Newborn diary

Sleep deprivation is a method of torture. There is a reason for that.

Ask parents of a newborn.

On a good day there isn’t colic to complicate matters. On a good day the baby doesn’t practice teething skills on your nipple. On a good day you aren’t scared of your baby waking up.

They coo, gurgle and smile. They let you cuddle them and kiss their tiny feet. They don’t wake up during 3 am diaper changes. They fart freely and delightfully. They don’t horrify the living hell out of you by appearing to choke on milk. They sleep off after just five minutes of rocking to and fro. They let you off for enough time to have a shower and read a few pages of a book. They feed without fuss during night time. On a good day your love for her negates all the ‘fear of missing out’ in career and life in general.

I had just one good day in two and half months that ticked off all the boxes.

But she is a happy baby. She is healthy. And lights up our world. And that makes me survive from one day to another.

Eveything Else Is A Bonus

“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.

Saving The Day

The nights are damp and cold and windy. A vague reminder of the hills. It rains and stops and rains again. I love it. Cold autumn weather. Sweatpants and flannel shirts and scarves weather. Soft blue quilt weather. Hot cocoa weather. Curl up in bed delving into stories or weaving new ones weather. Petrichor weather.

There was a light drizzle when I walked back from work yesterday. The road was wet and shiny, reflecting the old oak trees that lined it on either sides. I stepped into occasional, unavoidable puddles; and my bag bore the brunt of the slanting rain. But the wind that whooshed through the trees was so cold and magical, I didn’t want the walk to end and be cooped up in a dark, cramped hostel room. So I decided to head off towards the centre of the college campus, nearly four kilometres away. The evening light and overcast skies threw beautiful shadows on the grand buildings and brought out every shade of green in the foliage.  The impending rain was a thrill, waiting to see how far can I make it before it pours down.

The collage centre has landscaped gardens,  a temple, large green fields, numerous tiny eateries and a central library housed in a grand, opulent ochre building with brick red domed roof and balconies. Of course, I went to the library.

It was already past the hours to issue new books, but I liked to walk through the huge circular hall lined by tall, never-ending wooden shelves stacked with several thousand  books. And the narrow corridors that led off the hall into various sections of rare books and manuscripts, the linguistics section, the book stack housing novels old and new, the arts and sciences sections, research sections, and journals section. It was my own personal heaven. I stayed browsing books till the sun set and tall, yellow lamps were lit in the garden outside.

I took a rickshaw back to the hostel, the magical wind still howling around me. I missed something sorely then. Or maybe someone. But soon I was back in my warm room, munching  banana chips, sitting crosslegged on the bed and studying about paragangliomas while “Rocks On The Road” played on my phone. My room-mate came from back from (supposedly) “evening” shift at the hospital well beyond midnight and after an hour of giggles and conversation, she created our routine ‘ambience’ to bring about sleep, that is switch on the air cooler. Even when it is biting cold outside because we could no longer fall asleep without the pleasant hum of the air cooler.

In the morning,  she left for work at eight.  And I found myself unable to get out of bed. Head exploded with pain and fever burned every inch off my skin. I called up a friend who readily agreed to replace my duty at the department till I felt better. I spent a couple of hours gathering the strength to walk the few steps to the medicine cabinet!

The day was spent in my darkened room, buried under two blankets, sleeping fitfully and aching for home. I longed for company, someone to just sit by me for a few minutes. For reasons unknown to me, I dreamt of you. Got teary-eyed and went back to sleep.  It was only towards three in the evening that my fever broke.

The feeling of utter loneliness and crying continued. I wondered if it had anything to do with the pent up worry about my mother’s recent cancer scare. Or was it just hormones? Or maybe it was an embarrassing pining for lost love? I hadn’t ate anything since the past twenty hours.

Just then my phone rang to inform me that the books I had ordered online would be delivered in five minutes. I had no choice but to walk downstairs to collect them. Holding the neatly wrapped package of books in my hand brought about an instant change in my mood.  I suddenly craved food and went into the dining hall and quietly had a hot meal of rice and rajma.

Feeling strengthened, I returned to my room and set about cleaning it up and opening the door to the balcony to let in fresh air and some pale sunshine. Then with eager fingers I unwrapped the package to unravel the books.

Maus- Art Spiegelman (A graphic novel that is one of the most personal retelling of the Holocaust)

Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore-by Robin Sloan (The title is enough to intrigue me. Books about books and bookstores. Porn for me.)

Delta of Venus- Anais Nin (I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the sexual escapades of Henry Miller to even Khushwant Singh. But I had never read erotica written by a female author. This book would be a welcome start)

So in the bleak mess of damp weather,  high grade fever and loneliness,  the books and the stories that awaited therein managed to salvage my day, and reinstate my autumnal love. Books always save me.

Stormy Seas

Some nights things swoop in. Unexplained dread. Cold sweat. Insomnia. Restlessness. Panic. Loneliness. An army of fears. Veiled vulnerabilities. Teetering at the edge of this gaping dark hole of consciousness, arms flail helplessly towards an anchor of comfort, an anchor of the familiar. And it becomes the perfect hour to shatter delusions and realize that there is no anchor, and never will be. I sail my own stormy seas.
I am not brave. But I can endure. A decade ago if anyone had forewarned me of the hurdles that laid in store for me, I wouldn’t even have had the courage to get out of bed. I would have just remained motionless petrified of the calamities that would befall me.
It astounds me that I had been through it all-career setbacks, broken and bruised heart, grave illnesses or loss of loved ones, abuse, several medical emergencies, drifting apart from the people who mattered, really bad decisions, financial errors-and I had survived it, accepted responsibility for it, learned few lessons, misted the unpleasant memories, wiped the dust and blood off my fallen self and moved on. Moving on. The next step. That is all that matters.
I still get scared, so very scared of the problems at hand, and at the nadir of distress I just want someone else to live my life for me. Sometimes I miss a re-assuring grip on my hand and the words, “Don’t worry. I am here for you“. It would neither dismiss problems, nor drive away fears. Just be a source of steady comfort and encouragement. The lack of it disheartens, but never detains the journey.
The next step has to be taken, another day has to be lived, problems have to be solved, fears have to be faced. Expectations can often weaken and delude. Sail your own stormy seas.

Changes

 
Home. Sanctuary. A father whose cushiony belly serves as a pillow as we talk about everything under the sun; his rhythmic breathing a cocoon of comfort and assurance of protection from every harm. A mother whose quiet, shy smiles light up the days. A sister who is a tornado of joy and fun. A room full of books. Laughter resonating through every molecule of this home. Flowers blooming on the windowsill. Cozy nooks resplendent with warm sunshine. Memories, so many memories; the good overshadowing those of despair. And you, a happy secret full of possibilities, encased in my heart throughout the years.
Life changes in the ordinary instant.
Home. Threatened sanctuary. His face is gaunt and unfamiliar, and his belly is no longer my pillow; but when the thin limbs pull me into an embrace, my cocoon of comfort reappears. Her smiles are infrequent but just as warm and heartening. Her fun quotient has increased as she tries to fill up the gaping holes of fear and despair. The room is full of books I’ve been meaning to read, someday soon, maybe. It is his hacking cough that punctuates the stillness of the night air. The flowers have withered, winter blossoms weren’t planted this year. Cozy nooks are still resplendent with sunshine, but the days are shorter. Memories overflow, and I grab them hungrily. And you, no longer a secret, but a melancholic reality of severed hope.
The familiar and the loved still exists, yet everything has changed, tinged with a fear of losing it all. Why did it have to creep in? I try, I try so hard to overlook this constant fear and sink back into the comforting monotony of ordinary days where nothing ever happens. I work crazy hours. I escape into stories about unseen generations. I try not to dwell on the flatness of the landscape that surround me and miss the hills anymore. I’m home, yet it is like viewing my life through a misted window, blurred and reminiscent of carefree times. My love for you no longer bubbles with happy anticipation and unobtrusive joy, but with a need for quiet companionship as I can’t bear the thought of even you fading from my life someday. I live in a new place; new responsibilities and new goals cram my days. Weeding out the disposable and unnecessary, my life is sparse now, a handful of friends, family and the occasional exchanges with you. Life has changed in the ordinary instant. But in all its sparseness and fragility, oddly enough, I am content and happy. Is it changing perspective? Is it the only choice visible to me? Is it better resilience? Or have I just learned to let in the changes? Or is it your presence? I have no clue; but whatever it is, I wish it continues to see me through it all.

The One That Escaped the ‘Drafts’ Folder

To You (yes, you),
 
I always feared that someday my little world will sprout wheels and flee when I am looking the other way. And exactly a month ago, I realized that there is nothing half so distressing in the world than having your worst fear come true. My father was diagnosed with cancer. The shock of it unsettled and scared me more than I could ever express to anyone. There was no time for sadness, anger, denial. Actions and decisions-prompt, deliberate-was the priority. The next 48 hours were the busiest I had ever been; running necessary medical investigations, researching probable hospitals for treatment, talking to oncologists, making travel arrangements, sorting out finances, applying for leave at work, haphazardly packing a slice of my life into a brown suitcase and backpack (completely unaware that I won’t be coming back for at least a year), and flying to Delhi. In an instant, an ordinary instant, the giant hand of fate scooped me up from my carefree, pampered existence and landed me with a thud with the entire responsibility of my family on me. No longer could I go on being taken care of, and banking on the security of having parents who will make everything alright. I had moments of indecisiveness and worry about whether I was making the right choices, but there wasn’t anyone I could share my anxiety with. I realized that the concern of relatives and friends will be restricted to well-meaning queries and minor tasks. Mostly, I am on my own. And will always be. This sky-rocketing of responsibility and worries about what the future held kept me up many nights, and I desperately wanted to talk to you; but that would have been preposterous and unduly imposing of me. So, I wrote you letters that never left the drafts folder. A week into the sudden upheaval in my life, my father’s treatment started and the next chaos followed.
I got a post-graduate seat in a town in Gujarat that is on the diametrically opposite corner of the country from my home. In the past, I would have been ecstatic at the opportunity to study in an institute renowned for its pathology curriculum and expertise. But torn between the desire to take care of my father and the allure of further studies in a good institute, the circumstances resembled a cruel joke. I decided to give up the seat and try again the next year, but my family and certain other people whose opinions I valued and respected repeatedly encouraged me to work out the dilemma by joining the college and monitor my father’s treatment details over phone, and if possible plan short trips to see him frequently. When I weighed my options, I realized that any further delay of a valuable academic year would have far-reaching implications on my career, finances, my plans to look after my family, and certain social obligations that come with being a female on the wrong side of her twenties. So, I had lengthy talks with my father’s doctors, taking re-assurances from them about the pace and quality of the treatment, booked travel tickets, packed my bags again and was off again after less than a week’s stay in Delhi.
The flight to Ahmedabad was frightfully early. The last thing I saw through the blur of my tears, as I entered the Terminal 3 airport, was my father and sister waving at me. I am a quick learner, and by then I had learnt not to dwell on the sickening pangs of sadness that welled up inside me at times. Soon, I was lost in the queues of fellow travelers. I sat next to an elderly NRI who watched me gingerly take a bite of the sandwich that we were served during the flight and piped up, “Don’t worry. In Gujarat, they serve only vegetarian food.” I was to realize soon enough that it in fact was an agonizing truth for even ones like me, who don’t eat meat but thrive on eggs and prawns and fish fried in mustard sauce. I reached Ahmedabad just as the sun flushed the early morning sky a mellow orange.
By then the jolly, old man had regaled me with anecdotes about his son’s perpetual confusion in amalgamating the suave yet detached lifestyle of the west and the slightly clingy yet familiar comfort of his Indian roots. His monologue didn’t cease even as we drove through Ahmedabad to the bus stand in the taxi we shared and left me with little time to soak in the sights and sounds on my first moments in Gujarat. I took a bus to Rajkot where I had some work at the university. The conversation around me was a vague, alien blur of ‘su’ and ‘che’ sounds. A lone well amidst a vast green field; languid stares of the cattle on the road; heavily wrinkled old women sitting in a huddle to soak up the sunshine; rows of giggling school girls with pig-tails, riding their bicycles were sights reminiscent of the ones I had encountered during my rural posting a year ago. Rajkot is an emerging city, with a splatter of high-rises, multiplexes, expensive cars; and yet homely and familiar to someone like me who has travelled from a similar town. By five in the evening, my work at the university was over and my shoulders drooped under the weight of the heavy backpack. But I slugged on to the nearest bus stand to catch a bus to the town that would be my home for the next few years. Having been chauffeured around town all throughout school and college, my experience of commuting on public transport is zilch apart from the occasional autorickshaw rides. As the next day was Raksha Bandhan (the enthusiasm of celebrating which is nearly comparable to Durga Puja in Assam), none of the private buses were available; and I found myself in a restless crowd of unfamiliar faces waiting for the one or two free seats in each of the public buses plying on the highway. On my left stood a hefty man with a bush for a moustache, and sitting dangerously close on my right was a cow with horns capable of tearing open a man into two neat halves without any effort. I wasn’t street-savvy enough to push my way through the crowd and hop onto any of the buses. I felt zillions of miles out of my comfort zone. I managed to get into a bus at last, paid the fare and waited for the conductor to miraculously produce my seat in the jam-packed bus. But he grinned at me, showing his paan-stained teeth, and said, “Uppa uppa”. After a few seconds of confused silence, I realized that I was supposed to hang onto the bus rail and stand all the way up to my destination, with the agonizing burden of the backpack that weighed more than all the rocks on earth (or so it seemed). I reached my destination just as it was bathed in the soft blue light of dusk. I took an auto to the nearest hotel and checked in. Having never stayed alone in a hotel, that too one with gaudy pink bed-sheets and eerily quiet at night, I was bit apprehensive and was overwhelmed about adding yet another experience to the ‘firsts’ in my life, all in the span of a day. My paranoia of the unknown made me push a heavy chair against the locked door of my hotel room. But after a refreshing shower and pushing some dinner down the gullet, sleep overpowered my fears; and as I woke up the next day and watched the bustling town through the window, my irrelevant fears dissipated.
The next couple of days were spent in a whirlwind of settling down in this new place- setting out early in the morning to college to compete the admission paperwork, orienting myself to the department and getting introduced to the seniors and the faculty, utilizing the hectic lunch hour to get a local phone connection and transfer bank accounts, getting scared by the tornado that is duty at the blood bank, shopping in the local bazaar, returning back to the hotel with arms laden with buckets and clothes clips, eating Gujarati thali or greasy ‘kadhai paneer’ dinners, updating myself on my father’s treatment, and drifting off into a dreamless sleep. I filled the hostel form for temporary accommodation and the warden directed me to the girl’s common room (a dormitory reserved for freshers). So, at seven in the morning of the next day, I checked out of the hotel and dragged my luggage into the first floor of the hostel I was supposed to stay for the next ten days. A boy answered it, sleepily rubbing remnants of sleep from his eyes with his knuckles and looking just as confused as I felt. Turned out that all the girls who were allotted the common room were either staying out of campus or shifted into rooms of senior residents. A frantic few phone calls later, I found a senior’s room to store my luggage and attend my classes meanwhile. The college was set up in 1955, five years before our college was built. The architecture is Gothic, with high ceilings and ragged stone walls and pigeons roosting in every possible corner you can name. The campus is huge and I still haven’t seen it all. The hospital, medical college, trauma centre, faculty quarters, the innumerable hostels, 24 hour canteens and library, wide grounds, tree-lined roads, archways; all in one campus, and not separated by a long road uphill like ours was. It is slightly shabby but nice. I like it.
The Pathology department is on the first floor of the medical college, and the long flight of stairs leading up to it has an old world charm. There are five sub-sections in it- Central Clinical Laboratory (CCL), Histopathology, Cytology, OPD and the (dreaded) Blood Bank. The intensity of duties of a pathology resident here is comparable to that of pediatrics or orthopedics residents back home, with 36 hour shifts at least once a week and 15-hour shifts on most days. My hope of it being a soft option (so that I could concentrate on writing) was brutally shattered in the first week itself. But being a creature of habit, I am used to resent things that I am secretly glad to have chosen. This academic course is one of them. The seniors were cordial and co-operative and a bunch of them went out of their way to make the hapless first year residents feel at home. I teamed up with two girls from Punjab and at midnight, after duty at the blood bank and a dinner of Marie biscuits, we shifted into a vacant room in the PG hostel for a couple of days, arranging a cot and mattress and light-bulb from seniors. We planned to live out of our suitcases till permanent quarters were allotted. Then we were in for the next shock. It was a co-ed hostel. First jolt, but we tried to mask our discomfort and awkwardness. The second jolt came at seven in the next morning when I came out of the shower cubicle to find a guy, wearing nothing but a towel and brushing his teeth on the sink in the same bathroom. As I relayed this news to my room-mates, it dawned on us why the hostel accommodation was free. It had common bathrooms, no maintenance, and lack of water in the washrooms at times of dire need. That was it. We vowed to find off-campus living quarters that very evening. And we did. Two days later, I shifted into a quaint little house, a half an hour walk away from college. There is a single room with an attached bath atop the wide terrace.
I love my room. It doesn’t contain a single piece of essential furniture. Clothes are in the suitcase, the mattress is on the floor, the groceries and toiletries are on two tiny plastic shelves, books are stacked in two high piles on the floor, clothes and bags hang on the wall hooks. The walls are bare, but thankfully the bathroom is spotlessly clean. Even with the negligible furnishings and bare possessions in my room, it feels like home every time I stride in tired late at night and flop down on my bed. Finally I am living alone; doing my own laundry, keeping stock of groceries, dusting and cleaning, and God forbid, even encountering my nemesis, cooking! I don’t own a gas stove, and am forced to experiment every dish on the electric cooker. I can eat only so much of North Indian food or Gujarati thalis at the college canteen or hostel mess on a regular basis. So, despite my non-existent cooking skills, I am experimenting, devouring and surviving on my own cooking. The joy of rice hitting my palate! I have a new found respect for the time-saving boons of the hot tiffincase; and most of all, my mother, whose cooking I miss terribly.
The day starts early for me. I wake up at four-thirty and study for an hour or two. Then I brew myself some coffee and walk out into the terrace and up the rusty stairs leading up to the roof; soaking in the warm aroma of the coffee, the sunrise, the slow awakening of the town, the numerous birds of all shapes and sizes silhouetted against the orange sky, the magic wind, thoughts of what the day will bring, thoughts of home and my family and thoughts of you. It is the favorite time of my day, a quiet space to wonder about the new life and reminiscence the one that I had left behind. I can’t write though; the delightful chaos in my mind and the urge to sort it out in words has deserted me. I don’t want to linger on anything, just live from moment to moment. The herd of cows gathering in a nearby field and mooing in unison works as my alarm clock and I wake up from my stupor of thoughts and memories, and get ready for the day ahead. Sometimes I forget to tiptoe down the stairs and run into the landlady and get trapped for a good half an hour as a reluctant audience to her religious sermons and neighborhood gossip. She is a good woman, but the sort who would be blissfully unaware if her audience fell like dominoes and dropped dead at her feet.
I pack my lunch bag, try to tame my unruly hair in the miniscule mirror hanging on the wall, get dressed in less than five minutes, and walk out of home sometime before eight. The auto fares are ridiculously low here, a pittance compared to the ones we have back home, but I prefer to walk to college in the morning. I pass by a sign called ‘Department of Lighthouses’ on my way. It makes me smile; I find the solitude of lighthouses and the waves crashing all around it very romantic. I eat buttered toast and gulp down a cup of Bournvita at the college canteen for breakfast. Sometimes I have a fluffy, melt-in-the mouth omelette, and it feels like an oasis of non-vegetarian heaven in the midst of people who don’t even eat onions and garlic. I am still clueless about where to buy fish. The morning passes by in the rush of OPD or blood bank. And then comes the much looked forward to lunch hour, which can vary from two hours to half an hour. I eat my lunch in the dining section of the common room, nap for twenty minutes (in the library!), and then revise notes etc. On the days when my duty gets over at six in the evening, I explore the surrounding area. I have discovered tiny shops in nooks and corners that are treasure troves of reasonably-priced commodities. The local bazaar is teeming with vibrancy and colour. I love the energy and earnestness of the people here. I like the way people welcome outsiders into their lives so warmly. Within a week, like Barney Stinson, I had a guy for every possible chore. The only difference is that here we address them as ‘bhai’. My phonebook is peppered with a string of ‘bhais’ that includes the property broker, my landlord, the bottled water delivery guy, the milkman, the washer-man, the grocery store shopkeeper, the auto driver, the Xerox shop guy etc. I took time getting used to addressing people as bhai or ben. It sounded funny in my mouth. But now I use them with a confident and familiar drawl. I am perpetually scared that I’ll slip into my Assamese ways and address senior female residents as ba (elder sister in Assamese, but grandmother in Gujarati!)
It’s a relatively safe place for women; I don’t feel anxious to travel alone after work in an auto at midnight. We even travel to the city outskirts to watch the late night movie shows in groups of three to four girls, and it doesn’t intimidate us. There are ice cream parlours, bakeries and patisseries in every block.  A big black dog with a lazy eye sits curled up o the first floor corridor of the hospital on most days. I have become friends with most of the residents from the other departments too. I haven’t found anyone from Assam though. But it is a good place to live, and I love it here.
Ten days after my arrival, my father’s chemotherapy started and he became severely nauseous and weak. I longed to be beside him. Talking over the phone with him, hearing my new friends exasperatedly but endearingly discuss their fathers, thinking of how carefree I was just a few days ago with no greater worries than a PG seat, all of these welled up embarrassing tears in my eyes. I had to visit him anyhow, even if for a day. A good friend booked my tickets and after fifteen long hours I was next to my father. He was coping well with the treatment but the radiotherapy induced mucositis in his throat caused excessive pain while swallowing food. He kept up his hour-long jogging routine six days a week. His stamina and determination to beat the disease astounds me. I spent four days with my family, and sooner than I had wanted it, I was back to work and my new life.
And here I am now, writing you this letter, that I know I will never send and you will never read. But I love writing these long letters, as in my mind you are always near and eagerly listening to my ramblings. I think of you at small pockets of time throughout the day. When I come back home each night, dead tired, I check if you are online. I won’t ever talk to you or cause you any unease, but it delights me that you are there, only a phone call away. It’s the modern equivalent of one taking comfort that the person he/she loves can see the same night sky and the same sliver of moon on it. It is a barely visible thread of connection and of naked, innocent hope; but a connection nonetheless. I will always hold onto it. It makes me forget my worries. Just the very fact that you are out there somewhere and that I love you is enough to sustain me through many a difficult day or mishaps.
I no longer wonder though if I ever cross your mind. It is laughable. And yet-yes, yet-in the middle of a busy day, you enter my thoughts and I get an inexplicable courage that eventually things will be alright. Why is it so is beyond me. The idea of you calms me down. And how I treasure it! My love for you is no longer restricted by hopes of reciprocation, it is just there…buoyant, carrying me away from everything that is wrong in my life for a precious few moments every day, and consuming me whole.
Love,
Me

Certain Joys

Certain things waft in a joy that is hard to contain in a moment and invariably explodes to invade and linger in a million more. Like cleaving through clear blue waters in the early light of a summer morning, surrendering to the silken touch and pleasant chill. It’s in the wildly beating heart that is quietly aware of the trajectory of a lover’s glance resting on the sheen of your shoulder and jumping back to your eyes, before resting on your mouth, and knowing that it is the prelude to a kiss, unplanned and unexpected, springing up on you with a delightful nervousness, and you are consumed with a love so profound it makes you dizzy and lingers infinitely in each recall, as you are sure to do it.
Like driving down a tree-lined road on an autumnal day, spellbound by the play of orange and grey. It’s in a tiny arm wrapped around your neck and another tiny hand gripping your nose as a baby leans in to plant a wet sloppy kiss on your cheek. It’s in stroking the papery skin on the hands of a grandmother and tracing the age spots as she tells you endless tales interspersed with adorable gummy smiles. It’s in sitting on the verandah of a place far away from home, rolling your toes up and down the spine of a big, brown and instantly familiar dog that lets you rub the back of its warm fuzzy ear as it watches the sun go down with you. Or in the reading a big book that leaves you exhausted, agitated, mollified, troubled, understood and speculative, all at once. It’s in the joy of finding the right words at the right moment. And when serendipity finds you.
It’s in reading a poem so good that you want to gobble it up and never let it go. It’s in cuddling up to a parent, unabashedly evoking your inner child, the one that loves the familiar hand running through your hair and remain cocooned in a safety and comfort rarely replicated ever again. Like the reading a letter from the one you love again and again, mouthing each word; and imagining him write your name in that intimate and slightly lopsided print. It’s also in the head thrown back in laughter as you sit down with an old friend to indulge in the joy of reminiscing, sitting on a terrace, and exchanging stories in the long blue twilights of summer.
Like walking up a narrow, winding road on wet, misty mornings to a picturesque home with ivy-lined stone walls and a blazing log fire, and remain nestled by a window where the clouds knock. It’s always in the hills, in the sound of water, at dawn, in the foamy waves, in the scintillating stars, and in the trees. It’s in staying awake to hear the rain splattering off the roof and window sill. It’s in getting soaked to the skin, and shivering and shivering, kicking puddles, and laughing and laughing. It’s in speed. And also in Sunday siestas. It’s in splurging on expensive lingerie and wearing them underneath an old t-shirt and a faded pair of denims on an ordinary day, just because it ushers in such a secret, solitary, risqué joy. And in wearing cherry red lip colour.
It’s in driving aimlessly, on impulsive journeys. It’s also in no longer mothballing the past and lugging around the deadwood; it’s in the anticipatory joy of opening new doors. It’s in the stories we tell each other in the dark, just the two of us, with our bare hearts and slowly entwining memories, letting each other into our secret worlds. It’s in the sanctity of trust. It’s in epiphanies and clear realizations. It’s in the responsibility of love, the urge to care for and protect; the knowledge and awareness of which thrives us. It’s in working endlessly to watch dreams materialize into something substantial.
It’s in the desire to share and live these simple joys with you; it’s in everything between us.

Liquid Confessions

 

1. I dream of being an advice columnist who prescribes books in response; as it would involve reading like a motherfucker (like Dear Sugar) late into the night, embarking on one literary odyssey after another, sourcing out the perfect sequence of words in poem or prose, the attempt of understanding which will be the answer that is sought. I am aware of the annoyance of imposing one’s literary preferences on another, but when I have just finished reading a book that stirs up a delightful chaotic inner storm, I expect the world to stop spinning for a while to acknowledge what the book has done to me. I get the urge to stop random strangers and tell them to rush home, get into their favourite pajamas, put their feet up, and start reading the book now. Not because I want to flaunt some obscure literary gem that I have dug out, but for basking together in the aftermath of reading a good book and knowing that it has evoked similar emotions, a wordless joy, with just the reader in me beaming at the reader in you, connected.

Yesterday I was witness to a dilemma that a close friend is facing that involved risks, ennui, second chances, unspoken obligations and a love of five long years, and it pained me to see her suffering but I couldn’t say anything that would miraculously solve her indecision without seeming like an unappetizing and uncalled for  discourse on the myriad complexities of love. And as I heard her speak, smudgy distant prints of words formed in my memory, from a time where I had experienced a similar indecision in a book. I nodded in understanding and empathy to everything she said, but the book that had answers for her continue to remain blurred. It came to me a few hours ago, when I was watching the rain through the grilled window, and felt an urge to just run and run, destination be damned, and I remembered that the protagonist in that novel once took off too, just ran and ran, which was later attributed to a combination of female hysteria and alcohol by her fiancee, and that it happened in Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Edible Woman‘. I want to tell my friend to read the book, maybe she would find some answers, maybe she won’t, or maybe it’s quite insensitive of me to slip a book every time I hear about troubles. Hmm.
2. The inexplicable urge to tell you things, the rushed and voluble conversations; the desire to know you, the whole of you, to unravel the unsaid; the delight of knowing random anecdotes about you, the (now defunct) overwhelming belief that you were different, that you understood, that you knew what I knew; the comfort of you lingering behind every waking thought and some sleeping ones too; and the fervent anticipation, of I know not what; the journeying down secret lanes of nostalgia, ones that you were never aware of, and remembering you, observing parallel lives; the unspeakable things I wanted to do to you, have you do to me, that came in sudden rushes and alarmed me, causing conflicting inner dialogues and a heightened colouring of my face; the realization that I wanted nothing more than a subtle connection, that even a mere exchange of words was enough to cause a disproportionate joy that saw me through long days, and that even in my loneliest moments I was afraid to desire anything more, lest you slip away; the entirely new surges of tenderness that swept over me every time I thought of you; and the hesitant and quiet yet stubborn hopes that I developed despite knowing fully well your perspective of me in which I could only be ordinary at the very best. #imiss #idonotmiss #imiss
3. Sometimes I feel scared. Like being stuck in the perpetual loop of horror of waking up late and missing the most important exam of my life in a world with no second chances.
4. Sometimes I fall in love with absolutely nothing.

the sister ship of love

 
(In the poem “The Blue House“, Tomas Tranströmer brings forth the idea of a sister ship that follows the course one’s life could have taken but never did; it brims with unexplored opportunities, the places one might have travelled to, and the people one might have met, the diverse things one would have known and done then. The following words are based on that premise.)
The day you walked out to be lost in the multitude of unknown, no longer accessible, leaving behind a trail of quiet desperation and ‘what if”, I pulled you aboard the sister ship of my life.
And there we talked and talked. And we laughed and laughed. And we went places and we were home.
Here, you will look away if we ever meet; and the knowledge of this rushes in entirely new waves of sadness. So in the familiar darkness of my closed eyelids, at odd hours, I follow the journey of a lost love on this sister vessel. 2 am, when I lie awake to listen to the rain. 5:42 am, when my room glows orange in the early morning light. 2:18 pm, when I watch my reflection in the chrome of the elevator doors. 7:09 pm, when my feet are up on the couch. 11:05 pm, when I trudge along through the soporific challenge that is Proust.
There you wear black. I am always in my favourite blue and even allow my hair an admirable bounce. 11:05pm, we read Saki and chuckle; or you show me Bellatrix and Rigel in the night sky, but mostly we make up our own constellations. 7:09pm, with our feet up on the couch we tell each other the minute stories that crowd our day, and I no longer have to fight the urge to touch that adorable cowlick. There’s a word for it,you know, cafuné. 2:18pm, we study pillowy bottom lips. 5:42 am, we are in the mountains and the mist floats in through the open window. 2 am, you hear the rain with me.
And there we talk and talk. And we laugh and laugh. And we go places and we are home.

A Moment

eyes narrowed to watch vehicle lights become yellow and red orbs, hazy, lucent, and gliding on the wet, dark sheen of the street.

cocooned in the dimly lit car; the low hum of the engine punctuates the sound of the rain falling on the roof.

window fogs up, the urge to write a name on it is irresistible.

roll it down slightly, raindrops gleefully chase each other down onto the palm.

it comes down harder, thousands of tiny ripples dance in tandem on the street.

traffic becomes sluggish, time stands still.

brisk wind, pleasant shivers, huge silvery sheets of rain, this song on the car radio

a sudden and overwhelming longing…

…you, shy haptic exchanges, a moment.

Everyday Freedom: Vignettes

(This article was published in Fried Eye magazine on August, 2012.)
Freedom. Our ancestors fought for it. It is difficult to define in the humdrum of everyday life. It means different things to different people. It rescues some. It transforms others. We don’t value it enough. Sometimes we don’t perceive its absence. Or take for granted its presence. At times, we misuse it.

In my life, relatively short and thus lacking in experience, I had felt the sparks of freedom that has touched the lives of people I have known. These aren’t epiphanies or sudden bursts of life-altering moments. These are everyday stories of how people recognized the constraints that bound them, struggled for a way out and gradually let in a glorious trickle of freedom into their lives.



She was the one who started it on their first day together. She let him decide the evening movie, the dinner menu and even the songs they heard on the ride back home. He was glad to ease the burden of decision making off the woman in his life. They had a whirlwind romance, an elaborate wedding (he decided the venue, the guest list and the honeymoon destination; she decided the table centerpieces, the Mehendi artist and the honeymoon lingerie), and the dizzy highs of playing grown-ups and setting their own home and family. His family was very ‘liberal’, they let their new daughter-in-law keep her job and weren’t finicky about the hemlines of her dresses. She liked the role of a home-maker, smiling to herself every night as she laid out his dinner. He was so caring, always surprising her with gifts and vacations (that comfortably fit into his work schedule, not hers). She moved around the country with him, setting up new homes every time he got transferred. When she got a better job offer in another city, he calmly asked her why she bothered working so hard when he was earning enough for both of them. She shut up because the baby was due. His business trips increased. One parent should stay at home, and she did. The children grew up and no longer needed a mother, they needed ‘some space’. She took to writing. At the dinner table, her husband and children teased her about the Booker Prize winning novel that she was penning. She chuckled. Then she did the dishes. The caretaker can never afford to be tired. The children left the nest. The husband retired from his job. It was just him and her again, like old times. He suggested a tour of Europe. She declined; she was working on her book. He was surprised at her refusal, and then miffed. One night he read her manuscript while she slept. Her words-vibrant, agitated and alive-told him stories that populated her mind, thoughts he never knew existed in the woman he had been married to all these years. In the morning he told her she should write more. After lunch he helped her with the dishes; and later they went to watch a play instead of a movie. He learned that she preferred coffee but had quietly shared a cup of tea every morning with him all these years. He made sure she had a steaming cup of coffee on her desk as she wrote late into the night. They had conversations and not just about groceries and children and politics. She wonders how to describe her sudden lightness of being; rekindled love or freedom?

Five young sons, two precocious daughters, a home with mud floors and thatched roof, a rice field with erratic produce, two cows with drying udders and a school headmaster’s pension of fifty-six rupees; these were his life’s gatherings. In the evenings he stared at the clear and starry skies as he pondered about feeding his family of ten. Then the skies opened; floods washed away his home and his rice field. He avoided the expectant looks of his children. The provider had given up, defeated. Poverty was rife and so was hunger. It was a village where a single student passed the matriculation examination in a good year, the sons of farmers became farmers, and the sons of blacksmiths became blacksmiths. A vicious loop of poverty engulfed the whole village, and they resigned to their fates. The older two of the five sons saw the silver lining in the dark cloud that hovered over their lives. They studied;  in the evenings when they returned home after working in the fields, before taking the cows out to graze at dawn, and at the school they walked eight kilometers to reach every day. They kept going even on those nights when they had to sleep without food and the day their mother pawned her only pair of earrings to pay for their college admission fees. Their younger siblings followed their footsteps; education became as necessary as breathing to them. Years of struggle followed while trying to break into a society cushioned from the effects of poverty. A job came and with it the assurance of never having to go hungry again. A good house followed; then a car. The family dispersed, taking their roots in unknown soil, flourishing in their own territories. They escaped the destinies they were born with. Their next generation has a doctor, engineers, fashion designer, biotechnologists, MBAs. Education freed them.

Her life had chauffeurs and chaperones. Vacations had carefully planned itineraries.  She never travelled alone; her protective parents couldn’t pamper enough the miracle child born after seven long years of desperate wait.  She remembers the thrill she got when she got into a city bus with her friends, counting coins eagerly to pay the bus conductor, and holding on to the railings as the bus swerved through the city traffic. Her excitement amused her friends. They had always helped her cross busy roads. She panicked in a crowd, and cancelled movie plans if her friends were busy. In her mid-twenties now, she craved the freedom of movement, of getting around places, something that her peers took for granted. Last winter she had an exam in Delhi. Her father was worried; he would be tied up with work then. Who would accompany her now? She took a chance, of convincing her parents to let her go alone. She’s quite grown up now, in case they hadn’t noticed. They agreed after a while, and tearfully saw her off at the airport for the one week that she would be away! She fastened her seatbelt, and took a deep breath when the flight took off. She hailed a cab and reached the friend’s home where she would be staying. After the exam was over, she went exploring the city she had visited umpteen times earlier but never on her own. How different a place seems, baring a sea of possibilities when you have the time and freedom to explore it on your own! She ate street food, browsed for hours at book stores, shopped at flea markets, walked in a park, ate in quaint cafes in Khan Market, figured out the various metro routes; a week of doing little things without any restrictions. Each morning heralded new possibilities and independent decisions. At night, she went to bed, happy about a day well spent. She boarded the flight back home after a week. It was a noon flight, and the skies were clear. She noticed the sparkles of sunshine bouncing off her watch and dancing on the pages of the book on her lap. It delighted her, this glittering dance of sunshine. That’s how her heart had felt the past week. She still has restrictions at home, but they have loosened. She can eat in restaurants and go for movies alone, without feeling awkward. She gets around now, alone and free.

Boo!

Yesterday I made an impromptu decision to watch Iron Man 3 in the afternoon, but in accordance with my habitual lateness was greeted by a full house. I had to settle for a very predictable game of ‘spot-the-daayan (witch)’ while sitting in the front row with a bladder full of Coca-Cola and extending my neck uncomfortably to accommodate the entire screen in my field of vision. There were three things that caught my attention: (a) the dazzlingly beautiful Huma Qureshi draped in size 12 dresses layered with pretty jackets, and sporting meticulously messyhairdos (c) the awkward moment in the ‘hell‘ scene when a man standing behind the ‘daayan’ eerily resembled Narendra Modiin attire and looks (d) how for the umpteenth time in a horror movie a rational psychiatrist gets ruthlessly slaughtered by the very evil supernatural being that he refused to believe in.

It is this last plot stereotype in the horror genre that bothers and amuses me at the same time. I don’t believe in ghosts but at the same time don’t want to announce it out loud, just in case something pops up to prove me wrong. Maybe the childhood stories of ghosts, that my grandmother claimed populated her village in every shady nook and corner, got ingrained deeply in my psyche. The variety of the ghosts in her stories were astounding. There were ones that morphed into human form to steal and eat raw fish from boats of fishermen; a ten foot tall gentleman dressed in crisp white dhoti-kurta and giving Marfan’s Syndrome a complex while he roamed within the periphery of temples; a hairy, headless dwarf with bulging red eyes instead of nipples; haunted bamboos that lay innocently on the ground and flung high into air the people who leapt over them; cursed pots of ancient gold coins that brought ill luck and certain death to the person who accidentally dug them out in fields; a woman who wept and called out someone’s name right outside their window at midnight; ghost ants that sneaked under sandals and led astray a person into dense forests where they preyed on their unsuspecting victim. I could just go on and on about that tiny village in my grandmother’s stories where colourful ghosts and witches outnumbered human beings.
You can say I am a sceptic in accordance with societal expectations of rationality from a well-read person in her late twenties; yet there is a part of me that gets intrigued by the thought of the supernatural. This duality of my (lack of) belief led to a humorous situation when I worked as an intern at the psychiatry out-patient department and was assigned the responsibility of taking up elaborate histories of patients and present a provisional diagnosis to the professor.
Once I examined a highly agitated young man of twenty-three. He told me that a month ago, when he was out helping his father in the farm on a hot summer afternoon , he saw her for the first time. She was unusually tall with ankle-length hair, deathly pale and dressed in black. From that day onwards, she had followed him everywhere and even tiptoed around his bed every night. She sat on the roof watching him as he worked in the fields. No one believed him and all sorts of pujas and mantras conducted by his distraught family had failed to get rid of that evil presence! I listened rapturously to his monologue, as his mother sat beside him looking somewhat scared. There was no history of use of alcohol or psychoactive substances, no previous history of psychiatric illness, no family history of psychiatric disorders, no known physical illness, no obvious emotional triggers, no history of psychological trauma, and he even got along fine with his peers and did reasonably well in his studies.
Is something disturbing you right now?, I asked him as he kept shifting his gaze at something beyond me.
She’s here too, he mumbled.
Did she follow you here?
When I was travelling here on the overnight bus, she flew beside my window the entire way.
Where is she now?
She’s standing right behind you.
My clinical reasoning told me that his visual hallucinations and psychosis could spring up anything from schizophrenia to an underlying brain tumour on further evaluation; but for an absurd moment, I couldn’t help wonder if my fate would be akin to the disbelieving doctor that becomes the collateral damage in the rampage of an evil spirit!
Even though no one knows about what went on in my mind that day, I feel highly embarrassed every time I recall that incident! *sheepish*

Solitude

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.

Esoteric, Vaguely Cryptic Declaration of Shame

Do you know who is world’s biggest idiot? You are reading her now.
They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Just dangerous? A little and grossly misguided knowledge fucking stabbed my heart, stamped on it a zillion times, mutilated it to pieces and then torched them! I spent the longest and most torturous week of my life mourning over an imagined loss; alternating between starvation and binging on greasy food; battling with insomnia; making sweeping declarations to give up writing; and with a drunken night thrown in for the sake of conformity.
I’m (temporarily) euphoric about the falsity of my little knowledge, but at the same time want to tear my hair apart for the self-induced heartache that I put myself through. It is not funny even in retrospect and now I dread facing my sibling and closest friends, for they will slap me just as fast I had jumped to wrong conclusions!
Think of the biggest embarrassment of your life that makes you want to crawl into a ditch and die, then quadruple that feeling; that’s how I feel now. Where do I hide? Escaping to the hills for the weekend.

Watch Out For What You Wish

How can I be sure of what I might want a year from now, when I seek a million different things every day? Not long ago I had the good sense to finally accept the fluidity of my thoughts and desires that refuse any stagnancy. I am also aware that getting what one wishes for doesn’t always guarantee happiness.
I grew up cursing the dust, smoke and blaring noise of vehicles; I detested the hectic buzz of cities where everyone was in a hurry and longed for the slow and meditative pace of life in the hills or a quiet village. In my relatively short life, I had already formed opinions about what is ideal and lying in a patch of sunshine and reading, dipping my feet in the silken sheet of a river at sunset, and long conversations by the glow of a kerosene lamp were prerequisites of it. I would like to mention here that the books that I read in the formative years of childhood were of the likes of Heidi (with its mountains, stern but kind-hearted grandfather, ruddy-cheeked children, goat cheese and a bed of hay), Anne of Green Gables (trees, brooks, books and conversations), My Family and Other Animals (Corfu and its glorious flora and fauna, and its quirky inhabitants) and stories of Rudyard Kipling and Ruskin Bond (with his turtles in a shallow pond, leopards and foxes in dark forests, haunted houses standing alone atop hills, old widows who had a treasure of stories to tell, deodar trees and yes again, the mountains). And then there were my father’s stories of growing up in his village where he swam in the Brahmaputra, and was surrounded by people and surroundings so idyllic that made hardships and poverty not just bearable but tackled with an optimism. I craved for such a life, surroundings that provided a premise for stories to occur.
My wish came true in late 2011 when I enrolled in the compulsory rural posting under NRHM and was sent to work in a remote village in Assam. By the end of the first month I went dizzy with excitement by the steady diet of impossibly green fields, fresh air and bluest blue skies, witnessing the simple (and slow) lives of the people who spent their mornings digging up sweet potatoes and afternoons taking long siestas. By the end of the second month I was ready to commit seppuku for the lack of excitement. Time stopped in that place and I slept off at eight every night only to be woken up at odd hours to deliver babies. The simple life got on my nerves to the extent that I could have torn apart the limbs of the next person who called up to say, “I envy your quiet sojourn“. Every time I returned home, it felt like an escape from a prison. I gulped in lungfuls of polluted air, chalked in every hour of my weekend with some activity, ate out, went shopping, surrounded myself with noisy and boisterous people, and went to bed at two in the morning. I missed the noisy, grimy, hectic city life where there was always something going on. I still crave for the quiet hills and idyllic sunsets but now I am wise enough to realize that I want a balance between the quietness and the noise. I want both, I love both. 
I fell in love when I was nineteen. But it was out of reach and in the following eight years I wished to recreate that first love in the wrong places and for the wrong reasons. I got attracted to only emotionally unavailable men or to those that didn’t have the potential to evolve into anything substantial. I created illusions of love. Was it a subconscious protective instinct? I don’t know. Love had brought out a side of me that I didn’t like-clingy, jealous, insecure and nurturing worthless hopes. That’s not how it is supposed to be, is it? Yet I convinced myself that I was wishing for romantic love. I was ecstatic when that first love walked into my life again, but everything that followed clashed with my wish. When I think hard and clear about it, I don’t really want the romantic love and all its complications and responsibilities in my life right now. Not until the right person and the reasons comes along. Then why did I wish for it? Because I mistook my need for quiet companionship as a need for love and this lack of clarity led to unnecessary anguish. But now I know better. 
I never had any definite ambition in life; I just wished for a career that brought me job satisfaction, stimulated the mind, gave something back to the people, and made me financially secure and independent. I ended up being a physician. But there were few unseen and sometimes self-induced obstacles on that path. I am happy with the career I have chosen; not many get to be a part of this noble profession and heal lives. I am just grateful that I got the opportunity and sincerely carry on my duties. But it hasn’t brought me the happiness that I had hoped it would. And I know why. I am always eager to learn and improve my skills, but it lacked that rush of passion and go-getter ambition. Instead I am passionate about writing. The irony is that I am skilled in the medical profession that doesn’t invoke in me a mad fervour, and even though all I want to do is to write I lack the talent for it. There is the clash again.
Often I get what I wish for but it doesn’t guarantee the happiness that I had imagined. So be careful about what you wish for, and devote some time to know what you really want. People change and so do their desires and wants. Always foresee that possibility when you make that next grand wish.

How To Lose Your Sanity In One Easy Step

Step 1: Try to please everyone.
Do you remember that scene from F.R.I.E.N.D.S when Rachel’s mother behaves outright rude with Monica for a minor (and unintended) lapse, yet Monica continues to apologize profusely and disproportionately to her? There are people who can remain impervious to others’ opinions of them. I am not one of them and have an innate need to please everybody, avoid conflicts and fall-outs. It would be sheer idiocy to actualize my desire and I succeed in not being a ‘Monica‘ when it involves people whose actions or thoughts I detest strongly. I turn completely indifferent to their existence and memories. But when the people I respect and admire harbour a distorted perception of me owing to misunderstandings or miscommunication, I worry myself sick about setting things right. I would fret about where I had gone wrong, apologize continuously, take repeated initiatives to sort things out, and allow them to stamp all over my dignity by giving undue importance to their (lack of) response. It would torture me to wonder how I am being perceived, and in my restlessness, contribute negatively to that distorted image by offering unnecessary justifications. Recently I went through a similar situation and it disturbed me a lot. Between the two of us, the generous share of wisdom belongs to my younger sister and I often look to her for advice.

Sis: Why do you care so much about what others think of you? 
Me: I don’t know. I can’t help it.
Sis: Then prepare yourself for a lifetime of self-induced tragedy.
Me: How do I get out of this need to seek everyone’s approval?
Sis: Seek approval of only those who matter to you and for whom you matter. Judge yourself if a person falls in that category. If no, don’t think about it again. If yes, try to sort out any misunderstandings or apologize appropriately and genuinely for any lapses. If they don’t acknowledge or appreciate your efforts, don’t go overboard by giving others the power to hurt you.
Me: I was being an idiot, wasn’t I?
Sis: A first-rate one.
Me: Hmm.
Sis: There’s no use wasting your mental peace over unnecessary issues. But also keep in mind how you are quick to shed off excess baggage of certain people and fussy about who you let into your life. Sometimes people might be selective about letting you into their lives too, and it might not be because you had done something ‘wrong’. Accept that.
Me: *big kiss*
It won’t be easy to change overnight, but I have to learn to let go of my need to please all those whom I had let into my life. That is the basic requirement to preserve my sanity.

As if on cue, I stumbled upon this wonderful children’s book by Plath as an “an admonition against the perilous preoccupation with other people’s opinions“.

Holi

It is a lovely day; the children in my neighbourhood are running around equipped with water guns and fistfuls of colour; the air itself seems pink and purple; and loud happy shrieks punctuate the grown-ups’ laughter and (supposedly) drunken singing. There is a relatively quiet corner, away from the target zones of water guns and balloons, where I sit propped back on my hands in a pool of sunshine, with my idea of you, happy and tired and drenched in colours. It is a lovely day. Happy Holi.

On Swaying Hips and Jiggling Boobs

On the hopeful premise that the particular demographic of ‘regular readers of this blog’ includes someone other than me, I wouldn’t elaborate on how I had always been an effortless introvert with occasional deviations to being an uncertain (and unsuccessful) extrovert. I shy away from the spotlight, and the last time I danced in public was in 1994, when I was just eight and yet ignorant of big words like ‘performance anxiety‘. Later puberty flicked on a hitherto dormant introvert switch and I was embarrassed to be associated with anything that involved song and dance.
A couple of days ago I stepped out of my comfort zone and signed up for a Zumba class. I knew it comprised of several dance moves with unrestrained swaying of hips and waist. I was doubtful about how I would fare considering I don’t have a waist per se and it has been replaced by a paunch. And what if anyone tittered on seeing my swaying paunch? But I curbed my nervousness and went for my first Zumba lesson today.
The room was filled with women of all ages, shapes and sizes. My bulging belly blended in quite well. The trainer didn’t have an ounce of extra fat on her and had gravity-defying curves, a dancer’s curves. I wondered if I should have taken the aid of a gravity defying garment, but dismissed the thought when I remembered the anecdote from Tina Fey’s Bossypants where a woman had pushed her breasts so high, they were practically above her collarbone and could even be mistaken for a goitre! So I let gravity win and avoided glancing into the side mirror.

The class started with the usual warm-up exercises and I was secretly hoping that it would never proceed to anything complicated beyond that. But ten minutes into it the music paced up and everyone’s inner Shakira was born. After a moment’s hesitation and furtively looking around to rule out any familiar faces, I too joined in. I was right, I didn’t have any waist to sway. I was wrong too, no one cared two hoots about it. Everyone was busy pouting into the mirror, wildly swaying their hips, tapping their feet into intricate patterns, gracefully moving their arms, and with an occasional boob jiggle thrown in. After this, I have a new found respect for a certain yesteryear RGV actress. I took time to get used to the fast-paced routine and ended up slapping faces and kicking a lot of legs. But the good people laughed off my clumsiness.
At one point my heart had figuratively leaped out of my ribcage and I craved for a drop of water as one stranded in the Sahara for weeks. The value of the simple act of breathing escalated as I struggled to hold onto it. But the exhilaration at the end was worth the dyspnea and tachycardia. No epiphany or miracles occurred and my two left feet are still intact; yet I feel somewhat liberated today. I hummed the tune and tapped my feet on the ride home. One anxiety has been partially conquered, certain self-created barriers were broken.
Every new freedom, however small, is addictive. I am looking forward to the next class of swaying my paunch and just having fun. But I hadn’t foreseen the disproportionate tiredness and the fact that I am no longer able to abduct my arms and thighs. Hopefully this fatigue and pain is just a beginner’s curse and would fade away by tomorrow.

Personalized Spring

I am aware that the first day of spring is seldom the first spring day; the sky is overcast with dull grey clouds, and if not for a lone cuckoo’s call one can almost call it early winter or the late monsoon. Yet when I woke up this morning I couldn’t help the anticipation of something serendipitous around the corner on this first day of spring. Not long ago I was told that I manufacture reality without any basis, and maybe today’s anticipation was a classic example of it. Maybe most of my hopes, dreams and yearnings would thrive only in the world of wishful thinking and never in the real world. This uncomfortable realization is not the serendipitous thing I wanted to happen today. So much for the joy of spring! 
But I have a weird problem. No matter how many skies fall I can’t sustain an appropriately gloomy mood for long. It was only the anticipation anxiety that troubled me in the past, but a depressed mood rarely lasted beyond a few hours. I always find something to occupy myself and create my own happiness; a task I had mastered since childhood.
So, when the day started going downhill with unexpected skirmishes and stubborn memories crowding my mind, I knew I had to salvage it myself. As night fell, the dull grey clouds finally started pouring out the first shower of spring, and I stuffed my sneakers into a bag and headed for the Pilates class after a month’s hiatus. After an hour of challenging previous limits of elasticity and flexibility, the mind was unable to focus on anything apart from a violent tachycardia, which was followed by laughter and the conversations that varied from mountain treks to (one-at-a-time, because it is so expensive) butt implants! The rush of endorphins returned the spring into my day.
The street outside was wet and gleaming, bouncing off the red and orange glows of the vehicles that plied on it. The night sky was a bewitching indigo and the dark silhouettes of trees swayed in the brisk wind. The rain continued. My favourite dishes were prepared for dinner (minuscule serendipity?). I have turned off the music tonight, I want to go on hearing the rain through the open window. I’m in bed now, snug under the covers, and a new book, The World According To Garp, lies next to my pillow. I can no longer recall the gloominess I felt earlier in the day, or be tormented by worthless thoughts.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened, no serendipities, and the day would end in a few minutes. I dug out my own spring on a day devoid of sunshine and cherry blossoms; instead it had a wild wind, ceaseless rain, occasional thunder, a new book, some camaraderie, good exercise and good (small portions of) food. I may “manufacture realities without basis” and look for happiness in the oddest and simplest of things, but it turns out quite well for me!

Being The Proverbial Ostrich

Sometimes I am the proverbial ostrich which sticks its head in the sand and feels smug that no one can see it. It amazes me how often I defy the ceiling effect of idiocy, reaching newer heights each time, and chuckle quietly about continual attempts to outdo my own records of bad decisions and self-delusions.

I get into these dangerous moods, battling an impulsiveness that provokes me to do things that I would surely regret. I contemplate giving meditation a chance. But then I am too young to visualize a field of daisies or the calming aura of self-styled gurus with creepy smiles to rein in my mind. I have a few more restless years in me.
It might not always be wise, but I am used to speaking out what is on my mind. So it is positively a  torture when I have to give consequences a thought and settle for writing letters that would never leave the drafts folder. Or keep my face composed not to betray the slightest bit of emotion. Or resist the urge to kick something really hard. Or plaster a huge grin on my face and listen to a couple so in love it is almost  nauseating. Or overlook an inner void. Or quietly allow sleep to overpower me and wake up to another day.

Quiet Dignity

I had allowed others to dig their heels into it, and the resultant dents still gives me nightmares. Loss of dignity by revealing one’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses to people who don’t value it, and the inability to say ‘no‘ to self can leave deep scars. There is a tendency to indulge in self-pity, blame others, and refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s own decisions. But good sense eventually drifts in with the passage of time as one gathers the scattered pieces of life. The only lesson that stuck with me from the past is that absolutely nothing or no one is worth compromising my own dignity and self-respect for. It comes from being unapologetic about who I am and the choices I make, with full responsibility for their consequences. It would be sheer idiocy to give the reins of my life to those who have the ability to hurt me, and lament about it when they eventually do. Only I know what I feel and what I want in life, and that shapes my character. Others can only speculate about it, and these speculations shape reputation. I prefer the former and tend to be fiercely protective of it, shielding it from unworthy influences. 
Everything else that I treasure in life-family, love, work, books, travel- comes after it. My world revolves around my family and loved ones. But in my extended family, after years of revering age and being a mute observer, I stood up against few injustices; and even though it caused irreparable damage to certain ties, it brought to me a sense of relief and bolstered my sense of moral responsibility and dignity. I have even learnt to disguise my love and vulnerabilities. I would rather die than admit to the one I love that he has the ability to hurt me. I have done that in the past, and it is not a good feeling. It is tempting to tell out loud how I really feel, but then such confessions require a listener who understands it. Or else it ends up leaving a tornado of unrest that I have to rein in and quietly carry within myself for a long time. And that again is not a good feeling. As for career and work, it all comes down to doing what I love (or learning to love what I do) and carrying it out with utmost sincerity. It can be the most insignificant job in the world, but if it is done without any compromises of  integrity, it brings in a happiness and satisfaction that is hard to explain.
No matter how many skies fall, if your dignity is intact, you get the courage to go through another day.

Assumptions

It’s funny how we inhabit two worlds simultaneously; one that is real, tangible and where ‘A is A’, and the other that is essentially an overlap, crowded by our myriad assumptions about the objects of the real world. People, intentions, books, movies, places, relationships, emotions; nothing is spared from the realm of assumptions.
I am no exception and often assume who is worth letting into my life, and who would be merely excess baggage to lug around. Despite being a insatiable reader, I still harbour prejudices about the readability of a book if they belong to certain genres, or the section of the readers they appeal to. I do it without even flipping open a single page. The same goes for travel choices; often I assume that certain places have nothing worthwhile to offer apart from the usual touristy stuff. I make assumptions about relationships (often equating superficial variables like time spent together, number of conversations to the amount of care; even when I talk only once a month to my closest friends), about emotions (I am/was in love with a boy I met a couple of years ago and had known for just a month, and it was initiated on the assumption that he liked me too. stupid), and even about everyday conversations (what did she mean by that? should I read between the lines?). It is human nature to create our own versions of everything we see, feel and hear; blending with, and sometimes even overpowering the truth. Sometimes I feel guilty about jumping to conclusions without bothering to verify facts, but usually I brush it off as it doesn’t affect me in a direct and immediate manner.

But it is troubling to be on the receiving end of such assumptions. I have a close friend from my junior college days who had suddenly started giving me the cold shoulder. I assumed she was busy and didn’t disturb her with frequent calls and texts. But when it persisted, I confronted her only to be told that she had assumed I was the one avoiding her! Now we are the back to our giggles and gossips, but I shudder to think that a mere assumption might have destroyed a decade old friendship. My sister is home for her summer training and I was bursting with joyous anticipation about all the places we would visit and all the conversations we would have. But she came home, slumped down on her bed, barely talked to me, and didn’t leave the house often. I assumed she was tired, while she assumed that I had cancelled her offer to study abroad due to trivial reasons and harboured a silent grudge. And this would have continued had I not asked her directly about what is bothering her.
It is surprising how often we let assumptions colour our lives. The Anne Tyler books that I have been reading makes me want to tear out my hair in utter despair, what with all those people drifting apart due to mere assumptions and unsaid words. Children drift away from parents, lovers and spouses drift away from each other, and friends separate too. It is such a waste, yet it is happening all around us. This is one mistake that no one ever learns from.

I guess we would do ourselves a favour if we talk it out instead of sprouting assumptions. But that’s tiring too, isn’t it? Sigh!

As If

Lately, in the course of a normal day I get this weird feeling. As if never wanting to get out bed again. As if holding my breath indefinitely. As if lugging around a phantom conjoined twin. As if waiting to hit the bottom during an endless fall. As if a irreversible numbness has engulfed me. As if not caring any more about anything. As if being told that I would never have any new thoughts or new experiences. As if being wiped out of all memories. As if saying a single word will require paramount strength. It is a fleeting sense of physical and emotional lethargy, barely lasting a few minutes, but it is scary that it should even occur. 
Maybe it is a sign to spring-clean my life; weeding out the old, the stale and the stagnant, and planting something new and joyous.
But what?

Moment to Moment

It hasn’t been a conscious decision but I have led a life of discrete moments that are grasped from here and there, like a magpie, and chunked together side by side in some semblance of a continuum. I live from moment to moment; each new and whole, each offering a blank slate. That is why I am unable to hold a grudge; it seems silly to remain angry or annoyed about incidents that happened so many moments ago. Often my leaky memory finds it difficult to retain the cause of an argument, and even if it does, the earlier flammability is lost.
Even uncalled for convolutions in the course of life that threatens to throw me off the edge are relegated to being mere mishaps in retrospect. They don’t fade from memory, but past hurt is automatically and effortlessly eradicated in the onrush of the new moments that seduces with so many possibilities. It is perfectly normal for me to argue in the morning, remain annoyed for an hour or two, and backslap the person by afternoon, wondering at their bemusement. Flitting from moment to moment creates incoordination with people who mothballs their past, but that is a price I am willing to pay, along with the slightly raised chances of repeating the same mistakes.
The only thing that seems to quietly permeate underneath all the unlinked moments of my life is love. Love is always there, unobtrusive and undemanding, from one moment to the next and then the next, and so on. It creates a sense of permanence no matter how disheveled life becomes. It is like a really tall lighthouse that always looms in the horizon, the sight of which I can take comfort in wherever I sail out to. We don’t choose the life we are born into, or the people we call family. I have been very lucky on that aspect.  Yet I long for that something of my own; the glue that invisibly holds my moments together, the lighthouse I can sail back to any time, the feeling of coming home.

Weird Synapses

While driving on NH-37, most people notice the Sarusajai stadium, a popular dhaba, a few educational institutes or the Balaji temple. But when I go for a drive on the same route, my attention is grabbed by two unusual landmarks, a Tyrannosaurus-shaped tree atop a hill and a life-size model of a red car atop an ordinary house. On my weekly commute to the village where I used to work, few of the familiar landmarks I looked out for were as follows: a pumpkin shed, the toothless old lady who sat on her haunches every morning and picked the head lice of her grandchild, a row of birds on the electric wire, a smoky brick kiln, a muddy pool of lilies, and a police station outside which two men always played carom.
Most people I know are amateur cartographers, gauging distances, noting landmarks and flaunting an impeccable sense of direction. I can drive on the same road for a whole year and yet fail to remember what comes after what, the familiar bumps and bends, and the commonly accepted landmarks. My focus veers into the oddities instead; which after an adequate frequency of visual stimulation serve as good enough reminders to find my way around. But it is a hassle to tell anyone directions such as, “turn left after passing the restaurant that had written ‘dhoosa’ instead of ‘dosa’ on the outdoor menu” or “the lane next to the building that is the colour of vomit”, or even “take the right at the intersection near the statue with parabolic breasts”.
In larger cities with an abundance of one-way streets, I have to take lengthy detours to get anywhere, owing to my selective peripheral vision (once I had trouble recalling and telling a friend the colour of the building I stay in) and driving past my destinations. I require time to cram whole buildings, little nooks and corners, and the roads into my memory. But as I notice the weird stuff rather than the proper street names or house numbers, even GPS technology fails to salvage my paltry spatial awareness and navigate me in this immaculately labelled urban world.
My father claims it is a lack of focus, but I feel it is just an alternative focus; like being left-handed in a world swarming with right-handedness, or being colour-blind among people who sees a riot of colours. Now, colour-blindness is another story. On my first day of HS at Cotton College, I gloated about securing a seat on the first bench of the severely cramped chemistry gallery. The reason was to get a ringside view of the magic show (or the fun chemistry experiments) that is demonstrated on the first day of college by a very exuberant professor. While the magic tricks were going on, the professor turned to me and said, “Do you see that heap of powder on the table? Tell me what colour is it“. It was late afternoon ans we were in a minimally-lit room, and there was the additional pressure of nearly five hundred pairs of unfamiliar eyes that had suddenly turned towards me, awaiting my answer; so after a moment of observation  I replied, “It is dark green, Sir.” The professor shouted, “ARE YOU COLOUR BLIND? That’s grey.” And I shrunk in my seat.

Considering I have perfect vision, I wonder if my brain has weird synapses that perceives the world in a different way from the normal folk; and this feeling is reinforced by my habit of looking for signs where they are none. Dear reader, tell me I am not alone.

Ignoring Life

The clock in my room observes a twenty seven year old wearing mismatched prints and a pair of precariously placed reading glasses, poring over a book with her mouth half-open, till a few hours before dawn. If these discrete hours of reading every night are gathered and calculated, it would amount to nearly two years of uninterrupted reading. Two years of my relatively short life had been spent in scanning words of unseen men and women to crowd my imagination with new stories, lives, places, ideas, stirrings, perspectives and often discovering a hitherto unrealized or unexplored thought, or a trace of familiarity. It brings a new plot to my life where things head in a specific direction, reach a climax/anti-climax, and i don’t have to wait for ages to see how things will turn out; i can skip decades with the flick of a page.
Real life introduces new plots and unexpected twists too. But they don’t come frequently and take ages to develop into something substantial; also the restlessness of not knowing what is to come is just too much for me. It is our prerogative to decide whether our life will be an open book that stands revealed and unapologetic about its contents; or be as private as an adolescent girl’s journal, with stories that are open to a select audience of choice. I have chosen to be an open book after years of being the latter. But what are its contents? I open my journals and all i read are accounts of the people i have met, the conversations i had, the funny thing that occurred, the disappointments; people walked in and out of these pages with no definite pattern or purpose. My days have no specific continuity as i run helter-skelter through life; there can be a wide discrepancy of the events of one day from the other. Milestones are often insidious and realized in retrospect. And so is love. He might be an irregular visitor on the pages of my journal, but all of a sudden i mention his name with the intimacy of an old lover. I miss the transitions. My life’s plot is confusing even for me to follow; it’s all over the place, going in every direction, and hence stagnant.

It is somewhat tragic to be reading old journals, only to be acutely reminded of the passage of time, the surges and dwindling of hope over the years, the unforeseen curve-balls, and the things that never amounted to anything substantial. Love had come into my life, and i waited with bated breath, wondering where it would lead. A few departed with the usual fuss and drama, and the hurt reached an early crescendo before ebbing away. They were easier to let go. And then sometimes things fell apart without a distinct snap of ties, without drifting apart, without monosyllables replacing conversations, and without a heap of failed expectations; they were just a clean and abrupt end; no explanations, no mess; it was just that over, and just that uneasy.
I am here now, experiencing these feelings, having these thoughts, writing these words; and a hundred years ago there must have been another girl pouring out her heart, believing in the permanence and relevance of her world. Where are those thoughts now? Didn’t they end with her life? I am just another person and my thoughts will end with me too. It is alarming to dwell on the impermanence of our hopes, thoughts, love and secret desires;and  i feel like spilling out the chaos in my mind, the love in my heart, so that it doesn’t wither away with me. But then i wonder if it is even wanted, whether it will be valued, and grudgingly accommodate the word repression in my life. And continue my quiet reading about lives where things happen. 
Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life”~ Fernando Pessoa

In Which I Talk About Reluctant Beautification, Intimidating Stylists and Bikini Wax

I’m a beauty salon (almost) virgin, and every few months when my forehead is three-fourth occupied by a bushy unibrow, I reluctantly walk into one to avoid being the poster girl of hirsutism. I don’t scoff at the salon regulars; I have the utmost respect for their patience and willingness to shell out a considerable fortune for the purpose of beautification. I can’t help fidgeting after a mere five minutes of sitting still on the chair and find it very hard to spend a couple of thousand every month to look prim and polished, when I could buy at least five new books for the same amount. The books usually win.
My salon guy is used to my restlessness and forcibly maneuvers my head into uncomfortable postures while cutting my hair. While getting my brows threaded I scare away half the customers with pain-induced expletives and facial contortions of horror. I had even endured hour long facials prior to a couple of weddings or important social events. It began with soft hands generously slathering my face with fruity concoctions and gentle massage, but that isn’t relaxation enough and the beautician places cucumber slices over my eyes, dims the lights, puts on some soothing music, and leaves the room asking me to ‘simply relax’ for a while. That is all very considerate but I can’t relax while lying completely motionless; the tip of my nose would itch; or my phone would beep and I am overcome by the irrepressible urge to check it; and by the time the beautician returns with her Buddha-like serene smile, the cucumber slices had mysteriously disappeared from my eyes and I am busy texting.
Walking into a salon and seeing the dazzling, blemish-free complexions and the lustrous, perfectly coiffed hair of the regular clientele deflates my self-esteem quite a bit and revs up the guilt about the neglect I subject myself to. The remainder of the self-esteem is sucked away by the salon staff that is quick to point out my coarse hands, rough cuticles, dark under-eye circles, thin and unmanageable hair, acne-prone skin and arms in serious need of waxing. As I stare at the mirror in front of me, listening to their monologue on my flaws, I picture myself morphing into a grotesque monster. There is always some ridiculously expensive treatment available that would take no less than ten sittingsfor each of my flaws. A few even audibly sigh their disapproval on learning that I had never had a manicure or pedicure. I always keep my nails neatly trimmed and hands well moisturized; but apparently that is not enough. It appalls them that I had not heard about cuticle treatments, anti-wrinkle packs, anti-tan packs and skin polishing too.
Most stylists intimidate me with their aggressive advice and over-selling of various products and treatments. During my last haircut at a posh salon in Delhi, where I felt a bit intimidated by all the glossy and shiny people around, the conversation that occurred was as follows:
Hair Stylist: Your hair is very dry. Aap baalon mein tel nahin lagate?
Me (grinning indulgently): Not regularly.
Hair Stylist (in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear): Kyon? Kisine manaa kiya hai?
Me (cowering, mumble a barely audible): nahi.
A friend, who is a recent salon-convert, came over today and gushed about the benefits of regular salon visits. I noticed that her hair had an admirable bounce and her skin positively glowed. She trailed a perfectly manicured talon over her arm to point out how the ‘carpet of hair’ had been waxed out to reveal silky skin. ‘Everyone is so perfectly styled out; it would be a crime to remain unkempt’. I am not exactly a ragamuffin with wild tresses and dirt under my nails, but I lack the salon sheen. I was sold on her arguments and kept prodding her to feed me more information. Turns out bikini wax has become an essential. I shudder at the thought. If some day I smuggle a tube of lignocaine jelly and decide to go through the hell of bikini wax, I would absolutely have to shoot dead the waxing specialist. There is no question of letting her walk around in this world after such a disturbing encounter.
After the pep-talk I received today, someday soon I would drag my lazy feet to the nearest salon, attempt to sit still for an hour and surrender myself to the expert hands of a stylist, and not think about the five new books that wouldn’t be added to my shelves this month.

Despise

I hate the words lukewarm and what it signifies; i find it stifling that it is neither here, nor there. I hate how the word should dictates our lives. I am livid about but, and what usually follows it. Certain words leaves me defeated and sad, like overlook, as it reminds me of the Anais Nin quote, “What I don’t love, I overlook“. Hope and i share a tumultuous relationship; sometimes it makes me lie on satin sheets, covers me with a soft quilt, runs its fingers through my hair and lulls me to sleep saying how everything will be alright when I wake up; sometimes it drags me by the hair to hurl me off a bridge into unknown depths. Acceptance is a frail old man who holds my hand throughout it all, but he is so tiny that sometimes i forget his existence. I love love, even when it is about chasing the horizon.

Random Smile-Inducers

Lack of internet connectivity on my phone and laptop made me me grumpy the whole day. There aren’t any important mails to send or any pending assignments to complete. I had deactivated all my social network accounts as they were tiring, unproductive and intrusive; and i no longer missed them. But somehow I felt very isolated and couldn’t figure out why. That caused the grumpiness. I tried to focus on the random things that we pass by unnoticed but have the potential to induce a smile. The subtle and often hidden humour needs to be extracted from the surface of seemingly monotonous and sometimes unfortunate occurrences. Today I cite three such random incidents here.
I am scared of birds, especially the rock pigeons and their obscenely loud flutter of wings, the guttural cooing, the creepy rotation of their necks and their surprising knack of flirting with danger when they sit on electric wires. But these damn birds had haunted me all my life. When I was three I was attacked by a pair of swans taller than me, and i had fainted. This was followed by few fat ducks and a smart-alecky parrot which my grandmother had determined to keep as pets throughout my childhood. During my first job, I was posted in a godforsaken village and allotted dilapidated living quarters that seemed to be standing upright on sheer willpower. On the first night I was rudely awakened by sounds of something short and heavy jumping on the hollow ceiling. Ghost of some brutally murdered previous child occupant was the first thought that came to my mind. The next morning the hospital pharmacist laughed off my fears. I had just about heaved a sigh of relief when he casually mentioned, “It’s just a family of large, white owls.” He had the audacity to call them cute too. I would have preferred an army of ghosts. These (parliament of) owls were huge and despite my pleading cries, my mother refused to drive them off. They are a favorite of Maa Saraswati! Wtf! Then there are the pigeons that follow me around everywhere I go, and perch in groups on my window ledge. I have given up sitting on the front verandah because of the rock pigeons that fly in to soak in the sunshine! Ironically I had been born into a family who named the kids after some weird peacock fetish! My sister delights in scaring me that I would get unknowingly get married to a ‘ichchadhari’ (shape-shifter) pigeon (as in the infamous ichchadhari nagin) and will wake up one night hugging a giant grey pigeon, my husband! Anyways, not long ago the building I stay in was undergoing renovation and one day I was startled by the sight of my parents chatting with a man who was crouching  outside our window, about forty feet above the ground. Once the initial shock wore off, I realized that he was crouching on the makeshift bamboo ladder and was getting ready to paint the window ledge, and my parents were helping him remove the flower pots from there. Suddenly, he asked, “What do I do about this?” My parents quickly exchanged alarmed looks with each other before turning towards me. I knew they were hiding something that involved their annoying love for anything avian. I shouted, “Is there a pigeon’s nest on our window ledge?” They shook their heads in unison, but the crouched painter craned his neck through the open window to look at me, flashed his betel-stained teeth and said, “Yes majoni, there’s a big nest over here, and two baby pigeons too. Come here. Come and see.” My parents had a sudden murderous glint in their eyes as if they wanted to shove the painter from his precarious post for revealing the secret. But the painter’s placid and almost cow-like countenance, oblivious of how his words had scared me; and my parents’ sheepish grins were just too funny and I burst out laughing.
Every morning around ten, my father receives a missed call from the local fisherman whose name he had saved on his phone as ‘Raju Fish’. He halts  his jog and saunters into the second floor balcony to stare down skeptically at ‘Raju Fish’ and his piscatory catch of the day, which would be splashing around in blissful ignorance in a dull grey vessel tied to the carrier seat of an old cycle. This would be followed by a scene (and ordeal for me) that had varied little over the years. My father would harangue for the next twenty minutes and end it with a grumpy proclamation that one day divine justice would intervene and really, really bad things would happen to those who cheats and sells stale fishes to elderly men, almost the age of their own father (a deliberate pause here for the desired effect), and charges triple the actual price. ‘Raju Fish’ would deny vehemently and swear on his parents and grandparents, justifying his untainted business ethics. My father smirks, but ends up buying the fish. My father’s accusations are true, but I feel sad for the poor ‘Raju Fish’ who has to go through twenty minutes of obligatory questioning to sell one stale Rohu! I can’t shake off the feeling that someday somewhere ‘Raju Fish’ would commit suicide and leave an accusatory note blaming my father’s questions.
Then there is the incident of the flashy red car which is always stands in front of our house because of the scarcity of proper parking spaces. The owner is paranoid about it being stolen, and since his home is a short distance away from where the beloved car is parked, he had equipped it with a loud and irritating alarm. All that precaution was sensible and good, till the day the toddlers in our locality found out that the car wails if they punched it hard! The harried and unfortunately fat owner had to run at odd hours of the day to deactivate the alarm when some kid deliberately kicks the car, or he had to face the ire of the neighbours over creating noise pollution. He still refuses to permanently deactivate the car alarm and bow down to a bunch of pesky toddlers, who are innocence personified once they had made the car shriek. The man has aged a decade in a week and looks perpetually sleep-deprived. When I see him or his haggard-looking wife standing guard near their flashy red car, i am sure they had not foreseen this calamity.

The Wonder Years

My heart goes out to my young cousins and their generation of children who were born and brought up in big, noisy cities. They are frighteningly precocious, growing up at a pace and picking up stuff that is hard to monitor. Their talents and skills are superior to us; they can multitask and are far more articulate and self-assured than we ever were. But their childhood had been deprived of certain joys and cramped with unhealthy stress for no fault of theirs. Space is precious; apartments are cropping up everywhere and playgrounds are disappearing. Pollution and deforestation paints their world a dull grey. There is neither the space nor the time to devote to pets even if they wanted to. Families are nuclear.  Parents have to work long hours, and children are raised by a host of servants. Or after school they come home to empty apartments, heat up meals on the microwave, and gobble them while surfing the countless channels on TV. They spend their afternoons playing video games or surfing the internet, constantly distracted by a beeping mobile phone, ordering take-outs, and looking haggard after a long day of school, dance recitals, swimming, guitar classes, football, study tutorials etc. There is always some upcoming competition or exam looming in the horizon. Their playground is the empty concrete car parking in their building.
There are barely any trees, ponds, large green grounds or pure, unadulterated fun in their lives. Their minds are too cramped with exam questions to have a healthy curiosity for anything else, and are too tired to develop a reading habit. Holidays are hurried and spent in hotels and touristy sites. They cook pastas and fancy omelettes by watching You Tube videos and turn up their noses at the simple, home-made fare. Derogatory slang words pepper their vocabulary. The lack of respect for teachers and the aversion for school is alarming. They are always unsatisfied, and demand new gadgets and expensive objects ever so often. Neither the parents nor the children could do much about adapting these lifestyle changes. Urbanization demands that you keep pace with it, it can’t be helped. Things are changing, and rapidly. Even my hometown barely has any traces of the old world charm that it held. I don’t hate the busy life in a city; I like its chaos and dizzying pulse. But it leads to a somewhat deprived, stressful and precocious childhood. I am lucky to have been one of the last few generations to have experienced the joy of a childhood in a relatively unsullied and small town of Assam.

My childhood was wondrously laid-back and my parents were blissfully unaware of the need to enroll their children in extra classes that taught any new skills or sports. I had free rein over my leisure hours. I learnt swimming, or rather how not to drown, in the huge pond in our backyard. There were all sorts of fishes and creepy crawlies lurking beneath the murky surface, including a huge tortoise and once my foot had accidentally grazed its rough, scaly back. My father had brought home that tortoise when I was three and it had slid out of his palm onto the dinner table, slowly crawled across the whole expanse, and would have fallen off the other end if I hadn’t held it back. Not much brains to speak of. My cousins and I never contracted any illness even after months of splashing around in the pond that had never been chlorinated. I also learnt how to fish sans any expensive equipment. All it took was a long and thin bamboo pole, a thick string and a fishing hook. I got flour balls from the kitchen, dragged a small moorha to the edge of the pond, and sat down to fling the bait into the water. My youngest uncle accompanied us and solemnly whispered fishing tricks to all the wide-eyed children surrounding him, basking in the attention that we showered him with.

Winters were for badminton, and summers were for cricket. Children and adults teamed up together to play these sports; it was one of the major advantages of growing up in a large, joint family. What we lacked in talent, we made up for in enthusiasm and energy, and played for long hours. My cousins and I interspersed these real sports with self-invented games and the ones we learnt at school. They were weird and highly entertaining, like ‘ghariyal pani’, ‘gold spot’ and the meat and potatoes of children games, ‘hide-and-seek’, whose difficulty level was greatly enhanced by the sheer vastness of our home and the adjoining grounds.  Our flexible limbs and reed thin bodies enabled us to hide in the tiniest of nooks and not be found for a good hour. There were treasure hunts and the whole neighbourhood, including an abandoned house, was our territory; people didn’t mind if a group of kids barged into their homes to hide a treasure hunt clue. The ambience was such that children could walk unannounced into nearly any house in our neighbourhood to demand a piece of cake, orange-cream biscuits, or even a yummy plate of ‘lushi-aloo bhaji’. Now I know nothing but the surnames of our next-door neighbours in the apartment complex I had been living in for a decade.
There was also no dearth of imagination, we wrote and enacted entire plays. The dressing up for the parts was half the fun, and improvisation was the keyword. Large cardboard boxes had the potential of turning into anything from a class room to a castle. An empty barrel was the perfect underground tunnel during the fierce battle scenes. Come Sunday mornings and all the children took their positions in front of the TV to watch Rangoli on Doordarshan; and tried to copy the dance steps in the songs that were aired. There was a lot of jostling around, faces got accidentally slapped, feet were stepped on, borrowed dupattas that we tied on our heads to substitute for long hair swished around. That was all the dance training we got, and often we would end up on the floor, doubling up with laughter. Indoor games ruled too; carom, ludo, chess, and even table tennis in a long, narrow corridor of our home. It didn’t bother us that we didn’t have a proper table, the tiny orange ball bounced back well enough off the floor. We flouted all rules, and made up new ones, but it was such fun.
Some of us constructed a swing too, that hung from the branch of an old tree in the backyard. It was so much fun to let our hair sweep the ground and the very next moment get pushed towards the skies. I played ‘doctor-doctor’ a lot, lugging around a tin box filled with tiny bottles with dubious concoctions from the kitchen and plastic stethoscope, and caught any unsuspecting victim as my patient. I didn’t even spare first-time guests to our home, plying them with orders and questions like “Stick out your tongue”, “Do you have worms?” much to the embarrassment of my family. But the people were generally very pleasant and playful, because they always complied with the orders of the six year old doctor and allowed me to check their temperature with a plastic thermometer and displayed appropriate concern on their faces when informed that they had a fever of 1000 degrees Celsius, and once I had even diagnosed an uncle with a fat belly as pregnant.
Among all the cousins and neighbourhood kids, I was the only one who was mesmerized by the world of books. I practically devoured them. The school librarian had to issue me multiple library cards, because they got filled up so soon. I splurged during book fairs; clothes and toys had never interested me much. One summer I brought home a book about dollhouses, and spent weeks making one that was four feet tall out of empty shoeboxes, match boxes, scraps of clothes, and fitted it with a tiny kitchenette and bathroom set. That was a glorious summer. We helped in gardening too, planting marigolds, roses and dahlias; and helped my grandmother in digging for sweet potatoes and carrots. I measured my height against the tall pine tree in our garden. It overshot and dwarfed me within a couple of years. We climbed and hung upside down from the  trees; picked the tiny, white Sewali flowers during spring and made fragrant garlands; ran through fields of ripe golden crops on the visits to our native village; slept on warm and somewhat itchy haystacks and played in tree-houses. Evenings were meant for long walks and buying a toffee at a small stall at the end of the road. The road seemed so long that sometimes all the cousins hitched a ride in the mini van of a neighbor. When I visited home after a few years, the same road seemed so short; the road hadn’t shrunk, but then what had changed? It baffled me.
My parents struggled to curb my restlessness and get me to sit at the study desk for more than an hour. I hated these forced study hours that cut into my play time, but the effort paid off by putting me among the top three students in class, and subsequently mollified my parents. Then I had to face a nightmarish demon: Hindi. With no disrespect to it, I prayed every night that by some miracle Assamese or English was declared the national language of India. It wasn’t long before my total percentage suffered due to my Hindi marks. I tried to divert my parents’ attention to my excellent grades in the rest of the subjects, but to no avail. And to my horror a tutor was arranged. I vehemently rebelled but soon my new tutor became one of my best friends. Unknown to my ignorant parents, we barely studied for ten minutes of the assigned hour. The rest of the time was spent playing Scrabble, telling each other stories, reading Archie comics, and going through photo albums where I painstakingly explained to him the story behind every photograph. We even listened to new songs that on my cute yellow Sony Walkman, with the earphones on obviously. He didn’t treat me as a kid, and I loved that. He had an amazing sense of humour and we often convulsed with laughter, trying to drown it behind palms. Surprisingly my Hindi grades improved out of proportion to the amount of effort we put in; maybe the laughter and fun made me more receptive to the little I studied. I still struggle with Hindi, my vocabulary and grammar is laconic and I speak it worse than the driver James in that old movie ‘Chupke Chupke’; yet thereafter I managed to get through school without unfortunate Hindi grades.
After the ordeal of homework was over, the television beckoned. In the evenings we were allowed to watch it for an hour to catch old American sitcoms like I dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, Silver Spoons, Who’s The Boss? etc. On Sundays we were allowed an extra hour of cartoons or the Famous Five series, and once a month we indulged in a movie, never in the theatre though, but on the now defunct VCR. We didn’t demand any extra hours of television; there were abundant sources of entertainment: funfairs, book fairs, parks, libraries, theatrical plays, Bhaonas, the circus (seriously, where had they disappeared?), picnics, and umpteen birthday parties given the number of kids in our neighbourhood. Then there were all the festivals. Pandal-hopping during Durga Puja, the rowdy Holi, the even rowdier Diwali night when we lighted the bagfuls of firecrackers my father and uncles bought home at a time when noise pollution and child labour were alien concepts to us, Magh Bihu and Meji mornings, Bohag Bihu and the husori groups that performed at our home; and much to the alarm and despair of my grandmother, who was convinced that her grandkids had been converted at their convent school, we even celebrated Christmas with a puny plastic tree and gifts for everyone.
I loved my school. It had large grounds, quaint church, tiny ponds, a basketball court, and even an orphanage where we had fun playing with the babies and toddlers during the lunch hour break. The teachers were more of friends to us. My best friend and I didn’t even hesitate to putter around the Principal’s (Fr. Philip) office; our restless hands fiddling through the contents of the drawers and cupboards, opening fat encyclopedias in his bookshelf, and asking him innumerable questions. He smilingly indulged our curiosity and never complained. When we were in the fifth standard, we had a teacher (Angelus Sir) who didn’t hesitate to grab and throw any object within reach, including the chalkboard duster, at disobedient kids. We were petrified by his mere sight. Once during the lunch break, my friend and I strayed into the empty fourth floor of our school, exploring the cobwebbed rooms that echoed our voices, and came upon a closed door at the end of the corridor. We pushed it open to the see Angelus Sir sitting cross-legged on a small bed, slurping down noodles and watching an Amitabh Bachchan (I guess the angry young man act was adapted from it) movie. We froze in horror, but he just flashed a bright smile and invited us in. Turned out he lived there, and soon we were served steaming bowls of noodles too. Few minutes of conversation dispelled all fear from our hearts. He told us interesting trivia about any country we pointed to on the large world map pinned on his wall. He played a tune on his guitar. We spread the word about the newfound knowledge of his gentleness, and soon his room was filled with dozens of kids, eager to hear his stories and listen to his lovely songs. I don’t know if students share such a rapport with teachers anymore. They nurtured in us a healthy curiosity to know things beyond the constricted and rigid curriculum of school.
Vacations were spent in whichever town my father was posted in. My parents took us to the hills, picnicked at the riverside and explored every nook and corner of these towns. My sister and I made new friends and played long hours in the sun. She learnt to cook at a very young age, but wild horses couldn’t drag me into the kitchen. It was a period of my life when I could just eat and eat and not a single ounce of fat accumulated due to my excellent metabolism and the tireless running around during the day. Pizzas and burgers weren’t available, and lemonade was preferred over colas. Eating out was reserved for special occasions, but we never got bored of the simple but tasty home-made food. My father occasionally took us to a restaurant that served authentic South-Indian fare; because my mother never managed to cook a dosa that didn’t resemble an amoeba. Later, the kilos quickly piled up with the advent of fast food and a sedentary life.
One summer I had enrolled in the art school. Even there I displayed more enthusiasm than talent, but the art teacher never curbed my imagination and let me paint people with disproportionately long limbs, living in the hollows of gigantic trees and flying in chariots drawn by colossal eagles. My drawing pad was a riot of colours and I even learnt to sculpt clay figurines. Most of all, I loved sketching unusual trees; they seemed to me the most beautiful things on earth.
My grandmother crowded our household with all sorts of birds and animals. There were separate coops for ducks and chicken; the pond was filled with a variety of fishes and that tortoise; there was a lazy, cud-chewing cow and its calf, the birthing spectacle of which gave me nightmares for a long time; a fierce but extremely loyal dog that stayed with us for sixteen years; few docile goats; a cat that came and went according to its will; a parrot; and a pet squirrel too. There weren’t any leashes and the gates were always open; there were no visits to the vet and no fancy pet food; but these birds and animals flourished in this freedom and provided delightful hours of companionship.
There are many reasons I had so much fun growing up. It was a small and unpretentious town, without many distractions. The parents were happy to let children enjoy different experiences and didn’t impose any undue pressure or restrictions. There was also the joy of a common childhood shared with my sister and a dozen cousins, learning the value of sharing in a joint family. There was always someone we can go to in times of need, always someone to listen to us. Neighbours were akin to extended families. Most importantly, the general instinct was of an unquestioned trust and goodwill that is rapidly vanishing. The grounds were green and large, the imagination was sharp; and trees, flowers, dogs, and fishes grew alongside with us, were nurtured by us. School was a second home and teachers were extra-ordinarily encouraging and friendly.
But these wonder years were limited, and on my thirteenth year I was pushed into a world of traffic jams, a school with a dusty ground and no trees, teachers that were ridiculed by students, few classmates whose life consisted of ugly sneers, curse words and unhealthy obsession with all things adult, a tiny apartment in an apartment complex that housed two hundred other families and had a playground where kids jostled for elbow space, honking cars at all hours of the day, ready-to-eat meals replacing dal-chawal, chlorinated swimming pools where strangers kicked each other during laps, goldfishes as pets, dull hours in front of the television, a competition so fierce that tuitions classes and exam guides ate up all leisure hours, dusty roads, smog filled sky that blocked stars, and neighbours that were too busy or too nosy.
Nowadays the children lead a life that is in stark contrast to the one we led; and the only things that had survived from my childhood are my books, and a brat of a little sister to share the memories of those wonder years.

The Pink Cactus

A pink cactus flowers every four years in certain climates; but it can be a rare event in a withering life. Everything important, everything surrounding that life is set aside in the anticipation of this flowering, probably the last it would ever witness. An irrepressible agitation, an air of waiting surrounds the life then, as if for the first shard of darkness to break and let in a stream of daylight, as one paces up and down, illuminated by the thoughts of what is to come, and embracing the delight of what already is. This blooming of the pink cactus is a rare joy that pushes into oblivion all that had ever mattered, all that would ever matter.
In the book i am reading, Colette’s Break of Day, she mentions a letter from her mother in response to an invitation by Colette’s husband. Her mother had politely turned down the invitation because she was seventy six and awaiting the bloom of her pink cactus that might occur any day soon, a phenomenon she might not have the opportunity to witness again, given its cycle of four long years and her advancing age. Colette found this eagerness and sense of wonder, this independence from obligations, duties and human bonds to focus on just what gives her joy, as highly remarkable and inspirational. 
Her mother died the following year, and Colette writes about her, “Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power or a pain the keen edge of its bite, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: ‘I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter.'”
She wondered what her mother, had she been alive, would recognize as the pink cactus in Colette’s life; the rare joy worth waiting for, worth being cared for by devoted hands; and she realized it was none other than the thin shadow that slipped into her life, the man she loves as she lies awake at the break of a new day.
What is the metaphorical pink cactus in my life? Is it a person? Is it a passion? Last night i stayed awake late searching for an answer. Is a person worth such unsullied devotion in this unpredictable world? I am selfish, and verily so in my desire to get what i feel i deserve; not a man of extra-ordinary talents or calibre, but just a man who gets me and my weird life, has the same innate restlessness, who allows me to love him and loves me just as much in return. But love doesn’t grow on trees, and one can never be sure of its enduringness. Can I love a child as much? I can and i have. It is a possibility that witnessing a little life bloom in this world, nurturing it and protecting it might become a part of the pink cactus. Someday.
Dare I center my life around a relationship? Never. I am sure that human bonds, with their fragility, would never be enough to provide that streak of rare joy in my life. I need a passion too. My medical career will always be what i have to do, a path that I had chosen when I was barely even thinking for myself, when I had gone with the flavour of the season, conforming to the wishes of those around me. I would be devoted to it always, and it is immensely satisfying to be of help and save other lives; but it would never be my pink cactus; it will always be my job. It would always be a job. Books are my lifelong companions, but reading is majorly a passive activity, involving just the imagination to erect thoughts that are fed by others’ words. It has nothing of my own despite the joy it gives me. Travelling is a close contender to be someday the passion half of my pink cactus. The thrill of exploring the unknown, of keeping a little bag packed always, of hearing strange tongues, of letting new foods melt in my palate, of discovering the familiar in the unfamiliar, of re-affirming that it is indeed a small world, of finding my way back, and of coming home; it is packed with the same agitation and yearnings of a metaphorical wait for the pink cactus. Or dare I hope that someday it might be writing?

R.I.P Mayuri Sharma

all life is no more than a match struck in the dark and blown out again
A match, whose flame lighted up my world and gave me my name, was blown out today. And I can’t help wishing it should have been me instead. My ambitions are simple; I am not the love of anyone’s life, and I am not even a mother. You were needed more than me in this world. You were more loved. Yet your light was snuffed out today, leaving me broken. Cancer won. Ironically, on World Cancer Day.
Ba, I had seen the fragility of life at close range while working in the hospital. People die young, unexpected, and sometimes just when their dreams get realized, and no matter how much they are loved. I had known for long that the end was imminent, even though we never said it aloud; I also know that this end has relieved your suffering, yet nothing could prepare us for losing you.
Five years ago I was watching the movie Meet Joe Black, the one where death personified and visited a man’s home, and it was few minutes to midnight when the phone rang and I was informed that my pehi had succumbed to a massive myocardial infarct; I never watched that movie again, somehow I associated it with the death. I don’t mourn about my aunt any more, but often remember that particular phone call at work, in the shower, while stuck in the traffic, any time. Once I was sitting at a Microbiology class, when I checked my phone at random and saw a text from my father, “Mini expired. Come home soon“. She was a year older than me, and had stayed with us for more than a decade, ever since my father found her on a bus, running away from an abusive step-mother in some remote tea garden of Assam, and with nowhere to go. She became a part of our family, and was undergoing treatment at the hospital for a recently diagnosed brain tumour, dying a few days before her scheduled surgery. The year before you were diagnosed with cancer, you had called up to inform that your father was no more. Such news had always been sudden jolts of shock in my life, never had I seen a dear one go through a long period of suffering. Until you. You withered before our very eyes.

 
Four years ago when my father was diagnosed with sepsis and multi-organ dysfunction syndrome, and his survival depended on a miracle, given his age and co-morbidities. He was admitted in the ICU and later at the hospital ward for months. I had sat along with the attendants of other ICU patients, and there was a boy of my age, whose mother was recovering from a hemorrhagic stroke; he often talked to me of the signs of improvements his mother was showing. On a regular sleepless, tired, anxious night of waiting, the intercom buzzed announcing his mother’s name and calling for her attendants. He went into the ICU, thinking it was another call to buy more medicines, but came back with the news that it was all over. And for the remaining days till my father’s recovery, my heart stopped every time they announced his name in the ICU. Every day I see hopes cut short at the hospital, it is an inevitable truth of life and I accept that. But, no matter how calm, brave and resilient one is, and however prepared to receive bad news; it is always difficult to let go of a loved one.
It is tragic, even comic, how I am always in a rush, trying to beat time, putting off dreams till a convenient day, making plans, messing up priorities, so much to do, so much not done, always chasing the superfluous; much to the amusement of whoever is up there. What is the point of it all? But then, life doesn’t stop at the fear of its inevitable end.
I had insomnia since the past few days, worrying about an exam result, which can be declared any day now. But these worries are laughable when it comes to the larger perspective of life, when I think about what you had gone through, what you must have felt at the unfair notice life gave you. No matter what happens tomorrow I feel the need to be thankful for each moment of working, reading, writing, spending time with my family, having a good home, of being alive. Not even a single moment is worth wasting over what could have been or what will be, who is in my life and who isn’t. Every moment should be savoured; love and laughter should reverberate every day; one should ensure a life worth living; because life gets snatched away from so many who deserved to have lived.
It has been just a few hours since you left us. Yet this sudden brush with mortality creates in me an irrepressible desire to feel alive; and that’s why I am writing now, writing for you. You found a love so real, simple and true; a love that surpasses all others that I had ever known. You brought into this world two lovely daughters, who make us proud every single day, by just being who they are. You had been a wonderful sister, daughter, wife, mother, daughter-in-law, friend; it is a blessing to have had you in our lives. You make me want to believe in afterlife and I hope you are in a happy place, wherever you are.
Ba, I won’t cry now, I am just relieved that your suffering had ended. But someday, I would see your number among the phone contacts, and knowing that your endearing voice would never answer at the other end would widen the gaping hole of your absence. It will remain for the rest of my life. Some losses just hang awkward, and permanent, amidst our thoughts; but then it is just the love we feel, isn’t it?
RIP Mayuri Sharma (Juku Ba).

Layers

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Layers. The word has always intrigued me. We are never in a rigid mould; there is a fluidity to our personalities, ever changing, as we pile on new layers, and peel off others.

Some are carefully wrapped and covered; few of them need digging to be discovered; and the rest are glaringly visible. My family, and especially my sister, knows me better than anyone else; but there are still unseen layers, subtle, hidden. Friends know what I want them to know. To a few I have revealed more than the rest, but then on a good day, I am ten different persons from dawn to dusk. A goof or a lover; a dreamer or a doer; a compassionate caregiver or a selfish bitch; someone with a secret or an open book; book lover or manic jogger; resilient or vulnerable; a fiery temper or monk like calm; insightful or idiot; voluble or loner; it is hard to say which facet would emerge when.
I still discover new layers ever so often. Impatience and impulsiveness is ingrained in my very core; yet I recently discovered that I too could be patient, I too could let things be, and let go of things without a fuss. That felt good, finding this new layer. It’s a puzzle, hard work, digging them up, and knowing them for what they are, deciding what to keep and what to discard, what to reveal and what to conceal, and to whom.
But it is a dear wish that someday someone somewhere would have as much fun peeling off the layers, knowing me, and loving me, as I would have in knowing and loving him for who he is. The above sentence didn’t have any sexual innuendo though.

Fragile Lives

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When faced with adversity, dealing with circumstances beyond our control, when we are nothing but anxious spectators of some unfolding misery, we tend to seek comfort from unexpected sources. I am going through such a phase, as I deal with a loved one’s illness, waiting anxiously by the phone, having to comfort and re-assure others when I feel so drained myself. Sleep has eluded me too. I look for comfort in little things, anything to engage and distract my mind. The news of a miniscule sign of improvement, the mere opening of eyes, offers solace. Recollections of a certain person bring micro-moments of love into my life, transcending grief; tumbling forth like wild and rampant waves. Books fail to engage me now. I walk. I work. I shut my eyes and tune into every sound I can hear, neatly arranging them in my mind, and realizing how silence is a fallacy. Everything is moving, all the time. I have this sudden urge to feel alive, because it is such a precarious thing, this life, who can predict when it would slip away. I sound morbid, but when I see a loved one wither away, I feel more aware of my hands that work, feet that walk, eyes that can see, mind that thinks and loves; in a twisted irony, I am more aware of being alive. And I want to make each moment count; moments filled with love, laughter and hope.