Immerse Your Soul In Love

I am inside the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. It is a remarkably beautiful and intimate auditorium with a magnificent, ornate ceiling. Its aroma vaguely reminds me of an old Sivan temple in my college town that I used to frequent back in the day. The temple was a kaleidoscope of distinctive smells: of vibhuti and camphor, multitudes of agarbattis and of bats clinging to the dark ceilings, as if to remind you that the temple was first built sometime in the second or third century. What is of significance at the moment, however, is neither the ceiling nor the nostalgia. It is, in fact, the people who have just walked on to the stage: six odd English men who make gorgeous music that is, at times, out of the world. I follow them with an embarrassing passion and dedication; they are called Radiohead. With a bit of careful planning, the help of very kind friends and an enormous amount of luck, I’d laid my hands on a ticket. After weeks of intense anticipation, here I am, at last, sharing four walls with the band and a few thousand like minded fans.

I spent the past two hours roaming around by myself and lost in thought. At the pre-party I met a group of fans from the Radiohead subreddit, some of whom I had only known as usernames and flairs, and others I hadn’t known at all. Armed with a drink, my awkward and insecure fan girl self plodded on through discussions on favorite albums, past live shows and best Thom dance moves, and was intimidated by those who were fans since OK Computer and had been to several Radiohead gigs. After we had clicked a photo together, we dispersed to our seats, the lucky ones to the pit. Mine is the right most seat on the first row of Loge, incredibly close to the stage. I’m now trying to create a makeshift stand for my phone in hope of live streaming the show on Periscope as a token of gratitude for all the fans who had streamed the previous gigs on this tour, but this would later turn out to be a massive failure. My thoughts wander to the forty thousand fans on the subreddit, especially some of the regulars on the live stream threads. I ponder over what I have in common with this disparate group of individuals “on the internet” whom I have been on a virtual tour with.

Why are we fans? What do we get from this collective adoration of musicians and sportsmen and actors whom we hardly know? Why do we obsess over their scribbles and words and interviews from the past? We are deeply convinced of our undying love despite knowing that it is not their real selves that we love, it is only an image of these artists projected by the media and our own selves that we love. We buy posters for our walls and decals for our cars. We are shouting at the top of our lungs, but what exactly is our message? Is it acceptance and belonging that we crave? Or are these displays just a manifestation of juvenile arrogance? I recall what Carrie Brownstein wrote on being a fan and it slightly warms my heart.

My favorite kind of musical experience is to feel afterward that your heart is filled up and transformed, like it is pumping a whole new kind of blood into your veins. This is what it is to be a fan: curious, open, desiring for connection, to feel like art has chosen you, claimed you as its witness.

I snap back and focus on the present. The first big surprise of the set is the proverbial True Love Waits. This elusive fan favourite has finally found its place on a record and is now pervading the room in all its glory. I am shocked and thrilled beyond words. Staring at the stage, mouth wide open, hand on my chest as if I’m trying to clutch my heart. Out of nowhere, there is an arm around my waist. It belongs to the girl next seat who just arrived with her partner during the last song. She has exactly the same expression of disbelief on her face. She pats my back gently and I hug her, overwhelmed.

I have only read about the legendary fans of jam bands like Grateful Dead and Phish and have always wanted to be a part of such an accepting and tolerant group. I get to experience a mild taste of it today thanks to this amazing, drunk couple who proceed to share the rest of the concert with me. As his favourite song starts, the guy screams in joy and together we yell “Weird Fishes”. As Jonny is banging the drums with fervor during Bloom, Thom pauses for a moment to shoot a fond and amused look, I turn to look at the girl and she laughs. We both get it. And as Idioteque starts, the three of us collectively lose our shit and dance and jump and flail following the path carved by our glorious leader. I do not know these two people, I do not even know their names but I will always remember them and be forever grateful that they let me share this precarious joy.

The last song of the day is Street Spirit, quite possibly their darkest song; one about looking at the devil in his eyes and knowing that he will have the last laugh. Once Thom famously said that it is a song that has no glimmer of resolve. I have the balls (well, metaphorical) to disagree. Call me naive, but I do think that it has the vaguest hint of redemption. It lies in knowing that you are facing death but calling on love to give you the strength for acceptance. The terror of the certainty diminishes when confronted by the power of love. We are not afraid because we are not alone. As we sing along to the refrain, the auditorium echoes with the voice of all of us, the fans, who have immersed our souls in love. In our love for the band, for music, for humanity, and for hope.

Edit: Bwahaha, I found another person with a similar opinion on Street Spirit. WE ARE NOT ALONE!

Now Playing: Street Spirit (Fade Out) by Radiohead


Radiohead Live at the Shrine Auditorium

I’ve Been Searching

There’s no spark
No light in the dark

As I lie trapped between iron doors
doors that I forged myself
Suffocating, drenched in sweat
forever trapped inside
with no respite
I’ve been seeking the memory of a cold, rainy day
as a mug of steaming hot chocolate
and the familiarity of a favourite song
provided me a semblance of contentment

As a pain takes hold of me
and fills me until I choke
and I lie crying over missed chances
chances that weren’t mine to begin with
I’ve been looking for a muse
to inspire me to write
to put to words this gush of emotions
Oh, dainty muse!
Would you be so kind as to not scorn
at the advances of a heart overflowing with love?

For too long I’ve been drifting
along the sea of wretchedness
that the banality of human existence is
I’ve been searching for a soul
to render the mundane meaningful
I know not to seek a beacon of light
to guide me to the shore
All I want is a mirror to reflect my life back
a voice to assure me the ride was real
before I wipe away all evidence of its being.

Now Playing: Analyse by Thom Yorke


A Kind of Birthday

And all that ever mattered will some day turn back to batter like a joke.

There lies a disfigured desk lurking amidst a multitude of such disfigured desks in the eighth standard classroom in my old school – one that has the name “Vital” etched painstakingly with a divider and colored in glittering red. It stands as a testimony to the height of blind conviction that a thirteen year old mind is capable of.

When I was thirteen, I had a best friend and my life was complete. (I had two, actually, but this story is about just one of them). When we weren’t rooting for our cricket team to win or indulging in such superstitions as dressing exclusively in blue to increase their odds, we were busy getting our science teacher explain to us all about homosexuality, or contemplating the evils of child molesting. (That was the period when Michael Jackson’s child sexual abuse allegations were all over the news). We were equally drawn towards a social science teacher who preached anti-populationist ideals (her motto was No Marriage, No Family, No Child) and towards often taking misogynist stances ourselves. I still have a book called Quotations and Proverbs which has, on the page titled love, the words “A wife is a knife to kill your life” in my friend’s writing. We discovered our own ways of rebelling, but we were all right, for the most part.

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Of Hobos, Homos and Momos

A few weeks ago I was reading about a San Francisco Chronicle project called Last Men Standing, which recounted the stories of a number of AIDS survivors. Reading about the lives of these men who were connected by the common fortune (and the misfortune) of outliving AIDS in a city which was once the most sought after destination for AIDS victims, and their daily struggle today in the same city that lacks the support system they deserve reminded me of three books. They are about three different marginalized sections of the society. They all left behind a deep impression.

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Walking On

You are out of rhymes
you’ve used them all
out of emotions
you’ve felt it all
out of superlatives
you’re exhausted by them
They say it’s a fragile thing
this life we lead
they say it could change in a heartbeat
you can be merry and gay
drunk on euphoria
you would never know until it hits you
wouldn’t have a clue
that you were treading on thin ice all along
But do they also tell you
you will still cope
you will stand on the sidelines and watch
yourself plod on
no tears, no remorse
not this time
no searching inside yourself for strength
no introspection and no epiphanies
not this time
Today you merely walk on
and tomorrow you will keep walking on.

One night I fell in love

One night I fell in love
I woke up and looked in the mirror
When I didn’t flinch
in shame or regret
When I looked at my reflection in the eye
I knew you had rescued me
from myself

For a fleeting moment
I was someone else
warm and content
wrapped in your memories
dreaming of losing myself in your embrace

because it wasn’t real
Intangible and invisible
an ephemeral bonding of words and emotions

But what is reality
if it’s not that which strikes like an arrow through your heart
and leaves you warm and cozy in its wake
Leading you out of the abyss of the night,
helping you face the day with hope?

Now Playing:

Moving on to the next great adventure

The principal of my old school, Mr. T.K. Ramanujam passed away recently, and once again the fragility of life hit me hard. Here was a man who was rock solid, who seemed to know everything that is to know, a role model who inspired us in so many ways. Such was his humility that he would listen to us eighth standard students, who demanded a new Maths teacher because the one we had didn’t know mathematics, and assigned us a new teacher. He would come to school every day on a bicycle and bring Stephen Hawking books to the assembly to inspire us to read beyond the textbooks. Who else would give a student a Harry Potter book as a proficiency award? Who else would make us listen to passages out of spiritual books every week? (“மனசே, relax please”  or “கதவைத் திற; காற்று வரட்டும்”, anyone?) He wasn’t without faults, but death immortalizes people in a way that we only remember their best, or alternately, their worst. But this is a story of the former kind.

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The flaws that make us human

I was going to write a book review this week, but a few recent events made me very introspective and I was left contemplating on the flaws that are a big part of our human nature and shape us into who we are.

Most of my heroes are flawed and I don’t love them in spite of it. I love them because of it. Be it Morrissey, the man who is widely derided for being too miserable, full of himself and incapable of writing music that relates to anyone other than a teenager. While it could be debated that there is an element of acerbic humour in his lyrics that diminishes the melodrama and deters the listener from taking his songs too seriously, that is beside the point. Morrissey is Morrissey because he is a mix of solipsistic, miserable, sensitive, witty, brash and overly passionate. I love him because he is precisely all that.

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My Ancient Valentine

For the second year in a row, I am celebrating the world’s most grossly commercialized holiday away with civilization, with 2000 year old coastal redwood trees in Redwood National and State Parks. Walking through an old growth redwood forest on a fog drenched winter day is an experience that defies descriptions. Superlatives such as magnificent, tall, immense, majestic, endurant and powerful come to mind and none of those would be out of place. John Steinbeck described it best in Travels with Charley: In Search of America.

The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It’s not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.

P.S. Yes, I have posted this same thing before, but I am technically still on vacation and am not averse to cheating. Also, I should probably make this a tradition. An annual date with trees whose relatives lived alongside dinosaurs does sound appealing, doesn’t it?

A Reminiscence

I’m walking past the mango tree
the one you used to converse with
on one of those warm summer days
when you told everyone I was your friend

I’m now in the temple
gazing wistfully at the gorgeous peacock
whom you wanted to take with you
and got tumultuous when you couldn’t

I swell with hope thinking of you
Your innocence warms my heart
for a world in which you exist
has no place for cynics

You are the epitome of joy
the way your face lights up when you dance
the blissful laughter only children know of
With you around I would never be lonely

I long to tell you enchanting stories
and sing you to sleep every night
when you ask me when I will visit next
It breaks my heart to have to lie

Dearest child how I wish
the world was small, and time infinite
How I wish I could see your lovely face
light up in joy more often than once a year

P.S. My excuse for this not-so-good post — I’ve decided to blog more regularly than usual, and that means trading quality for consistency. 


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