The Venus Flytrap: Huddled In A Bubble

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Of course the cotton seeds that have sprouted on the moon weren’t buried under its surface, the way they are on Earth. Instead, they’re in a sealed container still on board the docked mission. As the BBC put it, “The crops will try to form a mini biosphere – an artificial, self-sustaining environment.” Only the cotton seeds have sprouted; potato, rapeseed and other produce haven’t. Of all the forms of life – cotton, which only last year became genetically engineered to possibly be edible (or at least, not toxic). I wonder why China chose to shoot it into space.

An artificial, self-sustaining environment. The two words should cancel each other out, because the effort it takes to truly self-sustain cannot be simulated. Yet, in a strange way, we understand. That bubble in which we must sometimes live, because there’s no other way in which to survive. As 2018 ended, I was shocked by my naïveté in a post, shown on the “Memories” FB feature, from one year before that. I’d written that 2017 had been kind to me and that I’d remember it fondly – a statement which had rapidly proved untrue. I’d been in a bubble of forced gratitude, afraid to accept the truth of my misery. I could only do so in hindsight.

How much depends on the framing. One flip of the coin: in six months of that year I’d gone to Batticaloa twice, my ancestral town, and found a key I had looked for my whole life. Another flip of the coin: in those same six months I had been so sick from fatigue and anxiety that I declined a free trip to Bhutan, to mountains I had seen in dreams. One more frame: I ponder travel only because I did so little of it last year, when I thought I would do so much.

An astrologer friend opened my chart up. I told her how when she’d last done so, I hadn’t believed when she’d said I’d have to wait a year for what I’d thought was just around the corner. The lease on that prediction is up for renewal now. I remembered how when we’d last met she’d touched her heart with a sympathetic look and said, “Here – you had a terrible disillusionment, with the planets exact on that point about three months ago”. And how, dazed by the possibility of new love, I’d said No. I’d forgotten that something had indeed happened then, a culminating disappointment to a heartache that had dragged on for ages like roadkill on a bloodied wheel. One turn of the solar wheel later, she referenced that painful transit again and I saw it anew. How everything has a miasma. I hadn’t escaped with one terrible disillusionment in a December past; there was another that came later, even more harrowing, of another kind of love entirely, that I hadn’t framed that way before.

Sometimes life offers nothing but harsh conditions. We huddle within our bubbles – our artificial, desperate, self-sustaining environments – and tell ourselves what we need to. We cannot tell it straight until we’ve seen through the miasma, into clarity – or at least the next bubble.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on January 17th 2019. “The Venus Flytrap” appears  in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

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