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Turning 21.


I think it's become a ritual of mine to write on the night of my birthday. I turn 21 in a few hours, an age widely regarded as the socially constructed gateway into adulthood. I wanted to formally record this transition, from a 20-year-old boy to a 21-year-old man and re-define where I'm headed.

As I turned 20, I lost most of the people I held dear to me and in many ways, I lost a lot of who I was as well. As I turn 21, I've won back everything that I lost and, through a god-sent miracle, got back even more than what I'd originally desired. The winters of 2020 were dreadful; cold, dark and alone with not a single soul to touch. Hustling bodies surrounded me in a city that felt alien, even though I'd been here for a total of three years. It is then that I realised, places can never exist as mere physical locations but environments where people create memories for life. All throughout that dreadful winter, I struggled to make myself whole. I walked aimlessly around the city with a desperate need to reconnect, to reconvene with human beings, spaces and my own self. Nothing worked.

For the longest time, I thought that big cities had the vicious power of consuming people; thereby modifying the very core of their being. I blamed and despised Delhi for years. I thought that I lost people I'd loved to the vicious claws of this city but I hadn't. I lost them, not to the city but because of the problematic human being that I had become.

As I turn 21, I cannot quantify how fulfilled I feel. I grew to realise that human relationships are indeed forged in spaces of vulnerability and are sustained through transparent communication. I'd never understood this or, rather, never even thought that it was me pushing people past their breaking points where I expected more than what camaraderie demands and gave in return less than what was expected. As my mentor correctly pointed out when I was 19, the problem was indeed me and not them. It took me two years to understand this. Today, I have people that I love with every cell of my being. I don't know what caused this shift in my understanding when I decided to actively nurture my relationships instead of expecting them to grow on their own. Being vulnerable and communicating actively was not something that I had intended to do but I found myself often trespassing these spaces. As I write this now, I realise that a lot of it stemmed from me being able to accept all the wrong parts of me or my life and the petty troubles that surround all mankind. All of us wear shields and we never put them down on the battlefield. The problem, however, is that we tend to depend on that shield and use it to guard ourselves against the probability of getting hurt. Therefore, we wear it all the time and it becomes impossible to let go of, even around the ones you love.

I've also started to foster a weirdly settling feeling inside me. All my life, I've never been truly happy with where I was. I always fooled myself by saying that I was meant for more. Due to this, I denied myself the wholeness of any happiness that I felt because I was constantly climbing the next step towards the pinnacle of everything that I was doing. This thinking changed this year. I realise now that I'm mostly a product of mediocrity, albeit a hard-working one. It's like my aunt had mentioned a while back, I'm good at quite a few things but not exceptionally talented at something. 20 years and I always ran away from this truth, towards something that made my existence feel more than what it was. To think that I had some gift of god waiting to shine through on earth. And so, whatever I did, I wanted to be "the best in the world at that thing". Slowly, this dream started crumbling. With every new pedestal , people were still far better than me; and even younger in some cases. Accepting this lack of god-given ability has made my work as well as physical activities such as climbing all the more fulfilling. Sure, I have my aspirations but the constant lack of their realisation no longer have the power to make me feel like I've done nothing in my life. My road to these aspirations is a long one and that too, without guarantee. The destination no longer carries the value it once had, simply because the journey is extremely beautiful.

So, what do I want to do in the next 365 days? I don't quite know. I don't have a checklist of sorts like I did before. Honestly, I doubt that I'll ever be able to mentally construct the ideal future life again because I genuinely do not want to. I want this year to throw things at me, I want to allow myself the opportunity to take turns when I arrive at a crossroads; thereby removing the linearity in my life. I want to work every single day not thinking that the things I make will change the world the very next day or get me a job offer from my dream firm. I want to consistently experiment and thrive in the act of making. I want to climb, run and hike but not to become the best in the world in these activities. I want to liberate myself from despising this city and allowing it to love me again and show me its beauty. I want to hold the people I love close to me and try, finally try, to strengthen the thread that holds us together in every possible way.

To the people who make my life whole and the mother whom I've failed time and time again,

- A 21-year-old Arjun.


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