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Let me sleep as January ends

by: Samarth Bansal | 30 January, 2024

I have—finally—got my act together and fixed (most of) what was needlessly broken in my professional life. I know this because I finally mustered the courage to file the invoice I didn’t file, because of the bourgeois guilt that emerges from letting down people who give me boundless work freedom on the basis of trust, and then I break it.

The easiest thing, then, is to accept and tell the truth: “I am really sorry. I truly sucked. This is not me. I will bounce back.” And then, actually, bounce back. (Or else, I won’t have the financial freedom to splurge on coffee, books, art, and fitness—things that are necessary for my existence.)

Now that I have, I also feel okay to do what I feel like doing every day, which is what I am doing now: opening my text editor and dumping stray thoughts on the internet for no good reason other than wanting to do it. Random stuff only.

What’s a good time to write? 
When your mind is clear. 

What’s the best time to write?
When your heart is aching.

Right? (It’s not a question—it’s a fact. We are friends if you are a writer and get this feeling.)

Today was a rest day at the gym. So, at 7:30 a.m., I drove through the dense Delhi fog to the nearest Blue Tokai for a double-shot Americano. I was supposed to read, but I got lost in thought, so I did nothing and just…sat. (How would I appear in the CCTV camera might be Big Boss material.)

This is just me. In a moment of brutal honesty, my baby sister yesterday told me that “bhai, you do realise you are crazy, right? You are not normal. You get lost in thought while walking…” — something of this sort, but with great politeness because she needs career counselling, so she can’t really afford to express her true feelings.

Okay, back to the morning. Among many other things which hijacked my mind just like that, one thing I want to share. Allen has opened an IIT-JEE coaching centre in Netaji Subhash Place, where the coffee shop is. So this morning, when I saw the teenagers in grey hoodies, green shirts, and pyjamas walking into the centre, it really hit hard because I could see myself as they walked in—me at the age of 16, walking into FIITJEE of Punjabi Bagh, with just one goal in life: to study at an IIT. That’s all what life was about. One exam. One college. The ultimate dream.

I saw them, and wondered: “Damn, these kids want what I already have. I have lived the dream they want to live. Most of them won’t be able to. It won’t really matter in the longer run, they will realise at some point in life, but this is all they care about today, and I have that.”

Without even having a conversation, I got the surreal reminder to cherish what I already have and already “achieved”. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, but this thing is right here. Don’t live in the past, but don’t ignore it either.

Then, while driving back home, on my phone, I played the Rolling Stones song that feels like the mantra of my adult life:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you’ll find
You get what you need

The hardest question in life: “Hum dost hai ya more?”

How does one figure that out? Please share tips.

I am doing a theoretical Ph.D. in this “love” thing. Practical would have been nice, but Alain De Botton’s book introduced me to the non-Karl Marx Marxism i.e., the Marxism of Groucho Marx: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

So yeah—I have the problem Woody Allen described in the iconic opening monologue of Annie Hall. The women I am interested in are never interested in me. I am not interested in the women who find me interesting. Sigh. Hence, theory. Clear?

My exploration for literature led me to A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes which had this quote that hit me very hard:

“Am I in love? –yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”

Ouch. Waiting as if Waiting for Godot.

Talking about Woody Allen: that man is a genius. I am aware of the scandal. Feel free to cancel me. I want to believe he didn’t do it — because his movies, artistic journey, and work ethic have taught me so much about life in the last few months — but the more you understand Woody, and start reading between the lines, the less I trust him. What to do? I will just live with the guilt of being a fan of this monstrous man. Or maybe I will believe he didn’t do it.

Whatever. But yes, Woody is genius. I will buy you coffee and food in a fancy Delhi cafe if you have watched Deconstructing Harry, Bullets Over Broadway, Husbands and Wives, Crimes and Misdemeanours and remember enough to nerd it out with me. (I am not adding Annie Hall and Manhattan to this list because you can’t call yourself a Woody fan if you haven’t watched those two.)

Talking about artists, let me just get this off my chest. In an interview, Shah Rukh Khan had said: “I always tell everyone I’m an employee of myth of Shah Rukh Khan.”

And now, I want to tell everyone: that “myth of Shah Rukh Khan” is a scam. Ughhh. Can’t stand him anymore. (I need time to articulate my feelings on this, so if you are curious, please wait for my essay.)

Among many aspects of everyday conversations where I feel totally alienated and unable to participate because of differences in worldviews, the one that keeps coming up repeatedly is on this thing called ambition.

What is so virtuous about it, I don’t understand. I was very ambitious when I was 20, but at 30, I am not. I don’t give any fucks about success. Yes, I want to write great stuff—fiction and non-fiction—but they emerge from the existential need of self-expression and the joy of creation. There is no place I want to reach. There is no one whom I want to beat. There is nothing I want to prove. Amid the meaninglessness of human existence and drudgery of everyday life, I want to exist and find some meaning in the things where I spend my time. Most of the meaning I derive comes from submitting myself to art of all forms, and that’s about it. Fuck ambition.

I feel grateful to the ambitious folks who are possibly doing some good to the world and society. So that others like me don’t have to. Thank you guys. Seriously. But try not to judge us non-ambitious people. Actually, judge if you want. Who cares. Jean-Paul Sartre told us in his excellent play No Exit: “Hell is—other people!”

Being a mature adult means having the capacity to tolerate people you know are intrinsically good people but their behaviour, their way of working, their temperament, their ways of looking at the world, all that, is so at odds with yours that you don’t really like them — you can’t like them — but you let that go and resist judgement. Unless there is a clear sign of bad intent. It’s very hard to do, but you get there.

Two years ago, I didn’t read any fiction. Now I only want to read fiction. It changes you as a person in so many ways. That’s a separate blog. One thing that I was thinking about this morning was the conflicting duality it has landed me in.

On one hand, reading great literature makes you so empathetic to people that it makes you less judgemental. You wonder about the inner lives of people, you wonder about what you don’t know about what’s happening in people’s lives, you wonder what makes them behave the way they do.

But while you get that, it also becomes so hard to have ordinary conversations with people. So banal, so devoid of meaning, or substance, or thought. You wonder why am I even talking to this person when I can be talking to this great writer through their words? Then I realise that yes, human-to-human connection is a basic need, but if you find it hard to find people at your frequency, alienation enters.

Weird. But okay. Nothing to sob about. It’s a good problem to have.

Patting myself on the back: great progress in the gym, boss! My trainer is very happy with my progress, too. I am getting the form right in almost all movements, and I hit new Personal Records (PRs) every session. I am feeling the changes in my body quite significantly. Can’t wait to see the results one year from now.

What’s common between the movies Jab We Met, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Before Sunrise, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and—if you include literature—Anna Karenina?

Easy. The lovers met on the train. Can someone please explain what is it with romantics to set meet-cutes on trains? Why has this never happened with me?

Anyway, I digress. If train romance is your jam, then please watch Brief Encounter—the truly remarkable 1945 classic I watched last week where everything happens at the train station. Simple story, simple people. Feels real. One of the most beautiful on-screen depictions of what falling in love feels like. And the moral dilemmas one has to confront. It’s on YouTube. Maybe you should watch.

Okay, I am done with the dump.

But did you understand the title of this post? Have you heard the Green Day song? Wake Me Up When September Ends? You have, or have you not?

Just a play on that. I am 30, and all I want in life right now is existing in a way to get good sleep. Let me.