All you might want is to get inside a room away from life’s curveballs, fears, anxiety, people, all the bonds that tie you, noise/ news, tiredness and the general feeling of imminent doom that is prevalent nowadays.
‘Lightly, my child, lightly’
Find a place. Inner/outer. That you can retire to. A gulp of cold water. An open window. Quietude. Some green-trees, plants. Perspective. Stoicism. Or a hug. A book. Music. Art. Food. Exercise/movement. Sleep. Whatever comforts. Replenish. Rejuvenate.
“I know what the fear is. The fear is not for what is lost. What is lost is already in the wall. What is lost is already behind the locked doors. The fear is for what is still to be lost.”
In Blue Nights, Joan Didion writes about the long and blue twilights, during summer, just before it gets engulfed by the inky blackness of the night as an analogy for how ‘ordinary and expected blessings‘ like good health, finding love, marriage, bringing up a child, travels, new beginnings can be wiped away by sudden and unexpected catastrophes, uprooting the very foundation of a life that one had carefully built over the years. She has a career as a successful novelist and memoirist; a wonderful family; travels around the world; fame and money; and then came the irreparable and sudden loss of her husband and only daughter within a span of less than two years. The anxiety, sense of foreboding, grief and the subdued nihilism in her words made me realize how flippant most of us are towards the “ordinary blessings“.
I have everything I need; a late-blooming yet deep and strong bond with my parents, a sibling who knows me inside out and loves me despite it, seven ‘soul sisters‘ who creates unmeasured joy and camaraderie, a job that enables me to pay my bills comfortably and brings in a sense of making a direct and real difference in the lives of others (in whatever small way), a cosy home resounding with love and laughter; good health of my near ones, and here I use the term loosely to denote just the absence of any major illnesses; a sense of wanderlust, wonder and stubborn hope that (now) fails to get marred even by the dreariest of circumstances; stacks and stacks of books overspilling from every shelf in my room; and the love of a kind man.
Yet, not so long ago, I was drowning in the dark and turbulent waters of mourning about what I want and didn’t (yet) get. And no one wants to be ordinary. The hopelessness that stems from the knowledge that one has not yet achieved the universally accepted cornerstones of ‘success‘ in their specific profession, negates every little achievement and joy that were present at the beginning of the career. Tangled in self-doubt and an unfulfilled and misplaced sense of entitlement, the thought of settling for less pained me to the very core. My parents are quite supportive and happy with the very fact that I am the first and only doctor in the entire extended family including the past generations. But it meant nothing to me, because I had failed my own expectations owing to reasons that varied from circumstantial to self-sabotage or being just lazy. Anxiety didn’t help as much as ruined my confidence every passing moment. My whole worth as a person began to be centred around my academic performance. Nothing else mattered.
I remember my little cousin once asked me the reason behind the suicide of a movie star and I replied that it was allegedly due to depression, which many speculated was over a stagnant career. My cousin failed to understand why an actor who had surpassed thousands of people struggling to get not just a role in a movie and had attained world-wide fame and recognition had killed himself. How was he a ‘failure‘? I struggled to explain to my cousin that success is a subjective term, rooted deeply in comparison to others, and that happiness and well-being is centred around it to varying degrees.
Today I have reached a point in my life where I am thankful for every blessing I had been given unasked for; but I know the helplessness that many people might have due to failed expectations and the vicious thoughts it spurs about the absence of any way out, the complete oblivion of hope, the negligible sense of self-worth and the highly exaggerated delusion of what others will say. I had been trapped in that web of negativity and depression a few years ago for long enough to toy with the idea of embracing death in a bid to escape living. It was the result of a cumulative despair, feeding on certain untoward incidents in my life, that tipped me over the edge when I was challenged with a a period of stagnancy in my career.
While I was battling such negativity, a childhood friend passed away due to post-operative complications following a minor surgery. The day after she died the sun shone brightly in a brilliant blue sky, the bougainvillea was a riot of colour, my mother prepared my favourite dish, my father broke through my wall of gloom with his booming laughter; my sister kicked me in the butt and grinned impishly when I wanted to borrow something from her wardrobe; the television blared upcoming movie trailers, a few friends sent me a postcard from a holiday in Ladakh (because they knew how much I loved the mountains); I read an Alice Munro story; and I had an overwhelming realization that my friend will never experience these ordinary and mundane blessings again.
The world will go on, will bring in the new and hold on to the nostalgia of the past, and she won’t be there to know any of it.
Happiness is being alive. That’s it. Everything else is a bonus. And I had, a decade ago, let the fleeting thoughts of ending it all creep in to my mind; I don’t regret those thoughts, nor am I ashamed. I am immensely relieved to pry myself away from the clutches of such hopelessness and despair. Even now, my life is devoid of the ‘certain things that I want‘, but I am ready to work for them, strive towards them, wait for them. I realize that I will never have all the things I want; but I have everything I need, a wider focus of what this world has to offer and yes, I am alive to enjoy it all.
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This post might not make much sense. I just want to share how I feel right now. It might seem too preachy, the kind of post I would have skipped reading too, but today the value of these words has been reinforced in my life.
Treasure every moment. Treasure every person in your life. Count every single blessing; from the ability to go to a normal day at work, to quietly eat a meal without any huge worries looming in the horizon. It’s highly disturbing and scary how easily one stands to lose everything they hold dear in life, somtime all it takes is a mere second. A pandemic is ruthless.
.I face every hurdle; yet plan expectantly towards a future, the next week or the next decade of my life; hope for miracles; work towards the dream career, the love of my life, the books I want to read, the places I want to see, the children I want to have someday, confess the secrets I carry in my heart, do the things I had been holding back, putting them off for a distant day or letting them go too easily, and oh, the dreams, so many dreams! And a mere gust of wind can carry everything to the edge of a cliff, threatening to topple me and my dreams over, and I hang precariously, not knowing what to do.
Such gusts of wind can be quite unpredictable and blow into anyone’s life. What happens then to the career you fret about, the love you have, the dreams you nurtured, the children you wanted to have, the places your feet never tread on? What then? Only one word comes to my mind. Unfair. But who had said it would be fair?
So, I treasure everything I have, even that petty colleague, the extra kilos, a broken heart, the windswept hair, my books with dog-eared pages, that tiny chunk of blue sky I see from my window. I won’t put off anything till tomorrow. I will hold my dear ones near. I will do only what I love. And not waste my time worrying about petty setbacks. Every blessing we have is palpable during COVID times. Especially the ordinary, everyday ones.
He is listening to songs by the band ‘When Chai met toast’, on a loop. I adore his childlike glee at sprinkled Tamil lyrics in a Hindi song.
In the early morning hours, drifting in and out of sleep, I dreamt of narrow lanes, blurry silhouettes of people rushing past, dark corridors, slate blue and dark green shop fronts illuminated by the diffuse haze of yellow lights. I remember being happy.
Throughout the day I tried to recall if it was a random image conjured by my mind or a real memory. If yes, then from where and when? Finally it came to me. Hauz Khas, Delhi. Dusk. Autumn evening. 2012. A solo trip. Walking through the busy lanes. Eating butter garlic prawns at a restaurant after walking six flights of rickety stairs. I remember hearing a strange, high-pitched bird cry, and was told it was a peacock from the adjacent forest. Later, chanced upon the Yoda Press bookstore and it was lit up with soft yellow lights. Browsed for hours. Sat cross-legged on the floor, taking my own time to decide, adding to the book pile. Roamed in the dark corridor studded with paintings and photographs. It was an unfamiliar vibe, a new feeling, very different from the small town I grew up in. More strolling around with a bag full of books. Ate gelato. I enjoyed that ordinary evening of roaming around alone. And this memory jumped to surface today, eight years later!
It is so important to be comfortable being on your own. And I am grateful that I finally do. I relish going to the movies alone every once in a while, and also eating alone at a restaurant , bookstore browsing, visiting museums and galleries, reading for hours , or going for a walk alone. Not just a refreshing break of solitude in a world that just can’t keep quiet, but also being able to do things at my own pace and be in the moment without worrying about making conversation.
At a lab I worked in very briefly, I was horrified at the thought of eating lunch together with a huge group, EVERY SINGLE DAY! At the risk of appearing rude (and I definitely must have appeared so) , I used to return to my room, eat my lunch alone, read for a few minutes while making coffee, and revel in the solitude! This need of mine becomes difficult to explain to those who thrive in being around others. I love being around people too, but I treasure my solitude equally. So much that I sometimes dream of solitude! 🙂
Writing in a circle of yellow light, alone at my desk, at four in the morning.An after dinner conversation about ecosystems, the last book I read (Autumn Light), the odd hour coffee (the culprit!), a walk under trees with bare branches, a familiar warm smile; the previous evening swirls in my mind.
(Note: This is a recycled post from a now deleted blog of mine)
Orange-gold flush of evening light against a slowly darkening indigo sky. Like tea swirling in my favorite navy blue ceramic mug.
These are days of the lockdown. Roads are (near) empty. Anxiety is palpable. Numbers and curves are scary. Touch is forbidden. Gloved. Masked. Wrinkled, dehydrated fingers. Dead people. Sick people. Hungry people. Jobless people. People away from home. It is too much to take in if I stop and think for a moment. About the enormity of this crisis.
Yet, for those of us privileged to have a roof and a job and access to food, the experience is surreal. Dream-like. Slow. Days blur into one another. The air is clearer. More stars are visible. Solitude is the new normal. A dream-like existence. In between. A familiar past and a very very different future. The world has changed. Is changing. The one we came from is not where we will return to. Friends call up more. Families talk more. Conversations are back. Long ones. Plants are tended to, leisurely. Cookbooks are recovered. So, are board games. Puzzles. Some days are for vegetating on the couch. ( Obscure) Movies are devoured. So are books. Reading and rereading. Consuming less- media, shopping ( what did I even use to buy?). Colours fascinate me. So do my partner’s every movement. Afternoon naps, with the blinds down, are a thing.
Routines have become vital. Drink water. Journal. Read. Chores. Rearrange wardrobe/ desk /sofa cushions/ bookshelf. Cook. Shower together. Breakfast. Work. Lunch. Paint. Lounge on the balcony. Water the plants. Go for a walk. Cuddle. Cook. Study/ webinar. Dinner. Read. Coffee. Maybe write. Netflix. Sleep. Wake up early. Or sleep in. Bake on weekends. Life as usual. But slower.
Apart from my beloved desk by the window, the tiny balcony has become vital for my existence. Mornings and evenings are spent here. Even if for a few minutes. Like coming out for the first gulp of air after a deep dive. My plants are here. And a curtain of vines from the apartment above. Also the spring breeze, the flowering trees, the stars and an occasional glimpse of other people. And yes, it is a space bathed in that magic light at dusk.
There was a thunderstorm tonight. A delight to watch from the balcony. But somewhere, not so far away, migrants are walking home.