Being Radically Authentic

Isn’t being authentic enough that we now want to be radically so? 

An authentic life is where we express ourselves just the way we are. There is no disconnection between our inner world and our outward life. It is peace, joy and bliss rolled into a package, or so we are led to think. But being radically authentic is when the clichés surrounding authenticity are challenged and candour takes the place of pretension- the charade of being true only to the positive in the spectrum of human emotions. 

In the pursuit of emotional well being, an authentic voice is much desired, something that is true to the self. The ‘voice’ manifests itself in the choices we make, in the way we run our lives, the philosophy we swear by and the creative outlets we have. We declare to the world our real personas and we feel empowered when we bring out all the love and goodwill for the humankind as a mere fallout of being ourselves. 

Yet, I question myself, are we, as a community or a society, going overboard in our quest for authenticity? Do we not feel pressurised to have the perfect life or the perfect work life balance, the perfect emotions and the perfect goals? Is it important that we be climbing mountains, real or metaphorical, travel far and wide, write a book or record that album and in the process feel nothing but priviledged, successful because we pushed ourselves or challenged ourselves? 

An average day sees in us a wide range of emotions… Happiness yes and focus yes and bliss yes and chasing our dreams yes. Do we even acknowledge the ubiquitous doubt no and anxiety no and inadequacy no and boredom no and whiling away time no…? We do not even allow a low grade unhappiness because of the inherent and sometimes unavoidable disconnection between the situations and the realities of our emotions. 

Why is it that suddenly we have an aversion to negativity, to feeling inadequate, to not be following our bliss, to not be dreaming big? Do we need to look at every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth? Do we have the courage to admit our vulnerability, our flawed reasoning and all too human failures? Even in talking of our failure, we are supposed to concentrate how it was a learning experience. 

Sometimes, I think back of the time I was fighting depression. Safely distanced from that experience, I like to think how I cherish that time because it was the biggest learning for me. Coming out of that harrowing time unscathed, I proclaim that it is empowering to know that I could conquer. It makes me brave in everyone’s eyes and a winner to my mind’s eye. While it is true that it is good to have a greater feeling of security because something that could go awry and wreak havoc ultimately turned out all right and I feel relatively unscathed. Yet, am I turning my back on those negative emotions that led me into that well of despair in the first place? I feel compelled to be looking at the glass as being full most of the time and am rewarded by a vocal acceptance of myself as a positive person. But how much of my completeness is contributed by my dark side? 

Is it not alright anymore to lead an ordinary life? To be able to see the beauty and the magnificence of the simple existence? It is more desirable that we recognize our pace, our proclivities and that our little happinesses are just as important as the grand ones. It is only a matter of scale and a perceived importance of the larger one. It is alright not to judge sometimes, more importantly our own selves or to push ourselves to feel what we should be feeling… feeling posituve, energetic and dreaming lofty dreams. It is alright to do things for the sake of doing them and not for any end in sight. Not for that painting to be one day hung in the gallery or even in the parlour. Not for those words to be penned down into a book. It is better to take time to stop, to find ourselves by losing ourselves in ‘something’, even nothing, rather than chasing after a goal. It is better to share a moment with a friend and even silence. 

Every few days or even hours, we might feel unhinged. Something happens to throw us out of our equanimous state. And often, it is because nothing happens that the mental equilibrium is challenged. It is the void that becomes our undoing. And we realize that spiritually we have strayed far from home. 

For me, finding and maintaining authenticity is being in balance, emotionally, physically, spiritually… all of the elements that make me. And being in balance means finding balance again and again and yet again. It is the acknowledgement that balancing is a constant act. 

Being radically authentic does not only mean being open but also embracing both the positives and the negatives within us. We often ignore the negative because it drives us down but shadows are a part of light. 

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Let Me Count the Ways 

There are two kinds of people : the ones who make lists for everything and the ones who abhor list making. I firmly belong to category one. 

I feel that lists are made not just by type As but by perfectly normal procrastinators as well. List making is in fact an art form. 

    There is plenty of poetry in making lists. Lists and poetry put together remind me of the iconic sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning… How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. 
    How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
    I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
    My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
    For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
    I love thee to the level of everyday’s
    Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
    I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
    I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
    I love thee with the passion put to use
    In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
    I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
    With my lost saints – I love thee with the breath,
    Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and, if God choose,
    I shall but love thee better after death. 

    Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

    Let me count the ways in which I love this sonnet. 

    • Before I was introduced to ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese ‘ the 44 sonnet sequence from which this 43rd sonnet has been taken, I read Pearl S. Buck’s short story of a plain, nondescript school teacher, leading a staid life, governed by routine. She gets a chance to play the poet Elizabeth, in a drama based on her life. Buck’s story is essentially about how a seemingly plain woman finds the wild passionate side of hers through playing that role. I loved the unpredictability of the tale as well as the astounding metamorphosis of a person. It created an aura of the great poet herself. I was intrigued by the life of the legendary poet who was widely read in her times (the sonnet was written between 1845-46 and published in 1850) and whose poetry transcends time. 
    • I am always impressed by the fact that Elizabeth wrote poetry that was deemed good by the male dominated literary society of the time. She was more popular than her husband Robert Browning, another notable poet. She conquered the male bastion of poetry, turning a very masculine poetic form to convey the feminine viewpoint. 
    • The Sonnet 43 from the Portuguese is about love, the quality of love, the sublime heights and the unfathomable depths of feeling. It is about the beloved and yet it transcends a person. 
    • There is so much maturity here. This is not merely a first crush or the fantastical musings of a love lorn person. There is romantic love which is grounded in the reality of an ‘everyday need ‘. 
    • I am always amazed by the spectrum of love presented in the sonnet. In just fourteen lines, the poet counts eleven ways in which she loves her beloved. From the poet’s ‘childhood faith’, it moves on to love beyond death. 
    • I love the idea that here is a woman expressing her love in a deeply powerful way. It is straightforward. It is philosophical. It is unapologetic. It is intellectual. The intense emotion is the most inescapable thing in her life, as is her breath. 
    • It is very comforting to read of a mature love that knows itself for what it is and knows its own power.

          Which is your favourite poem? I would love to hear from you. 

          Reading Tagore

          ​I wonder, awestruck, what it must be like to read Tagore on the banks of a river. That expanse of water, shimmering in the sun and the gentle breeze, bringing in a sense of calm. I wonder, what it must be to read, to muse, to dream away. To know that I have a few complete days to soak it all in-the sun, the peace and the magic of the word. No clocks, no routine, just the dreamworld. 

          It is huge chunks of time like these that really free up the mind; when the thoughts can wander carefree and the memories tip toe in, unbidden. Every little thought and feeling seems intense, painted in myriad colours. 

          These moments, frozen in time, are the ones that help me find myself. Every movement is deliberate, born out of choice. The book is a weight in the hands, the rustle of the pages like music to the ears. I notice the ink stains and the hastily scribbled notes in the margins, a bookworm’s version of a link in the text. 

          What would it be like to read him, rolling the words about in my mind, wondering what those words would be in Bangla, longing to hear them being said aloud. Would the words find an echo in the lapping of the water? Would the weeds sway to the unheard tune of the flute? Would the dying rays of the sun illuminate the water? Skirting the waves and painting them a reddish orange? Would the sunset bring peace and closure along with the whispers of the next morning’s promise? 

          Where time seems to stand still, is where the mind finds itself. 

          The Unseen Boundaries

          Writing is my favourite form of creative expression. Yet, there are invisible boundaries that make me too aware of the lines that are drawn in our minds through our culture and the circumstances of life. What we experience, we crystallise within. We become what we have thought about and done. And the ‘thought about’ is governed in a large way by our demographic profiles and our ethnicity.

          For a long time, writing was something I denied myself. It was a pleasure and it was tremendous potential and it meant limitless possibilities. It was also a mirror to my soul. I was busy untangling the knots in my consciousness and really, the tangles in the subconscious had to wait. Unbidden and unknowingly, the boundaries hemmed me in, without my really knowing because I did not let those influences be expressed or given wings to.

          In trying to find my meaning, I embraced many places and people. I felt I was getting new eyes and different perspectives, but what was left unexpressed and unexplored was perhaps the strongest perspective of all.

          And then, the writing happened. And the music. I started seeing cultural motifs everywhere. I felt that it was an anthropological interest that appealed to me intellectually, but I soon felt drawn to my culture more and more. Was I in search of my roots? Was I really trying to create an identity after all? Wasn’t an identification with mankind enough? An understanding of the basic human values were not shield enough for my culture to permeate itself in my consciousness.

          Till today, I try to write in a gender, age and cultural background vacuum. But, am I not really how my culture has shaped me? Increasingly, I feel the longing to touch the silken strands of a paranda, a hair adornment that I have never worn in my urban lifestyle. When the poetess Amrita Pritam laments the loss of innocence, calling out to Waris Shah, I can feel her pain and of the numerous other women, who all are dressed in salwar kameez, heads covered with colourful dupattas, perhaps fleeing the murderers. Saadat Hasan Manto writes of the trauma of the partition of Punjab, something my generation never had to contend with. But I sit at my grandmother’s knee and listen to those horrific tales, their lustre dimming as her age and memory has. Increasingly, in my journals, I turn to a phrase that’s evocative of the cultural imagery I have encountered in my land of birth. I listen to a dirge, sung mournfully and I know I want to be reborn here.

          My cultural limitations are pushing me towards delving deeper into the influences that have shaped me and prompting me to write from my soul. Unacknowledged, they make my writing voice false.

          Witness

          The witness to my creative process is also the reason for my block. One moment I might be writing, thinking over the words and the next I am engaged in an imaginary conversation with my reader. I explain this and that, things I might have wanted to elaborate upon but left out for the sake of brevity. Sometimes, in my writing I tend to ramble on; I love to digress really, for that is how the mind works but I cannot let the structure of the written piece be influenced by my whims.

          There are times when the future reader is pushed back by the ghosts of my encounters with people talking of their own memories and experiences that have shaped them. It is especially true when it is a memoir I am writing and I am recreating events and places from snatches of conversations I have had with people.

          The contributor to my stories turns into the reader in my mind. I remember his raw emotions as he talked, that kept bubbling up and how he tried to put them down, hiding behind a veneer of sanity and maturity. I can think of the way it would move him when he stumbles on my piece and reads and remembers that he told me all that. I hope then that I have done justice to him.

          When I write or capture a scene, I know I am almost looking over my shoulder for a critical look from the masters looking at me trying to attempt what I am learning to be good at. I think and try to imagine the helpful suggestions and the critical explanations.

          Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation with someone I have just met and getting to know through tentative questions, my mind thinks in a parallel mode of what I could really tell her about following dreams and aspirations. She, then is the witness to the hacks and the advice pieces I have.

          My creative block also comes from the ways my witnesses expresses themselves. I compare myself to them and feel daunted by the ease of their expression. If I could express myself in a vacuum, being just at home with the muse and letting it flow, I might be prolific but I would miss a crucial link in the chain of my expression.

          The Black Rock

          Mad Libs at a party is fun but on a workday when you text people to suggest an article, an adjective and a noun; the common reaction is ‘huh?’ You then send them a screenshot of the Daily Post prompt, all the while reassuring them that no, this is not a personality test.

          Your phone beeps and you get your three words, “The Black Rock”. Your mind races. Its easy, it shouts. You can write about that long ago trek to the mysterious waterfalls where all was moss green and slippery, the path to the falls narrow and treacherous and your lunch cold, which tasted colder when eaten sitting on a wet-from-spray rock. Of course, you took photos of each other, shivering partly from fright, casting nervous glances at your tourist guide who talked nonchalantly of the many deaths at this very spot. You can easily paint the green rocks black in your memory because when the sun does not penetrate the thick canopy of trees and when the day is about to end, it all does start looking black.

          Unlike the truly black rocks and the blackened tinge of the waters where my dear-friend-who-so-kindly-suggested-the-title recently vacationed at and hey, this is how she got you the article, adjective and the noun, your memories are faded. You do remember the twill pattern of your long dress and the brownish footwear… why didn’t you buy proper walking shoes… but a search through the archival reaches of your desk drawer housing the ball of string, envelopes, paintings and old photos yields nothing, not even some dog eared novels.

          There is nothing to annotate or illustrate the text of your post, so you think dreamily of your friend’s black nail paint that she adroitly paints on her fingertips. Over the years, she has extended that expertise to her eye make up, the photos of which you encounter ever so often on the social media. No, no, that does not give her a black eye effect so using them is out of question. Maybe you should just get some photos of black tyres with black rims for the post.

          Daily Post Prompt: Turn to your coworkers, kids, Facebook friends, family- anyone who’s accessible and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective and a noun. There’s your post title!