We Are All Products of the Past

The following verse is a courtesy of a dear friend written some years ago and shared with me on a whim who, contrary to me, does not think highly of it :

The terror in the moonlight
Did hide itself in the sour lake
Which hated itself for being sweet
And missed the chance of being noticed
I now believe in living
But that too seems horrifying
With tales of my past fading away in front of me
I am forgetting myself
I wish I could come out
With the hope of living
That will surely be short

Panicking at the failed attempt to grasp onto a has-been version of your present self is an emotion all too familiar to people on a soul searching quest for belonging—the terror in the moonlight that hides itself in the sour lake, a lake whose depths go on stretching with the passage of time; with those recurring bouts of frustration at being incapable of emerging different and  better equipped than that younger self running parallel to the hysteria. Two parallel lines bending under the pressure of an undesired  lack of change only to meet at their point of intersection called hopelessness. While to many, emerging from past experiences, building from the bottom of the pit might be a phase that serves as a closure to their individual experiences, there are greater still who find themselves stuck in this horrible loop of deterioration with no visible end: infinitesimally small to the world, but to their persons a gigantic experience altogether, the analogy extending to a falling drop of rain on our bodies to that of an ant’s.

The anthology of a photography series Looking at the Past by Paulo Canabarro bring to attention precisely what this transition from past into the present means; of how invisible that change can seem over the fading years in our forgetful minds, against how stark a contrast it actually holds when beheld as a disillusionment of the inaccuracy of our fallible human memory. Writers of yore have marveled incessantly at this deception that time plays over all things subject to its cunning, whose ravages are inclusive of the highest snow covered peaks of the Himalayas to the tiny deceased nautilus’s symmetrical shell buried under the sea bed.

From the photography series Looking at the Past, photo by Daccc

In hiding ourselves in the lake of our insecurities, we miss the chance of being noticed by ourselves and by the world at large. The latter lines of the verse describe flawlessly the dilemma of choosing between holding onto the past that threatens to fade away.

The horrifying feeling of being lost, and not the getting lost which Rebecca Solnit talks about in her book which is a voluntary action, a choice we make despite all things considered: when we forget ourselves, forget who we were; something which indirectly shapes who we will be.

From the photography series Looking at the Past, photo by hairyeggg
From the photography series Looking at the Past, photo by jasonepowell

I had once found five times more than a score of photographs I had clicked on a digital camera now in ruins by courtesy of my younger brother, when I must have been twelve years old and we had gone to visit during one summer the beautiful and tranquil hillside of Nainital in Uttrakhand, a valley harboring the vast stretch of a lake surrounded by the mountains, which had formerly been a British hill station. It was on those shimmering waters when we had gone boating on a warm, sunny morning that, as I was sitting there on one end of the ferry staring at the golden surface of the lake in the sunlight, my father had insisted on clicking my picture after I had been through with clicking more than one of him and my brother sitting on the other end. Naturally—in view of how my camera conscious tendencies go—I had severely pleaded with him not to do so, although he refused to listen and quietly snapped a remarkably memorable photograph of me sitting there wrapped in an over-sized flotation jacket with one hand awkwardly placed on its hem while I obediently frowned at the camera lens pointed at me, at my loudly protesting subconscious’ cordial request. And that is one trait I carried with me into my younger self’s future and my present, along with an overpowering wonderment of nature

Sometimes we can trust our inertial tendencies to resist change; sometimes they are the ones we are succumbed to grieving.

From the photography series Looking at the Past, photo by Tinflower

This discovery leads me to believe in a thought I arrived at one afternoon as I watched the sunlight playing with the leaves in the roadside trees and closed shops and faces blurring past my window as I rode in the back of the wagon:

We are all products of the past. 

Lately I have been indulging myself with documenting very unprofessionally my experience through photography and writing in a journal. I write excessively: if it is a few lines that resonated with me, something I learnt from an article or a longer read, I will write them down in my journal, on stray papers or on the back of the book I found it it. In a nutshell, one could call it taking notes of one’s life—the creative benefits of keeping a diary, which old authors and diarists have always so dearly divulged.

It matters not how much it affects us consciously or unconsciously, but how we incorporate the essence and identity that is a culmination of one past arising from others; like the new cells that arise from previous cells —“Omnis cellula e cellula” into the legacy that is our individual experiences

Tattered paperbacks of novels I possess, with the leaves of some rendered golden with time.

We then believe in living, wishing to break free of the shackles of our insecurities and like the moonlight that hides itself in the lake while filled with a hesitant desire to come out and be noticed; we fear the ephemeral length of our lives and so we desperately cling to the hope of living, the yearning to be remembered of a life that is a product of our past…a life which we acknowledge with dread, that we know will surely be short. 


Arriving and Never Leaving

 The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”
—Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson

image source: Sarah Vasquez|Flickr

Often times, we have all stood alone in a swarming sea of faces familiar and simultaneously strange — alone, in the aesthetic sense when not one of the many faces pauses to engage us, and we are left only with our own company, a Polar Express of thoughts racing against the tick of the next set of feet nearing to go by oblivious, and an unblinking stare in one of the eight cardinal and sub-directions. There would, at one point, arrive the moment we stood there waiting for, say, in the form of a person— family, a friend, a colleague, or a stranger—who would beckon us to step over the demarcation: an abstract, metaphysical boundary, such as a closed system under observation in thermodynamics from whence our thoughts could not be exchanged unless an external stimulus, that is, the person in question, creates a doorway leading back to the present that lies beyond the realm of the intangible. It might seem outlandish to read such an elaborate discussion on the brief duration in which all of this would have actually taken place, but anybody who has ever dared wander in his or her own company more than just once, would accord in solidarity as to the meaning of precisely what these quiet moments hold.

It once happened some months ago, that as I was walking to my institution alongside my brother that one of those many unfamiliar faces somehow became familiar, for however brief a span of time it might have been. We had disembarked our father’s car dropping us off as we neared the school, for there was a long queue of all sorts of vehicles waiting to gain access to wherever it was they were heading. We had got out and jumping over a low railing separating the pedestrian path from the one taken by the motorized-beings— a jump which my brother enjoyed too much—we had walked down the lane a little, when, a middle-aged man on a two-wheeler getting his daughter(easily recognizable in the school uniform) to cross over the pedestrian side like we had, for we would all have been delayed very much by virtue of the traffic jam and never made it out in time. He was dropping her off to school when, apparently, he must have gotten stuck in that crawling line waiting in anticipation and I sensed, was faced with the dilemma of either walking his little daughter to school and leaving behind his transportation, or risk getting her late—in which case all the effort would have been in vain. Though again, I sensed his relief which must have gotten hold of him when, upon spotting me and my brother walking their way, for he stopped us to ask politely if we would let the little girl tag along with us.

I did not have to say anything; I helped him slip the little girl’s tiny school bag over her tiny shoulders, and putting a secure arm around her but at a courteous distance, we resumed walking with my brother strolling behind us. During our short journey, she walked silently beside me, with her wary eyes firmly focused on the road beneath her little feet with which she traversed its length. I kept my pace slow, smiling silently to myself all the while at her polite introversion and obedience — a companionship of traits such a rarity in even many grownups of these days. With myself never being good with strangers (even if the stranger happened to be the sweet, little girl that I met that day), I sympathized with her discomfort in my head; retrieving and putting again alternately my right arm around her, feeling the strong urge to protect the fragile, innocent child while she walked beside me, but I dared not say anything to her for fear of making her more uncomfortable than I knew — from experience all too well —she already might have been. Soon we reached our common destination, and I, asking her if she could get to her classroom alright to which she quietly nodded in response, parted ways with her to head to my own, just in time for the bell to go off.

I do not remember what I did that day during my classes, or of what I did afterwards; I might have recounted the tale to my friend as I am to you recounting thus to you now, however, I do remember thinking, and inadvertently smiling at the memory every time ( as I am now, yet again) that that was an encounter that I would not forget, even as the memory of her face fades away with time in my mind.

image source: Marianne Taylor Photography

She held something of that innocent purity that we all marvel at; she is that unnamed memory that one might not recall the reason as to how one might have acquired it, or when, or how it did, but do in fact remember the feeling it inspired in us then. And that is how when someday unconsciously it resurfaces to the forefront of our mind, we find our mouth pulling up at the corners of its own accord— perhaps, the object of a few questioning stares from that same swarming sea of nameless faces humming with aliveness in its active rhythm, its waters colliding against the shores of your knowing thoughts.

A memory we arrive at in serendipity, but never leave.

How unthoughtful of me, I did not even have the courage to ask my memory her name.

Silence and Solitude

I have been transfixed by the notion of solitude. Of the magic that unfolds when we pause, near a little creek, and listen: listen to the stillness, the silence that envelops the landscape with its gentle, caressing touch as it, slowly, one by one, lays the most lightest hand on every branch and leaf, on every bone and sinew of the woods—a magic spell that generates from the most profound depths of our souls and quickly spreads out over the skies of stillness like gray clouds progressing in on an overcast day—their arrival mixed with the sweet promise of rainfall.

image source: stronglikewater

And when, at nightfall, a similar silence—perhaps more profound—that escapes to confine the world in a grand abyss of blackness: a blackness, which, is not the absence of color, but rather the absorption of it, that the nostalgia ridden sky of the night desires to keep hoarded to itself and never give away, the awe inspiring wonderment of frozen and empty space.

Though, such silence and stillness is not only limited to the woods and the nighttime; it can found on the eerie summer afternoons in a time when the winter breeze approached fast with silent tread to take over the patches of mild, pleasant sunlight being absorbed into one’s skin at all sorts of strange angles. This warmth that was obscured by the overstanding canopies of fading concrete structures basking in it, and as I reveled in it, over the background commotion of voices standing out, I felt myself slowly slip away from that spot showered with the sun’s light where I stood, to somewhere the only consciousness in the back of my mind was the sensation of that warmth on my skin weathered by the winter.

I had felt that similar warmth when I had stood on a bend in one of the mountain roads shaded by the summit of the mountain thinning in vegetation with the height. The bend on which I stood overlooked a valley of coniferous trees as tall as the giants from fairytales, growing out of the earth of the cold mountain in the uphill direction and there, in that shadowed part of the trees, on that bend around me grew some smaller ones that bore a bright orange hued, spherical wild fruit that the others had stopped to observe. As the summit blocked us from the setting sun’s evaporating warmth, providing the cold wind up there with an opportunity to blow my way in triumph with the discovery that it had found me. It blew around me and around the tall trees above and below me, enveloping my vicinity in its inescapable chill. There had been silence on that part of the mountain, there had been stillness; the wind had chased down my shadow along the mountain path to create a ripple in the stillness of the atmosphere hovering above the valley beneath my feet. The ripple was ephemeral, however, the small ones that were created in the chain reaction of colliding disturbance were retained in my bones somewhat longer.

It was as if the cold wanted me to know that I could only evade it so long as the sunlight did not leave me.


image source: Brainpickings by Maria Popova