January Blues

31 Jan

Jan has been a rather crap month. It began comically badly, with an incident on the very first day of the brand new year, and never really picked up from there. It was a different kind of bad this time, a not in-your-face bad, which is why it took me a while to catch up to the fact.

I have spent the month caught in an inertia of non-motion. The fantastic pace of work and meditation of November and December was nowhere to be seen and I struggled to, and continue to struggle to, wake up in the mornings, meditate or work on my PhD. I’ve succumbed to late nights reading endless random shit on the internet, sometimes staying up till 4 in the morning. And naturally, that means I’m waking up not before one or two in the afternoon. The backlog of work accumulates- I have 24 newspapers to read as a part of my research, and several essays and soft copies of stuff related to my research. This is stuff I should have finished last month. It isn’t a whole lot- I read a lot more during my MPhil coursework-but it builds, and begins to look scary, and I avoid.

Waking up this late not only destroys the possibilities of the day in my head, it also builds a kind of lethargy that seeps into my weeks. There have been three events that I have missed in this past month because I could not/did not want to wake up in the morning.

The worst part is that I have not been able to aggressively grab the situation by its throat and say enough! I’m not doing anything to snap out of it. As long as I am actively doing something to resist these slides I feel good and able, even though I might be struggling.

Being stuck in this kind of mental space produces a very different kind of stock-taking. I feel like my PhD is drifting, reminded anew of how I’m not presenting any papers at conferences or publishing anything related to my area of work. I feel terribly insecure about my productivity at this point.

I’m not quite as worried about having meditated only about thrice this month; I am quietly confident that I will return to it sooner than later. That part of me, my identity as a child of and lover of God is the only thing that I have till date been unshakeably sure of.

I need to flip that switch.

Bookshelves, Bowie and Alan Rickman

18 Jan

Last night I gave our shared bookshelf at home a makeover. For some years now the books had been piling up in double rows, therefore obscuring the books that lay in the back row of every shelf. That seemed like a bit of a tragedy, for a bookshelf is more than just a place to stash your books; it is a place that holds memories and stories. I like to look at a book, remember when we/I bought it, when I read it, and I like to re-wallow in the thoughts and emotions experienced when I had first read it. Or, I like to look at its well-worn cover and remember why I re-read it so much over the years. I like to look at our multi-generational collection of books (or the section of it that remains and is housed here) and just feel happy and warm. It is an easily accessible repository of family and personal history.

It feels a bit strange to realise that I now have multiple unread books within my reach. When I was a child, such a thing could never have occurred. I consumed everything, age-appropriate or not. Adulthood, even graduate student adulthood, (and, let’s be honest, the internet…) comes in the way of single-minded consumption of the written word.

So there I was, duster in hand, re-positioning many books to the top shelf hitherto left untouched because of the dust factor. (Books catch dust anyway, but the unprotected top shelf is the worst dust magnet imaginable). In the past I’ve stacked books by differing logic. Sometimes by author, sometimes by size and shape, sometimes by ‘light’ and ‘serious’, sometimes by genre. This time I didn’t even think in terms of rules- I just let the books pick which ones they wanted to sit next to. Okay, I admit that is slightly woo-woo. However, I did indeed go by ‘feel’. So the Bartimaeus Trilogy sits with Sherlock Holmes and Samit Basu. Salman Rushdie chose Enid Blyton, and cricket chose Shakespeare. A couple of times I broke up a serial arrangement of books in the same series to insert a lone but much loved book, so it could get a hug and not feel alone. Not every book is loved deeply, but every shelf has a deeply loved book.


They have named a constellation after Bowie. One of the best descriptions I read of his music was ‘heavy yet light’. That is exactly what it was. And the tributes continue to pour in for Alan Rickman bearing witness to a unique life. Everybody is unique; but few people possess the tenacity and courage to single-mindedly be themselves over an entire lifetime. The lives of Bowie and Alan Rickman forever remain behind as an inspiration towards the fact that being authentic is enough. There is no guarantee that being authentic will gain you external or social validation, much less the success and fame that these two artists gained. That is not the point of their examples, for me. One doesn’t pursue authenticity for recognition, but it is reassuring to know that being authentic does not foreclose worldly greatness.

The blows fall thick and fast

15 Jan

And just like that, it is time to say Goodbye, Alan Rickman.

This man meant more to me than just his acting prowess and incredible voice. He was a good man, an unusual man, and it showed in his bearing, and his work.


Bye, Bowie.

12 Jan

I loved you. I will miss you.

Bye, 2015. And Season’s Greetings!

31 Dec

I’m glad to have made your acquaintance. In many ways you were like 2013: you walked me through quite a journey. In no specific order, some of my favourite things from this year:

*The share autos at Noida City Centre metro station. Because:

1)UPiites (Uttar Pradesh iites) really are polite, even if they burn their women and mutton eaters occasionally. And,

2) In order to extract the crazily parked and inevitably hemmed-in auto you are sitting in (or sitting behind) (filled with a minimum of 10 passengers) the driver will move backwards and forwards, going thud-thud into the autos in front and behind, like dodge’em cars, until there is space to manoeuvre out onto the main road.

*That twice daily meditations did not happen, but routinely longer ones did.

* The Cafe Coffee Day on Barakhamba road. After many misses, I’ve found ‘my’ coffee shop in the city.

* Days that begin at 5.30AM on winter mornings, finish by 3, leaving me the rest of the afternoon and evening for Noida visits and meditation.

* Who’d a thought I’d enjoy being out of the house by 5.30 AM? That I LIKE less sleep when forced into it?

* Goettingen. Lucking out on wonderful people there, both friends and strangers. Especially strangers.

* Uncle Chips. Many, many packets of it.

* Beginning, meaningfully, on field research for the second part of my PhD. I don’t care whether I actually finish or not: the journey thus far has far exceeded my expectations of learning when I began. But I will finish, because the ICSSR has kindly paid me a fellowship thus far.

* Noida, Nurnberg, Dakshineshwar.

Happy New Year, all. Because whyever not?

29 Oct

It is 1.24 AM and I am jotting down points related to fieldwork that I want to clarify/air out with my Supervisor tomorrow. Every few minutes I am also distractedly clicking on one of the many tabs that I have simultaneously kept open or keying in a new search term. I am distracted and I know it.

In my belly rest the remains of really well-made chicken malai tikka and a flavourful, herb-y lemon chicken ordered in from a neighbouring restaurant. Rich food is a nice opiate.

Scattered on the bed next to me are a sheaf of loose sheets that I have made notes on from three texts relevant to my immediate research. One of those is only available on google books, incompletely. I say ‘only’ because a hard copy costs a laughable Rs.10,000 from Routledge.

I want to add here some positive statements about how lucky I am to be doing a PhD, and to be earning a fellowship, but that will spoil my grumble. I AM very grateful to be doing a PhD but right now, at 1.32 AM I just want a grumble. Grumble grumble.

Sunday Diaries-9

12 Jul

Some Sunday diaries stayed unwritten because I’ve not managed to transfer photos from my camera. On June 19 I was at Dusseldorf for a day and the only thing I liked about the city were these themed sculptures of every day people on traffic signals and such. That, and the miso soup and sushi roll from a Japanese restaurant near the Gehry buildings. Places give off vibes and Dusseldorf and I simply didn’t hit it off. It’s not my kind of city. Or perhaps we did not meet on the right day.

The reason I was in Dusseldorf was to apply for a UK Visa. I have a very close friend in London and it was always our plan for me to visit whilst in Germany. The visa process-and cost-gave me major second thoughts, although in the end I concluded not visiting now meant I don’t know when I’d get the chance to see her and her husband next.

In the interest of saving some money, I booked myself a discounted OneBus return from Dusseldorf to Gottingen that arrived in Gottingen at something like 3.30AM. This was my second OneBus journey (the first being Prague-Gottingen) and this one came with packet of snacks and a bottle of water gratis. The driver-there was only one- was very young, with a very pleasant nature although I was wondering if he was overworked (it seemed at points that he was blinking very hard to chase sleep away, although I could be wrong about that). The thing with smaller bus companies is that you don’t know what kind of labour standards they follow. The market for long-distance buses is beginning to see some severe competition in Germany and OneBus offers deals that are cheaper than the market-leaders Meinfernbus, but not as cheap as MegaBus.

Sunday early morning I went to Hannover, and that day found out what I’d missed: that they also have Thursday meditations. I’ve now been making twice weekly visits to Hannover: mimicking my Calcutta routine, finally. Like I’ve already mentioned, I’m glad for it. It’s been largely responsible for holding together my inner environment.

The Lidl at Hannover Station might just be the only supermarket I have so far seen that stays open on Sundays! I’ve started doing most of my grocery shopping there since I’m in Hannover so often, and Lidl has some very good deals, especially towards the end of the month. I’ve also discovered 99 cent egg salad sandwiches at the Back Factory which makes for my Thursday dinners and Sunday lunches.

I amped up the reading for my second chapter and presentation, getting a surprising lot done on my train journeys. But the past couple of weeks have been a little stressful because suddenly there was presentation work to do, logistics to take care of and decisions to make. They’ve offered us an extension on our fellowship and after a lot of thought and speaking with my family, I’ve accepted it.

The biggest stress agent has, however, been the presentation. I’m sure the actual work is not as bad as I’m making it out to be, but my familiar demons have emerged, on cue. I’ve been reacting to my simple task with sheer panic and constant fear, so much so, that I have not even been able to write a sentence as yet. The best way to deal with it, as always, is to ensure that one keeps up with the meditation and maintains one’s perspective. It’s been harder to do that this time because I feel as if the stakes are higher for this presentation in comparison with presentations back home. There if I mess up, it reflects badly on just myself and I have a redo. But this presentation feels very big in my head because I see it as a day of judgement: was I worth the fellowship? My mind has visions of people going ‘That’s it? You’ve been here an entire semester and that’s all you’ve managed?’

Again, rationally speaking, I know nobody would say this. I also know that people aren’t really that bothered about these presentations, they are almost a formality. So in a way, it’s actually my mind that will be posing this question to me: ‘Is this all you have to show for it?’

These aren’t helpful thought patterns, but I’m having trouble shutting them down. It really does not help that this has been a week of no meditation. I tried to sit down today but I was too worked up to manage it. I also had a cold last week, which left me unable to work for two straight days. I’d like to believe that had I managed to work those two days, I wouldn’t have had to cancel my second Nuremberg trip scheduled for today. But I did, and I did.

One way or the other I will have to write this up by tomorrow. And somehow I will have to trust the words of my Supervisor who told me that I’ve never given a bad presentation so far. The hardest thing to do is to actually start writing. It feels like such an impossible task.

I will not let the fear win.