Under the midnight sky

EDITOR: Aditi Sharma

I long for the night time. I’ve become this nocturnal creature. I have fallen in love with the stillness and silence of the night. At this time, nothing moves ever so slightly in this bustling place. My mind wanders through millions of places. I explore. I search for the meaning of my life. I think about the people whom I care about. I stare at the sky as I think about all the memories I’ve made. I laugh. I cry. I’m filled with emotion. I’m vulnerable to myself and the one beside.

I guess, the clock slows down at night. Maybe, it is tired. I love the midnight strolls. I do not even need the earphones on. One of my favorite songs is already playing in my head. Pitch perfect. I dance and prance around in the empty streets. There is usually a spot for souls like me. It is our safe haven. I go to the terrace. There are millions of lights far away. The music of the crickets and a random car whoosh past once in a while; I’m left in my own world otherwise under the heavenly midnight sky. I imagine about being all the different versions of me I have always wanted to be.

If I have good company, it is even better. With my experiences I can say, people are always more emotional and vulnerable at night and it shows in the tone of their speech and the topics of the conversation. So light and yet so deep.

I have a group of friends whom I travel with. We always prefer the nights to drive to the places. Usually, I’m the one beside the driver to keep him or her awake and keep a conversation alive. We share a lot of things then. Even my friends, whom I know for a long period of time, come up sharing a lot of surprising events and experiences from their lives. I think any person can be more beautiful in the night because of the way they open up just like the beautiful nocturnal flowers.

It does not depend on the place either, be it in a country or in a city – everything is more beautiful and breathtaking during night. The beaches are beautiful under the moon and the stars. Even the ocean speaks a lot more under the dark sky than it does under the bright sun.

Obviously, it is wiser than a lot of us. For it has seen emotional, vulnerable and the other beautiful sides of a lot of people. I think, it wishes that it is forsaken from the dreadful deed of taking such beautiful souls within it away from their loved ones or, at least, that is what I understood from what it said.

I love the fact that you need not pretend to be anyone else in the night. You can just be yourself, your purest form. Under the moon, the murmurs are softer but are heard. Your heart is in command in the night because your brain is tired from the long day it has had. The heart longs for such quiet times where you can actually listen to its thoughts of thud-thudding. I think “sleep over it” means taking your time out and listening to what your heart murmurs aloud in the silence of the night.

When the lights are turned off, the mind becomes a combination of melancholy and merriment. It can sway in any direction – it can dive deep into the blues or just float being ever so light in the happiness of the night. It is a feeling that one should experience. Once experienced, you will long for such nights over and over again.

I do not know how people like to dance and party to loud music late at night. Well, this is party to me. Me, myself, moon and the stars. Maybe, you can try it out once and thank me later.

The day I ate too much

EDITOR: Ashmy Achu Shinu

It’s been 3 months since my Patti (grandmother) passed away, and this is the first time I’m writing something in 3 months( except her eulogy ).

So , nothing has changed much… except that our house is much quieter and we occasionally go out to spend some time outside. Every corner still reminds us of her presence and nothing has sunk in yet.

So, this was just another day in our routine lives, except that I decided to have my dinner brought from outside. So I went to the market from where I had to buy my food.

But before I left the house, I felt weird, not because I didn’t feel well or anything, but just that some memories came back to me from that market… the same market which I used to visit everyday for my grandmother for three months, for that medical store, to get her diapers and medicines.

All of that hit me at once and I felt a strange fear to go there again to see that place.. the same place where I had walked three months ago, unaware of the grief that’d strike us. But I had already told my parents that I’ll eat from outside, so I had to go.

I went there, bought my food and on the way back, I drank my most favourite Banta Soda with loads of ice despite having a bad throat, and on top of that had chat and pani puri .

I had dinner after all of this and it was a miracle that I didn’t throw up.

Maybe that over stuffing was a great way of distracting myself from the flashbacks and the pains that came with it.

Well, this wasn’t a way of avoiding my pain, it was a way for me to distract myself till I was really ready to face it.

Humans have emotions, and accepting that one has pain greatly reduces it. But in my case, I already know what has hit me, but facing the same place in a completely different situation does feel odd.

Sometimes unexpected things that make us feel depressed or hopeless actually make us stronger and emotionally matured.

They say Time is the greatest healer, and so I leave it to time. Maybe the next time I visit that place, I’ll get the flashbacks of my fond memories with her and not the painful ones. 🙂

To each his own

EDITOR: Ashmy Achu Shinu

This is for all those people who have found themselves on the receiving end of the phrase “log kya kehenge?” (“what will people say?”) with respect to academic and career choices. Disclaimer: This is not an attack on parents, guardians, teachers and other concerned members of society. We know you mean well.

Do you know that for every child who turns eighteen, two adults (plus a few unnecessary additions) start asking, “Engineer ya doctor?” They get bonus points if they start this charade at sixteen. (After all, coaching classes get filled up pretty fast.) It’s ironic how we are often told not to succumb to peer pressure by those who end up putting the worst kind of pressure on us: expectations.

Let’s get real for a minute. If my friends invite me for drinks and I turn them down, the worst possible outcome would be that I would no longer get invited to social events. Chances of them ever bringing it up on a later day are slim to none. But if I score the 74826916346th rank in CET, you can bet your life savings that no one would let me forget it. I would become the talk of every birthday, wedding and funeral. (Here lies ____’s career. RIP.) I would become a social pariah, a cautionary tale, the monster that parents tell their children about at night. I would get shunned for being the proverbial square peg in the round hole.

For future reference, here is an extremely sarcastic and wildly exaggerated list of sins according to the average Indian family, ranked most to least abominable:
– Not doing engineering or medicine
– Failing an exam
– Talking back to your parents
– Crossing your legs in front of elders
– Swearing/Using profanities
– Drinking/Smoking/Things that may actually kill you someday

“But what’s wrong with studying what my family wants?” you ask, shaking your head in disdain. “It makes them happy.” Yes, I understand that every child aspires to make their parents proud one day. Most of us would rather do something we don’t particularly enjoy than disappoint those who believe in us. But it doesn’t end there. Pretty soon you’re met with, ‘engineering degree toh sabke pass hai, tum MBA karlo’ (Everyone has an engineering degree, you should do an MBA.) Or ‘MBBS kafi nahi, MD bhi karlo’ (An MBBS degree is not enough, do an MD.) And knowing that our parents and theirs before them were also once subjected to the same societal pressures (some still are) makes it extremely difficult to point accusatory fingers. The truth is, expectations form a part of every human interaction. I expect the bus driver to take me to my destination safely, I expect the waiter to bring me what I ordered, I expect my partner not to murder me in my sleep. Hence it is perfectly acceptable for those who have invested their time, love and money in me to expect some return. But it’s important to draw the line somewhere. There’s a clear distinction between wanting the best for someone and wanting someone to be someone else. (Not that a career defines who you are, but if you’re going to spend a substantial amount of time doing something, it might as well be something you love and not merely that which looks good on paper.)

Man (herein includes woman) is expected to work so that he may provide for his family, for which he must learn a profitable trade. At one point in time it was hunting, farming and money lending. Today, the opportunities are endless. A profitable trade may even be carried on from home. You can make money by uploading videos on the internet. You can inspire people by drawing comic strips and caricatures. Your fan fiction might just become the next bestseller. Your song cover might get you a record deal. We are constantly reinventing the conventional definition of a ‘job’. Granted, it’s a lot more difficult to become established in that line of work. It takes time, patience and a strong internet connection. But then again, what doesn’t? Life and its many exploits are dazzling only in retrospect.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re one of the many people who have chosen their field of study out of pure unadulterated interest, I applaud you. If becoming an engineer makes your heart sing, or if medicine is your calling,kindly disregard everything I’ve said so far. But on the off-chance that you’re not one of those people, I would like to remind you that you will never change the world by trying to be like it. The world needs ambitious, motivated, passionate individuals who hunger for more and do not settle for any less. So I implore you, visionary, to follow whatever it is that keeps you up at night, no matter how utterly ludicrous it may seem to others. Become artists, rock stars, personal trainers, ornithologists, photographers, sportspersons, architects, chefs, professional translators, screen writers, masseurs, masseuses, astronauts, actors, therapists, YouTubers, and bloggers. Become engineers and doctors and lawyers. Just think of how many national treasures we would have lost had their relatives simply said, “That’s not a real job.”

And here’s something else, it’s never too late to change your destination. (If you listen very carefully, you’ll be able to hear the sound of my CET coaches grinding their teeth.) At the risk of sounding philosophical, I ask you to chart your own course. Pun intended. Let your life be an admixture of different adventures. Make mistakes, but do it with passion. Do no wrongs but for the right reasons. Neither success nor failure has a predetermined formula. We’re all just making it up as we go.

And there’s more than one road to the top.
Learn because you want to know more. Study what you believe will make you the best version of yourself. Do whatever it is that you find meaningful. Work towards making the world a better place. Succeed on your own terms. Create something of value. Become an inspiration to others who come after you.

And watch your approval ratings go up.

The Platform Analogy

EDITOR: Abhilasha Ramakrishnan

I’ve never seen life as much as I have in trains.
Indian Railways is such a mastermind; it brings together all places, all cultures, all kinds of people, all sections of people. And to write about a single train journey would mean a lot of work, especially for a ‘the smallest of the smallest details explained’ person like me. But then, from one yellow board with bold black letters to the next, it is ‘everything in life explained’. Well, every train is destined for a particular destination, but not every life on that train.

With one yellow board starts all of it. Announcements, cries, laughter, joy, hugs, warmth, tears, sweets, gifts, you are here. And every other life that surrounds you comes to a pause. For a moment, you just hear the ‘Welcome to’ announcements, and that is pure joy, that is childhood. And then you don’t hear them at all. They start demanding your attention; they start putting all the train numbers, names, sources, destinations, everything into your ears. They notify you when every train is about to arrive, they warn you when every train makes a stop for you, they turn back and grin at you with a big ‘X’ when every train leaves. And then, when the person at the ticket counter decides to give you a ticket, and when every life surrounding you decides that you are ready for it, you are put into one of those trains; the train which they think will take you to the right destination, via the right paths, at the right time. It is only after a few yellow boards, a few rounds of hustle and bustle, a few green flags, that you get a steady seat, that you start looking out. And you see nothing but endless fields, long rows of grass and trees, a few houses here and there, until the next yellow board. The yellow board is when you stop looking and start watching, start analysing, start experiencing. It isn’t going to change a lot in the beginning; a group of youngsters laughing over something they saw on one’s phone, a well dressed man nodding reluctantly to the old woman’s laments, a man with spectacles still on his laptop typing in codes without break, a young girl playing with the lonely lady’s children, an unhappily-alone face, a happily-alone face, a want-to-be-alone face. And then you start hearing the announcements, you are in the midst of all the hustle and bustle; you see a lot of money being exchanged. That is, for you, the most exciting part of the journey. You may get some coffee, you may get a new co-passenger, you may get the most unpleasant of smells. You can feel the train slowing down, coming to a halt. And before you can explore all the businesses happening there, it starts taking you away. A bit more of crowd, and then you are back to the same old stuff; people rushing to become one among the crowd, people running to catch the train, people struggling to find a comfortable place to rest their tired legs. You can see the whole world and its struggles between the wrinkles near the old man’s eyes, you can see the experiences of a lifetime on the old worn out bag on the wanderer’s shoulder, you can see peace in the plain eyes of the yogi that hold depths. You can see stray dogs fighting for food, running behind each other, licking each other’s wounds. And more yellow boards, more green flags, more announcements. It goes on.

But then, there is always a chance to get down. There is always a chance to go out of the trainbox and experience. Every time you are near the busy place, you fear that you may get lost if you go out. It is diverse, it is new, it is immense, the experience of the busy place, but it is risky at the same time. And you try not to let go. Someone inside you wants to get out, take the over bridge just to look down and see what your whole life has been, get lost in the crowd, feel the sun outside the station. But you try so hard not to let go. And then, as the green flags smile at you, you realise what you’ve lost. You grow desperate and you try to get down. But it is not that easy. The train has already gained speed and it’s a bit hard to let go of the journey you’re on to explore something you aren’t certain of. And even if you get down, it takes a lot of time and a longer way to get to the busy place, to find your way to the exit of the station, and just get out. You have to try harder, you have to walk longer. But it is a way too. It happened because you weren’t disheartened. Getting down always poses a risk, and that risk is worth it because it is for a new world, new experiences, new groups of people, new memories, new sights, new insights. And then, you come back to embark upon a new journey. Sometimes, you may catch a train to the same old destination and arrive there a bit late, that isn’t failure. Sometimes you may end up at an entirely different destination, a worse one maybe, that isn’t failure. That is life. And sometimes you may end up at a destination nobody, not even you imagined you to reach. You may create and inspire a group of lives to find a new train, a new destination. That is what life is.

This isn’t all about the analogy though. And yes, I’ve never seen life as much as I have in trains.

3 am Tickle

EDITOR: Deepti Nair

This is about the weakest hour of my night, when there is a rush through my body, and a race in my mind. Just hours before the Sun is to show up, my sleep is jolted out to a stop. Away from the tunnel of my dreams, I now take a halt on the reality. And all the weight I feel is visible under my eyes. There is a temptation first, to run away. A need to start all over again and desperation to pull myself together, with the messed up life I have. Thoughts are guided by silence, through the darkness of the hour before dawn; searching for ways to fix everything that is wrong. Attacked by the blame-game for the chaos around, trying to take responsibility of it all. Undertaking a rescue mission away from this situation, and laying out plans that seem fail proof, towards a decent foreseeable future, brings out some sense of satisfaction.

Then comes towards me, a list of possibilities of the 4562836301 things that could still go wrong, and somewhere within me, fear finds the spark to ignite. In an attempt to prevent the fire, the control of the Train of Thoughts is lost. It is now travelling in an ugly maze of things irrelevant and senseless. As I struggle to find a way out of the disgust, there stands the reflection of the guilt from past, hurting my guts inside out. Panic now takes over, and breaths become shorter and shorter, till I am suffocated in my own little world. Guess that’s where the claustrophobia came from. The great escape plan now becomes surreal. For all I know I am trapped in this hell of way of life. Exhausted from the trauma I feel, I try to get back to some shut eye, as just before the dawn breaks, my little heart prays. For at night, there comes this tickle, breaking me every way possible; taking a toll on my day, draining out the life from me, ounce by ounce. A spell work that is cast, through something black inside of me, that makes me battle with myself. I tend to lose, I only wish for it to fade away someday.

We, Validation and Vulnerability

EDITOR: Gyan Akarsh

We are all afraid of being judged. We all have the need for validation. We all want to be accepted. To accomplish that, we hide our true selves behind a false persona. At our workplace, in school, at a party or wherever it may be, we just try to blend in. Our sole objective is to be accepted and to be connected with people. Well, hiding our true self is definitely not the way to achieve it.

I’d like to take you through one of my experiences. I was travelling with a group of my friends on a one-day trip. We had hired a tourist bus for it. While we were travelling, I had my earphones plugged in and I was observing the people around. I do that when I’m bored. It’s like a real-time movie; Listening to the music playing in the background, and watching a person’s activities go along with it. Sometimes, it is really beautiful. Sometimes, it cracks me up. You should try it if you have not.

So, on this particular day, I was observing one of my friends. She was not very close to me and she was quite a reserved person. I’m always interested in a person who is very silent in a not so silent environment. I feel that they have a lot more maturity and experience than the others around. It’s just something I learnt from my time and it may not be correct always. So, she had her earphones plugged in and she was very still. I couldn’t put those things together. I mean, while listening to music, you either sing along or sway around or tap your feet or at least have your head nodding to the tunes. Even when you’re lost in thought there is an occasional display of such nature. I have observed her do the same previously too. Naturally, I was curious. So, I asked her the next time I had a conversation with her. She replied that “Already people make fun of me. I don’t want to give them another reason for that.” I just said, “Umm… okay. Just try not to mind that and enjoy yourself.” I respect her and her opinion. But, this incident has always stuck to my heart. Is validation this crucial to us? Is being one among the crowd that important to us?
Why are we afraid of being attached to someone? Why are we afraid of being ourselves? Why are we afraid of being vulnerable?

We always figure it for a weakness. We are all afraid of being hurt. We are all afraid of that something which would affect our otherwise yet imperfect life. We expect people to be honest and open to us. But, we are afraid to be like that. Despite of the things we do people are going to judge us. We have to let go and stop trying to control how others see us. This is the basic requirement.

The best way is to accept and love our own imperfect selves. We should start by being kind and compassionate to ourselves because the way we treat ourselves is how we will treat others. Do not try to be Batman because Gotham deserves him, since we cannot live up to the expectations. Be yourself. Be your own authentic self. When we accept ourselves, the voice of validation that we want to hear to accomplish anything will be only one. That one voice will be our own. This eradicates all the anxiety of being judged and fear of rejection. We will be content with our own selves.

These little changes within ourselves make us open up to a whole new experience of the same old world. We are more compassionate to the people around us. It gives us the mental state of being willing to do something even when there are no guarantees like helping out people, to commit ourselves to a relationship. It allows us to be more connected to the people we love. We will then crave for deep conversations. Anything we try to do, we will try to accomplish it our fullest potential. We possess the ability to love someone wholly even with the knowledge that they could hurt us. It gives us courage.

When we try to protect ourselves from getting hurt and from experiencing pain, we unknowingly keep ourselves distant from falling in love and admiring the real beauty in people. A conversation which is just small talk is not what binds to people. A conversation which is personal and where we open up and share the authentic us to the other person, now, that is beautiful. Also, it creates an invisible bond between the hearts of the two people involved in the conversation. Small talk will not give great happiness unless you’re a high school kid who just said ‘hi’ to your crush. A deep conversation keeps you involved. It takes you places you have never been to. The speaker is showing you a part of his life. This is just like where Harry could feel glimpses of what Voldemort was feeling, because of the scar which he gave Harry. The person sharing their experience is vulnerable to you because their experiences are valuable and personal. To you as a listener after listening to their experiences, just like the scar it leaves an impression on you. Some of the lessons you take can give you a whole new perspective of looking at things and some might not affect you on any level. The point is both of you are vulnerable to each other with the trust that either of you will hurt the other. That is the beauty of a good conversation. I crave for such conversations.

When we are open to heartbreak and other painful circumstances life could throw our way. It helps us to accept ourselves. We can look beyond our pride and ego. We can understand the value of other people in our lives. We realize the importance of the relationships we have and we make every day. So, we are open to admitting the mistakes that we make and apologize or thanking people for taking the efforts to help us in any way. In all, it makes our lives better in any way imaginable.

Let us understand that the only voice of validation that we require is our own. Let us break down our barriers and be vulnerable to experience the joy and sorrow that life brings to us. Where vulnerability is love and compassion follow. That is where the real beauty of the heart lies.

“Vulnerability is the core of all emotions. To feel is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be alive.”

Cheers! Have a happy life!

Redefining Strength

EDITOR: Smriti Sharma

Before I begin, let me ask you a question: What is strength? How would you define it? And would you consider strength to be one of your many attributes?

Got your answer? Good.

At a recent event, I was asked to describe myself using an adjective (how utterly joyful!)“I am strong,” I blurted out with whatever residual confidence I had left from having to say my name out loud (Sigh! Introvert problems.) I was met with skepticism. “Really?” One had the audacity to ask. “You don’t look it.”

What my very observant friend failed to realize was that I didn’t have to.

Our notion of strength has been confined to warriors, knights, burly men with handlebar mustaches, martial artists, gun wielding acrobats and/or secret agents, which is why we refuse to believe that strength could very well take any other form. It is but normal to think that only those people in powerful positions, high risk jobs or high pressure situations could ever possess or display strength. After all, strong isn’t the first word you would use to describe your neighbor, teacher or bus driver. Strength is often portrayed in works of fiction as a surge of positive emotion, filling a person with indomitable purpose and propelling them forward towards glory and certain success. If only.

Truth be told, it is a bit skewed from how humans and human emotions really work. Perhaps it is time we interpret ‘strength’ in a more practical light. For the greater good, of course.

Strength does not only mean physical strength.
I learned two things from the numerous movies/TV shows/anime that I’ve watched over the years:

1) My eyes can only take so much strain, and

2) If you’re a main character¹ you must be able to wield a weapon/engage in hand to hand combat at a moment’s notice/brush off any injury as a ‘flesh wound’ (“Pain isn’t in my vocabulary!”) The protagonist almost always starts out as a weak, scrappy young character who matures into a bold, respectable individual as a result of some hardcore training (what better way to depict the inner struggles of man than through a two-minute long montage to the backdrop of an 80s rock song?) or a life-altering incident (death of a loved one, war, rejection, asteroid collision or all of the above) which persuades the protagonist to beef up and get serious. For the longest time, strength was considered to be directly proportional to one’s size (Do you even lift, bro?) although I must admit that the ideology seems to be changing, albeit at an excruciatingly slow pace.

Bottom line: strength is not an exclusive trait of the fittest or the fastest or the one exercising the right to bear arms.

Strength is gender neutral.
I’ll say it once more for the people in the back: strength is neither a masculine nor a feminine quality. Lately, many fictional works have diversified their approach but it seems to be taking a little longer for the same to be accepted in reality. I’m looking at those parents who instruct their boys not to cry because they’re expected to never show any weakness and those who tell girls that they can’t become plumbers/mechanics/firefighters/soldiers because they require physical exertion. You do you.

Strength is relative.
Here’s a lesson that took me a little longer than necessary to learn: Do not compare your battles to another’s. Your struggles are exclusively your own. Every fight requires a different degree of strength. So the next time someone says that a homemaker’s job is the toughest in the world, take it at face value. Don’t get into a debate about housework being easy and effortless. (Trust me that is not an argument you want to win.)

Strength is not the outcome of a struggle; it is a catalyst for growth.
Some believe strength to be the end result of a long struggle. “The protagonist overcame his weakness, therefore he is strong.” “He mastered Tai Jutsu, therefore he is strong.” That’s not exactly true. Strength is not the XP you get for slaying the boss monster, it’s the weapon to use to slay said monster. Or the coins you use to buy that weapon. You get my point.

Strength varies over time.
It is not constant. Every new challenge will demand a new you. It is only human to fluctuate, falter, fall and fail. It is purely circumstantial. It is perfectly normal to lose one’s bearings even in the most familiar of situations. What might have been an easy conquest once might not be so at a later stage. Strength, in such situations, is asking for help.

Strength is not always a positive action.
Anyone who has had to put up with an annoying boss or over-friendly relative would agree that sometimes it is better to not say or do anything at all. Which is why I think that Neville Longbottom was one of the (if not the) strongest characters in Harry Potter. (For those who don’t know, Neville’s greatest fear was Professor Snape but that didn’t stop him from being a dutiful student.)

If courage is not the absence of fear then strength is not the absence of weakness. Contrary to popular opinion, it is entirely possible to be strong despite having many weaknesses. Strength, like courage, is a choice. It is not a physical state or an inborn ability. It is the decision to face adversity and whatever else that may accompany it, even when your first instinct is to run and hide. It is the ability to walk through fire with your head held high. Strength is going back to school knowing that the bullies would still be there. It is waking up every morning to a world that is self-destructive. It is coming face to face with the hatred, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny and still believing in a better future. Strength is simply the ability to stand up even when every fiber of your being is screaming at you to stay down.

Now would you answer my earlier question in the affirmative? After all, you have a very impressive 100% survival rate. What is that, but strength?

¹All rules have exceptions.