A huge tree trunk with exposed roots spreading out

Roots Are Us – Or Are They?

Where do you belong?

Where’s your home town?

What’s your native place?

Ask anyone any version of these questions, and they’ll respond in a heartbeat – showing you its precise location on Google Maps, and including for good measure the closest village, town or city; the exact distance from any of those; and transportation modes, frequencies and times, and alternatives to all of those.

Graphic of a young man with a confused speech bubble above him

Ask me this, and in the past, I’ve been stumped. I was born in one city, spent my childhood in another, came to adulthood and have lived the longest in a third, and spent a few years in yet another, with three of these being in different corners of the country and the fourth right in the centre. The concept of a home town or native place doesn’t work for someone like me. So, my response has been an all-purpose “I am a global citizen.”

While that may come across as progressive or evasive, depending on your school of thought, that may actually be not too far from the truth, or genealogy. My mom has told me the ancestors on her mom’s side came from the Middle East. On inspecting my family and immediate relatives’ physiognomies, I also get a bit of West Asia. Getting more contemporary, in a cultural profiling assessment for a US-based assignment a few years ago, I resulted more as Yankee than desi. And at a bank in one of the cities where I’ve lived, seeing my athleisure wear (when athleisure wasn’t even a term), the manager asked me engagingly, “Are you an NRI?”

However, on hearing the ‘I’m an international citizen’ bit, folk smile indulgently, but remain insistent, “No, really, where are you from?”

So, I’ve started taking the safer route, and have gone with my birthplace. That satisfies people, also because it’s on the passport. That works in the case of my family too. When probed, my parents have shared that their parents, on both sides, were born in cities different from the ones in which my parents were born. So, for convenience, my parents (and brother) too have gone with their respective places of birth. Which means… three of the four of us cite different ‘home towns’.

As cultural definitions go, though, this native place thingamajig has to be on your father’s side, and his father’s, and his father’s father’s, right up to Adam’s time. So, here too, the ladies get a raw deal. Oh, wait, there’s “mother” tongue. Which muddies things up a bit. Or perhaps not. Dad has the home but mom the voice? How (stereo)typical.

Coming back, though, the version of the belonging question that has had me the most tangled is: Where are your roots?

I mean, I get it. ‘Roots’ is meant to stand in for the terrestrial locus that is home. Roots give you support, keep you grounded. There’s also a sense of nostalgia the word evokes, like a sepia-tinted photo, a memory of a simpler time.

But, I also don’t get it. Roots might keep you down-to-earth, but they also keep you fixed – to a place, to a perception, to a philosophy. They are also below the surface, cueing a deep, dank place where the light doesn’t reach. And to get even more matter-of-fact, they are the recipients of much organic waste. Suddenly, ‘roots’ doesn’t convey so warm and comforting a place anymore; and if this is what is meant to give you identity, who would wish to identify with this?

To continue dissecting the metaphor, if using a tree analogy, why only roots? For instance, why…

An illustration of the Tree of LifeCan’t I have shoots, thus moving up, seeking the light, sky and all things higher?

Can’t I be a mighty trunk, sturdy and solid, providing support to the resting and respite for the passerby?

Can’t I be a tender leaf, offering a speck of greenery in a rapidly greying world?

Can’t I be a flower, spreading good cheer with both my appearance and my fragrance?

Can’t I be a fruit, providing sustenance to herbivores and “healthivores”?

Can’t I be a branch, bearing all of the previous three, and offering shelter to itinerant birds and housing for the nesting ones?

In fact, why can’t I eschew the plant analogy altogether, and be one of those birds? Free to rest and roost anywhere, unmindful of borders, and thus, bringing things back to that ‘global citizen’ response.

And even staying within the realm of roots, why should I be only underground roots?

A quote post, around not being fixed like a treeWhy can’t I be the aerial roots of a banyan tree, above the ground and a bit away from the parent tree, eventually becoming my own tree (technically, a trunk) yet remaining a part of the original?

Why can’t I be the exposed roots of a mangrove, delighting in all the elements – sun, sky, air, water, earth – instead of just one or two?

Or best still, why can’t I be the adventitious roots of a money plant, cut at the stem, taken away from its parent, put in a new location, and gradually prospering in this new home too?

But this discourse perhaps is too much for even the most woke millennial. The cynics pause and then sneer, “Bah, you are rootless!” I prefer the term “unrooted”. But by then, their ears are well into the ground. People’s desires to put you in a box are apparently too… deep-rooted.

So, again, I find myself turning to my parents. When I have pushed my dad about his ancestry (because that’s what the traditionalists want, don’t they), after initially obliging me, he has finally dismissed me with, “You know, I was – and still am – busy earning a living. Who had / has the time to think about all this??” Guess that is a response as rooted in truth as any.

I wrote this piece for The Hindu’s thREAD. Here’s the edited version on their site: This piece on thREAD

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B&W photo of a rose

Leaving

You leave

Not when your life’s work is complete,

But when

That of your soul is.

A man rowing in a boat in a golden setting with mist rising

(Full)Filling Our Purpose

I read somewhere sometime back that our purpose on earth, our purpose in (this) life is the completion of the soul. So far, of all the statements of our purpose on earth I have come across, that resonates the most. Perhaps because it is about something I fascinate about the most, the soul.

So, that explains when someone passes away, I guess: they have managed the completion of their soul. What then of the folk who pass away early? Does that mean they managed the completion of their soul very fast? Maybe. And what of folk who pass away in old age, some even past 100? Does the completion of their soul take so long? If so, why? Do they do it… so slowly? Hmm, I guess it only means… they have very big souls to fill.

Graphic of a man in office wear casting a shadow of a superhero

Whole and Soul

I have never had a role model. And for a long time, if only for a bit, that would weigh me down. Especially when I would see others happily citing everyone from Gandhi to Branson to Chopra (both Deepak and Priyanka). I used to wonder if something was amiss in my personality development by not having some big footsteps to follow.

Bollywood actor, Boman IraniThe closest I have come though has been Boman Irani. Mainly because he “made it” “quite late”. (At 44, my present age. And I trust I am still “struggling”.) Boman comes across as a nice and genuine chap, with no airs. I even used to follow him on FB, and found his shares the most sincere of the few celebs I would follow. He even liked a comment of mine on his very cute grandson. But I eventually unfollowed him. While I wasn’t looking at him as a role model, somewhere, this celebrity follow thing doesn’t work for me. No offence, Boman. Although if I were to catch him in person now (I did see him during the launch of his first Bollywood movie, Ram Madhvani’s Let’s Talk, back in 2002), I could still go schoolgirl-blush on him. Yup, he’s cool.

I eventually figured it out. When you are as individualistic and hatke (unconventional) as I am, you can’t have a role model. You are your own model, and perhaps for other individualistic and unconventional folk too. So, I started feeling easy about this don’t have a role model thing, and started allowing myself to just be myself.

And then, Guru Dutt happened.

Guru Dutt in his introductory shot from Pyaasa

Guru Dutt in his introductory shot from Pyaasa

When I started watching his movies in this intense discovery phase of mine, I could identify with the “tortured creative soul” he was, and not just in his movies. (GD is one of those few artistes, if not the only one, who put out a lot of himself, along with his world view, in his movies.) It was easy: I am a tortured creative soul myself.

And as I started and finished watching all his movies (directed, produced, acted) and started and am on the way to finishing all books on him, I began feeling more and more of a kinship with him. The same feelings of humanism toward the world, the same feelings of not being accurately understood by others, the same desire to be and remain a purist – or as I say, a truist (all themes in the glorious Pyaasa), the same desire to be uncompromising (brought out to a brutal extent in Kaagaz ke Phool), and the same anguish that comes from having these attitudes and making the choices that go with these.

Somewhere, across the time-space continuum, across the close to 10 years between his death and my birth, across the over 50 years after he passed away that I discovered him, getting to “get” him only through the written word (others’) and created visuals (his), I find that he could be the closest person I could come to be emulating. (I have been telling my friends that GD’s spirit, or a part of it, like the horcruxes in Harry Potter, has entered mine, perhaps explaining my newly acquired obsession of him.)

Of course, highly individualistic as I am, and no matter how immense I find GD, I could never want to become a clone of him. So, maybe not role model, but perhaps, and given that he is no more in the earthly realm, a… soul model?

Guru Dutt as an older man in Kaagaz ke Phool

Guru Dutt as the aged Suresh Sinha in Kaagaz ke Phool

 

Tom Hanks looking at a spiked crab in a scene from Cast Away

Irfilosophy: Would You…?

Logo for Irfilosophy, the philosophy-based series on my blog

If you were stranded on an island where there’s nothing to eat and only a dog for company, what would you do? Would you kill and eat the dog? Or would you choose to die of hunger?

A few days back, during a violent vegan vs non-vegan war on FB (which of these ‘wars’ isn’t ‘violent’?), one of my non-vegan friends posed this old ethical dilemma. (This of course assumes you aren’t from China or North-East India and love dogs/animals.) My response, a not very unfamiliar one, was that I would not; maybe the dog would eventually help me find food, and also give me company. The same friend responded hoping that we never need to face this situation, for people are known to do the most unimaginable things in dire times. One of my other friends, also non-vegan, lauded me for my response, for being consistent all along; another vegan friend had committed a capitulation of sorts by admitting that if he were in a deserted desert with only an antelope, he would go ahead with the killing and eating. (Antelopes in deserts? On a lighter note, he should have thought through that one.)

I obviously felt good at my friend lauding me. And yes, it’s consistent with my beliefs. For the same reason, I wouldn’t go to the pyramids at Giza if camel transport were the only way to get there. Similarly, when watching ‘Everest’ and noticing yaks haul heavy-duty necessities to the base camp, I thanked myself for not wanting to be a mountaineer.

Yaks hauling necessities to the Everest base camp

And then, a few days back, I had this thought: I’m marooned during a flood, and some folk have come to rescue me… on a bullock-cart. Would I take that ride? Would animal-freedom-advocate and non-carnist me chuck my precious principles, take that person’s hand, and get into that cart? (Of course, there could be other questions like ‘Wouldn’t a boat, rather than a bullock-cart, come during a flood?’, ‘Do you know swimming?’, ‘Could you make a boat?’ But as I told you, this thought just came to me, the way random thoughts do, just like ‘If I don’t know swimming, could I learn swimming then and there?’ See, I told you. So, let’s stay with this, shall we?)

There are enough and more such examples… If I were Pi on the sea in ‘Life of Pi’. Would I kill and eat fish? (Pi does beat and dig into a large fish that lands into his boat. If so, would I have released it back into the water?) Would I kill the tiger… both to protect myself and for food? If I were washed away to the Arctic. How would I be a vegan Eskimo, avoiding spearing a seal? Would I live only on water and… ice?

I think I have an answer. I would… go ahead and take that ride, kill the tiger/fish, spear that seal. Not because of the standard answer of “It’s a case of survival”. But more like this…

B/W pic of Vicki Moore, animal rights activist, with two goats she rescued from a blood fiestaIn an episode of ‘Untamed and Uncut’, a series on Animal Planet about rescuing animals in peril or rescuing humans and animals from each other when both come into conflict, they featured the renowned US animal-rights activist, Vicki Moore. One of her campaigns took her to the Spanish province of Zamora, which had a festival where a group of young men throws a goat from a church tower to another group on the ground who would hopefully catch the frightened animal with a canvas sheet. The activist felt sorry for the goat and for filming him/her rather than trying to save him/her, and apologised with the thought, ‘I have to let you get hurt/die now, only because I can show this cruelty to the world later’. (Incidentally, the practice was banned in 2002 after protests by animal groups. Also, Vicki got gored by a bull during the Pamplona run of 1995. She survived, and continued her campaigns for several years before eventually passing away in February 2000.)

In short, it’s like this… I think I would go ahead and kill and eat and ride that animal NOW. So I could hopefully save more animals LATER. After all, only humans can talk to humans about animal cruelty. And many a time, even they can’t.

So, maybe that question should not be ‘Would you kill the dog?’, but ‘When would you kill him/her?’, and even ‘Why?’ Whatever your answer, one can only hope you are asking yourself these questions.

To find out more about Vicki Moore and her foundation, go here: VickiMooreFoundation.org

 To know what Irfilosophy is, click here: Irfilosophy: Here’s Presenting

Logo for Irfilosophy, the philosophy-based series on my blog