An Ode to The Last Chapters of Textbooks That I Never Read

By Rushali Thacker

Recognizing Perfectionist Traits

The earliest signs of perfectionism that I recall take me back to my school days. For me, diving into a subject meant starting from scratch, and that might otherwise be considered a good thing if I was researching or something, but maybe not so much when preparing for exams. It meant I had to start from the Introduction chapter, which usually had the lowest weightage for any exam. Doesn’t seem crazy enough? Well, I had to do it even when I was picking up the book for the first time just a day before the exam. And it goes without saying that if I was reading the Introduction, I had never have gone through the other chapters. With this stringent reading habit added to my slow reading speed, I’d barely make it to the last chapter of any academic textbook.

All I did with it was depriving myself of the satisfaction of having done my best. It always, always felt like I could have done more. Which should not, in any way, seem like an inspiration to anyone, let alone a perfectionist like me. I have been utterly dissatisfied with my efforts over the years because of the unrealistic expectations I set for myself. And to have had the satisfaction that I did my best for the two decades of my life, I probably would need one more to give my very best efforts to feel that I didn’t in any way get more than I deserved. But this video by The School of Life tells why this is just a pretty illusion by putting forth an important question, “What is so imperfect about perfectionism?”. To which they say that perfectionism isn’t driven by the desire to do the perfect work, but to feel less awful about oneself.

For most of my life, my mind has attempted to work ideally in the real world. Even though I obviously believe that an ideal way of existence is not possible, in reality, I find my efforts directed towards it. So, all I have been doing is building a house of disappointments for myself and hoping to find shelter underneath it.

The two things that I love doing the most—reading and writing—are burdened with this perfectionism. When I read a book, I have to read it from the top left corner of the front cover to the bottom right corner of the back cover. Every word or non-word has to be registered in my mind. I’d go through the publication details, the ISBN and other such things which normally would be skipped by a reader. Only then did I feel I had read the book completely.

With writing, sometimes before beginning a piece, I have a near-perfect impression of it in my mind. I fantasize about the idea of it so much that when it’s finally on paper; it feels like a failure. Then I’d keep postponing working on it until I knew I could make it perfect, which is never. And that’s the reason I have more unfinished pieces than finished ones. Even though I put no effort each day of my life to get to those pieces, I keep telling myself this pretty lie that someday I will. Reading anything I wrote a few months back makes me cringe. If I would ever get myself to work on an old piece, I’d probably discard it.

The Non-Perfectionist Side 

There are most certainly parts of me where I do not fixate on perfectionism. I’ll tell you about the one that first comes to mind—cooking. I am a haphazard and unsophisticated cook. I guess it’s not tainted with perfectionist traits because I am simply amazed, that I can cook something. I expect nothing more from that.

Discouraging the Perfectionist

I’ve been tweeting a lot these days, for two apparent reasons—I know I cannot edit it once it’s out there (no, deleting and tweeting it again is not an option) and that it’s nothing but a lie when I say those one-liners could have found a home in a perfect essay or poem someday. Because guess what? I haven’t used a single one of those here. And again, I do not want to burden my essay on perfectionism to be perfect!

Perfectionists often tend to feel that if they cannot give their best to something, they’d rather not rather do it. I battle with that thought daily. It is unrealistic and almost disturbing to expect only the best from myself, always. The best does not translate to flawless. And that doing my best isn’t supposed to come in my way of DOING IT.

One quote that I hold on for dear life from Roy’s, The God of Small Things, “That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.” My desire to not be careless with my words has somehow turned into an unhealthy projection of this desire on the people around me. I absolutely adore this quote, but I need to tell myself what this line does not mean…

  1. to put undue pressure on me (or others) to never even mistakenly let out a careless word.
  2. that a careless word can never be remedied. (Depending on the circumstances, careful words can sometimes remedy careless words.)
  3. people cannot love once careless words are spoken. (Despite these careless words, I will love people and people will love me.)

It has never been about not making a mistake, but about how we deal with it.

Now, I have arranged the books on my bookshelf in a colour-coded manner. I am not very good at it (as you can see), but in my mind, the Agatha Christie (first from the right) doesn’t at least go after the pink Jane Austen (second from the right). My sister, blessedly devoid of these whims of perfectionism, placed it here and, obviously, I noticed it. But I do not feel the urge to replace it. I guess that’s some progress?

Let’s hope I read the last chapters first, from academic texts someday and give up on reading ISBNs of books.

Bio: Rushali Thacker (she/her) claims to have her unwavering love for sunsets, ice cream, and mountains. She is paving her way through the uncertainties of life by listening intently and, well, trying not to be a perfectionist.


Illumination – A review of an ode

Collaborative efforts of Yashika Doshi and Neeraja Srinivasan

Illumination’ is a 20-minute film shot in the style of a personal documentary. The movie revolves around the life of a notable Indian English poet, Kiriti Sengupta. The prominent themes of the movie as a whole are those of spirituality, philosophy, and contemplation which leave you with a sense of tranquillity. After my first watch, the short film reminded me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing as a result of its simple, homely nature and focus on a strong Bengali narrative.  When I finished watching this ode, my initial thoughts were to step back for a minute and think about this line towards the end, “I speak when I write prose, and I read when I write poems.” This is one of those rare times where I felt that I’ll have a new perspective each time I read it again.

And such is the work of Mr. Sengupta – make one pause, step back and introspect. His written work seems to be a reflection of his own characteristics. Both he and his poetry have a peaceful presence. A poet, editor, publisher, translator, curator of a literary festival, he dons many hats and is as skilled as any lover of words can get. To think that a dentist by profession, and with no formal training in writing neither prose nor poetry, his story is inspiring to all. A lesson that I took away from the video is the idea that poetry is subjective. It is a comforting thought since poetry is often perceived as good or bad. Poetry is a language, one that is unique to each individual and molded according to their emotions and experiences. It is a tool that leaves its imprints on people, always leaving us craving for more.

Some of my personal favorite lines from his books are – “The tiny particles scattered in the air absorb the sunlight; they seem to be delighted and drone the song of liberation”; “India meditates across the map, guided or otherwise, sometimes endorsing a pair of faded jeans”; “How many hues have you envisaged so far? I ask about the hues but not your bizarre way of depicting them.” His poetry can be described as Ruskin Bond-esque, the kind that is best accompanied with a cup of hot chai on a rainy day. This film is the perfect watch when you’re looking to relax a bit and take a step back from a mundane, daily routine. It encourages one to keep pursuing their passion because things will always work out if you work hard and stay humble. It could also serve as the perfect classroom film for students studying creative writing or regional literature as it provides them with an insight into the artistic process and headspace of a writer.  

The documentary, in itself, is beautifully made, as it takes the audience on a calming journey through Mr. Sengupta’s inspirations, published work, and literary associations. His son and wife provide personal tributes as the former narrates his poem and his wife shares titbits about the couple’s pre-poetry days. Personally, I also found it quite peculiar that Mr. Sengupta’s entire life was encapsulated within a mere 20 minutes. It helped me gain some perspective and taught me that focusing on the grander scheme of things, rather than brooding over the little details is essential to stay level-headed.  I could not help but wonder if there are certain decisions that Mr. Sengupta looked back on and wished he did something differently or if he’s thankful that a culmination of these decisions, good or bad, brought him to where he is now. 

The use of natural elements like fading trees, the charming evening sky, the usage of warm, calming tones such as yellow and green, and the soothing Indian classical tunes in the background only add on the alluring effect of Mr. Sengupta recites his pieces of work and once again, leaves the viewer wanting for more.

India’s poets are often sidelined in history since our society treats the arts as an unworthy occupation. This tribute is not only a lovely gesture but also a step towards helping understand the fact that poetry isn’t just an occupation to writers such as Mr. Sengupta, it is survival. As his wife mentions, even when it seemed like their life was crumbling around them, he continued to scribble pieces of poetry on his computer. It most certainly seems like poetry to him, is salvation.

On Reading Kafka’s Diaries Before and After Pandemic

By Aashna Nagpal

I remember this exact moment. I was on the terrace, lying down to soak the winter sun on a mattress. I was reading Franz Kafka’s Diaries: 1910-1923 while a Ray LaMontagne song played in the background. One of my little quirks is that I need to listen to a song playing on a loop while I am reading a book or I get distracted by my own thoughts. Both the book by Kafka and the song playing had so much to do with the emptiness of life, yet in that moment I felt so full. Full of calm. Full of hope. It sounds Romantic but it wasn’t. I felt so full because of the simplicity of that moment, realising how little I needed to feel that way. It was an uncomplicated feeling and yet it evades language.

Only a few weeks later, the sun became too much, a deadly riot took place in my city and my college was shut down because of the pandemic. That feeling stopped feeling simple anymore. It felt distant, a thick veil of fog kept it out of my reach. Unable to read anything new because I felt so overwhelmed, I searched for comfort in the familiar. I decided to read Kafka’s diaries on my phone again. Unexpectedly, it felt like I was reading a completely different book. The bleakness of a single month transformed the way in which I perceived Kafka’s diaries. Kafka’s iterations of his loneliness, his frustrations, his anxieties and his oddities came across in a completely different way. Sentences that I didn’t even register in my first reading stood out now, louder than any song playing in the background.

If I was asked to tell a single thematic concern of all of Kafka’s writings, I have to say estrangement. Several months after 2020 has ended, several of us are still trying to process the events of the year. The estrangement is multidimensional- estrangement from the people we used to meet everyday, from the world which we used to experience and the worst of all, estrangement from ourselves. Kafka writes, “ A segment has been cut out of the back of his head. The sun looks in and the whole world with it. It makes him nervous, it distracts him from his work, and moreover it irritates him that he should be the very one excluded from the spectacle.” Shut within four walls and stewing in our thoughts, having no option but to confront things we successfully evaded before the pandemic. I feel these words scratch and gnaw my insides as I attempt to digest them.

After having been in the pandemic for more than a year and a half now, having gone through the traumatic second wave where I and my family got infected, I am sure that if I read Kafka’s Diaries again for the third time — it will be unlike either of my previous readings. I will hold off on that though, I am carrying enough scratchy words under my skin for now.

A Note on Distorted Perceptions

By Aashna Nagpal

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way water distorts everything when we look through it. Pristine, clear water scrambles straight lines into deep curves and breaks the continuity of an object into unaligned fragments. This got me thinking how much do we distort when we perceive the world, even with a supposedly clear state of mind.

We also know that color isn’t inherent to an object, that it absorbs some part of the light and reflects the rest. What it reflects is then translated into what we perceive as a certain color depending on how it interacts with our eyes and brain. We don’t even perceive the colors in the same way- what appears red to me could appear orange to someone else. Neither of them is wrong when they argue that the object is definitively red and orange. 

Perception changes from person to person, even from time to time. To someone, clouds can seem like explosions happening in slow motion in the atmosphere and flowers can be seeds bursting at snail’s pace. I once read somewhere that since our perception of reality is constructed through the five senses, there could be so much around us that we are incapable of perceiving because we lack the sense to perceive it.

In the Ptolemaic system, the Medieval man would look at the farthest stars in the sky and believe that he was looking at the edge of the universe. Before Galileo, just because it seemed like the sun travels across the sky, the Church was insistent on believing that the sun revolves around the earth. The Little Prince believed the flower on his planet was one of a kind in the universe. What represents Hamlet’s father’s ghost will differ from reader to reader. 

In the times we live in, when most people state their opinions as if they were facts, it’s worth reflecting on the ignorance of people who fail to notice how much gets distorted when we perceive things. We are limited most by our own perceptions and confusing them for the truth. We often believe with all our hearts that our inner and outer turmoils are unique to us, that no one before us has felt a particular emotion with that intensity; that our predicament, our ennui, our thoughts begin and end with us. Our ego fools us and we can spend all our lives in this illusion. While we all may perceive things differently, we’re all the same in essence, with essentially the same restlessness. Past our differing perceptions, we all just want to feel heard- which is why I think people shout their perceptions at the top of their voices these days. This similar loneliness in all of us might make us a little less lonely if we perceive it differently: if everyone is lonely at the end of the day, maybe no one really is, maybe we’re just supposed to feel this way, maybe this is the cost we pay for being able to think and feel and love.

Reclaiming my orgasm?

by Shubhangi Thakur

I think I was really young when I first saw a man masturbating in broad daylight. Young enough to not know what he was doing. The visuals were disturbing just like every unsolicited dick picture that slides into my DMs but I moved on. However, I can’t put my finger on a moment when I actually learned about it or when someone sat down to tell me about it. But I do recall the feelings of guilt I associated with the act of masturbation initially. It stemmed from this really big sense that it was maybe something I wasn’t allowed to do or definitely something people shouldn’t know about me. 

I think I’ve been a late bloomer in terms of masturbating, thanks to zero sex education and poor sexual curiosity. (I also very strongly feel that sex education is more than just using condoms for sex)

It was when one of my female friends casually brought it up in conversation and “I was too shy to admit I had never done it” that got me thinking down the spiral of owning my self-pleasure. 

I wish the idea of masturbating wasn’t so taboo for us women and I had explored my self-pleasure earlier. Oddly enough, it took a boy to tell me that women could masturbate, and then Google to tell me how. 

Why are we so coy about self-pleasure? Why is self-pleasure relegated to an innate sense of shame and embarrassment, or horror?

 I never had an open conversation about masturbation in school and it kind of bothers me in retrospect about the conversational limit that we women put on ourselves and our sexuality. It was largely and liberally related to corny jokes among boys.  No wonder there is still a glaring discrepancy in the way male and female masturbation is cited in mainstream conversation today. 

Even to this day, it’s uncanny how my female friends would be open to confessing about masturbating in one on one conversations with me but somehow the openness of talking about it in a group seemed uncouth or simply not worthy enough. The secrecy around masturbating and female pleasure is something that revolves around a lot of female friend groups. It’s the sanctimonious characteristics that we attach to being a “girl” that associate female pleasure to moral transgression. It sets the tone for the character assassination of a woman who’s self-assured of her sexuality and is able to talk about it without any apprehensions.

Masturbation is always critiqued with an air of deep-rooted misogyny in which a woman who plucks up the courage to touch and pleasure herself is deemed and labelled as very unladylike and inviting labels to be called ‘ slut or a whore’ 

Breaking the cultural conditioning and the stigma attached to female masturbation is exactly what we need to do to help the young girls stumbling out of their puberty who are mortified of touching themselves because of futile societal threats.

There is always an extreme abashment attributed to something as natural as sexual desire and pleasure, which for us Indian women is just limited to a social obligation of procreation. We are persistently taught to think of ourselves as objects of sexual pleasure rather than delegates of it.

I fail to understand how female masturbation can arouse any moral panic in our society — It isn’t shameful to want to learn and explore our own bodies. The moral panic very well delineates the patriarchal roots that frame the need to curb female desire. Is taming us into sexual austerity just another way to control us?

 I feel the most intimate relationship is the one you have with your body and it’s very important to know what you like and how you like it otherwise you’ll be dependent on your partner to figure it out, which isn’t fair, to be honest. 

Taking control of my sexual pleasure makes me feel empowered.  Gaining control makes me feel complete — I don’t depend on anyone else to achieve an orgasm. Whether or not you have a sexual partner, your orgasms are always important for your sense of self. 

Trust me, ladies, you have to take your pleasure into your own hands. 

I’m not here to tell you how healthy masturbation is, google can do that. I’m here to tell you it makes me feel empowered and it is something you can and you should talk about in a room full of people.