Tuesday, January 6, 2015

30's for a 80's Kid

I sit here, at the deserted corridor of the Margot Hardy Gallery of the University of Western Sydney, late on this warm summer's evening. I am twenty-eight years old, I will be twenty-nine in a few months. And as I sit staring at the blinking cursor on my 2012 Macbook Pro, the summer wind blowing over my face brings back memories of so many summers; very similar summers in a very different place. I wonder if those memories are mine? Am I the same person from all those summers? Am I the accumulation of what has come of those many summers? Or is this me, remembering many versions of myself from many different summers? Are we all different people at different points in our lives? 

It is not always the same. It is not always romantic, tranquil or even nostalgic. Sometimes, when I wake up, I just lie in my bed, and wonder, "Why can't we figure out a way to remove specific periods and specific people from our memory, say, surgically?"...  I could use such a method. Other times, I wonder, if running into the wall, head first, would work?

"Those people and periods, the ones you want to remove, are the source of our rage. I wonder, I would ever want to let go of my rage", PK says. He is one of my best friends. One of my few friends. We have lived many lives together. In New Zealand. In Africa. In Australia. We have been hungry together. We have feasted together. I listen to him closely. "I feel rage is being alive. It is rebelling against your darkness, darkness of the soul that invites chaos. Memory itself is chaos. But, chaos invites creation. May be, running into the wall helps. Or may be, throwing that chaotic baggage of people and periods at the wall helps too"

I agree, and disagree at the same time. Though, I mostly agree. Rage, anger, hatred, are all useful emotions. The very emotions that make us human. One of the reasons why shrinks, those vanguards of state power and status quo, strive so hard to take those driving forces away from us, and use fancy terms like anger management and counselling in doing so, is so we are left with no tools for resistance. We become passive tools of conformity -- sheeple.

 Yes, I am all for directing the rage and hatred at people who deserve it.

"But, P**** my old friend, now comes my precautionary warnings. Hate is like LSD, very potent, very powerful, and very hallucinogenic. Trust me. Few people know hate and LSD as well as I do. But, as wonderful a substance as LSD is, and it is quite wonderful as numerous scientists and poets will tell you, it IS hallucinogenic. So is hate, my friend. After a while, it gets hard to distinguish between who is deserving and who is not. And try as you may, you stand a very good chance of hurting people who have been nothing but good to you. And I will not have that for any reason whatsoever. The spirit of anarchism is "Resistance against the violent. Compassion for all." And lately, I have found that I am being hindered, my productivity being minimised, by both useless initiatives that lack proper Science, and too much distraction in the form of hate. I mean, don't get me wrong, I am all for confrontations and in-your-face attitude. But you gotta pick your battles bro. You don't wanna put on your black mask to go after a pesky little fly, do you? Save your energy for the elite, the powerful, the 'respectable', the rich, the bourgeoisie, and the vanguards of the nation-state system. You don't want to be distracted from the revolution by the little people, and the worthless little irritations. You have bigger fish to fry. 

Hey!! You listening to me?", I almost raise my voice indignantly. 
I have been talking for almost five minutes, and he has not made a sound. I look up, to see the Margot Hardy Gallery, and a deserted corridor. 

PK is twelve thousand miles away, in Durham, Scotland. 

I look down. The blinking cursor stares back at me, like a hapless lover awaiting response to some forgotten confessions of love. I stare back.

Ghosts. Ghosts are all that are left of the days of yesteryears. The past is another country, long lost in some forgotten revolution. And journeys therein, of necessity, are clouded by false memories, false recollection of true events. Even the people from the past, the ones who left the deepest of marks, would have already turned into ghosts. Forgone dreams may hold them steadfast in memory, but they would hardly have any ground left under them -- their feet would have already turned into smoke.

It has been eighty-four hours, since I, finally, emailed in my summary resignation. I had finally decided that I would rather be unemployed, than oppressed. I did so with great sadness -- in general, because I enjoy Science, in particular because I will miss Ann Cutler.

But issues of existential significance, in a purely physical and political sense of existentialism, are worth more than money or a diploma.
I had stood by what I said and wrote. Because, what I talk and write about, straddle issues of "profit over people". I am happy to pay the price for my dissent. I know I will pay dearly for it too. But hey, I got nothing! What more can you do to me? 

The thing about having nothing is that there's nothing people can take from you. 

So... here I am! I enter my thirties, with naught but a headful of abstract theories, a few diplomas, negligible savings, no prospects for the future, no expectations from the present, a few good friends, a hoard of haters, and all the glory of an unemployed, dissident, entry-level hobo. I am one of you, brothers. Officially. 
And I must admit, while I am worried about sorting out my life, somewhere inside, there is this faint inkling of satisfaction -- I did it. I faced the demon, and as scared as I was, I did get through. I always wondered, if the day should come when I face a choice between actively practicing the people-before-profit philosophy I so admire, and having a fixed income, would my fear of uncertainty overcome me? I was always worried that the answer would not be good for my ego. I am happy to find out that I did not, in fact, sell out. I am poor as shit... but, right now, at this specific point in time, I can't seem to care.
Tonight, I am happy. Tomorrow will be another day. Soon, like so many acted out acts of my life, this too will be reduced to little more than memories. I don't know if I should feel saddened, frightened, relieved or simply glad. But I am in no hurry to decide. I don't try so hard with these things anymore. I have learned not to.
 Like sand in a closed fist, memories slip away, and one is left with a good strong clutch over nothingness.

The outpour of support and compassion have been overwhelming, since I quit my position. Friends, the few I have, and colleagues have showered me with compassion, helping hands and sheer, unadulterated love and understanding. And I have never been happier, more productive, and anger-free than in the last four or five days, during which, incidentally, I have also been the poorest and most insecure in recent history.
 There you have it -- rather conclusive evidence that neither money nor security, both artificial constructs, are driving factors behind happiness. As a scientist, which I am by vocation, I find immense joy and bliss in doing mathematical and theoretical analyses of data. As an anarchist, I am happy volunteering at the Society of Jesus' orphanage. (Incidentally, my gratitude for Fr. J. Alexander Fosoux, S.J. for allowing an atheist-anarchist to find some solace and engagement in his House. These jesuits, and I know from a life-long experience, are seriously awesome people.)

The only thing lacking is a long walk down to Auckland Domain, or down Seafield View Road, with P**** and C**, and puffs of good ole' Mary Jane. 

I close my eyes, and another gust of wind flows over my face. The rush of memories is so strong, my heart almost skips a bit. I half expect to open my eyes and find myself staring across Auckland Harbor, or over Davenport, the village by the sea, or perhaps across the field of St. Xavier's High School, and see L***'s smiling face inches from mine. I open my eyes.... and reality drops back on my lap like shedding leaves in the summer breeze. 

1998 was sixteen years ago.

I look around, and there is not a soul in sight. I can't help but chuckle a bit, almost involuntarily. Cliques are so transient, and yet convince us that they are forever. I was in a clique once. The Kliq. I wonder, where are they now? What are the odds that, right now, there is more than one of "us" thinking about when we were "us", young, naive, ambitious and walking, talking, cliches? I can't help but chuckle again. Not out of pity, but more out of a half-longing-half-understanding vantage, that sixteen hard years have afforded me.

Despite all the hardships, though, in the last four years, I have been a part of four different Universities, met numerous eminent scientists, been inspired by a few, pissed off a whole bunch of them, I have met the most awe-inspiring, and the most tedious people, I have fallen head-over-heels in love, and gotten out of a decade-long obsession, I have gained priceless friends, and lost an irreplaceable part of my life, and I have lived in places that are so picturesque that pictures ruin their allure, and places so revolting that I actually felt at home! And while they have been only a handful, and far and few between, but some of the most important people in my life have turned out to be the ones I met during this time. I shiver to think what my life would have been like, had I not walked down this long, winding path! 

I wouldn't have it any other way. 

And if I could do it all over, live my life all over from the beginning, I won't change a damn bit of it, just for the sake of what I have been through in the course of this long, strange trip I've been on for, oh, so many years now.

Make no mistake about it. I enter my thirties, with a lot of questions, very few answers, a lifetime's worth of memories, and experiences that elude my prosaic abilities. I stand at the beginning of mid-life, with more interrogatives than declaratives, but I do so with absolutely no regrets.

Tolkien's words have never been truer -- "Not all who wander are lost."


Anonymous said...

A *salute* I suppose, and know, is meaningless - but here IS a salute to you, bro. Few pieces have moved me to anything more than immediate emotion in recent years, but this one did; especially these lines:

"I always wondered, if the day should come when I face a choice between actively practicing the people-before-profit philosophy I so admire, and having a fixed income, would my fear of uncertainty overcome me? I was always worried that the answer would not be good for my ego. I am happy to find out that I did not, in fact, sell out."

I know not what I can offer you now - for you you're happy, and I am happy you're - but should you need anything, I hope it never gets to a point where you will hesitate to write to me.


Samuel S. Mandal said...

Thanks Srini.

Yes, I am more or less okay... I am reading a lot these days. And I write to people, and talk to them. It's a good life. More or less. But sooner or later I must look for food... I am thinking of doing something in Africa, may be with the Jane Goodall project. I have also thought about joining some kind of little-magazine, or underground publication house in India, and working in the forests of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, where poor villagers are being wiped out in the name of fighting Mao. Have you read Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things? I think you definitely should. It's one of best novels in the language, but more importantly it is a devastating criticism of Indian society. I am currently reading her new work Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy. May be you should give it a try... resonates very strongly with me. I have come to hate the academia, even as my love for what I do has grown. I do want to continue working on Core Phonology (I highly recommend you to look into Iris Beren't works, and her book, too, as a phonologist), and I might have a place in Iris' lab in Boston. But I don't know that I want to be in the academia much longer. There is this pain, this feeling of being terribly alone, terribly selfish, and an immeasurable loss, that I can neither get rid of, nor live with.

But enough of my internal monologues... hope all's well! Feels like a different lifetime when we were in Hyderabad....

Samuel S. Mandal said...

"Each slow turn of the world carries such disinherited,

To whom neither the past nor the future belong."

Anonymous said...

A lot of what you wrote really resonated with me. I learnt that life never goes as planned. Always feeling lost. But I realized, feeling lost is the accurate interpretation of our reality.