A psychedelic experience

I went to an art exhibition titled Psychedelic Realism. It’s a collection of about 50 paintings by a renowned Australian artist and musician, Reg Mombassa.

Keeping true to the overarching theme of the exhibition, most of the art work on display illustrated unreal impossibilities, yet harsh truths that you often associate with out-of-the-world experiences. An alien eye, for example. Or a disfigured robot taking over humankind in space.

I knew I was walking into unfamiliar territory. I’d seen a few images online that helped me gauge a pattern with this kind of art. However, I am a complete novice in psychedelic artwork and wasn’t sure what to expect.

Welcoming me were a few questionable robots. One sat in a chair with a bloody blind over its eye. Another seemed to be trying to take advantage of a man. Yet another one wore a suit parading its masculinity. It all looked a little… controversial and worthy of raised eyebrows.

To complement the work, a mild drumming music played in the background, helping me transition from an aloof bystander to a more immersed viewer, reading into and attempting to decode the artist’s brush strokes and glitter usage.

For there was glitter. To my surprise, the artist had incorporated shiny matter to make his colours and characters pop out.

As I moved trough the aisle, I saw other types of work as well. There were houses and bush lands, and Victorian landscapes as the artist interpreted them.

I later learnt that the artist is the owner of Mambo comics and murals—a popular style of art that uses unrealistic and humorous elements—like an Australian Jesus—to drive home a message. Here’re a few examples:

This exhibition has been an eyeopener for me. having seen various styles of psychedelic art online, I never expected to see anything as unique and unconventional as this. Even though I’ve never had a psychedelic experience myself, it was an interesting to wonder what the artist had in mind when creating these.

Defining minimalism

I’m a proud minimalist. My unrealistic dream is to own one pair of shoes that I can wear for everyday commuting, running, hiking, and the occasional work-related public speaking.

When I arrived in Canberra, migrating from India, I had one cabin bag—which contained my laptop, a few snacks, and the essentials for surviving an overnight fight. I had to check in my luggage because it weighed 12 kilos, a little over the 8 kilos of maximum allowance of a cabin bag.

And I’ve often narrated that story without the slightest sense of shame. While most people would identify themselves by the things they own and the value of those items, I lack the lust for materialism.

To put that in a different context, if a bushfire approached my house and I had to leave immediately, I’d have less than half a backpack to carry. Everything I own fits into my yellow rucksack.

However, as I’ve navigated society, I’ve developed many relationships and therefore, interests. As a result, I’ve started accumulating things. Stuff. Possessions I cherish, not because they’re mine but because I have anytime access to them—I now need them. For instance, I need proper running shoes, separate from my everyday sneakers. Of course, I didn’t start running until mid November of last year. And I would’ve have started if it hadn’t been for my friends talking about their running.

More than everything else, however, I can’t help but acquire books. I’ve always had that problem. Before I moved to Canberra, I gave away so many books because it made no sense to carry them all with me. Books—especially ones you want to re-read and enjoy for a lifetime–are, in bare terms, baggage. If I’m emotionless, I’d say books are an unnecessary burden. Having my teen ages possessed by technology, I’d argue I could get all the books in the world in one ebook reader—for the size and weight of one.

Yet, my social activities and my friend making has altered my view of possessions. I realised this last week when I visited a book fair. Even though I’d been to many such events in India, I’ve never bought anything because my string mind voice opposed to it. This time however, I ended up buying three new books, to add to the rather small pile that I know I’ll hold on to as long as I can. Unless there’s a bushfire and I have to evacuate immediately, I’d take these books with me.

This has made me question my principles.

I still consider myself a minimalist, but with a larger collection of things than I had before. I’ve come to understand that minimalism isn’t about having fewer things, but instead, about knowing the difference between wants and needs. It’s impossible to have one pair of shoes that’s ideal for all activities. And it’s ok to have two or three good pairs of shoes. As for books, I can always donate, and borrow when I want them again. Buying a book introduces me to the title. Once I’m familiar with the title, the author, and the style of writing, I can loan as many as I want.

That was my lightbulb moment. Minimalism isn’t about limiting your experiences, but it’s about expanding them. And you can do that without overloading your backpack.

Of falling in love. Of breaking up.

It’s Valentine’s Day. 

My housemate’s ex-partner sent her a surprise in an email. They’re almost 9000 miles from each other, and at 8 pm her time, 4 am his, he called to say hello to her and their child. They haven’t lived together in years, and yet their affection for each other hasn’t changed an ounce.

In a different part of town, a friend prepared herself for the conversation with her boyfriend of four years. Not the one about marriage and kids and becoming soccer mom of the year, but about the chasm that’d always existed between them and how bandaid fixes are no longer holding things together. The day after Valentine’s Day, they’ll break up. It’ll hurt him and test her emotional capacity, but she’s determined—they want different things.

Back in India, my best friend from work has gone out for lunch at Burger King with colleagues. She’ll go home to her toddler son, and together they’ll call her husband, now working in the US, over Skype. It took them almost nine years to come out to their parents as an inter-racial couple. As with all Indian families, drama ensued, was overcome, and they had a lovely wedding almost two years ago.

When we think of V Day, we often focus on the falling in love aspect of it. Of being sleepless and restless and going up the Space Needle, only to find your soulmate there, just as sleepless, and just as reckless. No one talks about the pain that comes with choosing the wrong person, losing the right person, or the immense heartache associated with subsisting in a confounding relationship—being with the person who drains your energy without you even knowing it.

Until this year, for me, Valentine’s Day was that odd day of the year when everyone went loopy, wore black to boycott celebrations, treating it as humbug. I stand corrected. Over the last year, I’ve seen more couples, in varying stages of maturity, approaching this day and the entire concept of love in a myriad of views. Love is all-encompassing—and no two people have the same experience or perspective. It’s time we stopped stereotyping V Day.

Shanty time

It’s almost a year since I relocated to Canberra, and even though I’ve become conditioned to many of the everyday lifestyle quirks of living in Australia, this land and people never cease to amaze me.

For the first few months, I engaged in what I can only call aggressive exploration. I wasn’t violent, but I pushed myself to go out, meet people, make friends, and get involved in community activities. I even had a strict rule not to stay indoors during the weekend. As a remote employee, since I worked from home quite a lot during the week, I’d tease myself to go out even if I had no place to go.

Thanks to all that self-possessed desire to belong and become part of Canberra, I made some excellent friends. People who now text me and call me and want to meet up to know how things are with me. It’s wonderful. To be surrounded by people who care enough to spend time listening about my life choices. It’s not always easy to find that in a new, unfamiliar society, and I’m lucky to have that.

And yet, as I approach my first anniversary of arriving here, I’m baffled at the number of things and behaviours that are still so foreign to me.

Like joining a singing club, for instance. One of my friends introduced me to a sea shanty group. I’d never contemplated the idea before: a group of people—government staff, interview scribes, private consultants, business people, retirees, teachers, high-schoolers, and anyone from any walk of life—coming together after work on a Monday night to sing about pirates, the ocean, and seafaring.

I knew nothing about any of it. Aside from the short ferry rides during my travels, I’d never sailed in my life. Yet, there I was at the shanty club, one with the wall, unsure of what to do, why I was there, too nervous, and downright doubtful.

Oh, and did I say shanty club meets at a bar?

I don’t hang out at bars. I’ve never hung out at bars in India. Heck, there wasn’t even a bar where I used to live.

The good thing, however, was that the group was warm and welcoming. It also helped that my first time at the shanty club was in winter, and it was way more fun lounging by the fire and singing (shouting) at the top of my voice than being outdoors. That might’ve even encouraged me to stay the full two hours instead of running away at half time.

We sang about being in South Australia, travelling to England and back, drinking in Aussie pubs, and drowning in rum. It was so much laughter and belly-aching joy. I stuck with my friend because I knew no one else in the room, but as the weeks rolled on, I started recognising regulars, and they, me.

Now, almost a year later, I’m so comfortable with shanty club that I look forward to it. I smile at the bar staff as I walk in, the usuals wave when I arrive, and we indulge in small talk—something unimaginable in the past.

And I have a hell of a time, every time.

The toughest thing about migrating to a new land is navigating negativity without it affecting your sanity. Often, by allowing yourself to have new experiences, you find people and activities you’ll enjoy and cherish. Shanty was one of those things for me.