The Magic Spell To Conversations

It pains me to know that while I was ardently taught the art of oration for years and years in school and university, the art of conversation was left way behind. Perhaps it was the omnipresence of the action, the idea that we conversed every day that made it too mundane to be considered a skill to be taught or most importantly a skill that can be learnt. Back in school I looked longingly at my friends who got on the podium to deliver magnificent speeches and today I longingly look at the ones who outmaneuver themselves in the art of conversing.

But maybe all isn’t lost, and for the ones who are a little awkward at conversations like myself, there’s still hope.

For me the most daunting task of starting a conversation is the the ice breaker.

What do I say?

“Hi, I’m Alfa. And I am fond of cats!”

Great.

Or maybe not so great. What if the other person is allergic to cats! or even worse what if a cat attacked her/his favorite pet mouse a long long time ago! Ah possibilities!

But if the other person also does love cats, then the conversation might be going somewhere. (Phew, thankfully!).

But well, not all conversations begin that way, and cats are not the second thing I blabber about right after my name. I read it somewhere that a conversation is like making a sandwich. You add an ingredient and then slide it over to the other person, the other then adds something and slides it back to you. As long as the sandwich keeps sliding, the conversation continues.

Leaving sandwiches aside, over the past few months, I have noticed an interesting pattern. And yes it has to do with Harry Potter (I’m known to spread the Harry Potter fandom at work, so well). After getting a little comfortable with people, I usually end up asking, “Have you read/watched Harry Potter?” Sometimes I get asked the same question.

You might have guessed, when the answer is a YES, conversing becomes a lot more easier, just like that. I can somehow take a breath of relief. I know I can add in a little Harry Potter reference to the sandwich to keep it sliding and hopefully the sandwich would come sliding back at me. And more often than not, the sandwich has come sliding back, and then forth.

One time I had to sit down next to a person who I barely knew. I wanted to speak and say more than Hi to settle the awkwardness in the air, but I didn’t know what to say. Out of the blue someone in the side chanted the magic words ‘Harry Potter’ and I immediately asked, ‘Do you like Harry Potter by any chance?’ I was really skeptic to be honest.

‘I’ve watched all the films 5 times,’ was the reply. Totally unexpected. Turns out the other person also liked cats, and we ended up talking about Minereva McGonagall and her transfiguration power. (Spoiler for muggles: McGonagall can transform herself into a cat.)

And just like that a difficult silence turned into an interesting evening of conversations.

Last week I met a few juniors at a program and we sat down after the event for dinner. Being the older one, it was on me to initiate the conversation. I asked them what they liked and three of them said books. Dan Brown was a favorite among them. One was reading Sapiens. We talked about The Da Vinci Code for a while and then I asked about Harry Potter. The girl who was sitting to my left happened to be a big fan. ‘I absolutely love Snape,’ she said. I could sense that she had resented this particular character for a long time before coming to realize his role in the books.

We even had a harmless giggle when we noticed someone in the crowd who we both thought resembled Draco Malfoy (a character from the books). (No harm intended to the person in the crowd!). (I myself was dressed in a long robe, looking like a witch!). The air was already relaxed and I could breathe and continue naturally.

A big chunk of ice breaker had been eased by a literary masterpiece. No wonder they call Harry Potter a work that has touched generations. I am well aware that this does not work all the time. But then again, there’s probably nothing that works all the time.

I have slowly been realizing that these snippets of conversations have been helping me become more confident at initiating and keeping conversations alive. I will eventually have to move out of my comfort zone and into the unknown filled with spontaneity and risk. I hope there will be a day when I will be able to spark a conversation with natural ease even when I do not have magic cues, till then I will have to keep trying to get the magic spell right.

Wingardium Leviosa!

Between the Start and Now

Some of the roads we take 
Some untold ties we make
Take us to places we’ve never seen
To make us the ones we’ve never been. 

August.

Misty air. My alarm rings and I know I am a wee bit nervous, because its my first day at university after getting admitted. I am not exactly home alone, but still home alone. I know I cannot afford to be late. So I keep a buffer margin time of 30 minutes.

Just before breakfast, suddenly a tap explodes. Panic! I don’t know what to do? Shall I just let it be? Find the valve and close it, my mother says over the phone. Where is the valve? Even more importantly, what is the valve?

I know there’s a compartment right over the tiny library by the living room, so I open the   door to the compartment and start closing each one of the valves. Each time I turn one valve, I run down to check if the tap had stopped flowing.

First valve. Second Valve. Third Valve. Finally, the tap stops flowing. I look at my watch, my 30 minute buffer has already been blown! Panic Part Two. I hurriedly have breakfast and catch the first tempo that comes. I can’t be late! I can’t. But it seems like I was. Heavens!

I see a dusty road in front. I guess this must be the stop. I had never taken a tempo to university before today. I get down. Suddenly the view seems different from when I had seen it the last time. NO! THIS CAN’T BE! I could not have taken the wrong tempo. NOT NOW. Panic Part Two and Three Quarters! Thankfully I had just gotten down slightly, actually a lot earlier than my intended bus stop. Phew!

Finally, finally I get there. Not on time. But I get there. I know which valve to close and which stop to get down. The second one particularly, very important.

***

December.

The cold air hits my cheeks. My mother is slightly agitated that I have blown up the 15 minute time buffer all over again. Black robes everywhere. Everyone looks good, surprisingly everyone does in that black robe. May be we all just look funny in our oversized robes and that is why we look good. Or may be we’ve finally made it, and thats why we look good. Whatever be the reason, everyone looks good.

There’s a big commotion going on. Over a thousand students are graduating today. Phones on each hand. It’s a big day, no one wants to miss a single moment. It’s a big day.

And as the start would have some how foretold it, it took me a little longer than expected to reach the moment.

***

Faces that seemed strange 1095 days ago have filled my phones and I have filled theirs. Our caps are flying left and right. And words fall short to describe what came between the start and now. I would not dare call it the end, I’d just call it ‘Now’. The Start and Now.

Its like a jigsaw puzzle, it is almost impossible to predict the final outcome without having all the pieces placed. So, lets just keep on adding the pieces one after another.

I wish you luck, love and happiness my friends. When we meet again, it shall be a new space and a new time. And still it will be now.

The now that keeps on expanding. The now that never ends.

Everything between the Start and Now.

This journey’s gonna end someday
But you’ll find footsteps on every way
That lead you to me
Lead me to you
Lead us to the ones we used to be, 
Lead me to you
Lead you to me
Lead us to the ones we used to be. 


Photograph: Class of 2017, with many many people missing, in front of the main building of our Alma Mater. 

The Festival of Reminiscence

“What does a rhombus look like?” the teacher asked. 

“A Kite!” the students replied unanimously. 

A rhombus in our heads was always represented by a kite. And a kite, was and will always be about Dashain, one of the most important festivals of Nepal and Hindu devotees around the world.

I have been trying to remember what is it about this festival that I absolutely adored as a kid.

Perhaps it was the month long holiday (which is now only being cut shorter and shorter as we step into adulthood!), or perhaps about the cramped shopping with my mother and aunts. May be it was about meeting my cousins after a long summer at school, flaunting our new dresses and making plans weeks before on what we would do the day we finally meet. May be it was the kite flying tradition at the last moment that we always lost, because some other neighbor always had sharper and stronger thread. Or perhaps it was the amusing game of cards that the adults played as we counted the number of years when we would be able to join along.

We learnt about cards in probability or probability in cards. Whatever it was, it was certainly worth the wait.

A big part of the festival was always about my cousins. Some of us have moved abroad, some of us in the city are studying and busy chasing our respective lives, others- the younger ones, the new generation is growing up and living the times we once lived. Some of us have joined the cards table, borrowing a couple of hundreds from our parents to marvel at the game while it lasts. The younger ones are demanding kite traditions and traditional clothes, moving their tiny heads away from their iPads and tablets.

Lately I have been talking about how Dashain is no longer the same. But may be I’ve forgotten that it was not supposed to stay the same. Or perhaps it has remained the same and I have changed, as I was supposed to.

As I returned back home a single kite flew past the crescent moon. The air does not feel like it used to, and the skies are not that colorful anymore. 

As I watch from the observer’s seat, the child like excitement may have faded away, but a new set of perspectives are on the rise. For each year, it means a different thing. For each set of transitionary period, it represents a new angle of life. The memories that were still remain. And they are not essentially just about the time that was, but also for the time that is and that will be.

As Corrie Ten Boom would say:

Memories are the key not to the past, but to the future.

It was simple. And it still is.

Behold the time has come and gone in a flash, what have you seen? What you have seen is all that counts.

Wishing everyone celebrating a prosperous, lively and meaningful Vijaya Dashami. May this festival bring you closer to what you’ve been looking for.

Best Wishes,

Alfa

30 Minutes of Traveling: The Longer Route Home

30-minutes-of-traveling-the-lounger-route-home-1

What is the feeling between sadness and happiness called? On a balancing scale when you stand right in between of the two, not moving an inch to the left or the right. It’s like an empty feeling of odd satisfaction creeping inside, and you place yourself at the center of the cosmos, in full control.

I get down of the broken tempo which stopped after a few minutes. Its broken, the driver announced. For some unknown reasons I was ready to stay there, watching the passengers get down, one after another. I get off eventually. As I walk back, a few drops of rain hits the ground, filling the air with the smell of wet earth.

I take the longer route home.

It was suddenly cold. I was dressed for snow. But it doesn’t snow in Kathmandu. May be it is a good thing, or else we’d freeze during our sleep without heating. You can’t have the snow without the cold, or can you?

I am still warm and fuzzy with my big oversized jacket so I get onto another tempo, almost half empty but just perfect to place my belongings on the seat.

The abstract thought takes over my mind again. It is getting colder. Two young girls in front of me are shivering. But they are young, and the cold doesn’t bother them much. The air flow is almost perfect, enough to carry the smell of rain. I am still warm, and the ride seems magical, the roads seem different.

The first rain of winter that brings me the smell of wet earth. The feeling of absolute void comes back again, while I think of the hot chocolate I will make in the evening as I continue traveling into Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo. I think of the greetings I need to email.

January 2 is still new year. 364 days ahead is still new year.

But there is a screen dividing these two line of thoughts. The absolute void exists in its own while everything else is playing by its side, unaffected of each other.

I still think it is the weather.