To All the Fucked Up Definitions of “Cool”

My first year of college, I made a friend who knew almost everybody in our handkerchief-sized campus. And while we sat at Stoners’ Spot, he sketched out the hierarchy of the popular for me.

In a nutshell, popularity in our college, if not our whole university, is “borrowed” and based off a complicated web of associations. Nobody cares about how smart you are, how talented you are or how funny you are if you aren’t already in the “In” circle – if you don’t already recite the daily, ‘Hey, what’s up?’ to the “coolest” people in campus. And there’s no way for you to be considered “cool” by every single other student of this “In” circle doesn’t publicly validate you.

Okay, sure. You need to be social for people to see how awesome you are. But since when did being cool become an exclusive commodity that you can only acquire if you know the so-called popular people in college? And why the fuck are we this obsessed with the idea of extroversion being the superior personality type?

My university thrives on its reputation of “encouraging” extracurricular activities and non-academic talents. And even though admission is based upon a ridiculously high academic performance, students are regularly called out for being ‘nerds’ if they attend too many classes. You’re very, very far from “cool” if you actually care about your grades. Or if you don’t study last moment like every other student. Do you even have a life if you’re not part of the dance, music or drama society?

College life is supposed to be about exploring your capabilities, right? It’s about discovering who you wanna be? Wrong. Based off everything I’ve seen, it’s about being boxed into the same old categories and spending way too much time figuring out how to become the top dog. It’s about pretending to care about things just for the sake of caring about something because you’re so goddamn afraid of wasting time doing nothing in your three years of undergrad. It’s about the very real, very unvoiced horror of wondering whether who you really are might not fit in with the rest of the world and then scrambling to imitate others so you’d be seen.

And that’s how the world works in general. You can keep telling yourself that you’ll be more true to yourself when you graduate, that it’s all just about surviving college but you’re lying. You don’t need to find a box to fit into, you already know that. You already know that you are cool. And no self-proclaimed “cool” person you meet at Stoners’ Spot can help you find a place on any shit-show hierarchy in college.

There is no hierarchy. We’re all just a bunch of child adults kicking around, trying to be heard. And as long as you don’t make your voice extra sugary or extra deep, as long as you just say it like you really, really want to, you’re cool.

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Just Another Morbid Rant

When I was nine years old and death loomed over our home, my mother won’t let me eat any of the food in the house. She said it wasn’t pure, wasn’t fit to be consumed. There was death in the food. It had to be thrown away. And even though she bought me all kinds of my favourite snacks, from the shop that day, especially strawberry cream biscuits, I still went to bed hungry.

Sometime that day, my mind created a new meaning of death. A meaning that has stuck with me through all these years. A meaning I can physically feel like the pangs of hunger in my belly. Death is emptiness. And today, I feel so empty.

It’s been a few days since the body was found not far from my new house. I didn’t know her. But I had passed the scene of her death so many times before. Strange how we never sense how a place is going to feel suddenly different one day. Strange how hungry I felt after finding out about her death. Strange how I could smell strawberry cream all night as I thought about her last moments.

Sometimes I think death follows me around wherever I go. And I know I shouldn’t feel that way. It can’t be true. I’ve been fortunate, never really lost a loved one out of the blue. I’ve never seen anyone die.

But I can feel death. I can feel it every night right before I fall asleep. I can feel it every time it rains in August. I can feel it every time I walk past my old home. I want this feeling to go away but the more I wish for it, the more it seeps into my pores like a layer of grease settling over water. Impenetrable. Like a trap.

I want to go on a walk but I don’t want to feel her death anymore. I don’t want to pass the spot where she lay for days before they found her. I don’t want to fear bumping into her murderer on the way.

I want to move again.

But You Need To Earn Money

It’s true, I spent all my savings on food and books last semester. I was on a happy binge and I told myself it was to improve my mental health. Well, my mental health is still broken and now, so are my finances. And I just remembered that that’s why I needed an internship this summer. To gain experience in content writing as well as earn some cash to support my healthy/unhealthy lifestyle next semester.

But well, I ain’t got no internship and I ain’t got no cash.

What I do have, however, is that tiny voice inside my head telling me that writing a novel this summer is not gonna help me achieve anything at all. I’d probably have wasted a lot of time and sacrificed all of that mental energy that I could have put into developing a rocking CV, just for one lousy book that would probably end up in some publishing intern’s trashcan some day.

There is no career in novel writing, they say. And you need a way to pay the bills. There isn’t a way for me to not pay them or to not have those bills in the first place. It’s life. And there isn’t a way for my writing to start paying bills right in the beginning of everything. Especially for a slow writer like me, only 700 words into this first book I’m trying to write and already questioning it all.

Balance. Work during the day, write at night. A strategy. But just the way one person can only function after a minimum eight hours of sleep and another can be energetic after just four hours, I cannot write like that. The only way I can write is in a semi-dark room, absorbed in the poetry and music of a thousand words for hours and hours on end. I need that hermitage – days on end spent leisurely strolling through the streets of my make-believe world. Unless I have touched every nook and cranny of every house on that street, I cannot begin to write. Unless I am the words and the words are me, I cannot begin to write.

It feels like the biggest gamble of my small, uneventful life to commit to novel writing for two whole months and do nothing else. No running after the same-old, same-old of the big, scary world out there. No preparing for the future.

It’s just me and my story right now. And I gotta say, I don’t think I’ve felt this happy since eighth grade.

Imprint

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his relentless fingers
follow an unbroken trajectory
of lusty greed
over my feverish skin,
smearing impossible daydreams
like a vibrant painting
bathed in hues of red
over my flawed body;
an immortal imprint
searing through my flesh slowly,
tendrils of heat
spreading tantalizing
through my veins,
mingling my blood with his essence,
leaving on my tongue
the scorching taste
of his maddening presence
like a permanent after taste
or an inescapable memory
of skin against skin,
of body against body,
united but never colliding –
an everlasting reverie.

Reminiscence

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it’s funny how it’s the little things that remind me of it. like the chill of the August rain pitter-pattering on my naked feet at the doorstep. like the taste of strawberry cream on the tip of my tongue. like the little spots of red, yellow and green in the darkness as i close my eyes against the sunlight.

it’s funny how the memories resurface out of nowhere. like an uninvited black cloud suddenly overshadowing a bright day. like an inescapable reality casting a darkness upon every soul that toils under it. so unlike the calm shade of a cheerful, happy reminiscence. so unlike the happy nostalgia of a gentle, radiant day

it’s funny how some words stay with us forever. and every song we ever hear is like an echo. an echo of those same old syllables we fail to forget. a long lost prophecy foretelling our destructive destiny. like a happy high note melting into a melancholic low lullaby.

it’s funny how before and after works. how easy it seems to conjure up dead realities and yet how impossible it seems to ever be able to touch them again. how easy it is to remember and how impossible to forget. how easy it is to wish it wasn’t real and how impossible to realise how real it really is.

Ceaseless

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You know those things that have no beginning or end? That you imagine to be an intricately threaded yet chaotic web of destinies and fates surrounding the universe, your universe? Those things that appear to be nothing and everything, all at the same time?

That’s how I look at you and me.

Was there ever any love between us? Here? In my head? In another world? Because sometimes when I think about you, waves upon waves of a warm feeling washes over me. Like an overwhelming sea grasping my arms with reckless abandon and then soothing my frenzied skin with it’s surprisingly gentle touch, lapping over my fingers and toes, filling my pores with all the calm of the ocean. But then, just a moment later, the water recedes and you fall away with it, leaving just as unexpectedly as you’d swept into my life, like a mirage I struggle to hold onto, running my lost fingers through the wet, disorienting sand. It sticks to me, that sand, and refuses to let go. It numbs my fingers and reminds me of the absence of your calming ripples. And just when I give up hope of ever meeting with you again, you swell forth and drown me under a tsunami of feelings.

And yet I question if it’s really love. Or ever was.

How can I say I fell in love, when I never really met you? When I knew you long before I knew myself? When I can never pinpoint a day, an hour, a second in my life and yours when I fell for you?

This warmth in my heart, rising up in my chest and bursting out of my heart, it’s always been there. A lifelong companion to my uneven breath. Not a ‘falling in love’, absolutely not. That’s supposed to be much more, isn’t it? That’s supposed to begin somewhere. On some long, laughter-filled summer night, under our blanket of silly stories; in a hot cup of coffee, shared, like in a classic teen movie; in a song danced to in the rain, drenched in new sensations and unspoken confessions; that’s how we’re supposed to fall in love.

But we never did.

Then why do I circle back to you every time, like a frustrated traveller who’s lost his way? Why does the warmth never leave my veins, no matter how far behind you leave me? Why do my hands always search for yours in a dark room? Why do I still long for the waves?

You know those things that have no beginning and no end?

That’s you and I. And our ceaseless story of unlove and waves.

Ruminating ‘Raazi’

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It is rare for a film that begins with dramatic, patriotic dialogue to end on a realistic note that truly questions war instead of glorifying it. Raazi accomplishes not just this commendable feat but also chooses to do so by portraying raw, personal turmoil instead of gruesome, action-packed violence.

The focus of the film initially appears to be on an individual’s duty to his/her country and the honour embedded in this duty. But slowly and gradually, the story unravels the ethical dilemma of the conflict of war:

Is the fight for peace really worth it when the very process to achieve it causes the complete opposite; when, to protect the majority, a few individuals are subjected to the very worst of trauma and suffering?

Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, explains the concept of imagined realities which Raazi very poignantly yet subtly portrays. Imagined realities are ‘common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination’. A ‘nation‘ is an imagined reality – a notion based on invisible, manmade borders – and so is ‘family‘ – nothing more than an alliance of humans who share some DNA and consequently, some resources. It’s a gross oversimplication without the emotional context, isn’t it?

Emotion is where things start to get complicated and that is exactly what Raazi expertly uses to paint a picture of the conflict between nation and family – a conflict of imagined realities. To whom does Sehmat truly owe her loyalty – her motherland or her husband’s family? Her father’s legacy of honour or her own conscience?

A terrible moral dilemma, all in the name of patriotism, transforms a young, innocent girl into committing murders and becoming an agent in the death and grief of others, including her own in-laws, some of whom were simply innocent bystanders. Their suffering is a screaming testimony of the harshest truth: every person is a victim in war. The enemy is not a monster – just someone with a different viewpoint who suffers equally. There is no real winner.

Raazi‘s message is the irony of war – that the very structures that are supposed to provide us with peace, security and efficiency tear apart our lives to ensure their own survival. Sehmat’s screams of anguish are the voice of every war victim’s question: What was it really worth?

Barefoot

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You know that warm, comforting feeling you get when you step onto soft grass with your bare feet? How the blades of grass gently tingle your skin and you feel a kind of one-ness with the earth?

You know that relieved breath of sigh you let out when you step out of your tiring shoes and sweaty socks at the end of a long day and let your toes feel the floor of your house? How the cool, hard tiled floor sends shivers of happiness right up your spine and you feel the majority of your stress and exhaustion just melt away into the ground?

You know that funky, uplifting feeling you get when you let your toes wriggle in the hot sand of a sunny, gorgeous beach? How your feet sink into the sand and you just become a part of the nature and beauty of the place itself?

I really hope you know how all this feels. I hope you’re not like me, terrified of letting myself walk barefoot on the ground for no logical reason. I hope when your toes touch the floor, you’re able to appreciate the beautiful feeling for me because damn, I wish I was in your place.

Letter to My Stranger

Dear Stranger,

I guess I’ve got some things to clear up with you. And even more to apologise for.

I know I’ve been acting weirdly and I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable. I did not mean to stare quite so hard at you, really. But it is partly your fault. You were the one who looked over first. And how do I explain what that did to me?

No, it’s not how you think it is. No, I’m not obsessed with you.

Fate is cruel. And so are your eyes. For they remind me of something. A someone who once mercilessly grabbed my arm and stomped on my already broken sanity. Your eyes have his laugh, Stranger. It knocks all breath out of my body.

It’s so much easier telling the world and even myself that I’m attracted to you because it’s the biggest lie I’ve ever spoken. And I could be a professional for all the lies I’ve told in my life. So that’s what I do. I tell them I’m hopelessly attracted to you so they’d think my abnormal attentiveness to your presence is normal.

Attraction is thrilling. But the shreds of my mind confuses that thrill with fear way too often. And that’s what’s happening between you and me. My own fear is pulling me towards you instead of making me run. It’s not courage. It’s self destruction.

My eyes are fixed on every move you make in a horrified paralysis. My mind is frantic with terror, seeing nothing but that imaginary monster in you and that monster alone. My body is cold with memory for it remembers more than my mind does, even the bits I subconsciously shut out to protect myself.

Dear Stranger, you make it more difficult when you stare back. And I’m so sorry for never looking away. I’m so sorry for hating you for something you never were and never will be. I’m sorry for glaring at you and I’m sorry for the unreciprocated friendly smiles.

But mostly I’m sorry for ever having run into you and dragging you into the middle of my crazy world. You deserve it even less than I did.

Sincerely,

That Girl Who Stares Too Much.

Growing Up

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I want to be five years old again. Back when colours were just colours and not reminders of people I once used to know. When happiness came in tiny, brightly-coloured packets of shiny candy and wasn’t accompanied with bitter memories that turned my tongue sour. When love was the toys I shared with my friends and not an elusive firefly I could never catch, glowing dimmer and dimmer the closer I got to it.

I want to be eight years old again. Back when games were just games, innocent fun to pass a lazy summer day and this deadly hide-and-seek life now plays with me was still in the future, far away. When my fingers were still learning to grip my pen with ease and not ripping apart notebooks filled with words from a past me. When songs were sung in high, exulted notes and not a voice near breaking for the fifth time today.

I want to be fifteen years old again. Back when breathing was something I did without a thought and didn’t have to think twice about laughing too hard. When a door was just a door with exciting adventures behind it and not a door with monsters lurking in the corners beside it. When life was a road I was yearning to walk, my eyes blissfully oblivious of the weeds that grew further down the path.

I don’t want to be twenty years old yet. I still have to call the people I think of when my eyes catch a certain shade of yellow. I still have to thank everyone who bought me candy when I was eleven. I still need to chase that firefly and seek the future. I still have to tape together the ripped notebooks, still need to try singing that song again because I’m positive, this time I can do it. I still need to catch my breath just so I can laugh some more. Still have to try the knob of every door. And when I’m done with all of that, I still need to put on a new pair of shoes and dance my way through all those weeds that lurk down the paths I choose.