We never change

“A photograph can be an instant of life captured for eternity that will never cease looking back at you.” ― Brigitte Bardot

I am lounging on my bed, reading beside the window, the afternoon light illumining my pages and I feel a wave of drowsiness sweep over me. That is what happens when you have a large lunch and settle down to read quietly. It seems like the perfect time for a short nap. Suddenly my phone beeps and I am not in the present anymore but thrust into the murky waters of the past without any preamble. Photographs, like words, take you back in time but the effect is immediate and  jarring, if it is something unpleasant. 

In the photograph I see a place both intimately familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I am back at the university. In an instant I see myself as I was then and the past comes tumbling back. Old memories return, sad and joyous moments shared, fast friendships and swift betrayals, friends in unexpected places(amid ingratiating sycophants), having the most unlikeliest people stand by in their own way.

Suddenly I am the same girl, who rarely spoke out of turn, even though it was not my nature to be silent when something unjust was being done.The girl who mostly kept her head down and  worked, weighed down by the collective responsibility on her shoulders. The girl who was a dyed-in-the-wool romantic that crash landed into reality and didn’t know how to deal with that seismic shift. The girl who didn’t question the motives behind people’s actions and took everyone at their word. The girl who came out of that place with her soul undivided (if not intact) but her heart bruised (if not broken). I am that girl and yet, I feel strangely far removed from her.

I have always prided myself on cutting off something unpleasant as soon as I see it rearing its ugly head but truly moving on, closing the chapter in the book of life (clichéd I know) takes time, more time than I’d like to admit.There is no pain now, only a vague recollection of the past events and the memories have faded (the slow swirl of time) but not entirely gone. Yet.

What is the purpose of these memories being retained in the inner recesses of our brains? (Watch Pixar’s fabulous Inside Out to know more!) Do they serve as reminders so that we do not make the same mistakes again? 
But we never change,do we.
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The incomparable Toru Dutt

Our Casuarina Tree

LIKE a huge Python, winding round and round  
 The rugged trunk, indented deep with scars,  
 Up to its very summit near the stars,  
A creeper climbs, in whose embraces bound  
 No other tree could live. But gallantly         
The giant wears the scarf, and flowers are hung  
In crimson clusters all the boughs among,  
 Whereon all day are gathered bird and bee;  
And oft at nights the garden overflows  
With one sweet song that seems to have no close,          
Sung darkling from our tree, while men repose.  
 
When first my casement is wide open thrown  
 At dawn, my eyes delighted on it rest;  
 Sometimes, and most in winter,—on its crest  
A gray baboon sits statue-like alone         
 Watching the sunrise; while on lower boughs  
His puny offspring leap about and play;  
And far and near kokilas hail the day;  
 And to their pastures wend our sleepy cows;  
And in the shadow, on the broad tank cast          
By that hoar tree, so beautiful and vast,  
The water-lilies spring, like snow enmassed.  
 
But not because of its magnificence  
 Dear is the Casuarina to my soul:  
 Beneath it we have played; though years may roll,        
O sweet companions, loved with love intense,  
 For your sakes, shall the tree be ever dear.  
Blent with your images, it shall arise  
In memory, till the hot tears blind mine eyes!  
 What is that dirge-like murmur that I hear         
Like the sea breaking on a shingle-beach?  
It is the tree’s lament, an eerie speech,  
That haply to the unknown land may reach.  
 
Unknown, yet well-known to the eye of faith!  
 Ah, I have heard that wail far, far away         
 In distant lands, by many a sheltered bay,  
When slumbered in his cave the water-wraith  
 And the waves gently kissed the classic shore  
Of France or Italy, beneath the moon,  
When earth lay trancèd in a dreamless swoon:       
 And every time the music rose,—before  
Mine inner vision rose a form sublime,  
Thy form, O Tree, as in my happy prime  
I saw thee, in my own loved native clime.  
 
Therefore I fain would consecrate a lay        
 Unto thy honor, Tree, beloved of those  
 Who now in blessed sleep for aye repose,—  
Dearer than life to me, alas, were they!  
 Mayst thou be numbered when my days are done  
With deathless trees—like those in Borrowdale,         
Under whose awful branches lingered pale  
 “Fear, trembling Hope, and Death, the skeleton,  
And Time the shadow;” and though weak the verse  
That would thy beauty fain, oh, fain rehearse,  

May Love defend thee from Oblivion’s curse

Toru Dutt

I still remember the teacher who taught us the poem in class and I have saved the tattered old textbook from oblivion. It somehow seems odd to call a literature book a “textbook” because they were always about escape for me. While people slept when Hound of Baskervilles was taught, I came alive. So much so that years later when I saw the entire collected works of Toru Dutt on my first visit to the university library, I instantly checked it out. Exams loomed but I couldn’t leave the book after finding it. You know one of those moments in life when you just have to go for it? This felt like that. And I am a big believer in serendipity! My mind reasoned that her books aren’t easily available so this was the logical next step. (Yes, I know my fear that someone would come looking for her work in the science section was unreasonable, and if I didn’t take it when the opportunity presented itself, I would never get it again.) I devoured the two novels in it, and returned the book unable to read much else. I vowed to come back to it again. Years later I am yet to go back.