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Archive for March, 2013

Rest in Peace

I have never been good at dealing with death, and perhaps this is because I’ve seldom faced it, thank god.  I suppose this post will be how I deal with my emotions after a long week.

My great aunt passed away last weekend—my grandmother’s cousin.  In my family, titles are insignificant—we come from an extensive family where love and closeness overrides the formality of titles.  Parts of my family live together in large clumps, cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents.  I have never been accustomed to the culture of extended families, yet I often wish I was.  I am envious of my cousins, who live with five or ten other people, calling their cousins siblings, and having those close ties that I have never had.  It has always been just me and my parents.  For this reason, I’ve never really had a chance to get to know my extended family in India.  I talked about this in one of my posts while in India, but there is one part of my family that I am tremendously close to.  We call their house Behala Bari, which means the house in Behala, a sector of Calcutta.  I’ve grown up visiting this house.  Some of my oldest memories are of running up and down the multiple levels, standing next to the mango tree in the front yard, where mosquitoes swarm, playing video games with my aunt who’s four years older than me, and spending time with everyone who lives there—some of my favorite people in the world.  In the past few years, the house hasn’t felt the same: it has faced a string of tragic deaths.  Going back is different—everyone slugs through life.  Each death has broken away bits of happiness, and everything that house has meant in the past has faded.

My great aunt was one of my favorite people in the world.  My most recent memory of her is her beaming face in November, when I stepped into the house, her hugging me and commenting on how much I’ve changed.  I also live vicariously through stories of her.  When I was born in the hospital, she was the first person to see me, carrying hot food for my parents.  While growing up, my mom often confided in her aunt more than her mother.  And throughout my grandmother’s life, her cousin has been her best friend.  And although my mom and grandmother and impacted more than I am, it’s as India has suddenly become empty and without meaning.

I think the reason she was one of my favorites was because she was a child at heart.  When I used to visit in early Novembers, she would have me sneak chocolate from my Halloween stash for her, and together, we’d nibble it in the corridors.  Little did I realize that she was a diabetic.  Every time I saw her, she always carried the same vitality in her words, though her physical state was deteriorating.  And it makes me wonder why people die, why they are taken away from us, why we are constantly losing everyone we love.

I heard the news from my family members before my mom found out.  And I had to break it to her.  To tell your mom that her favorite person passed away—someone she treats like her own mother– is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world.  I hope nobody ever has to face that.  And speaking to my grandmother has been worse—she’s trying to be strong, but the pain is unbearable for her.  I know that it will truly hit me next time I visit Indian.  I don’t think I can handle visiting Behala again, stepping into her empty room, seeing the sadness of the other family members, having to hear stories over and over again.  Death is a ghost that keeps preying.

I think what’s hurting me the most is realizing that I will have to lose other people in my life.  It always feels worse than it seems.  I don’t expect anyone to understand why I am so hurt, or that I am even upset, because I haven’t shown it.  But the thought of my aunt keeps bothering me, as well as the cries of my mom and grandmother.  The only relieving part of it all is that she isn’t suffering anymore, and that she had an impact on everyone in her life.  That is most rewarding and valuable gift she could have given to the world.  She may have been a distant relative, but love is stronger than blood relations, and that is what family is built off of.  I will miss her, and my heart goes out to the rest of my family.

Rest in peace.

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Coming-of-Age

I drove up to Barre last Wednesday for the state Poetry Out Loud competition. For a day that began with me frantically oversleeping my alarm clock at 6:45 am, it went surprisingly well. I’ve had my license for almost a year, yet Barre is the farthest I’ve ever driven. After accommodating to the ways of aggressive drivers, I realized that Vermont is truly a beauty, and this is especially evident on early morning drives. It was peaceful being alone in the car, with solely the snow-capped mountains passing by and the lull of my iPod music. At the competition, I nervously sat in a loner corner, which made me realize something else: I am a shy person. While this may be surprising to the average person who interacts with me on a daily basis, I have always been an introvert, and, as a result, unusually shy. In the past few years, I’ve come to terms with myself, and gained self-confidence, yet my reticence still arises in new situations.

The competition started with semi-finals for Region A (half of Vermont). With 19 other talented contestants, I was in awe of the immense talent and depth of the performance. Last year’s state winner (who placed 2nd in DC) came to mentor us and provide some support, and, needless to say, I was starstruck. When I went up for my first poem, When You Are Old, I felt the lights of Barre Opera House, a gorgeous space, beating down upon me. Nearly every seat in the audience was filled. And even more frightening, I realized many people close to me were watching the live stream on Facebook. It was during the next round, while reading Heaven by Cathy Song, that I felt sensational under the lights, on the empty stage, with the echo of my voice and the silence of the house. In those moments, everything seemed to disappear: I was alone with my words. In the middle of the poem, I began to feel every emotion—I felt the despair, the anger, the nostalgia, the disgust. And at the end of the three minutes I was on stage, I could only feel my heart ferociously beating, and the cheering of the audience.

When the awards ceremony began, they called us all to the stage, much to my dismay. One of my biggest pet peeves is being on stage for long periods of time without anything to do: I always become over-wrought with self-consciousness, as if everyone is watching my every move. That seemed to worsen when I heard my name in the top 5: I had made the finals, and everyone was actually watching me. I feel like making the finals isn’t a huge deal in general, but for me, it was something else. I love acting, but I’ve never been spectacular. However, the way I felt when I performed Heaven was unlike anything other, and it was incredible to know that the judges had seen that.

I spent the next few hours intensely training with my two English teachers over lunch, while debating about literature and sharing way too many laughs (teachers outside of school are actually fantastic). A few minutes before the final round began, all my energy had died, which worsened when I saw the scarcely-filled auditorium. Unfortunately, as a result, the final round didn’t go as well, and I didn’t end up making top four. I didn’t feel my poems, like I had in the semi-finals. Nevertheless, the entire day was phenomenal. I had the opportunity to meet so many talented people, with the same passion I have for poetry, and that, in itself, was rewarding enough. Not to mention, making the top 10 was above any goal I had set for myself. At the finals, Major Jackson, an esteemed poet from Vermont who is the editor of the Harvard Review and doing his fellowship at Harvard, performed some of his favorite poems, and explained the power of poetry. I think people often underestimate poetry, or misunderstand it. Poetry is the art of words, and, in my opinion, one of the most expressive forms of art. There are no rules. From E.E. Cummings to Emily Dickinson to Maya Angelou, every poet is starkly different, with a distinct voice, and that is what make poetry unique. All of this inspires me to start writing poetry again.

Besides reaching into my inner-intellect in the past week, I have been able to rediscover where I stand with tennis. After a 5-month hiatus, I decided it would probably be wise to hit the courts again, considering the season starts Monday. But it didn’t go well. Everything about tennis feels unfamiliar. I’m convinced the courts are just conspiring against me. What’s most frustrating to me is that no matter what I do or how hard I try, I just cannot do it—I cannot rise to level I strive to be at. I have given up endless times in the past 10 years of playing, but I always seem to come back—something makes me come back to the sport. Yet, I always find myself setting my racquet aside for months-at-a-time in the winter seasons or when the frustration is enough to break me apart. So here’s to hoping that this season will be kind to me, and different from any other.

It seems that the world is so negative every time I open the news. We see articles about wars and deaths, about cheating and conflict, about crime and corruption, yet we barely have time to recognize the bright parts of the world. As I was driving through downtown today, I noticed a man chasing after a woman with the wallet she had dropped minutes before. I don’t know why this incident stood out to me so much, but it absolutely made my day. It made me proud, I suppose—I don’t know of who or what, but perhaps of mankind in general. It seems as if human beings are always construed negatively, which arises from the surplus of upsetting news. Yet, little actions like these remind me that we aren’t quite so bad—kindness is in human nature.

It’s almost April, which means life is picking up. My 17th birthday is coming up in a little more than a week, and I can honestly say it’s the first time I’m not excited for a birthday. I don’t think I’m ready for 17—it’s a sudden reminder of growing up, of college, of the real world. I am beginning to fear all of this, to fear leaving this town that I’ve come to be a part of, regardless of its minor flaws. I fear leaving people I have seen every day for the past 12 years. It’s frightening, and I think I need a few more months to process it, so if April 2nd could hold off, that would just be great. April also marks the science fair (the 13th), the DECA International Competition, and a few summer program application deadlines. Unfortunately, in the midst of all of this work, nostalgia has suddenly struck me (probably due to 17 quickly approaching), which adds unnecessary fuel to this fire called procrastination. I have watched the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants three times in the past few nights, while simultaneously re-reading the books. It wasn’t a problem the first time, but half way through the 2nd time, I realized that it was becoming an obsession. Maybe Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is my own way of returning to my childhood, or maybe it’s my way of reassuring myself of what’s to come. After all, that’s the purpose of every coming-of-age novel, isn’t it?

I have a Chem test Monday, but my mind has been spewing with ideas for this post for days; it feels good to finally pour out all of these thoughts onto paper (or computer screen, in this case). I suppose I should catch up on some sleep before completely immersing myself into Chang (AP Chem textbook) this weekend. Wish me luck.

Have a good weekend!

-B

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Blues

God bless vacation.  I have had possibly the most relaxing week of my life in Aruba.  From gorgeous sandy beaches to delicious (fattening) foods to the warm breeze, I have fallen in love with the place.  Every picture reminds me of postcards, or overly-edited advertisements for exotic resorts—but this is real paradise.  Actually, Aruba, in general, is a desert, so I suppose paradise isn’t the word for it.  Only the high-rise resorts look like the pictures I have taken—with artificially-planted palm trees and impeccable beaches. On the other side exists Arikok National Park, which is the real desert, vast and teemed with snakes, mountain goats, lizards, and cacti.  And, to my surprise, I found this area to be much more fascinating.

The day after diving, we, as I just mentioned, explored the island.  Our first stop was a natural bridge, surrounded by pristine blue waters, and a beautiful type of silence.  We finally moved onto the national park, driving under the beating sun with a car that could hardly handle rough terrains.  There, we stopped by some caves with markings from the early Indians in Aruba.  And all of it made me so nostalgic for Perigueux (where my French host family lives), which is eminent for its prehistory and caves.  In the middle of the park, we found a small hut that served food—some of the best food from the entire trip.  While watching (and avoiding) the abundance of lizards squirming around, I took in the, almost subtle, beauty of the place.  On this side of the island, the waters weren’t green-blue; rather, they were this eerie type of dark blue that made you wonder what was underneath.  Not many people, either, but instead lizards and mountain goats, who often found themselves beside our car.  Although the heat was unbearable, it was enlightening to see another side of Aruba, a side that is rarely publicized, that shows the stark contrast between the various areas of the island.

On our last full day, we decided to be true tourists and laze around by the beach.  I curled up beneath a beach umbrella and flipped through The Da Vinci Code while sipping a virgin daiquiri and listening to the water slosh around.  If only I could make a career out of this.  I managed to avoid the sun, but still ended up with a tan, much to my dismay.  Oh woes.

I am at a point where I love to explore as much as my parents, which makes for exciting, although often stressful, vacations.  Even more, I feel as if I’m beginning to appreciate my time with them more; it’s slowly waning away.  A year and a half from now, I will be in college, and though it seems like this magnificent world, I don’t know how I’ll adjust to being away from my family.  For this reason, our adventures in Aruba seemed special, and we felt more cohesive than we ever have before.  With them, I have already toured about 20 countries—they have instilled this passion for the world in me.  And with that, I will hopefully carry on to visit many more throughout the rest of my life.

I have gone through four books this break, with only two of them being slightly trashy, guilty-pleasure reads.  I’m just finishing up Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay, which tells the story of a young girl during the Holocaust and her connection to a woman in Paris in 2002.  A fantastic read.  It all reminds me of Anne Frank, and is equally heart-wrenching.  To have lived in that time is bad enough, but to have lived and survived through it seems worse, in my opinion.  In the book, there are many elderly folks who are haunted by the memories from 60 years before, who remember every moment, every breath, every feeling.  It breaks my heart.

On the plane ride home, I watched Argo, which, I believe, deserved every single Oscar it received.  It was incredible.  From Ben Affleck’s sincerity to the constantly moving plot to the beautifully written story, it kept me at the edge of my seat for every minute.  To think that the movie arose from a true story is both horrific and unbelievable.  Watch it before you watch anything else!  As you know, I am in love with Les Miserables: I have posted endless tweets and written endless cheesy posts about it.  But after watching Argo, I truly believe it deserved Best Picture over Les Mis.  And that’s a lot coming from a die-hard Les Mis fan.

And so I’m back in good old Vermont.  This might possibly be the one time in my life that I have not been too pleased about coming home.  Yet, I’ve come back in a fresher state of mind.  This break was needed.  I’m not quite ready to go back to my regular schedule, to write essays and work at the lab and practice my violin; part of me is still in Aruba.  I need just a few more days to recover.  I have done absolutely nothing tonight, except for pathetically revisiting my photos and listening to sappy Broadway showtunes (Godspell, anyone?).  I think I’m diagnosing myself with post-vacation depression.

Here’s to a (hopefully) cheery Thursday and Friday.

-B

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It feels like I have escaped to a whole new world here in Aruba, where the only cause of stress arises from having too much sand in my shoes or being overstuffed or having a lizard crawl over me. It is this idyllic place that seems to exist only in postcards. Granted, I’ve traveled to a lot of exotic places–Hawaii, St. Croix, Key West, Mexico–but Aruba is the type of paradise I have always dreamed of. I think I like it better than Hawaii. The waters are crystal blue, and the horizon is always a picturesque scene with sailboats drifting by and the sun setting at dawn. Iguanas meander between the palm trees, which has been one of the more frightening aspects of the trip, but nonetheless exciting. The first night here, we dined on the beach under a straw umbrella for two hours and just basked in the peacefulness of it all—the waters, the wind, the isolation. But yesterday was when the true adventure began.

We started the day off yesterday with a diving lesson in the hotel swimming pool, under the watch of an increasingly large audience and a Dutch instructor. And although we looked like fools, it was amazing even in the swimming pool. Once I became used to the complex equipment, everything under the water seemed to change—the pool seemed so vast, and the sun glimmered from above the surface, which seemed so far. A few hours into the training, our instructor took us out to the middle of the ocean, where we would go deep sea diving. I have an immense fear of the open ocean: I fear its infiniteness, its serenity, its mysteriousness. As we came to a stop in the middle of the open waters, with Aruba as a speck in the distance, I couldn’t help but worry. The instructor had us carry our own tanks on our backs, which left me in a state of near cardiac arrest. Once he was ready for us to jump into the water, he asked us to stand at the edge of the boat, stare into the horizon, and walk into the water—literally walk. Standing at the edge of the boat, with nothing but the sound of the water and the instructor encouraging me, I felt as if my life flashed in front of me. I realize this sounds dramatic, but every fear I had appeared at that moment. Staring out into the horizon to avoid the drop into the water, I thought of every courageous featin my life. I had two choices ahead of me: to back out and regret it forever, or jump and deal with it. I’m so glad I chose the latter. Perhaps I should make more important decisions in the middle of the ocean. Once in the water, the waves washed me up and down, leaving my with a queasy stomach and even greater uncertainty about the entire situation. My mom decided diving wasn’t her thing and stayed on the boat (which is ironic because she’s the swimmer in the family) and my dad began to have problems with his equipment. As my instructor led me even further into the water, I realized it would be just me. And this was frightening. I am not a brave person. I fear everything, which is evident from my constant stress. But once I opened my eyes below the water, everything changed. It was a new world—magical. The first reaction that came to mind was the impeccable resemblance to Finding Nemo. It felt like an intricate 3D movie. At first, I struggled to breathe, having to constantly remind my lungs to keep going, and the pressure changes left my ears popping in and out. But once everything cleared up, it felt as if nothing in the world mattered except for the moments ahead of me. It was all awe-inspiring, traveling through the water with graceful movements, hearing only the sound of the bubbles rising and your heartbeat, becoming a stranger in a fascinating world. My instructor took me to the sight of a shipwreck: an oil rig that was shot down by a U-Boat in WWI. The first thing that took my breath away was literally seeing history ahead of me. WWI is an event I have read about extensively: the U-Boats, the Dutch-German conflict, etc. But seeing the results of the historical and bloody past brought life to words in a textbook. The second thing that took my breath away was the diversity of the life under water. From shore, we see blue waters, but below, there exists a broad range of species, from sparkling and rainbow fish to slithering eels to synchronized schools of fish. The one time I decided to look up, it suddenly struck me that I was actually under water, and had been for over 30 min. From a world where humans are superior, I had been taken to a world where I became merely a speechless observer. And the best part is, while diving, I was living in the moment. I was solely focused on my breathing and the life around me. For those 35 minutes, everything above the surface became insignificant. And that was a fantastic feeling.

When I finally came out of the water, my mom hugged me and asked, “Since when have you become so brave?”. Thanks Ma. But truthfully, she’s right. I have surprised myself. As a result, I’m in this content state, which, I suppose, arises from having no regrets. I should use this philosophy in life more. I would do anything right now to be back there, to be surrounded by blue and the silence. It’s all so cathartic. In Aruba, diving certification requires 2.5 days of training, and I’m just imagining how incredible it would be to become certified, to be able to dive wherever. Possible addition to the bucket list?

In the evening, we celebrated by going out for Brazilian, which is both a meat lover’s dream and a vegetarian’s nightmare. Since I’m right in between, the 15 different meats offered were too much—I went through six, and that was enough for me. Although, I was a bit disappointed with myself because I was convinced I had a bigger appetite than that. The unique thing about Brazilian food is the service. Servers come around with skewers to your table with various meats, there’s an extensive food bar, and you can eat all you want. It’s any foodie’s dream. Most amusing was our server, a hyper Spanish man who referred to the end of our meal as our “surrender.” I’d say I like Brazilian, but maybe only once in a while.

So it’s been a good vacation thus far. We spent today shopping and exploring various parts of the island. Our resort is always booming with live music, Caribbean renditions of classic songs. I have also had the great pleasure of reading three books during this vacation already (with more to come). Reality will be like a slap on the face when school starts Wednesday. But hey, I’m only half way through with this trip! Tomorrow, we’re driving around the island, and pool hopping within the resort. I hope to fit in parasailing sometime within the next two days, but I think I’m feeling spontaneous, so we’ll see. I hope you’re having a wonderful vacation, wherever you may be!

-B

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