The cool breeze ruffled our hair. The fading sunlight fell onto our faces, more like gentle rays than a harsh beams. Looking up, you could see fiery orange between the dark greens of the canopy of the branches. We sat on the park bench, with our arms occasionally brushing against each other. The setting sun signified the end of our time together, and she decided to ask a question whose answer is more varied, elusive, and invisible than time.
“What sort of a person are you?”
I glanced at her. Her face was a mix of anxious and amused concentration. She knew perfectly well what she had asked, and how that simple question had the power to stir things up beneath the supple veil of consciousness.
I almost blurt out the kindergarten introduction I memorised years ago. Holding back, I tried to reform it into something a twenty one year old would say. Before I could even form a couple of sentences, she clarified her question.
“Don’t give me your introduction. This isn’t an interview question.”
Her eyes bored into mine, and I realised what she was asking for. She wasn’t asking for my on paper qualifications which I had gained by roting lessons, she was asking for the lessons I had learnt by making grievous mistakes. She wasn’t asking what I wanted to show the world, she was asking for what I knew I was.
So, what was I? Within the life story of eat, sleep, play, learn and repeat; where did my identity come in? Between in the search of societal validation, education and remuneration, where did my personality play a part? In my quest for gratuitous love, affection, friendship and acceptance, what did my nature influence?
Time slowed down, and my mind raced back into childhood.
I was the youngest, not only among my immediate but also among the extended family. There’s something all youngest members of a nuclear family agree upon, we hold more responsibilities than people think, society perceives and get credit for. Add into it the fact that we’re actually supposed to be absolved of accountability until a certain age catches up with us, and our lives begin to paint a picture of carefree beginnings escalating to careless adolescence. From there on begins a rocky path towards adulthood, marred with unexpected revelations and disappointments which don’t really surprise anyone. And therein, I realised, my first building blocks were laid.
There was a child, forever in his elder sibling’s shadow. Knowledge is often mistaken with academic flourishing, and it was no different for me. Whenever a general knowledge question was raised during family meets or guest talks, it was assumed by default that I never knew the answer. Until one fine day, there rose a question no one had the immediate answer to, and for once my laid back brain decided to have my back. The sheer incredulous reactions from my family gave me part satisfaction, part motivation. I made a conscious decision to stay ahead of the curve. That was me, striving to have no one take me lightly, and if they do, it’s at their own risk.
I had realised early on that it was impossible to please everybody, so I decided that disappointing everyone equally wouldn’t be a bad idea. Of course, that’s horribly flawed, which I grasped only after I disappointed some more than it was warranted. But all in all, I learnt a very important lesson. It is important to disappoint people. It may not sound glorious or chivalrous, but keeping people – even close ones – on a higher pedestal than necessary has it’s repercussions, most notably on yourself. At times, disappointments act as a subtle reminder that the person in front of you is human, capable of making mistakes and has flaws. Disappointments often are the inaugural pickings of a stable work bond. But alas, modern people have no time for disappointments and mistakes, let alone bonds. Then there is me, looking for bonds and rapports in a world where egos and reputes are so fragile that they crack at the first kernel that hits them.
Have you ever closely observed the dew on the flowers in early winter mornings? It’s a sight to behold. The drops seem to inflate the beauty of the flower. A famous poet once visualised the dew as the tears of the flower. When you look at it from that point of view, it paints a rather accurate picture of humanity – celebrating and enjoying someone else’s pain. But it also points out that admiration and wonder comes at the end of difficulties and pain. It is probably that sense of acceptance of challenges and difficulties that I have engraved onto my character, which makes me wait for times when I’m admired and esteemed. The wait isn’t easy, but all I can and will do is to take on challenges and destroy them.
I tend to help people. That’s a part of who I am. There’s this saying in India, ‘DO GOOD, AND THROW IT INTO THE SEA. (नेकी कर, दरिया मे डाल|)’ I often interpreted it as do good and forget about it, you don’t need to remember it; in line with the famous Bhagvad Gita saying of karma and reward. However, very recently did I have a eureka moment when I figured out what exactly it means. Have you ever stood on the shore and thrown something into the sea? What happens after some time? IT COMES BACK. The waves bring it back. The lighter the thing, the quicker it comes back. In the exact same way, small good deeds come back quicker than bigger ones. But then, shouldn’t the bigger deeds have bigger and quicker rewards? There’s a reason smaller good deeds have quicker returns. As my experience says, doing a hundred small good deeds is way more difficult than doing one big good thing. It’s because doing small good deeds in regularity means that the propensity to help, work and build is ingrained in you and it has become your habit. You don’t have to make a conscious decision to be good. There I am, just trying to be good.
To love is to bleed. It is as simple as that. It is very apt, then, that the flower of love is the rose. To pluck it and present it, you must thrust your hand into the thorny bush, bleed a little, but once you have the flower, you cut it’s thorns so that it doesn’t hurt your beloved. If that isn’t an accurate representation of love, I don’t know what else is. The cutting of the thorns off the stem of the rose also portrays that you may be beautiful, sweet smelling and blossoming, but you aren’t ready to love and be loved in return until you cut those hurtful thorns off. Grow for love, but also trim yourself, for not every growth is positive. It is a lesson I learnt by scratching and bleeding many I love. Maybe I’ll find someone who will tolerate all my remaining thorns. Maybe I will cut them all off. I don’t know.
But then I have my demons. I’m opinionated. I’m not a sweet talker. Coarse. I put people in uncomfortable situations with my words. That leaves me alone at times. To the extent that I wish to yell out a challenge,
“No you can’t tolerate me. You cannot withstand me. I’m maybe too toxic. Too corrosive. Very bluntly sharp with my tongue. You can try to handle me, many tried to. Wear your safety gear. Do what it takes, then. Neutralise me. I am pH 1, are you pH 14?“
I need people. I admit. Stay with me. I’ll deal with your rains, your sunlight and your storms. Just not your absence.
I looked at her, and smiled. The answer to that question isn’t given, or said, or written.
‘Find it out, will you?‘ I smirked.