Now the traveling is over (for now!), now that I am stationary, and have had weeks for the gap year to set in about me, to depart from high school student to this in-between state—what am I actually doing?
For one, I’m enjoying the pleasant coolness of Bangalore summers. My family returns here twice a year. This place or even state is not where I’m from—my mother and father come from two opposite ends of the country—nor is it where my family is centered—they, too, are scattered across India, and the world. My blood knows no part of this land. But we return here still, and through time and furniture and the accumulation of libraries, we shaped this place into our Indian home, and I can walk down the stairs in the dark and know without seeing where the place welcomes me.
I’m reading, too. Our internet, as always, crashed the first week we were here and I took that time to relish Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow. The book is written with elegant joy, which feels like an odd way to describe a novel chronicling the life of a Count Rostov under house arrest, reduced to a servant’s room in Moscow’s Grand Hotel Metropol after writing a politically subversive poem. And yet, out of this, Towles constructs a loving, beautiful, funny homage to growth and place and people—all the different ways you can know and love where you are. It’s a Russian book; the Count spends half the book praising Chekhov and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to the extent it almost (almost) makes me want to restart the three-year ordeal that was War and Peace. But it’s also Russian in that it is intimate with the ideals of Russian aristocracy. In this book, where the Count is separated from any of the possessions of such aristocracy—having lost his land, his house, most of his furniture—he retains only its urbane sophistication, which does not discriminate by money. Instead, this sense of class can be found in a waiter to an actress to a seamstress. The Count believes firmly that as much as what it is you do matters how you do. But this class can only refine character, and in the end Towles asserts the importance of the people you do it with. And in the end, their experiences and diversity and conversations and opinions, the brilliant spectrum of human existence, turn this hotel into a world that was a privilege to visit for a few hundred pages.
And I’m watching the World Cup out of the corner of my eye with only the faintest clue of what’s going on. (If I make a comment—“oh, they’ve scored a goal”, I’m tactfully and wisely ignored by my family, who know what’s actually happening.) I’ve never been a sports person and am never likely to become one. So mainly I sit with my back to the shouting on the TV in peace, working on various things—applying for internships, half-finishing poems, editing photographs, attempting to draw. My main focus, though, is an interactive field guide structured around a simplified dichotomous key. I reflected on my early experience getting into butterflies and birds when considering potential projects: the thing about nature is that there’s a lot of it, and I spent much of my time as a novice birder feeling overwhelmed, not knowing where to begin. It was mentors who helped me find my way, directing me down easily understandable paths. I still feel lost, but less frequently now, and the field guide is designed to offer a start for other lost souls. There are so many phenomenal resources available on Singaporean biodiversity already. I can’t replace any of them, but what I want is to offer a gentle lead-in to them by guiding people through the steps to simple identifications.
The field guide is focused on the Rail Corridor—one of my favourite and surprisingly biodiverse spaces in Singapore. Before I finished school, I spent several months walking the area, relishing its landscape and wildlife. The Rail Corridor is where the former train line from Singapore to Malaysia used to run. Years ago the train line was removed, leaving instead a dirt trail lined with trees, carving a space for greenery through industry and offices and houses. It runs through backyards and sports fields, a long verdant backbone to the city, forming a passage from the Singapore of buildings to the Singapore of rainforests. I hope my field guide can help in understanding that transition. It’s very much a work in progress, but one I’m excited about—if you want to learn more or help out in any way, do let me know.
There’s more I’m doing—exercising and watching TV and eating and painting and once in a long while attempting to cook—but most of all I am enjoying the space to do it all. It’s wide and free and most of all fun.