In another Universe…

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I saw a play called Constellations couple of evenings ago. It is a beautifully told love story between two people and all the possible situations that could have happened to them triggered by their first response to each other. The play deals with various forms of their relationship in parallel universes.

The actual quantum-mechanical hypothesis of parallel universes is “universes that are separated from each other by a single quantum event.”

Now, I was never a good student of physics but I must say that is probably because no one ever taught it with the wonder I now feel about it.

Out of the many best dialogues in the play the first one that struck out for me was , “In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”

When I got down to paying attention to this the one part that fuelled my curiosity was the choices that I “never” made and how are they turning out in a parallel universe. Which lead me to think about the “what ifs” that cross our minds every now and then.

Now I don’t know if there is a parallel universe or no, but what I do know is that some of us suffer a great deal from hyper active imagination of the consequences from actions that we did not take. We can call it the “Could have” syndrome. If we had the option we would like to go back to some situations and would like to pick a different choice, even if it is out of curiosity. After all we all live the consequences of the choices we made, but it is not knowing what could have happened had we not followed our stronger instinct, had we not followed the right thing, had we not made the sensible choice…

The idea of parallel universe lets us imagine and indulge in fantasies of what might have happened and allows us to escape in a place of endless possibilities and scenarios. And when we indulge in fantasies we imagine a place where things might be better, more correct, happier, more free and above all different from the universe we know of as our current reality. The parallel universe in our imagination is our bolder choice, in our parallel universe we probably have more courage, less anxiety, more excitement less mundane. In our parallel universe things are going on just fine.

In our parallel universe life is idyllic, devoid of the choices we made that now pose as regrets in our current reality.

And the second dialogue was, “One of the basic laws of physics is that we don’t have a past and a present. Time is irrelevant at the level of atoms and molecules. It’s symmetrical. We have all the time we’ve always had.There’s not going to be any more or less of it.”

This dialogue was said in the context when she tells him that she is dying and he wishes they had more time.

When we think of our time with someone we love, and whether in moments of joy or loss it always feels too less. But to me the absolute Physics logic of the dialogue somewhere suggests the concept of destiny. When she tells him that, “we have all the time we have always had and there is not going to be any more or any less”, it simply says that is all the time we were meant to have. The time that it takes for the falling object from my hand to hit the floor is all the time that exists and once it hits the floor that journey is over. And who knows maybe in a parallel universe it is not, it is somewhere in the middle or about to start and may end very differently.

But irrespective of which universe we are in the fact is, that all that has a Beginning will have an End. It may or may not be to our liking but an End is inevitable. And if we remembered that, then perhaps we will be a little less miserable bunch. Now if we can get there with the help of Physics, then so be it. In the meantime there is a whole lot of in-between that needs our attention.

Destiny.

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Recently while traveling to a place which was fairly far flung from my imagination, strangest of thought struck me. There I was, looking at the beautiful landscape, enjoying the winter sun, breathing in fresh air, and for a moment I wondered, “How did I land here?”. This place was never a part of any plan, I did not even know it was there. But there I was, in a place that was not part of a plan but somehow connected by random dots of people, events, conversations somehow made me feel all of it to be a story and slightly unreal. It was one of those really light moments when you smile for a long time not knowing why you are smiling.

The randomness of being in that place made me think of “Destiny”.

Destiny, supposedly the one thing that no one escapes, it has the sound of certainty, it comes with an element of acceptance – acceptance of all the bad that happens to you (we are not necessarily thinking when the good is happening and saying, “Why me”?. Destiny comes with the weight or heaviness of a “forever”. People often take Destiny to be their destination, the end point, the point where everything comes to a halt, the point from where life will almost, always be the same. And most importantly Destiny is something that we all believe is completely out of our control.

But being in a beautiful place, a place I never imagined, or thought I will see, or the people I will meet, I thought that maybe destiny is not the end point, it is not a forever, instead it felt like a potent combination of my thoughts, my imagination, my passions, my impulses, my irrationalities, my idealism, my desires.

I thought while our destiny may lead us to places we never thought we would land, our imagination, our thoughts, our escapes, is what takes us to our destinies. Our paths cross places, people, we stop, we smile, we walk away to more thoughts, more imagination, more escapes and some other destiny.

Destiny, is nothing but a continuous series of magical moments.

The Cornerstone Of Our Life.

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Within the span of two days I watched a documentary called “One More Time with Feeling” about a singer called Nick Cave and some episodes of Westworld.

Now, while the two don’t connect either in plots or the nature of the narrative, both of them had one thought in common which when one starts to think about, it can take us on a journey to unravel a bit about ourselves.

In the beginning of the documentary, Nick Cave had said that, “Time is stretching right now…..”, and only comes back in the end to explain what he meant, he elaborates that Time is like an elastic, and while you keep stretching and moving away, it brings you back to that one point where it is tied, that point where you are tied. And that point is usually an incident. A turning point of our selves.

In Westworld, when one of the Robots realises that the reason why despite of all his memories being erased, one memory just wont go away as that memory is his Cornerstone. It is the whole thing his story is made around. And if that Cornerstone is taken away then there is nothing to him.

Incidentally, in both the cases, real and fictional (Nick Cave and Westworld) the incident or Cornerstone they refer to is the death of their son.

And that got me thinking of the Cornerstone around which my story is made, that incident that no matter how far I go from, pulls me right back (Thankfully, it is nothing as severe as in the case of Nick Cave).

In real life as opposed to Westworld, the Cornerstone of our life tends to change us forever, in ways we never thought we would, in experiencing the feelings which we never thought we can. And unfortunately, this cornerstone is mostly not a happy reminder. I know we all have one, that one incident which can still take us to indescribable pain -mind numbing, distant, yet so close a humdrum that one wonders if it ever happened at all, yet one feels so much loss that you know it did.

And there is no comparison on whose Cornerstone is the worst. It is the worst to whom it is happening. But here is the thing, despite of all that, we live, and after a while even engage with life and its joys. And despite of the pointlessness of this exercise called “Living” we will find a way. And in more cases than not, a new way comes along and it takes us to a beautiful place. And for few moments we may even forget that incident and be blissfully happy. And that feeling, the memory of that bliss is what makes us go on, the ability to feel joy and life again. That gives us hope and no, we don’t forget or disregard that Cornerstone, because we will always remain connected, after all that is the thing around which our story is made, but at the same time we will know that there are so many more feelings thrusting their way at us and we have no choice but to give in.

So, I guess if the Cornerstone of our lives has “Loss” written all over it the one thing we can do is find out how far does the elastic time takes us.

Almost Graceful.

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“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

This quote has been all over internet for a while and while it is easy to understand, it is very difficult to practice. And especially practicing the gracefully letting go part of things not meant for one. The reason it is difficult to be graceful during that time is because when we love something so deeply, we work hard on that love, we protect it, we nurture it, we fuel its fire, we do anything to make it happen and we can do anything to make it last. But the problem arises when we see that despite of ones best efforts, passion, drive, sacrifices and love, what one wants is just not possible. Whether it is a dream we have of achieving something, going somewhere, being someone or being with someone, it’s all the same, just a dream that we saw and wanted to make it real.

So when we see that the possibility of our dream may not be a reality we imagined it to be, the first thing that leaves us is Grace.

We get angry, hurt, we are pained, and we lash out, lash out at others and ourselves. The longer the time of adjustment between reality and acceptance, the longer the time to be graceful again. So, to my mind Grace is nothing but how we behave in this adjustment period of reality and acceptance.

This random thought occurred to me on a yoga mat, between some really tough transitions from one pose to another.

I realised that the days I manage to land from one pose to another without collapsing, without wobbling, without losing my focus, despite of knowing that I am not completely there in my pose, despite of the discomfort, despite of the pain in my body, I feel, I have been almost graceful. And that is when I realised that Grace in life is also my behaviour during the transition from my reality to my acceptance of it.

Grace is holding myself straight and still, despite of the pain, despite of the discomfort, despite of the desire to collapse. Grace is telling myself in life what I tell myself repeatedly on the yoga mat, “I am in no hurry. And while today I may not be there, it is okay. Some day I will get there.”

Bit of “Me” in my things.

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I like things I can hold, touch, feel, smell, see etc. etc. You get the drift. But lately one thing that has been bothering me (and that might be primarily because I am kind of old fashioned and like some things the good old way) is that, increasingly a lot of our stuff is becoming intangible. And by stuff I mean things we buy and keep with fondness because there are milestones, memories and moments associated with them. So, while audio cassettes replaced LPs, and CDs replaced audio cassettes, and now cloud has replaced CDs, it has also replaced the involvement of going into a music store, laboriously going through the music shop to find the cassette or CD, saving money for it in school or college, and then getting it home out of the cover and listening to it over and over again, lugging it around when one moved to the hostel and back and then wherever one moved. And then a time came to replace the old technology with the new form of this technological progression.

Today, if I am missing a song and want to listen to it all I have to do is go to my apple music account and download it or have it as part of my monthly subscription. So easy, yet I find it so impersonal.

Human beings by nature like memories and looking back upon them every now and then. And nostalgia is hand in glove with memories. Look all around us, taking pictures constantly, of things, places, people we love. What else are we doing but creating memories…memories to look back on. I came across this quote while reading something about nostalgia and then connecting that with my discomfort of things becoming intangible and the fact that I am re-reading “Immortality” at the moment, my discomfort began to make sense.

“Nostalgia can lend us much-needed context, perspective, and direction, reminding and reassuring us that our life (and that of others) is not as banal as it may seem, that it is rooted in a narrative, and that there have been—and will once again be—meaningful moments and experiences.” – Neel Burton M.D.

Having read the excerpt above I realized that all the “things” that we accumulate and some of it that we keep is the narrative of who we are, what we like and what we hold precious. Those are also the things that once we die will help make others some sense of us. Someone going through the books that we bought and kept, seeing the boarding cards tucked away in them, or name, date and city scribbled that tells the person when and where we bought it. Going through the pictures that are found in an envelope because there were too many to be framed, some pictures which never made it to social media, the music in the form of CDs, LPs…all the stuff that can be touched, seen, and felt. The stuff, that makes us tangible even if we are gone, the stuff that makes us slightly immortal in our own little world.

Those things will suggest our thought process and what we enjoyed and who knows what someone may learn or take away from that. But given the intangibility trend who will bother to go through the Kindle that we bought for convenience and see what we were reading and what was the pattern in our preference or log onto the music and pictures library to see what were those experiences or people or words that influenced us. The things others will look at and think, “Hey, never imagined Shaifali would ever listen to this!” or fight over who should take what book or music CD.

So while technology has started to make life more convenient for a while now so that we have more opportunities to experience things with ease and much more immediacy, it is also replacing our invisible form, our invisible form that lasts a little longer than our tangible selves. Things that will be shared and hopefully will make another person go through a journey much like ours or different.

Places of Answered and Unanswered Prayers.

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I have always loved temples, since childhood. I remember that in Nahan, a small town where I was born, there was a temple up the hill. It was a very short walk and I used to go there alone very often as a child. When I grew up the visits to temples or any place of prayer were rare as my parents though believers of God are fairly liberal and somewhere between laziness and hurry for modernity we stopped doing anything that continued a contact with God. We all grew up, got busy and moved on.

Though, many years later when I was travelling with a friend in Uttarakhand and we went to a temple with many many steps, many bells and I felt the same feeling of peace.

I realised that my love affair with temples, or places of prayer was not over.

Over the years, I have managed to see some beautiful places of prayer across many cities and few countries and have always walked away with a feeling of calm and hope. Very recently I visited two places of prayer, both are magnificent in terms of architecture and space but not any more or less important than the smaller places I have been to.

One is at the Vatican. St . Peter’s Basilica and the other one is Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum.

Both of them are worlds apart. While, St. Peter’s Basilica was buzzing with tourists taking selfies and all, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple does not allow photography and there is a dress code that one must follow and respect. But, there is a prayer room at St. Peter’s Basilica where one cannot speak aloud and all you can do is sit and pray or just sit for as long as you want. When I went there, I just sat and prayed for my family, friends and the world at large but there was something so moving about the place, so quiet and so heavy with the air of faith that I just found my eyes welling up and was unable to move due to this wave of emotion, a wave filled with a bit of self pity, a bit of feeling sorry for others, a bit of hopelessness, a bit of thankfulness, a bit of nostalgia and all of that. I realised that whenever I have looked around and seen people at places of prayer all I have seen is this intense devotion. You see them praying with the intensity that looks like once they walk out of here all their problems will be miraculously solved. But I don’t think those miracles happen very often.

What I did realise that it is not the presence of idols or symbols but the presence of human faith that makes a place of prayer powerful and hence that God is nothing but the energy created thanks to human faith.

It is the energy that we create and it takes a tangible form in our minds. And that form make us believe that things will get better. Prayer is nothing but a one sided conversation and God is probably our best shrink. We speak to God with all the honesty, I don’t think we are ever that honest with anyone else. We are honest with the energy because an invisible and non-tangible, silent form is not judging us. Since we are talking to our own energy, conversations with God are actually honest conversations with our own selves. Just that the idea of talking to God makes us feel there is someone listening and is less judgemental about us than we are.

Conversations with God help us to say it as is, it also helps to re-articulate and question what we are praying for, question if what we are praying for is what we want or is it something else. Conversations with God is an iterative process of arriving at that absolute one sentence we know when we say it, it will feel right. And frankly at the end of all this, I have realised that by and large all that we want is health, empathy and joy. The rest are just means to this end.

We as human beings need faith and hope to go on. To believe that what is good today shall remain good and what is not will become better. But in reality it isn’t always so. And that is our strife and that is our struggle with life. We strive to keep making ourselves better despite of reality and we keep struggling to understand how. For a better life I am not sure what the benchmarks are anymore. Because when I look around my life, I realise that it is pretty damn good.

So in places of prayer while I pray for health, happiness and joy, I also enjoy the energy of human faith that gives me more hope. And of course I do love the vast places of prayer that have come to stand tall thanks to the power of faith.

Old books & lovers.

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I want to meet you again, with the familiarity of re-reading an old favourite book.

You know the story, the beginning, the middle and the end.

But in between the lines detail is what has been slightly forgotten.

I want to smile again. At the sentence that I have read earlier, but it feels anew.

Because, even though my mind forgot the memory of those words,

that familiar glee never fails to reach my eyes.

You may say the same sentences or different ones,

but I know that I will still smile.

Because what I remember is not what you said,

because what I will always remember is how I felt when you speak.

I just want to sit quietly and hear you say things, random things,

because I want to remember your face,

your face that you are so conscious of,

when you look away because you are feeling shy,

when you purse your lips because you don’t know what to do if I cried.

Like I hold that old and familiar book,

I want to sit across the table and hold your face with my gaze

examine if the grey hair that you have,

is more than when we met last.

I want to smile wide and honest so you can see my wrinkles.

I want to inhale that smell of you like we smell old books.

They are musty and comforting.

I may find something new in the book this time.

We may find something new in the conversation.

But the feeling of familiar, comforts me for very long.

How can something so old and so familiar still give a feeling of new, fresh excitement?

How does that feeling remain?

Is it the time, is it the distance, or is it just the memory?

Memory that misses the details but only remembers parts of elation.

The parts where words across a page made me think and re-think.

The joy that was brought by that thought.

The words that made me discover a whole new me.

The words that added to “me” being who I am today.

That is why I want to meet you again.

To just watch while you speak.

Miss the details of your words. But remember that feeling which made me find who I am today.

That feeling which nudged me to test myself and see what it really meant to love.

That feeling which makes me remember not the details of your words but the intensity of my feelings.

I want to keep you like that book I am re-reading by my side, for a while. At least, just that while.