One Year Later Without Swami Nana

This time last year I was in Florida for less than 24 hours. We bought donuts and threw them in the ocean for you, and that’s really all I’ve done since then. No pujas, no other offerings. Maybe I should but your life was so much about tradition that I don’t feel the need to start one for your death.

This anniversary has, however, made me pause and think about everything I have accomplished and failed in the past year. Even in death you are selfless and have helped people to look at and better understand themselves. Maybe half my grief is because I’ll never get to hear any more stories from you or hang out with you and that’s probably just selfish but I can’t help it.

 Yesterday I meant to do something in your honour like find some stroopwafel or pecan pie to eat but I ended up taking a nap. I guess I don’t feel that bad because half the things I do remind me of you anyway. Much of our relationship was about food, especially sweets, even though those weren’t really good for you. I eat them now in part for you (currently having some Karamel Sutra ice cream, don’t you love the punny cultural appropriation?). I’ve also been making a lot of chai recently and it always reminds me of how on your birthday last year I accidentally spilled it all over your lap. Honestly I was mortified but you were so cheerful about it even though you were exhausted from the night’s lecture.

It’s been a year and I still think about you almost every day. I wish I could say that your death has changed me in some way – like I’ve decided to be more giving or more loving but honestly I just miss you. You were a distant constant that I thought would just always be there to reply to my emails of jokes with equally silly jokes. I’m glad your bad sense of humour has been passed down.

All I have left to say is: orange you glad I didn’t include any puns?


Thoughts on Orlando and Love to Everyone

This weekend was Boston pride. I went yesterday with my friends to celebrate ourselves and be in a supposed safe space. It was rainy and wet and, as every year, I felt annoyed by the over-commercialisation of what was going on around me. Most of these companies don’t care about a whole lot besides making money and gaining more customers. But still we went because it’s pride month and why not. I was complaining about how cold I was but apart from that I had few other deeper thoughts about what pride really means in a larger context. I constantly forget to be afraid for myself in regards to my gender, race, and sexual orientation, especially because Wellesley can be a safe haven. What happened in Orlando though is a stabbing reminder of how unsafe this country (and the world) can be for LBTQ+ individuals, especially those of colour.

Here are some things to remember as you go about your day today:

  • What the news isn’t going to focus on is that the theme of the night at Pulse was for Latinx people, and that most of the people murdered were QTPOC. News outlets are also already injecting Islamophobia into articles and coverage of this tragedy, which only serves to further alienate all of us who are already marginalised. Islam is not a religion of hate, even though this misconception is going to be touted again and again. Do not let this separate us from each other. An act of hate is an act of hate.
  • Also speaking of marginalisation: Look up Wounded Knee (150 were murdered) or Black Wall Street (300 were murdered). These hate crimes have been been erased and forgotten over the years simply because those affected were not white. As you mourn today, do not forget about these tragedies – fold them in to your memories alongside this hate crime and remember that we are all affected by what happens in this country.
  • The focus in the coming days will (again) be about gun control. While obviously this is a necessary conversation, do not forget about the LBTQ+ victims. Guns are not the only issue and extreme bigotry still exists that also needs to be addressed.

Basically, let’s not forget about each other. Let’s support each other and let’s love each other.

I am truly lucky to be surrounded by so much love today, and my heart is pained for the families and friends of the victims. My heart is also pained for those who were and are not out and are unable to express the hurt they are feeling right now. And to the LGBTQ+ Muslims out there, know you are seen and you are wonderful.

If anyone is grieving, please please do not hesitate to reach out. Take care of yourself and know you are never alone.

Also shout out to my aunt who texted me to say she hoped I was okay and that I was safe at any LGBTQ celebrations I would be going to. Love you lots!!

Decolonizing Yourself

This semester I’m taking a seminar about empires and imperialism. It’s something I’ve been interested in for a while, and something that the US school system does a poor job in including in curriculums

I grew up never knowing enough about my Indian and Guyanese heritage, and always wanting to learn more. Then, I went to Hungary and learned a shit ton about the Soviet Union which only increased my fascination. Natural next step: take a class on how empires work and what happens to them.

The last thing I expected from my political science seminar was painfully obvious parallels between state relationships and people relationships. Seems logical though, right? States technically are just large people interacting with each other. People run countries, so countries act as people.

I’ve been having lots of conversations about unhealthy relationships and mental health since being back at Wellesley. The Wellesley population has a lot of underlying issues that no one likes to address. We don’t always put our own wellbeing first, choosing to focus instead on grades or taking care of other people. I’m not saying those are bad things, but many of us don’t take enough time for ourselves. We like to brush things off and pretend we’re totally fine.

I was doing this for about two days until I encountered the first reading for my seminar. It talked about how empires usually exercise asymmetrical influence and power, and mentioned “Jefferson’s Rule,” which states that an empire is a “long train of abuses” that “evince a design” to make or keep a country subject to another. This implies that one being has more power over another and exercise that power in a way that potentially hurts the subjugated being.

The next reading mentioned that power is relational. It can only exist when two or more parties interact. Creating an empire and maintaining it requires power asymmetry so if the oppressed state is able to successful gain more power, an empire can be taken down.

What does this have to do with people? You can look at an empire in two ways. The first is as another person who has a negative effect on you. The second is as your own brain wreaking havoc on yourself. (I think this second part is necessary, because when talking about unhealthy relationships, often times your relationship with yourself can be left out of examples).

For now let’s focus on unhealthy relationships with another person(s). They are the empire, and you are the colonized territory that is enduring this “long train of abuses.” BUT power is relational, so as soon as you cut them off you’ve effectively eliminated any power struggle altogether. As we know from history, many colonized territories eventually had uprisings and were able to kick the colonizers out. If a friendship or a relationship with someone is starting to look like asymmetric, it’s time to kick them out.

We also discussed in class that while technically decolonization did occur, some things were still left over from the influence. Take India for example, they’re still on the British education system even though they technically haven’t been a colony for almost 70 years.

Same thing goes for people. Even if the unhealthy relationship you were part of has now ended, there could still be after-effects. It’s normal. Sometimes we don’t realize just how far our influence on each other can reach (which strays a little bit from the empire definition, since empires were pretty cognizant what they were doing), and sometimes we don’t even realize how much we have been affected until later. But, progress is always possible.

Now, your brain is slightly different since it’s technically not an outside influence and it’s hard to separate yourself from your brain. For the purposes of this analogy though your brain is quite the antagonistic outsider. It won’t let you get out of bed in the morning. It has you feeling apathetic. It makes you cry a lot. You don’t deserve that shit, obviously. You have been colonized by your negative feelings and you gotta do something to escape from this control.

We talk a lot about self-care at Wellesley, but too often I feel that it’s become a parody of itself. Practice self-care? Oh sure yeah let me go read a book for an hour when that’ll only make me more stressed because that’s one less hour I have to work on a pset. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for how much we’ve actually accomplished in our lives because we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. The empire (aka your brain) is telling you you’re not good enough, just like some empires justified their conquests by telling the conquered that it was for their own good. It’s not. You are way better off with a healthy balance of power.

Empires and colonization are things we look back on in history and feel ashamed of. The general sentiment is “never again.” In hindsight we know there aren’t excuses for that type of behaviour. Imperialism is easy to condemn, but too often we let others and ourselves off the hook in our everyday lives, and that’s not beneficial to anyone. Putting unhealthy relationships into the lens of empires provides a zero tolerance perspective. No, I won’t let myself be socially colonized, dammit. I at least owe that much to my ancestors.

End goal? Don’t be colonized by yourself or anyone else (and don’t colonize others!). And if you get sucked in there are many ways to start a revolution and kick that empire to the curb. Yes, it’s easier said than done. India and Hungary had failed revolutions time and again but eventually prevailed. Not everything happens right away but recognizing imperialistic symptoms within your relationships is the first step.

It’s hard. Sometimes your efforts won’t immediately work, but don’t give up

As Audre Lorde wrote, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”


Warning: Extreme Sappiness Ahead

Tomorrow I leave Budapest and in 24 hours I’ll be physically back in the home country. My room is basically empty, my suitcase is basically at capacity, and my heart is basically overflowing with love for this city.

There’s a phrase I’ve see a lot on signs or rugs in tacky home goods shops. It goes something along the lines of “home is where the wifi connects.” Today as I wandered around I was slightly amused to see how many areas of the city my phone seemed to be at home in. It was a little technological memoir of my time here, and it was nice to know that I covered so much of this place in such a small amount of months (it’ll also be nice soon to not have to ask for the wifi password everywhere I go).

I don’t have words to sum up my experience here, so I’m going to tell you about the #2 tram instead. Why you ask? Because it’s the most fucking beautiful ride you will ever take. Not because the tram itself is beautiful (it’s actually an ugly yellow colour) but because the view across the Danube is absolutely breathtaking. If you google it I think it’s been ranked in the top ten best tram rides in the world, so there ya go.

I took this ride 2 times a week to get to my internship, which was at the very end of the line. I got pretty familiar with the trip but the view never failed to impress the hell out of me. I saw it on warm sunny days and cold foggy mornings and it was never any less spectacular. I didn’t take any pictures though, because I was too busy looking out the window so you’re gonna either have to take my word for it or come to Budapest yourself (I highly suggest the second option).

Over the course of these commutes I started compiling songs that evoked the feelings I felt while on this tram looking out at the beautiful scenery. Eventually it expanded to include how I felt walking around looking at the beautiful architecture too, and culminated in a playlist of #budapestfeels from the semester.

I’m listening to it now and I’ll probably listen to it every day while crying a little bit after I return to the states. I’ll also probably get sick of the songs soon but for now they very much sum up Budapest for me (and no, I didn’t include George Ezra).

Anyways, I thought I’d share it here as a last farewell to this extraordinary city.

Viszontlátásra, Magyarország ❤ ❤ ❤


1956 And All That

My last post (waaaaaaay back when) about life here was pretty baseline, but now I’m coming to the end of my stay (t-minus two weeks and crying).  Obviously I can’t say I’ve truly inhabited Budapest since living in a dorm with lots of Americans obviously gives me a buffer to real real Hungary. However, I can say that I definitely have more insight on how this country works and what it’s like to be here.

I honestly knew nothing about this place when I stepped off the plane, so it’s been interesting to see how Hungary’s history fits in to all the general western Europe stuff I learned back in AP Euro (the names of all the Hungarian famous people are hard to pronounce, so it was almost a relief when we got up to Maria Theresa in my history class).

Most of Hungary’s history is about getting invaded or taken over because they’re in a prime geographical location for that. They were constantly fighting off the Turks or under the rule of the Habsburgs. Then World War I rolled around and they lost 2/3 of their territory (Transylvania) because they got punished in the Treaty of Trianon. Then, after World War II they became a satellite state of the Soviet Union.

Over the years the Hungarian people have tried to overthrow their oppressors. One of the most notable dates of this was October 23, 1956 when they attempted to overthrow communism. It failed miserably.

It was a hugely defining moment in Hungary’s history, and as a result pops up everywhere. In my literature class we’ve read many stories that either allude to or are explicitly about the revolution. If you walk around the city you will find memorials in a fair amount of places commemorating the fighting and the lives lost.

For my internship I’ve read a lot of first-hand accounts of people witnessing the revolution, and it’s incredibly strange to read about the role of streets and squares that I now frequent on a regular basis. These stories give these areas a completely different meaning that’s not noticeable unless you’ve read or learned about the revolution.

For example, I pass Kossuth Lajos Tér on the tram every Tuesday going to my internship. This square contains the Parliament building, where everyone gathered in ’56 to sing protest songs from the 1868 revolution. Standing in it now it is hard to notice anything else but the beauty of the Parliament building.

You end up paying little attention to the actual square that at one point contained thousands of protestors trying to remove communism from their country. (If you look closely around the square you can even see the filled-in bullet holes still present from “Bloody Thursday” – the fateful day where Soviet troops and Hungarian secret police fired into the crowd killing many).

As of a couple days ago this square now houses a cute Christmas tree and a nativity scene.

Another example is Corvin Negyed or Corvin Quarter, which has a large mall and a movie theatre at the centre. It was the site of one of the bloodies battles during the revolution in which people almost entirely under the age of 20 fought against Soviet tanks. There’s now a monument there to the kids who took up arms and died for their country, but apart from that it’s a pretty hip area with some good shops.

Basically, life goes on.

It’s also extremely interesting to see how the culture of Hungary has been so defined by communism. At first glance it’s quite a normal place, but it’s only been free from communism for 26 years. That’s virtually no time in the grand scheme of things.

Most grandparents of Hungarians my age were the around the same age in 1956, and can recount stories of where they were and what happened to them. Most parents of Hungarians my age were around the same age in 1989, and can recount stories of the regime change and how their lives were before and after. Hungarians my age have grown up hearing about communism and its lasting effects, but now it’s relatively second-hand knowledge.

This country has been through a lot but it’s persevered, and isn’t doing too horribly nowadays. Obviously there’s a lot to be improved but it’s working on it!

Now, I started writing this post a while back and then got caught up in life things so I never ended up posting it when I meant to. However, I still feel the need to connect all this to what’s been going on in the US and the world recently, so here goes:

The ’56 revolution is known as a valiant struggle agains the oppressive communist regime. People rose up and died fighting for an almost tangible cause. I think the issue that is happening in the present day is that we are forgetting history, so we aren’t getting as angry when things start to repeat themselves.

So many people want to ignore or just simply haven’t experienced the “oppressive regime” that is racial injustice, so it’s not a big deal and shouldn’t be focused on.

Many people just claim that the death threats towards black students on Yik Yak or Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims is simply free speech so they have every right to support and continue to engage in these hurtful actions. They’re dumb.

Hungary isn’t the most diverse country, but there are still prejudices held against the Roma people and sometimes even Jews (and most recently a little bit against the migrants). Regardless, it was easy for Hungarians to start a revolution because they were all experiencing the same oppression of communism.

Unfortunately for many people of colour (e.g. black students, Muslims, Syrian refugees, etc), their concerns are being waved away by old white people who still run a lot of the world. Their oppression is being swept under the carpet with little thought or, in some cases, purposefully intensified (seriously wtf Trump).

Honestly, that’s pretty scary to me.

The ’56 revolution was spurred on by students posting “16 points” which was a list of demands of the people, all around Budapest. Some of the first-hand accounts of the revolution were by people my age, so if they (and even children) could literally fight the Soviets for freedom, I think our generation can handle a little bit of speaking out and putting our own power to good use.

I’m not saying let’s start a revolution (cue Beatles lyrics), I’m just saying we as a generation need to start paying more attention to our world so that we can find creative solutions to these issues that somehow keep cropping up.

Anyways, that’s the end of my rant.

Stay tuned for some probably very sappy posts in the future about me having to leave this gorgeous city 😥 😥




#WhyIWrite: Oct 20th, 2015

Today is apparently National Writing Day and I’ve been screwing around with this post for a while. It’s time for it to grow some wings, so here y’all go!

It’s always struck me as strange that we’re on this earth for a relatively long amount of time, and by the time we die we’ve barely uncovered anything about other people, let alone ourselves.

I want to learn. All the time. It’s not always good learning though, and I think that’s something that can get overlooked. Or rather, all learning is good learning in a way, but at the time it can be difficult and scary.

As a kid I wanted to be a lot of things. A pirate. The president. Goofy the dog. I had endless imagination only curtailed by the inevitable loss of innocence that is occurs for all children. I still kind of want to be a pirate, since they had a lot more equality for women on ships back then than on the mainland and they were pretty democratic, but I’ve since given up on the idea of being president or Goofy. I decided both would be disappointments. Being president doesn’t actually guarantee that you can actually fix the world, and Goofy is, you know, completely imaginary.

My point is that I had infinite possibilities slowly disappear as I grew up. It was a slow process that I’m only ever fully aware of on long nights when I think back on how much I’ve experienced in a short life.

But I think this loss of innocence is why I keep wanting to learn, and is also why I keep writing. I’m constantly looking for something new, not necessarily to replace my childhood fantasies, but to keep the disappointment of my newfound lack of imagination at bay. I’m not particularly good at writing stories or novels, so I keep going with the blog-like prose in hopes that through writing I can learn more about myself and maybe teach some other people things too.

Today I received an email from myself from four years ago (through, I don’t even remember writing it). In it I told future Dharani that I wished I could be better at writing. It’s fitting that today is National Writing Day, as I’ve been reminding myself today that the only way I’ll improve is to keep at it. Sometimes it’s like the little sibling I’ve never had that won’t leave me alone and frustrates me to all hell (shoutout to tha big sis), but most of the time it’s relatively rewarding and helps me out on bad days (yes I just complimented myself through comparing myself to writing, I am a great lil sestra). My point is that it’s very much part of my identity, whether I like it or not.

In the wise words of the fantastic Joss Whedon, “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.” I would also add that I write to explore all the things I don’t know yet, so I’m going to be doing this for awhile.

Happy National Writing Day, everyone!

Asthma (from the Greek ἅσθμα, ásthma, “panting”)

I’m in a beautiful country and having probably the best two weeks of my life (cheers to more!), but I am so frustrated and I’m going to rant a little bit.

Basically, asthma sucks.

I wrote about it a little in a previous post but usually I try to tell myself to forget about it and think about other things. When you have asthma though, you can’t forget about it. It’s essentially like trying to appease a small, finicky child living in your lungs that could start crying at any minute and not stop for months. I could say I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not.

My asthma, according to me, is a particular shade of annoying because it’s triggered by basically everything. Small cold? Asthma. Pollen? Asthma. Run too long? Asthma. The list goes on and on. If I am not careful it gets out of control, and sometimes when I think I’m okay it will spring up out of the blue and won’t leave for months.

And let me tell you, it is not endearing in any way to be hacking up a storm in class or at a club, let alone have to awkwardly inhale weird shit and hold your breath for ten seconds when you’re trying to have a casual conversation in your room.

I was alright this summer. I ran, I played frisbee, all with little repercussion besides some tightness if I forgot to take my inhaler before exercising. I came to Budapest ready and excited to continue playing, but within two days my asthma flared up. As of now I am puffing too many steroids as well as taking a nightly pill, which I had been doing before I even left. Seriously I think it’s insane that I need three different medications and even then I am barely managing.

I really just hate that I can’t exercise properly. And that I’ve never been able to exercise properly. Sometimes I ignore it and push through, but I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to only have my body be exhausted after a tournament without also needing several rounds of inhalers in the following days. Or to have a lung capacity that is equal to my running ability.

“I could be so fit if I could just breathe properly” – me, every single time I do any physical activity ever.

It’s a beautiful day today and I got myself up and tried to go for a run along the Danube. Yes, it was as wonderful as you could imagine. But the air quality here is terrible and even as I write this an hour after my run I can still feel how tight my chest is.

There’s that one saying that nobody judges you as hard as you judge yourself. I push myself hard in a lot of areas, and end up constantly judging myself when it comes to fitness because I expect better. It’s terrible, but forgiving yourself for your faults is obviously easier said than done. Sometimes I’ll push myself too hard and will end up with minimal breathing for days.  There are studies all over the place that show asthma and depression have a relatively strong link, which makes complete sense because living with a lower quality of health really fucks with your head.

We all have expectations for ourselves and when our bodies physically (or mentally) can’t meet them we think so much less of ourselves because we compare ourselves to the “normal” society. Most of all, I find it so strange that while trying to do something good for my body I’m simultaneously putting myself in a lot of pain, which ends in disappointment and unhappiness for both my lungs and me.

Unfortunately that’s it. There’s no upside, no silver lining. I have asthma and I hate the shit out of it for many, many reasons. This city is so beautiful but there’s only so much I can distract myself with when trying to ignore my poor lung capacity.

For any of you also with asthma I feel yo pain and I’m always open to commiserating.

Also, anybody want to donate some new lungs to me?

Keeping Up With the Hungarians

I’m here, I’m alive, and so far so good. This place is really cool, and not at all what I had expected. Even though I don’t actually think I had any expectations. It’s really interesting because the streets are squeaky clean and beautiful, but the buildings range between very decrepit and very new. The signs on some shops are kind of beat up and scruffy, and they kind of remind me of overcrowded signs on stores in India, but less crowded.

The city is beautiful in both the day and the night, but I have to say the night gives it a certain quality that is indescribable. A lot of the buildings get lit up from below so you can see all the cool shadows created in the enclaves of the buildings. The Parliament at night is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. Not necessarily because it’s gorgeous as shit, but because the lights attract dozens of birds that end up circling around above, lit up from beneath. From far away they look like small paper birds being sent up from the roof of the building. Check out photos on Facebook re: birds, even though I couldn’t fully capture the beauty of it.

I had my first Hungarian class a couple days ago and I kind of like the language. I didn’t understand the pronunciation method at first but once you sit down and someone shows you, it’s more intuitive than you would think. I can now say that I am an american student (amerikai diák vagyok) but I think my favourite word so far is probably pingvin (guess what that means). Also fun fact the inventor of the Rubik’s cube, Rubik Ernő, is Hungarian and he’s still around and teaches at a university here. I still can’t solve those little buggers though.

As for the nightlife, this city has some of the coolest bars I’ve been to. I don’t know a whole lot of Budapest’s history yet, but I do know it’s been burnt down/destroyed way too many times. Because of this there are at least a couple ruin bars where bars have been built among ruined buildings. They’re sort of outdoors and have strange decor and furniture and vibe is absolutely fantastic.

Basically, this city is awesome and I’m so glad I’m here for a while so I can keep exploring. Obviously I’m going to travel other places in Europe, but having this place be my home base is probably the best idea I’ve ever had.

Classes start on Monday so stay tuned for some history and art lessons in the near future!

Also if you’re feeling particularly generous, feel free to mail me stuff! My address is:

Dharani Persaud
Corvinus University of Budapest
ISP – CIEE Study Center
Room 140
Fővám tér 8
1093 Budapest

And send me your address if you want a postcard or something. I haven’t figured out post offices or stamps here yet but it’s on my to-do list.

Until next time!

Updates and Goodbye to America (for a while)

I am currently sitting at the airport in Atlanta at gate F3 (anybody around?? Come say hi!!). I thought I’d post a little bit before I leave the good ol’ U S of A.

This weekend I visited my sestra for her birthday (which is TODAY everyone wish her happy birthday!!) and she showed me around Atlanta. I’ve never been here but it’s really nice. I like the vibes.

Yesterday we went to Dragon Con, which was basically nerd heaven. I don’t think I’ve ever had to navigate that many people indoors and I don’t know how anybody would organise this thing, it was insane. And we only went for a day. But if you even remotely like Star Wars/Lord of the Rings/Dr Who/etc I highly recommend you going to one of these conventions at least once in your life, at least for the people watching. There were some fantastic costumes and it was like early Halloween. Also it’s currently trending on the Facebook side bar thing so like, we’re a pretty big deal obviously.

Also I wrote the following a couple days ago flying from Florida to Atlanta. I hate terrible transitions but I don’t have time to smooth it out because my flight is boarding so here it is in all its raw and probably cheesy beauty:

I’ve been thinking about clouds a lot recently, mostly because I’ve been on airplanes more times this year than I think has ever happened.

At one point during elementary school my sister did a unit on types of clouds. For months after she’d point out specific cloud formations, proudly telling me their names. The only one I remember is called a cumulonimbus, which are the really tall vertical (sometimes fluffy) clouds.

My flight to Atlanta on Thursday was delayed and therefore coincided with a spectacular sunset I got to see from above. This was framed by an array of different cloud textures all around me. Underneath were hilly terrain clouds, rough and rolling and laid out for miles in either direction. Above were streaky clouds, stretched out like the end of a paint streak where the brush has run out of paint. Across from me were great columns climbing even higher in weird cartoon-like shapes (I think these were considered cumulonimbus).

I don’t know a whole lot about clouds as you can probably tell by my descriptions, but depending on where you go they can be completely different. Or very much the same.

In Minnesota there were often what I called “Toy Story” clouds that were perfectly shaped and fluffy like the ones on Andy’s wallpaper. They’d look fantastic reflected in the lakes.

I didn’t see those in Florida. The clouds there are definitely more intense and at points (especially in the evenings) there are several different formations all at once, often with one housing a large amount of lightning. Those clouds are large and intimidating but never really get anywhere or do anything.

I’ve always found cloud-watching to be interesting, as looking into the sky to find familiar earth shapes in the clouds is a strange idea. Then again, humans like familiarity and enjoy tying arbitrary things to themselves and their lives (as I am doing now).

I don’t know what types of clouds I’m going to find in Hungary, and maybe I won’t really even notice them since I’ll be busy doing other things. I will however be flying through a lot of clouds in the next 24 hours so maybe there will be new formations to observe and compare to other familiar, known things.

P.S. If you haven’t noticed this is a complete metaphor for my upcoming adventures and I’m gonna be doing a lot of comparing of more than just clouds in the next couple months. Aren’t I clever?

OKAY that’s all for me until I get settled. Stay fancy, folks.

Breathing and My Grandfather

I was on a run when my dad called to tell me my grandfather had died.

A couple days before this phone call I was also running, but this time thinking about an article I had read regarding the favourite words of authors.

Generally, I run with music in my ears as a way to distract myself from the fact that I am actually exercising. Unfortunately my music kept skipping so I finally just turned it off, but then all I could hear was my uneven breath in my own head. Asthma has turned my whole life into a constant game of distraction while exercising, and without my music I end up focusing on just how poor my lung capacity is. However, for most people (including me) a good workout ends with being breathless.

As I struggled to run, this is the word that I decided was my favourite. For one, it’s a portmanteau (which is an awesome word in itself). But in addition to that I like the “th” and “ss” sounds. I find them kind of soothing, especially because I enjoy consonant combinations. They sound finite and comforting. What I liked most about this word though was its resonance of accomplishment. It had connotations of activity and busyness and movement and an idea of a job well done.

My grandfather was the epitome of activity and busyness, but he liked to tell other people to relax and breathe. He was never scarce on syllables and instead spoke eloquently in many words and in many languages. He lectured long hours, using his own breath in order for others to calm themselves and focus on their own breathing.

Listening to his lectures was the first time I became aware of my own breath. I was young and did not take his meditations seriously, but attending so many clearly made something stick in my brain. He helped me learn how to breathe from my diaphragm, which was later very useful when he would tell me silly puns and jokes and make me laugh until I was quite out of breath. This skill was also helpful when inhaling the smell of any of the delicious treats he brought back from all over the world. I can now detect the scent of stroopwafel from a mile away, thanks to him.

These are my main early memories of him: lectures and dessert. This is fitting since I call him Swami Nana, which also consists of two parts. The swami part would give me lectures and the nana (meaning grandfather in Hindi) part would give me too many treats. As I got older, both parts would tell me about partition and give me mini history lessons over chai. As I got even older, I began to understand that both parts were in fact really only one intertwined. He was a swami, but he was also my nana in a very swami-like capacity. He was my nana, but he was also a swami in a very nana-like capacity. I was just me, but he had a lot of shoes to fill.

I wish I could have seen him more and spent more time with him, especially because only seeing him once or twice a year just served to highlight our variations. Him, generally unchanging, and me, unruly and restless. Even just in this post the differences are clear: My thoughts brought me to the lack of breath and the ensuing struggle, while Swami Nana spent his whole life trying to relax and ease people. But I did spend an entire paragraph touting my love for a single word, and if he were here now I’m sure I would have received a long discourse on the origins of the words “breath” and “breathlessness”, which would eventually somehow lead back to Sanskrit roots and superiority of the language. Maybe it’s my turn to take up the job of word know-it-all.

After my dad called me I remember thinking to myself that the loss of a loved one leads to the ultimate breathlessness. I was standing in the middle of a sidewalk gulping in air trying to steady myself and feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me, both physically and mentally. You suddenly imagine breathing for two, and your strangled breath makes you acutely aware of just how alive you are. At the same time you struggle to breathe under the weight of this new knowledge. Breathless.

It is then that we have to relearn how to breathe, and thankfully I can do this because Swami Nana’s lessons are still with me.