Instruction for cleaning the mirror

I take my time, wondering who the stranger in the reflection is. Watch everything, read everything, hear everything. Well that’s I pretend to want. Feels like we all expect to emerge from the month in lock down with new talents.

The world has too many sharp edges and I have nothing to buff them with. Yesterday a phone call pinned me to the center of someone else’s world. The mirror has splotches and mystery marks I can’t pinpoint. “I prefer keeping work at a safe distance” I tell myself as I take the mirror to the window.

In the light, the stains jump out to me. I erase them, my hand steadily waving at the silent stare in the mirror. The surface is clearer but the image is still hazy, shrouded by fog. The mirrors edges are brittle and discolored, plastic shows its age even if it never goes away. In these times of isolation you have no excuse not to self reflect; so close your eyes, take a deep breath and look into the mirror.

Lucid

Bringing his paw down on my chest with all his weight behind it, his wide eyed stare and desperate mews informing me he needs a midnight snack.

He’s got a flare for the dramatic, mewing and howling while he darts between my legs. He pauses so we can make eye contact, then turns to the shelf where the cat food is kept, then back to my face and then to his reflection mewing at it. This is his little ritual, his foolproof method of making sure the humans understand what he wants.

He seems to know when I’m dreaming, his mews cutting through whatever absurd scenario I’m caught in. The scene pauses and everyone in the dream looks around till I realise I have to feed my cat. I smile apologetically while I leave the dream and rush to the cabinet.

Without my glasses he’s just a drowsy white blur in darkness. I’m quick to go back to sleep after petting him while he chows down greedily. As I slip back into sleep, I have him besides me looking for whatever it was I was dreaming.

These rituals always help me remember my dreams in the morning, the stories I recall begin with my pet mewing.

Lone crane

The crane flies low, dangerously close to the roofs of cars, so close that a careless truck could quickly knock it out of the sky. Everyday the swan swoops down, the same time, the same place.

The crane visits the green lawn by the bungalow, the dogs and inhabitants give him no mind. He feeds and makes his way across the street, slowing working his way up, towards the end of the patchy shrubs between the pavement and tar road. He moves methodically, disappearing and appearing on roofs, compound walls but never parked cars.

That is his afternoon, by evening when the sky turns grey and dull, he flies off. A fellow observer knew the cranes patterns and told me where to look for him. Their main takeaway was that the crane had a strict adherence to routine and that it was alone.

This was once a valley, named after the elephants who drank at the lake. Now the valley is flattened by apartment complexes, houses, roads and turns. The low storm drain was once a fast stream and maybe instead of the pigeons, kingfisher and hawks, between electric wires and dropping covered TV-dishes there was more to this valley for a crane.

Can you tell a crane to move? That the lakes are gone and that there may be one, but soon he’ll be gone.

A visitor

It’s not a power cut, but the street lights are off. For the first time in a long time shadows steak across the neighbourhood as busy houses are the only source of light.

It is an unusual look for a residential area in a city to have. The absence seems to amplifies the voice of people moving around. Maybe they’re trying to compensate and keep themselves visible. The light and shadows make patterns that mirror the houses and people who live here. In this rare occasion the buildings have gone from the familiar & banal suburban stylings to something eccentric. The concrete moves, jutting, moving, and reaching for highs and lows, breathing in and out according to their builders fancies and wallets. Very strange that an unremarkable street would show so much character.

The stray cats and dogs are bolder in how they scurry about, still quick footed but openly moving in human sight, no longer dodging and ducking below human reach. The wildlife picks up the pace only when humans walk closely but are clearly emboldened. The trees seem to gain prominence, they block off light from houses, their branches and foliage attempting to envelope their sections of the street. When they shudder and rock back & forth, you notice it and feel the life in them.

It is more obviously late, the silence and people retreating inside seem like rare visitors from the countryside. There are maintenance crews, moving slowly from their vans, could I ask them to come back some other day?

Traffic claustrophobia

Lines of sun beaten faces twist and curve along the flyover, moving from their still and slightly annoyed expressions to frustrated sighs as the traffic inches by. They turn, look down, inspect their vehicles, stop to have a look at the congestion up ahead while noticing now and then someone else they had previously overtaken, passed by or trailed in some new alignment in relation to them.

Now and then the flyover rumbles underneath the vehicles and humming engines in a concerning manner. The bridges are meant to do this, if they didn’t the bridges would crumble. The rumbling is because of the wiggle room to account for vibrations from vehicles and changes in temperature. Such concerning shakes are possibly an inbuilt safety feature to prevent the lethargy and dullness in the traffic from putting travelers to sleep. Put the traffic to sleep and you’ve killed a city.

Seated on the flyover, one’s line of sight has the dusty tree tops, the unseen and uglier portions of building that their owner’s don’t care to hide and a blue sky. A pedestrian might catch a glimpse of the sky, which on the bustling streets seems like an idyllic escape that hung over a quiet farm or town that once marked the area. The flyover offers a different perspective- the sky empty and echoing the dulling noise, the warm and dusty breeze that seeps out of the city below it and escapes desperately like a man gasping for air, greedily drawing in all that it can to live a little longer.

There are no idyllic villages left, there are warm backwater’s gasping at anything urbane while dust and plastic accumulate along the widening roads that march from the cities. Travelers scratch their heads, pull up scarves, push their sunglasses up after twisting their noses. Dammed fools of them, dammed like the rest of us, blindly grabbing at something the city seemed to promise. There’s got to be someone among those who rule over us who’s tired of squeezing everyone into one tried, dusty ball of confused complaints about how the world is. I really hope there is.

It’s not like the ones on the bridge are getting anywhere in this traffic.

Cat in the mirror

My cats picked up a habit where he looks at mirrors whenever he wants something.

Initially I thought he was looking for another cat, then his lost bother or maybe it was a habit we’d conditioned. Every time he wanted attention, food or water he’d look at any reflective surface he could find and meow at it

But I see him stare, look close, look far into it. I wonder if it’s not us he’s talking to. If he isn’t calling us through the mirror. Maybe he’s looking to himself, affirming he’s there, that he feels what he does and that what he sees is what he is.

What does it take for a cat to know himself?

Why animals can’t talk

My grandfather points to the sleeping cat to ask “Why didn’t God give them speech? Isn’t that a mistake? You think dogs would eat their own shit if they could talk?”

Words of wisdom to start your week to. Well it’s nearing the end of the year so I guess I could carry it forward. I like the irreverance of it all. This year’s been slow on the writing. Can’t be creative when you’re trying to get it right. How less could you stumble onto these kind of important questions?

It compeles me to try and reach some kind of worthy follow up for an answer. But it is it’s own kind of profound. Don’t answer it, just ask the question. Savour the lack in any answer to it and you can get anywhere you’d like. That’s how you avoid having nothing to say.

Or at least that’s how easy things look in hindsight. I’m not sure where all this is going, this is really just a bit of goaless writing which is a kind of liberating I haven’t know for a while. So cheers to that.

Pre-2010 web writing

Reading through websites that died before the 2010’s is like reading an old newspaper.

There’s this brevity with everything that was possible only when you had your pages clutter free to accomodate slow internet speeds. It makes sense why they’d appropriate the style of writing you’d expect in a newspaper. But the writing knew it’s audience would already be looking elsewhere for the news so had to report with a difference.

There’s this earnest and unfamiliar sensibility you keep noticing. Clearly they’ve take a few cues but nothing is passé yet, no aggregators eating up all the views and the viewers are explorers stumbling and moving with no direction in place. You aren’t a subscriber, readers, customer, and statistic just yet. The webmasters were trying to sell you on what you liked, not what you wanted. Nothing is polished and the webpages are all bling and gaudy wallpaper.

There’s an erratic, broken and unfinished feel about all of it. Everything you read isn’t all from the internet so there’s a real person’s voice someone’s experience, because what else can you put up there? It went on and off, and the scale for a lot of people wasn’t that crazy. It let you kinda make it your own, you weren’t looking for those numbers if you were just someone else trying things out.

More than that, the blogs just start and stop, everything’s on a whim and there wasn’t much to be invested in. I mean I’m reading through an old guide to Bangalore buried and nearly invisible under all the new content from about 9 identical apps wondering what it is that makes the words feel so different and honest while the authors as they were in those pieces are probably long gone and their writing lost as well. You go with the tide or it drowns you out.

It was still a soapbox where they didn’t seem to know there were rules, that there was some algorithm to chase-nor did they fear those algorithmic ups and downs. It’s a clear voice talking from a place that’s clearly offline, closer to the real world.

Maybe I’m cooking up a rosy past but the authors have no name, no pictures, no profiles, no bios but a few paragraphs about the restaurants they like around town has told me far more than those could ever have.

Dreaming up the past

A few days ago I decided to make an entry in my dream journal, a habit I’d long given up on. Remembering dreams and then getting around to actually logging what you remember isn’t the easiest thing.

It seems like some lost passion from idyllic days when the mornings were even easier on me, still an insufferably efficient morning person. Of course I couldn’t help but glance a the last two entries which had the real surprise. It’s one thing to see the world around you as a different place but reading about yourself as a different person too?

Now and then I think we all see our pasts as nostalgic breezy passages that we dreamt up or as some long lost paradise you pine after- depending on how your day went. It’s weird then, that the last logs a year ago were about people I hadn’t spoken to or thought of in three. It’s weirder still that your dreams weren’t really about anything, just some people, and how far you’d grown. Was the past that different or was the person who wrote all of that down a little less grim, a little more hopeful?

The least realistic part was how easy it was to move past the silence, the awkward combination of familiarity, distance and old breaks that you don’t even remember. The unreliability of dreams seemed to concentrate on the narrator. The person writing those entries seemed to have slipped away just like those dream I never bothered writing down.

Sleep’s a discipline

I love the feeling of the cold, creased and sun dried bed that carries me. When I sleep I stay still.

Maybe I take sleep too seriously; I’ve already diagnosed its origins. I once had a bout of sleeplessness after a very do nothing day at my grandparents home- which was nearly all summer vacations there. What killed me was how boring it was to just toss and turn, how mindless and agitating it was to just wait for the sunrise. Desperate to scratch that increasingly unbearable itch I asked for help. They told me that there was no need to trouble their sleep with my insomnia, which in hindsight seems like a fair point. Yet this was a death sentence for a young and suddenly energetic mind in a house in those strange and long past days where you had to ask to use the TV and had to ration those precious 30 minutes of screen time you were allowed.

Those 30 minutes were enough though, most of what was on the screen was crap (maybe something’s never change). In those days however you’d suffer from erratic and only occasional coverage in the village and a distinct lack of interesting options. The doors stayed strictly locked, every light was thoroughly investigated and everyone slept lightly ready to bemoan anything that got in the way of their sleep.

In that single instance I made a decision that I’ve stuck to for the rest of my life. I turned sleep into a discipline I mastered that very night. I went through all the motions, all the rhythms and breathing that I could remember about sleep. I made up my mind and every night since I proved myself by staying still, magnifying every itch only to fight the urge to get rid of it, claiming my mind till there wasn’t anything on it. The skill has taken me far and while I can’t say it’s gotten me into a lot of beds, its certainly got me reaching those 8 necessary hours in strange places.

You get a lot of incredulous looks when you make it cross legged and twisted through sofas, mats, floors, roofs, benches, bathtubs and tables to emerge well rested at 6 am and restless by 6:05. There’s a point that I’ve been hinting at through all this. It’s just that I’m not sure I really want to say it. I guess this is the kind of person I am. Don’t sleep and you get to thinking, drooping and complaining.

I wonder why I’m cutting into my sleeping hours today to post this. In some ways writing seems like those cool spreads that bound me, the nightfall asking me to be still.