How to Be a Bystander

First, you must feel like you’re limbless. And, in limbo. A limbless limbo. A listless, limbless limbo. Even if you’re actually not, you ought to feel like you’re in one. You must make yourself believe that you’re utterly incapable of veering the course of action that is bound to take place or, as you’re thinking of your absolute uselessness in the situation, is already on way. Then, you must be able to be able to strip yourself of all your power, your courage, your sense of justice and fairness; oh, and also, your ability to speak. Add to that, a consistent surprised and slack-jawed facial expression that reflects the vacuum between your initial thought and action.

Which thought? That thought. That most important instinct, the one that you simply must be able to completely ignore, that nagging feeling in your head that beseeches you to step in and do something, anything just to calm things down, even if by just a little bit. That’s the one you ought to watch out for. If you act on that impulse, it’ll get you involved and, God forbid if that ever happens! You’d actually have to do something then, wouldn’t you?

You should be able to be stunned enough to be rooted to the spot, perhaps even amused by the ‘shenanigans’ as you will refer to the whole scene later as you recount it to your friends and family in a crowded, cozy caramel scented coffee and patisserie shop right around Astor Place. You definitely must, must be apathetic enough to casually look at the scene and not interject or interrupt. So, it’s a curious mixture of interest, disinterest, engagement and disengagement that you have to have in order to pull off being a bystander.

Another moot point when being a bystander is to keep in mind that sense of self-loathing you feel in the back of your head, the front of your head and all over your Self. That feeling, register it. Be sure to be aware of that accusatory tone that is the voice in your head – the one that sounds a lot like your mom or dad or, sometimes, both – at the time of the incident and well after that. It is not going to go away anytime soon. The deep self-loathing that carries itself along with you well into the next day and, perhaps even the day after that, even though you joke about the whole incident or tell it as an amusing anecdote over drinks or as an experience that you almost had.

Years and months will pass though, perhaps not in that order. You’ll finally start accepting the now slightly weary face you see in the bathroom mirror and not feel as aghast when you go shop in the previously unchartered territory of the ‘L’ section of the boutique you were introduced to by your fashionista friend about a decade ago. You’ll move to another city, state, hell, maybe even another country. The memory of the incident will fade. Distant, hazy, and perhaps even mildly sentimental, that’s what it’ll reduce to, eventually.

But, then on some days, when you’re idly looking at the fan creaking above, trying to fall asleep as your boyfriend’s snores gently dissuade you to do otherwise, you’ll think about the memory of that event, of how the lady’s face looked, how her eyes screamed wordlessly, silent syllables trying to ask someone to step in and, you’ll feel the same emotions you felt when you decided to be a bystander and you’ll think to yourself, maybe I should’ve gotten involved and the familiar waves of self-loathing will again wash over you and suddenly all the years and days and months and seconds will disappear and the rawness of the incident, the smell of the fear, the prickling sensation that you felt then, will well up within from God knows where.

Then again, on other days, when you read a particularly graphic daylight robbery news report that ends with someone ending up dead or nearly so and as your eyes drift towards the picture accompanying the news piece, a deeply disturbing image where someone’s lying on a flimsy hospital cot, his freshly bandaged wounds wide on display and a woebegone expression that conveys things for which words have not yet been invented, you’ll think back to that incident and thank yourself that you didn’t actually get involved for who knows how that would’ve turned out, maybe you’d have ended up with an actual scar from an actual wound today.

 

As the Fan Creaks Me to Sleep

Sometimes I lie awake at night — well, I’m sorta border-insomniac so most nights I lie awake at night — and just ponder over stuff as the gentle hum of the air conditioner soothes my ears.

At times, I think about all the things I’ve gone through, all the weirdness that is my life and the way(s) I handled or manhandled the situation(s). Y’know, little ‘Notes to Self’ for the future, so to say.

At other times, I think about society – just people, in general. It’s funny how selfish the world can be  and yet, most fight anything anti-social tooth and nail to fit in. It’s astonishing how many people leave good sense and go along with herd mentality. It appears that the want to be appreciated by the masses swallows the desire to be internally fulfilled.

And, most are unaware of this cyclical battle between the Spirit and the Ego. Lives are recycled, souls reincarnated, aimlessly wandering, devoid of thought processes, ignorant of their reality. The world seems like a whorl of directionless souls. Even being mis-directioned would be a step towards the correct flow, a foothold to veer the black hole of nothingness into the Light.

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Still, there is a glimmer of hope. The outliers who look at themselves. The ones who really see their potential and go for their goals, sans everything, sans anything. There are the few who just have an idea, a goal or a fetish, even – all consuming desire or a willingness to do what they set out to, to complete the opportunity they possess. These are the people who bring the Light, bring life, bring everything a little bit more into line.

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Whatever I may be thinking, I always aim to look ahead as I drift off to the land of dreams (Some of my dreams are quite disconcerting, by the way).

So, let’s look ahead – we have a life to live.

Virtue, Thy Name is Undervalued

Everyone everywhere complains about disintegrating society, the erosion of culture, customs and religion and the gaps between youth and everyone else. However, as pertinent as one finds the aforementioned issues, there seem to be deeper problems one needs to look at. Most of us have witnessed people cutting queues, seen a ‘hit and run’, vehicles speeding and not following traffic signals, the list is endless. Heck, most of us have indulged in one or more of the same!

The fact of the matter is that today virtues are largely forgotten, even mocked by most. Here are a couple of fast disappearing mannerisms, soon to become characteristics of the days of yore that are rarely practiced, seldom valued but, largely (and incorrectly) projected by most in society :-

Being Polite: Rarely do people bother to thank servers, cleaners and housekeepers. Scantly does one see a lady get up and offer her seat in a crowded public transport vehicle to a frail old man. Hardly do you see a young man let an old lady go ahead of him in a bank queue because he’s in a hurry to get his cheque cleared and go clubbing to celebrate his payday. Politeness is hugely undervalued, rarely encouraged and the polite are seldom respected and given the same treatment. More often than not, most polite folk are taken advantage of, mocked for being gracious and often considered easy targets for bullying.

The Polite, Kind and Humble Tree Shades the Weary Traveler

Kindness: A grossly under-rated virtue, kindness seems to be on it’s way to oblivion. Very few people are able to identify kindness, let alone appreciate or practice it. Most students think the ones who offer to carry something heavy for a professor must be doing it to butter them up. (The sad part is, most of them are.)

Gratitude: Few people are grateful (fewer can spell it right), more and more people are accustomed to privileges and think it is their right nay, their birthright, to have access to amenities like food (pizzas and such stuff), education (private colleges with dubious accreditation), transport (customized Hummers) and relaxation time (vacations to places which are ‘Facebook album’-worthy). However, a handful actually thank their parents, God, teachers or anyone with heart for giving them the opportunities they have. Perfunctory acts of gratitude such as the annual New Year card, Thank You note or hug are found aplenty but, real gratitude is hard to find today and, sadly is going the dodo-way. In fact, instead of feeling gratitude, most people feel obliged to help someone who has aided them in something at some point in life. Some don’t feel that either.

Humility: ‘If you have it, flaunt it’ seems to be the mantra today. One-upmanship rears it’s ugly head in even the simplest of things and keeping up with the Joneses is a matter of principle in most societies. Everyone is trying to make it obvious that s/he travels first class, dines at the best places with the creme-de-la-creme of society and has more visa stamps than s/he cares to count. Name dropping, brand-toting and showing-off are the current norms. Also, sometimes one wonders if people are trying to show themselves in better light or put each other down.

Knowledge and Learning Take a Backseat to Achievement and Winning

Knowledge: Perhaps the saddest case of all, knowledge or learning is an extremely undervalued virtue today. Schools train to achieve rather than learn, parents coax the bewildered student to get into a top institute as opposed to following her/his field of passion and peers deem a dedicated classmate as a nerd and bully her/him to no end. Most students score well but, application-wise they’re somewhere near zero. Rote learning rules the roost today. The majority of school and college goers have no idea what they’re studying, why they’re studying what they’re studying but, they’re all running to outdo the other.

Wisdom: Not many care about what the wise woman/man has to say but, show them a cunning woman/man and look at them run to get her/his counsel. Sadly, wisdom is considered as outdated as the IBM PC. Experience and learning leading to wisdom resulting in holistic development is fast being replaced with acquiring and manipulating leading to profit, corruption, cunning and exploitation for singular gain.

Wisdom Looks On as Youth Barely Notices

It is time to take a good look at the mirror and see where we, as a global society are headed and give virtues the emphasis they deserve in our lives. A strong society is made of more than high-flying corporate honchos. A virtuous woman/man is truly the only thing that has ever saved society in times of dire consequences.

A world with those who hold scant value for values will be of little value. It’s time for society to pull up it’s socks and look at leading holistic, meaningful and fulfilling lives as opposed to comfortable yet, empty existances.

On ‘Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas’

Not one to typically indulge in mindless chick-lit, especially works authored by desis, I picked up ‘Losing My Virginity and other Dumb Ideas‘ primarily because the title intrigued me. As I read the jacket blurb followed by the first two pages of Madhuri Banerjee’s debut novel, I found myself wanting to read on. Not because the story was particularly gripping (it wasn’t) but, because there was a certain simplicity with which the story was narrated.

The novel is centered around thirty year old Kaveri, a single, educated working woman in Mumbai. She is well established in terms of career but, her life revolves around the massive “problem” that she’s a virgin and she wants to rid herself of this humongous albatross hanging around her neck. A stereotypical hot-Bollywood-industry best bud sets her up with potential “devirginizers” and doles out gyaan on love, lust and men while the protagonist does little but judge her friend’s character and errant ways while placing herself on a pedestal.

However, our heroine finds her “One Great Love” in the form of a hunky “Greek God” (actual description in book)  in Goa and a whirlwind romance begins with the deflowering of romantic Kaveri. In case you’re wondering just how romantic this encounter was, here’s an excerpt:

“The rain seeped through my light shimmer shirt and I saw him noticing my breasts… We had a soul connection.”

The twist in the tale comes in the form of a Missus Greek God and Kaveri’s ability to delusion herself into becoming the ‘other woman’ in our Greek God‘s life. Kaveri does what any hopeless romantic would do, she molds herself completely in order to become Greek God‘s spare muse and repeatedly ignores her savvy Bollywood friend’s pleas to look at the situation with objectivity.

Many a broken dates, fights, make-up sexual encounters, lost assignments and a ‘Rakhi ka Swayamvar‘ inspired reality show later, our heroine has an epiphany wherein she sheds her inhibitions and, gets off the path of immaturity, so to say. (Oh, and there’s also a psychic in the mix, somewhere.)

Banerjee’s writing is cheesy, to put it bluntly. She can’t really write very well either, as is obvious from the colloquial prose and appalling grammar but, her writing has an iota of honest emotion that tides her laborious story through. Furthermore, the editing is quite off – there seems to be a disconnect in the formatting of chapters and attention to detail is non-existent.

However, Banerjee’s protagonist’s reflections and brutal honesty about her own flaws is what gives the book its unique flavor and soul to the work. Kaveri’s saving grace is her willingness to acknowledge her mistakes and forgive herself for them. ‘Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas‘ is a lot of things but, it is not a good book in the literary sense. It is, however, an honest reflection of how messy life is.

Five Insufferable Things To Be Passionate About

1. How You Look: You’re freshly tanned, very nice. You just got RiRi’s bleached blonde ‘do, very hip. Flashed everyone your perfect pearly white grin? Very cool. Just gave the plumber a booty tooch to show off your taut ass? Very in. Now stop it. You’re coming off as ridiculous, not to mention fake. FYI, nobody’s thinking about your ‘wonderful’ assets. They’re all thinking how humongous a loser you are.

Frankly, you’re not that great looking. You may be the beauty/hunk of your family and/or workplace and have these folk fawn over you (or be ‘jealous’ of your fantastical features) but, here’s the truth, honey; Though you may qualify for a second glance (based solely on your Kith and Kin’s evaluation), that’s pretty much where it ends, ‘kay?

2. How Others Look: Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and you my dear, have Madras Eye in that case. No one asked you if XYZ looks nice or not. Don’t dump your inaccurate and condescending beauty scale on anyone patient enough to listen to your cockamamie. Who’re you to decide if the ‘traditional’ looking girl you saw looks like a country ho? I doubt even Anna Wintour stands a chance against your caustic (and inaccurate) tongue.

Oh, and not to forget the ones who go to great lengths to stress how much they do to look better than you. Their weekly spa treatments are up on Twitter, they go on about their haircare routine like it’s a matter of international importance and their Facebook photo streams (in the ever popular ‘duckface’ pose) of their new YSL flapper dress never end. Ever. And, these factors apparently give them the upper hand in style, fashion and beauty. To you, only one thing needs to be said – quit judging people, you’re not so hot yourself.

3. Who You Pray To: Okay, so you believe in Jesus/Allah/Bhagwan Ram/Gautam Buddha. You pray diligently and observe your religious customs and rituals flawlessly. Commendable. But, why are you trying to shove your beliefs down someone else’s throat? There is no need to mock somebody’s God just because you think yours is better. Isn’t there just one God, many avatars? The main point of prayer and tradition is inculcating peace and discipline in one’s life, isn’t it? Frankly, no one’s religion is ‘the best’ simply because all religions are the same.

Islam = Hinduism = Christianity = Zoroastrianism = Buddhism = *Insert Religion Here* 

It’s high time you realized religion is a way of life, not a way of condemning others’ lives. Your faith and God are important to you, good. Just remember that the other person’s beliefs are just as dear the her/him. If you’re confused, go back to your Holy Text and refer to the part about respecting others. Yes, it doesn’t matter which Holy Text you revere, they all have the same teachings. It’s just the chronology that differs, hope that clears up the mist in your mind.

4. How You (In)Tolerate ‘Outsiders’: There’re all kinds of people in this world. They’re all the same; they’re all different. So, don’t annoy everyone by proclaiming your countrymen are superior. You’re as idiotic as the next immigrant. Don’t generalize Italians as womanizers. Don’t classify Pakistanis as terrorists. Don’t call Indians ‘job stealing gits’. Quit blaming ‘the west’ for ‘spreading homosexuality’. Quit harassing fee paying Indian students in Australia.There are a million contrary examples that pass you by but, your shitty tunnel vision catches only the flaws of said groups.

Also, a desi (Indian, for the uninitiated) take on this: Just because you’re from Assam doesn’t mean you’re hot stuff and if you’re from Gujarat don’t think you’re the next Ambani – it means you’re suffering from a ‘regional halo effect’ (coining my own term here). All you idiots in New Delhi calling every dusky girl a ‘Madrasan/Geek/Kolaveri Di’ and all you sycophants in Chennai advising anyone who mentions the humidity down South to leave the city, you guys are closet regionalists. All you great thinkers who riot around *Hint: RSS* throwing out the people who come from out-of-town to make a livelihood in Mumbai, go screw yourselves.

5. How You Are Better Than ABC: So, you think you’re all that, eh? You’ve got a minimum wage salary and are currently ‘living it up’ in a shared apartment with three Asian dudes and you think you’re better than Bob from across the street (because he’s just a struggling musician) and you miss no opportunity to highlight your assumption. Reality check: In five years’ time, Bob will own a duplex, a yacht and have a Swiss bank account whereas you’ll remain stuck in your $30,000 p.a. job.

Just because you’re bangin’ chicks left, right and center like Hugh Hefner (doesn’t mean you’re minting money like him), quit showing the sweet nerd down ‘cuz he’s on his way to a happy ending and you’re going to get AIDS. Just because someone is being kind enough to not point out what a massive asshole you are, don’t think you’re a rockstar. All you are is a train wreck waiting to happen.

Seriously, think about how insipid these issues are and how much time most people spend obsessing about them. Be passionate about stuff that matters, like the environment or politics. Get a life, do something meaningful.

In Case of Confusion, Read Between the Lines

Right. So, lately you’ve begun to notice that things and/or folk around you are a teeny bit weird. It could be something as minuscule as things taking longer than usual, something as significant as distinct coolness from someone you know or maybe someone’s taking unnecessary interest in what you’re doing. Something is off. You’re confused and uncomfortable. You can’t quite figure it out but, your mind’s all over the place trying to figure out where the loose end, if any, is!

Now, while a lot of times the fault lies with you and the cause is usually an errant action you took in the past, sometimes, just sometimes, it isn’t the case. There are a million ways to figure out your own mistake – introspection and retrospection being the most noble and effective of the lot. However, I’m not going to talk (write?) about that aspect here. That’s a whole other blog-post, it’ll come soon!

I’m talking about the times when it’s really not your fault that things are weird but, you think it is. And therein lies the problem – and the solution. You spend hours and days pondering over what’s wrong, analyzing every little thing, replaying events in your head on loop to figure out what went wrong, discussing every detail with your extremely bored (and irate) parents and peers on a daily basis and yet you seem to be going around in circles! You even go on to ask anonymous questions on ‘Yahoo! Answers‘ and Google the same and actually go through 90% of the search results! You’re restless, unhappy and you’re really unsure about what in ruddy Hell is goin’ on! I’mma stop you here, my friend. And really tell you why you’re so damned confused.

See, the basic problem here is that you’ve gotten some weirdass notion in your head and you’re just not letting it go. It could be something as dumb as thinking someone’s mad at you because you forgot their birthday or something as allegedly important as believing that everybody’s out to get you because you’re so good at what you do/ so beautiful everyone’s jealous/ so brilliant that people want to pull you down/ such a sinner that God *Cough!* *Godmen* *Cough* are punishing you (Really? Let me make one thing crystal clear here. God is always there with everyone. And She/He always encourages and helps you. Also, Godmen are shifty 99% of the time, don’t even go there).

Whether your notion is true or not is futile. But, to tell you honestly, it’s as true as God’s own word is here but, only in your head and it’s as true as unicorns and leprechauns are in the physical world. Succinctly paraphrasing the previous sentence – Bitch, get your head out of you ass! Don’t let it get to you! Don’t let it get you down and out!

To put it simply – your weird notion is a parasite feeding on your energy and killing you softly in the process. Just let it go. Even if your stupid idea makes perfect sense right now. Even if your gut is telling you that the shit you’re thinking is practical and consistent with reality. Even if your analysis fits in your mind. Because, it doesn’t in real life. You’re not doing anything catastrophically wrong. You’re not sending out weird vibes. You’re not unlikable. You’re not facing nine seasons in Hell. And, don’t bolster yourself by saying, “It feels like it.” or “It feels right.” Um, NO. You only feel what you want to feel, ‘kay. If you want to change things (And, I really think it’s high time you did), you’re going to have to start thinking positively and you’ll start feeling positive about things.

The main point is, you’re just obsessing about something being wrong. And, if you obsess about something for too long, it starts to show. It is only then that all of the above actually start happening. And, then you go, “See! I was right! My life IS fucked up!” What the hell? First you derail things yourself, then you say, “It was going to happen, I knew it all along!” I mean, if you knew it, why didn’t you stop it? If you’re so damn clairvoyant, wise and mature, why didn’t you do something – anything – about it? And, why do you think now’s too late? Where’s the sense in whining about things, people and situations incessantly? Where’s the sense in resigning yourself to whatever spiral you’re in? Where’s the sense in suffering yourself, making the people around you sick, blaming others and playing the victim?

Don’t sit there and take it. Just take control of your life and do whatever it takes to get it back on track – the track you want your life on. Do it now. Start this instant. It’s gonna be hard but, it’s worth it. More power to you!