In what appears to have become customary here on Contested Realities, the annual roundup post follows. The new year’s eve post I realize is a good opportunity to take a moment and look back at the days spent in the rush of daily living. As I begin writing this one for 2015, I re-read the roundup posts I wrote at the end of 2012, 2013 and 2014. These posts are the trails that were made journeying through time.
This year was lived overwhelmingly solo. This is the first observation that comes to my mind as I think of 2015. Even as I write this the pressure cooker steams the rice for dinner and I type away before I get back to the kitchen to prepare the curry. It has been exhilarating and frustrating in parts but certainly liberating. I would be lying if I said that those lonely evenings on some weekends didn’t get me occasionally. But besides those, it has been a time when the proverbial ‘self’ unraveled. It is a rather unusual Indian lifestyle to experience. I have been living single since 2008, the spells were interrupted with my co-founders joining in on and off. For almost two years I lived with a former partner of our company. This year tops all of the single-living years. I watched plays alone. I rode long distances on motorcycle alone. I went to movies alone and I cooked all my meals for one person only. I went to the late night movie shows where couples gave quizzing looks to the empty seat besides me, watch me sit through the film alone and walk down into the parking lot alone. In Bangalore, as I notice, one can always spot that lone ranger at the movies because there aren’t too may who hang out alone here.
The obvious consequence of living solo was long conversations with the self. I’d say, ain’t no hermitage on the mountain top needed for self-reflection! (Pico Iyer never ceases to write about such hermitages in his pieces). Try living solo in a city and one can get the same conditions sans the pervasive silence. Traffic is for real and machines of all kinds fill every passing minute of the day.
The year was very productive in the number of books I managed to read. A long lasting urge to read works of Marxist thinkers could start this year and I managed to read a fair number of them – Paulo Friere, Ivan Illich, Michael Watts, Gramsci, Heidegger, Habermas and very less of the great man Marx himself. Ideas of de-schooling and pedagogy of the oppressed made tremendous sense. These explorations have begun my lean to the left, I figure. Finding one’s own thought through an ideology laden world appears tedious.
The second observation is that this is also the year in which technological pervasiveness climaxes in my personal life. Phone, computer and the internet took charge of my daily life, travel, education, profession and leisure such that it went out of my control even as I used more and more of it to exercise control on things in life. In what I do, people I talk to and places I want to be were all being governed by devices. Every evening’s run was mapped and recorded by a Nike app, a sight from the trail shared on Tumblr, activities and interaction shaped by Twitter and similar such things. The ultimate however, without me realizing it, was when personal relationships were formed, lived and driven by Whatsapp and Skype. It was me urging people I cared for and loved, to come over on Skype and let me see them. This, in a naive way, felt was making up for their physical absence. Early morning and frequent messages on Whatsapp throughout the day felt like creating an experience equivalent to shared living. By the end of these twelve months, I went through the entire journey from urging family and friends for to be more connected through devices, thereby making up for their absence. In the developed parts of the world, digital pundits and sociologists might remark that what I am experiencing is what the societies there have experienced half a dozen years back. I find it remarkable because this lifestyle wouldn’t possibly take roots in an Indian societal setting. The many festivals, the social obligations, parental pressures, the web of social relationships… all of these make it difficult, if not impossible, to live a solo life in India.
In a spirit of self-reflection at this new year’s eve, I think it is time to make a conscious and informed withdrawal from the overwhelming grip of digital devices. A very close friend with whom I have spent more time in a year chatting on Whatsapp and Skype than spend a handful of days together in real, remarked how different and profuse it felt to spend time together. The connect between us when in person was stirring. We experienced the joy of being together and spending time in each other’s real presence in an overwhelming manner. It wasn’t a pent-up affection over time spent in different cities bursting through when we met in person, it was merely what should have happened had I been really prioritizing people’s presence with all their heart and mind as much as mine, over digital connections.
I am reminded of Sherry Turkle’s remark that “the devices in our pockets are psychologically powerful. They don’t only change what we do, they change who we are.” I have been changing in the past year with digital devices enabling me to create a customized idea of self and project it than the spontaneous formation of the self that could have happened.
In the year ahead, I am intend to pursue a lifestyle which unfolds less in the digital world but rather gushes forth spontaneously, in a felt and real manner. Ironically, I commit to this idea on a blog! This is just the kind of situation that Contested Realities was meant to capture – the contests. Of ideas and values and preferences in our lives.
2015 saw a lot happening in my personal life. As for the professional, this year I joined a university again. I started a graduate program in public policy at the National Law School in Bangalore. How or why of this decision is still vague in my mind. I could fit in a university program and gain a specialization along with teaching in school and the company, so went ahead and applied. This has had my leisure and travel taking a huge hit this year. No long trips to speak of!
Teaching in the school however, has been an exhilarating journey. Among other things, this has made me come close and appreciate how amazingly capable human mind is. How children progressively make use of or lose the ability of using their creativity as they go along the years in school. I am not sure of my students, but I have felt enormously privileged to be with them and helping them along the high school journey that they have been making. I once ridiculed a professor in my former university of being too idealistic in his outlook during his lectures in development studies. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I stand changed now and realize the absolute necessity of such a worldview. Otherwise what have we got to share with the young men and women who come after us, in this world and to those whom we are charged with teaching?
I hope the year ahead is as satisfying as this one and those before this have been. Good health and good spirits is all I would wish for. For me and for those reading this.