Chapter 35: Lands without Lines


TRR Pi.jpg

A line: A straight continuous extent of zero thickness, that extends infinitely in both directions.

That’s what we were taught when we first learnt geometry. But the line in its pure form is always an abstraction, because the human existence is bound by beginnings and endings. Infinite, limitless existences confuse the human mind. The line segment and not the line therefore, is what suits human nature better. But given our expertise at aligning abstractions with everyday concreteness, we turn all line segments into a line. So you have telephone lines, electric lines, notebook lines, scratch lines, laugh lines, and the horrible bank lines. The humble, every day ‘line’ carries no semblance of infinity whatsoever, but we refuse to add the word segment to it. Doing so makes us feel better about our own segmented existence—makes us feel infinite as a line.

Despite that, the line segment is an enormously more productive entity than the limitless line itself. Why? Because the line segment connects two specific, finite points. Hundreds and thousands and millions of line segments connecting countless points. Connection is the greatest boon of life; it turns the planet into a network of heart and breath.

Like interconnected arteries, we pump blood into each other. Disconnected, the planet is a morgue.

And that’s why life itself needs a line— lifeline.

January 27, 2014

The worst part about someone you love being in a separate country on the planet is that you know so little about it.

Oman, apparently, is a country that rather detests visual lines. Don’t get me wrong, from what I’ve seen of the pictures Sajjad keeps sending me, Oman has breathtaking shore lines, steep hill lines, and impressively historical architecture lines. Nope, that’s not what I mean. What it blocks are video-calling lines. Skype, Viber, and rather ironically, Line.

Essentially, what I’m saying here is that for long-distance marriages (ugh, that word!) Oman likes to severe the lifeline. We’re scrounging around for life-support. WhatsApp chats and clicks, and very brief international calls. It’s never enough. How can it be, when you’ve loved, lived, breathed and for heaven’s sake made a baby together! Thoughts lose their tone in short messaging, time slows you down in typing—and don’t forget the bawling/snatching baby while you’re calling. Essentially, to be able to talk 10 minutes in peace, you should be sitting in the loo—and even then the baby’s bawling incessantly outside the door.

But that, perhaps, isn’t the biggest gulf in these conversations. There’s a continental gulf— a gulf of disillusion, a dread sea, a bay of delay.

“What’s the update on the family visa?” my favourite question.

“There are some… issues with the paperwork.” Always the same vague reply. “And I’m still struggling with the super tough driving test here.”

Considering that this guy has been driving cars—and I don’t mean remote controlled ones—since he was barely out of his shorts, this seems completely inconceivable.

You’re struggling with a driving test?”

“This isn’t India! The smallest wrong move gets you flunked. You have to change the gear precisely at the indicated speed, you have to remember who has the right of way, you cannot go slower than a certain speed, certain lanes are meant to be kept free for ambulances, certain lanes designated only for trucks and so on and so forth. We’re so used to lack of traffic laws here that the brain has to be completely reprogrammed. You have to unlearn everything you’ve learned.” He pauses, adding, “And importantly—this is a right hand traffic country—the steering wheel’s on the left.”

Uh-oh. That’s bad, really bad. Completely reconfiguring your driving sense.

“Oh…” I chew my lip. That still doesn’t explain why a driving licence is so crucial to me being there. I voice my doubts.

“Well,” he explains, “Oman has very limited public transport options. To be able to get around, you most definitely need a car. And with you and Hasan there, I don’t want to take any chances in case there’s an emergency.”

Hmm. That makes some sense, I reluctantly agree. But my Oman dreams are getting steadily replaced by apprehensions of all sorts— a land with blocked video calling, meagre public transport and a pronounced car culture. My heart gushes afresh with love for the Delhi Metro. Forget the Delhi Metro, my heart gushes afresh with love for the humble Aligarh Rickshaw too.

Sajjad is quick to assuage my fears. “You’re going to love it here,” he soothes me “Every place I go, everything I do, I just imagine you here with me, imagine us experiencing it together. Everything here is so pure and pollution free—I haven’t experienced the slightest ill health since I came. The food is absolutely unadulterated—and you should just taste the milk!”

Now that is a clever line, because adulterated food—milk in particular—has been a common concern for both of us ever since Hasan was born. Additionally, since the period from October to December each year is when Sajjad is plagued by bouts of seasonal asthma in India, the ‘not-falling-ill’ part is a masterstroke. I feel better already.

“And it’s really safe out here. People put up barbecues in the middle of nowhere—completely barren hillsides, even—and there’s not the slightest danger of being mugged or robbed or, you know, women’s safety concerns. I’m already dreaming of us having a barbecue once you’re here.”

Easier and easier. Better and better. The man has gained serious expertise in calming me down.

February 10, 2014

And finally, the day arrives. The man just cleared his driving test. We can officially drive around in Oman when I get there. There’s only one little problem, though. Nobody knows when I’m actually going to get there.

I cannot understand, for the life of me, what exactly is going on up there.

The company’s project for building culverts under a highway has gone down the drain—quite literally. The “vaadi”—valley—came down in a landslide halfway through the construction. Have they ever even heard of insurance, I ask? Apparently there’s been some tiny loop-hole in the policy that prevents it from covering this terrible setback. The company has been struck a major blow.

There’s only so much communication, and no more. Broken, dotted line segments that refuse to be entirely linked. Like a drawing in a children’s book that keeps asking you to join the dotted lines— without numbering them or ordering them in any way. So you keep trying and trying randomly with meaningless strokes to make sense of it and get the whole picture.

I see other, long distance couples, and they’re always—always—on the phone with each other, video calling, talking face to face. With no video calling available here, I am frustrated, unable to connect statements with expressions, unable to look him in the eye and get him down to explaining it all.

I’m beginning to wonder, now, if it’s really even worth it. Is it really worth sitting around, like the princess locked up in the farthest room of the tallest tower, waiting to be rescued? How long can one wait for a line to be cast, a line to grab on to when you’re drowning?

Isn’t there some way to cast your own line?

I can take other people’s advice and join Research at the University, working for my PhD. But that’s not the line taking me in a direction I want. It’s a line that keeps me right here, just “productively employed”. But there’s another line, pulling me in another direction. The one-year-old who’s completely dependent on me.

Shabnam, my godsend maid, has already escaped from the mad house—and who can blame her? I’ve been trying since years to escape this place myself. My mom’s already working full time, so if I opt to work full time too, who do I leave my son with? There’s always my firebrand Grandma Bazooka, of course, but a hyper-energetic, super-attention-seeking boy is too much for a septuagenarian to cope with all day—heck, I’m not even 30 and he drains the life out of me too. I could send him to his other grandparents’ home each day, but every time that happens he comes back with a completely soot-smudged face and blackened hands and I cannot stand the idea of him playing amid soot and cobwebs all day and then nobody caring a fig about washing his hands either. Paranoid mom syndrome. Inherited from my own mom, of course.

But then there’s another, equally important line segment, attached in another direction. My newspaper articles. From writing one column every week, I’ve gone up to writing two. That’s about eight to ten articles a month, and when you’re writing, researching is implicit. The work suits me perfectly; it’s what I find joy in. It fulfils me creatively, and I do not want to pursue any other thing professionally if it means letting this go.

So no, it isn’t that I don’t have anything “productive” to do—though heaven knows bringing up a tiny human being is productive enough in itself. No, it’s not that. The thing is that for me, as for countless other people in the universe, work cannot be a substitute for love. Creative fulfilment is separate from, despite being as important as, emotional fulfilment. Those who’re acquainted with Abraham Maslow’s Pyramid of Need know that the need for achievement is a separate part of self-actualisation than the need for affection, and the need for affection definitely comes first. The very basic needs occupy the base of the pyramid—so unless you have food, water, shelter and safety, you cannot really dream of achievements and freedom. And so too, unless your needs of love and belonging are met, you cannot completely rise to the phase of self-actualisation.

People who drown themselves in work often do it as a refuge from the feeling of being unloved. They seek refuge from a harsh world that perhaps refused them the love they deserved. But I’m not of those. I can’t ever stop seeking love.

And so amid all the line segments that keep pulling me in different directions, the one I seek is the one that most eludes me. Like the proverbial line of zero thickness stretching till infinity, the line carrying me to Oman has become an abstract geometric concept, one that can endlessly be visualised and theorised, but never morphs into an actual, tangible entity, a reality to be experienced.

My present, my future, my life as I know it, has all been turned into Pi.

An “irrational” quanity, whose “decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanent repeating pattern.”

Infinitesimally approximated, never exact.

A life, quite literally, of Pi.

Is Feminism anti-love? {Feminism vs Fairytales-II}


fairytales-beauty

Lend an ear to a lesser-known tale, the love story of a real life Prince. This is a fairytale with a difference.

In the year 1936, Edward, the Prince of Wales, succeeded to the throne of Britain and became King Edward VIII. But his reign lasted merely 326 days— less than a year— after which he chose to abdicate his throne to the younger brother. Why? Because Edward, the Prince, had fallen in love. Wallis Simpson, an American woman, had become the queen of his heart, but the throne of Britain refused to accept her as the Monarch’s official Queen. Wallis was a divorcee, and it was against the Church’s decree to marry a divorced woman while her former husband was still alive. Edward couldn’t keep both the crown on his head and the woman in his heart—he would have to make his choice. The young King proposed various alternative options through which he could be both Monarch and lover true. But the Church— and the people of England—rejected each one of them.

And so on the 11th of December, 1936, King Edward VIII stepped down from his throne, with these words addressed to his people— words worthy of a lover and a king: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” Within a year, Edward and Wallis were married in a private ceremony in France.

Edward gave up what few men can claim to ever possess—a real crown and an actual throne. He gave up the highest title of his land; from the King of England he stepped down into the position of Duke of Windsor.

There’s always that thing, that little thing, which makes you renounce every treasure, yet leaves you the richer for it. The trivial, insignificant thing that makes you relinquish power yet leaves you the stronger for it. A tiny, inconsequential thing.

A thing called love.

“It was love, love, love, love, love alone
Caused King Edward to leave his throne…”

0———————————-0

Fairytales don’t go down well with feminists.

The argument is that you shouldn’t ‘need a man’ to get you happiness; you should be able to find it yourself.

I see it all the time—the web is full of it. The ‘we don’t need a man’ declarations. I swear I saw a poster on social media that declared ‘Fairy Godmother, bring us the perfect career instead.’ Which is absolutely fine, but does this mean that a career is supposed to replace love? More importantly, as a feminist myself, this is what completely confounds me—do the same rules apply to men; do you ever admonish men for going full speed in the pursuit of love? I know the classic feminist is supposed to hate fairytales; so let me bring you a brief, reverse rendering of two of my favorite ones—from the male perspective instead. (I’m using the Disney versions, of course, not the original Brothers Grimm tales.)

Cinderella

The heir to the throne, the charming and handsome Prince falls in love with a peasant girl—a girl without title or fortune or ‘provenance’, so to speak, and puts on hold every royal activity even as he sets upon a veritable wild goose chase— glass slipper in hand, seeking nothing but the foot that fits it—that one woman who ruled his heart. And when he finds her, ragged and dirty, amid the cinders, he gives no thought to social mores and princely conventions, but takes her hand and leads her to his palace—making her the Queen of the Land.

Beauty and the Beast

The Beast in his huge and haunted castle has been waiting years upon years for a woman whose kiss would save him from this dreaded curse that robbed his human form. When one day a brave and well-read girl arrives to rescue her father from the clutches of the terrifying creature, the castle is filled with hope. The Beast’s kind and gentle side begins to resurface and the two bond together. But when Belle goes to visit her father and is unable to return, the Beast loses hope and languishes in the castle, pining away for his love. In the end, it is only Belle’s love that breaks his curse and makes him whole again.

Now that we just re-read the fairytales, what did we discover? A fairytale is not a tale of escape, it is not a tale of achievement and ambition; it is a story of finding love. Perhaps finding escape and redemption through love, too, but chiefly finding love itself. The actions of the heroes in the above-mentioned tales, or indeed, any other fairytale, are all guided by the quest for love. The thing to be noted is that the women they loved were not for beauty alone—they loved them for their kindness, intelligence, wit and charm. Perhaps, like Prince Charming, they cast aside social conventions and royal concerns, or like the Beast, they let go of their aggression and ego and open up for the healing touch of love. Like King Edward who gave up his throne— it’s love, love, love alone.

So to come back to my question—why don’t you ridicule, downgrade or put down men for casting the world aside in the pursuit of love? Why is a man not labelled as ‘disempowered’ when everything he does is for the sake of a woman? Do you ever hear men say ‘we don’t need a woman’? (Quite the contrary, of course.)

The reason a man never has to say this is because men seldom need to choose between ambition and love. Barring King Edward of course, who heroically tossed it all away—but is still considered a hero, not a disempowered sissy. (And that pretty much displays the inherent sexism in disparaging women when they give it up for love.)

For women, though, choosing love very often means an end to whatever other dreams they had. As Gloria Steinem and her ilk so succinctly put it in their slogans: ‘Sink into his arms and you may end up with your arms in his sink’. Because marriage would be, well, a dead end. Because women went into love expecting a fairytale, and then found that real life never lived up to it.

That was the reason why fairytales were so hated by the feminists: they wanted women to not sit around waiting to be rescued; they wanted women to stand up for themselves and rescue their own selves.  And that’s where it all started—the ‘we don’t need a man to be happy’ philosophy. Find your own happiness; be your own power, your own saviour.

Sisterhood of the liberated, I completely endorse your stand. But then there are different kinds of power, different types of powerful, and not all are the ones we’d want to be. Let’s just sit back and take note: fairytales are rife with powerful women— but they’re almost all evil. The Queen in Snow White, the Stepmother in Cinderella, the witch in Rapunzel. And that’s not sexism, sorry. Powerful men and women, in general, tend to choose the path of evil, simply because evil seems to pay higher—and faster. My point? Power is, in itself, a vile and terrible thing if not exercised for a noble cause. And in this regard, the heroines of fairy tales are far better ideals to aspire to, for they are kind and noble and brave.

The one really powerful and generous woman that springs to mind from fairytale universe is the Fairy Godmother. Think about it—how can you disregard her or forget her role in saving Cinderella? She’s that powerful woman who uses her gifts for positive ends. The sad part, of course, is that all she gives Cinderella are pretty dresses and slippers, and a Coach to get her to the Royal Ball. And this is where the reality of the bygone era steps in—the only ambition a woman could aspire to was a fortunate marriage, hopefully filled with love. Times have changed since then—drastically so. Why then do fairy tales still appeal to girls of all ages, in all generations, no matter what the era? Because, as I said, the fairytale is not a story of escape, it is not a story of ambition. It is a story of finding true love, and deep in the core of all our hearts—ambitious or otherwise—none can deny the desire to be truly loved.

So yes, little girls need to hear tales of women that rescue not just their own selves but others folks too—for that is the nobler thing to do. They need to be told that the purpose of their life is not just to be someone’s wife. Let them hear stories of real women, good and strong, who fought for a cause and either won or went down fighting to the last.

But let them also revel in the fairy tale, for in her heart, every girl is a princess.

Equally important is to let boys hear fairy tales too. When boys hear no fairy tales, they scarcely learn how to value love—and romance. A man that grows up hearing stories of a Prince that braved it all for his love would know much better how to love a woman and not let her down.

Here’s the little thing though—when we write the modern fairy tales this time around, let’s not make love the end. Let the stories step into the future, where the King and Queen both chart their noble paths, both ride their way to glory—side by side —lovers, friends, equals. Let man and woman both be each other’s support and realise their dreams together.

The need to be loved is as ancient and natural as life itself. To accept it is not weakness, to deny it is not strength. Ambition and love are meant to co-exist beautifully, boosting up each other.

Just like feminism and fairy tales.