Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Monsoon Memories

Dear Journal “I had scribbled in an immature hand, “Today had been so much fun. It really was wonderful,” and had simply left it at that. For a person who is reading this one and a half years later, it is quite an arduous task to sift through her memories to remember what had been so fun, and what had made her feel so wonderful back then. Sometimes, I despise my own journal entries because they do not tell me everything. They merely reflect my mood on some particular day, or record the irrelevancies of my life which are of no significance to me now. For some vague reason, I was perturbed. I went to sleep with a question prodding my mind, like a playful cat toying with its food. “What had happened that day? Why was that day so wonderful?”

In sleep, something intruded into my dreams. It was a tenuous wisp of a memory which answered the puzzling question. I saw it clearly in my brain:

I remembered that evening. The day was done for the most part, and we watched the people worm their way homewards, through the muddy roads, dressed to evade the rains. The rains had been especially torrential, and many had grown weary of them. But we didn’t mind, my cousin and I, we loved the monsoons. That evening, a mild rain started off again, and we watched fascinated, like children. Soon, there was power-cut, mystifying the environment. We couldn’t have waited for a better invitation. That day, we called the neighbors over, and we soaked to the bones, screaming with delight as we drenched. We laughed and sang as the thunder set up a tempo. Oh yes, I remembered now, writing to my journal in semi-darkness, scribbling badly because I couldn’t see in the faint light of the lamp. “Today had been so much fun. It really was wonderful,” Nothing seemed more obvious, and my experience seemed to require no further explanation.

This was followed by one memory after another.

It was another wasted day, and I was slightly grumpy. I had finished my homework, devoured all the available novels, and wrapped up my studies. Nothing had interested me, and I felt strangely detached. I slipped outside, into the backyard, and saw no stars. I sought comfort in staring up at the skies, seeing those smiling stars winking at me. But that day, the skies were an ominous grey, and they frustrated me with their solemnity. But there was a wind, so I settled down, enjoying it. And gradually, the winds got stronger, and a rain started off, washing away my frustration gracefully. I was not cold, but I closed my eyes, and found thrill in the sensation of rain drops landing on my arm. I knew no one would think I’m crazy to be wetting myself in the rain this way, simply because no one was watching. I hummed a nice melody as I swayed with the wind. Minutes later, my frustration felt unreal, and I returned to my room, smiling without knowing why.

It was the holidays. I was relaxing in my bed, reading a somewhat boring book called “The Haunted Island,” My concentration was slipping away, and my eyes were running down the sentences without understanding them. I heard a rumble outside, and I threw the window open, and waited. The rains lashed outside, and I enjoyed listening to this. Suddenly, the book became a favorite. I stayed up, reading it until it’s finished.

I woke up with the memories still clinging onto my eyelids and squinted. The Californian sun was blazing outside, intruding into my bedroom. I stared out of my window. It looked quite sunny, but I knew I would shiver if I stepped out. The world looked a bit too bright for my liking. The autumns here will be uncertain; they always play with my senses. The weather changes rapidly as it fancies, and is very inconsistent. I scolded my inquisitive brain for making me remember the monsoons. I was missing the rains again, and sometimes, I thought, it’s better if some questions are left unanswered. The next day, I was blessed with mild rains, in the middle of autumn! I would never have expected it, that too in California....It looked like someone had suddenly decided to change the weather for me. I'm enjoying it while it lasts, this brief spell of rain, revisiting my monsoon memories again and again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Virtual Dreams

I was once a millionaire who owned a sprawling mansion in the middle of nowhere, cared for an exotic azure cat, and constantly saw to it that fairies sprinkled pixie dust all along the way. My world was utopian, perfect, exciting. The only problem was, it was virtual.

I was introduced to a website called neopets at the age of eleven---the age when my common sense was slumbering peacefully somewhere in the back of my brain. Neopia was the promising land where all my desires could be fulfilled. There were unlimited games, virtual rewards, and an opportunity to claim a non—existent creature as my own. The internet told me an attractive lie, and I easily fell into the vicious trap. Every day, my “virtual” pets would demand some food, clothing, shelter, a companion, and it was my responsibility to satisfy their cravings. I soon developed an emotional attachment to them, even though I knew, somewhere in the depths of my heart, that they were not living things, but merely an artificially programmed images, and very immature imitation of biological beings. Another reason for my apparent addiction to the website was that the virtual me found success very easily, and was more responsible, skilled and purposeful than the real me. I saw a superior image of myself projected there, and it soon grew into an obsession. I wanted to keep on going.
I spent more of my sunny days that year, ruining the keyboard, than stepping outside to breathe in the fresh air, skip about the pavement, or feel the grass under my feet. Soon, I was not even a millionaire. I now was nearing a billion neopoints in my virtual bank, and I seized every opportunity to work on the website. One day, my father took me to the library, to browse for books, but I wasted the day using the library computer instead, playing games, earning more neopoints than ever before! It seemed like an achievement, and in that moment of blissful jubilation, I forgot to log out. I was ecstatic all the way home, I kept reciting to myself, like a familiar mantra, “Hundred more points for a billion….hundred more….”
As soon as I was home, I rushed to the computer again. My eyes were never tired of feasting on my exotic pets (I had now painted them purple), and my fingers never fatigued in the effort of dragging my virtual car (which was being bombed by the enemy) to safety, and my mind never took a break from trying to crack difficult anagrams. All these would earn me neopoints, and I logged on to the computer again. That day, my bank showed I owned no money, my deposit a horrifying single “0” where there supposed to have been 9 of them. My inventory had been robbed, my pets stripped of their luxuries. That day, I faced utter devastation.
My eleven year old brain was shattered, I sobbed into the night. My parents told me it was nothing to worry about, that my fears were imagined. Neopia was not real, so was my loss. I lived in denial of the fact for many days, finding the truth hard to ingest. Gradually, I grew out of it, started spending my summer days skipping on the pavement, rather than shopping in a virtual supermarket. It was easy for me to forget my addiction, but it is not so for millions of kids around the globe. Virtual heavens and computer games have tremendous psychological impact on a child. I know it from experience that there is no good to be gained from them. I’m not saying this because I’m not a virtual billionaire anymore, but I’m saying this with the realization of the amount of time and effort I wasted to nurture false dreams. Such things are nothing less than self-deceit. What bothers me of late is that more such websites are cropping up everywhere on the internet. Much to my disappointment, my favorite magazine, Tinkle has launched tinkleindiaonline.com, a very similar website, which rewards kids with virtual money for playing games. Although the games are considerably less violent, they can still addict kids. It’s a major issue, and I have no answers to resolve it. All that I know today, as I breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy the moist of the very dewy grass below my feet, the world is beautiful. More importantly, it is real, and very much here. I just hope that computer game addicts would sense that, instead of chasing after something which only superficially looks splendid. True splendor can be uncovered in the intricate web a spider builds, or a mountain flower in full bloom. Today, I am grateful for that helpful guy who robbed me of all my virtual money. Without him, I would never have understood the simple truth that this world is the loveliest part of my existence.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A bitter-sweet day and a promise

The 17th of May 2008, was a very special day for me, and I realized that as soon as I woke up to feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and observed that the curtains were all aglow with the eerie early morning sunlight. There is something to be said about this, because I normally (make that never) wake up on early mornings voluntarily. It was pure excitement which made me unable to slip into that state of passivity I enjoyed so much. Yes, that day was going to be special, and I had made arrangements to see to that.

That day was going to be bitter-sweet. I knew that because it was the day I would say my official ‘good-bye’ to my best friend in a very grand way, and it was the day we were going to watch a much-awaited movie. When my friend and my cousin came over, we hired an auto to MG road. The newest of the Chronicles of Narnia series, the movie Prince Caspian was out, after a month of eager anticipation. We were wild with excitement. The experience was ultimately rewarding, and we watched it with mouths agape, like the old times. It was still very early by the time the movie ended, and we decided to do something fun together.

There, in a coffee shop, sipping some Butterscotch Frappe’, we let the conversation carry us endlessly from one topic to another, shifting pace, drifting into one memory after another, and thoughts of how much we would miss each other in the days to come. And then, we made a promise, the kind teenagers these days never do. Deepti and I decided to become pen-friends.
It is true that we are markedly alike in our tastes, and our perspectives often collided with surprising similarity. That day, we swore to keep the promise alive. We believed in the joy of handwritten letters, of the warmth it bought to you…..because we had never experienced it. I, at least, never had a pen friend in my life, and the whole concept was new to me. I was tired of the adults reminiscing about the good old days of the handwritten letters. I still believed there were ways of bringing things back. We could reach each other easily on email or on orkut, but that wasen’t really the point. The point was that we were trying to experiment, to find out how beneficial writing was.
2 months after coming here I received my first letter from Deepti as promised, I experienced an inexplicable thrill. The day seemed suddenly more colourful. Oh, how lovely it was to find my name written on a brown envelope, which has arrived all the way from India! I now seemed to grasp the secret appeal of letters, and comprehended with perfect clarity why adults turn nostalgic about them.

But day by day, it is getting more difficult to keep that promise alive, since both the letters I wrote to deepti never reached her. And with the postal prices skyrocketing in India, I do feel a twinge of guilt for making her spend so much for me. But all I’d like to say is that we will maintain it as long as we can, because none of us are willing to let go.
Deepti wrote this for my upcoming birthday, when I’ll be turning 18:

“May you be happy throughout your life
May you keep love and joy always by your side,
May you experience the magic of being fully alive,
And may life’s best be always yours.”
And they are best birthday present I have received so far.

(Read Deepti’s response on http://deeptiraghuram.blogspot.com/2008/10/reply-to-friend.html)