The pressures of not being one and the perks of being one
You can read the Chapter 1 here, before proceeding
Chapter 2: His name and what’s in it
In a rush to begin his story, his identity was forgotten. Seems like you’ve made it this far, so there might be interest in knowing a bit about him?
He is a man. A reduntant sentence in English language, if not for the many layers that it enfolds. It communicates how he is not a child, not a boy, not an adolescent, not a young adult, not a youth; all of which he was not very many years ago.
His name, since that’s still a humane way of indexing identities in this era of social security numbers where people are not much more than a statistic in a government database, lest they delude themselves, is Laxman. He is the only child of his parents. By his mother’s choice. When his father wanted to name him Ram, the elder brother from the Hindu mythology Ramayana, his mother insisted on Laxman, Ram’s younger sibling, primarily to avoid any misconceptions of having a Laxman later.
Couple of things wrong with that. One, his parents didn’t even want to consider the possibility of having a girl. Even in literate, scratch — educated families, that thought needed to be killed before it was born. Not very many years ago?
Two, the name Laxman deprived him of the luxury of ever being an alpha. People tend to inherit the destiny their names foretell, more often than not. Laxman was never destined to have an eponymous saga written after his life. Perhaps a novel to celebrate the novelty of a beta hero, yes, but never a saga. But then he wasn’t one to ever meet expectations and the story of his life came to be titled ‘Stupid’. Unfortunate, to say the least.
His mother did her best to manage his expectations when he was growing up. She used to tell him often that he is ‘Lakhon mein ek’. That expression does not have a direct translation in English. It basically means that he is one in 100,000. While she said it in a manner which made him feel special, or rather unique, at the time, he realized only when he was 14, and his Geography teacher told him, that there are 6 billion people on the planet, that it actually means that there are about 59,999 others like him. Only then did he realize how much his mother loved him and the lengths she went to protect him.
This was not very many years ago. Now there are 71,999 others like him. Every day he googles the world population before brushing his teeth. It relaxes him. He’s been off Xanax for 57 days.
He tries not to think about a room full of him and 71,999 people like him. That makes him want to take a Xanax.
With the introduction out of the way, let’s begin again.
Laxman debates whether to brush his teeth every morning. And today was no exception. This is not to say that he doesn’t brush every morning. But rather, that he likes to ask the question instead of following a habit mindlessly. He is amazed how for most it’s a given that the morning ablutions will be performed.
After thinking about it, and confirming after testing his morning breath, he decides that it would be appropriate to brush. While brushing he thinks about muscle memory and remembers The Bourne Identity. A man can completely forget his identity and still function at his peak thanks to his muscle memory. His passage through life would have been so much simpler if he could just get up and brush everyday, an action saved in his muscle memory, repeated ad infinitum till the day he stopped getting up from his bed.
He thinks that he should have built some muscles so that he could use their memory while he still had the chance, not very many years ago.
He then proceeds to worry, briefly, what would happen to him if he were to ever forget his identity. The thought scares him. It might actually be liberating, he thinks, second guessing himself. He would have fewer anxities, surely. Fewer things to think about. So what if he doesn’t brush when he doesn’t have a sense of his identity. He wouldn’t be the one caring; it would be the others. He chuckles at the thought.
He imagines his wife disgusted with his morning breath. At least that’s an accurate depiction of being human. Only in the movies people can make out before brushing their teeth in the morning and make it seem like the most natural thing. The magic of movies lies in selling unrealistic moments that lead to fantasies that foster more anxiety.
He cleans up and steps out of his bathroom. He trips on his slippers that he had parked outside the bathroom, caution thrown to the wind. Mid-trip, he thinks that he is because he thinks; a corollary to he thinks, therefore he is. His brain helped him solve his hypothetical identity crisis. He shields his head, that houses his brain, to protect his thought center as if it were the most valuable thing in the world. He scrapes his elbows. The perceived less fortunate always seem to take the toll of any collapse.
Thankfully, the perceived elite survive the fall.
He blows on the scrapes at the elbows, instinctively, before chastising himself for indulging in an inane action that has absolutely no purpose and no demonstrable benefit.
Shaking his head, he carries on with the rest of his morning. Under clear instructions to not wake up his wife, in case he’s the one getting up first on a Sunday, before the coffee is ready, he hurries to make two cups of coffee. Clear instructions are the best thing to have been invented by humans. They are the best anti-anxiety practice. He thinks how rules and laws were all possibly created by anxious folks who fortunately came to positions of power where they could inflict order on the world that seems to revel in the state of heightened entropy: chaos.
He wonders if he should wait for a bit before he wakes his wife up. He does like how peaceful she is when she is asleep.
But he likes how she lights up his life when she is up, much more.
He puts a spoonful of instant coffee in two mugs, scoffing — an every day routine for him. A teaspoon of coffee, he thinks. How lame. He feels sorry for coffee.
If the English had liked coffee as much as he did, they would have called it a coffeespoon. Or perhaps if an African nation had invented the steam engine first and colonized the world, they would have had coffeespoon equivalent in whatever language he would be thinking in right now.
He wonders if he would be reading of an Nigexit from the African Union these days and of imposition of a different world order in Europe. Would Chinua Achebe, if he were alive, or Ben Okri fund ‘Remain’ like JK Rowling did in the Brexit referendum?
They probably wouldn’t have to. Brexit won probably only because it sounded better than Bremain. Nigexit is as lame as Nigremain. Or actually, it would be called Nigeremain. That actually sounds better. Unless Nigexit sounds cooler in Hausa.
He puts a dash of milk, and fills the cups up with water before loading them into the microwave for a minute and thirty seconds. The machine starts whirring and he watches the cups dance. One has his picture and the other his wife’s. It’s the opposite of marking their cups. He drinks from her and she drinks from him. It’s probably still marking their cups, though.
He thinks of the jive class that she took in college, not very many years ago, as a part of her never ending zeal to share with everyone what she knew was joy-giving. He was dragged to her class by another girl, but after, or maybe during the first class, she became an ‘other girl’. He knew he was in love when his now-wife held him to demonstrate the moves for the benefit of her students.
To this day, she is the one who leads.
Continue to Chapter 3 here.