Honk!

One of the aspects of living in Canberra that I enjoy most is how quiet the streets can be even during peak hour traffic. Everyone follows (well, mostly everyone) the street signs. They yield when they’re unsure, stop for waddling pedestrians immersed in their phones, and always keep a decent distance from the bicyclists who could destroy their driving career with one legal procedure. And so, even if there’re fifty vehicles at any given time in an intersection, no one needs to honk like a raving lunatic. No one yells at the driver next door for being a prick in the neck or something crasser—yet ever so common here. As a pedestrian, it’s nice to watch the street proceedings, as in a cartoon or a dialled toy town—things and people going about their daily life without a hitch.

All this is so fascinating because in the city I lived and worked for over five years, there’s never a quiet moment on the streets. Some might call it active participation—think loud conversations on the phone mingled with the beep-beep of old cars, revs of new motorcycles, the whee… ee… ee… of an occasional ambulance, closely followed by the screech of tyres that desperately cut through the line, tailing the ambulance to navigate the traffic quickly. The cheaters.

I’d call it madness. And noise pollution. As if we didn’t have enough from the black, smoky, gas chugging its way through the exhaust of a thirty-five-year-old green-grey motor vehicle that should’ve been banned fifteen years ago.

I’d forgotten all that manic episodes. As I strolled down the street today, stopping at an intersection awaiting the green man to take over from the red one, I noticed a group of people on the other side holding signs, acknowledging climate change. They’re a popular group in town. They often conduct protests, mostly peaceful, silent ones, trying to sway the government and the public to accept the reality of climate change.

As if to jog my memory, except more violently like chocking someone that’d been running for twenty minutes, one of the signs said, “Honk for climate.”

They asked drivers whizzing through the biggest and busiest roadway in the city to honk if they acknowledged climate change. 

For a quick, painful moment, I remembered the city I tried so hard to leave. However, as I waited, observing the four-wheelers’ responses, I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t as bad, as loud, or as irritating as I imagined—because not everyone honked. Although it was amusing to see some shoving the end of their palm into their steering wheels, honk-honking until they crossed the protestors, most didn’t blare their horns. Instead, they gave the sign bearers a thumbs up as they went past. Yes, it was a thumb—I had a clear view, and I stood in a vantage point.

At that moment, my subconscious self reacted in a way my conscious self never would. My face broke into a smile. It was a fun way to get attention. And even though it could’ve easily turned into a noise hazard, I did appreciate the sensible drivers who showed their support mutely. As a pedestrian who’s lived through hearing numbness because of violent honking, it was a pleasant surprise.

And of course, what a creative protest.


Image source: Banter Snaps on Unsplash.

Taken for granted

Living in South Asia, cooking was one of the biggest concerns for my mother. She’d wake up at 4 am to prepare breakfast from scratch. She’d feed us, and once my brother and I left for school and our father to work, she’d clean up and start making lunch. When we got back home, not only would we have a plate of wholesome rice, vegetables, and the occasional meaty or fishy treat, but we’d also have perfectly-proportioned tea and a snack to get us through our homework. While we gorged on the spring rolls, cutlets, or some other goodness, she’d set up the kitchen for dinner. From kneading the dough to rolling it out and cooking it, my mother would spend at least two to three hours sweating over each meal, painstakingly poring over the rolling pin, making sure each flatbread was even on all sides, not too thick or they wouldn’t cook in the middle, but not too thin either for they’d then become too crispy and brittle-like. All the while, she’d ignore the sweltering heat emitting from the stove as her skin and life burned.

She wouldn’t go to bed until after 11 pm.

In a day, she’d spend at least 6 to 8 hours prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. To say she was tied to the stove is an understatement.

She wasn’t the only one. A lot of Indian families had a similar lifestyle. A lot of Indian mothers never had time for a ladies’ night out or even to go to the bathroom at times—because their toddler would wail if they leave the room.

I grew up observing my mother. And although I wouldn’t have had the same life as her, I would’ve still spent a lot of my life cooking and scrubbing had I stuck around the same societal mentality.

When I moved to Australia, I couldn’t believe how easy the food was. I’m not referring to the abundant restaurants. Cooking itself is now effortless. I rarely eat out—it’s way too expensive. But I do cook a lot. It’s too easy. Canned pulses, frozen fruit and vegetables, and oven-friendly meals have transformed cooking from a chore to a ritual as simple as pulling on a favourite t-shirt in the morning. I don’t cook three meals a day either—I make a pot of beans and use it for three days. People think it gets boring, but it doesn’t. I always have some fruit and vegetable lying around for a quick snack or meal. My meat-eating brother gets chicken wings and shoves them in the oven. It takes less than an hour to prepare a weeks’ worth of meals. It’s fast food without the harmful ingredients and effects you’d associate with fast food. Because everyday meals are so quick and easy, I get a lot of time to work on my hobbies and endeavours—to experiment with new recipes, to read and write, to prepare an elaborate meal once a while, or just to wander the streets, aimless. It’s such a nice feeling not to be a slave to the kitchen.

It’s all too late for my mother, though. Sadly, she didn’t have the convenience that I now have. 

That’s the problem of modern life—we take so many things for granted that we fail to realise that even the seemingly instantaneous chopped tomatoes weren’t always that instant.


Image: Melissa Walker Horn on Unsplash

A force

In the few months that I’ve lived here, Australia has taught me a lot of valuable lessons. For instance, I learnt that the pricing system is not systematic at all, and even a bunch of bananas could double in price overnight. I learnt that people here can handle extreme, dry heat, but haven’t the faintest tolerance to spice. Everyone’s way more active and outdoorsy than I could’ve imagined—they bask in the sun wining, bike across an entire state, walk 8 to 10 kilometres as an everyday commute, and run up to 10 kilometres every day just because they can. 

But the most crucial thing Australia has taught me is to give nature the respect it deserves. 

People say anything in Australia can kill you. Even the sun—it can burn through and cause skin cancer, or it can ignite bushes as it does every year, leaving devastation in its wake. Equally dangerous are the animals. Not only is this country home to some of the world’s vicious, venomous snakes and spiders, but it’s also a haven for aggressive insects and birds.

Swooping magpies are a seasonal menace. Every year around mid-August, news sites flash warnings and incident updates in big, bold headlines. There’s even an official website that shows live updates on magpie swooping: https://www.magpiealert.com

Magpie alert in Australia
Image courtesy of Magpie Alert

Cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians are warned to be extra cautious and avoid tracks that’ve had swooping accidents. Once, while walking past a university building, I came across a poster on the sidewalk announcing magpie sightings and suggesting alternative routes. There were 1500+ attacks this year, just halfway through the season.

Although it seems as if anything Australian is out to get you, magpies are also widely misunderstood. They don’t always swoop and scoop out people’s eyes or pick at their ears or poke into their foreheads. They, like most living creatures, swoop in defence. And they do so only for six weeks—the period when their eggs hatch and the chicks find their feet.

It would still hurt, though, to be on the receiving end of a magpie’s beak. Deaths aren’t unheard of either.

But ducks should be fine, eh?

Apparently, no. It came as a surprise, but in three days, I was almost attacked by ducks twice. Those squishy-looking, waddling, quacking, seemingly-harmless creatures can flap their wings quite ferociously when they want to chase after you. And to think I grew up pitying the ugly duckling in the children’s tale, empathising with the helpless outcast! If only I’d known what little brats they could be. 

When I looked it up, I realised that drakes—or male ducks—are aggressive either to show off their alpha-ness or to express interest in mating. Ah, what vain creatures, ducks. So much like humans.

Musing about how natural elements naturally want to harm humans, my respect for the earth swells. It’s proof—despite all the technology and the modernity that humankind has injected into the earth, it continues to demonstrate how easily it can overpower us.

Nature is a force to be reckoned with. Denying that will cost us dearly.

Goes both ways

I often talk about what it means for me to write. To be able to translate the wrangling mess of confusion bubbling on the surface of my mind, to put it down on paper or screen, bare. To rid myself of that pressure, so intense that it sears my being every time I postpone writing. It’s a privilege to have the freedom and capacity to sit down and ball up all that thoughts into a form that could hit people, make them pause, muse, smile, relate, and even change their minds.

In a way, creating art is such a selfish act. I write because I want to spew out ideas galloping in my head. I expose part of myself when I write, and I do so willingly, deliberately, consciously choosing and trying to achieve the emotion I wish to impart.

In other words, artists often create art to satisfy themselves and their egos.

What of the consumer, though?

Graffiti in Melbourne

Browsing through photographs from Melbourne, I came across one of a graffiti. It was at one of the many infamous graffiti alleyways of the city. And on it was a piece of advice you’d least expect to receive from an overcrowded wall. Free your mind, it said. As if it knew that despite wandering around town ecstatic at the experience of exploring a new city, I was processing angst and fear. Although I was in the moment, taking in the beauty that sprawled around me, inhaling the chemical scent of rebellion splashed across the walls, I still had other things in mind. Some of those were important things but most menial—like where I’d go next or what I’d get for dinner afterwards. And as if it knew the meaningless banter cantering through my head.

It wasn’t new. I’d heard the same words many times in various places. And yet, that work of art spoke to me. Waking me, throwing me off of everything I could’ve hoped for.

That’s what art does to the consumer.

Art, when delivered at the right time to the right person, becomes a conversational medium. The creator doesn’t need to intend to self-satisfy, but instead to share, inform, and educate.

That’s when art transcends personal involvement, transitioning into a commitment to convey something to society. From being what the artist feels, it becomes what they want you to feel.