Tag Archives: time

The Venus Flytrap: A Matter Of Time

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Some people will do nothing they deem important in the month of Aadi. They will not marry, they will not purchase property, they will not begin a business venture. I was born in this month, and I measure what is malefic and what is auspicious on another set of terms. The pages of calendars turn differently at different times. Anyone knows this. Some years rush by before you can count them. Some lacerate you so deeply that nothing ever comes to pass again without a sense of a reset, a point at which things came either before or after.

The wise have already taught us that time is an illusion. The wise-but-still-practical have taught us that it is a construct. It exists as we understand it because we invented clocks and calendars. There are other ways to measure even this, this practical view of reality. The shifting seasons. The way sunlight is partitioned by darkness. And then there is the moon, a perennial example even as she waxes and withdraws, even as she moves away from us at an inch and a half each year. (It tells you something about me, that I know this because of a poem, “Facts About The Moon” by Dorianne Laux. And each of our years only lasts so long because of this heavenly body’s orbit around its sun, and not by how its satellite gets further and further away).

Then there are the needs and cycles of the human body, and also the way nothing can stop its gradual decay. Some of my friends had crows’ feet at 25, and loved them, yet I know sexagenarians who dye their hair jet black. Another illusion. I don’t know how long I’ve had a smattering of dark dots around one eye but I think of them like spots on a deer’s pelt, I will not part with them even if they could be kissed off. I am told the dancer Chandralekha’s hair turned ivory not with age but in a cosmetic accident. Another illusion: perhaps that’s one of many ways in which she transcended time.

When I hear people say “it’s only a matter of time” to the unconsoled, I hear a platitude that allows them to not have to sit with them in the present, the place to which they are pinned. I’ve been the unconsoled, often (a useful but still vague measure of time). I know no one can have that assurance. I also know that very few have the grace to be patient alongside those who have no choice but to be.

Because time, ultimately, moves in ways beyond our control, even within the measures we seek to know it in. A construct, a concept or otherwise, it is what we are. The composite of how we move in the world, spend our lives (birth and death, and the in-between: that’s one decisive measure of time). Our long-sighted visions, our infinitesimally small moments. The things that they say will take time only truly take presence, our persistent belief that something will come to pass. Even if it is out of our hands. Even if it’s only an illusion.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on July 20th 2017. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

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.