A cock crowed in the distance and its voice separated into two. Like a sole peeling off an old shoe.
The lines belong to The God of Small Things, a book that happened to me when I was fourteen. I had come back to an empty home after writing my last exam, hungry for words, for poetry and prose. There weren’t any books left to read on my shelf, so I sneaked into my parents’ room. It was sitting salient, wedged between copies of John Grisham and Robert Ludlum. The book was always there, since I could remember, but that day I didn’t skip over it to pick a Sidney Sheldon. I walked back to the living area with it and stretched on the couch, switching on the Air Conditioners on either side of the wide room before I opened the book. I don’t think I’ve been the same person since.
My friend once mentioned how strange she thought it was, that I could remember the exact time in my life when I read every book. That’s untrue. I only remember the times I read books which changed my life. People use the phrase often, and generously. Changed my life. They slip it in when describing a pair of boots, a previously unknown (to them) type of cheese, a clever way to store power plugs, a quicker way to peel potatoes. But when I say it changed my life, I don’t mean that it enhanced it, or made it convenient. I mean it literally changed my life. Because in that moment, I gave up all my dreams and aspirations to become an architect so I could pursue a life of words. I no longer saw the beauty in creating sustainable structures and suspension bridges. Instead, I wanted to create a different kind of art. I wanted to create beauty like the one in front of me, word after word, sentence after sentence, consistently, forever.
The book is beautiful, there is no doubt. But for a young student from a protective Middle Eastern background and with no existential conflict except a clash of personalities with her mother, it was an eye-opener. It widened my imagination to allow empathic experience for another being. I understood the realities of caste system in modern India, the illusion of democracy, the violence which underpins passion, the powers that control love and the mistakes that jeopardise the happiness of several generations. But most importantly, I got a glimpse into the intriguing concept of perception. Of different perspectives.
Intriguing. The way we see the same thing, but differently. How I feel as though my brother is surely talking about another time as we recount the same summer holiday. And how easy it is to be clouded by our own experiences as we perceive new ones. How the definition of truth is maligned by the very idea of us trying to define it singularly. That we can never truly be sure of what we think we know. What we felt, what we thought we heard, and especially what we remember. It sends a chill down my spine, my very being, whenever I recollect the story of the woman who was convinced she was molested by her father when she was a young girl. And how it all came back to her during a psychoanalysis session years later, that she had made up the entire episode. Years after her mother divorced her father, years after he served a long prison sentence and years after he started a new life under the label of a sex offender. Then she remembered.
All my doubts about the human mind have come flooding back to me in the wake of the Adnan Syed story. Like 5 million other people around the globe, I’m hooked. I wait every Thursday for the Podcast to appear on the website and listen intently, trying to decipher this mystery. He was 17 when he was jailed for the murder of his ex-girlfriend. He is 34 now. I can’t say if he is guilty or innocent. But I can’t stop thinking about his answer to the question: Are you capable of violence? He said: The only time I could get violent will be to protect my life or protect the lives of my children. My children, he said. The children he might never have. The children I hope to have in the next few years. The children I want to see grow up. The children who might fill up my house when I’m 34. And then I wonder, what if he didn’t do it? What if the jury took away his freedom, his choice to have a life, a family, a future. What if they took away the time to fix his ways, become a better person, find a girl who makes him happy, create a home for her. What if we took that away from him? But then again, what if he did brutally strangle her to death?
The questions are endless. They unravel my entire belief system and then start restoring it piece by piece, over the space of a lifetime. Or so I hope. This is what it means to be constantly evolving, I suppose. To keep learning and understanding. To keep questioning. Perspective used to scare me. It felt like a responsibility. But the more I think, the more I realise its importance, its necessity. And I believe it exists to give us a chance to be human. To use our collected personal experiences to help others understand theirs. To take a step back and question our instincts. To let us question our memories. To create art out of our misrememberings. To have faith in our work and to know that no one else can see what we see and no one else can say it the way we do. To not be daunted by the beauty that came before us and to continue to strive to create our own classics. To give voice to the Mozart, Austen and Monet in us. And most importantly, to believe in ourselves because most others will have too clouded a vision to believe in us.