Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Manta matinees

(Published in Business Standard on August 11, 2012)

So there I was, floating in a crystalline blue infinity pool, gazing out at the staggering aquamarine water that demarcates a reef, in the Maldives. Earlier in the day I’d been immersed in the gluey blue twilight of a lagoon, swimming side by side with manta rays. An aside: The nicest thing that can be said about a manta ray’s mouth is, Well, that’s certainly different. Please google it. Nobody should reach the end of life having never looked into the mouth of a feeding manta ray. It’s much like suddenly happening upon an ugly baby—it gives you a nasty turn, which if you weren’t wearing a snorkel would pop out of your mouth as a bark of alarm; and then you immediately feel guilty about it.

Anyway, I was sitting in this crystalline etc and gluey blue and so forth only the day before yesterday, and now I’m back in the sticky grey-brown smog of Delhi, which hammers home some poignant things about air travel and how all good things must end. Actually, to be honest, I’m still sitting in the Maldives, writing this thing that will appear on Saturday, but having to sound as if the Maldives is already in the past, when it’s not yet, which hammers home some poignant things about editorial deadlines and poetic licence. But anyway.

All of this somehow brings me to a point that I greatly enjoyed dwelling on while sipping a Dark Storm (Old Monk, ginger beer, lime) at the beach bar under a star-laden sky, earlier today/the day before yesterday. And that is: Sucks to you, college career counsellor! You wanted me to get another degree and work fourteen-hour days for someone else so that I could retire just in time to spend my life savings propping up the health I squandered doing so—or you would have if I’d come to see you in college.

But I didn’t come and see you, did I. I abandoned academia, fell into a deep depression about I forget what, drifted into freelance writing, and stayed there, mostly broke and desperate. In fact, I’d say some of the best decisions I ever didn’t take were of the college career counsellor variety. Go get a job, they told people, and I didn’t. Network, they urged, and I didn’t, and so on. Well, here’s a short sampling of what people say now when I update my status on Facebook: Let’s swap lives. (Good-humoured envy.) I hate you (Bad-humoured envy). I hope it rains. (Honest ill will.) Flaunt that bikini body, baby! (Just plain cruel.)

So what if I will never be able to afford a hip replacement? I’m sitting in the Maldives right this minute/day before yesterday for no logical reason, aren’t I? I’ve been trying to think about one single thing I would change about my life today, and it is this: I feel the towels could be just a tad fluffier.

No, of course not! I wouldn’t change one single thing.

Of course, now that I’ve allowed myself this disgusting bit of smugness, I’ll probably be struck down by whatever bit of the cosmos is in charge of keeping you in your insignificant little place. Cosmic justice can be full of so much, like, negativity.

I should probably go to bed; when I get on the seaplane tomorrow/yesterday, I must be alert enough to save the plane when it inevitably goes down. It seems quite easy—I watched carefully on the way in. And if nothing works, I’ll just end up underwater with the mantas again, and that’s a pretty amazing place to be. As long as your heart can take the sight of those mouths.

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