It is a humid night and I am on page ninety-one of Pablo Neruda’s Memoirs reading about how in certain cases solitude is something as hard as a prison wall, “…you could smash your head against the wall and nobody came; no matter how you screamed and wept”.
My solitude is different; voluntarily sought, treasured and not centred on any void. My solitude is an escape. My solitude is essential; and I cling to it like the last drops of water at the bottom of the flask while stranded in a desert. My solitude is permeable, selectively by a selective few. My solitude creeps into little nooks of the day; discrete, pulsating nodes of life that puts together what existence undoes. My solitude is layered.
The first and obvious layer: There is reading in bed at dawn and just before midnight, a half hour each, that scrapes off otiose and rusted ideas, causes agitations and reverberations that accompanies the new, occasionally sparks off nostalgia and brings in the pleasant exhaustion of a working imagination. It is a sacred hour of lucent solitude. There is the quarter of an hour of leaning on the parapet of the roof, gazing at the flurry of activity on the streets and the quietude of the distant rolling hills that encircles the city. It refreshes perspectives. It is in the few minutes of coffee and crossword every morning. It is in the occasional driving around without predetermined destinations and secretly banking on serendipity and the delight of the unknown. It is also in the monotonous and meditative laps in the pool. There it is in the endless compiling, weeding out and re-arranging of ideas and memories during commute, fleeting between complete detachment and eager observation of the crowd around. It is in the quiet contemplation of the blur of trees, buildings, people, lives moving outside the car window. These habitual moments of solitude rejuvenates me.
The second and temperamental layer: I owe this to being an introvert, to an inherent preference for solitude. In the course of a busy day, in the midst of a bustling crowd, in the centre of activity or while meeting the unwavering gaze of certain eyes, I need a moment of my own to recharge, to regain composure, to think, to not think. It could be getting back to my room, sitting on my bed, eating a sandwich alone, leafing through a book or listening to my favourite music for a while before rushing back out into the world that “can’t stop talking” (from Susan Cain’s Quiet).
The third and concealed layer: It echoes Neruda’s words. Invisible hands loses no time in throwing a cover on the dormant thoughts that terrifyingly resonates into life at the sound of those words. It is rarely admitted or explored, but the awareness of an well-concealed void gets palpable at times. It stems from an obscure mix of unmet expectations, sudden and unwelcome detours, phases of purposelessness, apathetic days, dead ends, long waits and saudade. I dread this particular solitude that creeps up only in the darkness of closed eyelids during bouts of insomnia.
Then there all-pervading solitude that comes with individuality and the unique realm of thoughts of which only a fraction gets visible at a given moment. I am a different person in different memories. In the quest of knowing self in its entirety, and being who we are in all the thoughts and quirks and memories that make us, we are alone. This solitude is very different.