The Ark of Nostalgia

sbbjpullout“I’m your phantom dance partner. I’m your shadow. I’m not anything more.” ~Haruki Murakami

As if working for a bank weren’t traumatic enough, I am working for a subsidiary bank undergoing absorption in its parent. It is highly hypocritical of someone like me to feel mushy, I who for a frenzied bunch of years wanted the merger to happen so badly I wrote a couple of pieces that were run by newspapers, not to speak of the score of weblogs I scribbled decrying the myopia of the network clustered in but one state, or the parochialism of the junta that wouldn’t look a millimeter beyond its own kind.

Perhaps the genesis of my desire for merger into the larger and better acknowledged bank had an ulterior motive whose seeds were sown on the very first day I announced my existence to the manager of a branch in a rundown town immediately after my recruitment. It is difficult to forget the venom of his protuberant eyes which having failed to blast me into ionic dust focused on the gangly chap who was trying to put a tumbler of tea in front of me. I was put on live training from moment one, pushed crudely into an avalanche of payday customers who all wanted their withdrawal requests posted at once into unwieldy ledgers whose rusting spines threatened to rip open my wrists each time I tried to handle one. I had to take a shot of tetanus toxoid that same evening.

Apparently, the old-timer had a jaundiced mind that wouldn’t stand influx of younger officers from other than the home state. I would meet many of his emotional siblings over the years, and would eventually get sick of getting sick of them. Whereas earlier I had pitied them for their pathogenic nepotism, I have mellowed out to believe I have been the loser of the fixture all along. If I didn’t like the circus I was stuck in, I should have slowed down at the first roundabout and exited the turnpike. And now that the dissolution for which I had hankered in earlier years is staring at my eyeballs, I am reminded of Wang Wei’s poem In Answer to Vice-Magistrate Zhang:

Late in my life I only care for quiet.
A million pressing tasks, I let them go.
I look at myself; I have no long range plans.
To go back to the forest is all I know.

No surprises then that when a vulgar labourer prised off the name of the extant bank letter by letter and plonked them to the earth in broad daylight, it caused a flutter in the heart of the grieving flocks. The social media duly went into pooh-poohing mode and even my calloused heart agreed there are things such as reverence and honour, and the inevitable could have been achieved discreetly in the quieter quarters of a night.

Thinking of the larger tree we are headed to, I am perchance reminded of that time-worn but nonetheless precious Chinese adage that avers ‘crows everywhere are equally black’. Sadly, the odium has many forms and shapes, and it has been in the ascendant like fumes from a volcano in institutions, states and countries, and in continents all over the planet. Is this a rumbling for antiquated ways of life, of homesickness and of living cloistered lives, fuelled by lava of insecurity?

In about a billion year, the sun will fry up the earth like popcorn. Imponderable as the span of time may be, perhaps life as we know would have migrated and mutated to unimaginable coordinates and mediums. But what if a subtle change in our solar system makes it necessary for humans to shift to Saturn’s moon within next fifty years? We would all love to slip into the ark of nostalgia and flicker out to nada. Because letters hurled on the pavement are your phantom dance partners. They are your shadow. They are not anything more.


  1. I note that the vulgar labourer can go even higher up the ladder if he so wishes, and when he does he will topple down. How much lovelier to mess around at ground level; just watch those big people don’t crash on top of you! There are many forests in our heads to go to, and we don’t have to walk many steps to get there!

    If this brilliant reflection is you being “mushy”, may I recommend it as a permanent state?

    1. Your improvisation on Wang Wei’s poem forced me to stop and ponder. Do I owe this snafu of my brain to the forest advancing towards me?

  2. Uma…beautifully written
    What language we speak while yearning in our youth.

    Been dying to ask if the election there went the way you wanted. Or does that also fall into the language of youth as well.

    1. Thank you, Vicki. Perhaps the exuberance of youth is the God-particle of life. Compare that to the The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and you will have hit upon the secret of evolution. As for that election, it did go the way I had wanted with a record-shattering majority. As the Irish say, ‘It is a long road that has no turning.’

  3. You have beautifully described the mixed feelings a human being is afflicted with at the crossroad of transition. Seemingly trivial events can trigger such powerful feelings.

    1. I have learned to seal my mouth, Purba. I have removed about 19 posts on the subject from my blog. One must accept both cherries and lemons life tosses at us.

  4. May the new letters fall into place as you would wish. This prompted a possibly irrelevant memory. Back in the 1960s we had a regular cricket fixture against the State Bank of India. I was intrigued that our opponents communicated with each other in English because otherwise they couldn’t understand their team mates.

    1. Thanks for the blessing Derrick. State Bank of India is going to be my new bread-giver for a while. I am not surprised at the use of English in India –we are not united by a common tongue.

  5. I’ve always liked this from psychologist Rollo May: “To the best of my lights, this is what I choose to do, although I may know more and choose differently tomorrow.”

    I’d add that I’m learning to forgive myself for yesterday’s choices and to embrace the ones today – and tomorrow.

    Beautifully written, as always, Uma…

    1. How very astute! The decisions we took yesterday may have led us to the fete or fracas we are in today. But with all the hindsight at our disposal today, perhaps we did our best at the moment, and might do the same thing again or even worse if the dilemma were to resurface. Thanks, Molly.

  6. Uma Shankar, the man doesn’t have a harness! When the bank shows scant respect for his safety, what else is the poor man going to do other than throw the letters on the ground below. He’s probably been shouted at for accomplishing the act with speed.
    I googled to see which bank because I couldn’t clearly read the Bikaner bit.
    And I won’t be surprised if there is “them and us” mentality when the merger does go through. Did they not offer redundancies at the time of merger?
    Hope all goes well for you.
    घरो घरी मातीच्या चुली – similar to the crows adage
    As for a national language, why is Hindi not the one? It’s a rhetorical question.

    1. Perhaps the labourer’s hair-brained, unharnessed adventure is symbolic of the entrenched systemic apathy. We have taken the chariot of Jugaad and sab chalta hai way beyond the finishing line. What is worse, we are fond of basking in the glory of our mediocrity. But then, as you have said, घरो घरी मातीच्या चुली!

      Hindi is in an abysmal state. Things have come to such a pass that it is becoming rarer to set your eyes upon even one document without errors of the script and grammar. I have pondered over the matter of launching a Hindi blog too, time and again, but have been crudely restrained by the existential servitude to my vocation. Nonetheless, it remains like an insistent floater before my closed eyes; it’s called ‘आंधी में एक तिनका’.

      1. डुबते को तिनकी का सहारा, a chance for revival for good Hindi, yes please do start a Hindi blog as well, I would love it, I know it is easy for me to say, as you have a family and a vocation and a million other things to do, आंधी में एक तिनका’ sounds fascinating

  7. Umashankar, I truly wish you good luck with this change. Those lines from Wang Wei’s poem are quite meaningful and I can relate to those words as well in my life. I really love your last few lines: “We would all love to slip into the ark of nostalgia and flicker out to nada. Because letters hurled on the pavement are your phantom dance partners. They are your shadow. They are not anything more.” Indeed, it is ever so!

    1. Thank you, Madilyn. Those lines of Wang Wei remind me of my father’s disposition towards his later years and now it has dawned upon me why. That last line is but a paraphrase of Haruki Murakami’s words in Dance Dance Dance.

  8. I was in the corporate world so I can understand how you feel. There are some who don’t will do anything to survive but not work. In the corporate world everyday starts with mind games and end with more of those. I have seen many restructuring of companies. However, the more things change, the more they remain the same. In that scenario, I guess people like you retain their sanity due to their literary diversions.

    1. Sabyasachi, you words are turning out prophetic as the matters unfold with each passing day. It seems I’m hurtling into a murder of crows, much blacker and wickeder than I had imagined previously.

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