This too, shall pass…


There are times when we look at the world and feel despair. Events over the months of 2016 and part way across the threshold of 2017, have given us justifiable cause for such malaise.

Trump will be president within days. The Syrians are either forgotten or vilified, Britain is leaving the EU, the weather has turned to murk and it’s cold. Underlying it all is the common theme of hate and fear and it’s all fueled by the need for power. Xenophobia is a weapon of mass destruction and yet it is allowed to be wielded time and time again, not for a greater good, but for the good of a tiny minority.

What has happened to humanity? Some of us are outraged but not enough of us. Are the rest of us just apathetic then? How has it come to this?

There will be a women’s march in London, against Trump next week, just ahead of his inauguration, and I’m considering going with my daughter. But Trump is not the disease, he is simply the symptom of a system which demands that we look out only for ourselves. The individual will always be greater than the group because as individuals, we have tasted ego and it is a heady cocktail rush of me, me, me! And it’s highly addictive!

Research has shown that happiness is not achieved from helping ourselves, but by helping others. It can be gleaned from gratitude and noticing all the beauty that we are surrounded by.

The winter months in England are notorious for carrying, in its wake, a fugue of depression. Sometimes the sun won’t be seen for days, with a steady unsatisfying, grey drizzle, forming a kind of hazy veil over the world we see. It’s hard to see the beauty with branches bare overhead and hues of grey underfoot. Where to find the happiness here?

To recap, the world is filled with racists and the weather is shit!

At times like these I miss the Indian sun and the certainty of belonging with the rest of the brown folk. I miss waking up when it’s light outside. I miss the heat.

Again, I ask, where is the beauty? Where is my happiness?

I search and I search and then I sit down and cry. Just then, my son of five enters the room and I dry my tears quickly. He is hungry and I check the time. I fix him a snack and he’s grateful. He grins with the double gap between the top row of his teeth and hugs me. He fits perfectly into my embrace and I into his. It is I now, who is grateful.

The following day, I am observed teaching at work and am told that I need to jump around more, use different voices to entertain and educate the children I teach. It doesn’t really matter that I am in pain from the bleeding I endure every month, that the headache that accompanies it for days makes me dull and irritable. It’s no excuse. I know this, but I tell them anyway. Just because I want them to, need them to, not judge me. But they judge me and I want to scream.

It’s been raining continuously the whole day and it remains dark. By the time I leave school, the sun has already set but the stars have appeared. The moon has risen low in the sky, shadowed by ghostly clouds. It peeps in and out and it follows us, playing hide and seek all the way back on our drive home.

My daughter and I are delighted. I send the children inside and my daughter brings out the camera for me. “Take it with the tree, Mummy,” she says. The bare branches, the same bare branches form a perfect silhouette and I take a few shots with different settings. The results are satisfying.

I wait a day before I upload the images and look at them. It sustains me. These moments sustain me, I suppose until the spring, much like the branches which are bare now, but not forever.

And we remind ourselves, “…this too shall pass…”

moon

Photographs and savouring memories


There is an elderly lady who lives in a small but adequate flat in the Begumpet locality of the city of Hyderabad. She is surrounded by her family; her son, her daughter-in-law and her two grandchildren.

She wears a red sari and her hair is white. Her skin is the colour of cream and her edges are soft and rounded.

As she talks to my mother-in-law, I sit slightly bored, trying to take in the conversation in a language I only have a second-hand familiarity with. Telugu, notoriously difficult, doesn’t feel as if it has become any easier with time, and I lose the thread of what is being said, as easily as drifting off into a dream.

We are visiting my husband’s cousins because we are in Hyderabad and this is what we must do.

I rarely bother with what is being said unless it is followed by raucous laughter and then I say, almost timidly, “What? What happened?” and they oblige me with an answer.

This time around we have my own cousin with me, from my mother’s side. Her mother is English, proper, white and her father is my maternal uncle. He is of Bengali origin and setting foot in India since coming to England is an idea he has discarded. No need to look back, I think is what he says. My cousin, therefore, is somewhat confused. She looks like an exotic princess, in either land, I suppose. Fair skinned, dark haired, unmistakably different, tall, slender and doe eyed. I imagine when people look at you differently and you celebrate Diwali and are exposed to little windows of another culture that is supposedly yours, you crave for a deeper sense of it. So she’s here with us and we sit in my husband’s family’s flat eating deep-fried snacks and sipping sweet gingery chai, immersed in a language that I can get only through inference.

And then my husband walks in and he utters something incomprehensible and he opens a cabinet packed with books. The books have yellowing pages and covers which look in danger of crumbling and I walk over straight away.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“This is my aunt’s PhD,” he replies, lifting up a tome worthy of ancient legend. I am immediately excited. My boredom is broken and I ask a barrage of questions.

I am excited because if a woman from a traditional orthodox Indian background is able to pursue something important to her and seemingly unimportant to anyone else, surely I should be able to as well. I suppose it’s that itch again.

Suddenly the old lady’s son walks in and his wife. The granddaughter is there too and before we know it we are looking at photographs of days gone past. The old woman takes out an album and searches for a picture of when she was formally awarded her PhD. Her eyes shine with pride and she chuckles when we tell her that she was beautiful when she was younger. We see her marriage photos and I am told that she and her husband met in high school and fell in love. Soon after marriage, I believe she and her husband went to pursue their PhDs in the North of India.

We also see a picture of my husband when he was just a boy and we see my mother-in-law skinny and young. There’s even a picture of my daughter, which we must have sent to India at some point when she was less than a year old.

We’re brought together with the stories these images hold and I feel finally a part of a world I struggled to understand. We decide to take some more pictures and surely one day we’ll find them when we’re old.

Briefly we’re bound with old photographs from plastic bags, too numerous to sort into albums. To be able to physically hold and pass around and to remember is something we won’t be doing so much in the future.

Our images are all stored digitally, in my case on Google Drive or Facebook and they are less, these days of people and more of an attempt to ‘artify’ the landscapes I find myself in. I wonder if I am losing out on something. I should capture more of those candid moments which will remind us of who we once were.

Selfies are one thing, a stylised image of how we imagine we would like to be seen, with bigger eyes, a thinner jaw line, all because of the angle or apps at our disposal but a certain authenticity is lost. Photographs of ourselves have become exercises in vanity. They are discarded instantly if we do not look like the image we have in our minds of ourselves. They have become less about the memory, the landmark and more about the impression.

Or was it always this way? Nostalgia is such a wonderful filter to see the world through, perhaps just as illusionary as the filters we use on our camera phones.

accepting-phd

Accepting PhD

marriage

Marriage

phd

PhD

family

The lady in the red sari is Dr Lalitha Kumari

The Itch


As I work and toil, like real everyday people do, I can’t help but let my mind wander sometimes.

I’m back in a routine. I’m getting things done, the class I work in is working well, until management tells me it is not (which I hope won’t happen in the near future.) And I still can’t help but wonder if I would have been happier doing something else? Is creativity lost to me? Was it actually mine to begin with? What about philosophy, literature and academia? I wish I carried on, but was I really any good at any of that stuff?

And then that there’s that itch. I really really want to write, but when I get home, the last thing I want to do is open up a laptop. On the plus side, I’m going to bed ridiculously early and I’m reading and it’s making me so happy. There really is nothing like a good book.

In fact, I am happy. I am content. Sometimes, when I’m on playground duty, keeping that ever watchful teacher eye on the children in my charge, I see other things. Things I would not have noticed were it not for the time I had in Calcutta, and I am grateful.

Did you know, and I’m sure you did, that children will take the opportunity to play football with any object they find? I saw a few boys playing with a discarded bit of plastic from a kinder egg a couple of weeks ago. They’re not allowed to play with a ball on the playground, it’s too dangerous. They have to use the field, but that would mean changing their shoes. The children compromise and play with bottle tops and discarded plastic. I’ve seen the joy on their faces. Street children in Calcutta do the same. I imagine children are the same everywhere. They just need to play.

children-playing-football

But then I need to write about it and the itch returns. Do you remember Suva and Kyto? I think about them too. Kyto is stranded with his andro and Suva is about to discover something amazing.

For the first time in months, I visited them again this morning and I have to say that I was so relieved. They are just as I remember them, innocent, bright and eager. Their stories will continue.

I have an itch to scratch, after all.

Stagnation


Above is an illustration for a poem I wrote called Stagnation. The artist who created this beauty did so most generously and I feel that this is a gift. I am most grateful.

Goncalo is a genius. Please visit his blog, Alienato https://goncalojuliao.wordpress.com To describe him as a generous artist would  not be quite right; he is simply a true artist, with generosity thrown in there somewhere. But it is art that defines him. Thank you so much for the illustration, once again. I love it!

 

Source: Stagnation

 

What have I become?


help_help_small

I was talking to a colleague at the end of the last academic year, before I began my experiment of coming back to teaching full time, about the importance of work-life balance. I mentioned that what I had learnt in India had changed me fundamentally, as a person, that I was no longer that person defined by her job. I had decided that I am not solely a teacher. I am me and I write and I read and I am something other than my job.

Well, half a term in to my job, seven weeks, to be precise and I have almost found myself drowned and washed up on the shore of disenchantment and disembodiment. I almost lost myself in my job and not in a good way. I certainly wasn’t thriving! I was dreaming about school, only to wake up at 3am worrying about all the things I still had left to do. I would then toss and turn and finally fall back asleep at around 5, only to have to wake up again 45 minutes later with the alarm.

Because of the early starts, I would go to bed early too, between 9 and 10pm, and this impacted on my time with my husband because after dinner we didn’t sit and chat about our days or life or plans, or even watch TV together. No, I would be sitting with my laptop open, prepping the following day’s lessons.

I had no space to write, to create.

I need to get away from that now. I haven’t read a book that’s not work related in over 2 months and it’s impinging on my existence. I haven’t written anything mildly creative, although I’ve tried and failed and I feel disembodied because if it.

Sounds a little dramatic, I admit but you know that feeling of dullness and hopelessness you can sometimes get when everything seems wrong? I was carrying that around with me all day, every day.

Things have moved on in teaching in the last three years and that’s thrown me. I feel like an ancient dinosaur when confronted with NC Rising Stars assessment levels (wtf, by the way!) But the pace as well, is almost breakneck. I’ve got to fit in Handwriting, Grammar and Spelling in an hour straight after Maths and just before break, all with proper teaching and planning and LQ stickers and stuff. Literacy has become so prescriptive with children having to demonstrate a number of sentence types, with or without their sentences actually making any sense, just so we can tick them off on a table. Although, at the school I work in, wants stories to be at the centre, we are constricted to how we tell those stories and what each child must extract from them.

I don’t get the chance to get to know my children any more, not in the way I would like. The afternoons are for extra maths and, although it’s not really on the timetable, it’s for catch up!

Art and the humanities and even Science is blocked so, in theory we can teach them really well and make them ‘dazzle’. But this half term, we didn’t dazzle. We were still catching up with the other bits.

I feel like a failure sometimes. This used to be a job I loved and I was good at. Once, I wasn’t upset about this job defining me. But more and more, I feel like if I fall comfortably into the routine and rigour of teaching once again, it’ll be much worse than before, because this time around, I feel I will be giving much less back to the children I am responsible for.