Tag Archives: New Year

The Venus Flytrap: On The Cusp Of A New Year

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Here is a story about patriarchy, faith and the passing of time. Many decades ago, when my grandfather was a Marxist, he would not allow altars or rituals in his spaces. My grandmother wrangled a concession in the one place in the household that belonged unequivocally to her. Each year, a new tearaway baby Murugan calendar would find its corner in her kitchen. And each day, she would place a flower on the sill of pages, until the year thinned enough that she had to affix it to the cardboard shrine in some other way.

As this year dwindles to a close, many are pinning great hopes on the one to come. Not because there is anything to look forward to, but because this calendar year seems to have been measured in more upsetting things on a public scale than usual. But humankind is selfish: there is no way that celebrity demises and political disruptions alone have created this atmosphere. That means that events in the theatre of the world have allowed for camouflaged expressions of private burdens and distress. By participating in collective performances of dismay, putting terrorism and pop culture on a near-even scale, one conveys emotions from a personal sphere that don’t necessarily get an airing otherwise.

It’s self-perpetuating: dissatisfaction leads us to seek validation from social media, and social media protocol demands constant opinionating on current affairs. My theory is that we appear to care more than we used to. My hope is that we actually do.

I’m not thinking about the year to come; I’m casting myself halfway into the last century, where my grandmother buys a fresh tearaway calendar for her contraband prayer alcove. She measured her lived years in pain and endurance, as do you and I. But she saw far into the future, which is why time after time I reach far into the past to find her anchoring.

The truth is that next year isn’t going to be radically different, because some of the upheaval we’ve experienced will cause permanent damage. The annals of history are replete with evidence, and the cycles of the present offer nothing new under the sun.

How dare we be so naïve? And how dare we distance ourselves from the fact that we co-created and contribute to this collapsing world, with its mutilated environment and scarcities of compassion and common sense?

For some years now, I’ve been meeting all celebratory occasions very quietly. That might be why that synecdochic piece of family history – about a calendar in a kitchen, my grandmother’s act of resistance in the years when her way of seeing the world had little place in its grander milieu – is on my mind now. This is the world we have inherited, whether we measure being in it in years or months or only by the ages we ourselves turn. It doesn’t have to be the world we leave behind. We must begin – again – to tend to the vision. Begin with a little self-carved stakehold. A corner so sovereign that no one can touch it. And quietly quotidian acts of faith and revolution, among the wilting blooms and crumpled pages.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 29th 2016. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: A Jarful Of Joy

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At the start of this year, I decided to keep a jar of wonders. Each time something very good – truly meaningful, or in the form of an accomplishment – happened, I wrote it down, folded the paper and kept it in a container meant just for this purpose.

Some years ago, during a time of struggle, I had embarked on a similar exercise, though far different in scale. Each day I would find three things I could be thankful for and write them down. They were the smallest things. A chance to wear certain earrings. Somebody’s smile. Ice cream. They were all I could have at the time.

A new year is like a birthday: no matter what we say about not taking them seriously, we do. Something in the stardust of our bodies responds to the orbit of the earth around the sun, and so we keep score, mark off tallies, calculate and clear the slate. Some years allow you to enjoy looking behind you; some years demand that you turn your back on them.

And where do I find you? Here we are at the very last page of that free tearaway calendar everyone has in their kitchen. Are you looking forward, or are you holding back? What did you make, using what you were given, this year? What do you carry with you as you step over, trying to keep your lucky foot forward, into the next?

It doesn’t feel like December in Madras this year. It’s not cold enough. It’s quiet, too. The intangible fabric of the city has been creased by the strandline of floodwaters.

But tomorrow can still feel like January. We’re only two weeks deep into mystical, romantic Margazhi. The harvest is around the corner – may our pots overflow!

Tonight, I will open my jar of wonders and read the notes, and bask in gratitude. This was the year I was blessed enough, and brave enough, to ask for more. This was the year the Queen of England was in my audience, listening to me recite a poem. This was the year I finished writing books I worked on for years. This was the year I started writing The Venus Flytrap again! For every piece of paper I fish out of that jar, I will be thankful, thankful, thankful.

I feel like I should add a dhrishti-dab, so let me just say that somewhere there’s an inverse of that jar and it contains disappointments, dead-ends, lost friendship, fear, grief, nights when even the moon snubbed my company and – of course – my perennial heart condition (i.e. broken). But I didn’t keep that jar.

And so, after reading the notes in the one I did keep, I will clear it out so that it will be not empty, just not yet filled. I don’t know how I will measure the coming year, whether it will be a year for asking or for accepting. Whether I will collect pebbles or count cairns. But that’s the beauty of a turning year, and the human need to reckon. We can always begin again.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 31st. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.