The 5AM hour

Hours before daybreak belong to television lights thrown on younger faces asleep on couches, parents driving teenagers to tuition classes and early morning goodbyes.

Hours before daybreak belong to television lights thrown on younger faces asleep on couches, reflections flying past their curtains into the damp, sickly air. Parents that drive their teenagers to tuition classes for lessons they’re happy to forget about until they drive their own in a few decades.

It is the hour of early morning goodbyes in presence of a thoughtfully packed bag that doesn’t quite belong nor assume relevance until a few hours. Amidst stolen moments of delight at an infant air that speaks hope and possibilities in a way the approaching noisy day cannot.

The exam in three months? You’ll crack it. The messy long-distance relationship? It will be okay. The project you have a deadline for today afternoon? There’s plenty of time, and you know what they say about the early bird. (They say it has a false perception of time).

It is the hour of walking past gym-goers in a world of their own behind glass walls. The hour before tea and coffee, where everything seems a little less unequal, a little more messy, real.

If I were home it’d be the hour to appreciate a peaceful dawn before sweat-stained morning drowns it in bus honks and handbags clutched to chests. To be proud to belong to the land of (good-looking) temples, to be thankful for the smell of agarbati everyday at daybreak, and the person responsible for it.

Most of all, the 5am hour belongs to the “You can call me anytime sir/madam” guy who will not solve any of your issues in life, but whose constant uneasiness somehow convinces you whatever is plaguing you isn’t as bad as his own.

(I wrote this while waiting outside Texas Driver License Center yesterday morning, I heard that “You can call me” line one too many times.)

Every Person On Instagram

Inspired by folks I’ve seen on Instagram, this article isn’t intended to offend but if you think it’s you I’m talking about, it probably is. The list is by definition incomplete so please don’t be offended if you were skipped (or were you?).

  1. The News Feeder/Faye D’Souza Lite
    At one point when the world was falling apart, they shared worldly updates with diligence. They have continued to stay in character and can’t seem to find a good time to stop.
  2. The Feelings Surrogate
    This is the person that exhausts you with the endless issues they pick up on keyboards. Global warming, education, animal rights, human rights – you carefully skip their updates on a bad day. But you’re glad they exist, for they feel the hard feelings while you sleep peacefully in the knowledge that somebody cares. Roles might switch, or be transferred.
  3. The Liberal
    Their favorite quip is Everyone has a right to live the way they want. No, not like that. Having metamorphosed into worse than the conservatives they abhorred, others quake at their judgmental gaze. We asked if they had a response, Let me check Twitter to know how I feel about that was all we got.
  4. The Fun Content Dude who lives with a Fun Content Family
    They allegedly work hard, they also play hard and it’s for the world to watch on Reels. Of course we don’t believe them for a minute, but life’s hard and I just downed a whole carton of no-pulp orange juice to numb myself after a Wednesday, so trust me to string along as your body descends into a pool on camera with gay abandon.
  5. The Hack
    That content creator whose career and followers’ welfare depend on the favorable angle their camera is fixated at.
  6. The Warrior
    A purist commenting This isn’t pure Kathak under a video of Alia Bhatt promoting Ghar More Pardesiya.
  7. The Defender
    The one replying If you want to watch pure Kathak you need to go elsewhere, triggering a heated debate on Instagram rights and justice.
  8. The Canadian Sun
    They put an end to the thread with Let’s appreciate her for learning the dance in 3 days, it maybe a sh*t show but the show did go on.
  9. Boomers
    Their minds will be blown away as they discover Reels feature in 3..2..1
  10. The Offended Woke
    They are the reason why Comedy Central didn’t air The Office’s diversity episode and whom Pick your battles goddammit was originally directed at. They’re currently on a mission to guilt-trip me on behalf of non-English speaking horses who apparently cannot get humour.
    NOT TODAY, Satan.
  11. The Cat/Food/Photography/Workout/Lurker person
    Honorary mention.
  12. The Conflicted Artist
    They were traditionalists on social media until recently, when they relented to deluging content.
    Sometimes, they add #poetsofinstagram to their poem while shrugging at life-choices that led them there. Sometimes, they unweave what could’ve been a satirical drama into a lazy list. And they definitely cringe every time they share an Insta story announcing their own post.
  13. The OG – You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do Squad
    Toughened by time and lessons learnt on the “gram”, these professionals are the antitheses to the Conflicted and serious about giving their audience what they want. The kitchen sinks in their background have just enough dirty dishes to make them appear human, if there’s any more it will include a small write-up on being human. Of course it’s no easy feat to keep at anything twice a week, and we love them for being reliable.
    In short, their unprecedented success is why I have annoying folks on my feed performing Bollywood trends under #foodporn, in hopes of going viral.
  14. The Humble Brag
    They share erudite arguments that lack any context and jokes that need a preface, leaving us hanging and feeling a little dumb. You always vow never to return to their smartest person in the room updates. But like they say, genius needs an audience, and we all need a genius.
  15. The Good Samaritan
    You – when you sit and click through 79-odd canyon stories posted by a lovable friend who doesn’t yet know they’re boring because they have equally sweet friends that won’t skip nor tell.
  16. Instagram
    A monster that’ll make you accidently hit like on your ex’s ex’s picture but somehow your crush who sits through every one of your stories won’t. This is obviously a personal grievance, I’m sure you can think of your own reasons why Insta is the real monster (apart from Reels).

The Sad Stuff : to Write or not to Write

If you have a sad story you’d like to share, this song is for you.

I have a set of mostly pointless personal ethics I try to live by. Some were adopted after a bitter or a guilt-ridden experience, and I called them pointless because many of them are dumb and benefit no one. An example was deciding to not crush on anybody from my grad cohort (because what if you end up in a group project together?). Dumb.

One of the better decisions I took happened when I was in 11th. After a fight, I had handed my best friend a letter where I listed out all the things she’d ever done to hurt me. I declared no good person would ever do that, I did it specifically to cause pain, and I might have called her a bitch. I later decided that was a horrible word to use, and I’ve stuck to actively avoiding it. Mostly.

The bigger decision I took was to never hurt anyone again with my writing. That letter is the worst thing I’ve ever put out in the world. The way I pointed fingers on paper with the “hurts” wasn’t quite different from how my father always had a list of English adjectives handy to describe me and another set of “faults” he kept track of – the adjectives mostly started with in (incompetent, inefficient.. you know the drill, and if you don’t, you’re probably lucky). Even before we were over the fight, I was way too ashamed of what I had done, I later asked her to burn the papers.

So I vowed I’d never hurt anyone with my writing again. Because you see the happiness people bring about with words, often simply by sharing what’s on their mind. And I’ve read other stuff that’s been shared that clearly would’ve hurt one reader or another. Surely the stuff had disturbed the author for decades, and the writing probably only had truth in it too. People don’t cook up sad autobiographical stories for the sole purpose of causing pain.
Yet I wondered – did that help anyone? If they did it for themselves, was it worth it in the end or did they later regret it as an act of selfishness? I guess only they’d know.

Maybe I’ll stick to not writing the sad stuff, unless I’m getting paid truckloads of cash or something. So then, back to listening to Into My Arms.

#21 Postcard – I cooked (and ate) well last week

I didn’t cook or eat properly the last couple of weeks, so I made a conscious effort to not let perishables go to waste the past week.

Warning – I bought pork chops last Saturday that I didn’t want to freeze so you’re going to see a lot of pork. The cooking was almost entirely done in the evenings after work. Also no breakfast – it was mostly leftover hummus or avocado on toast because they’re the easiest things to do on week day mornings.

Everything I cooked was yum! πŸ˜€


Pork fried rice/pulao thing. I cut the chops into thin strips, seasoned with paprika and salt, fried them to give a nicely colored crisp. Saute vegetables and ginger-garlic in oil, season, add the pork, then the sauces, then mix in the cooked rice.

Also curd for the tummy ❀

The heart wants what it wants – Rice with rasam and pork!
Cooked rasam on Tuesday night. Lazy pork with curry leaves, red onion and chilly powder, turmeric. I slept so well!
The rasam lasted me for another 3 meals.

Sandwich with lazy pork but without aromatics
I used a peeler to make thin carrot shavings because chopping carrot isn’t worth the effort plus the long slivers sit well within the bread. It wasn’t as crunchy as I’d like though. I coated the vegetables in the leftover fat from the pan.

Crab-cheese poppers – okay this came frozen and I just had to bake them in the oven. Ugh I didn’t click a photo of the dip – it was a ranchy something with bites of pickle.

I worked from office on Thursday. I had avocado toast for breakfast that I took with me (do not compromise, even if in office :P), and had packed orange marmalade sandwiches with me for lunch. They obviously paled in comparison with the lunches I ate all week, and I couldn’t wait to get home to have the rest of my rasam-rice πŸ˜€

#20 Postcard – Homemade Hummus

There was a Mediterranean restaurant two minutes from my Atlanta apartment where I ate at least once a month, and I loved their hummus and all their homemade dips.

I’ve tried a couple of store-bought hummus since then and found they all have added preservatives that my body doesn’t take well, and recently found how quick and easy it is to prepare hummus. It only takes 10 minutes to make it at home, especially if you can buy pre-cooked chick peas (get the canned chickpeas if you can so you can use them straight off the can).

The recipe turns out to be economical if you’re making large batches for a party or so, it compares to the price of the store-bought version if you’re only preparing it for two people.

Mine (in the picture) lasted 8 days, I simply stored it in the fridge and didn’t do anything else to preserve it. It was as creamy on Monday morning as it was last Sunday, and didn’t develop a crust at all.

I thought it’d be interesting to do a price breakup like they do on vegan YouTube channels, but the recipe mostly uses partial ingredients (and I’m tired after the week). One full bowl comes to around ~$2.50 and there’s easily more than 15oz of it. To compare, store-bought hummus costs $3.34 for 10 oz, minus washing the dishes and blender etc.

You need two tablespoons of Tahini sauce (recipe below) for 1 can of chickpeas, but I dunked in more than that. It turned out well πŸ˜€

Recipe

Ingredients

Chick peas – One can (15 oz) $1.22. You don’t have to remove the skin if you don’t mind it, the canned ones usually get well blended.

Garlic – three or four big cloves, more if you love garlic like me! ($0.25/4)

Tahini (2 tablespoons)

Sesame Seeds – almost one-third of a 35oz jar for Tahini sauce. Basically enough to make at least 2 tablespoons of Tahini

Olive oil – 2 tablespoons

Lime juice and salt – to taste

Tahini : Blend sesame seeds, olive oil, lime juice and salt to a paste.

Blend chickpeas and garlic to a rough paste (I added just a bit water to help), add tahini, add more olive oil if you’d like to make it richer. Blend until it’s smooth or reaches the texture you like. I like mine a little gritty to have with toasted bread πŸ™‚

Spread on toast or enjoy it as a creamy dip with pita bread, chappathi or even kebab!

#19 Postcard – Rewiring the brain, Making the bed

How do you build habits? Is it possible to change the way your brain is wired, is it decided by genetics, or is it malleable? Can behavior drive thoughts, or is it always the other way around?

After my writing workshop, our cohort was inducted into the Clear Writing community, and we each gave a brief introduction of ourselves. A few touched upon their untapped writing potential (and we take their word that its exists, we’re nice that way) – and their being okay with it staying untapped as other priorities took precedence.

Some also wrote about how they led rather mediocre lives (their words, not mine). Of course at no point does anyone define what a spectacular or even a non-mediocre life might look like.

It has been a running theme in my conversations with my mother, on generally unproductive days, that my father’s gene pool has taken over and that my laziness can’t be helped, my brain’s just wired that way. Now we bypass the discussion about genes and slap wiring onto a lot of things, including messiness.

At one point, it bothered me to see my bed empty. I think it might have hit my mother that believing it’s Nature is easier, so she gave up after two decades of asking me to make my bed. When I moved into this apartment the first thing I did was throw some books onto the naked mattress to give it some semblance of occupancy and home.

Then, three months ago I listened to the Make your bed speech and started making my bed the next morning. And now I cannot stand it if it isn’t neat. Last week I listened to this podcast about rewiring the brain, and I think I figured out why or rather how the change in habits happened.

Intention to change is only half the story.

In the episode, Dr. Andrew Huberman talks about neuroplasticity – the ability of brain to change and adapt – and in my tug of war between If you can then why shouldn’t you and But I’m happy this way (I know a few others who struggle with this dilemma), I’m sure you see why I listened to the whole 2 hour podcast. There’s two steps to neuroplasticity – deep focus and deep rest (and sleep, WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL US THE REAL REASONS WHY SLEEP IS IMPORTANT) – which I’ll try to tackle another time.

The one thing he explains about changing habits is how writing or talking or thinking about it is not as effective as just doing it – that behavior can and should be allowed to drive thoughts, it doesn’t have to be the other way around. This is antithetical how I thought I lived my conscious life. I’ve had trouble going with the flow and even in doing things I dislike or didn’t actively choose for myself. But on inspection I realize I have done it too.

I started making my bed the next day after watching that speech, and I sort of took upon it as a goal, because some of what the Navy Admiral said made sense to me. It’s one of the few times I fast-tracked to behavior first instead of brooding over the purpose of the action or getting stuck in thought. And when I wake up and make my bed every morning, I feel good from the minor accomplishment. In Huberman terms, it gives me a dopamine hit because it’s a goal achieved, and that primes me for the rest of the day – almost like working out before you dance.

And if it’s not making the bed, it’s something else that you attach a mental if unconscious goal to – it might be lighting a lamp for somebody, putting on tea for another.

When he said When you do one thing it becomes easier to do another – it really is because of this dopamine hit that Huberman describes. Because once you get your first hit, you then want to get the next one, which makes you proceed to another task because that’s what dopamine does – it makes you crave for more. A lot like social media validation makes you want to share more posts.

I’m glad I took to it, and I’ve kept doing it since it feels good. Because there are days when it’s a physical labor to get out of bed, but folding my blanket does make me feel more ready to start the day. I can’t tell if it’s more physical or mental, it’s probably both. Obviously the bed also looks nice when it’s tidied up, and I say that without shitting on my previous self that thought a messy bed looks just as fine πŸ˜›

So rewiring really is a choice, from the little I’ve understood. I’m sure there might be science behind how choices work as well, but let me wrap my mind around this dopamine thing first.

Thinking about turning into a morning person would never work for me, I’d have to start with behavior/action there as well to rewire. Okay, this has gone too far, that’s enough Huberman talk for the day.

#17 Postcard – What do you make of a messy room?

Is a messy room indicative of creativity, or is it a personality problem? I care about public perception now, the younger me is frowning at that and the older me is partly helpless.

If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is madeβ€”that you madeβ€”and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.

I used to be very okay with a messy bed, as long as one side was clear to sleep on. Something changed though and I’m trying to get to the bottom of it.

Growing up, I ‘ve seen disappointment on the faces of parents, brothers, aunts on stepping into my messy room. I have had (at least) one friend who was as messy if not messier than I was – she’s a writer – and articles used to pop up in my feed about how messiness is a sign of creativity. These days the search results I get are discourses that messiness might be a sign of a personality problem. Does Google know that I crossed over?

Mess bothers me now to the extent that I take care of it within the hour. I think I can now see what others saw in my messy room, and the cause of their disappointment. But it also bothers me that mess bothers me, and in trying to understand why I realized why it didn’t before.

A mess on my bed was something I was cognizant of. I didn’t find it nagging when people exclaimed What a mess! – I already knew the mess existed. Their comment didn’t spur me into action, I knew no reptiles would emerge from the pile, there was no safety hazard like they suggested (on a different note my notes and work desk have always been organized). But more than awareness, I believed the clutter in the room was under my control, no matter how much it looked like it wasn’t.

(I’m sure somebody is comparing that with how addicts say they can stop smoking whenever they want to.)

What bothered me at one point was how concerned and annoyed the adults and more so my brothers were. It wasn’t mere disappointment – it was often anger that I didn’t take care of my room. You would think I was on my way to self destruction or worse, family destruction, from their manners (the latter makes me laugh but wait.. maybe therein lies the answer).

They probably saw lack of discipline, a disorganized mind that manifested as the mess in my room, when it was just laziness and not being able to see the point when there was clearly an extra bed in the room. Why was what went on in that bed anyone’s business but mine?
I hear my father saying It’s my house, I accept I was in the wrong.

Then, around the age of 23, my mother stopped complaining about the mess. I need to ask her why, maybe she accepted it’s wired in me*. Or maybe she somehow figured I’d change at 26.

The change probably started after I watched the video (where lines at the beginning are quoted from) on the other side of my 20s, kickstarting a Do It mode in me. Nobody’s going to forgive you for a messy room after 25. You may have a roommate or a friend or a spouse who isn’t okay with mess, because they see mess and they see an undisciplined you yada-yada. So you keep it tidy for them, and keeping it tidy for them puts you at ease.

And it did do me good – I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve glanced over to the made-up bed in the room when a meeting wasn’t going well or when I just wanted the workday to end, knowing the bed I made is waiting for me. And it indeed made a difference to know that I made it.

The world has impressed on me that a responsible, perhaps even trustworthy adult probably keeps things tidy.

But I still don’t think a messy kid has a problem, I don’t buy that a messy room is indicative of other issues. The messy kid didn’t care about public (or family) perception. It would be wrong to say that being organized is our natural state – it’s conscious effort that might later turn reflexive.
I care about perception now because it can affect the way people make decisions about you, decisions that may not always be apparent yet are important, the younger me is frowning at that and the older me is partly helpless.
I’ll have to find how much of this keeping-room-tidy is conformist and how much out of choice. I’ll update if I figure it out.

* which is what I’d like to write about next