Or too hard not to? Both seem equally terrible.
A sweet hazelnut latte that found it’s way onto her tray
I’ve noticed that the way we introduce ourselves to new people has changed considerably over the years. Whether it’s at parties or trekking groups or any other interaction, the conversation always begins with “What do you do?”. And as a person who’s constantly flitting between employment and unemployment I think it’s unfortunate that introductions rely heavily on the work you do, how interesting it is, or how interesting you can make it sound. I try to remember what it was like back in college when no one really had a job, but my memory seems to fail me. I know that it’s not really possible to launch into narrations of childhood stories or embarrassing events when you’ve just met someone, but I wish there was a way to make introductions more real…
I want to know what you’re like,
Under that thick warm jacket of your vocation.
Whether it’s another human you work for, or yourself,
You are not what you do – I know that – neither am I.
Who are you then? Tell me the little things –
The bird you see at your window sill everyday
Who you have a secret name for.
Words that make you cringe,
And songs that have a special place in your heart.
Tell me how you hate shoelaces
And love the clink of wind chimes;
And whether you’re a beach person
Or a mountain person, like me.
Transport me back in time
To your quiet childhood.
Introduce me to your imaginary friends
And the silly games you played with yourself.
Give me every little detail
Of those that made you swoon
And how you made a fool of yourself
Just to be noticed.
What do you do on days devoid of to do lists?
Do you laze and watch the sun
As it slowly makes its way across the horizon.
Or do you rise at the crack of dawn
And go bird watching and antique scouting in dark alleys?
I want to know of all the times
That a stranger was nice to you,
Or you to them.
And how you’ll never forget that day.
All the weird things you’ve eaten.
And said. And thought. And done.
Don’t tell me “what you do”,
What you’re working on right now,
Or what your boss said last Friday.
I don’t want to know.
Paint me a picture
Of who you really are.
And maybe, we can take it from there…
Flipping through the pages of an old book,
Hidden away among endless to-do lists : an unfinished poem.
Among the structured, the mundane, the necessary,
The very same letters and the same ink
Making up a little piece of extraordinary.
The coffee stained pages a happy reminder
Of a day well spent with my favourite company, me.
The mind stops awhile to ponder
Over the incessant need for definition,and control;
This little page is testimony to quite the opposite.
As if screaming out to me, you must always make time for poetry…
Right there in the midst of your orderly life,
Days full of bills to pay, places to go and people to meet,
Steal a few moments of unproductive joy, chaos even.
Abandoning all else to finish an enrapturing book,
Stopping to take in the beauty of a moonlit sky,
Getting late for work whilst lingering over your breakfast,
Or forgetting the world, as I do now
To stare out my window at the pouring rain
With a hot cup of coffee, and my favourite company, me.
A few days ago I read Ashima’s post on how the Wednesday meditation group in Vadodara wrote letters to strangers, inspired by a movement started by a girl in New York in August 2011. What a lovely gesture! I thought I’d do it sometime, since I love writing letters and there aren’t too many people to write to and it seemed like a fun experiment. Surprising I dropped everything else and got down to it immediately. If you know me, you would know what a big deal that is! I got out my favourite orange pen, paper that was ruled on one side and blank on the other, quickly drew out an abstract sketch (which I like to believe represents warmth and happiness) and then came the hard part… What do you say to someone when you don’t know who they are – age, background, state of mind even? It was quite a puzzler. The website on the movement did give a few ideas, but I still couldn’t make up my mind on how to write something that could be ‘universally appealing’.
But then I put pen to paper and the words just came, I let them flow. It was a new experience for me; although I like writing my letters are usually a mix of free flowing and careful thought, a first draft precedes the final one. But not this letter, this was a one-shot thing. Whilst writing it occurred to me the whole point of it was to acknowledge that despite our differences, love is a universal language, and we could all do with a small dose of it tucked away in an envelope, no strings attached.
I told this stranger how it was my first time doing something like this, and how it felt weird but awesome at the same time. I told them a little about myself and tried to reassure them to have faith in the universe, just like I’m trying to do. I also encouraged them to pay it forward if they felt moved to. Turns out I had a lot to say to a stranger!
Next I bought the envelope, wrote a large ‘Pick me up’ on it, and scratched my head with a new puzzle: where should I put it? A lot of things crossed my mind: a place where it was easily noticeable, where it wouldn’t get damaged, where the recipient would be someone who’d appreciate it. Lot of thought for a random act of kindness, I know, but this letter was my labour of love, I wasn’t going to leave it just about anywhere!
The autorickshaw was my first choice, but I decided against it when I realized the letter might slip into the gap of the seat and lie there without anyone ever discovering it. When I met a friend for coffee at the mall I considered leaving it there but it was late and we were the last to leave, it might have gotten thrown out during the cleaning routine. So a whole day went by with a letter in an envelope and nowhere to post it.
But the next day I went out for coffee at a reasonable hour to a place where it seemed like someone would be likely to pick up a letter they found, and I simply left it there. Quietly slid it out of my diary whilst we were exiting, put it down on the table and walked away quickly before anyone could see what I was doing. I was nervous as hell and excited all at the same time.
And now there’s this odd sense of mystery… I’ll never know who found it or what they thought of it. Did they think it was totally random and crazy? Did they appreciate it? Will they pay it forward? Did it brighten their day? I’d like to believe it did. And I think I will write some more, soon…
I know you’ve been waiting for me,
Tucked away in an old photograph;
And that you’ll sneak up on me unexpectedly,
Transporting me to yesteryear
Where old friends wait around the corner.
Suddenly I’m sixteen again,
I can smell the caramel popcorn and taste the raindrops on my tongue.
You’re such a good storyteller,
Filling in the gaps so seamlessly
That I can’t tell fact from fiction,
Glorifying the yesterdays-
That were once but ordinary todays-
Making me smile, making me cry,
Enveloping me with feeling so thick
That I forget myself in your tales.
Grateful as I am for the time travel you allow,
I’d much prefer you as an infrequent visitor
Than an oft seen friend.
You see, I happen to be a fan of reality.
In the beginning of March whilst in Ahmadabad I spent the weekend at Ashima’s in Baroda, something planned and discussed for ages but only executed when we were two hours away from each other.
We visited the beautiful Laxmi Vilas palace, ate yummy pasta at home, and played numerous board games late into the night. While sipping my morning coffee admiring the collage of postcards and pictures on her refrigerator, Ashima told me about the “Charkha” postmark that’s stamped on every letter posted from the Gandhi Ashram. Now anyone who knows me would know that I love the idea of writing letters and postcards. It’s always so wonderful to receive a handwritten note; a tangible connection that leads one to imagine someone, somewhere only a short while ago sat on a park bench, penned down a message to you, put a stamp and an address and posted it! I’ve been labelled crazy and old school on sharing such thoughts; “who even writes letters nowadays?!”; but seeing that Ashima had posted a letter to herself from Ahmadabad just for the Charkha, I knew I wasn’t alone in my craziness. And thus began the saga of the letters.
Though I love writing my experience on the subject is limited. My friend Lipi and I used to write regularly when we were in the 8th grade, but I only ever sealed the envelope and addressed it, the stamping and posting was always done by dad.
Back in Ahmadabad after my fun weekend I decided it was the perfect opportunity to write. Ashima’s birthday was around the corner and I knew she’d appreciate a hand drawn birthday card with her favourite post mark. I also had two postcards to send to my aunts. My to-do list usually full of household tasks and groceries was now appended with ‘draft letters’ and ‘purchase stamps’. A visit to the post office was made on a sunny day whilst walking to work; I made a small detour, realizing this was my first time at a post office as far as I could remember. It was virtually empty save for 2-3 staff and others who looked to be friends of the staff stopping by for a chat! I was directed to a counter with a middle aged woman, I showed her my letters and told her of the destination so I knew how much postage to buy; my first stamp purchase! Back at work I addressed the postcards to my aunts, licking the stamps (small pause, for a big moment) and affixing them.
Now Ashima’s birthday card was a bit of a puzzler, I didn’t have her street address – one rarely has the addresses of friends these days – neither could I ask, since it would ruin the moment of receiving the birthday card. I could probably message her husband on Facebook but who knew when he’d reply, I couldn’t wait any longer to post my letters. After a bit of guesswork and some googling I addressed the letter feeling proud of myself at getting the address without any help, even from Sandeep who also lives in Baroda and sits right next to me at work! I trotted off to Gandhi Ashram next door, stopping at the gift shop to ask where I could get my letter stamped, the lady there she said I’d have to go to the post office and purchase stamps. I corrected myself, asking where I could get the post mark stamped onto my letter. She suppressed a laugh, directing me to the post box, informing me that the post mark is stamped by the post office when dispatching the letter to its correct destination. How was I to know, I’d never posted a letter before!
I proceeded toward the red shiny post box, slipped my two postcards and a greeting card into the letter box, and got back to office. The next week was spent in trying to forget that I had posted the letters, whilst also eagerly waiting for them to be received. A week later I heard from my mum that my aunts had received their respective postcards and were very touched by the gesture. There was still no news of the greeting card sent to Baroda, in spite of being a shorter distance away. I finally gave in and asked Ashima if she’d received any post from me, anticipating the disappointing answer and also discovering that my guesswork hadn’t been quite so accurate and the address was incomplete. Damn! The letter posting had all begun with her post mark story and to know that hers was the one card that didn’t reach was quite upsetting. I decided to forget about it and make up for it at a later date, though being the eternal optimist that I am, I hoped in some miraculous way the card would find its way home.
At the end of March my mum and friends from Bombay came to Ahmadabad to spend the last weekend of my stay with me, and Ashima joined in. In the midst of a packed itinerary which had us running from one end of the city to another, gorging on Gujarati food and ice cream, visiting Seva cafe and Gandhi Ashram, going on a heritage walk and meeting lots of wonderful people , another twist in the tale of the letter was revealed. Apparently I’d not only written an incomplete address, but even the pin code I’d found online was incorrect! Ashima and I had a good laugh at my overconfidence, pondered over the fate of lost mail, concluding that she would give it one last try by visiting the post office in her area after which it would be about time to give up hope. I promised to write a substitute letter although I couldn’t guarantee it would be exactly like the original.
The following Monday I returned to Bombay after a lot of tearful goodbyes, and the letter was forgotten in the joy of being back to my routine life. I even received the letter I’d posted to myself from Ahmadabad, but it was only whilst in a doctor’s waiting room, eager to make the most of my spare time, that I got out pen and paper and began drafting my letter to Ashima, planning to go home and write the ‘final version’. Imagine my surprise when I reached home and discovered that the letter we’d all given up hope on had actually made its way to the intended address!
It was nothing short of a miracle, or in Ashima’s words ‘Ahmadabad ki hawaa mein kuch hai’ . The postman who delivered the letter to her building watchman was actually apologetic about the delay, saying that this was due to the incomplete address and incorrect pin code. It was the highlight of my day, possibly my week. It’s amazing how the littlest things (and this wasn’t quite so little) can restore your faith in the world. Both of us had been certain the letter was lost, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be 🙂
And since I don’t like to leave drafted letters unposted, I posted my second letter anyway, using the post box near my house for the first time in my life. I put the right address this time round; and this blog post is drafted and will only be published once the letter is received, I don’t want to spoil the surprise.