of surprise was amplified when I only wanted to go to the city, and return back, where as he thought of a little trip to the temple up the hill.
    • The temple trip itself was a spiritual experience beyond me. It was crowded, as expected; there was a huge mess and a rush, as expected; and yet, there was a certain peace in me that I hadn’t felt in a while. The SoulSurfer was surprised that I would behave ‘normal’ in a temple. And I was surprised by how pleased he was with me in the temple. I approached the lady of the house, and I asked her to take care of the uncertainty ahead, and to give me strength to put up with what she had planned for me. As we sat in the temple, the SoulSurfer a breath away, and the mad rush of the temple all around us, I knew that there was something more to this trip than just a day trip between pals.
    • As we drove back, I was ready to hold a pinkie and just ‘that’ was an elevating feeling. As I held a bony, skeletal hand, I realized a strange connection, a young lady waiting to be led, a grown man looking for company, a friend lost at sea.
    • Pulling into Cinderella’s castle, it became evident that the SoulSurfer had never been in such company before and the filter of what to share and what not to was still developing. It also became evident that my impression of my own body, and my insecurities were going to hold me back more than I anticipated. I reached out and held his hand, he commented on how dry my palm was, and I immediately withdrew into my little bubble. All under 15 seconds. It took a long drawn discussion about this to slowly find my way out from that corner. I wondered what previous experience would prepare the man for such events, and what prior hurt would have etched in deep, and dark places in my heart.

The transition from the SilverGhoster to the SoulSurfer was sudden, considering the few days that we have been talking and getting to know each other. The suddenness brought with it an element of surprise, of spontaneity that the Gemini in me craves. He was noticing things often ignored, he was saying things often considered silly or inappropriate and we were talking about things that I presumed were universally understood.

It was novel. Novel, at 33.

Pics4mswiss: The town of Lausanne, enveloping the hills, and looking over the grand lake.

Day 125: Valley and Flights 

Valley

A week and a half in the Valley School, and my mind was more rejuvenated than a long time. I had walked in with a conflicted heart and a dark cloud hanging over my head. But I also had an open mind and that brought in such experiences with it, that I was changed.

  • The most important standout from the experience was how interested people were in sharing their life. There was a willingness to open up and let another in, something that is becoming very difficult to find in the modern world. They wanted you to live their life, walk their path and see how life was.
  • The second highlight was the quality of conversation. Not once did anyone ask my why I hadn’t married yet, why I chose a career I didn’t like or who my newest boyfriend was. They knew that they all lived in glasshouses and any judgment sent out would return their way eventually. Instead, they spent their times talking about the life, the universe, meaning to life and things that mattered.
  • They were content in their lives and unmoved by the trivialities that come with modern affiliations. They did not have the newest fancy smart phone and so they did not spend their together-times staring into each other’s phones or wondering why the wifi speed was so poor. Something bigger mattered and they knew.
  • The relationship that the students shared with their teachers was inspirational. They called them uncles and aunts, hugged them around in class, and openly spoke to them about period pains and worries. There was a stark absence of fear for the role of the teacher. And teachers walked with a mindset that they were co-learners too. This made them awfully powerful, with a direct connect to young minds.
  • “Are you trying to kill us, uncle vipul? “, yelled a 6year old, as Vipul opened his laptop in class. Technology was a necessity and nothing more. It did not take up such a dominant part of their lives that they forgot to smell the rain, hear the birds, or be sensitive to each other.
  • A study center discussion that explored the difference between the mind and the brain sent me on an unknown path, one where I had no footing. I still felt comfortable enough to try out the discussions and I was stunned. Mind is what thinks not merely based on facts in front of us, but based on all past experiences, heartbreaks and successes. So, it automatically becomes a source for conflict. If we could think, but without all those added baggage, then imagine how powerful our brain would really be.
  • Another intriguing conversation was with Saqhib, where he shook my foundation about alternative schooling. By calling yourself alternative, you are automatically boxing yourself into a system, simply by trying to opposing to the mainstream. That invariably means there’s very little you can do differently, because you have a level of comparison in the form of another schooling system. What we should truly try is to be different in all forms, not bound by norms.
  • The highlight of the whole time was how ready the whole school, from the principal to every other teacher was, in inviting me to join their team. Very rarely do we see a case where an institute invites you to join in, only to learn from them, and contribute back. No resumes, no portfolios, no past experiences. Just an open mind.

Overall, I came back positive, both mentally and emotionally, ready to take on the next semester head on.

Flights

The flight out to Switzerland, the multipart journey, started off with a rocky start. Met H and HMan at the airport and the fissures were very evident. It is scary to think of how much one would change by simply being in close proximity with another all their life. We seek relationships to comfort us in times of need and despair. But what if those relationships are the reason for the despair?

The trip from Bangalore to Amsterdam to Geneva was hilarious, with the kids trailing around, completely distracted by the glitz and whatnot. It was kind of all too powerful, knowing the ways of traveling, especially international, while the others struggled reading boards and signs. I was constantly conflicted between helping them out and letting them be. I wouldn’t have enjoyed being told every step of the way. I see myself as the teacher that would let someone try for their own before I step in.

And so, I sat around and played the silent observer.

The flight in to Amsterdam brought a strange new companion to chat along. Punjabi was a good person to talk to, knowing when to not push it and when to bring in his views. We had a good talk about road tripping to Ladakh, about the power and the need to go on solo trips, and about Engineers becoming Management consultants. For a Punjabi living in Bangalore, he seemed aware of the differences in cultures and was filled with the desire to try life out.

For all the writing I wanted to do on the plane, it was a rested time, where I managed to get sufficient sleep. It also reinforced my principle that being nice brings it back to you. The airhostess was awfully nice, bringing me refills even when I didn’t ask for it. Punjabi enjoyed the benefits of my niceness too. The warmness felt evident when he invited me over to walk along to our next stop as well.

Pics4mSwiss: When you have a fond heart, hearts smile back at you from the sky. 

Day 124: Random musings

The heart is content when it is loved; both by the self and by someone that makes it all worth it.

PS: That was how I started a post, a few weeks back, and never got around to finishing it.

PPS: I’ve slacked off on the Journaling365 project, not for want of ideas or a lack of words to say, but because of an overflow of both. There has been so much going on, and my mind is working through so many emotions, that the hand couldn’t keep up. I’m hoping the next few days will sum it all up.

Pics4mSwiss: Ivy hangs from the entrance facade at the Youth Hostel, Lausanne.