Life in the UK

In my life, the only thing I have enjoyed doing is travelling to places and collecting souvenirs. For some time now, I have been happy with where I am. There isn’t much to say except that I listen to myself slurping tea.

Thinking of this country’s history, I am happy that I have arrived here at the right time. I have been to Warwick, Brighton and my trip to Cambridge was blocked by a beautiful genie from heaven.

What sucks is the plumbing that has to be done.

But the good thing is that the architecture of the castles reminds me of clouds, brown branches of almost-dead trees and black grains of sand. There are books on the bookshelf and some postcards that I forgot to send to some dear friends. Clearly, I like holding onto things I like.

Ironing clothes takes out a lot of energy.

All I can say is that the temperature is just right, and spring is almost here.


On Mary Oliver’s ‘Blue Horses’

Blue Horses: Poems (2014) by Mary Oliver

I return to Mary Oliver’s ‘Blue Horses’ with reverence. The collection was discussed in a book club meeting I attended only last week. It alerted me to the sheer variety of ways in which Oliver approaches the world with tenderness in this collection. So here I am on a Sunday morning, with the laundry calling out to me, returning to the poem ‘Such Silence’ with these memorable lines:

What’s magical, sometimes, has deeper roots / than reason. / I hope everyone knows that.

These sentiments so often capture our human need to believe in something above reason. This need for enchantment is what Oliver addresses adequately in this book. The biggest downside of the Enlightenment tradition has been that enchantment was left in the darkness, hidden and to be forgotten. I believe it was Roald Dahl (or is it CS Lewis?) who said something similar about magic, but Oliver’s sentiment is not about hidden magical worlds. But it is precisely about hidden magic worlds, hidden plainly in sight in the vicinity of humans, among the mangroves, the swallows, the owls and even the pebbles in her room. Especially the pebbles in her room. And the way in which this magic “has deeper roots” than reason, that human asset that supposedly sets up apart. Oliver is not just being a vitalist here but asserting the primacy of magic over reason from the perspective of a nature lover. She seems to be saying that the Enlightenment has not struck at the deeper roots of magic and that if we search in the right places, we will still find it. For her, the right places are where the owls hoot, the mangroves dream about flying up to the sky, and the pebbles drink water, i.e. anywhere.

Mary Oliver writes like she wants to be read by a carefree person in love, with nature, with the self, with another. But her writing is so heartbreakingly beautiful because it comes from a place of love, even in loss. Consider these lines from ‘Little Crazy Love Song’:

A gull broods on the shore/where a moment ago there were two./ Softly my right hand fondles my left hand/ as though it were you.

The softness of these lines is unparalleled. Something about them makes you want to hold the poem itself and comfort it with a hug. It is not a love song for those who rejoice in the presence of the beloved but the anticipated return of the beloved who is already lost. A love song for the lost love.

There are many other things that are memorable about this collection: the vitalistic conversations with the biotic and the abiotic, the ambiguous fascination with tropical climes and the frequently hinted at mysterious process of being acclimatized to it, the defensiveness of explaining the eccentricity of the speaker in a poem (or in life to a bunch of friends) and the overarching thread of relating to the natural. In all its cyclical normality, life and death are represented plainly without anxiety, with an acceptance and even an eagerness that is unnerving to read.

Oliver in this collection is patiently waiting for time, or the end of time, itself:

I eat up a few wild poems/ while time creeps along/ as though it’s got all day.

While waiting, she consumes wild poems, drawing an equivalence between boldly worded ideas with soft wild berries. And that is how she sees every poem: the softness and the wildness connecting it to what the natural is for her.

P.S.: I have much more to say about this book. When time allows, I will frame it into an essay and hang it in some corner for you to read.

On Loving and Losing Weekends

I recently read the meandering meditations of Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide To Getting Lost. A set of personal essays seeking the meaning of being lost, losing valued places, people and times, and on the sense of being lost in thoughts as well, the book was perfect bed time reading. What does one lose when we sleep? Apparently, during REM sleep our body is temporarily paralyzed which is why we do not move in reality even when we might move in our dream. We are truly lost to ourselves in the night-time, perhaps in a dark cavity filled with symbolism— of desires, dreams, fears and ambitions. What else could explain dreams? Weekends are, I think, the night-times at the weekly level.

It has been a little more than a year since I began my PhD research. Delving into the most darkest dystopias for my research, I have a newfound appreciation for everything simple and bright. How absolutely wonderful that we still have trees! Sunlight! Rain! To think that there could be worlds where there are incessant acid rains, surrogate slaves and a constantly spying government, or a perpetual motion machine that goes around a frozen world, is now just – work. When you take up a long-term project such as this, it is inevitable that it creeps into your time outside work, as well. I have found myself wondering about a possibility or an idea, even a brainwave that restructured an entire chapter, when I am least expecting it– such as in the middle of the night or when I am folding laundry. That is the process.

One day off a week is a useful system when doing a PhD. This has mostly meant that I am losing my weekends to research. One could argue that the post-pandemic flexibility in work timings has made it rather common for weekends to not be the relaxing time they once were. Given that weekends are indeed social constructs, it is only realistic that a global pandemic could also erase the social emphasis on weekends, just as it did with the expectation of working in offices. Could it be that we are witnessing the end of weekends? Or, is it just me?

As a child, weekends for me meant time spent at my ancestral home with grandparents and cousins. Every Friday evening, my parents would drive my sister and me to my father’s house in rural Kerala, a one hour drive away from the mild bustle of Calicut city. My grandfather, adamant as he still is, would open the gate himself and our car would be parked. My grandmother would insist that I wear at least a necklace, or that my sister wear a bindi. My grandfather would ask about school. After the cursory tea and seasonal snacks, my sister and I would slip away to my cousins’ house next door to announce our arrival.

Growing up, visiting my relatives meant being back in the thick of the action. There would be political arguments between my uncles and my grandfather, heated discussion on what someone implied at a recent social event, a nostalgic foray about the past and some quiet afternoon siestas. Those weekends were what I looked forward to after long weeks at school. During the summer, there would be extended time spent with my grandparents. My cousins and I would be busy building our little makeshift hut in the backyard. It was our private hangout complete with a mini-fan, a mirror and some magazines. The perfect getaway from the adults.
By the time I was in high school, these visits began to get harder to schedule. I had weekend tuitions and my sister had her dance classes. My cousins seem to grow quite rapidly during our time away. Weekends were now already a semi-free time with extra demands from school. But that also came with excitement in tuition classes and other events. In college at Buffalo, weekends meant trips to get Indian food. The best haunt was a Pakistani restaurant called Zaiqa with excellent naan sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was on the way to Niagara Falls which meant my friends and I also visited the tourist haunt every other weekend. I consider myself lucky to witness the roaring majesty of the waters of Niagara, to hear it thunder down. You always hear it first before you see it.

Now, weekends are just time to catch up on chores. To do laundry. To plan meals. To order groceries. To buy cat treats. To cook fancier dishes. To read just for pleasure.

Maybe I already lost my weekends to adulthood even before research happened. Or maybe it all just happened at the same time.

But is it not hopeful that for centuries now, humans have just collectively agreed to have two days off a week from work? I know there are exceptions – obviously – but it just says something about humanity that we follow this norm across cultures. It is simply indicative of our collective need to rest. To recuperate. To just be.

I hope this is not the beginning of losing weekends. I like to think that back home there are kids playing cricket on the grounds and closer to Leeds, families having picnics out in the parks. I like to think that some child somewhere is excited to visit their cousins during the weekend. That some teacher somewhere is glad to take a hike and get away from the classroom. I also like to think that at some point, I would enjoy my weekends just as they are, chores and all. I hope you do too.

Today is a Prose Day

Today feels like a prose day. What runs in my veins, what shines before my eyes, a monolith of silence can only be interpreted by sentences, not poetic lines. These sentences are as different from lines as tadpoles are different from silkworms. Tadpoles grow into something; silkworms stay as they are. Both, interesting organisms in the cosmos.

I want to reflect on this week – one of those weeks, where nothing particularly interesting happened on the larger scale of things, but small things changed and therefore changes happened. For example, I finished a teen show called “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix. I don’t know why. It stereotypes the Indian-American experience to the degree where I was rolling my eyes non-stop. But I stuck through. I also watched “Behind the Curve”, a Netflix documentary about Flat Earth conspiracy theorists. I want to say that it opened my eyes to something, but most of the arguments seemed pseudoscientific to me. I think the patronizing attitude some scientists took towards these flat-earthers – that they were potential scientists that fell through the crack – seemed the most interesting to me. Have I been close to falling through the cracks? Or has my privilege, in terms of pills or therapy, always stopped me from going completely cuckoo? What makes me think that any of this is real, after all? Maybe we all are living in a terrarium and not a globe; who knows?

Next week is the Induction for my PhD program beginning at Leeds Beckett University. As you could probably sense, I’m losing my mind trying to stay steady. But I think its okay to be nervous and excited. This is a new chapter; a whole new experience awaiting on the other side. I have two expectations from life as I go through this new chapter – one, that my mind does not play tricks with me as it did a few months ago; two, that I go through this experience with an awareness of all the resources that can help me. These two expectations, or lowkey prayers I am sending out to the universe, contains everything I fear, everything I have buried deep into my psyche, everything I do not want to remember.

Some day I will write about losing my mind. That day is not today.

To happy beginnings and finding new arenas of pleasure. 😊

PhD Admission and other Life Updates

Been a while since I posted anything on here. It’s been a busy time, with the devil-year ending and bringing with it some good news. I secured PhD admission at Leeds Beckett University, UK and is currently in the process of the tedious visa application journey. It is hectic to say the least.

While the initial excitement has died down, (read: waking up thinking “we’re moving to Leeds”) I still find myself looking up Quora posts on PhD life, and Instagram photos of snowclad Leeds. While its too early to say when the move might actually happen, thanks to the new COVID-19 strain in the UK, it is reasonable to expect a February in Yorkshire, as one of my proud and overjoyed former Professor put it.

I would love to elaborate on what I want to be working on, but this blog post might not do justice to the topic. I am still reading around the topic and hoping to gather some kind of foundational basis on the subject, than make a fool of myself in front of my guide. I am also prone to 4 am anxiety, resulting in an hour-long early morning reading and then a guilty, yet satisfied return to bed for more sleep. This has been life for the past two weeks.

In other news, my book launch with The Quarantine Train is scheduled to happen this Sunday, January 10th at 6 PM. Will be posting more details on social media soon.

I have also begun using the Alicia Souza planner, which is bringing me unreasonable joy for a 20-something year old. It has all those cutesy stickers that should not, logically, make someone happy, but want to throw up and yet, its good to have some colour and joy in life. I’d recommend TinyChange planner though – it’s the best one I’ve used.