Objects of Affection by Krishna Udayasankar

I am the almighty border between that which can be and that which ought not to be, the line parting sacred from profane. I reveal and inspire judgment. I hide and so ignite desire.

If this was a quiz, I would definitely ask: What am I? And the correct answer would be: a skirt. That was also the title of part of the poetry quoted above.

Just like the title of the poetry itself explicitly describes what the story is all about, the book title, Objects of Affection, also tells the readers about what the rest of the book contains. It is a compilation of short stories from the perspective of everyday objects, each voice personified, telling stories of mostly their owners who would use them most often, and sometimes other person or people who got entangled into.

Take, for example, the story Scar, which told a story of a broken-heart and a promise of a new happiness in a relationship, or a premonition in a couple’s relationship as they shopped with their kids in through the perspective of a shopping cart, as well as an affair told from the perspective of an apartment’s key.

My favorites, however, other than Skirt, would be Language and Book. Perhaps it has something to do with me being interested in language in general and my affection for books. But what took me by surprise–because I had not expected to become very fond of this thin book–is the beautifully phrased words, which was arranged and structured to tell each story, and this is, to me is the main attraction of the book itself.

For example, in Camera, the object eloquently describes itself as “borrowed eyes” which sees things beyond what normal eyes could never see–things that are so carefully hidden are laid bare for the camera, although not so much for the camera-holder.

I am borrowed eyes, yet I have eyes of my own. And I will see that which she tries so hard not to reveal […] I will see the emotions of magnified heart and zoom in on the sadness behind her smile. I will take the longing in her eyes and hold it in my keeping, letting only forced laughter through into viewfinder.

And through the narrative of each object, we could deduce what was going on in the lives of the people surrounding the object, including their emotional state or feelings.

It was not all right. Every now and then they met. Every now and then they fought. He’d come home and run the conversation over in his mind, again and again, till he could point to the exact moment when he ought to have shut up and stopped himself from saying those words that would have been nothing but innocent when whispered with a smile in the safety of each other’s arms, in the simple trust that no longer was.

Stories of daily lives would usually be boring, but told by the supposedly inanimate object provide a fresh perspective, especially when it is very elegantly written, making each sentence and in each story feel special, adding weight to every word written; making the implication of the affairs going on in the characters’ lives themselves sound very natural, just like what every excellent story-teller would do.

Overall, I would consider this a light reading, but a very amusing one, and definitely recommended, be it for traveling or simply for passing the time.

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Random Story #8

I should give credits to three of my good friends, because our conversations have led me to writing this.

* * *

“She tried to feel me,” Sri said with terror in her whole face.

“What? What do you mean with ‘trying to feel’ you?” Christine, who was sitting right next to me, asked. She looked just as surprised as me, but I was too stunned to say anything.

“She… Well, I came to say goodbye, of course… She was out when I came here to give you guys a farewell, so… when I saw her on my way out, I thought I’d give a proper goodbye… And then… she told me to come near her, and so I did. But then… she hugged me. Which, I thought, was not a big deal, until… until she tried to grab my butt, and I felt her lips on my neck and her other hand tried to caress my breast, and…— ” Sri stopped, too horrified to continue.

There was a silence for a short time before Christine finally shouted, “She WHAT??”

Again, I was lost for words, still trying to process what I just heard.

“Are you sure that’s what she did to you? I mean, that she wasn’t joking at all?”

Sri shook her head over and over, as if trying responded to Christine’s question and at the same time trying to forget the unpleasant memory of what she just told us in her head.

“I… I don’t know, but I don’t think she was joking. She looked me straight in the eye, and… she didn’t look as if she’s playing around.”

This time, even Christine was lost for words as well. Another silence filled the room.

“I… I tried to back away quickly, to show her that… that I’m not that kind, you know, but she approached. I kept backing away slowly, and then she… she asked me… She asked me whether I was sure to leave, because… She said she could secure a place for me in this class if I want to, give me a second chance to continue my study here. She’d asked her dad and…” Sri stopped.

“And??” Christine asked impatiently.

“I said no right away. I couldn’t think of anything else other than that I have to get away from her that moment, but she grabbed my arm, and asked me… if—” again, Sri stopped, “…if she could arrange for me to study in another class in this school, would I be willing to accept the offer. But by that time, I was much too scared of what she’d do next already, so I shrugged her off and tell her no for the second time, and then I bolted away from her.”

We gasped in surprise and amazement.

“…Are you… Are you okay, Sri?” I finally found my voice and asked her.

“Well, no. But I have to be okay again soon. I… Now I just want to go home and listen to my favorite music while reading my favorite mangas to cast the unpleasant image and memories embedded in my mind already,” she answered with her eyes shut close tightly.

“Well, okay. You go home, and do whatever you want to forget this. It’s your last day here, and you’re supposed to have a wonderful time,” said Christine while patting Sri’s shoulder. Sri nodded weakly. “You be okay, alright?”

“I’m sorry that you have to experienced this, Sri. I also hope you’d be alright.”

“I hope so too. Thanks, girls. I’ll… I think I better go now.”

And so she left, leaving me and Christine again in silence.

Finally, I said, “I never thought… I never thought she would do something like that, you know. I mean… I know she’s a lesbian, and… I thought they usually don’t make a move on someone with different orientation. Well, that’s what my lesbian friends usually do, I think.”

“Me too…,” Christine responded. “It’s… It’s just so out of line! I know she got quite an influence in this place because of her parents and her connections, but… to do so is just… just…

“I’m just sorry—very sorry that it should happened to her—and on her last day here! I… I just hope she wouldn’t dwell on that unpleasant moment.”

“I hope she wouldn’t be traumatized,” I said, though I actually doubted even my own words. I know Sri was quite homophobic. One too many times already, I came across her facebook statuses criticizing, if not scorning, the gays and lesbians community. I worried that this experience would only confirm further her fears and paranoia. Of all people, why it should happen to her? And of all people, why she should be that homophobic?

* * *

I was right. I didn’t even have to wait for the next day to came across her latest facebook status, blaming and scorning gays and lesbians. Usually I managed to ignore them, but this time, she was different.

“These homosexuals should have been banished. It is such an abnormality and simply causing disorder amongst normal people!”

She was sexually harassed. I understand.

In this country, homosexuality is still something very unusual. Even though more and more people are now more open and more accepting toward homosexuality, I think there are still even more people who oppose the idea alone and avoid the subject. Therefore, being harassed like that might be much too… too terrifying.

I understand.

But should she harbor so much hatred?

“They’re no different from you and me, you know. They’re humans, like us. They eat the same food, they harbor same emotions that we have, and they do the same things we do: go to school, study, work, and such. The only thing different is their sexual orientation.”

Words of a good friend of mine said long time ago flew back to my mind.

Yes, they’re blood and flesh just like me. They’re humans too. They’re not handicapped, nor are they abnormal. They just happen to like those of the same sex.

“Just because they’re homosexuals, it doesn’t mean that they will fall for anyone from the same sex, you see. It’s just like straight people, if a guy is straight, does that mean he would fall for any girl he sees? And will a girl who’s straight fall in love with every guy she meets? They have types and preferences, too.”

This was also said by another good friend of mine. I chuckled hearing that at that time because I remember one time in the past time of that past, when one of my gay friend told me how the guys in the same vocal group avoided him once he joined because they were afraid he would fall for them. I remember him laughing about that instead and said, “Seriously, do they really think they are all that attractive?” and then we laughed together.

I used to wonder as well whether my view could form like this simply because no lesbians ever fell for me, so I feared nothing. I wonder if that’s the case. But, if a guy I don’t like fall for me, wouldn’t I reject him all the same? It’s not like I would like anyone just because I’m straight and it’s a guy, right? Perhaps, then, that’s not the case.

* * *

“You know, I really do regret what happened to Sri this afternoon. I think it’s just unfortunate, and it was so out of line. That moment depicted exactly what homophobic always depicted of gays and lesbians, which is a pity. And Sri happened to be homophobic, indeed. But what she just wrote in her status made me feel sad.

“Maybe… Maybe I was being too sensitive about it, but… still, I couldn’t help feeling sad upon reading it. Should we really treat homosexuality as abnormalities or illness, or something disgusting?

“The problem is not in the sexual orientation, right? It’s not that, but basically it all comes back to character, right? If you’re such a mess, then you’re a mess despite your sexual orientation. And homosexuals can be pleasantly nice too if they are genuinely nice, right?” I talked to the person in mirror in front of me.

“I have nothing against homosexuals. I have plenty of friends who are homosexuals. In the end, it’s her opinion and she is entitled to have her own opinion.

“It is, indeed, a matter of sexual orientation, but she couldn’t really be blamed as well because what she just experienced today is just very traumatic to her.

“It all comes back to each one’s character, I suppose. Straight people could also be very frontal and out of line, I guess… But society just don’t bother too much about them, probably because they’re more socially accepted.

“The point is, as long as people don’t make such a fuss about it whenever they meet homosexuals, I think everyone can be civil about that.” It feels like the person inside the mirror is responding to me.

“I suppose you couldn’t really judge those homophobic just as well, because to them, we’re the ones who do the wrong thing by accepting homosexuals. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective,” the person in the mirror continued.

“Sometimes I feel really offended whenever I came across homophobic people because many of my friends are homosexuals, but after a while, even my gay friends admit that some gays could be very aggressive without putting the other’s sexual orientation into consideration.

“Well, Homophobic people are not the ones defining what homosexuals are like, right? Besides, people here mostly grow up with the idea that such things are just not right, and it’s hard to put such notion aside if you’ve been told that way since you’re little.

“It’s no different, I guess, from making such a fuss about race or religion… There people who also discriminative against the Chinese-Indonesians, or those against Javanese, and so on…”

I sighed. “Well, I don’t think it’s my place anyway to even bother with that, or trying to change the perspective. I can’t tell people what to think, can I?” I asked.

“Well, everyone would think that their opinion is right. It’s not easy to change such thinking. In that sense, then…, there would be no correct answer. No one would be 100% correct. It would all depend on each person’s opinion and each choice we make to believe in which view,” answered the person in the mirror.

“Yeah…, that makes sense.

“I suppose that’s just how the society works,” I said.

“Exactly. It’s usually the majority’s opinion which would later become the acceptable norms and considered as ‘normal.’ Minorities are usually thought as odd, or abnormal, and such.”

“I guess it would then creates stereotyping and overgeneralization, wouldn’t it?”

“I suppose… If such thing could really disappear, maybe we should do a reality check instead. It seems so… so utopian. 

Random Story #7

I passed her by again today.

She is someone unknown to me, and what makes her very noticeable is her deformity, if I’m allowed to use such expression, causing her to limp when she walks, and even that is a mild expression. To be precise, she is actually dragging both her feet in order to move around, probably due to broken bones in her legs, resulting in one leg bending forward and the other behind.

I saw her once in a while, on my way to school in the morning, and just like every passerby on the street, whenever I glimpse her from afar, I would prepare myself to keep walking straight and avoid looking at her direction.

Whenever I look at her, I can never be sure of what I feel toward her, or how I should just as well. Most of the time, it would be pity I feel, but would she feel insulted or hurt by that instead? In movies I’ve watched or books I’ve read, whenever they have such characters, they either beg for pity and even much more, or instead, loathing pity that they would scold or hate the person looking at them with such emotion. Of course, real life is completely different, but usually stories are drawn from reality, aren’t they? And what if I do feel pity? When it comes to pity to those unfortunate, I always wish that I am filthy rich that I have enough money to send them to the doctors or hospitals, and have them treated properly or operated so someone like her could walk just like everybody else. Sadly, just like in most stories, this is no more than just another empty, bulshit talk. I only got so much money to pay for my tuition fee and my monthly allowance. And even if I saved a lot, it would still take years to pay such a lot sum for an operation or proper hospital treatment for them. I could probably pay as much as the down payment and that would hardly be enough. I suppose I could save enough to donate to a charity sometime soon.

But in the end, I simply passed her by, making sure to avoid her gaze and walked past her. I suppose it’s no different than what every other passerby do. I keep thinking that perhaps this is better. If I show her pity, she might not like it. Yet, deep down I know that I tell myself such bullshit because I’m just too afraid to do anything.

Suddenly my mind jumped to a sample novel I just read last night. A work by Daniel Wallace titled The Kings and Queens of Roam caught my attention the other day, and intrigued me enough into reading a sample of it in my Kindle. It’s a story of two sisters, Helen and Rachel McAllister, who were unfortunate enough to have both parents died, and born as orphans in the city of Roam. As if that’s not enough, Rachel was born blind, but she was said to be very beautiful. On the other hand, Helen, though physically healthy and was able to see, was very, very ugly. Rachel was said to be loved by everyone in Roam, and they loved to see her as well because she was so beautiful, but Helen was a terrible sight. People avoided her gaze, and her altogether because they simply couldn’t stand to look at her horrible face. In short, they prefer to consider her invisible whenever possible, and this has caused her a deep grief. She imagined how ironic the situation was: her sister, beautiful but blind, and her, healthy but ugly.

Of course, I know that Helen’s situation was completely different to the woman, but in my mind, I was wondering whether she and Helen would think alike when it comes to how different kinds of people look at her. Then I thought about how I behave and felt very ashamed right away. I was doing exactly like what the people in Roam was doing: I was trying to pretend she’s invisible by avoiding her gaze as well as interaction with her. Then that thought trigger another thought, which then led to me wasting to much time simply wondering what to do next. Even with other physically healthy people around me–in schools and neighborhood–I had trouble socializing with them, pondering too much of what to do and what to say in order to start a conversation or interacting with them (yes, I’m that awkward), so that time, I was spending even more time thinking of whether it would be better to turn around and… and then, what? Greet her? But then, that would be awkward, wouldn’t it, if I simply greet her and then walk away? Give her money? Would food be better? How would she respond, then? Would she be offended, or would she be grateful?

So there I was, wasting my time thinking and thinking over what I should do or say while I kept walking. In the meantime, our distance became longer and longer, and I was more and more further away from her.

Then I continued walking.

In the end, I didn’t do a thing.

In the end, I’m no more than a coward.

Fiction vs. Reality

From books (and movies), we learn so much. We learn about life, love, despair, hatred, regret, sadness, and happiness. At the same time, those are the least things books could teach us about reality.

Despite many other quotations saying how books can truly change someone’s life, let alone teach its readers a lot of things about life (like, real life experiences, or the philosophy of life itself; recently I read The Castle in the Pyrenees by Jostein Gaarder which deals with a lot of life philosophical stuffs), when it comes to how (oh yes, the most irritating question ever), books don’t really teach us anything. No, sir, nothing.

Books surely cover a lot of theme–as well as movies, as I have also mentioned movies in the quotation–romance, revenge, discrimination, religions, etc etc. Lan Cao, in her novel Monkey Bridge tells a story of Vietnamese immigrants who moved to the States during the Vietnam war, and was struggling to adjust to American life and culture. The books shows how they deal with the cross-cultural experience by the story narrated by Mai and her mother, Thanh. Mai, as the second generation of the Vietnamese-American was adjusting very well while her mother, on the other hand, was having a shock culture.

Of course, the story of Mai and her mother are merely fictional characters, so their life story could not be a true story, but the theme of the story is not unusual. Similar topic could also be found in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.

Jostein Gaarder, in most of his novels, always write stories where the characters always question the truly meaning of life (Sophie’s World, The Solitaire Mystery, The Castle in the Pyrenees). In The Castle in the Pyrenees, which I recently read, the story revolves around two main characters: Steinn and Solrun, two ex-lovers who reunited and then exchanging emails, sharing and asking opinions about life and God. Solrun, as the religious one, asked Steinn what his belief is, and Steinn stated his doubt on superstitious things, including God and His miracles.

Again, I think this is a common subject.

There are many people who are doubting the existence of God and claim to be atheist. There are many people who only believe in what they can see, and things that can only be explained logically by science.

In The Crimson Petal and the White, Michel Faber wrote a story about a prostitute named Sugar, who became a mistress of William Rackham (the bastard William Rackham!) and later climbed her way up to the elite society of England–well, not really ‘elite,’ I suppose, since Sugar turned from a prostitute to the governess of William’s daughter. While Sugar is indeed the main character of the novel, the story doesn’t revolve around her alone. The novel also covers the story of William’s older brother, Henry, who is complete the opposite of William: religious, and think only the best of the world.

This is not something uncommon as well, isn’t it? Even in modern times, we still have the so-called elite society, although the elites now are not so proud that they don’t wanna have anything to do with others who are not as wealthy as them. We also have prostitutes (or what most people refer to as ‘hooker,’ I guess), as well as people who devoted their lives to be clergymen.

The story is not based on something unreal.

Even science fiction novels–even if we haven’t really had any aliens or a super sophisticated spaceship like the ones in Star Trek–still deals with the most common topic in the present days: romance, hatred, anger, revenge, and blah-blah-blah.

Let’s bring up something more… cheesy. I could seriously refer to Indonesian sinetron. Whereas the stories are mostly overly exaggerated, yet the theme revolves around things that we found in everyday lives: breakups, dating, and perhaps jealousy.

Yet, referring to my earlier quotes: they could show us the worst thing that could ever happen in life–a guy got mutilated (I really need to stop watching NCIS and Criminal Minds), a girl being abused by her own mother, and treated like Cinderella (servant), a boy threatening a girl that he would jump from the 10th floor if the girl didn’t accept her love, etc etc–but when dealing with reality, no matter how similar the condition and situation we’re in with the ones in movies or novels, it never is the same.

We could always refer back to those books or novels we’re reading or watching, of course, (ohhh, this is just like the scene I just watched on Gossip Girl last night!) but when it comes to making decision, we have to come up with our own answer. We’re on our own.

In reality, life is never as beautiful/miserable/simple/complicated as movies/novels. In real life, we experience some climaxes–we experience hardships, adversities, sadness, and such–but we don’t always experience the closure, or what we always identify as the endings in novels and movies. Some of us got closure, but it might take days, weeks, months, and even years. And then the others might not even got their closures. The problems simply disappears and never solved. People experience the anticlimaxes without ever knowing the endings.

There’s a reason why I hate open-ending stories, and at the same time I love it: because I think open-endings are a glimpse of realities that the story could offer–not knowing how and when the story would end.

But I guess you all knew that already ;)