Quitting

Some people might call me a quitter. I prefer to say that I only do things that I can see the point of. So I have stopped dance lessons and Torture Hour, preferring instead to paint all day, then go jump in the river. Tonight it was just me and a man who was tenderly washing his cow in the gathering dusk. Most of the time there are women in the water washing clothes and themselves. They often make a soaping motion to me, clearly wondering what I’m doing there without any.

When I was younger quitting anything seemed like giving up. I remember when I made the decision to stop taking Russian classes after two years. I had been studying German and French literature at the same time with no intention of being a language major, and yet I still felt like quitting was failing. There were tears. Now I’m much more pragmatic about it: will it get me somewhere I want to go; will it make someone I care about happy; or will it make me happy? If the answer is no, then I don’t need it. Quitting dance was a bit tricky; the administrators had no trouble with it, but then I felt like I had to skulk around at mealtimes. I was relieved at breakfast this morning when the teacher asked me point-blank why I had stopped. Because I can’t listen to your lectures any more and I hate the fact that you yawn all through my lessons, I replied. Not really. I made something up.

The painting teacher was very happy to extend my lesson, although he thought I was going to be here for another month, so he now says I won’t be able to finish my painting before I leave. He claims that it will take three weeks. This seems to be common: the tabla teacher says you’re no good at tabla until you’ve been playing for 25 years; the Kathakali makeup takes four hours to apply; you must study the dance for ten years before you’re considered a dancer. I’m feeling very American today in my impatience. I say tell me what to do and I’ll work all night and get it done. My deadline is Friday, and I will make it.

I don’t see virtue in taking time just to take time. This is one problem I have with architecture culture: it’s considered best practice to spend all night in the studio every night, even if most of the time you’re there you’re chatting with people and surfing the internet. I agree that most things worth doing require a lot of practice, but I also think that how your brain works and how you approach things matters. On the street in Mumbai I bought Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, Outliers (half-way through which I realized it wasn’t even out in paperback yet, but the information was there…). His central premise is that it takes a long time to get good at things, and the people who are are the ones who’ve put in the hours — about 10,000 of them, to be precise, or approximately ten years of practice. I’m not arguing with this idea, I’m just saying that there are ways of using those 10,000 hours wisely and that you can rack up those hours in less than ten years if you push it. Staying in the architecture studio all night because you have an idea that you need to explore works; going into the office every weekend even when you have nothing to do just to impress your boss is a waste of everybody’s time.

I haven’t been doing yoga either. I thought the peer pressure here would force me into it, but it seems nothing will make me. But I find painting meditative. If meditation is emptying your mind and being one with the world force or some such palaver, then that’s what I can do for hours while painting. As for exercise: I’d rather play a rowdy team sport with jumping up and down and screaming and laughing. We’ve played a couple of games of cricket in the past few days. Mixed staff and students, which is necessary as the staff (all men – the women just watch) are obsessed with cricket, whereas most of the students don’t even know the rules. We play in a small dusty parking lot outside the main office, next to a busy road. If you hit the ball over the wall into the road you’re out. If you hit it past a certain banana tree it’s six, on the ground to the banana tree it’s four. We’ve accumulated a number of spectators; Indians in general seem to love cricket, but also the spectacle of Indian men and Western women shouting and cheering must be irresistible. My main worry is that one of these times a ball will knock someone off their motorcycle or break a windshield of a passing car, but no one else seems bothered by this. I’m very proud of our English girls: Chloe, who is a P.E. teacher, knows how to hit a cricket ball and bowl it too, and Bella, who bosses the men around with a big smile. My beginner’s luck allowed me to bowl out two of the men in my first game, which didn’t make me very popular with them. We must look like hoydens to people who still have the idea that women should dress beautifully and sit in the shade. As much as I’m trying to understand and fit into Indian culture, there are times when I chafe against it. Why do you have to wear so much clothing in the heat, damn it?

I had a wonderful birthday yesterday. Bella and Chloe made me a card with a poem, lovely Mexican Jannet presented sparkly pink earrings, and the staff decorated the mess hall and brought out a sugary iced cake. After dinner a few of us decided to rebel and go out for drinks, though we had to be back home for ten o’clock curfew. Jannet, the old neighborhood hand (been here since November) took us to the best local bar; five of us squeezed into a rickshaw, arriving at a run-down building with a lot of men on motorcycles parked outside. Upstairs was practically deserted, however, with a few men watching a loud Malayalam movie, so we were left alone to drink freshly-squeezed pineapple juice and bad rum next to a stone statue of a scantily-clad lady. I thought how depressing it could have been to be by myself in some anonymous hotel room for my birthday. How lucky I was.

I’m moving again on Friday. The plan is to get on the train Friday night in Ernakulum and chug all the way up the west coast, arriving in Ahmedabad on Sunday morning, probably catching a bus to Udaipur the same evening. Amma, the hugging guru, is coming to a stadium near here on Saturday night, and I’m annoyed to miss such a quintessential Indian experience and disappointed that the train goes once again up the same stretch of coast I’ve seen a few times already; I’d prefer to go through the middle of the country. My time in Rajasthan is limited, however, by needing to be in Chandigardh on the 19th for the wedding. That’s warring with the idea of staying a few more days. I went to the train station today to see if I could change my ticket but apparently there is no way to go through the middle of the country without going much farther North than I want to. Or maybe there is but the man just couldn’t figure it out before the people pushing me from behind won out. The Indian railways web site does not help at all, and f-ing “Trains at a Glance’, if I could find a copy, would probably just confuse things further.

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2 comments
  1. victorinas said:

    You might call it useless prose but it’s a very refreshing read. Great style 🙂

  2. Tina said:

    I used to hate quitting too. I think that’s why I made it through 4 years at Loomis! But now, I feel life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. And who cares what anybody else thinks? No one knows what makes you happy more than yourself!

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