Constructs of Silence

Monday, October 20, 2014

Finding your narrative to suit multiple people at the same time can sometimes jam you! What do I mean  by this?

Most of the times, when we try to be diplomatic, when talking around people having different opinions about a particular thing at hand, we search a way to speak so as to keep the interests of all parties engaged and involved with the "thing at hand". Constructing this narrative of diplomacy (or the diplomatic narrative) is a skill. In this construction - essentially a forced process - where you are constantly telling your mind what NOT to say, rather than what to say, dialogue delivery is an act of elimination. After leaving the words that you have to avoid, your speech is a piece of script that assumes a meaning that is meaningless for what you originally intended to convey. In other cases, the immense openness of this disfigured speech is back interpreted in ways that are not known to you, and become evident only when they result into something tangible - an output of an action that manifests into the physical world. 

I suck at diplomacy. And when I am direct, I am too harsh - to the extent that I may sound extremely proudy, or ignorant of others' choices. I snap quickly when I try to be too diplomatic. That is the reason why I keep my ideas to myself, and bring it out on this blog. Writing helps me to release my inner frustration. I talk more here, because I am turned to silence far too many times because of the realization that I am constantly being labelled as a conceited person, that often comes out through my strong opinions. This blog absorbs my ego, it sucks my frustration. I dont know what people make of what is being written here.

To some extent, I had become comfortable with being diplomatic in the US. I thought I would be able to carry it forward in my practice here. However, being diplomatic in India is much more difficult. This is so, because at any given time, you are necessarily dealing with far too many people, all with different streams of unorganized thought. The "unorganized" part is very important, because while talking, people dont stick to a single topic here. Instead, they talk more like Bollywood masala films - those that have a free reeling combination of drama, emotion, laughter, seriousness and such stuff, in essence a clubbing of contents from varied fields. Most people fail to realize the gravity of a topic of discussion, and stretch and smudge it into different directions. For example if someone is talking about the connectivity of places within the city through transport, several subsidiary and unimportant issues like pollution, sound, smoke, garbage and so on will find place in the narrative. And one would not know when and how a side topic becomes the centre stage of the conversation. In such a situation, one never knows how even one's diplomatic statement will unfold. The vulnerability that comes with this insecurity of how your statements will be construed and perceived crumbles me.

I am always worried about my how I am being perceived here - because more often than not, I fear that I am being misinterpreted in my actions, thoughts and words. And thus I bring it out in this space. I wonder if I am incomprehensible or people just assert their opinions onto others? In the race of being assertive, which I am told to be consistently by many by far, I start becoming defensive - because there is far too much to explain about my logic and therefore my way of looking at things. People are not interested in listening to it.

Finally, isn't much of what we are, actually what we talk? We constantly construct ourselves through our talk, the way we speak and say things in different situations. What when we are not able to talk out things? And what personality does silence construct?

An Inventory of Change

Thursday, October 02, 2014

I landed back in my city, Mumbai, about two weeks ago after spending two long years in the United States. I longed for it in ways more than one. Whenever someone would ask me what I missed about this place, I could only answer that I missed all the chaos, dust, dirt, people and mess of the city. While one may assume these to be negative values, perhaps they had taken an altogether different meaning for me, which I was able to reconcile only once I was detached from it. It had helped me to understand my place more objectively.

Re-entering one's city altogether after two years can be a phenomenal experience. Especially when it is a place like Mumbai, that has been undergoing massive infrastructural transformation, the results can be sublime - stunning and depressing at the same time. As much as people indifferently muttered to me over long calls how "nothing had really changed" in two years, the city does have new stories to tell. The geography of Mumbai, as much as that of the personal space in my home, has evidently changed. The distances and districts people travel have altered. I too, now travel to the opposite end of the city for work. People have moved places of work and residence.

I have taken a long time to even begin to write this post, for I was conscious about understanding my land through the still-fresh lens of the Western world. Therefore, I took the first week in the city to meet people and listen to their narratives, of how has the city transpired into people's lives and what has passed in the last two years. How has it affected the people I once used to stitch a sense of the city through? A mixed sense of apprehension and excitement began as soon as I had finally booked my tickets. Suddenly, all imaginations of change were soon going to become real! While many cautioned me about the troubles of the system and the hardships I would be facing once I am back, I was still eager to experience once again all things that had possibly made my life meaningful!

The feeling of the East, as compared to the West brushed on me as I landed on the Abu Dhabi Airport. While I shall not deem to elaborate upon the suffocating domed chamber of the airport, the gates through which I was to take the last flight in my long journey pleasantly irritated me. As I took position in the queue to board the Mumbai flight, I heard whispers of aging Maharashtrian parents worried of finding their way from the Mumbai Airport, they tried to make connections with others in the same flight assuring assistance. Others from the worker classes were generally confused and insecure about boarding the flight. They constantly tried to disregard the queue and barged places on the baggage checking machine belts to get their clearances early. Pushes and shouts, disapproval and disappointments, shouts and calls, sweat and waits - all had begun to preface my entry into the East.

Yet, the entry to Mumbai wasn't as worse. Mumbai had to itself a newly constructed international airport, that was the talk of not only the town, but also overseas. The airport looked stunning, and until I stepped out, I still felt being in the US - with all the glamour and glitz of the new terminal, quickly passing through the art works of artists I once attended sessions and shows of, I finally arrived in Mumbai when a new morning was yet to dawn.


A ready and expected announcement of Mumbai on your face is its multifoldedness. As I began to explore new friends and places that had shifted neighbourhoods, I realized how repeatedly I cut across the formal and informal environments to reach to a space that hybridly fit into an altogether hidden location. I experienced this in a gleeful visit to my new neighbour Arjun Sharma's house in Gokuldham, as well as the new School of Architecture (SEA) in Borivali, where I am now working. The approach to both these places is characterized by a landscape of tall buildings and ad hoc settlements.

Coming from a consistent formal landscape of cars and individuality, Mumbai throws you into life and activity - that which is far too close to one's body inculcating an immediate tendency to protect oneself - both physically and mentally. All spaces leak into and influence each other without permission, an aspect that has become more apparent after my cross cultural encounter. However, the speed of activities is slow, where you can actually see multiple things happening, not in a linear, or cyclic pattern, but all that the same time. I look at the roads where heavy trucks and buses, cars and rickshaws, bikes and cycles along with pedestrians and animals cross each other together at the same time. They look like a galaxy of objects suspended in space moving towards each other. 

As I met up friends after long years at the nearby Oberoi Mall in Goregaon, I realized that the building had only densified with more shops flourishing within the smallest of crevices within. In the food court crowded with people, I saw how the donut vendors, from whom we ordered a set of 6 selected sweets, handled multiple people with great ease. While he took the order from one, he took the items out for the other and pressed the button to print the bill for the third. There was no room to lose any time, passenger or money. And while he did all of this, he introduced his stuff to another recently arrived customer.

Prices of all things possible had changed - almost equalling the rates of those in the US. The train fares had changed from those being correspondingly incremental to your journey within the city, to slabs of Rs. 5, 10 or 15. I was never able to look closely to the revised fare-charts. The rate boards generally installed over the ticketing counters were all brutally torn and removed. They looked ugly. The stations themselves had been initiated into a mega transformation - those beginning to get covered in  tin vaults resting on steel structures, covering up a massive area underneath - that was once occupied by numerous stalls and enterprises now removed for purposes of expansion of the railway premises.

The scale of change reminded me of the large basilicas and churches I had freshly seen back in the West. The station at Andheri specifically baffled me, making me feel like a dwarf in its large floating belly. I was also quite surprised to look at the installation of escalators on the stations taking the passengers upstairs to the cross over bridges, almost adjoining the traditional steel staircases. They, without a doubt created awkward corners and pockets in their crooked alignments. I have always remained fascinated in this aspect of misalignments of any new additions or alterations that the public infrastructural projects in the city takes onto itself. Sharp edges, open ends suggesting continuation, as if inviting for another thingly member to join hands and extend itself remain one of the features of the procedures of misalignment and extensions.

An altogether new station has come up between Goregaon and Jogeshwari - called Oshiwara! Although it has still not been inaugurated, much work has been accomplished. While one can debate if two years, and the time it was being planned since ahead, is justifiable for a station of that scale to become operative, the physical semblance of the project on ground already makes the geography and experience of movement along that axis different.

Things which appeared to be quite simple in the US to execute or even learn seem to be a farfetched or even non existent process here. The city still presented an interesting mix of traditional and modern, in the way information is shared and kept from people who have continued to productively misuse and operate within the lack of availability of information. I had to visit the bank to merely ask if my account had turned inactive for not using it at all for the last two years. The bank had installed a new machine where account holders could automatically get their pass books updated. My brother explained to me his initial errors in inserting the wrong face of the passbook, fretting over the machine's lack of instructions, which he eventually figured out. Yet, when he encountered a failure of the registry of his card in the adjoining ATM of the same bank, he went back to check about error. The bank had no solution to his problem. When he asked if he could cancel the card, the bank had no set form, no information, in other words, no redressal system. An information that I could have easily checked online, became an affair of almost 2 hours of traveling 3 kilometers going to the bank and getting back to home.

I have not yet had the chance to travel through the Metro, which is supposed to have convenienced a lot of east-west traffic. But I did cut across the whole city driving through the Bandra-Worli Sea link late in the evening. The journey presented to me a city that had lit up quite differently than before. It revealed to me towers that were  yet waiting to surpass the tallest buildings I had once seen there. And several new projects were ready to be filled up with human life. Cranes and pulleys animated the night, and shouted at me the dream of the city. However, people were still endearing, always available for help. In the company of laughter and friends in the car, we approached our destination in the far end of the city, asking for directions to the people on the streets. And when we were lost even after feeding the address into the freshly 3G internet enabled Google Maps on the phone, our rescue remained a common friend who was just a phone call away who custom-explained the directions along with the landmarks and estimated time we would take to arrive our destination!

(The images for this post shall be posted later)

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