DON’T STOP NOW

The rendezvous point was Barista on MG Road, so I took an expensive (by Indian standards, about $4 for a 15-minute ride) autorickshaw there and waited patiently for P, a friend of a friend, who with E was to make my experience in Bangalore a memorable one from the outset. Here’s me at Barista, fresh off the train:

After a blackcurrant smoothie and some sort of crushed ice/tropical fruit beverage, he turned up and we started a conversation that was really only interrupted by sleep and work during the three days I stayed with them. It’s such a great feeling to be made to feel immediately welcome in a new environment. Granted, they’d heard a lot of positive things about me from our mutual friend and as a result were more willing to greet me with warmth and openness, but it’s still something very rare to be allowed into people’s lives and hearts without fuss or the standard amount of obstacles that are usually put up in your way. It’s unfortunate that this is something worth commenting on because it ought not to be special – it ought to be the norm – but that’s something to look into another time.

We talked about our respective pasts, the places they’ve brought us to now, and where we want to be in the future as people. We talked about trust, how it’s so easy to scale back in your life depending on how much you let yourself be affected by the times it’s been betrayed. We talked about respect, something so fundamental in our nature that our Western (or Westernized) cultures are leading us further away from. And we talked about communication, which takes so many forms and the improving of which is so vital to our relationships, be they familial, intimate, or friendly. None of us were entirely comfortable with how we live these aspects of our lives – is anyone? – but we all felt a deep desire to better ourselves, and if we didn’t hit upon any concrete maxims to follow, we did agree how positive it is to be around people who care about these things and won’t coast through life without making some effort to grow.

In the meantime, Bangalore was quite different from the small part of Delhi I experienced. Many more smiles and friendly interest, and a feeling that people want to help you, not fleece you or exploit you. Still, the gulf between India’s burgeoning middle class and those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale is apparent everywhere you go. There is a hierarchy and clear structure to begging here, for the most part – for example, amputees are more likely to gain charity, so some people choose or even are forced to lose a leg or arm so they’re more profitable – but still… these are people who have virtually nothing, whether they’re acting cynically or against their will or whatever as they bat at your arm and hold out their hand. One has to remain somewhat hardened and view it as an industry just like any other, but it’s impossible not to let one’s guard down once in a while and give a few rupees to a starving woman and child.

So there’s that during the day as you go out for groceries, then at night you can go to a bar which looks and feels just like you’re in England or America with leather couches and all manner of cocktails and great food. Really good places, really good atmosphere, and you do forget about those less fortunate than you. They are right outside the door, though. I don’t have more than a tourist’s understanding of, let alone any solution to, this ongoing and very visible dark side of India, but I sincerely hope that as the economy continues to boom and money keeps rolling in, some of it trickles down and that middle class expands to healthier levels. This may take many decades and a complete overhaul of society, and I don’t even know if India needs that.

Anyway, I’ve made Bangalore out to be this horribly poor and depressing place when it’s actually one of the fastest-growing cities in the world, so please don’t get the wrong idea. I had a great time there, met a good few fantastic people and would go back any time. At the very least, it’s no more poverty-stricken than any other city in this part of the world. As time went on, however, my mind turned further and further towards my next port of call, my destination (for now at least), the rumoured seaside paradise that would fulfil all of my dreams. The place I am now. Varkala. Very soon, the Jdanspsa me will finally catch up with the real me.

***

My online diary dried up at this point, for various reasons; for a poor segue into my life having settled in India, take a look at some of my posts for The NRI under the category ‘India’ or the tag ‘The NRI’.

NO MORE LESSONS, NO MORE CURES

This week, I seem to be fascinated by people and things in a way that I haven’t been for quite a while. It’s the sort of week that shows me how much I still have to learn. In a good way. Like, at nearly 23 I’m still very much a kid, and the prospect of gaining more insight into myself and others is an exciting one. There are a number of reasons why this week has been different from others, most of them above my head, but I think the fact that I have been so fascinated means that people have been more willing to tell me things. You can’t fake interest.

I’ve decided that some array of endorphins is released when I speak a lot. Tuesday was a very good day, largely because I was talking for much of it. I feel a similar way when I play goalkeeper in futsal, barking constant instructions to beleaguered teammates. For people who naturally talk loads it probably isn’t such a big deal, but for me – the archetypal strong and silent individual – it’s kind of a rush to have people paying attention and responding to my words. The deal on Tuesday was that I had to trek in to Shinjuku for training in the morning, then halfway back to Yokohama for regular work in the afternoon, and finally home. All up, I was out of the house for a 15 hour stretch, and much of that time was spent talking, so when I arrived home at 23:30 I was exhausted but utterly content.

During one of the many group conversations, I realised something about myself. I’m pretty good at working off what other people say, throwing in comments or adding to (or subtracting from) their words. When I have to produce, I’m not nearly as strong. It’s like being an art critic, I s’pose: you consume and you react, but you never create. Maybe it’s the fault of my hundreds of film reviews that my conversation relies so heavily on the words of others. Or maybe it’s the thousands of hours of self-imposed solitude undertaken during my teenage and university years. It’s not a problem, anyway. If I’m verbalizing and the people are responding positively, everything is fine – who cares whether the inspiration comes from within or without?

The only difference is in relaying a well-rehearsed story. But an organically well-rehearsed story, mind. Last Friday this American guy swore loudly at me, repeatedly, both across a crowded bar and in my face, so of course I used that story whenever people asked me what I did over the weekend. After about four or five tellings, I knew how to make it more interesting than it should be. What to dwell on, what to cull. By that point, it isn’t so much production as it is recitation. Thing is, though, I rehearsed it in actual situations, learning how to tell it by, well, telling it, rather than sitting and studying notes and getting all the words right in my head. That organic practice-without-thinking leads to a story that flows naturally and gets the reaction you want it to.

So I have two modes: /respond and /recite. Oh, and /listen, the default mode where I don’t speak at all. Cool, I can live with that. But you’d think that such an individual would find it difficult to make friends, right? If they have little of worth to say out of their own head, and they know it, how do they go about convincing other people that they’re an interesting person worthy of your time? (Clearly I can’t stop thinking about how others see me, though it’s less with concern and more with curiosity as each year passes.)

And yet somehow, it happens. How does that work? How is it that people are drawn to me and have a relationship with me that is unlike that with anybody else? Maybe it isn’t. Maybe that’s just how I feel at times. Maybe that’s what friendship is at its fundamental level, a deeper connection that means something only to the two of you and nothing to anybody else. You build up your own language, your own points of reference, and you become comfortable enough with each other to show things that you usually hide. At the beginning it’s all building, which is why it doesn’t quite feel natural for a little while. Of course this is just one theory, and probably only holds true in selected situations. Some people walk into your life like you’ve known them forever. I guess it depends on the person.

At one point in Dance Dance Dance, the last book I read, the narrator draws a diagram connecting all the people around him at that point of his life, and it was interesting to see it all laid out like that, sort of like one of those ‘six degrees of separation’ diagrams. Thing was, there were no more than two or three connections for each individual on that map, but if he’d put himself on there, he could’ve drawn connections from himself to every single other person. Weird, that. I’m not too different, yet I’m nobody special for knowing all these people. I’m just here. I s’pose Facebook does the same thing. I wonder, does that map get smaller as you age? Like everything else, it probably depends on the individual.

So yeah, it was just the sort of day I relish, with one positive hit after another. A steady stream of people I could talk to and not feel stupid about myself with. Those strong, euphoric or flattening experiences – having children, fearing for your life, meeting The One, watching 2 Fast 2 Furious – are what you remember and tell people about year after year. However, I can’t help feeling that days of pure contentment such as this are what really matter. Most of us only have 2 or 3 truly life-changing events happen to us, and they do have a profound impact, but the compound effect of all those happy days and their simple delights is an immeasurably greater influence.

Those days are what shape me as a person, more than anything else. Same goes for the bad days. Big things come and go, but day-to-day life is always there, so I reckon if you’re waking up in the morning and you feel like getting out of bed, you’re doing okay.