My PMS & Feminism is mutually exclusive…& other disappointments

On the best of days you get up in the morning not giving a damn about what you will wear because you have stuff to do and life to live. But on some days (pms) you might get up feeling like you should take an effort because you feel sexy (a good mood swing). Then you wear the cute little top with cute little shorts and cute sneakers. Tired of having your hair pulled back for work in the lab, you let them lose in the wind today, and put just the right amount of makeup to make you feel incredibly confident to take on the world and be feminine along with being a feminist. Then you head out to the mall to try and put yourself out there for the world. But when you get to the bus stop, you spot the most beautiful (sorry for the objectification) woman you have ever laid eyes on.

On a normal day, you will not take any notice of people at the bus stop, but thanks to the PMS your mood has swung from saucy to subterranean lizard person, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It feels worse because you have taken the effort to look sexy for yourself. However, it turns out you wanted some eyeballs as well (not in a gross way (just slight side looks from (conventionally) good looking people). You wait for the bus while your inner lizard person hisses and stares at the stunning person in front of you without trying to creep them out.

Finally the bus arrives and you board. In deference to the beauty, the other folks at the stop simply fall in line behind her (rightly so). Unfortunately, she is still sitting across you and you still can’t get over how one person can look so…non-lizardy. No offence to lizard people but I am clearly talking about the Greek beauty standards and not our modern (evolved) definition of beauty which is about your personality, and being confident in your own body, etc. But sometimes every feminist is guilty of lowering their standards. Turns out PMS is when your feminism is at an all time low.

You only needed to buy one jeans because yours tore (because nothing lasts forever) but the mood has now officially changed from lizard person to “consumerism can set me free.” In trying to reduce your carbon footprint you hadn’t shopped for more than 8 months, so combined with pms you are having to conquer the “what the hell” effect as well. Thanks to your graduate student salary/life, wanting to buy stuff is not the same as having the money to buy stuff, so you leave the mall with only a handful of excessive stuff, but you’re still over-budget and disappointed in yourself. As if the disappointment in the world was not enough, you also find out that there is a big international student barbecue happening right in your yard and you were not privy to this information so you end up going back to your apartment feeling lonely and further disappointed about your decision to leave all social media to save yourself some unnecessary anxiety. Turns out trying to curtail FOMO has given you more FOMO as you sit in your house typing the blog and feeling disappointed in your disappointment, objectification of other people, overall lack of perspective, and blaming a bad day on your hormones.

The importance of stick-to-it-iveness

The stand up comic from 1950s, Lenny Bruce, wrote in his excellent autobiography titled “How to talk dirty and influence people”, that he finds medical students to have a an “attitude of stick-to-it-iveness” that is missing from his daily life. Lenny Bruce is impertinent to the rest of this piece but the stick-to-it-iveness is important.

It is another one of those phrases that I came across randomly and has now become an essential part of my “self-talk” because it aptly describes a trait that we all could use in the year 2020.

We all get up each day with a plan to achieve this, that, and a whole lot of other stuff. But by the end we have moved the flowerpot back from its location on Tuesday to the location on Monday, done one squat and declared ourself super fit, taken one deep breath and called ourself yoga guru or cooked one meal and called ourself <insert name of your famous celebrity chef>. If you’re a doctoral student, these activities also include all or some of these: experiments, coding, data analysis or academic writing. While time is not the problem these days, time management certainly has been. I can’t comment on people with kids or spouses in the house or any sort of financial crisis…but if your Venn diagram of life experiences includes living alone with a low motivation to work/ eat/ keep healthy, and frequent anxiety issues then we have some overlap, and maybe we can figure out how to exist better.

Historically my brain and I don’t communicate very well. We dislike each other and say mean things about each other constantly. The one that I control is the conscious and the one that is mean is the subconscious. It is like a black box recording every conversation ever had by my conscious brain and unlike a black box also keep a visual record of every activity. This way, when the conscious brain is just about to drift off, the subconscious revs up its Harley and drives right into the empty roads of my thoughts with a giant microphone screaming…Can you sleep after what you’ve done?

This is where I need an attitude of stick-to-it-iveness. I need to shout out loud (sometimes literally scream into the pillow) to myself that yes I deserve a good sleep. At times I deserve that sleep precisely because of the faux pas accomplished in the day. It’s tiring to be confident after making a fool of myself. It’s irrational and unbelievably taxing. The energy could be going into making corrections to my paper, instead I’m sitting here thinking what’s the best route to take so as to avoid the last person I think I did something embarrassing in front of. I’m no medical student but I could use some solid sticking to it. The “it” is always a list of tasks I put in my journal/ calendar/ desktop post-it, and it more often than only half to three quarters gets completed.

Anticappointment: the ride that is academic publishing

There is such a thing as anticappointment and I was unaware of it for 28 years of my life, seems insane to me. It is an all-encompassing feeling of waiting/ anticipating something with full knowledge that it will just be disappointing because nothing ever does meet your expectations.
A few common examples include:

  • A big New Year’s Eve celebration
  • Dream jobs
  • First dates
  • Camping trips
  • “Getting drunk till we pass out” plans
  • First research paper [Maybe this one is for a niche audience]

As I have mentioned in multiple posts, I am in my third year of graduate school, trying to get a PhD. The best part of it is getting paid to think and create. But the worst part is to write and show your ‘workings’…like high school exams. This means publishing your results through peer review process. Of course, there are a million debates online on the merits and demerits of the review process…but this blog is about the journey of my first paper and it’s all from a personal
experience because it just felt so scary throughout the process to put myself out there. First, I had to deal with being comfortable showing my work to my supervisors, then present it to my department colleagues for an “honest” opinion, then get real advice from friends and helpful post docs, then present partial results at various conferences, then start the actual journal stuff.

My paper’s journey started in July 2019, when I started writing it. I didn’t know anything about the process but refused to take help because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Eventually, arrogance gave way to desperation, and I got the right guidance about the writing procedure. Finally, I submitted it to journal 1 in December 2019, which
rejected it in three days because it was “out of scope” of the journal. I don’t think it was but there I was. Dejected. Then came journal 2. Same thing. More dejection. Then came journal 3, which my supervisors wanted me to use all along. It went to the journal few nights before the Christmas break so I had a happy (read: stressful) holiday. For two months, it was passed around in the system, and finally, on the basis of one reviewers comments it was rejected. Horrible and unjustified procedure. Single review is not enough! I have already written about that part in an earlier post.

After frantic and humongous revisions, I managed to resubmit the paper in May 2020. It went to the journal 4 and was promptly rejected due to being “out of scope”, which again it wasn’t. But I was not going to get dejected this time. I just submitted it to journal 5, and its a sign of personal growth that the change in status from “with Editor” to “under review” led me to have a full blown celebration (it wasn’t out of scope this time). Since June 2020, I had started working on the second manuscript, and analysing data for that one had sort of helped me get through the whole waiting process. However, since July 15th, I had been nervously twitching and fighting with my partner, and dealing with nerves because the status changed to “reviews completed.”

Now I am assuming that they knowingly decided to spoil a Sunday, which is why, I got an email with the decision today. The email was very long but thankfully, the editor put it in the first paragraph that they thought my paper was interesting albeit simplistic and needed major revisions before getting published. I didn’t realise if it was a good news or bad so the first thing I did was to take a screen shot of the email and sent it to three people who know what it’s like to publish a paper. The second thing was calling my boyfriend and crying…he never stops getting amused with my ability to cry on both happy and sad occasions. After 30 minutes of conversation and reassurance that it was indeed a happy news, came the inevitable disappointment that follows a highly anticipated event. The anticipation of being a published
researcher was hugely weighing on me, so obviously, the disappointment that the world (outside of your family/ friends) doesn’t really care too much about my achievements, was crushing. Its like coming down from an adrenaline rush. It feels unrealistic.
For the first two hours, I thought of nothing except what needs to be done now. My friend and fellow doctoral student, my father went through the comments and helped me plan a strategy, and my boyfriend reassured me that it’s a good thing to not be on cloud nine till the paper is unequivocally accepted.

In the grand scheme of things, the universe is right, my achievements don’t really matter because let’s face it, I was not going to save the world with my work. But it feels good to be a published researcher and to that end, I think I will try my best to revise and submit it. I hope this disappointment goes away and I can get ready for the next round of anticappointment….

Do I really have to count my blessings?

On Monday, I start work again. There’s is no need to explain why the work stopped and even though technically, we were still working from home and I still managed to edit my first manuscript (now under review) and draft the second one, the time from 16th March has not been pleasant (to say the least).

While my life is cozy and I have always had a great support (albeit virtually for the most part) system comprising of friends, family and my partner, who constantly keep a tab on my mental and physical health, this was my first brush with actual “hard times” in life. Everyone’s world changed radically due to government mandated lockdowns, and so did mine. I should have counted my blessings but I went the other way and started feeling disgusted with the life I have. I hated that I still had a job, salary, support, and insane quantities of love. I hated that no one at work critiqued my performance or called me inefficient and a worthless burden on the university, because, in absence of any references, I did feel unproductive. I also found that despite all the wonderful people telling me that I was worth being loved, respected and cared for, and that losing access to lab due to a global pandemic was not my fault, it was surprisingly easy to loathe myself.

While my self-loathing has not gone away and my self-worth is still precariously balanced on my work and productivity, I did find some ways to come to terms with situation. During this lockdown period, I found walking to be the most useful thing I could with myself. I did take it a bit overboard and started doing 10 km walks a day to just feel something close to “a sense of achievement”. However, over the last few weeks I have established a healthier relationship with myself and while I can’t save the world, I have decided to save myself from myself (I think the Finnish government has already ensured that I am safe from the virus).

What I realised during my walks was essentially, when you suffer from issues related to low self-esteem, appreciation is absolutely the last thing you want to hear but the most important thing you need to hear. Also, internalised self-hatred sticks to your heart and soul like hot glue. And if I didn’t have so many lovely people in my life telling me repeatedly that despite of what I think about myself, they consider me a worthy member of human civilisation, I would have probably never bothered leaving my house ever again.

Since Finland is such a beautiful country, I had taken a lot of pictures during my walks. Looking back at them I realised how similar yet strangely different they were and how much of what I found worth clicking depended on my own mood during the day. I guess the cliche that you need to look at things in a different light to get a new perspective holds true. So here are some of the pictures during the walks.

Stuck between a quarantine and a hard place

Let me get this out of the way. The world feels too surreal and weird right now. A virus in combination with the indomitable human stupidity has ground the “normal life” to stand-still. However, we are all expected to carry on. And we should. If you don’t get up every morning and crib about the weather or the news or your neighbor, the virus would have won people!

Our university is now a virtual reality and Microsoft Teams is the new meeting room. We are still supposed to carry on with our everyday duties, the only difference being we #workfromhome. I still have to teach a class of graduate students the importance of Life Cycle Assessment and I still have to make sense of my experimental data. As a doctoral student, I also have to publish four papers in reputed journals in my field if I wish to get that ‘Dr.’ before my name (or Anubhuti Bhatnagar, PhD if I were humble) by 2022. Before you roll your eyes in derision, no, this is not the reason why I joined a doctoral program. I do love research and getting paid for just thinking about things but PhD is the license to be allowed to do all the thinking and get paid for it. So right now, it is just about the title.

So far I have 0 papers. I wrote my first research paper in pre-Covid 19 world and submitted it for the process of peer review that all scientists love so much. On 10th March (when Covid 19 had taken over our lives), after three months of anxiously checking my inbox everyday, I received the Editor’s email. They thought my paper was crap and needs to be burned and eliminated from the world or as the editor put it: “I have decided that the manuscript cannot be accepted for publication.” This is the third time my paper had been rejected, and the only takeaway I had in terms of criticism was, “whatever you are doing is wrong.” It is the first research paper I have written in my life so obviously I know it is a bit shit but they could’ve just said, “Accepted with major (Mt Everest sized pile) revisions?”

I don’t take rejection well. So naturally, the first response was two hours of wailing in front of my ever-patient partner. Then I contemplated quitting school and finding some sort of job that provides, what my favorite comedian David Mitchell calls, a long period of bland contentment. But, eventually, I got up, dusted myself off, and began the process of writing all over again.

I had spent past two weeks in recovering and rewriting, along with worrying that the world might end before I get published. Yesterday I mustered enough courage to send the edited paper to a colleague who’s generally given me good advise in lab and my father who is a respected scientist, but more importantly has been reading my crappy essays, articles, and poems since I was 18. My mother’s a scientist and an amateur writer as well, but she’s too much of a cheerleader when it comes to her kids to give an objective response or critique.

I knew something was horrendous about my paper, when in the evening my father called me and said, “First of all, you are a very cute daughter. Now, about the paper…..” and he told me in very polite terms that it looks like I have no idea what I am doing, which is true to an extent. So I went through a lot of second-hand embarrassment while I waited for my colleague to get back to me. Their email started with, “Don’t be overwhelmed with the suggestions, but….”

I realize it sounds self-indulgent and pitiful to be complaining in these trying times about something as trivial as this. But when I read that email, I could feel the old Impostor Monster that lives inside my heart and soul, leap out and perform an interpretive dance about my lack of writing skills. Then it took a couple of cheery laps around the house (because you know…#stayathome).

Obviously I asked them for their help voluntarily, and would have hated if they had tried to mollycoddle me. Additionally, I would much rather get all the criticism now and work on my paper than see another rejection letter. But it is still quiet disheartening to be told (in the kindest way possible, I should add) that unfortunately I am pretty bad at the one thing I actually like.

The day I got the third rejection, I read a lot of blogs and advisory columns by professors and doctoral students that academic writing is a different ball game, and it really doesn’t matter if you know ten synonyms for the word competence, as long as you’re incompetent at getting through to your peers. Clearly I am a bit overwhelmed by the suggestions and corrections I have to make. But now that my monster has had some fun, and I have wallowed in self-pity on this platform, I hope I can get some work done.

If nothing else, I want to come out of this world-wide quarantine with the writing skills of Shakespeare. Although he’s probably a wrong role model since academic writing is supposed to be compulsively pithy. I should probably be aiming for the skills of Oliver Lowry and his collaborators. By 2014, their paper had over 300,000 citations, which is the maximum for a paper to date.

You can read it here: http://www.jbc.org/content/193/1/265.long

Also this: https://www.nature.com/news/the-top-100-papers-1.16224

Edit on May 31st: I didn’t quite manage to get the hang of the writing skills. Plus had another major breakdown on May 18th and barely managed to keep my sanity. You can read about how my two months went in the next post.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Or weaker?

As I sit on my desk, phone in hand, contemplating for the nth consecutive day about creating a new blog entry, I can’t stop wondering about the validity of “what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger.” Surely some things just make you weaker or leave you unaltered. I did get off the desk and go to work on each day…its just that creating something for a blog on a weekly basis starts to feel annoying very quickly.

A quick google search reveals that it was none other than Nietzsche that came up with this maxim, and it doesn’t surprise me. While it looks great on a T-shirt or a get-well-soon card it doesn’t stand my test of what ‘a good idea to live by’ should be. There are plenty of things that have happened in our lives, which have left us vulnerable and susceptible to further damage. This might sound like I’m talking about COVID-19, which seems more dangerous for the old and the ones with a pre-existing condition, but I’m actually just talking about personal life experiences that we all have everyday.

Give a bad presentation…and every future presentation will scare you.

Go through a heartbreak and you’ll always be scared to love someone again.

Get in an abusive relationship, and you’ll be suspicious of anyone who’s ever nice to you.

For some people (like me) bad experiences are permanent lesions on the skin that can’t get healed completely. They are easy targets for new bad experiences and the world can hit you right where you’re the weakest. It can’t destroy you if you’re careful but it definitely brings back the familiar pains.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger seems to come with a baggage of constantly proving that life can’t one-up you. Well sometimes it can…sometimes you just feel like shit and get on with life nonetheless because that’s what you do. The need to put a positive spin on the nightmare that your life can feel like at times makes me anxious. I don’t know if I’m doing the world such a terrible disservice if on a bad day at the end of a bad week closing a bad month, I decide to curl back into my blanket and not get up with a “never say never” attitude. I’m not saying I’ll stop living or taking risks because then I’m probably not doing my species any justice, but I do like a break from positive fighting spirit.

I know what you’re thinking… “here’s a motivational speaker we have been missing!!” Well the truth, as I see it, is life and people and situations defeat you at times. What gets you through can be an “I’ll fight it out attitude” or can be just the passage of time healing your wounds enough to make everything usable again, and the evolutionary tactic of having a finite memory space in the brain. One day you’ll let it go either by choice or by habit. I think both of them are valid routes to take. So if you see someone going through the pain of public embarrassment, heartbreak, abuse in a relationship or COVID-19, please avoid saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”

The audacity of a non-consensual grope

We have been made to believe that “tehzeeb” is akin to the SPF 50 that you wear before going out to the beach. Ironically, going to the beach in swimsuits is a sure shot way of getting assaulted, according to the Hitch hiker’s guide to women safety written by the uncles and aunties of India (read: perpetrators of misogyny).

“Pull up your shirt, your cleavage is visible.” “Dude your strap is peeking.” “Cover your head, there are elders in the house.” “Where’s your dupatta, there are strange men here?” “Why is your dress so tight?” “You didn’t share the cab location?” “Were you wearing make-up?” “Why did you stay for another drink?”

These are just some of the things one hears from family and friends, if one happens to identify as a female. We have so many responsibilities to take care of and to make sure that we’re safeguarding ourselves from what ever ugly stuff happens to us in daily life…it’s amazing that we can get any work done.

Some well meaning and all together functional human beings will always preach that rape is apparently a choice that women make. They were careless, dressed inappropriately, inebriated, asking for it, going out of the imaginary line of “maan maryada” (customs). But I don’t want to write about rape. In stead I want to write about something that I consider to be a “gateway drug” for the inappropriate behaviour. Groping.

Sadly, I don’t know any women who haven’t faced a sex pest lecher in life. For us the encounters of the perv kind are as ubiquitous as holy cow on the BJP manifesto. I don’t wish to discount the experiences of the queer and transgender people, as well as many male victims of sexual offences, but I will keep my opinions to the stuff I have personally experienced rather than preach about the stuff I don’t know.

I first experienced the shit show that is groping when I was 14. A cute boy of 16 went with me in the same school bus. I was never very talkative when he was around because of the huge crush I had. One day I sat next to him by happenstance. Suddenly I noticed that his hand had was on my leg slightly above my knee. Not a place where it could’ve been placed by mistake. No no. He had managed to slide below my school bag, pull my skirt up a bit and keep his hand on my bare leg. The journey home lasted 25 minutes and I was acutely aware of his hand grabbing my leg. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want this. I have thought about it so many times, and all I can recall is the nausea I felt all the way home. I froze because in my childish mind, I thought, “Look, you liked this guy, and now he’s touching you. Don’t complain.” Like I have somehow manifested this undesirable behaviour from him.

I locked this incident somewhere in the back of my mind, and never spoke about them with anyone until a couple of years back when my partner and I were discussing some traumatic experiences from his childhood, and this came up.

I can easily recall several other instances of grabbing, pulling, cat calling, etc. when I have been walking around with female friends or in the bus/ train or even while cycling down the road. Although my experiences do seem a bit lack lustre compared to some other creeps out there.

At what point did everyone become au fait with this audacity? I’m not claiming to be a “survivor” here. It fundamentally changed my outlook and behaviour even though I consciously never thought of those incidents for years afterwards. I find the connotation of being a survivor to be an act of heroism that I didn’t partake in. I was a victim of my vulnerabilities, and those are still there.

The vitriol against women and the need to punish our “indecency” that is being strewn around by the likes of Mohan Bhagwat, and if you’re unlucky, your daily family WhatsApp groups is both scary and sadly unsurprising. I say this because the person on the bus was only two years older than me, and yet he knew he’d get away with it. When did he learn about his power?

Jumping to conclusions: My primary superpower

  • My neighbor went back inside, when she saw me leaving my house, she’s probably a racist and hates foreigners.
  • My friends didn’t wish me on my birthday, maybe they don’t like me anymore.
  • She’s checking her phone while I talk…wow she’s rude!

These are just some of the prime examples of me getting on thought train then mid-way turning it into a flying saucer and flying it off to conclusion station without going through the track of logical reasoning. This what psych speak calls Jumping to Conclusion.

Got the idea

Be it Columbus’s discovery of “India” or the primitive human’s understanding of God/gods. The ability to see something and deducing something that is completely antithetical is a common practice throughout history of humanity. The arguments by creationists is often that we’re too perfect to have evolved. We must have been put here by a higher authority, is a masterful example of jumping to conclusions. A bit trivial but no less pernicious idea is the Neo-Nazi idea that because some of them can drink milk, they are superior to the rest because most humans have not evolved to process lactose after childhood. This is not only spectacularly wrong but really hard to take seriously. The conclusion of current right wing hindutva advocates that Hindus are in danger based on the mere existence of Pakistan is another such example.

Conservatives have often called poverty a fault in the character rather than lack of money. [Side note: Rutger Bregman has written an excellent book called Utopia for Realists on poverty alleviation through basic income]. All these points have been proven false through statistically significant data sets, yet the excuse is always, “just because they haven’t proved it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Ignoring the hurdles of logic

What my limited world view and echo chamber shows is that if half the humanity can be so wrong about so many things, how can I be immune to this flaw.

Reinforce my bias

I have decided that instead of concluding someone is dead when they don’t call me back, I will give them 24 hours to get back to me. Also when things go wrong in the lab, I will not assume that the universe is out to ruin my life.

Hope you take the slower route to conclusions as well.

Anxious when I am, Anxious when I am not

I don’t have a condition. I had me tested by people (well…one therapist) who told me that I definitely do not have a condition. Although she did say that maybe I seek a diagnosis because it would make my life easier since it would give me a mask to hide my flaws. Actually, what I have is an ‘issue with my existence’ syndrome. This is based on my personal nomenclature practices so don’t look for it in the revised edition of Clinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders.

Yes, it sounds like an issue a 14 year old might face. Also known as ‘the teenage angst’. And maybe since I never went through this during my teenage, it is striking at 29. Maybe everyone gets it at some point…like chicken pox! Although that has almost been eradicated now while teenage angst has become a legit condition.

My current lifestyle choices grant me the time and space to introspect so much that my inner voice never goes to sleep. Talking of inner voices….what does yours sound like? Mine is made up of three groups. Group one is made up of a slightly more compliant version of my actual friends (CVAF). They are the ones I talk to when I want to work through some concept or idea related to studies, and when I want to recount a funny story that no actual living soul must know about. Group two looks and feels like the omnipresent judgmental neighbors (OJN) who use my foibles and peccadilloes as a source constant amusement. Group three is the Clan of Impostor Syndrome (CIS). Now those guys…they can only be described as a mob of death eaters and dementors. They feed off my fear of being found out to be a fraud….something that happens way too often during graduate school. They glare and sneer at me from inside my head till I fumble and fail. The days when I can manage to keep my calm and not give those clansmen the debacle they were hoping for, it feels like sex, love, chocolate, beer, and the joy of peeing after holding it in for an uncomfortable amount of time.

My crisis of existence syndrome comes from the overwhelming power of the OJNs in my life rather than CIS because I have learnt to keep the latter in check but the former still looms large in the everyday. My OJNs are not interested in the high art that is academic failures. It’s the day to day scope of public humiliation that they enjoy. From the minute I open my eyes, their gossiping begins. They wonder out loud in my head, addressing my CVAFs and CISs, about what all could possibly go wrong with me today. Will I fall in the bathroom and break my leg? Or will I burn my hand while making toast? Or will I choke on the coco-puffs that have not softened even after being in the milk for ten minutes? Will I fart so loudly in the toilet at work while someone waits outside that I might have to pretend to have fainted inside till they call a security guard and break the door to get me out, turning their secondary embarrassment and my humiliation into abject pity? Or will I trip on the stairs while telling an amusing story to my colleagues? Will I make a faux pas in the canteen? Will I break something valuable in the lab? Or maybe leave my zip undone? My OJNs have a bigger production budget than Nolan, for sure.

I had often wondered whether everyone talks to themselves as much as I do? But then I recently read an amazing book called ‘I’m a Joke and So Are You: A Comedian’s Take on What Makes Us Human’ by Robin Ince. He spoke to comedians and psychologists about what makes a comedian’s brain tick differently from everyone else’s. He wrote extensively in his book about why this phenomena of hearing the voices in our heads tends to remain an ‘inner thing’ and not an ‘outer thing’. Apparently this has an evolutionary benefit. If you were an ancient hominid hiding from a predator, your safety was dependent on keeping your mouth shut while your inner voice was screaming. This seems fair enough. According to him, while everyone does have an inner voice, comedians generally find a way to mine it for content while others like to suppress it in order to keep sane. Since sanity is not a top expectation from comedians, the good comedians have mastered the art soliloquizing their inner monologue, while I am expected to keep it from leaking out in the everyday. Probably that’s why so many people love giving their opinions on social media. They have a legit space to think out loud. Probably that’s why I am writing this blog. In my case, the ancient predators have been replaced with colleagues in the class/ canteen/ corridors, people in super markets, and flatmates in the house.

Some doctors encourage people suffering from depression or anxiety to create avatars for those feelings so that they can visualize their monsters and then work on culling them, but I don’t know what is the solution for an already fully formed mental archive of monsters, demons, and poltergeists that seem to overrun my life.

Shopping hungry and some other bad decisions

I recently noticed, with immense chagrin, that on days that I entered the supermarket hungry I spent almost €10 more than I did when I entered with a full tummy. This looking back through bank records led me down the road of casually looking back at a lot of bad decisions I have occasionally taken.

Fortunately for me, I have kept a diary on and off since I was 12 because with an internal monologue as loquacious as mine, I needed an outlet to be able to sleep with a modicum of inner peace. Occasionally I can use these “mini memoirs” to see how my personality has devolved from an overly sanctimonious child to a garden variety cynic. And they also suffice as a record of all the weird/ bad/ inexplicable decisions I have made in the past. Some are so regrettable and embarrassing that I wish I hadn’t written them down. Ideally, all my pens should’ve dried out and my diaries should’ve self-immolated to avoid ignominy.

A lot of my diary entries between 2011-2013 were either a result of being in love or being out of it. Hence the unending embarrassment. Be it the time (a year almost) of pining for a man I knew was into someone else (because he told me), to pining for another man who just happened to be nice to me, to pining for a guy who was dating someone else but lying about it. Whereas since November 2014, I have no such embarrassing diary entries because life has been much more settled. Also by then I moved to digital books and due to hard drive damage, all the files with the embarrassing events of the beginning of this relationship (and during) are permanently lost. We can now remember all the good stuff only through delightful anecdotal evidence,and eventually I’d be able to forget the embarrassing times when I used to sit and wait for him to come out of class after 5 pm then pretend to bump into him at times and nonchalantly hint about getting a chai and kachori.

This brings me to the reason why I think record keeping is important. It keeps you from repeating your bad decisions! Old sailors kept a record of everything…from the most mundane to the most adventurous stories. They probably were both supremely bored and somewhat aware of the fact that hindsight might find the events passed to be more relevant than they did in that moment.

This is why I am sure that our present government doesn’t like holding press conferences and talking about facts. What they say would become matter of permanent record that can’t be denied or blamed on opposition. They wouldn’t be able to refute the evidence of their own words.

I found it very interesting that when a word from the Prime Minister’s speech in the Parliament was expunged recently, it wasn’t considered an issue worthy of discussion. In fact, it is a common practice and this was not the first time in the parliamentary history that a part of someone’s speech has been edited/ removed for the purpose of maintaining “parliamentary language”. I still find it to be an Orwellian move. Shouldn’t the standards of parliamentary behaviour be always maintained by our elected leaders? And if they slip, shouldn’t it remain a matter of record so that we know of their regard or lack thereof for rules and appropriate conduct?

Looking back at the past 19 years, it seems like the world should’ve ceased to exist at the end of the millennia because since then things have regressed dramatically. Now I’m not saying that technological achievements should be negated and that nothing good has happened to us. However, the rise of right wing populism and the hate rhetoric has seemingly taken us back a few centuries to the time when the concept of identity and thus, unity, was limited to your immediate clansmen. World leaders like Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro, Johnson, among others are mere beneficiaries of the times not the original instigators of this unrest.

Everyone takes some wrong turns in life that land us in trouble and remembering our past or better yet, regularly reading back through the records about our past mistakes is bound to make us smarter. Although an excess of remembering might land us in trouble…like that Jodie Whittaker episode of Black Mirror. I actually have pages in my diary where I’ve written, “something disturbing happened but it’s unlikely to matter in a few days so I will not write it down because I don’t want to relive it while reading the diary and anyway this incident is best forgotten”. I was right, because I have absolutely no recollection of what it was and it clearly didn’t affect me in the long term. Most likely it was something to do with a heartbreak over one of the many “boy troubles”. I guess I am now faltering on my own argument of learning from your bad decisions.

It’s just that the world needs a good mix of the revision of their own history and a bit of revisionism of their history.