I live in a small city.
Not geographically, of course. My universe is not all that the light touches but just about what my eyes meet. You could say that it would not be much of a task for me to easily disappear in a somewhat upper-middle-class crowd.
Having a comfortable life isn’t something that I’m ungrateful for, but I cannot help but wonder what changes the adventures of discomfort would bring about in me. Would I still be the way that I understand myself to be? Would I like the same things? This unending list of questions runs parallel with the scientific ‘nature v. nurture’ debate, for which I cannot and must not present my arguments, for it is only ridicule that will come my way if I choose to speak without knowing all the intricacies of this deeply philosophical debate.
Realistically, ridicule would follow regardless. I could know the most about something, yet not everything; not enough to answer any fool who forces me into silence through repeated renditions of ‘why’ or ‘why not’. It is almost as if the title of Hannah Montana’s 2006 track ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ has finally started making sense to me. While being a self-proclaimed libertarian and intellectual, I must confess that my political ideology–as I understand a facet of it to mean ‘recognising imperfections’–sometimes really tires my mind. I feel like my contemporaries understand it to mean that we all have a positive imperative to criticise, for what imperfections will we embrace or accept if there aren’t any? Of course, anything perfect is divine, and therefore, we must refuse to believe in it.
This takes me back to a moment when I thought about a girl who studied in my school a couple of years ago. I had been scrolling through Instagram, a staple habit utilising one hand while the other reached out into and scooped dry granola from a dirt filmed bag. Repetition is good and I believe that it is healthy to stick to a carefully constructed, sustainable routine that incorporates all the bare essentials of survival while encouraging oneself to cultivate Mill’s greater pleasures.
I believe that I am a somewhat observant person, tending to recollect irrelevant statements made by people in the past while staring blankly at a test or the gravel on the road during my walk back home. You might think that this revelation about my personality is unnecessary, but, in fact, you will soon discover that it is increasingly essential to the thought I had about that girl.
Now, with partial concentration on social media, I came across a little “artsy feed” op-ed that she had written and posted. The long and the short of the matter was that she was (and according to my estimate, still is) an active dissenter of the current political establishment and strongly believed that Mussolini’s Fascism had been reborn in the East. To avoid any confusion, by using the term ‘active’, I refer to the green dot that appears under her profile picture in the “Direct Message” tab.
As my concentration wavered to pick up a rice crisp that had escaped my palm-boat, I remember her forbidding us, the rest of her classmates, from making our ninth-grade political science projects on the previous ruling government. They were highly incompetent and shied away from being answerable to the public that had put them there. Each drop of water makes the ocean what it is. Dissatisfied drops dry up oceans into ornamental lakes that rain somewhere else.
You’ll be surprised to know it goes deeper than that. Both her parents and her elder sister have been under the employment of some or the other government department for a couple of decades now. I had always assumed that their stance would be apolitical and the same would trickle down to the progeny, as it did for the elder sibling, but I have now discovered that teenage angst and environment aren’t as correlated. As a waning teen in the midst of angst recovery myself, I must say that even I, frequently, am not able to tackle this emotion. WikiHow suggests journaling, but somehow, unfortunately, with a twist of fate and a dash of bad-luck for having been born into a family with a lack of polyglots, there are too few words for what I feel and too many that I’ll never need. I will probably spend the rest of my life wondering which language would possess the spot-on terms and phrases for what I mean to say.
This girl, to me, now seems like she just never grew out of the phase where all of us Wattpad-intoxicated early pubescent individuals refused to believe that our lives were anything less than a tragic novella bound in leather with golden embossments brushed near the title, carrying a disclaimer of “soon to be a major motion picture” on the bottom right hand corner. The quintessential in that novel would be the arch-nemesis, a girl who hides her insecurities by drawing out others’. Why this secondary character is an important mention here is because there is a great possibility that it may be I, for having spitefully revealed her identity to all my readers without her having impacted me personally. I can soon expect a “BYE SISTER” James Charles equivalent Instagram caption accompanied by a make-up free face close up. This one, though, let me assure you, will be sprinkled with a lot more legal jargon. I should be prepared for the eventuality and expect terms akin to ‘defamation’ and ‘invading right to privacy’ to waft into the internet in a matter of days.
Funnily enough, I also know someone who supports everything that the government does because opposers and dissenters are too irritating with all their angsty Instagram posts.
“They’re just…not cool, bro.”
I am also acquainted with a pair of twins whom I currently keep in my company. The boy takes pride in having been born a few minutes prior. Any conversation propelled by this proposition is always an entertaining feature for me on account of my silent assessments of the worth of such fruitless debates. Oft, my mind even begs to be freed of vapid conversational fetters like these that hold me back from my ultimate intellectual release.
You might wonder then, why I choose to roam with such fellows. As a youngling, I was afraid of jigsaw puzzles. With the advancement of my physical and mental capabilities, alongside the boom of technology, I grew afraid of arcade computer games instead. Then, these morphed into physics problems, ‘think better, think smarter’ workshops and internet dress illusions. The crushing reality of the fact that I was incapable of doing certain things and feeling like I had been rendered utterly helpless hit me hard. I blamed Hannah Montana, for I have always been told that you are what (content) you consume and she had poisoned my ability to know it all. One extraordinary morning, as I opened my eyes to a family WhatsApp group notification, I found my antidote. To this date, I remain deeply grateful for that TEDx video even though I had to miss an important morning lecture for the same. But what is a missed course lecture in context to the grand scheme of life that was envisaged for me? Absolutely nothing, of course.
My antidote, as I had found, was perseverance and challenging oneself and pushing one’s boundaries. You might find some comedic relief in this due to its sheer triteness, but there is a two-pronged answer as to why this was so novel to me. One, I have always gotten almost everything with little to no effort. You could say that the universe is greatly imbalanced in my favour. Two, you have absolutely no idea how much I have needed to push my boundaries to maintain healthy companionship with the twins. It wasn’t only a push there, it was a complete uprooting. My boundaries–made of a soft, elastic yet unconquerable material were being replaced with Styrofoam that the Wicked Wolf could eradicate by breathing near it. It was worse than straws. I was unprotected in a world where individuals exhaled stupidity.
The boy is a giggly fellow, smiling at everything and loving everyone. Do not, I repeat, do not take this to mean that he has a sunny disposition towards life, for his dark moments of ego and slime may be much worse than yours. He, a music connoisseur, is of the sort that would look down upon you for having Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish in your library. When I told him that I have put my musical education on hold, the distaste emitting from his aura was a bitterness I can still taste in my mouth. A proud addict, it seems.
I had visited their apartment one summer break when both their parents were away. The house had a minimalist glow, in sharp contrast with the personalities of the children that had grown up there. The entrance hallway contained a befitting and classic canvas piece imported from abroad. The upper half of the painting moulded into the wall with colour sprayed only along one corner at the bottom. I guess it isn’t modern art if the canvas has more colour than blank space. I silently laughed at the thought of an alternate universe where the trend started due to a poor artist with an unusually large canvas, or a clumsy one who had gotten up for a tea break and spilt the last lot of her uniquely blended colours.
The girl invited me into her room and I was pleasantly surprised by her hospitality. She had placed some snacks and wine on a tray on a wooden breakfast table, a meal elaborately laid out for me. We settled in and got to talking as I made myself comfortable in her quarters.
My gaze wandered to a picture on her bedside, a photograph of her from many years ago. I never understood people who possessed frames of themselves. That being said, I don’t mean to say that I am unable to comprehend the human attachment to photographs, just not to those of oneself. Having noticed a slight trail in my speaking, she proceeded to tell me about the time she inspected all the flowers in the community park as her mother merrily clicked away in the enchanting delight of an infant’s company.
“My God, we were such curious children.”
I told her curiosity dies with age and ultimately killed the cat. The girl countered my argument by asserting that her inner curiosity is not dead. When she saw a meme on the internet about a photoshopped nail driven into a car’s wheel, she googled what it would actually look like. She is now the proud owner of knowledge of what a nail piercing into a rubber wheel looks like. She now has the skills to identify it anywhere, except for when it is placed at the tangential point where the wheel meets the road. Over there, it cannot be seen by the naked eye.
See, sure, real-life and people teach you things, but the internet teaches you so much more. The difference is a great deal. I could admit that her vast knowledge of topics like these was infectious. Only in her company did I get to learn so much. A new dialect even, if not a language. Were you aware that a loud ‘kee-yusmi’ emitting from the oral aperture of a human female loosely translates to a polite ‘excuse me’?
It is almost as good as scrolling through a list of beautiful untranslatable words in a foreign language. It is true–the meaning of a word is not restricted to the way it is used in a sentence. Even with my surprising lack of linguistic understanding and expertise, I can tell that a word contains the emotion of every single person who has ever used it. Keeping in mind relevant social distinctions and society specific experiences, if a word has been used by individuals belonging to only one society or ethnic group, no one outside of it can even begin to understand it without feeling an influence of the originators. The specific experiences that a society had to endure just to give certain meaning and emotion to a word will always shadow it, wherever it may go and whoever may use it.
An outsider’s usage creates a grey area but not without impacting both sides. The outsider increasingly becomes a part of the community; the word gradually loses the mystical emotion behind it and eventually gets reduced to a Dictionary.com definition–a fancy term to replace bland ones on school essays. Universalised words though, like the ones that make up most of my vocabulary: no value. No wonder we’re asked to use them properly.
As the evening came to a close, the boy came to drop me downstairs to ensure I got into the cab safely. As a parting comment, I gestured to the sky and told him that they had a very bright streetlight. He giggled at my foolishness and told me it was the moon. I asked him how he knew if he’d never flown up there.
In conclusion, therefore, it is important for us to have a single, long and continuous chain of thought so as not to appear unsure of ourselves.
Bhavyakirti Singh, 18, is an incoming third-year student, reading law at National Law University, Jodhpur. She is greatly interested in writing poetry, satirical fiction and social commentary, often with the help of a pompous narrator based loosely on herself. She also writes literature reviews and academic pieces. In her free time, she likes to read William Carlos Williams, Jane Austen and Sylvia Plath.