Nostalgia,In The Age Of Social Media

I am scrolling through Twitter. I have tweeted about the daily displays of sexism I am sick of facing, and got a few favourites.

I am back on Twitter after a very long time, so I find myself going back to my own profile. In my photo gallery here, I am, when I appear, eighteen. Chubby-even more then than now,more pimples,hair freshly shorn. There are other photos too-books I am reading,snug under blankets as I wait for first my board exam results, and then university acceptances to come along. The first few days of college, and I am documenting every stretch of campus I am newly enraptured with.

Instagram. The story is the same. Hazy shots of books strewn across bedsheets, screenshots galore, shrines in dedication to my seventeen-year old mind’s heroes-Jim Morrison, Edie Sedgwick, Talitha Getty, Janis Joplin.These give way to a month spent vacationing in Delhi, then starting university-here again, a campus documented lovingly,if rigorously.

Someone said the digital media has killed albums-photo albums handed down generations, the intimacy of leafing through your childhood, your family huddled round you.

I am sure it has its charms. But..they died with Facebook,with Instagram,with the new non-commitment  of Snapchat and Instagram stories-they are replaced,you allege,by something that doesn’t deserve to replace them.

But these are our albums now,our stacks of journals,our letters,and these are our feeble,frantic,tiny histories.

What social media lets us do is tell our own stories. A little filtered maybe, a little adjusted sometimes to suit society’s expectations, or win its approval.

We still document,we still archive,we edit a little with time-who hasn’t?What documentation is, in this age,is a very personal, very individual-if not a little narcissistic, affair.

I am scrolling through Twitter,and I am thinking of nights I spent in a similar way,the glaring blue-and-white screen providing a series of distractions from the inevitable worries-results,college acceptances…I am thinking of playing Mohiner Ghoraguli in my room,alone, on a night like this-and dreaming of all university would open up to me,if only it opened up its gates. I am thinking of the youth I dreamed up and never got to live-the spirit of rebellion bubbling down from the 50s Beats-Hungryalists, and the 60s surges of counterculture-the rebellion that bubbles down to a Facebook post or two.I am thinking of the book by Deborah Baker I read, about the Beats in India-the quotes from the Kolkata chapter neatly archived on my Tumblr. I am thinking of the scarlet dupatta I bought from the Gujarat emporium on my 18th birthday and how pretty it made me feel,how a hashtag #reclaimthebindi made me re-examine everything I have ever learnt about my own culture and its backwardness,its sheer uncoolness.

This is how we assert life,dangling earrings and a selfie-I was here,I flaunted a defiant crimson smile. We leave traces of our thoughts,trickling off our heads,messy and glorious,we scatter our rage and our laughter onto Tumblr #aesthetics.

It is just part of how we live, do not dare tell us we are anything short of majestic.

On Loving Men Who Cannot Love You Back

The first boy you love is a boy you never say the word out aloud to,is a boy you keep your mouth clamped shut around-because the reality of him,of this, dazzles you.You know his eyes are warm and his lips are soft,and sometimes you sense a line or two of unwritten poetry hovering around his mouth when he speaks.When he speaks to you-just you,with no one else in sight,you feel like the first flush on rosy sunshine tainting the eastern sky every morning,but then his voice starts taking on tones of cruel,of bitter,the likes of which you haven’t really seen before so it terrifies and fascinates you all the more and he starts slipping into a dream or two.

You know he wants to love a girl as sad as him-you have seen the cracks and the jagged edges of his soul and you want to fill those in with wisps of light,but you are not sure he will appreciate seeing all that shine on you,so one day you strip yourself bare before him and show him the length and breadth of your brokenness.Then his hands are on you-you always thought he had nice hands,not nice like freshly washed bedsheets or a blooming rose,but nice like nights of being caught outside in a thunderstorm and taking refuge under a roadside shack,then coming home to a hot cup of tea and the knowledge that the storm will have quelled the summer heat by tomorrow,if only by a tiny bit.But to return to the boy,his hands are nice and when they are on you you almost fancy he is gathering the broken bits in his hands and putting you back together,but he doesn’t care about you at all.All he is really doing is rearranging your bits and pieces to make a mirror,and everytime you delight in his beautiful eyes looking your way,it is just his own reflection he insists on repeatedly checking.Honey,this boy you have come to love is a grade A narcissist but maybe,you think,in his own way he does love you back-so he is burying his face into the softness on you and building a home there with the shakiest of foundations,visiting once in a while,leaving behind a rumple on the sheets and a dent on the sofa seat but always licking his fingers clean of your sweetness before he steps outdoors.

This is the first love you know,it feels queasy and a little like morning sickness then and later,in retrospect,you equate it to a few shots of cheap liquor in quick succession.You smile at the naivety of your first intoxication.

After you do not answer his ring on the doorbell for three days straight,you gather together the fragments of who you had been and start afresh.Six months later,you found six new ways to work yourself up the same.There is never a dearth of trivialities to wear your heart out on.Your mind unfurls a collage of men-and they end up all looking the same.Men you almost loved or would have loved or could have loved,and they only wanted you in bits and pieces-wanted to step into your drawing room for a second,rearrange the furniture,pluck out a few souvenirs.They all looked a little sad while they were at it,so you loved them out of pity or was it empathy and when they did not,you loved them for they posed a novelty.

And it is very exhausting-as love always is,and unaccomplished ones even more so.You make a pattern out of it,so many unloves that you can thread the men together and dangle them from your wall as a symbol of triumph and of failure.Men who smell like cheap cigarettes,as chock full of promises as an un-inaugurated  diary but it is always the same tired scribbles filling the pages,it is always a few words coined from scratch and pieced together.It is always a few sentences scratched out and written over and over,till all your mistakes start looking just the same.And there begins the sum of your foolishness.

You are poised to rust your heart out again,and it feels like you are hanging off a cliff and there is a voice in your head that sounds like all the women you have ever loved,who have loved you back-step back,step back,you are more than this. But you wake up from a dream where you are lying face down on the pavement and then rolling out onto the road and a car buzzes over your head,and there is the rush of blood to your head that you cannot shake off even when you wake.Next time around there is a ship lost at sea and you want to be the light guiding it back,you fancy yourself the anchor tying it back to land but you are drowning and you are losing a layer of skin every day to the saltwater burning out your eyes and you jolt awake.

You loved him with one-half of your soul wrapped around a fiction and the other chained around your ankle,you trip over it with every step.You spin new stories in your head every day still,just like you did as a kid but there are more monsters and less angels in your stories everyday and the monsters are now looking like all your little loves,burning out too quick,then settling in your arms and falling asleep.

A lifetime stuffed into a few months’ time and all that dreaming seeping into you,now,only they did not learn love even in their sleep,even if you had tried singing them into  a dream.And so you start nodding off too,till you melt into a dream and into a story where the angels look once again the way you did when you were ten.So maybe this is your happily ever after,then.Your fairytale starts when you burn effigies of Prince Charming and smile at the mirror,build your own fictions and build them well,and climb up the staircase to your cloud-castle,little dear.

This blog gets more introspective (ridiculously self indulgent?) with every new post,and more personal than I had ever planned on letting it be.

And still,the old cliches,how much the personal is really shaped by the not-so-personal:the social,the economic,the political-at the risk of sounding like a throwback to class 11’s social science courses.

When I think of those “externals” shaping me, I can’t help resorting to the cliche of this city-the remnants of a fractured, not-so-old culture still bubbling in the cauldron.

I am always dreaming of leaving this city. I love this city.But to belong to this city the way I do-to be girl,to be then,woman,to be hopelessly middle-class here means to be largely excluded from this city and all the chaotic glory it has to offer. That is the paradox of my love affair  with  my hometown-I love it,I wish to inhabit it for good,more of it than just this cramped apartment and a sprawling,yet not big enough campus.And the violence,the misogyny,the patriarchal codes of conduct keeping me from doing so are just as much part of this city as anything else.

I want to take metros and buses and trams to explore every corner of this city-dig my nose into every shadow of glory past, peep into every glimmer of hope future. Capture all the ugly,all the beauty,all the shame,all the majesty.And maybe someday I can,I will-the only condition then being to detach myself from what fiercely anchors me to the city now,know this city as a hometown.The tourist knows the city extensively perhaps, the resident is claustrophobic with intensive knowledge- in knowing too much of the bits to which she is confined.I want both-not the claustrophobia,of course,but to know as much as I can and yet the unfiltered realities,all those details you miss by not really belonging,by only ever looking for a way out even in your time here.Am I in love with the city for what it is or for the possibilities of what was,what could have been,what might be?All the was-es and the could have-s,the eternal romanticism they say ruined Bengalis for good.

To love and to need to leave,if only to come back,to only ever really belong by not belonging.Among all the paradoxes this city is teaming with,this particular one seems to have seeped right into my soul.

 

Someone asked me about my blog a while back,and I told them I don’t update anymore.I liked blogging while I was at it,I really did but then I stopped because that’s the kind of person I am,never sticking to things and too lazy for the things that make me happy.

But things are getting bad again,and I need to write-perhaps writing here is the best because it isn’t Facebook where I am perpetually on my guard,and it isn’t a diary-still public enough to keep me from pouring out thoughts which I will still be cringing at, years down the line. What the public nature of all my venting forums cannot save me from,however,is living with those thoughts and those truths I will never quite be proud of.

Here’s the deal: I don’t know who I am anymore,I have been consciously trying to be something I am not but that probably stops soon-yet I can never go back to the person I used to be,I am  not sure I want to.

Facebook memories showed me a post from 5 years back where I said I was depressed “all the time” but I am nineteen,pretty much where I wanted to be-I was supposed to be happy by now.

Amidst a cocktail of loathing and distaste,the most overpowering is this distaste for my own self-absorption,yet one feeds of the other.

I read a post somewhere-Facebook,was it,or Tumblr-where they said selfish people are sad,and selfless people happy but what if it is our sadness that makes us selfish?Sadness can be crippling yet it is time perhaps we stop attaching value judgements to our emotions,prioritising one over the other.

Maybe happiness isn’t an accomplishment,maybe the best it is is fleeting,maybe it is overprioritised,maybe it is a fairytale-the last of the castles we keep on searching for,the demons in our mind the last ones we never quite slay. It’s just that things have been this way for a while now,and I am a little tired.