Friday, November 27, 2009

Honorable Enemies

I have been fighting ants who battle me for my living space in the most archetypal of wars: might over right. No place is safe from them, no container air-tight, no feeding bowl ant-proof; to say that they are ubiquitous would be an understatement. I also reside with cats, who count on my opposable thumbs for their main food source, and my unpredictable schedule demands that the sensible thing to do would be to leave out some dry food they can snack on on days I return home after 14 hours.

Because I live in Florida, everyone I sing my woes to responds with the same refrain: "It comes with living here; get used to it! I have ants too."

But, I ask you, how can one get used to it?

I have tried haldi powder some swear by; I sprinkled it on the rim of the air-tight cat food container, around feeding bowls of the cats, even underneath the paper on the parakeets' cage. Then, there were the coffee grounds, ant baits, moth balls, and granules that promised to drive the armies away within a fortnight.

Nothing worked. The ants returned in hordes, ever increasing in number, seeking out ways of seeping into cat food, garbage cans, even the water left out for the cats. I have quested after the true ant-proof feeding bowl with the faith only a grail-knight would understand. I have tried chip-and-dip platters, filling the larger part with the water, and holding food, Tantalus-like, in the middle, where the dip is meant to go. But the ants defeated me there too. I found them, invariably, in the food, and once there, they kept the cats away.

I have even thrown away shamefully large amounts of money in hopes of owning such an object. One promising bowl cost me as much as $29 a piece. It is a complicated construction, which heartened my courage and loosened my purse strings. It's a two-storey contraption that is meant to hold water on the first storey, and a detachable bowl that hangs over the water that's meant to hold the food. I thought this $29 contraption would work wonderfully in ways the chip-and-dip platters never did.

But the ants got in that too.

I must confess that at this point, the ants have won my admiration for their tenacity and sheer determination. I have seen them hanging in complex clusters so others can march over their bodies to spaces too high for a singular ant to reach. I regularly clean out ant bodies of willingly drowned martyrs whose cadavers have provided purchase for others to reach across oceans of water. If the cat knocks over the wet food and a bit remains undetected by my mop, in they march and arrange themselves in labyrinthine formations to increase efficiency.

These creatures are also the best cleaners I know. A surface visited by ants, you can be sure, is clean enough to eat off. Not a scrap, granule, or bit remain. And they eat almost all organic material. I am convinced, if I was a greater slob than I am, I'd never wipe off the stove after cooking, trusting, that given time, the ants would clean the stove better than the most abrasive bleach cleaner can.

In just a few hours, these tiny insects build apartments, streets, winding pathways, roundabouts, even two-way highways around the littlest scrap the cat spills. Every time I clean up the ants, I imagine ant-bards hiding in shadows, watching the apocalypse with unbelieving horror, as a civilization is cruelly wiped out with a poisoned shower from above. I wonder which ant-heroes fought valiantly to save the cocoons and the young, whose brave pincers rescued the queen or collapsed doing it, and what ant-verse the minstrels will use to honor the glorious past so meaninglessly erased at a whim of another being. I also wonder how long I shall carry those ant-lives on my back.

Every survivor knows to honor the worthy opponent. This entry is a pean to my worthiest opponents, the ants. I bow in admiration to their ingenuity and unfailing enterprise.

Fighting with ants also keeps things in a proper perspective for me; what the singular ant is to me, I am to the Universe. When I crush the ant, I don't stop to ask its identity and judge if the ant is good, important, or how many others of its species depend on its well-being, nor do I wiegh the consequences of its demise on ant politics. Yet, I am convinced, that the ant about to be crushed is sure of its rightful place as a prime predator of a higher intelligence.

Is that what the Universe thinks of me? And how else am I to prove my worth as a being greater than an ant, but to point to the heavy burden of dead martyrs I carry?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

On A Solitary Thanksgiving

This has been one of those Thanksgivings when I am alone; my daughter is visiting her father, and I have refused invitations from friends.

I have thirsted for some time to myself, to catch up on grading, quiz-construction, lecture prep, reading, and a bit of blog-surfing. Once the Summer passes and Fall descends, my routine gets a bit hectic and I need some down time, more, I notice, as I get older and slower. So this was the time I have kept for myself, sans chores, sans car, sans a life beyond my door.

However, by the time it was afternoon, I found myself orbiting Facebook, wondering what was going on in the world beyond. As expected, most entries were about how thankful people were for various things in their lives; some entries even invited additions.

This does make me feel a little guilty since I cannot adequately, ever, articulate how grateful I am for everything and everyone I've known and felt. There are many problems with this: what can one say? How does one reduce such a complex feeling into proper words? All the words I tried out seemed trivial, trite, and a repetition of what everyone else had already said, perhaps better.

There is another problem with this formal expression of thanks: whom does one address it to? The Divine? Other people? Oneself? But no; that smacks of hubris and seems unwarranted, rather silly, even.

In the final analysis, I find myself disappointed: it seems to me that everyone thanks themselves and each other with what seems like a self-congratulatory tone, a pat on each others' backs for what a wonderful job we all are doing at being nice and selfless to each other.

I think what is lacking here is a ritual, to make this expression of thanks formal, to lend it validity. Certainly, there is the food and there are the relatives and friends, but then this day becomes very similar to any family reunion day, like Memorial Day, only indoors. Of course, there is the mad rush to the malls the next day, but the stress-driven, neurotic Black Friday is, by no stretch of imagination, an expression of any gratitude, or quality time spent with friends and family.

I don't want to seem ungrateful, or Scrooge-like with this entry, because that would be an outright lie; I lack the strength of character and fortitude such a role demands.

What is more, I AM thankful for every breath I draw as me; I am grateful I got to live this precious time as who I am; I am grateful for the people around me, of course, but I am equally grateful for being able to genuinely enjoy my solitude; I am grateful I have the means and know-how to treat myself occasionally with whatever I want to read, write, eat, and dress in; I am grateful for having seen as much of the world that I have; I am grateful for the disappointments and stumbles, not because they've made me better or stronger (I sincerely doubt that they have), but just because they are mine; as I get increasingly narcissistic here, I am most grateful for the hands and eyes I am using right now.

But most of all, I am grateful for the written word that has created such a rich world for me, enriched all levels of my realities, and made sense out of a chaos of cosmic proportions.

The best expression I have found for my gratitude remains the unchanged from my daily routine, that which I begin and end the day with: I shall light a votive in my little home-temple.

What would, do you do?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bright Fragments

The wedding in my previous entry was all I had hoped for, and more. This occassion has provided me with fodder to nourish my solitude for more hours than I care to log!

There is no subsitute for the amazement I feel at discovering how little people's impressions have changed. I've always prided myself on being forever attuned to the passage of time, and that I have grown so far away from my 20 year self, that she no longer even speaks to me.

However, meeting family who remember that 20 year self, and address me thus, reassures me that the timeless self prevails, and what is more, is recognized more than I realize.

There are too many details to ennumerate, both large and small. For instance, there was the lunch on the day we reached, just before we got our hands decorated with henna. I don't remember what we all talked about or laughed at, but it was trivial, similar to all we've talked of and laughed at in the past, and comforting like the diurnal cycle, with the certitude that we shall, all of us, talk of and laugh at the same things until a'the seas gang dry, and the rocks will melt wi'the sun.

One thing that was missing in this wedding was the nervousness of the bride and groom, who were very comfortable with each other and their families, and genuinely enjoyed each part of their wedding: they did not seem distracted, over-extended or stressed at all. In previous weddings, the bride and groom were always separate, so isolated within their immediate families and demanding ceremonies, that the attendees were often left on the peripheries, socializing among themselves.

However, in this wedding, even though we all were unbelieving and ecstatic at meeting everyone else, all the festivities revolved around the couple, who were at the centre of all the action and excitement. They sang and danced with abandon, infecting everyone with their very obvious joy. We were all treated to a different, exuberant side of my quiet, philosophical cousin; I have captured him spinning on the axis of his friend's hands, laughing uproariously with his head thrown back, comfortable in his wedding finery. I shall keep that image as a prototype of a good wedding celebration.

I had also mentioned in my previous entry, the importance of having my daughter with me, whose excitement I was counting on to kindle the magic of weddings, and I was not disappointed. Contrary to my expectations, she chose to wrap herself in a heavy silk sari for the ceremony, and conducted herself with marvelous grace in it! She didn't mince her steps, but danced exuberantly; she didn't keep adjusting the palloo, but used the passing breeze to make it dance with her; she didn't make the sari seem cumbersome for her slight frame, but used it to reinforce her confidence in her self and feminity.

Neither did she use this occassion only to dress up. She, along with her cousins and newly made friends (whom, I am sure we are related to, just not sure how), actively participated in the festivities, even when it involved no dancing. For instance, during the actual wedding, she arranged herself in the front aisle, with various generations and branches of our family, to better witness the proceedings, bullying her cousin to take pictures of important parts she might otherwise miss. At one point, we could all hear my teen sigh audibly and follow the sigh with a long-drawn "awwww!" at the "cuteness" of it all.

Now, after a few weeks, the honeymoon is over and we are valiantly trying to get used to our mundane realities; but the pictures have just been uploaded and there are requests bordering on demands for missing moments & dvd's, and a burst of comments and exclamations over the visible ones, making us all re-live the wonderful weekend we all spent together so long ago, just a few minutes past.

What can I say? These are fragments I have shored against my ruin.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On Beholding a Night of Solemnities

Really, I should be grading, or finishing my latest short story, or beginning a new poem. But my mind keeps skittering away, so I guess my "work" shall have to await my discombobulated brain's leisure.

I am in the middle of packing for a weekend away, to attend a wedding. We have our finery ironed and packed, the accessories boxed and arranged, and only the trivia to touch upon before we leave on our road trip. I have planned to prep my daughter on the road, about proper, expected behaviour; I have remembered to pack back up fine clothing in case our first choices don't work out; I have also taken my entire collection of earrings and bangles in case someone else needs just the right shade of periwinkle or electric blue.

I am very excited, of course, at the prospect of meeting my family, dressing up, and celebrating not just a festival, but an official addition to our tribe! And even though I packed my outfits after much deliberation and discussion, I know I won't really care what I look like, an odd attitude towards an occasion sure to result in photographs. It's true, though! My excitement about attending this wedding is one of the gifts my present, older self does not share with my 21 year old self, with whom I am in constant comparison.

I remember hating weddings when I was younger. Instead of celebrations, these were obligations to be squeezed in a madly busy schedule; they were just so numerous that during the wedding season (after the monsoons and Diwali), we sometimes attended at least a couple in any given week. I remember I did my best to plead off, and on more than one occasion, even offered to wash all the dishes, a chore I hate to this day.

I also remember preferring to attend receptions rather than the actual ceremonies (which were slotted around noon), since the ceremonial fire made my eyes water and I invariably developed a headache in the middle of the day, what with the monotonous, incomprehensible intonations of the priests, the extra-spicy, extra-oily food, and the constant longing to be done here so I could get on with my day. The people I usually met during these day-weddings were retired, curious relatives, whom I was to bow to, and to whom individually and smilingly, I was asked to report and defend my current and past academic pursuits and interests, as well as extra-curricular activities that would reflect well on my up-bringing and family background.

The receptions were usually held in the evenings, in less crowded spaces, and there was enough time and breathing air to actually socialize against a background of instrumental music. The bride and groom were usually ignored, distant beings to be spared a glance and forgotten, worth a moment's notice of a handshake and picture, excuses, merely, to spend a few hours in a picturesque locale, to dress up but not uncomfortably so, and to indulge in a nice dinner with friends sometimes too busy to meet elsewhere, or during the day.

However, this anticipated wedding is going to be different. Since I am much older, and by that corollary, more attuned to the universe, I anticipate an awareness of a cosmic union, which the gods themselves attend to bless a human event. Also, I hope to see sheer magic since I shall get to see this wedding through the eyes of my daughter, for whom weddings are a rarity, making her immune to the boredom I felt when I was her age and told to get ready to attend one.

Like Diwali celebrations, Navratri nights, my beach twilight, and well-loved texts, then, I expect that attending this event shall anchor me, affirm my designation in a universe that constantly demands reconstruction of the self, and present a perch on a threshold of eternity as I witness a ritual older than five millenia, along with other generations of my tribe to provide a sense of continuity and rightful belonging.
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