in silence

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to burn brighter

Slightly past six my roommate and I made our way out of Old Campus, joining the mass of students, professors, and children gathered on Cross Campus. That night, the harsh shadows usually created by street lamps were softened by the warm glow of candles cradled in hands and the cool toned “SOLIDARITY” projected against the façade of the Sterling Memorial Library. Behind me, there was a father carrying his daughter on his shoulders and teaching her how to hold her candle upright. “Here, do it this way so it won’t burn the cover or drip on you.”

I am not American and neither is my roommate. We are two international freshmen from Singapore and Lebanon. The night of the vigil outside Sterling on the 29th of January 2017, we started at the fringe, wiggling our way through little gaps in the crowd in a bid to try and get into earshot of the speakers before finally finding a spot peering out of the Berkeley courtyard.

Yet, as silent faces lit by candlelight slowly came to be accompanied by the voices of individuals speaking on and about their thoughts on the executive orders that had come to pass, I found myself feeling more, instead of less, alone amidst a crowd that was supposed to be gathered in support of the communities that these orders set out to alienate. I cannot reproduce the speeches that I heard verbatim and will not try to. But I recall the fervent assertions that this, this discrimination on account of citizenship, on account of race, this rejection of refugees, this was not America. I heard assertions of speakers growing up viewing and believing in an America that was kind, compassionate, and welcoming. I heard speakers proudly sharing about how a Muslim family had been welcomed by American synagogues. I heard assertions that these orders ran against the foundation of what America was built upon. I heard the cheers that all of these assertions received in affirmation. But I could not cheer along.

At a vigil resisting the decisions of a Presidency whose central campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again”, the absence of a critical look at, and acknowledgement of, American history up till this point was jarring. What about the colonization of Native Americans, what about Angel Island and its immigrants in the early 20th century? Were these all, not America? Standing amidst the crowd in the vigil, I felt like I had no place in it if I did not want to join in the cheers extolling the virtues of America. The vigil was titled “Candlelight Vigil in Support of Immigrant & Refugee Communities” yet the speeches of the night spoke more about America than about any of the communities directly affected by the ban. At my most critical, it felt to me more like a people gathered in solidarity to salvage the image and ideal of a country that they felt was being threatened instead of a people truly gathered in support of the immigrants and refugees whose lives were being threatened by these laws.

As these speeches drew to a close, I stole a glance at my phone only to notice that I had missed two calls from my roommate’s mother back in Lebanon. My roommate and I had been working together for the entirety of that Sunday and she had not checked her phone at all. On any other Sunday, there would have been no reason for her anxiety. When we talk about our thoughts on the ban, my roommate tells me about her anxiety, being from an Arab country that is often perceived in a similar light as the countries affected by the ban. Yet, she is quick to tell me that she, still, is lucky. Lebanon is not on the list of countries affected by the ban, it is a country that is largely peaceful, she is here, in America, at Yale, by choice – if she had to, she has family, friends, an entire life still waiting for her back in Lebanon.

As an international student from Singapore, I cannot claim to understand what it must feel like to be in the position of those directly affected by the ban. But I can share the perspective of one, maybe two, international students at the vigil between Cross Campus and Sterling; I can share how being in the crowd that night was an alienating experience.

This is not a critique of all the people who gathered and who spoke that day at the vigil. It is hard to speak out on such a sensitive issue in front of such a large crowd. I know I am scared to share this opinion on a public platform, I imagine it must have taken much courage for every speaker to share theirs that day too. Their voices are important voices, and their opinions are important opinions – their visions of what America stands for are the reasons why I continue to be grateful to be here. But there is a threat, and there are fears, beyond that of what America stands for, that this ban poses. The missed calls I received from my roommate’s mother that night in the middle of a vigil was just one small indication and reminder of that. And that night, at the vigil, as a student who was not looking to rally behind a nationalistic cause, it felt like the fears and worries of those directly alienated by the ban were secondary.

My experience is not representative of what every non-American might have felt at that vigil. I believe there were those who were comforted, those who felt a resonance with and gratitude for the speeches delivered at the vigil. In the time that I was simply standing amidst lit candles, out of earshot of the speeches, there were numerous speakers I missed and if your speech addressed what I am saying here, I apologise. To all who spoke and who were present, I thank you for the reminder that people want to make a difference. But from one member of the Yale community to another, I believe we can do better. I believe we can express our concern about and love for a country and place we view, or are coming to view, as home while recognizing its transgressions in the past. I believe we can speak about our own fears while providing the space and stage for those of others without requiring them to be tied back to our own.

Behind me in the vigil, a child was learning how to hold her candle upright in the crowd. Let us all learn how to wield our candles, hold them high in the crowd. Let them and let the photos of the night be a glowing reminder that there are people, so many people, who will invest time and effort into speaking up against policies that set out to alienate and discriminate. But let them not simply be empty or easy symbols, let us speak about the difficult realities, let us really give time to fears and stories that are not our own. Let our candles not glow only as a message to those whom we are resisting, let them glow because we are creating the warmth of home for those who have been told they do not have one here.

27 january 12:43 am

old words –

today we walked through trees, sidewalks, four-lane streets, quiet bus stops, searching for light, for a beautiful place

everything felt beautiful but not beautiful enough, the light didn’t fall just right, our faces didn’t quite catch the glow

this is fall, earth’s last cuddle against our bodies, heat escaping through the amber of the leaves before fading fast into the cold

this is fall, this is new to me – the sunset shifting earlier and earlier; daylight saving? that one stolen hour is now no longer just an adjustment in the schedule of a lover in a land far away

today we talk, we feel the foreign tones of our accents rolling back over our teeth, back over our skin, today we rejoice in the moment when we taste the flattening of a friend’s accent as we make our sojourn into fall, “this, this is what it feels like to be the minority now”


 

I feel so lucky to be here but these have also been some of my hardest months. I claim not to be homesick but I am beginning to wonder if this dull sadness latent at the back of my mind, if the constant sense that I am on the edge of a collapse, are the symptoms of a traveller too far away from home. Because how else do I explain that when he talks to me about comfort food, I tear while thinking about the taste of lotus root soup upon my tongue, its sweetness, its familiarity. It is the taste of soup against my tongue and then, suddenly, it is the memory of my mother – the ease of her cooking, her concern, even her nagging (there are things that distance has yet to romanticize).

5th october 2016

I flew off from Singapore on the 17th of August. It’s now the 5th of October. More than a month has passed by so quickly. Between orientation, settling in, choosing classes, getting involved in extra-curricular’s, the onset of midterms and papers, there’s been so little time for me to take a breath and reflect on the things that have passed me by.

I still wake up each day incredibly grateful that I’m here, even on the days that feel too stressful, the days that I went to bed crying because everything felt too hard, too fast. Truthfully, I didn’t expect college to be this hard or this stressful. But it is. What we would have spent at least a week covering in school flies by within half a lesson here. Essays that we were given ungraded drafts, comments and weeks worth of work for in school are now a one time submission worth 20% of your grade, to be done within a week.

Honestly I’ve cried so many times since being here.

I’m still thankful though, to be learning and growing; I really really love the classes I’ve been in and the professors I get to interact with. I’ve come to learn about more about the sentiments surrounding South Africa after apartheid, I’ve come to realize that Japan isn’t as homogenous as it frames itself to be, about the experiences of Filipina women married into rural Japanese areas, I’ve looked through old documents and newsletters published by the Rohingya around 1992 when Aung San Suu Kyi was still under house arrest and realised how much faith they had in her, cementing how betrayed they must have felt with the way she has chosen to approach Rohingya issues now that her party is leading Burma.

Tatmadaw Militant: “Why do all of you support Aung San Suu Kyi so much? What can she do for you?”

Rohingya person: “When she is in power we will have a free state that truly cares about its people, we will have our rights.”

Tatmadaw Militant: “You will regret this, you will all regret this.”

The above interaction was quoted from memory and not exact but you see why, reading that, upset me. I’ve come to question whether the framework of “indigeneity” as created by the western world is alienating within Southeast Asia, preventing the progression of the rights of minority ethnic groups within the region.

Meanwhile, the other day in class, hearing a classmate censure a book for having “no strong feminist female characters” just because her definition of “strong feminist female characters” mandated having to behave in a way particular to the notion of feminism as defined by small pockets of western media, it struck me (for the first time really) how ‘white feminism’ really was an issue. That it (and she) ignored the way people from various backgrounds all over the world are struggling to negotiate different systems of power, systems that cannot be understood in the same way that gender inequality is understood in the context of university grounds, cities like NYC etc. I spoke up in class about it and was glad I did. The experience help me concretise ideas that had been communicated to me and floating around in my mind for awhile.

It sounds kind of silly but I genuinely feel like I’m learning and I’m so thankful for that. Beyond everything that’s going on in the classroom, there are beautiful things that have been happening around me as well. Friends, suite-mates, suite-mates-turned-friends, who are endlessly kind, who grab a meal for me on days when I’m rushing between classes and can’t stop at the dining hall or the days when I’m holed up in my room trying to complete an essay.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve gone apple-picking, celebrated an anniversary, auditioned and been accepted into a slam poetry group, belted songs from musicals loudly with a friend, jammed on a ukulele with a different friend, took a train by myself to a different state, a different city.

This is equal parts an update on my life for the people I care about back home but who I haven’t been able to catch up with yet and also a reminder to myself that, despite the stresses that have been piling up, I’m in a good place. That there are so many reasons to be happy and that I can work through all these little milestones. I’m trying to remind myself that college was never meant to be easy, that that’s the reason why I’m doing it. And as long as I’m learning (and learning well) along the way, building new relationships, growing old ones, as long as I continue to be happy with the person I am and the person I’m becoming, any stumbling that happens on the way is worth it.

I truly truly am thankful, I have every reason to be.

thank you all for your courage

Last month, the Spoken Word CAS group had a small performance on the little platform that used to be our morning assembly stage. If you’d been there, you would probably understand what I mean when I say the performance we had last month got me thinking about the emotional investment we put into each piece and how much it takes for us to do that.

K’s piece was intensely emotional – in all honesty when she began to tear up on stage I was a little confused as to whether that was planned or otherwise. It soon became clear that it was the latter. Watching her pour so much of herself out for the audience on stage, watching her be so honest about her feelings and responses to another was rather heartening to say the least. Her pieces lacked the finesse of Sarah Kay’s, Clementine von Radic’s, etc. etc. But then again, don’t all of ours? At the end of the day, Spoken Word Poetry is precisely that – poetry. So on the formal arena there’s always that degree of literary caliber and (dare I say) mastery required of it. Yet, at the same time, Spoken Word was born fundamentally out of a desire to free poetry from the clutches of academia, for it to reach the masses, to show everyone how poetry could still build bridges between strangers, to show everyone how it could be a medium of expression for anyone, to show everyone how poetry and its magic was raw, real and accessible. If I were to split up the components of Spoken Word, I’d suppose it’s a combination of emotional expression/ vulnerability and literary flair. To find a reasonable balance between the two, or to go further and fully accomplish both of the two is difficult, to say the least. And I’m glad that that day, on that stage, I saw members of our little CAS group pushing themselves to reach one or both of those components.

To write is one thing, to dare to put yourself and your emotions out there for a crowd of people to see and here is another thing completely. Perhaps K’s performance that day wasn’t so much Spoken Word in the strictest sense of the genre, as it was a cascading deluge of emotions, but I applaud her for having the courage to go up and do that because taking that step to be fully vulnerable and honest in front of your audience is a difficult and important one, one that I’m not sure if I have taken or intend to take.

Honestly, the only reason why I started really writing again about 2 years back after years of losing contact with words and how to use them was because of a confusing series of events that were anchored about a boy. Ay, the joy of teenage woes. I’m not too sure if writing helped really? But it did make me want to write and it gave me something to write about.

Funny, this made me think of a quote from Pride and Prejudice: (excuse my many Austen references – this will not be the last you see of them)

“Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of, and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.”

– Mr. Bennett

I can’t quite figure out if Austen says this in jest…? A part of me thinks so but in that case the same part of me must then admonish myself for finding truth in that statement. Nevertheless, some of my … favourite (debatable adjective) pieces are a product of that time. But most haven’t seen the light of day. As with all things, that period of time gradually passed. While the onset of a heap of angst-ridden emotions was what prompted me to really start writing again, its departure did not cause me to stop.

After that I simply moved on to write about other things in my life, childhood memories, family members, fictional characters –things that felt like safe spaces. I soon realised that other than during that short period of time, I’ve always tried to resist writing ‘like a teenager’, tried to resist writing about the topics that ‘only conflicted adolescents write about’. As a teenager, as an adolescent, I think it’s easy to feel like your reactions aren’t valid – that they are merely caricatures of the reality of those emotions. Take love for example – adolescent affection is often treated with some sort of disdain, with that ah-it’s-just-teenagers kind of attitude. Heartbreak in a 16 year old is often judged to pale in comparison to that of an adult. And often when people step up to approach the topic the response is not altogether supportive.

As part of my anthropology IA, I did research on the Slam community in Singapore. While I eventually focused on the main Slam group for the purpose of the IA, I initially began my research by looking at the Under-21 Slam community within Singapore. When I observed a number of the U-21 Slams, I noticed that poets who talked about love, affection, crushes, the like, tended to score lower. Of course there are a number of factors at work here, not just the subject of their writing but also the quality of it, the engagement of their performance etc. but I do believe there is the tendency to penalize someone who was writing about the workings of a young teenage heart. Note that the judges are teenagers themselves.

I honestly don’t know if this is a restriction I’ve imposed upon myself, where the fear of judgment is wholly invented and unnecessary, but I’ve always felt like non-platonic love and the complications that come with it, whether the lead up to it or its aftermath, is a topic I’m not ready to write about, or rather a topic I don’t have the license to write about. Instead, I write around it – I write about the love I have for my family, my sister, my parents, my grandmother. I write about the connections built between strangers on a bus as we all watch and laugh at the unrestrained glee of a babbling toddler. I write about the passions of a jilted fictional character, I write about love by hiding it behind the veil of codes and symbols.

At the end of the day, yes, Spoken Word poetry for me isn’t wholly about just pouring my emotions out to an audience at the bottom of the stage. I think it’s about striking that balance between being emotionally vulnerable and being accessible to those who are listening to you. I think striking a chord with the audience should be more about building that emotional bridge with your words instead of them feeling connected to you because they have seen you cry. I believe there should be a balance between unabashed honesty and delivering your thoughts in a way that is concise yet lyrical.

But seeing a fellow adolescent unashamed of telling the world how she has loved, lost, and grown from it was heartening, strengthening. And that’s ultimately what I love about the Spoken Word group. I love that while we are here to push each other to increase our capacity for writing and expression, we are also here to affirm each others’ thoughts and emotions at each point in time and we are here to learn from each other. We are here to recognize the courage that each member has as it is manifested in a host of different ways and to draw on our collective courage as a group to better what we are capable of.

For this reason, I thank K for her courage and her honesty, for doing what I never would have dared to do. I truly truly hope that as each member continues to go on their way on this Spoken Word journey, we will remember to recognize what it is that is precious about each performance that we witness and each piece that we see created. It is through recognizing and respecting this that I believe we will then each grow in our ability to express and communicate as a team.

To all the Spoken Word CAS lovelies, I’m proud of how far each and every one of you has come and I can’t wait to see where else we are all headed.

x

my relationship with Austen

“Mama, the more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!”

– Marianne; Sense and Sensibility

And at last I have finished Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. She is one of the few classic writers to really engage me, to any degree. Our love affair began, somewhat ironically, not when I first read one of her books but when I watched the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice – is this blasphemy? Although this ten year old child watched the film again and again and again and grew to know a good number of the lines by heart, it never struck her to read the books. And so I didn’t attempt to read Austen, not till I was thirteen. When I did pick up a book by Austen, it wasn’t Pride and Prejudice. It was Emma, which I had found in a bookstore for cheap and decided to try out. Unfortunately for my rocky relationship with Austen, I didn’t quite fall in love with her writing upon reading Emma. Rather, the converse happened – it was too tiring a book for my young eyes and I soon put it down, without making it through to the end of the novel.

Fortunately, a few years later I decided to finally greet the characters I had grown to love from Pride and Prejudice in their original form by reading that novel. Fast forward to 2015, I find myself falling in love with Austen’s quick wit and sarcastic digs in their rawest form in The Beautifull Cassandra, a collection of short stories she wrote in her teenage years.

I mean just look at this little gem:

The singularity of his appearance, the beams which darted from his eyes, the brightness of his Wit, and the whole tout ensemble of his person had subdued the hearts of so many of the young Ladies, that of the six present at the Masquerade but five had returned uncaptivated.

– Jack and Alice

And so, with high hopes I arrived at Sense and Sensibility, determined to make it through a full length Austen text without having first been introduced to it through its movie adaptation. Admittedly, having fallen in love with the idiosyncrasies of the Bennett family, Mr. Collins, Mr. Darcy and so many of the other characters before hand very much aided the ease with which I read Pride and Prejudice. With Sense and Sensibility, I wanted to see if I could develop that same connection with the Dashwood sisters, Edward Ferrars, Mrs Jennings and Colonel Brandon by getting to know them only through Austen’s words. And I did.

I loved how we are invited to question each of her characters. How the Dashwood sisters’ initial judgement of Mrs. Jennings as a source of little real comfort, and a lady whom Elinor was initially reluctant to go to London with, is eventually overturned by the end of the novel when Elinor realizes that the bubbly lady can be counted on to offer her support in the absence of their mother and in the onset of Marianne’s illness. How Colonel Brandon, old and boring, slowly emerges to be a man of great character, growing in our eyes as he does in Elinor’s. How Lucy Steele is just so deliciously slimy and, for lack of a better word, bitchy. How can one not relish her insistent attempts at injuring Elinor veiled by loose declarations of friendship?

It’s been a long eight years since I’ve gotten acquainted with Austen’s characters and hopefully we will remain friends for far longer than the next eight. For now, after a momentary shift to other authors, I shall return to visit Emma once more.

x

a quiet hum

I apologise for the highly infrequent posts of late – recently I’ve taken a break of sorts from writing and I suppose time will tell if I get back into it soon. In the meantime, I will occasionally be documenting my thoughts here if anyone would like to check it out. I have been considering merging the two blogs and probably will do so after I figure out how to combine the followers of the two blogs as well. In the meantime, they will remain separate so see you there! And here too – with any luck I’ll find my voice again soon. 

Here we say O-hi-o

On-yez, where are you from, dear?’ asked a black-slacked, frosted-haired woman whose skin was papery and melanomic with suntan. ‘Originally.’ She eyed Agnes’s outfit as if it might be what in fact it was: a couple of blue things purchased in a department store in Cedar Rapids.

Where am I from?’ Agnes said it softly. ‘Iowa.’ She had a tendency not to speak up.

Where?’ the woman scowled, bewildered.

Iowa,’ Agnes repeated loudly.

The woman in black touched Agnes’s wrist and leaned in confidentially. She moved her mouth in a concerned and exaggerated way, like an exercise. ‘No, dear,’ she said. ‘Here we say O-hi-o.”

Birds of America; Lorrie Moore

I’ve never really wholly believed in the idea of déjà vu – sure, there’s been a couple of instances where I’ve kind of felt like I’d experienced something before in the past. But in almost every scenario I’ve found a way to explain it. This usually happens when I’m reading something and it hits me with a ‘I’ve-read-this-before’ kind of sensation. But it’s never been as strong as this time. The second I heard Agnes say, in my head, ‘Iowa’, my mind immediately went ‘No, dear, here we say O-hi-o.’ It just tumbled out of my mind instinctively. When I actually read on and saw it written there I had the shock of my life before thinking hmm perhaps we’ve read this before or hmm perhaps it’s a common phrase – but basically no one I asked had heard of it before or could come up with anything of weight to explain its familiarity. Rhyhan suggested it sounded John Green like but honestly I’ve read all of one John Green book and I’m 100% sure it wasn’t from there – nothing in that John Green book baffled me like this??

I’m confused but at the same time not extremely bothered – perhaps some occurrences simply can’t explain. Or maybe I’ll just leave this here for myself to explain on another day when I have more time for things like this hmm….

((Also I’m a bit confused as what that whole segment means to begin with, care to enlighten anyone?))

x

the turds of worms

Darwin’s finches are muddy-looking little birds that comprise the subfamily Geospizinae, a group of uncertain taxonomic placement. They include fourteen species that differ from each other primarily in body size and the shape and size of their bills. In these, they differ on the order of milligrams and millimeters. It is difficult to believe that a millimeter here or there can make much difference to evolutionary outcomes, much less major intellectual trajectories, but it does. After all, these birds are named after a man whose final topic was about the turds of worms. Not exactly a world-rocking topic, you may think. But they are worms, and move the world they do – turning its surface over to a depth of 1.5 inches every ten years; burying ancient buildings and old pipe stems by a full foot every eight years or so. Weigh a single worm casting, and it is not much. But it is not irrelevant.

Darwin’s Finches: Readings in the Evolution of a Scientific Paradigm
Kathleen Donohue

I really really like the above passage. I just find it so funny. And now I really want to read this book. This is why I’m thankful for subjects like ToK that let me read about the Inuit, Darwin’s Finches etc. etc.

x

we’ve all grown

This blog was initially started up as a space for me to document my CAS journey, and also as a back-up of all my CAS reflections, considering how so many of the seniors had cautioned us about the reliability (or lack thereof) of Managebac. But now that CAS is drawing to a close, I think I might take the time to make this a slightly more personal blog on the days that I feel like it. I do still have a couple more CAS reflections that are begging to be written and I will get around to doing them but this will slowly transit to be a space that is more than just that as well.

If you’re someone who knows me and are reading this because you’re hoping to see me write very specific things about the people that I (possibly we) know, let me just clarify from the get-go that that’s not going to happen. I have other, non-online, platforms for that and don’t feel the need to share that aspect of my life so publicly. However, this space will be personal, just in other ways – I will try to be as honest as I can about the things I choose to write about here and, in that way, share a little bit about who I am and how I see the world.

There’s something that’s been on my mind a lot this year – very likely because we are so close to being done and leaving this bubble. After 6 years together in this school, it can get a little claustrophobic at times. I don’t mean this personally at all. At the end of the day I have zero regrets about coming to this school. It’s given me so much space to try and figure out who I am as a person and to find out more about the things that I love. But 6 years in a cohort with the same 150 people and it gets a little tiring. The people we were at 12-13 are, no doubt, very different from the people we are now. Yet sometimes when stuck in the same environment for so long, I feel like we hold each other up to expectations that our 13 year old selves have set. I don’t know if this is something I’m imposing upon myself or if something that I’m merely acknowledging but I’ve brought it up with a couple of people and I think we do all kind of feel the same way.

Perhaps it is for this reason that I, so badly, want to study overseas. I just quite frankly don’t really want to go to university in a setting where there are people who already have perceptions of who I am. It’s nothing personal I have against anyone, really. I think that’s just sort of the way I am – same reason why I chose to come here so many years ago I suppose – it was a break from most people who I knew/ who knew me. There are people I still keep in touch with from so many years ago, the same way I’m sure there will be people who I still keep in touch with from this period of my life many years on. But I think at this point what I’m seeking is sort of a new start to figure out, once again, who I am and who I want to be.

That being said, I am genuinely grateful for the people around me. Yesterday I spent a little bit of time writing something about that feeling but I don’t think I’ve quite gotten to the core of what it is yet. Nevertheless, here it is, in all the glory of a raw draft.

Last night as I was walking home, I saw how the stars shone so brightly, a rare occurrence in our light polluted sky. I raised up my phone to take a picture. I couldn’t catch it. But I realised that as I let my eyes rest upon the sky, star after star burnt its way out of the night sky, with a fervency that declared the space as its own, unwavering against the fluorescent glow of a hdb car park, a street lamp, the passing car.

Last night as I was walking home, I thought about us. All of us. How our faces have changed in the six years we’ve grown up together. Whenever my parents see me with my friends, they always tell me “All your friends look like they’ve grown up so much! You still look the same!”. I always reply, “That’s just because you see me everyday so can’t tell that I’ve changed!”. I think that’s true. Or at least I hope it is. When we’ve seen each other practically everyday for the past 6 years, it is easy to forget that each one of us has been growing up in the process. Perhaps it is clearer to us than to anyone else since we are doing the growing up too. But still, looking at all of us, sitting at the rust brown tables, gathered around the 5th floor, the 6th floor, sometimes it is easy to forget that so many years have passed and that the 12 year old faces that we trained ourselves to imprint upon our minds are now 18.

A few weeks back when I went to pay respects to my grandfather, his father, his mother, his wife, I was struck by how the faces on every urn had grown immortal in their little cubbyholes. My great grandmother could have been my grandfather’s sister. The man next to him could have been his cousin. Even though the dates of death mark them as generations apart, it is hard to believe that when they all appear to be the same age, staring silently back at me. There are those who appear distinctly younger – like the grandmother who I’ve never met but whose DNA lives on in me. The man two boxes up and three to the left. But all of them, all of them have built their histories, their faces have grown into the lattice of history that is housed within the walls of a temple.

I wonder how long it’ll take for us to get there. We are all still so young. Perhaps less young then when we first met but young, nonetheless. Perhaps 10 years on, the last time some of us might have spoken to each other will be 10 years ago, teary goodbyes on graduation night, exhausted smiles that tell each other, across the room, we did it, we ran the race. But what we have and will always have are these 6 years that we’ve built together. 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, we’ve been through it all together. We’ve seen each other cry along the corridors, borne witnesses to each other’s pain. Every heartbreak and every celebration will not find its way to the room where all forgotten memories lay because for every instance you forget, there will be another to remember it. We affirm each moment that we’ve built together. I see that, I’ve been there.

The day we walked out from our classrooms to see a million messages written with whiteboard marker scrawled over the face of the LT wall, within which we have sat through countless scoldings together, this escapade being bait for yet another. Turns out that even whiteboard marker can be almost permanent on some surfaces and the messages will have to be scrubbed away in silence, and we will all once again face a blank wall like none of it ever happened. Notwithstanding the ridiculous, almost theatrical nature of that whole act, I think the question I ask one year down is this – Will we remember it? My answer is yes. We will, we will remember it alongside the many lectures we’ve sat through together, alongside the pain we cried out onto each others’ shoulders when we found out we had all lost a mentor, alongside the joy I know we will all feel when we complete this all.

Mufasa told Simba that the great kings of the past look down on earth from the stars. I find it hard to believe that any of us, royal or not, will find ourselves, upon the fading of our bodies, immortalised in the sky. What I do know is that many of us will eventually find our faces on ceramic urns, our bodies collapsed into ashes, our lives collapsed into bones. But there is time for that yet. Some of us will reach there faster than others but as we wake up each morning, I hope we all know that there is time for us, there is time for us to burn like the stars in the sky, unabashedly claiming the space around us as ours, knowing that even though one day our lights will one day flicker out, there will be those who recognised how beautifully we shone; individually, altogether.

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