City City Bang Bang, Columns

Once upon a morning

Somehow, the morning has changed. Growing up in a slower India, mornings felt different. It might well be nostalgia, but they did not seem to be as full of portent, as crammed with activity, as performative in their character. Mornings hung on to the day, not in clammy desperation but in airy surprise at the newness of everything. If the morning today is a perpetual flashback in blur, a compressed space rarely experienced and only occasionally remembered, it seemed that the mornings of yore had time to be themselves, before hardening into the day.

Memories of mornings as they used to be invariably involved the radio. There was something about the AIR signature tune that did not merely usher in the morning; it became the morning in all its unfolding sonorousness. Meter bands sprang gently to life, and tanpuras filled out the empty spaces in the day, curling into the distant corners of the room. The sound became the light, as the tanpura echoed the coming to life of a new day, contemplative, unhurried, setting the background to the activity to follow, refraining from giving us any concrete signs of what might follow. Somehow morning time is tanpura time; where the intent of the day is not fully ripened, where time is rubbing sleep from its eyes and settling down, stretching to give itself room to eventually take some shape and form. Sound that creates diversion but avoids shape; that gesticulates musically without articulating any precise content; that is all aura and little substance. Gradually strains of sunlight streamed in through the verandah, light claiming territory patch after bright patch. Window panes glowered as if caught unawares; light began to get tinged with heat, stirring the bones into some form of activity.

If the radio understood that the morning called for quiet saturation, the newspaper put us in direct touch with the very idea of time. Every day brought a new newspaper, freshly printed, ink still wet, the world crinkling between one’s fingers. Whatever the contents, the newspaper made the world fit into one’s hands and made it comprehensible. Unlike the untidy and unpacked nature of time today, where news tumbles out of media every single moment of the day, in earlier times, news deferred to time and kowtowed to order. News came to us decorously, knocking on our doors every morning. This was still a time when editors knew best; even if what was called news often consisted of the most mind-numbingly boring utterances of the people in power, it was still news, and mornings decreed that we read about it.

Of course, none of this was possible without being accompanied by a cup of tea. The function of tea was to wake us up, one sip at a time. Unlike coffee, which admittedly had its own adherents, tea delivered us without startling us alarm-clock like, into the morning. Before descending into a cup of tea, the morning has rendered us sub-human, with the idea of awakening not only being one of making peace with a new day, but also in some way returning to a human form, from the state of oneness with the primal force of sleep. Night confers on us a return to primitive unity which the cold light of day fractures into a sense of being an individual and tea helps us cleave back into being conscious and singular again. Tea helped gun our engines, while letting them idle, till it was time shift into first gear. And then of course, mornings became purposeful; time became an arrow, and the day sucked us in to do its bidding.

There was still the bath; the last frontier between a self immersed in yesterday and one having defected to today. The bath renewed us as it undid the past, by jolting us out of one state into another. The bath was a shock of today delivered on the unsuspecting torso of yesterday. It broke down all remaining allegiance to the past, and delivered us all shiny and new into the future.

Looking back from the vantage point of today, it does seem that we understood mornings better then than we do now. As a threshold that allows us to prepare for the day, as an intermediate space between the fact of being awake and alive and performing the act of living, it allowed us to inhale the new deeply before participating in it. Not that the mornings of today are completely different, or that the role they play in our lives has dramatically changed. A cup of tea is still as gentle in its embrace, and a bath just as bracing, but the quality of the morning has certainly changed. The tanpura no longer hangs on the air, making time seem momentarily infinite, nor do we surrender quite as meekly to the newspaper. We think too much, and know too much, for the morning to work its magic on us.

It is possible that it is not the mornings that have changed; it is we who have become a new version of our old selves. When we insist that everything in our life must deliver value and must have a reason for existence, we make all parts of our life instrumental, part of some grand, if not entirely well defined plan. The morning need not have a responsibility to the day that follows and the day in turn might not be an officer on perpetual duty of the rest of our lives. Without fallowness, there is no fertility and without mornings that drift purposelessly till they hit shore, we may not do justice to the day that follows.

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