Let's just get out of the way

At least ninety percent of the people I interact with daily involve themselves—and boast about it—in some sort of activism against governments’ inaction on climate change. Until as recently as a couple of months ago, people rallied in closed spaces, furiously discussing the endless possibilities of rallying outdoors, with cheeky signboards and stern yells at authority. It feeds their ego—makes them feel like angry mothers, with a hand on the hip, waving a finger at their uncontrollable toddler.

Now though, with the world gradually going into an impending lockdown, I haven’t seen any of these cluster bombs around me. 

Instead of halting traffic and playing their own part in increasing the excess gas pumped into the air as drivers clutched their gears, revving engines, instead of yelling at the top of their voices, as if that’d make global leaders care more, and introducing unnecessary noise pollution in otherwise, quiet streets, instead of wasting everyone’s time just to make themselves feel better as if they’ve achieved something, these non-violent protestors are now in their homes.

Socially distancing themselves from each other, but still unsure what that means, some gather in smaller groups, in each others’ living rooms, to chat about the world and despair at having to cancel protests.

In the meantime, though, the earth has just woken up. 

Remember, the first time you let an ant crawl on your hand, how mesmerised you were at its tinyness? How you allowed it to wander up and down from your elbow and knuckles, smiling at its worthless, feeble life at how easily you could crush it? It’s a wonderful experience—to watch an ant strut. Until—it starts to tingle your arm hair, and you feel the ant moving, you sense it more acutely, and soon, you can’t help yourself but smack it or slash it away. The fascinating creature becomes a pest, and like a dog ridding itself of a flea around its ear, you shake it off. 

We’re the earth’s ants. We’ve scratched her too long—and now she’s shaking us away.

As we crouch away from all contact, hide in the confines of our own couches, life as we’ve never known it, is returning to its original state. Look at Italy, for instance. 

Venice, a travel destination for many, was always too small to treat all the greedy tourists of the world. As a result, it’s faltered under the weight of human pollution. With the country in lockdown, however, because of you-know-what, the waters of Venice are clearer than ever before. Without any humans around, swans and fish rejoice because they can finally breathe the oxygen in those waters.

How sad is that?

The planet’s fine, mate. It’s the people who’re fucked.

Of women’s safety

The 4th of March is national safety day in India, and my concerned Indian employer emailed all employees about being safe in the workplace and society in general. It’s a tradition. Every day for an entire week, we get an email discussing a specific theme.

To commemorate International women’s day a couple of days ago, the email that day spoke about women’s safety and best practices.

Of the many bullet points, one stuck out weird, like a sore thumb, reminding me of the sore safety situation that’s an issue across the world, and specifically rampant in certain places like India.

“Don’t get into a vehicle that has more than one man seated in it.”

Not obeying that piece of advice is a recipe for disaster. Or so people think. Hence the warning. 

However, heeding that warning is an even even bigger problem.

Telling a woman to stay away from an enclosed space that has two or more men is stupid. The world is half men. At any given time and place, there’re more than a handful of men in a gathering. If women avoid being in the vicinity of men just because they’re men, that only shows how poorly we think of our men.

And when we think poorly of men, we, in turn, think poorly of the women who raised and influenced those men.

In a convoluted, indirect way, telling a woman to stay away from menfolk’s presence is like asking a woman to lock herself in her room. That’s limiting a woman’s ability to be herself, to be an active participant in society’s everyday activities.

Coming from an Indian background, I’ve seen and, more often, heard about women bartered off in the name of marriage. As if they’re incapable of thinking and speaking for themselves. When fathers and husbands, concerned about the safety of “their” women, tell—or even subject—them to stay at home thinking that it’s best for them, those men miss the whole point about equality and freedom for all. Sure, they’re worried about safety in the streets after hours. They’re terrified of what’ll happen if their daughter’s the only passenger on a bus at 11 pm. They’re so focussed on preventing bad things from happening that they often overlook the cause of that in the first place. 

You see, we always insist on avoiding trouble, but in the process, we avoid identifying the real trouble.

A woman sharing a cab with three other male colleagues isn’t a problem. The problem is our mindset that men are so low that they only need a small chance to become violent towards women. In a way, we’ve created a culture that treats men not as fully-functioning, even wise, humans, but as mindless animals that’ll attack the moment their prey slacks. 

The saddest part? Most people don’t look twice at these warnings. Or even spend a minute to wonder how it impacts the minds of our future generations. Tell a young mother she should avoid densely populated male areas, and she’ll automatically transfer that fear onto her daughter. As for her son? He’ll grow up forever terrified of the women who treat men as aliens.

It’s such a vicious cycle.

Chasing trail

I recently discovered the joy of trail running. Although, to be honest, I only started running for pleasure in November. Which, now that I think about it, could’ve been a way to procrastinate. 

You see, I write for pleasure. Opinions, short stories, challenging flash fiction with stringent word limits, and lots of haiku. I’ve also somehow managed to draft a mini novel of about 30 something thousand words. Now I wonder if running was my way to run away from editing the damn thing.

It may have been one of the reasons. The other is, of course, people telling me it’s too hard and I couldn’t do it.

Well, I can. Charged by my inner egomaniac and a metaphoric hair flip, I now run every day to prove to myself that I indeed can. And it was on one of those days, that I realised I like running on a hard hiking trail more than on a sheen of supposedly-seamless foot path. 

It was a fine day in the height of summer—about two or three weeks ago—when hundreds of volunteers were still battling raging bushfires in every corner of the country. I’d woken up late. So when I stepped onto my usual route, the foot path, it was so hot I couldn’t stand the heat. (I know, how ironic that I can’t tolerate 26 degrees when I grew up in a 30-degree country. Celsius.) That’s when I noticed that the mildly-raggedy trail that ran parallel to the foot path, flooded with the shade of gum and other trees I’ll never remember the names of.

So I took to that instead. As I started off, much slower than my regular pace, I felt the obvious difference. The ground didn’t throw back the stubborn resistance of the concrete-laden foot path I’d become accustomed to. It was more giving, in a sense, and forgiving as I lurched myself on to it. I felt the gravel and sand flex underneath my feet, and even though I was often stepping on uneven surfaces, I soon learnt to navigate through it.

Now I enjoy every moment of the experience. 

Of course, I’m no expert. I’ve only run on two different trails so far, but I’ve been doing it enough of times to know I wouldn’t give it up.

The reason?

Trails are amazing personalities. Not only does a trail pave an albeit challenging way, for the runner, but it’s also a constant reminder of how entwined we are with nature. 

When I run on the foot path, I run over well-laid tar and concrete that’s meshed and designed to satisfy humans. It’s such an engineered path that we take it for granted—it has to be perfect and entirely accommodating to our needs. 

The trail, however, is wild. We’re not the master there—the roots of a hundred-year old tree is. In the trail, you don’t kick aside a twig or cut down a tree so you can have your own  way. Instead, nature forces you to swivel and adjust and hope that the harsh realities of the terrain don’t give you sore feet or a broken ankle. When you’re on a trail, you have to respect nature. 

Even the little things, like Sweetgum nuts can roll underneath your shoe and prick their way in to your sole. Or a broken piece of branch that looks deceptively frail can twist your ankle harder than you can imagine. 

On the flip side, on a trail you are slow. Like an overweight dog, as you waddle your way through the wilderness, you notice… everything. Flowers smell more sweeter than before, ants strut ahead of you, and screeching galas crowd overhead clouding your vision of the clear blue sky for just one moment. It’s pristine, and you have an unmatched sense of engaging with nature.

That’s why trail running is so appealing. On my now usual route, I run over the roots of a few ancient trees. They pop out of the ground, like an angry, pulsing vein, with space enough only for four-five toes between them. As I gingerly tip toe over the roots as thick as my fingers, a rush of affection to nature engulfs me—how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things! 

That’s enough to squash any egoistical maniac. 

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.

Rider

“How hard could it be?”

After all, I’d ridden a bike before. It’s been a while, of course, but I wasn’t a novice at the balancing act. Regardless, the last time I’d got on a bike was at my workplace. It was a Saturday morning, and having spent Friday night working a bit and then binge watching movies before I’d passed out from fatigue, I woke up at my desk and decided to ride around the office campus on one of the free office bikes. And so I went round and round our circular building. It was called the tower building for its shape. I wound my way like moon around the earth, making sure I stayed at a respectable distance, just enough to avoid an ugly crash.

That was about three years ago. That was my second time on a bike. The first was about 15 years ago. Desperate to learn, I borrowed my neighbour’s bike, which she never rode. It sat there, grappling in dust, gathering rust, its potential draining away, pointless. Since I didn’t know better, and it was a loaned bike, I couldn’t leave our building. I went up and down the front yard, which at less than hundred metres, still seemed rather lengthy at that frivolous age of 10.

And so when I moved to Canberra and realised everyone rode, to work, to parks, to the pubs, to climate protests, I craved to get myself a bike. Except, it was such a difficult decision. facing me was a gigantic world of wheels and tyres and handlebars in sizes, colours, and models I’d never heard of before.

I used to think gears were appropriate on motorcycles. Turns out, when you’re riding uphill—which is quite a bit in the Canberra region—you’d go nowhere without gears. I found out the value of gears the hard way Riding on a friend’s bike today for the first time since doing those office rounds, I stopped midway on a bridge and gravity snarled as it dragged me backwards. I had to get off and push.

Going down a slope, I wobbled before crashing right into a bush, scratching my knees, bruising the bike, and tearing my jeans. I fell again, scraping the same knee a little later. Never mind, I thought as I cruised down the serene bike path, as the lake expanded on my right. You can’t expect to be unscathed when you’re learning almost from scratch.

When I grazed the ground a little later, I was pissed. Shaken, frustrated, and embarrassed. But still determined. Despite an abundant lack of confidence, I rode home on a bike path my friend suggested. Loved every bit of it.

Non-existent rain and over exposure to heat has left the bush capital parched and yellowing. And yet, as I rode past them, a gentle breeze rode with me, assuring me that all would be well, that plants would recover, that I would recover. It caressed my jeans, sending cold shards of comfort through the hole onto my bleeding knee. Glorious.

As I unlocked my door and gingerly stepped into my home, I smiled. Happy and satisfied with myself.

I too can ride.