Monday, May 25, 2009

Something Rich and Strange

I remain amazed at how much of my life is run over by the agenda and priorities of my child. I try to involve myself with her life because at my back I always hear, time's winged chariot hurrying near. Never have I felt this press of rushing hours than when I have waited for my child to finish whatever has swallowed her up, whether it is homework, friends, hobbies, or other terrains I can never chart or follow her through.

I spend a large part of my waiting time trying to find spaces that would let us share an experience, spaces that are free from other worlds and lingering moods that hang over us when she emerges from them.

Yesterday, I found one of these spaces. My temple hosted a lecture / demonstration of Bharatnatyam. My child and I had spent the morning trying to be civil to each other, trying to be patient, she, perhaps more than I. I was also afraid that once we reach the temple, she'd again lose herself among a horde of friends, as is her wont.

But we were just late enough to have to sit by ourselves in the back of the hall, and most of her friends were participating in the event, and so unavailable.

It was one of the best couple of hours we've spent in the last few weeks. As is our wont, we spent the time whispering comments to each other, comparing dancers, costumes, color combinations. But most of all, we shared the undying tales being spun before us. She'd tap me to tell me she recognized the stories being depicted, or that she remembered the basic hand gestures, or to confirm a deity being invoked. I'd lean over to her to tell her unfamiliar stories, or explain the lyrics, or point out various gestures representative of specific characters and events.

Even though we had cell phones with us, we forgot about them. Even though she had a project due, I didn't worry her about it. Even though I'd not let her sleep over at a friend's the previous night, she didn't sulk over it.

It was the love of the Story that brought us together. There is no substitute for a good tale, and even though yesterday's story tellers ranged from very good to confusing, from seven year olds to twenty-somethings, the tales themselves transcended all those details, reached across millenia, languages, geography, generations, and enthralled us so we are more aware of who and what we are, not so much bound by where and when we are.

For now, we have buried our hatchets, and hopefully, the demanding pace of our routines will ensure those hatchets stay buried, full fathom five!

Sometimes, when the number of trivial resentments pile up, the best cure is an hour stolen out of time, to live together an endless tale, so that the harmonies are restored.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A Reading

Usually, I complain: about my kid, my grading obligations, my bank balance, my back, even my cats!

But I cannot complain today: I just had one of the best days I've had in a long, long time. I dragged my very good friend to Miami because I wanted to attend a reading by one of my favorite authors, Chitra Divakaruni, whose work resonates with me to the extent that I wonder if she writes solely to express my response to the universe, with the graceful articulation I do not possess.

One of the major reasons she caught my attention is I stumbled upon the reason she says she feels compelled to write: to try to preserve a world that is fast disappearing, may already be gone. Her characters, who often leave their own worlds behind, usually end up trying to fit, acknowledge, belong to the realities they are left with. One of the most fascinating treatments I find in this author's work is the way her characters feel about the spaces they inhabit, wish to inhabit, or don't inhabit any longer.

I have just realised that all the houses I grew up in, or I felt a belonging to, do not physically exist anymore. Where they stood, now squat shopping mall, office complexes, and apartment buildings. It amazes me that the spaces that haunt my dreamscapes, tower over the cities behind my sleep, are now officially figments of my imagination, scraps of memory I don't really remember very well. Yet all the spaces I now live in, my living space, my desk at home and at work, my car, the streets I drive on, all seem extensions of the ones that don't exist anymore.

So reading Divakaruni's work, about characters who are driven by the spaces in their mind, feels like a validation of my own experience, since it examines the myriad stories that emerge out of the way one changes homes, discards old ones, adapts to new ones, misplaces parts of oneself in forgotten places, displaces oneself in an insistence to own, and ultimately, in isolation, one is forced to face a mirror that refuses to lie.

My friend, who is a first generation immigrant battling similar issues, agrees with me and confesses to being one of the newest fans of Divakaruni's already extensive fan list.

I can truthfully say that attending this reading has been one of those experiences that have helped me further crystallize the self I am right now. I have folded this away and shall re-examine it when I stand at the edge of the beach, the terrain that separates and joins land and no-land, one of the timeless spaces that allows me to look into the nature of things.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ode to My Sack

I have been examining things I carry around, more specifically, what I carry them in. I went to the mall with a friend this weekend, and she, as is her wont, made a beeline for the purses and wallets section in every store we passed, including bookstores. This has forced me to consider my own graceless sack I lug around, like an external organ hanging on my shoulder, weighing down my gait.

Now I must confess, there are days I want to be graceful and efficiently feminine the way my friends are, in spite of repeatedly telling myself it doesn't matter what I, or my purse, look like.

My sack is an excellent example.

No matter what color, texture, material, or dimension of the purse is when I first purchase it, by the time a week has lapsed, it inevitably becomes The Sack. This is filled with things I can't use, like grocery store receipts from last month, orphan pen lids, defunct pencils, broken paperclips, single staples, and a couple of flash drives that have died and turned turtle.

When I look for a perfect purse, I look for something large enough to hold a book, even though I resist weighing down my shoulder with books. The next thing I look for is many compartments, mistakenly thinking that compartmentalizing my objects is going to make my purse more organized. Of course, this never happens; these objects aspire towards, and quickly achieve a homogenized identity and consciousness, much like indigenious peoples settling on the banks of a river come to be known by the river's name rather than their particular tribes and origins.

I remember, some time ago, I'd found a purse that fit me exactly. It was the right size to hold a small hard cover or a paperback; it had just the right length of straps which could not be adjusted, thus saving me hours of agonized choosing and adjusting; it had the exact texture, not too rough, not slippery, being made of the perfect blend of canvas and recycled plastic; it held enough leftovers from the week so I didn't have to upend it daily, yet was not large enough to go without being cleansed, purged, for much more than a week. This purse had felt so perfect, I'd even forgiven it its lime yellow and white, hues that went with nothing, not my clothes, skin tone, cell phone, car, or any part of my external being.
Of course, this was too good to last and this purse got stolen before the month was out.

This was a sure sign from the Universe, beyond reasonable doubt, that I was NOT to have a fitting purse in this life time; that my being tied to The Sack was a existential gesture on part of the Cosmos to ensure that the world may be balanced. Sisyphus-like, I pull my sack around with what I hope is dignified resignation; Ixion-like, I am tied to my heavy hold-all that I shall never be able to put down for a rest; Tantalus-like, I gaze at windows festooned with the most perfect of purses, wallets, and carry-alls, knowing they are out of my reach.

I don't doubt that somewhere, my doppelganger is enjoying her perfect purse, confident in the knowledge that no matter what sack she purchases, within the week, it shall be miraculously transformed into the most ideal of purses.

After all, the Universe must be balanced.
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