Lamentations of a Peripatetic life.

Residential address. Mailing address. Why?

I don’t have any. Rather, I have had too many and none for too long. I have lived a peripatetic life for the past 6 years. I have worked for 1 company for nearly 11 years now but have travelled several places doing work for this company, and I have stayed for anywhere between one year and three years in every new town, city, country I have been to. While this lifestyle comes to envy of many and sometimes surprisingly to my own delight, not all is so upbeat about it. I face several challenges that a settled bloke will have slightest inkling of. And I would envy him for this.

The most challenging aspect of my life has been seeking renewal of bank cards from a new address and answering the security question “What’s your mailing address?” It could be any of the addresses I had had in that city where I first applied for the card or where I got it renewed first.

For example, when living in Brisbane, I moved homes a couple of times in a span of 3 years. That is not much, is that? Well, consider that I bank with a financial institution there, and after leaving the city for good, I had given a mate’s address as a “C/o” so that he could receive my first renewal card and so that I could take it from him when I met him next. I managed to get my first renewal.

Three years later, when it was time for a second renewal card, I called up the bank to mail it to my new address; I couldn’t remember what address they had in their system. It wasn’t the “C/o” address apparently but rather one of my earlier two addresses I had stayed in. So, I had to have a go at each one and implore the officer on phone to accept that if one of addresses I utter match their records then he must authenticate me successfully and process my request. Of course, they have been kind enough to accept my case as a special case, which is why I still bank with them.

 

A few days ago, I returned to Tasmania for some time off from work. I chose to live with a friend rather than rent at a YHA or a B&B. I thought of applying for a conversion of my International driving license. I hold two international driving licenses and neither of them are Australian, unfortunately.

At the office of motor vehicle licenses, I was asked to produce a current address proof that was resident in Tasmania. I said I was moving homes, and that I was staying with a friend in the meanwhile. I was sent back to get a letter from my friend stating that he is the owner of the address where I was staying and that he had permitted my staying with him for a short period until I found a place of my own.

The office allowed me to take the driver’s knowledge test only after I produced this letter, signed by this benevolent friend of mine. I got that letter the same day after making my friend pull up under a No Parking sign on a busy street in Hobart and sign on a handwritten note addressed to the office of motor vehicle licensing.

 

The other problem I often face as a consequence of my work-style is servicing my ties with my home country. I have investments there –a time deposit account, a recurring deposit account, a government provident fund. Nothing big. Some pittance here and some pittance there which I had started before I begun travelling for work. If I must call up any of the institutions to either renew, redeem or change any instruction, then I am always directed to a method that requires a two-factor authentication over my mobile phone. And of course, mobile phone! The number I had provided several years ago was a number resident in my home country. First, I don’t remember it. Second, I don’t use it anymore. Third, it may be out of service or recycled for another user. If I do initiate any service on my investments, then a one-time password will be sent to that number, and I would simply state at my computer screen helpless.

Every visit home – which happens once an year, fortunately, – is always booked with hurried and repeated visits to the banks and agencies to show to them that I am alive, still.

I crave for means by which I can authenticate myself by “who I am”, rather than “what I know” or “what I have”. Isn’t that the most secured means anyway? But to consolidate all my official records across countries I have worked in with a one-touch sign on – it can only be dreamt of.

 

A fourth worry – and of course not the last of my helplessness against global officialdom but definitely the last one in this whinge essay – is that of filing tax returns in my home country and the adopted country. Due to the complex nature of a complex split pay arrangement with my employer, I must continue to file tax returns in the two countries, both of which follow different tax years. But I wonder why complain about this because it was a lot worse a couple of years ago for three straight years, when I was posted in Fiji. During those years, I had to file tax returns in three different countries, and to make matters worse, Fiji followed a different tax year compared to the other two.

Minimal Life

6 years of travelling for corporate work. All I possess today in terms of “material things”  I need to carry with me are 1 big suitcase, 1 backpack, 1 toiletry bag. I have had too many homes in the last 6 years, or some may say no home at all. But I have earned experiences and deep connection with several friends to last me this lifetime.

I have lived and worked in Australia and Fiji. In every town or city I have been in, I have stayed put for anywhere between one and half years to three years. Just when things started getting too comfortable, started feeling like home, I moved. I had to more because of work commitments.

I have learned to let go off many things by living in this style, and I have learned to stop buying what the society tells me I ought to have. I don’t buy something if I don’t need it. I don’t buy something if it won’t fit in my suitcase or backpack. This peripatetic life has made a minimalist. That’s what I am.

I bought my first laptop at 33 just a couple of weeks ago, and I am writing on that now. The smartphone I own is only my second smartphone in 9 years since they came about. I have used public transport, and hitch-hiked but never bought a car.  I have not bought a television all my life – and I don’t think I will need one when so much can be viewed on my phone or laptop.

I was in the habit of buying too many books – more books that I can read. I sold them all. Today I have no book. But I have a Kindle. Doesn’t feel the same as reading from a book but it rids me of the problem of having to lug them around when I move places.

I buy something only when I need it and when there are no sounds of an inner voice asking if I need that thing at all. I don’t let advertisements and web cookies create a urge in me for owning something that I don’t have. I always sell off or donate what I think I will not use. Reducing and Reusing are two important practices most important in this over-choice and abundance.

And I don’t regret this lifestyle. How much does one need? I feel I can do more a lot more with having less with the lifestyle I have chosen. I carry my home with me every time I travel. Where is home? I ask myself. Home is where I become myself. But then I become myself in every new place I come to. It takes a few weeks to get used to the unfamiliarity, and then that is it. I get to know my way around the place, get to know the local people, get to know where to go for the best local bread, or the best haircut, or cheapest movie tickets.

I have realized that people, more than places, interest me. A place becomes good or bad by the people who live there. If I have liked a place and want to go back there, it is more because I have liked the people there. I have found them friendly and welcoming. I find a drab shop serving snacks and tea with a smile and welcoming attitude more appealing that a plush cafe with unfriendly staff.

I am keen to continue this way of life. Even when I stop travelling for work and start living in one place for long and have a home, I will want my home to be small. How small? I don’t mean a cabin. I don’t mean slumming inside a cupboard. But no lavish or underutilized spaces. I don’t need that extra-large living room where I may hardly spend any time – a living room that is big creates the urge to fill it with things you don’t need – a large TV, a table for that TV, a large couch, a book-shelf, a mini-bar, it won’t end…And my bedroom just needs to be large enough to keep a bed and let me sleep peacefully. I only need enough space to maximize living with minimal possessions.

City Sightings

I dislike big cities. They make me feel powerless. The commute to a big city in a train is just as unappealing and hollow as big cities themselves are. As a kid, I was charmed by the sight of trains. But no longer. A typical commuter in a city bound train screams out his detachment from other commuters. He doesn’t speak much. His neck is constantly angled down with unblinking eyes fixated on the screen of his handheld device; his ears are shut from the worldly sounds with headphones; his thumb and forefinger are in a constant foreplay with pleasures of digital decadence. He abhors being rubbed or touched or stepped on accidentally. He speaks only when spoken to. People offer perfunctory whispers of greetings to one another. Everyone is preparing for their first few morning hours at work.

As soon as I come out of the railway station, I feel I am being watched and judged. The air smells of impatience. The tall sentries of any big city – the ugly skyscrapers – have an air of forced superiority about them. They stare down at me, every single morning. No matter how beautiful the day is, they mask the warmth of the Sun from reaching me. The numerous black tinted windows on them whisper to me dark stories of what happens inside them. Often, they tell me of the dog-eat-dog competition and scheming plans happening inside.

A typical morning scene in my walk to work – and no two mornings are any different from one another –  in a big city appals me. Men and women are seen dressed in fine business attire but they wear no smile on their face. Busy junctions suddenly burst with a swarm of walk-fast-look-worried commuters. At a corner, a lady smokes pensively as she stands with her back arched against a building wall and stares down with disdain at the stained pavement. She lets out a bronchial cough sometimes that is heard on top of the cars going past me. A little later, at the traffic lights, a stout lady trots with great difficulty while holding a takeaway coffee cup in one hand, and she tries hard not to spill the coffee as she makes it to the other end before the lights turn green. Oodles of busy coffee shops line city streets, and several of them display an ugly motif of loyalty cards stuck to their walls or roofs with shapeless, lumps of blue-tack.

And then I am standing at the traffic lights one block away from my work building. Like any other skyscraper around it, this one too is a tall, dark, and unattractive building. It has a glass façade as most of them do. If anything, it appears to be a neatly stacked display of matchboxes. Any two windows the same. Any two levels the same. As I wait for the pedestrian lights to turn green, I try to spot my floor. But I can’t as all levels look the same. So, I count the levels from bottom up. One, two, three, four, five, six–, I fixate my eyes on counting the levels, and even before I can count to the floor I work on, I feel people stirring past me. The pedestrian lights are already green. I cross the road and enter my building through the revolving doors.

The same concierge lady I spotted yesterday – and day before last, and last week –  is in sight, sitting on a high chair facing the people entering through the door. Same uniform. Same expressions. I feel I am reliving yesterday. She gives me a perfunctory smile, the same smile that I got yesterday. I return the smile but I say, ‘Morning, another day in paradise!’ or a mere, ‘Hello’, or sometimes just a nod discreetly expressing, ‘So glad to see you still smiling. How do you do this every day?’

And then the elevator. The door, like most city slickers, are impatient and often try to slam hurriedly. An ugly two-minute silence in the journey to my floor follows. Sometimes that claustrophobic silence inside the elevator is interrupted by someone’s heavy breathing, and sometimes by the slurping from sucking at the end of straw in a cola can. I swivel my eyes and guess who the sounds are from. Often my hungry stomach growls, but its never too loud to be heard.

In the afternoon, I step out for lunch. I like my lunch hour outside. It’s my ‘holy hour’, and I avoid eating in the office pantry. After escaping a couple of over-enthusiastic chuggers who annoyingly and unfailing accost me to donate to a charity, I walk into my favourite restaurant, and it plays a soothing ambient song that strikes a chord with me. Suddenly, I forget the city sounds – the impatient honking of cars and the dinging of trams, the rhythmic sounds of car tyres as one car after another press upon tram tracks and loose-fitting manhole covers.

After lunch, a solitary walk around a block or two before I say hello to the concierge lady who receives me with the same smile. Only fewer people in the elevator this time.

Evening. An air of happiness fills the evening air that follows all the way to home. Work is done. Go home. Buskers on the city streets distract commuters’ attentions to more interesting things – the sound of violin or guitar, or someone singing, or playing a harp, or a pan-flute. Some people standby and record with their phones, while some slide their phones into their pockets and watch with naked eyes. At the station, even the train has a happier look and enters the station merrily, knowing that its time to go home, and away from the city.

 

 

Orwell to the rescue

When life hurls sorrows and failures at me, I often turn to George Orwell to seek solace. In Orwell’s world, I find refuge from the torments of everyday life. He creates a marvelous world in his works – a world that offers me a consolation of sorts.

Orwell’s world – be it that of Winston in ‘1984’, or of Gordon Comstock in ‘Keep the Aspidistra flying’, or about himself in ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’ – carves out a recess lying in which I rest my troubled self, I pause and gaze through the window into a dark world of sorrow, fear, regret, and lamentation that his characters  thrive in. Orwell then appears at this window I am looking at; he offers me a hand and walks me through the sombre world he has created.

He shows me people who have greater worries, people who have not sufficient food to eat or clean water to drink; he shows me the dark alleys of unknown cities that are more unsafe than my own world; he shows me the possibility of existence of a world that is more unfair  than my own.

He offers me a sneak peek at masters who are more tyrant and more unjust then my own; he makes me realize the comfort of own home despite its inadequacies. He makes me thank my good fortune for having a bed that I can crawl onto and upon which I can snuggle under the warmth of my quilt, quite unlike his protagonists who often have to sleep on cold floors with filth around.

He makes me reflect. And then I stop lamenting my own self and my circumstances and feel glad about whatever little I possess in material wealth; he makes me feel less ashamed of myself at my reticence and occasional furtive behaviour.  He makes me feel triumphant even in solitary confinement which I often impose upon myself much to chagrin of my wife.

He makes me want to find him walking upon a street during my aimless wanderings on weekends.

Orwell offers me the assurance of a friend in his own self at times when I wish to divorce myself from social mingling; he assures me that there will always be a table for two – Orwell and I, and there will always be enough wine for two; and, after a hearty chat and enough wine is drunk, Orwell will  drop me back to the comfort of my bed that will keep me warm in the cold night.

My two other writer friends – Greene and Ruskin Bond have been great pals too. But only at times I have found myself happy. Orwell has been a friend in times of distress, always.

The Holy Hour

It’s the holy hour for me – the hour of Sabbath. The lunch hour is the most sought after hour for me when at work. It marks an adjournment of the spasms of work. As it draws close to me, it tells me, ‘Fear not, I am here.’ It reassures me that I can resume functioning again. Not because I am usually famished by then – I do get hunger pangs – but because I get a temporary hiatus from the people I work with, my workstation, my emails and from every other darned aspect of work that makes me hate punching the hours every day.

Unless I am enthusiastically engrossed in some work at home, which is a very rare thing to happen between me and my work as I loathe letting work shape my moods, I am usually out at the time I feel is right – to step out, breathe some fresh air, witness the world that exists outside the four walls of work and the changes that have manifested since I walked into office that morning. I find eating alone very depressing so I usually take a friend out with me but I don’t make it a condition that I must be accompanied always. I prefer to rather be satisfied with my lunch hour in solitude than be kept waiting for a friend who doesn’t happen to share the same thoughts as I do about this precious holy hour.

Stepping out with a preferred companion, who occasionally also happens to be my wife, or even alone has a few amazing effects on me. First, it unclogs my mind and gives me new perspective to my problems. Second, it dusts the cobwebs from the annals of my brain which the drudgery of work keeps unexplored and lets me draw inspiration from my past experiences and achievements. Third, it lets me look upon myself – walking down the street, sipping that coffee at the Bistro; it shows me my own self. Fourth, it tells me that ascent of the day is over, the hump of the day’s working hours has arrived and what remains to come is only the descent towards the day’s end.

I am very protective about my exclusivity over this holy lunch hour. In the past there have been several onslaughts on this hour in the form of business lunches and meetings that would overshoot time and leak into this hour. To shield myself from these, I do not define this hour in my calendar to a particular time. It could be any hour starting at the time when I am best assured I will not become anyone’s immediate need or concern.  But to get out of work, I must, everyday. How else can I tell myself that I am beyond and greater than my work?

Life in a Glass – a metaphor

Memories are like grit – scattered, tiny and part of a larger whole and yet they retain a distinct identity. They are very potent in transcending you through time. Some memories send you into a pleasant reverie, some bring a smile, some make you emotional, some make you cry, some nostalgic and some bring regrets.

And life is like a glass – filled with water, just plain but still water. When you are born, you are a pristine glass of clear, new, fresh water. You are uncomplicated and there no frills to your existence. You are pure and unbridled. You retain a pure identity. WYSIWYA – What You See Is What You Are!

With time, however, experiences and memories adulterate you –  just as grits of dust, particles, pollens, dead insects pollute a glass of water kept still, no matter where the glass is – indoors, outdoors, in the woods, in tropical climate or temperate climates.

The interesting part is you never realise when these impurities and foreign agents enter the glass. All you are allowed to see is that they have entered. When? You can never know and will perhaps never know. When you pause time and again and bring your eyes close to the glass, you see a clear fluid; light travels through it. You’re assured it is pure, and you carry on. But there are sediments, hidden in dregs, waiting to be seen but not just yet.

And then something happens. Something that stirs the water in the glass:  a shake, a tremor, a deliberate stir or vibration or some movements that reveal the purity of the fluid.

The dregs unsettle. Grit rises. You see them floating up from where they laid as passive residents all this while. At this point, the glass of water experiences a phantasmagoria – connecting past events and life to all that is floating about its volume – one memory or grit at a time.

Now, it’s an unsettling experience to know its current composition. For the liquid in the glass, it sure is so! It likes to remain undisturbed. Just as we are most blissful when life is smooth, undisturbed and the road ahead is clear, when we don’t have to strive too hard to see what is coming up next, when we don’t have events that make us look back and ponder about our existence.

The slightest of stir – good or bad, romantic or unromantic, friendly or unfavourable – rekindles our minds and makes us reminisce all that we had then and have not today.

Imagine that you are living a busy life. You wake up in the morning with some struggle, grab a bite on the go for breakfast, commute to work, try to remain positive about the various onslaughts at work, live through meetings, get things done, manage people, call it a day, travel back home and have some private time with yourself or your partner or family. Day in and day out, you have your ups and downs. You challenge yourself. You pat yourself on your back. You admonish yourself. Repeat this for several months. It is mundane and dull. Quite predicable, but it is stable. You have minimal complaints. Of course, you may want that privileged break and that extra dough to travel to an exotic island or picturesque Alpine valleys and take some time off. But you’re looking to the future in this desire. Now, suppose your best friends – from school, or college or university, no matter from where, but the best friends – pay a visit to you. You all lament that you can’t stay together anymore as you could in the past when life was simpler. You plan a holiday together and have two or three days off. In this period, you are switched off from being your usual self. You have exited your mundane spell. You are in a bonhomous trance during this period. Everything is positive. Unbelievably good! This is the stir that is shaking the glass – your life.

And then the friends depart. You’re left alone, back in your old track. You can hear the silence – the void that is clearly shouting out loud about the absence of the jokes, smiles, friendly banters, laughter and voices of your departed friends that filled the air around you just a day ago. As you walk alone, the void follows you, taps you on your shoulder and tells you about the emptiness, and keeps telling you. It won’t shut up for a couple of days. You reminisce not just the most recent memories with them but the old ones too from two or three years or even earlier. You miss them bitterly and wish that you could travel back into the past and relive those memories again. This is grit – the memories – that have risen from the dregs of the glass called life. They are traversing through the volume of your mind and knocking all those sentiment doors.

Few days later, you’re back to the drudgery of everyday life. You struggle to kick yourself out of the bed, grab a bite, commute to work, live the day at work, return home, retire to bed. When you walk back the lonely path to your home, you hear something very bleak. You stop. You look back, and it is the void again. This time, it has lost its voice or its too feeble. You know it’s there but it’s weaker than it was the last time it followed you. You carry on. Life has plateaued again.

Reader’s Block

A friend from India messaged me today when I was at work. He asked me if was reading these days, reading enough that is, and if I was using a E-book reader as most people these days do or still hooked onto good old printed books.

Just this afternoon, I had penned down about a thousand words on how I have been spending my afternoon lunch breaks at a local bookstore, and how instead of buying a book, I return each time empty-handed from the bookstore after comparing the cost of  printed paper books with the Kindle versions.

Well, this friend of mine, call him A—–, was guilty that he has not been reading enough of late, and he was looking for some ideas to get him back into the habit. He admitted that he had lost interest in reading. He did not read anymore like the way he did two years ago.

Not a serious problem, I suppose. It is what I will call a “Reader’s block”. I am sure this term might have been coined already, and I am no pioneer. Just as a writer finds he is unable to bleed with words time and again and terms it ‘writer’s block’, so does a normal person, like you me or the writer, sometimes finds it difficult to put head into a book and read quietly. There develops a tacit distaste for reading; another activity such as watching TV or sleeping seems to substitute reading. I do not attempt here to offer a solution to escaping reader’s block as I myself get afflicted with it time and again, and I am not conscious of how I have managed to recover each time. Something, somewhere or someone makes me pick a book or an article up and I regain my cerebral composure to start reading all over again. But I know how it feels to have a reader’s block. It’s guilt-ridden.

During the period that a reader’s block prevails, you and a book hate each other. You both are at cross with each other, and yet the two may be in each other’s sight every day. There are several moments during the day when you and the book take a conscious look at each other. You know it exists; the book knows you exist. After a few days, dust settles on the side of the book that is exposed. Then the book gains some overdue attention, but not your attention, your family’s or your partner’s. You will be asked if you are going to read it. If you refuse to reply or if you reply in negative then you will be threatened that the book will either go to the junkman along with the monthly quota of old newspapers from the house or the book will disposed off in the attic. You will mostly reply in positive saying that you will read it. And, why not? You are a reader! So what if the book and you are not in cordial terms with each other, there will be a reunion soon, you hope. Saying this, the book is wiped clean of all the accumulated dust and is kept in the same place, or you take it from where it lay all this while and find a new place for it from where you can still see it. And the whole saga may continue again: book hates you – you hate book – book untouched – book accumulates dust – interrogation – threats – wipe clean.

And then, there comes the day of reunion. When, I can’t say. It could be days, weeks, months or years later. It will mostly be the day when you either stumble upon it when looking for something else or when you, like my friend A—- above, feel the need to read again. And that’s the day when you will touch the book, open it, and dust it off by holding the book by its spine, if a paperback, and ruffling your hands through the pages and hitting it hard against your open palm of the other hand and making sure you don’t breathe any of the dust. A hardbound may get a more pampered clean up.

And then the two of you fall in love again. Whatever it was that pre-occupied you before you discovered your book is adjourned and you retire to a corner of the room, or curl up in your bed and resume relationships with your estranged partner – the book.