Thursday, May 25, 2006

Another birthday. (woopee for me)


It’s a quarter past four on a Wednesday morning. I don’t know what it is about Wednesdays. I suffer from some sort of rare anti-social cyclic mental illness that peaks on Wednesdays.
But I digress. I have, you see, two more days till Saturday, when I turn 22. Well, that’s not so bad, nothing to get all psychotic over. Such a bland, unassuming number, 22. Ay there’s the rub, the deadliness of it, the complete insignificance of it – 22 is probably the most beige number in the number series and it’s probably going to get beiger and beiger from here on and eventually morph into a sort of murky grey.

I’m upset. I’m anti-social, homicidal, rage and fury-upset. I didn’t have a list of things I wanted to do by some xyz years or any of that, but I did have things I wanted to have done at 16,17,18,21… places to see, people to kiss, tables to dance on, that sort of thing.

To recap:

Here’s what I did at 16. Go to school. Sleep thru class. Do your homework. Rinse and repeat.
Here’s what I did at 17. Same as above, but you’re in twelfth now. Do more homework.
Here’s what I did at 18. You’re in Anna. Morph into something asexual and hide under a table.
Here’s what I did at 21. You’re out of Anna now. Go to daddy’s office and hide under his table.

So here I am at almost-22, two grey hairs (No, I am NOT going to let it go!), haven’t set foot in a nightclub, never been drunk (not that I’d want to, but that’s irrelevant), never vacationed without my folks, heck never even been home alone, lived in my parents house all my live, and lamenting the dying days of my 21st year to my best friend Toby, my german shepherd. And of course to you fine people.

Somewhere between 16 and 22, a chunk of my life seems to have gone missing. No doubt there were wonderful things that happened to me in these past years, but if I could sum it up in one word I’d say ‘turbulent’ is the most apt. Anna particularly was a life-altering experience. You must understand, stepping out from the comforting shroud of self-delusion that an all-girls catholic convent wraps around you, all confident and bright-eyed, into the stark reality of the narrow-minded, bureaucratic madness that is Anna University is something of a shock. I didn’t know such places existed in this planet where pettiness and ignorance are venerated. Where some 17 year old who’s stepped out of Musilanchengalpettibatalagundu for the first time in his life, can walk on stage in front of thousands of budding engineers at one of the most prestigious technical institutes in the country and say how women are supposed to stay uneducated at home and should not aspire to be something they are not biologically programmed to be, and actually be applauded by the same thousands, some of them women. Reared on ‘faith and morals’ – those were the words we lived by in school, our motto – and with a firm conviction in justice and doing the right thing and believing in education and tolerance and equity and fraternity and all that other bull, it’s very difficult when the scales fall from one’s eyes and you realize rudely and suddenly that most adults are just intolerant, ignorant, bumbling morons.

Those first two years were one of the darkest periods in my life. I had fought with all my school friends, I had cut myself off from family, I had lost my school, I had lost someone dear and this, this hideous monstrosity was to be my new home way from home. I don’t know how I managed to keep my sanity intact, I do recollect coming dangerously close to losing it many, many times in those two years. But those were just the first two years; I spent four in Anna. The Neanderthals I had so despised the first two years had their virtues. To imagine that people so intolerant, so dogmatic, so bloody backward could have a modicum of sensibility is laughable but they did. Just a hint, a whiff, a shadow of a seed of a sensible thought but nonetheless, it was there and the thought itself was so profound, so powerful and humbling, for that I am eternally grateful to Anna.

If I had lived my life post-Sacred Heart the way I wanted to, I think I have a fairly good idea of where I’d be by now and what sort of person I’d be. It’s easy to be handed over from the sheltered cocoon of a Christian convent to the smothering Christian atmosphere of an all-girls art college. After all, I did have a way with words and I did always want to get into that line – literature and philosophy and whatnot. It’s fairly easy for the daughter of a man with deep pockets to go from one of the finest schools to one of the finest colleges, spending her days in the world of words and books and theatre and performances and art. I don’t need to work, I don’t need to be independent, after all it’s not like I need to carve a name for myself, fill in daddy’s shoes as it were – there’s always the son to carry on the family business. I just need to primp and preen myself, evolve a docile, easy-going nature and when the time is right, and I shall feature in the final change of hands, and be transferred, still swathed in clouds of delusion (oh do be gentle with her, poor girl, she’s had a rather sheltered existence. She’s my only daughter you know, I seem to have rather spoilt her silly) to a man whose father has even deeper pockets and the world wouldn’t have changed a fig. I’d be married of course, but that’s just something that happens, you know like getting a new car, it wouldn’t change that I would still be spending my days in idle bliss, pondering over life and death and immortality and Shakespeare. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with this sort of life, it is rather charming in its way, has a sort of innocence and gaiety and I’d have probably been very happy, inhabited a lovely house and tended to the flowers and morphed into Mrs.Wilcox and looked a bit baffled at the three or four or five sons I’d reared and left them and their father to their heated debates while I lolled about. Oh, I would have been happy.

But for whatever reason, daddy believed it is vital I not waste my ‘intellectual reserves’ (by god woman, you CAN think, why throw it away on that mush. Put it to good use, you’ll always be proud of yourself and as for literature well… you can take it up anytime). So I went to Anna. And the one good thing it did for me was strip away all my layers of soft white lies and then hurl stones at me. Grabbed me quite roughly by the shoulders and then knocked my priorities in order. If I had learnt to forgive my father without his having to apologise, if I had learnt to let go of the anger and the hatred I felt toward the mad, poisonous aunts and grandmothers and cousins of a thousand childhoods ago (I can’t change them, but I needn’t let them get to me, and I definitely needn’t turn into them) if I had learnt to be comfortable in my own skin and defend myself and not rely on the kindness of strangers, I have Anna to thank. Yes, it was populated by some alien species who believed speaking English was an unpatriotic act, but they did have their heads firmly planted on their shoulders for some issues.

So that was that. I fought, I cried, I broke down, I succumbed, I grudgingly tolerated, I understood, I embraced and I graduated. I knew what I wanted and I knew how to open my mouth and ask for it and fight and claw and snatch it if it wasn’t offered to me. And then the other ‘darkest period of my life’ began

No I don’t think I’d much like to take up a job, Daddy.
Oh good luv, it’s not all fun you know, it’s late nights and deadlines and hardwork. You wouldn’t enjoy it.
Yes, I’d like to work in our firm instead if it’s all the same to you.
Oh. Ah. Yes. Um, splendid. Right. Hmm.
I could shadow you and learn from you. I could understand. I could go away for a couple of years to study later. I could…
Ah yes. Excellent suggestion. But why don’t we start small? You don’t want to bite off more than you can chew-
-But-
-And it’s not all as glamorous as you think. It’s actually rather uninteresting. Very boring work in fact. Don’t need brains for it. A monkey could do it-
-Yes, but all the same I would like to-
- You needn’t worry your pretty head about it. I’ll take care of it for you. You’ll don’t have to do much. It’s really not needed, you understand.
-Right, I’m sure, but I could-
-Look, why don’t you go down to the x division. You can have the corner office all to yourself. I’ll have a new table put in. We’ll get you a spiffing new computer. You can go there everyday. You can learn. No pressure mind, it’s your company. You can come in for work whenever you like. Now you don’t worry about it. Hello, yes, this is he, my daughter’s just graduated. She doesn’t want to sit idle you see, she’s joining the x division next month and… what? Ah yes, very. Marvelous. She’s right here. He’s congratulating you. Yes, now, could you move that large desk that’s in my office? And get her a name plate you see… -

That’s how great companies are run. Now you know.

It’s been a year since I’ve joined now. A year since I’ve been in the workforce, or so I tell myself everyday, when I get up from bed and am forced to look in the mirror. Have I learnt anything? Well, yes it wasn’t a complete sham. I have learnt something; I do have hazy recollections of flurries of activity in my office. I do remember wading thru sheaves of papers and unintelligible figures. I do remember sitting in at some meetings, a lot of people spoke, it was all a big hazy, a bit cloudy, my head hurt, there was Lucy in the sky with diamonds…

-I’ll send you to the finest schools darling. Don’t worry about it, daddy’s got it covered. No need to tax yourself… -

No, but I did learn. A little about business, and a lot about myself.

I don’t need people to depend on for my happiness. I don’t need books, I don’t need music, I don’t need entertainment, I don’t need art, I don’t need beauty, I don’t need laughter, I don’t need people, I don’t need direction, I don’t need purpose, I don’t need to be touched, I don’t need to be moved, I don’t need to be loved, I don’t fear solitude. I’ve been in limbo already; I still am and will be for another year.

-Huge corner office darling. Overlooking the street. Excellent view…-

I am comfortable in my own skin. I am complete in and of and by myself.

Which brings us, finally after all this rigmarole to the profound discovery I have made about myself. I choose to remain single. Perhaps I shouldn’t be making such statements, given the circumstances and the rather lovely pity party I’m currently throwing myself.

-What, leaving so soon? Oh do stay a bit longer. Have some cake, it’s quite delightful. No? More tears and rants then? Never fails. Did I tell you about the amazing Mr.X and his educated girlfriends? No? Was a long time ago see, oh things are much different now… -

But the truth is, it has been good in a way having all this time on my hands. No, its not that I have too much time and no work to do. Oh yes, I have work, I just don’t seem to have any purpose, any direction, any aim. The days morph into each other and the only thing I seem to be doing is getting older.

Ah but again, I seem to be deviating from the topic. So here, is my epiphany (if you can call it that) I choose to remain single, that is, I choose to not marry. Not now, not for a long time, possibly never. There are reasons of course, so let’s have them, one at a time now.
First, there is the concept of the knight in shining armour. The beauty of this idea is that it will always remain an idea, always ideal, always perfect, never tainted by the grubby paws of reality. Lets face it, when was the last time someone rode up to you in a white horse (I rather fancy black horses personally but I suppose I could try and be accommodating) and said ‘Fancy a bite, luv?’

Oh there are singularly gifted individuals. Chaps who can make you laugh, who can play the buffoon with such effortless ease and at the most unexpected moment, display a stroke of brilliance, make the most profound insights, chaps who can wax eloquent on Mozart and Shakespeare and the meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything and then curl up to watch re-runs of Mr.Bean with you, chaps who have purpose, who are driven, who are ambitious, who are geniuses in their own right and who channel it and harness it and are determined to make something of themselves, to push themselves to the limit, to be constantly challenged, chaps who remarkable friends, supportive, accepting you, warts and all, and leaving their cellphones on in case you feel like ranting at three in the morning. I just don’t think it’s possible to marry all of them.

Truth is we are a bundle of contradictory thoughts and actions and wants. Who knows what you want. Who knows what keeps you happy. Marriage? Domestic Bliss? The idea of an eternity bound to one man, experiencing all your emotions, your little battles, your small victories, your life-changing epiphanies, on your long, long lease? He may be liberal, he may be open-minded, he may be understanding; it only means the rope is longer.

If I marry I would have an idea of what my husband would be like and how my life would be like and unfortunately, he’d probably have similar perceptions of his happily married life. I am not saying compromise is an alien word, but it seems to be that my life is a smorgasbord of compromises – of what daddy wants, and what mummy desires, what’s considered good and proper for a well-adjusted, decent, South Indian girl. I really don’t think there’s room for one more. Perhaps there could be, but not anytime in the near future. I would like to have a little breathing space for myself, after I’ve flown the nest and before I peep into the abyss of domestic bliss, I think I’d rather like to be selfish and self-centered and think only about myself for a few years and not bother about protocol.

What I do hope for is an eclectic bunch of friends. People you can drag to the theatre. People you can talk to at odd hours at night. People you can breakfast with on Lazy Sunday mornings. People you can discuss books with. People who would lend you music you’d never heard before. People you can argue with and fight over things like the reservation quota and dress codes. People you can dream with and ponder over the insignificance of it all. Why look for one man who has it all? Is being alone such a frightening thing? Must you realize that there can never be one person who can sort of get you, all the different, contradictory parts of you and then be forced to go in for someone who sort of gets the overall picture and who might be willing to meet you half-way if you walk a bit to meet him. Is that why we do all this, all this studying and preening and working and making something of ourselves? Oh sod it.

Secondly (yes, yes there was a structure to all this, remember the part where I clearly said reasons, plural?) I’ve been alone, I’ve been frightened, I’ve spent days locked in my room (ok, my house) and hadn’t been outside for weeks on end. The other times, I’ve lived in a never-ending madness of work-home-work-home. It doesn’t matter because you’re moving from one computer on a desk to another. There aren’t any colleagues, there isn’t any work, there are no interactions with anyone and what you do have is again an abundance of time on your hands and minor distractions by way of mail/internet/petty jobs that no one cares about and have only trickled down to you because daddy doesn’t want you to get bored.

-Oh give her something. She’s just so forlorn and down in the dumps all the time-

So with all this time, you’d think I’d stop whining and get off my ass and actually go do something. Go do theatre; I’ve always wanted to perform.

-You do know girls in that sort of line aren’t thought highly of. It’s not the sort of thing for people like us-

Go read books; I’ve always wanted to read (well, this I am doing)

Shut up and actually go work

-What, it’s been a year? My, time flies. Hmm? You want to work at the main shop, tag along with me? No, I don’t think that’s a good idea, I really wouldn’t advice it. You know how our people are, you know how they talk, you know what they’d say if they see you sitting with me out there on the cavalry front as it were. Educated girl of marriageable age, you’d invite all sorts of idle gossip – displaying her wares she is, advertising for grooms he is. You don’t know luv, the sort of small-minded petty minds we need to do business with on a daily business. I have to because I haven’t a choice, you needn’t mingle with them. Look darling, corner office, lovely view, overlooking the street…-

There is a grain of truth to what he says. That’s the infuriating part; I can’t dismiss it all as bollocks. But the only thing I want to do is this. I want to work and I want to learn the business, and I want to do it the right way. By god, the way I deserve to!

And why the bloody hell not? I’ve studied, I’ve learnt, I’ve suffered. I’ve been through four grueling years; I won’t let it be all in vain. I’m smart, I’m intelligent, I’m clear-headed, I’m sensible, I’m quick, I can learn, I can lead, I can take over, I can do a bloody good job. Hell, I have everything you would look for in an ‘heir’ to your gilded kingdom; will you please just let me?

I know it would have been so much easier if I were your son instead. I know it’s a man’s job. I know I will have to struggle to gain any respect. I know I’ve been sheltered, cajoled and pampered and I will be hurt, will be marginalized, will be treated unfairly simply because it has always been that the first son of the first son of the first son will lead us all into glory. (And you, my dear, are strictly ornamental. Now go back to your place on the mantel.) But will you please look past your son and see that I am here and I am ready and I am willing.

I surprising thing is, in college I used to look forward to when I would get off and go work. I figured more freedom, finally independence, responsibility and everything else that comes with the package. Well, it seems to have taken a step backward. With me working at dad’s office, and being chauffeured around

-Madras roads are hell. Its not even fun driving anymore-

(Ah, but I can’t place the blame squarely at his doorstep. Madras roads ARE hell and I did give up driving), and all my friends busy working till 3 am at the sweatshop (Working for TCS are you? Fan-tastic. Unrealistic deadlines? Go to bed at 4am and back in office in a couple of hours? Marvelous. No social life, no interaction? Really? Fancy that. You’re thinking of committing suicide? Turned into a recluse? Ama-zing, I’m so glad things are working out so well for you. Job pays very well I heard. Plus they’re sending you onsite in three years. Wow.) what it leaves me with is unlimited time on my hands and ironically, instead of using this, this gift of free time that I used to yearn for in a competitive academic-packed environment at college, I seem to be frittering it away on idle thoughts, lost my will to do anything that could be of the slightest use to anyone.

If I wanted to spend my days reading and philosophizing and pontificating I could have done that from the start, I could have lived my 16,17,18,21st years the way I wanted. But I think-

-Look, why don’t you just get married. It’s the right thing to do, you’re the right age. We’ll find a nice x-caste boy, you can do all the writing and reading and sketching and everything you’ve always wanted. Forget this tosh about B-schools, it’s not really for you. It’s too grueling, its very taxing you know, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. And you’d miss family and home and comforts and you don’t know how easy you’ve had it here. You know I’d do it for you, anything to make you happy, if it’s what you want, why, yes, sure, absolutely. But why don’t you just…-

No.

I can’t stay here, in this house, with these people, in this life. I find myself slowly going insane. I detest going out to meet people. (This, from a self-proclaimed people-person. I am or was a hog for the limelight) I don’t find pleasure in reading/learning/music/sketching, none of the things I used to enjoy. The pointlessness of it all… Really, who gives a flying fuck?
I seem to have reached my intellectual peak, the ends of my endurance, the whatever limits to whatever the bloody hell people are so full of.

No, I don’t think I’d much like to marry. And I think I’ve outgrown relying on friends for comfort and solace. Yes, it’s wonderful that they’re there, but I think I could now manage without any, thanks for the offer though. Damned good of you.
Still, there is one thing that I’m clinging desperately to like a drowning man grasping for a hand. If there’s anything that’s got me thru this year, its that I know I can grit my teeth and be safe in the knowledge that

-You cant be serious luv, think about it, its so taxing. Why would you want to strain yourself-
come what may, I am going to with a dogged determination,
- You know most people in B schools are about 27. And they’re all married. Here’s what luv, why don’t you get married and then go abroad and pursue your MBA-

apply for B schools. Take the stupid bloody mindless tests,

-You’re always with the books. What’s with you. You don’t need to do this you know. I said I’ll take care of it. You don't need to stay up late you know, I’ve got it under control-

and score well, by god I’m going to put everything bloody thing I’ve got into this mind numbing exercise

-Hello, yes? Yes, this is he. Ah, heard the news have you? 99th percentile. Fancy that. Very proud of her, yes. Ecstatic, yes. Quite. Oh right, yes, I’ll tell her. I am rather sad you know, she’s actually written the exam and scored so well and I was hoping she’s mess up a bit you know.. What? That! Oh haha! Acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree eh? Yes, yes, I know. Loosen the apron strings and all, what? I can’t bear to think of her leave, it’s going to be really hard. Wretched business…-

and run about preparing the application packages

-Hello Lav, its your grandmother here. Oh congratulations. Marvelous news. But you’re not serious are you? Look, you’re not getting any younger. Here’s this marvelous chap, he’s a finance-whiz-kid or something too. And he’s going to B school too, think about it, you could get married. We’re not forcing you, no of course not, but you know you should reconsider…-

and get up and leave that mouldy office (well, actually it DOES have an excellent view) and fight with my father and have my way, and tag along and look into the whole operations

-Lav, don’t make it so hard for your father. Poor man, listen to him, listen to me, we’re your parents. It’s not like how you think it is. It’s very difficult, very complex, you don’t want to associate with the sort of people who we need to do business with. It’s not a woman’s job. Yes, yes you’re qualified, but this isn’t about qualifications, you know…-

and try to recover some semblance of sanity and try to regain some control of what was once my life.

-Lav, it’s not a woman’s job-
-What, you’re going out at this hour? It’s nine’o’clock. Who on earth are you going to meet? What’s she doing at this hour? Doesn’t she work, can’t this wait. I don’t see why you have to go out for dinner this late-
-There is this excellent business course, right here in Madras. Imagine that, you wouldn’t even have to move across the street! You can still live here while you study, quite reputed-
-Look at this one! 5’11, working in the US, x-caste boy, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink-
-I don’t see why you insist on doing this youself, I said I’ll handle it. Why don’t you just send it to my secretary, why do you insist on doing everything yourself and then muddling it up and then asking me to sort it all out for you. Yes, yes, I don’t you don’t want me to interfere, but you made such a mess of it, look, give me the damn thing, we have people who’ll do this for us, you know-
-Yes, I know none of your female friends live in Madras but you have to think of how it looks. You can’t be the only girl there in a group of 5 guys, the whole town will gossip. Yes, I know you’ve known them for nearly half a decade, yes decent chaps, I’ve seen them, but the point is..-
-You’re not getting any younger, you know. A woman’s child-bearing years are…-
- You’re going out alone? What on earth for. What change of scene? It’s not like you’re swamped at work. Besides, I’ve always seen you lolling about on the sofa or sleeping all the time. What on earth do you possibly need a break for? You’re not even meeting anyone; you just want to go outside by yourself? What a weird thing to do… Why cant you be normal. –

Ah yes, 22. What an awful lot I’ve got to look forward to this year.

addendum:

:) Nearly two years on, and um, x number of white hairs later, reading this post has been...strangely comforting. If not for anything else, then just to contrast with how much has changed since and why this post is no longer relevent.

I don't feel claustrophobic anymore. I don't fear relationships, and have learnt to deal with it in my own innately human, flawed way. I suppose ease and grace comes with time, and aye, an certain inner stillness that I possess now which I didn't then.

I'm a lot more comfortable with my involvement in work and the way my career's falling into place - a note: at the time of writing this post as well, I was doing a lot more work than seems apparent from the post, but don't we all love a good pity party once in a while :) That said, if the first year of full time experience was a lot of learning and observation, the two years hence have been a lot more hands-on and thank god for that. Sitting here now, I've got so many different projects on the pipeline and I sometimes feel like I'm leading three lives in one.

Balance.

That delicate state of being where you feel like you're walking on smoke and air. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't quick, but it's here now. And it feels right. So yus, much has changed in two years, and entire portions of this text - if not the entire post itself, written as it were, during a particularly dark mood - is a thing of the past, and no longer relevent.

That said, I don't want to remove it from the blog. Let it be.

Lest we forget.

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