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.

T.H.White

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” 

“Perhaps we all give the best of our hearts uncritically–to those who hardly think about us in return.”  

“They had a year of joy, twelve months of the strange heaven which the salmon know on beds of river shingle, under the gin-clear water. For twenty-four years they were guilty, but this first year was the only one which seemed like happiness. Looking back on it, when they were old, they did not remember that in this year it had ever rained or frozen. The four seasons were coloured like the edge of a rose petal for them.”  

“He did not like the grown-ups who talked down to him, but the ones who went on talking in their usual way, leaving him to leap along in their wake, jumping at meanings, guessing, clutching at known words, and chuckling at complicated jokes as they suddenly dawned. He had the glee of the porpoise then, pouring and leaping through strange seas.”
“Education is experience, and the essence of experience is self-reliance.” 
“Unfortunately we have tried to establish Right by Might, and you just can’t do that” 

 ~T.H.White

Books: Reviews, Recommendations and Reading Lists

Last night I read Herman Koch’s novel ‘The Dinner‘. Waves of satire and mystery leads to a dark whirlpool; and it all occurs under the perfectly placid cover of harmonious domesticity, husbands who love their wives, wives who find their husbands charming even after two decades of marriage, children who never get into trouble at school and never did drugs, families with massive wealth, power and a clockwork happiness. The events unfold over a dinner at a ridiculously expensive restaurant where the manager points his little finger to painstakingly describe each little portion of food set amidst the vast emptiness of the plates. Two brothers, one of them famous, and their wives gets together to discuss and find a way to undo the damages their children had caused. Violence springs up as memories are fetched from the not too distant past, and the reader is forced to review and rearrange their perspectives frequently. How well can you know a person? How far can you go to protect the ones you love? How thin is the line between self-righteousness and the sinister, and how easily can one jump to and fro over it? Obvious violence and gore can disgust, yet it never reaches the proportion of those that are veiled and implied and wholly unexpected. And this novel in its cold and tangential handling of threats and veiled crimes is both disturbing and funny, and hence highly addictive.

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I had upped my reading pace recently and read twenty books in the past two months. I highly recommend the following:
a) ‘How to be a Womanby Caitlin Moran: A contemporary take on feminism, part-memoir and one of the most hilarious books I have read in quite some time. From menstruation to masturbation, muffin tops to jutting cheekbones, workplace politics to strip clubs, Scarlett Johansson’s breasts to Germaine Greer’s books, dealing with siblings to awesome gay friends, disastrous love affairs to stable marriages, pregnancy to abortions, weddings to remaining childless by choice, appallingly long labour to handling toddlers, the book deals with them all. It is sharp, witty, agitating and raises up the right questions.
b) ‘tiny, beautiful thingsby Cheryl Strayed: It is a compilation of the ‘Dear Sugar‘ advice columns and offers astoundingly empathic and deeply personal insights into love, everyday life, grief, unexpected setbacks, shaky friendships, self-doubts and more. Each letter of advice is a literary nugget.
c) ‘Bossypantsby Tina Fey: You see the trend here, don’t you? Strong, career-minded, family-oriented, hilarious and bad ass feminist authors. Fey is no different.
d) ‘Incognitoby David Eagleman: I wrote about it here.
e) ‘Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fictionselected by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher R. Beha: You can find it here.
f) ‘Big Questions from Little Peopleby Gemma Elwin Harris: It has experts in various fields of physics, space exploration, philosophy, literature and many more answering the questions of children that includes the profound enquiries about love and what good comprises of, and even questions about farting cows! The questions are answered in all seriousness and to the best of the understanding of the children. The simplicity and fun trivia that the book provides makes it a delightful, easy read.
g) ‘The Dinnerby Herman Koch: scroll to the top of this post.
h) ‘Before She Met Meby Julian Barnes: This is a novella about a man’s insecurity and disproportionate jealousy about his second wife’s sexual past as a struggling actress in films of questionable taste, and how a seemingly harmless obsession of a perfectly ‘normal’ person can spiral out of control into dark and menacing consequences. It reminded me of ‘The Dinner‘ in its sinister subject yet irrepressible humour.
 And here are the books on my reading list for the coming month:

1. ‘The Conqueror of the Seas: The Story of Magellanby Stefan Zweig
2. ‘Driveby Daniel H. Pink
3. Collected Poems (1947-1997) by Allen Ginsberg
4. ‘Staying Onby Paul Scott
5. ‘Humboldt’s Giftby Saul Bellow

I would love to hear about your reading lists and book recommendations. Do share them in the comments section. Go read.

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.

The Long Answer Is No

Q: Can I convince a person about whom I’m crazy to be crazy about me?
A: The short answer is no. The long answer is no. The sad but strong and true answer is no.There are so many things to be tortured about, sweet pea. So many torturous things in life. Don’t let a man who doesn’t love you to be one of them.
~ From the “Dear Sugar” column in ‘Tiny, Beautiful Things’ by Cheryl Strayed.

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.

The Week

Book: Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction, selected by Joyce Carol Oates and Christopher R. Beha. Out of the forty-eight stories in the anthology, I have read 1-900 by Richard Bausch, Lavande by Ann Beattie, Off by Aimee Bender, The Love of My Life by T.C.Boyle, The Identity Club by Richard Burgin, Aurora by Junot Diaz, Reunion by Richard Ford, The Girl on The Plane by Mary Gaitskill, ‘Adina, Astrid, Chipewee, Jasmine‘ by Matthew Klam, Once in A Lifetime by Jhumpa Lahiri and Incarnations of Burned Children by David Foster Wallace. Each story is a revelation in how words can be stringed together in myriad ways to hurl the reader into a space rife with characters so well-sketched that it takes only a couple of pages before an involuntary familiarity is fostered. The plots vary from being elaborate and including multiple time leaps to ordinary encounters. What keeps the pages turning is the versatility of the content and style of these accomplished writers. Little nuggets of pure bliss.
Film: Often they are larger-than-life, crude and garish, but no one can deny how Hindi films have marked us with its invisible stamp of magnanimous dreams, instilled an inevitable sense of drama, bound us with shared memories of favourite moments from the screen, and made us unabashed (or closet) romantics. And yes, there is a song for every emotion and situation. I watched Bombay Talkies last weekend. I won’t judge how true the four stories were to the common theme because each one of them brought in a new wave of delight. Each one told a story in twenty-five minutes, and told it well.
Karan Johar‘s story is about the angst of a man who has veiled his sexuality under the institution of marriage, the longing of a woman to be desired by the man she married, the overwhelming attraction of a gay man towards the husband of a close friend; and the confused, tender, passionate and brief entanglement of these three lives that changes them forever. Till date the only poignant film that I had watched about two men in love, devoid of stereotypes and caricatures, is Brokeback Mountain. And now in this film even though the moments were fleeting, Randeep Hooda brings in a passion, sensuality, repressed desire and tenderness that is incomparable. Rani Mukherjee had never looked more beautiful and real. Dibakar Banerjee‘s story is run by the genius of two men, Banarjee himself and the lead actor, Nawazuddin’s flawless performance of a common man with big dreams that loses steam after the first few steps on the road to realize them. He craves glorious destinations without the ordeals of the journey, and wants it all without questioning his own potential and calibre. And he has a pet Emu (‘ooi-ma’ to his neighbours :P) named Anjali! Zoya Akhtar questions if our dreams and ambitions should be tailored to meet the approval of society and be within the rigid constraints of conventionality. A little boy is torn between his uncontrollable urge to be a dancer and gyrate like the on-screen ‘Sheila‘, and his father’s desire of seeing him ace the football games at school. When his father hits him for dressing up in his sister’s clothes and applying lipstick, self-realization dawns that certain dreams are best indulged in secrecy till the right time arrives. His relationship with his sister is quite adorable too. Anurag Kashyap‘s story is witty, hugely entertaining and yet sad in the very premise of how the masses deify their screen idols, putting lives on hold for a mere glimpse or word from them. The delight of watching this particular story was comparable to that of reading a short story by Saki.

Food: Given that my mother harbours the delusion that someday I would consider getting married to one of the potential suitors whose names get dropped not so subtly in her conversations with me, the few strands of prematurely grey hair on her head is partly attributed to her long standing worry that my (future) in-laws and husband would use my complete apathy towards cooking to judge her  parenting skills. Last weekend to appease her, I tuned into the Nigella Lawson show and diligently noted down few recipes. On Sunday morning, after a short struggle with the blender that involved the batter flying in all directions, I ended up baking a delicious chocolate cake…all on my own! And my mother’s frown lines were miraculously wiped off as she ate the first piece of the cake.
Everything else: I am relieved and somewhat surprised at the abrupt lightness of being brought on by the fading of a face into the darkest and deepest recesses of memory, because I wasn’t even aware how a quiet yearning had weighed me down for years. I watched a documentary on the quaint town of Omori in Japan.The Gulmohar tree outside my window is covered in blazing red blossoms. I no longer follow the IPL matches. I painted my nails coral pink. And the heart beats wildly in anticipation of a long awaited change.

A Timeless Song

Rediscovered a timeless song that captures the agony, the stubborn but simple hopes, and the yearnings of those in love. Song: Lag Ja Gale Ke Phir Singer: Lata Mangeshkar Movie: ‘Woh Kaun Thi’

लग जा गले के फिर ये, हँसी रात हो ना हो
शायद फिर इस जनम में, मुलाक़ात हो ना हो

हम को मिली हैं आज ये घडीयाँ नसीब से
जी भर के देख लीजिये, हम को करीब से
फिर आप के नसीब में, ये बात हो ना हो
शायद फिर इस जनम में, मुलाक़ात हो ना हो

पास आईये के हम नहीं आयेंगे बार बार
बाहे गले में डाल के, हम रो ले जार जार
आँखों से फिर ये, प्यार की बरसात हो ना हो
शायद फिर इस जनम में, मुलाक़ात हो ना हो

Smorgasbord:Harsh Realities, Secret Lives Of The Brain, A Vintage (Imaginary) Friend

Parents grow old and die. Seven years ago when a close friend lost her mother, I confronted this harsh reality for the first time. Suddenly the loss of a parent didn’t happen in distant homes but occurred in the life of a beloved friend, a contemporary. I talked about it with another friend, A, who shared my fear and incredulity and said, “I can’t even begin to imagine a life without my parents. Aami tu bhabiboi nuaru!” She echoed my deepest fear and spoke words that I didn’t even dare say out loud lest they came true. Last Monday when A was holding onto the last minutes of sleep at dawn and her mother was picking up laundry, her father began gasping for breath in the adjacent room. Within five minutes, their lives underwent a tumultuous and irreversible change. Without any preceding illness, his demise was a traumatic shock to the family he left behind. I couldn’t bring myself to call up or visit A till quite late in the day. Her previous words came back to me in a rush. The world that she just couldn’t imagine was here now and the reality of ageing parents gripped me with a new fear. Over the past decade, my parents had a few serious health scares and I had nearly lost my father four years ago to sepsis and multi-organ dysfunction. But with the grace of God and their own concern towards their fitness, they lead much healthier lives now. No one can change certain unfortunate realities of life, but everyone of us can spending quality time with our parents instead of being cooped up with our own little worries and busy lives, get regular health check-ups for them, oversee their diet and exercise, and let love and laughter resonate each day.
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I have been reading David Eagleman’s “Incognito: The Secret Lives Of The Brain” and despite being well aware of the physiology of that three pound of neural tissue that runs our entire lives, the book provided entirely new and deeper insights into the amazing machinery that is the brain. Imagination, emotions, decisions, intelligence, identity, aspirations, ideas, problem-solving, attention, vision, the entire human physiology and the vast world of the subconscious; everything comes alive in the book. It is a humbling and staggering realization that our conscious selves isn’t the centre of our existence, and is way off in a distant orbit. Most of what happens in our lives aren’t done by conscious effort or generated on their own, but is a modulation of innumerable stimuli, past information and experiences stored in the brain that it throws up to our conscious realization, and we go “hey, I just had this amazing idea“. Our flawless vision where nothing escapes our notice can surprise us with new revelations depending on what we tune our attention to. An engaging and unputdownable book.
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I found this old library photograph from the 60s on Flavorwire, and I just can’t get over how awesome and cool she looks. I now think of her as a Nabokov-reading vintage librarian who is also my imaginary best friend!

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.

Quiet, Serendipitous Finds

The overcast sky, the wild wind and the long road seemed akin to a visual metaphor of the storm that had raged inside my mind since few days. It was nine in the morning and I was in IIT Guwahati, driving past a middle-aged woman, with dark and sturdy calves smeared in mud, bent over a bed of frail-looking yellow flowers that lined the campus road, plucking weeds and dropping them into the bamboo basket strapped on her back. Leaving behind a large, tree-lined pond and the morning rush of students cycling to their classes, I was soon out of the IIT campus.
My jethai (my mother’s elder sister) had accompanied me, but we drove in a secretly grateful companionable silence. The road was empty apart from a herd of goats that sat authoritatively right in the middle of it. I rolled down the windows to let the cold wind beat against my face and course their way throw my curls. Just as I was about to turn left on the Amingaon road, a huge Buddha statue with yellow robes and indigo hair caught my eye. It was set atop a hill a few hundred yards away on the opposite side. Why hadn’t I ever noticed it earlier despite taking this road umpteen times?
On an impulse, I turned right and towards the immense statue of Buddha that sat here in the middle of nowhere, so far away from the city. I stopped near three tiny temples which I had misjudged as the path uphill to the statue. We got out of the car anyway at the insistence of the priest who had come out on seeing us. I was hesitant as the only thing religious about me is that I religiously avoided any place of worship thronging with crowds and commercialized rituals.  But here we were the only visitors (don’t want to use the word devotees).
The priest told us that this was the Jaiguru Ganesh Mandir. My jethai was more pious than me and did the rounds of the Ganesha temple (where the idol was carved into the slope of hill that formed one of the temple walls), the Shiva temple and the Lakshmi temple.
I just stood there soaking in the quietness and serenity and watched the tiny shed next to a tree with red blossoms, a lone dove perched up on the dome of the Lakshmi temple and large boulders and trees that surrounded the temple. The priest wasn’t judgmental or inquisitive of my avoidance of worship, and came forward smilingly to hand me a sacred flower. I smiled back in acceptance. He directed us the way to the Buddha statue which we were told was located in the Assam Buddha Vihar.
Barely a hundred meters away, we drove uphill into a narrow path. On seeing two old cars covered with dust and grime and half-hidden in the bushes, I wondered if they were abandoned by their owners who couldn’t find any way to reverse and drive down the narrow curves of the path we were on. Chuckling at that possibility of my own car, I parked it and walked up the stone steps into what I assumed was a Buddhist monastery.
In her late sixties now, my jethaiwasn’t keen on climbing too many stairs. We reached the verandah of what I still assumed to be a monastery and hence was on the lookout for meditating monks when a woman dressed in a baggy yellow kurta welcomed us with a cheery ‘namaste, please come in’. She dragged out a plastic chair for my jethai to sit in, and showed me the path further uphill to the ‘Bada wala Buddha, Big Buddha’. I walked on alone just as I heard the woman tell my jethaiI thought I was a tall woman, but you are even taller than me“. The trail was relatively short and populated with bushes, boulders and red beetles.
The giant torso of the Buddha loomed into view soon enough. Even though it wasn’t as large as the one I had seen in the Tawang monastery, it still cast an imposing figure. There was a view-point that looked out into lush paddy fields, groves of coconut trees swaying in the brisk wind and the distant river. A pale sun shone through the clouds. If I had drove up alone and if I had a book with me, I would have stayed there the entire day.

Half an hour later, I was back with my jethai and the woman with the pleasant face who introduced herself as C. S. Lama. She insisted that we visit her private prayer hall and took us into her home, which I had mistook for a monastery. We walked into a narrow lobby and up some steep stairs to a room with a shabby wooden door. But the lock had got stuck and as her house-help was out on leave for Bihu, we couldn’t enter the prayer hall.
Instead she showed us the mud-filled wooden pot filled with numerous half-burnt incense sticks stuck on it and a wok containing a paste of flour, milk and honey. Every evening Mrs. Lama prayed for peace and poured a spoonful of the milk and flour mixture into the incense-stick pot in a gesture of offering it as ‘bhog’ to the departed souls of loved ones. She then showed us the two Stupas that stood on a tiny hillock adjacent to the verandah.
She guided us through the delightful maze that was her cozy home. The bedroom was littered with old photographs and magazines on the floor; a television was tuned to IPL match highlights; and a stationary exercise bike stood against the large floor to ceiling windows. The view from the bedroom and the adjacent balcony was breathtaking and I could almost touch the blossoms of the gulmohar tree. Mrs. Lama told us how on some nights leopards and deers climbed out of the forests and roamed outside her window. Just hearing about it made me want to camp out there till the next sighting. 
She showed us the photographs of her grandchild and nostalgically said, He is seven and often I forget the passage of years and mistake him for my son at that age. They look identical. She took us to an old stove and the pile of firewood lined next to it. Those of us from the hills like our food with the distinct flavor that comes from cooking on firewood.
Mrs. Lama insisted that we stay for coffee as we had visited on the occasion of Bihu and ushered us into the dinning hall bathed in a warm orange light. As she took the lids off tiny red cups with painted yellow dragons and poured in the coffee powder (ironically stored in a Bournvita container), she started narrating the story of her life. She had constructed the entire Assam Buddha Vihar on her own as a tribute to her husband. Just like Shahjahan built Taj Mahal in the memory of Mumtaz, she chuckled.  She was assigned the land by the government in the outskirts (as was her preference to be away from the city) in 1984 and whenever sufficient funds were accumulated the construction progressed step by step, and was completed in 1989. It would be completing its twenty-fifth foundation day next year.

She had come to Assam as a young bride from Bhutan, accompanying her husband and used to be the unofficial and preferred translator in all his business transactions here. They ran a flourishing real estate and transport business. Despite having homes in several places in India and Bhutan, she decided to settle down in Assam when she had made up her mind to construct the Buddha Vihar. I used to have a horrible temper and portrayed a tough exterior in the early days, but I had to do so to prevent people from duping me or taking advantage of the fact that my husband was no more, she said matter-of-factly. She proudly stated that her son had graduated from St.Stephen College and now lived in Delhi with his wife and son.  Mrs. Lama’s daughter is married to a Bhutanese national and her grand-daughter had just passed her senior year of school. She broke into giggles talking about the events leading up to her son’s marriage that involved some parental resistance and a short ‘living in sin’ (as the term goes in conservative societies) period. I am a broad-minded, modern woman. I understand these things, she said and I couldn’t help feeling a rush of endearment for her.
Now she lives alone in the home she had built for her atop this secluded hill, adjacent to the giant Buddha statue. Downstairs there is a communal prayer hall, where we prayed before a bronze statue of Buddha set atop an artistically set altar. There are plush low settees, gongs, prayer wheels, portraits of leaders she admired, and hand-drawn paintings depicting the teachings of Buddha. She showed me a painting about the fate in after-life and rebirths if we conduct misdeeds in the present life. See, if you needlessly cut down a healthy tree, you will be reborn as a tree too and get mercilessly chopped down. Agar galat kaam karega, toh aadmi agle janam mein khamba ban sakta hai (pointing to a man with a pillar for a torso). Finding her own words very funny, she burst into another set of giggles.
Mrs. Lama mentions that she has eight rooms in the adjacent guest house, that is used by visiting family members as well as occasional tourists. We cook our food together. Come and stay sometime. A new tourist lodge is coming up adjacent to the property and would soon be functional. Mrs. Lama’s warm hospitality, endearing and easy familiarity, delightful conversations, the serene ambience, the peaceful prayer hall, the majestic Buddha statue, the addictive quietude of being far away from the city, the surrounding lush forests and the blossoming Gulmohar; Assam Buddha Vihar is a must visit for the Guwahati residents and tourists alike. I look forward to visit this quaint little place again for the Buddha Jayanti celebrations next week (25th May).
I am just glad that a mundane morning drive brought up such quiet, serendipitous finds. The storm inside had abated.

Just An Old Song

आनेवाला पल, जानेवाला है
हो सके तो इस में जिन्दगी बिता दो
पल जो ये जानेवाला है


एक बार यूँ मिली, मासूम सी कली
खिलते हुए कहाँ, खुशबाश मैं चली
देखा तो यही है, ढूंढा तो नहीं है
पल जो ये जानेवाला है


एक बार वक्त से, लम्हा गिरा कही
वहा दास्ताँ मिली, लम्हा कही नहीं
थोडासा हँसा के, थोडासा रुला के
पल ये भी जानेवाला है

Finding My Way Back

Stage 1: Denial, Dread and Depersonalization
Last week saw the decapitation of a precious and stubborn hope; a void so sudden and utter enveloped me that all I could do was roam around the rest of the day in denial. Everything felt surreal. There I was unable to fathom what just happened, remaining motionless in the wait that someone would wake me up from the bad dream, and all the while watching myself run errands, laugh out loud, discuss weekend plans and being as normal as I can be. There wasn’t anyone I could talk to about it without hearing a stock pile of advices.The hurt was overpowered by the fear of slow passage of time, the long days where I would walk alone without the crutches of  a hope that I had grown so accustomed to.
Stage 2: Anger, Apathy and Absent Physiological Needs
I felt ashamed of seeing only what I wanted to see. I felt angry about trapped in a vicious cycle. I felt stupid about giving away an organ as vital as the heart to someone who hadn’t even noticed it. I was livid about the wasted years. I cringed remembering everything I had told him. I lost the motivation to write as everything I ever wrote had the subtext ‘I hope you read me’ for that particular reader who no longer existed. On an impulse, I announced the discontinuation of this blog. I looked listlessly at the pile of books on my bed that I had been so excited about reading not so long ago. Insomnia came in, and so did an involuntary and absolute shut down of hunger pangs for a couple of days.
Stage 3: Niagra
I decided a good cry would just get that hassle and pent up unrest out of the way. Alone in my room, the tear ducts remained unresponsive till I said out loud what I had heard. I woke up on a wet pillow.
Stage 4: Manic Overcompensation, Gluttony, Bad Decisions and Neon Lingerie
It seemed downright idiocy to sit at home even on Sunday night, crying my eyes out about a person who wouldn’t know or care two hoots about it. I gathered the essential ingredients-a funny sibling, fun friends, my favourite black dress, red lipstick (a first)- and was out for the night. I hoped to fool the mind by simulating happiness (I emphasize that this has been a low phase in my life). I delved into sinfully rich desserts at my favourite café; splurged on objects like neon-purple lingerie, a hamper of chocolates, clementine shampoo and blue cat earrings at the mall; upped triglyceride levels by emptying plates of buttery prawns, spaghetti and an entire pizza; broke the self-laid rule of being an abstainer and sneaked in a bottle of red; and followed it up with a movie marathon where my companions and I muttered abuses every time the word love cropped up. The diversionary tactics worked and exhaustion brought on some much needed sleep that night.

Stage 5: ‘Yesterday On A Loop
I realized that I had to let go of certain hopes that had become as familiar and essential as breathing. There would never be any more texts or phone calls, no running into each other, no potential of one thing leading into another, no hazy outline of togetherness in the distant horizon. It was the end. Finito. A new wave of melancholy swept in as I thought of what had been and what could have been. If only are the most worthless words any language has to offer. They don’t serve any purpose other than stagnate life with unreasonable hopes and futile analysis. Another day; work, life, people awaited me. I just needed to go through eighteen hours of not thinking about it till I am back in bed listening to the Beatles croon Yesterday, over and over.
Stage 6: Questions
What was it? Why? Why had I held on to it for so long? Why had I used him as a yardstick to measure every love interest? Was he that good? Was it all in my mind? What had I imagined? Why did I cling? Why did I rush in? Why had I let my guard down? Is this the closure I sought? Am I supposed to squeeze out a lesson from this? Will I ever find love? Isn’t love just supposed to happen when you are looking the other way? Wasn’t I doing just that when he came into my life again? Did he ever think about me? Why had I made assumptions? Why had I exposed vulnerabilities? Why am I such a hopeless judge of people? Was I obvious? Can’t I, the veteran of heartbreaks, let this pass? Should I delude myself with better things in the future? What if things only went downhill from here? Why such a disastrously long cascade of unhappy accidents? Will my life be stuck in this present state of disarray and chaos? Am I that  un-loveable? What now?
Stage 7: Answers, maybe
Love. Some things aren’t meant to be. It was a habit which had intensified towards the end. He was that good. Again, yes. Hmm. That I had begun to mean something to him. I was starved of him for a decade. Because only fools rush into love, wise men and (even) Elvis believed that. It had felt true. Yes, finally. Love is exhausting. I don’t care any more. Varies for every person. Yes, he walked in unaware and startled me. Never. Because it felt good to believe in what I wanted to believe. I felt safe. Genetic trait. Painfully obvious. Previous similar stimuli does not bring in an absolute refractory period here. No. Live it anyway. Integrated Course in Advanced Resilience and Perseverance. Only if I allow it. I don’t know. Move on, what else?
Stage 8: The Choice
Today I felt a strong desire to sort out the emotional chaos and multitude of memories in the only way I know of. Write about it. I felt foolish about the sweeping declaration that I would never write again. I weighed the pros and cons of going back to the same blog that was peppered with posts about love. I revamped it with a new name and layout, and pruned certain old posts. In the quiet soft light of the dawn, I read for an hour. The books have found me again. The hills beckon me too in the upcoming weekend.
The sky was overcast and the breeze brought in a pleasant chill. I looked at my wispy reflection on the window pane; the coffee I was drinking had given me a frothy moustache. Am I really that un-loveable? Is my worth based on a single person’s (lack of) love for me? I shook my head and the clementine-scented soft curls made a gentle sibilant noise as they stroked my face. Even though some things can never be quantified and compared, a lost love, however devastating it seems at the moment, is relatively bearable in the wide spectrum of human suffering. There is no need to eradicate hope. There is no need to put it on steroids either.
When we moved here a decade ago, my mother had planted a Gulmohar (Krishnachura) sapling outside my window. It grew unnoticed till its naked branches tapped against the window. The neighbours often asked permission to chop down this frail non-flowering tree to use as firewood during community feasts. But my mother refused. She wanted to give the tree a chance even when the rest of us had given up on the hope that it would ever blossom. Today as I stood by my window, lost in my early morning reverie, bunches of bright red blossoms amidst a canopy of green greeted me. The tree had blossomed, unnoticed. Maybe I am drawing analogy from an inevitable natural phenomenon, but the spectacle touched me. Somehow it felt meaningful. It effortlessly re-instated a hope about a better life. The hope wasn’t about finding love, career advancements, good health, more travels and it didn’t even kindle my desire to find an escape from everything. I just hoped and knew that life will be better. This is not a self-delusion. Just a strong desire to realize that belief. No matter how many skies have fallen, I can choose to be happy. That choice is always there.
“Whatever causes night in our souls may leave stars.”

Joan Didion

I don’t know what I think until I write it down.” (So true)
“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” 
“A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.”
“That was the year, my twenty-eighth, when I was discovering that not all of the promises would be kept, that some things are in fact irrevocable and that it had counted after all, every evasion and every procrastination, every mistake, every word, all of it.”  

“Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs.” 

“I closed the box and put it in a closet.
There is no real way to deal with everything we lose.” 
“Water is important to people who do not have it, and the same is true of control.” 

“To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference. If we do not respect ourselves, we are on the one hand forced to despise those who have so few resources as to consort with us, so little perception as to remain blind to our fatal weaknesses. On the other, we are peculiarly in thrall to everyone we see, curiously determined to live out – since our self-image is untenable – their false notions of us… ” 
“I lost the conviction that lights would always turn green for me, the pleasant certainty that those rather passive virtues which had won me approval as a child automatically guaranteed me not only Phi Beta Kappa keys but happiness, honor, and the love of a good man; lost a certain touching faith in the totem power of good manners, clean hair, and a proven competence on the Stanford-Binet scale. To such doubtful amulets had my self-respect been pinned, and I faced myself that day with the nonplussed apprehension of someone who has come across a vampire and has no crucifix at hand.”

Smorgasbord:Weekend Read, Orange Afternoons, Jethro Tull

My reading life covers a broad spectrum of fiction and negligible non-fiction that includes only biographies. I read purely for the joy of discovering new stories and newer insights, and the continual amazement of how words can be stringed together to evoke varied emotions. But i want to do a little more than flip pages to find the next twist in the tale; and want my reading to enhance and diversify my perspective of the world around me. I want to develop critical thinking and form sound opinions of my own rather than inanely agree to those of others. Not long ago it was a painful realization that i had only inserted ‘packaged opinions’ in my mind. Writing (or blogging) had changed that as I can gather and give some shape to my thoughts when I write them down. Despite the participation in numerous debates in school, I am unable to formulate convincing arguments and raise essential questions about the things I read and hear. So this weekend, two decades late into my reading life, I have picked up ‘How To Read A Book‘ by Mortimer J.Adler in the hope of getting more out of the books I read and increase my curiosity and understanding of a variety of topics.
——————————————————–

Nowadays, between four and six pm, the day takes on a warm orange hue. Outside my window, the leaves are yellowish-green and the warmth encompasses the red-brick houses too, converting their shabbiness into a rustic charm. The faces in the crowd has taken on the warm sheen of freshly baked biscuits. The sun lingers in the sky suffusing it with orange arteries and the impatient sliver of  a pale moon is already visible over the distant grove of trees. A pair of crows fly soundlessly, spiralling around the coconut tree adjacent to the window. Somewhere just beyond my field of vision the cuckoo melodiously leads a noisy lot of birds. I take in the unassuming and quiet beauty of this orange day; and you come in and reverberate in the sudden tranquillity of my thoughts.

———————————————————

A friend, who knew my penchant for soulful and understated lyrics, had gifted me Jethro Tull CDs a few years ago, citing that they are lyrical gods whom I must hear. I wasn’t an immediate convert. But lying awake in the dark and still hours, the words and the flute grew on me. Here is one of my favorites:
‘Fire At Midnight’ by Jethro Tull
I believe in fires at midnight
When the dogs have all been fed.
A golden toddy on the mantle
A broken gun beneath the bed.
Silken mist outside the window.
Frogs and newts slip in the dark
Too much hurry ruins the body.
I’ll sit easy, fan the spark
Kindled by the dying embers
Of another working day.
Go upstairs, take off your makeup
Fold your clothes neatly away.
Me, I’ll sit and write this love song
As I all too seldom do
Build a little fire this midnight.
It’s good to be back home with you.

Dylan & Pablo

“Friend, my enemy, I call you out. You, you, you there with a bad thorn in your side. You there, my friend, with a winning air. Who pawned the lie on me when he looked brassly at my shyest secret. With my whole heart under your hammer. That though I loved him for his faults as much as for his good. My friend were an enemy upon stilts with his head in a cunning cloud.”
“I love you so much I’ll never be able to tell you; I’m frightened to tell you. I can always feel your heart. Dance tunes are always right: I love you body and soul: —and I suppose body means that I want to touch you and be in bed with you, and i suppose soul means that i can hear you and see you and love you in every single, single thing in the whole world asleep or awake” 
“We can catch buses and count our change and cross the roads and talk real sentences. But our innocence goes awfully deep, and our discreditable secret is that we don’t know anything at all, and our horrid inner secret is that we don’t care that we don’t.”
“It snowed last year too: I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”  
~Dylan Thomas 

 
 —————————————————————————————-
Your Laughter
Laugh at the night,
at the day, at the moon,
laugh at the twisted
streets of the island,
laugh at this clumsy
boy who loves you,
but when I open
my eyes and close them,
when my steps go,
when my steps return,
deny me bread, air,
light, spring,
but never your laughter
for I would die.
~Pablo Neruda

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.

Dear Jesus, Do Something

Dear Jesus, do something.

Maybe the only thing that hints at a sense of time is rhythm; not the recurrent beats of the rhythm but the gap between two such beats, the gray gap between black beats: the Tender Interval.”  
In spite of everything I loved you, and will go on loving you–on my knees, with my shoulders drawn back, showing my heels to the headsman and straining my goose neck–even then. And afterwards–perhaps most of all afterwards–I shall love you, and one day we shall have a real, all-embracing explanation, and then perhaps we shall somehow fit together, you and I, and turn ourselves in such a way that we form one pattern, and solve the puzzle: draw a line from point A to point B…without looking, or, without lifting the pencil…or in some other way…we shall connect the points, draw the line, and you and I shall form that unique design for which I yearn.
When we remember our former selves, there is always that little figure with its long shadow stopping like an uncertain belated visitor on a lighted threshold at the far end of some impeccably narrowing corridor.”  
Let all of life be an unfettered howl. Like the crowd greeting the gladiator. Don’t stop to think, don’t interrupt the scream, exhale, release life’s rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is screaming, choking on its screams. Laughter. Running. Let-down hair. That is all there is to life.
Toska – noun /ˈtō-skə/ – Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness. No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”  
Literature was not born the day when a boy crying “wolf, wolf” came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying “wolf, wolf” and there was no wolf behind him.
~Vladimir Nabokov (My Personal God)

3am

On a rare occasion when she was awake at three am, unable to decide whether to continue reading the novel or risk sleeping off only to wake up groggy for an early class, he crept into her mind. It was not him per se, having obliterated his existence from her life years ago with a determinedness that turned out to be self-perpetuating, but flashes of a period when it was impossible to categorize what they were, friends sounded inadequate and lovers petrifying.
She knew only what he wanted her to know. He remembered things she forgot she had told him. They had never ventured beyond apparently normal conversations and genial vibes. And eight springs ago, at 3am when the two insomniac quasi-friends had stumbled onto each other online, he suggested “Let’s play a game“. She snorted, but comforted that he couldn’t have heard it asked politely “Trivia?” “Hmm. Let’s talk like lovers. It’d be so funny“, he quipped. She could sense the fake spontaneity and forced (and negligible) humour of the sentence the moment he wrote it.
They had met a year ago and after some unsuccessful and awkward flirting, he gave in to her offer of platonic boundaries. She was eighteen and socially inept, he was twenty-four and an effortless conversationalist. They were strangers whose only mode of communications were infrequent chats on Yahoo messenger and the single text message that he sent everyday that unknown to both had become as essential and routine and taken for granted as breathing. “I watched this movie last night. And I died.”Sending you one of my favourite songs about love. Strangers in the Night by Sinatra. You might have already heard it. But I don’t care.” “There’s this book I read…” “I got a little drunk tonight and walking on the rail tracks with a few friends.

It was just clumsy sharing of everyday moments and occasional exchange of songs or stories that he thought she might like. She found his unpretentiousness charming. It was insomnia that bonded them over books, music, childhood memories, movies, dreams and hopes, innumerable infatuations, significant  individual banks of embarrassing stories and also acted as outlets of ideas and experiences they didn’t share with their friends. They were each other’s talking diaries. At the end of the day, it felt good to talk to someone whose thoughts were on a similar wavelength and with whom there was an undeniable emotional connect. It almost felt illicit to contact each other during the day when they are supposed to be relatively occupied with college, exams, family and the real friends that crowded their lives and barely left any room for interaction.They dared to do so mostly on the pretext of small but relevant queries. An inconsequential text during the busy mornings carried the subtext I am thinking of you but it’s awkward to say so, therefore sending a  lame joke even though we both abhor them.
They cautiously skirted around the word ‘love‘, it could only create complications. Yet there it was, out in the open, he had supposedly joked about talking like lovers; but the words had expanded abruptly in the two rooms separated by a thousand miles and flung them both against the walls.
In the cover of a mocking put-down and ‘😛‘ emoticon, she had fled. He too had retreated aware of crossing some invisible boundary. After two awkward months of dwindling conversations and nervousness, they could no longer ignore love. A good year followed. Then in the cover of a flimsy excuse, he had fled. She too had retreated unaware of the void that would show up unexpectedly seven years later, on a spring day at 3am.

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“.

Jeffrey Eugenides

“I don’t know what you’re feeling, I won’t even pretend.”


“You never get over it, but you get to where it doesn’t bother you so much.”
“She may have looked normal on the outside, but once you’d seen her handwriting you knew she was deliciously complicated inside.”

“It was possible to feel superior to other people and feel like a misfit at the same time.” 
“She could become a spinster, like Emily Dickinson, writing poems full of dashes and brilliance, and never gaining weight.”
“Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of getting a room with a minibar.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my story, I need them more than ever. ” 

“A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims–these are lucky eventualites but they aren’t love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name. We value love not because it’s stronger than death but because it’s weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it. You will not go on loving in the grave, not in any physical way that will at all resemble love as we know it on earth. The perishable nature of love is what gives love its importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn’t hit us the way it does. And we certainly wouldn’t write about it.”

(Unintentional) Things I Learnt This Week

# Even when the first sentence of the book provides details about the suicides of the female protagonists and even when the narrator is a vague collective ‘we‘ of neighbourhood boys, it can fuel curiosity and end up being a page-turner. Sometimes endings makes for great beginnings. Or maybe each ending is always a beginning, considering that’s when everything makes sense. I’m reading The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides.
# There is always the option to dive and resurface with an appropriate mask that won’t make a valued friend uncomfortable to be around you. It can be a mask of essential detachment that would not crowd their imagination with unnecessary obligations, worries about unmet expectations and unintended hurt. You will feel a secret guilt that you aren’t being true to yourself, but then sometimes detachment spares unnecessary confusion and ironically maintains friendships. If you want things to be normal, take the initiative in behaving normally.
# Just for once put the words ‘hips‘ and ‘boobs‘ in the title of a post and watch the blog traffic escalate. It doesn’t matter that the content of your post isn’t remotely pornographic; a crowd of faceless strangers titillated by such anatomical catchphrases would swarm to your blog. Majority would be disappointed by the lack of sexual content and never return. You are relieved by the exclusion of such audience; but they had served their temporary purpose of upping the web traffic into numbers that you had never received with titles relating to books or love .
# I had heard of post-coital rituals that involves any combination of psychedelic music, naps, cuddles, smoking, or maybe reading; but it alarmed me that there is an unofficial genre of post-coital literature. I wonder what are the points that tips a book into that particular genre. Sleep-inducing? Post-modernism? Titillating? Spiritual? Or maybe good old love?
# It is amazing the innumerable ways things can go from point A to point B, and in real life, a straight line is the least common of them all.
# Coffee that has turned cold (and not cold coffee) can act as an unintentional laxative for some people (not me).
# Sitting in a pool of sunshine, away from distractions and people and responsibilities, with just a good book and some imagination can undo a lot of emotional ravages and allows for fresh starts. A vacation in an exotic locale isn’t a prerequisite for it; a quiet spot in the park, the terrace or even the bed by an open window does the trick.
# German language is populated with hefty compound words but they end up being the fun and unintentional motivation of learning it. Take fernweh (an ache for the faraway), backpfeifengesicht (a face in need of the fist) and my favourite herbeisehnen (the feeling of missing something you love while knowing that its likelihood of return is unknowable and entirely left to fate). I can’t wait to know more.

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.

Every Single Word

While I can’t have you, I long for you. I am the kind of person who would miss a train or a plane to meet you for coffee. I’d take a taxi across town to see you for ten minutes. I’d wait outside all night if I thought you would open the door in the morning. If you call me and say ‘Will you…’ my answer is ‘Yes’, before your sentence is out. I spin worlds where we could be together. I dream you. For me, imagination and desire are very close.
What should I do about the wild and the tame? The wild heart that wants to be free, and the tame heart that wants to come home. I want to be held. I don’t want you to come too close. I want you to scoop me up and bring me home at nights. I don’t want to tell you where I am. I want to keep a place among the rocks where no one can find me. I want to be with you.” 
Do you fall in love often?
Yes often. With a view, with a book, with a dog, a cat, with numbers, with friends, with complete strangers, with nothing at all.” 
Yes, we are [friends] and I do like to pass the day with you in serious and inconsequential chatter. I wouldn’t mind washing up beside you, dusting beside you, reading the back half of the paper while you read the front. We are friends and I would miss you, do miss you and think of you very often. I don’t want to lose this happy space where I have found someone who is smart and easy and doesn’t bother to check their diary when we arrange to meet.” 
Trust me, I’m telling you stories.
~JeanetteWinterson

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.

There Never Was Such An Animal

You’re not like the others. I’ve seen a few; I know. When I talk, you look at me. When I said something about the moon, you looked at the moon, last night. The others would never do that. The others would walk off and leave me talking. Or threaten me. No one has time any more for anyone else. You’re one of the few who put up with me.
(Note: The world is getting busier each day, and we discreetly explore the outer limits of our peripheral vision to find someone who would put up with us, the good and the bad, without being judgemental. It involves a lot of luck.)
He glanced back at the wall. How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who reflected your own light to you? People were more often–he searched for a simile, found one in his work–torches, blazing away until they whiffed out. How rarely did other people’s faces take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thought?” 
(Note: In my relatively short life, I had met only one person who mirrored my innate and well-concealed restlessness, but I didn’t stick around to find out more. It intimidated me.)
I feel I’m doing what I should’ve done a lifetime ago. For a little while I’m not afraid. Maybe it’s because I’m doing the right thing at last. Maybe it’s because I’ve done a rash thing and don’t want to look the coward to you.
(Note: For a little while we lose the fear. Just for a little while.)
Are you happy?
(Note: Yes. But I am afraid to think beyond what is obvious and within reach.)
How do you get so empty? he wondered. Who takes it out of you? And that awful flower the other day, the dandelion! It had summed up everything, hadn’t it? ‘What a shame! You’re not in love with anyone!’ And why not?
(Note: Seriously, how?)
Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. see the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories. Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that . Shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.
(Note: Life’s unpredictability scares me immensely if I take a moment to take it all in, but then where is the fun and thrill without the surprise bumps and bends in the road?)
I ate them like salad, books were my sandwich for lunch, my tiffin and dinner and midnight munch. I tore out the pages, ate them with salt, doused them with relish, gnawed on the bindings, turned the chapters with my tongue! Books by the dozen, the score and the billion. I carried so many home I was hunchbacked for years. Philosophy, art history, politics, social science, the poem, the essay, the grandiose play, you name ’em, I ate ’em.
(Note: I would religiously follow this diet for a lifetime. Just garnish it with some fiction. I don’t mind the kyphosis either.)
But most of all, I like to watch people. Sometimes I ride the subway all day and look at them and listen to them. I just want to figure out who they are and what they want and where they are going. Sometimes I even go to Fun parks and ride in the jet cars when they race on the edge of town at midnight and the police don’t care as long as they’re insured. As long as everyone has ten thousand insurance everyone’s happy. Sometimes I sneak around and listen in subways. Or I listen at soda fountains, and do you know what? People don’t talk about anything.
(Note: Hmm. The last time I enjoyed talking to someone was exactly ninety-nine days ago. The rest of the umpteen conversations since then has coalesced into an indistinct lump of words. How many of us have real conversations and not vacuous daily updates?)

~Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

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!

In Pursuit of A Selectively Spotless Mind

I am accustomed to the despair that ensues in the aftermath of losing the people I love; a covert awareness and dread of an eventual end always runs parallel to the initial rushes of love. Yet the melancholy of knowing all the while that this too won’t last doesn’t offer any consolation. Each loss leaves its own mark; fresh invisible wounds quietly await time, the good old physician, to work its amnesic magic on them.
The first time it happened, I roamed around apathetic, gloomy and dazed for a couple of years; torturing myself with worthless hopes and analysis. The second time it was just a quick spell of anger followed by the relief of escape. The third time I was over it sooner than I would like to admit, and the ensuing guilt about this self-assumed fickleness led me to repeat to myself that of course I was still in love for an acceptable period of time (which in my mind is a minimum of two years). It bothered me how soon I had forgotten the face, the voice, the laughter and how I had felt for him, that I erected my own (and completely unrelated) idea of him, cherishing this imaginary love just because I was scared of admitting that it was a mere infatuation and never had been love. I continued to fool myself because its negligible longevity ashamed me.
Then there is this fourth or rather the real first or an intermittent second or maybe intermittent third or the only persistent and subdued and very complex yearning over the years, something that had never dared to leave the shadows and move into the blinding light of realization until now, something intermingled with hope and the lack of it, something vulnerable yet resilient to the passage of time, something that defies closure, something that doesn’t seek acknowledgement or reciprocation and is sustained by its own intensity, something that is beyond fear and shame, something that is unknown and elusive yet eerily familiar, something that wants to be declared unabashedly yet lingers in a sacred veil of secrecy, something that is as pleasurable as it is agonizing. I don’t know what it is, but it is like a splinter that had gradually burrowed its way deep into my heart; and owing to its tenacity and sense of belonging, the pain is just a minor deterrent to my existence. I had made a choice and I have to live its consequences.

We all seek to love and be loved. We crave the intimacy of being the only witness to the other’s life and vice versa. We want a common bank of memories, adventures, conversations, joys and sorrows. We want to love someone more or as completely as we love ourselves. There are no guarantees, there is no definite destination and there are no definite routes. It can’t be engineered or chosen, it just comes to you. Some get to journey along the scenic route, the rest gets the messy and tiresome route fraught with obstacles and insecurities. I belong to the latter category and often find myself dragging my weary legs back to the starting line after encountering dead ends. I enjoy walking on my own, and prefer solitude to the cacophony of dissimilar wavelengths of thought; yet have a never-ending reservoir of hope that there is someone meant to walk alongside me in a journey that reverberates with love, laughter, the good unrest, binding similarities, alluring differences, pleasant companionship, mingled experiences and memories, new adventures, long conversations, continuous individual growth, shared intimacy, and looking out for each other.
But the fourth or real first or an intermittent second or maybe intermittent third or the only persistent and subdued and very complex yearning of many years has to find closure before I can start anew. I don’t feel any anger, apathy or agonizing hurt this time. It’s just a somewhat uncomfortable and heightened restlessness that is not much dissimilar to what I had felt all these years. Even this will end someday, but I don’t plan to wait helplessly till time erases him from my mind. I need adequate distractions till then; new stimuli and work.
Here are my list of immediate distractions till I attain the relative calm of a selectively spotless mind, and curb any further impulsiveness and hurt:
1. Indulge in the only agreeable distraction: books. Read more non-fiction, and some contemporary fiction.
2. Join that Zumba class.
3. Write more (if that is possible!).
4. Take up whatever shifts that comes my way.
5. Continue the ban of all information overload from my life, except for maybe occasional tweets.
6. Overcome my laziness and ennui and re-connect with old friends.
7. Go back to the pool.
8. Overcome my dread of the kitchen. Make a ritual of cooking (I use the term loosely) dinner at least once a week.
9. Delete a certain phone number, mails and messages. Already done!
10. Use that language learning software and dictionaries to learn elementary German. Ask my sister to be my tutor.
11. Enough of the slow life. Get out of home more. Explore.
12. Maintain an essential detachment from all the problems that crop up in my life or the ones of those dear to me, to avoid drowning in panic and sorrow.
13. Not curb the thoughts of the one I am trying to forget, because I would end up fuelling reverse psychology. Let it be.
14. Revive the fervour of watching more world cinema.
15. Nights are dangerous and insomnia encourages irrelevant hopes; try to sleep early.

David Foster Wallace

How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.
“It’s weird to feel like you miss someone you’re not even sure you know.” 
“Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.”
“What if sometimes there is no choice about what to love? What if the temple comes to Mohammed? What if you just love? without deciding? You just do: you see her and in that instant are lost to sober account-keeping and cannot choose but to love?
“We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?” 
“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.” 
“You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.”  
“Acceptance is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.” 
“The parts of me that used to think I was different or smarter or whatever, almost made me die.”
“Both destiny’s kisses and its dope-slaps illustrate an individual person’s basic personal powerlessness over the really meaningful events in his life: i.e. almost nothing important that ever happens to you happens because you engineer it. Destiny has no beeper; destiny always leans trenchcoated out of an alley with some sort of Psst that you usually can’t even hear because you’re in such a rush to or from something important you’ve tried to engineer.”  

“We all have our little solipsistic delusions, ghastly intuitions of utter singularity: that we are the only one in the house who ever fills the ice-cube tray, who unloads the clean dishwasher, who occasionally pees in the shower, whose eyelid twitches on first dates; that only we take casualness terribly seriously; that only we fashion supplication into courtesy; that only we hear the whiny pathos in a dog’s yawn, the timeless sigh in the opening of the hermetically-sealed jar, the splattered laugh in the frying egg, the minor-D lament in the vacuum’s scream; that only we feel the panic at sunset the rookie kindergartner feels at his mother’s retreat. That only we love the only-we. That only we need the only-we. Solipsism binds us together, J.D. knows. That we feel lonely in a crowd; stop not to dwell on what’s brought the crowd into being. That we are, always, faces in a crowd.”
“The truth is you already know what it’s like. You already know the difference between the size and speed of everything that flashes through you and the tiny inadequate bit of it all you can ever let anyone know. As though inside you is this enormous room full of what seems like everything in the whole universe at one time or another and yet the only parts that get out have to somehow squeeze out through one of those tiny keyholes you see under the knob in older doors. As if we are all trying to see each other through these tiny keyholes. But it does have a knob, the door can open. But not in the way you think…The truth is you’ve already heard this. That this is what it’s like. That it’s what makes room for the universes inside you, all the endless inbent fractals of connection and symphonies of different voices, the infinities you can never show another soul. And you think it makes you a fraud, the tiny fraction anyone else ever sees? Of course you’re a fraud, of course what people see is never you. And of course you know this, and of course you try to manage what part they see if you know it’s only a part. Who wouldn’t? It’s called free will, Sherlock. But at the same time it’s why it feels so good to break down and cry in front of others, or to laugh, or speak in tongues, or chant in Bengali–it’s not English anymore, it’s not getting squeezed through any hole.

So cry all you want, I won’t tell anybody.” 

The Price of Resilience

When I was a child, I used to accompany my parents to visit a family whom they had known for more than a decade. The couple had lost their elder daughter, then aged four, in a road traffic accident a couple of months before their second child was born. Both their present children, a boy and a girl, had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Even as a child, I could comprehend the graveness of the adversities faced by them. But no one in their family sulked about the apparent unfair and cruel blows life had dealt them. The whole house was a riot of laughter and activity. Sketchbooks, crayons, plastic trucks, glass marbles, frisbees, half-eaten packets of potato chips and a football were always strewn around the living room. Since the children were the biggest fans of Michael Jackson, they often used to rev up the music volume and give impromptu performances. They continued to quietly celebrate the birthday of their departed daughter, just the four of them, huddled around a chocolate cake baked at home, and the kids were oddly solemn in the remembrance of the elder sister they had never known.
There was none of the expected shadow of gloom hovering over their home; in fact often we could hear their laughter from the street as we turned into their home. But I was not convinced that not even a shred of anger, disappointment or sadness lingered in the lives of their parents; and was always on the lookout for hidden signs. But they were no more exasperated about their children than my parents were about my sister and I. I was suddenly disappointed about the hue and cry my parents raised about the glass of milk we refused to drink at bedtime or procrastinating on homework. I couldn’t contain my curiosity and bewilderment at their amazing coping mechanism and asked aunty how she managed to accept whatever life had brought her so uncomplainingly. Didn’t she ever get angry that this wasn’t exactly the life that she might have envisioned when she was young? Wasn’t she scared of what the future held?
They weren’t sticklers for religion, but they believed in the presence of a higher being who would look out for them, as they continued to make the best of whatever life brought them. She told me that the slightly detached overseer of our lives brought such obstacles into the lives of only those who had the strength to tackle them. She grew angry a thousand times every day but over the same causes that every parent frets about; untidiness, temper tantrums, excessive TV hours etc. And yes, she had found everything that she had always wanted in life; a loving husband, two happy children, a wonderful job, good health and lots of laughter. It is all about perspective. The journey was tough, and peppered with losses and obstacles; but the destination more than made up for that. She was content with what she had made of the sufferings life brought her. She was proud of it. As for the future, who can say what it held; it is useless worrying about the things we haven’t come to yet and giving up the pleasures of the present. She preferred to spend her days equipping her children with life skills, good education, ensuring they were healthy and happy rather than worrying about how they would cope in the world later.
These words had stayed with me and I still find them oddly consoling. Even now when I want to scream my lungs out, every time a cascade of new obstacles flow into my life and wonder if there will ever be any respite; I think of her words. I remind myself that I am resilient enough to handle this. Last night I had another health scare as the word cancer sprung up again, barely one and half months after I had lost my elder sister to it. I had lost three family members in quick succession in the past five years to cancer. And frankly, I am tired of it. I am tired of people dropping dead, when they are young and full of dreams, leaving the rest of us to battle the loss. All I crave for is a life where all my near and dear ones are healthy and happy; and I can get to worry only about things like what to wear for an evening out, long hours at work, the bad food at cafeteria, and get adequate time to lament about and pine for a lost love.
Sometimes I feel envious of those people whose lives had run such smooth courses, but then I remind myself that I haven’t been singled out, every one has their own private sorrows; and into each life some rain must fall, some more than the others. It has taught me to treasure the apparently mundane, everydayish things where nothing much happens; and revel in the infrequent but real joys that come my way.

Let Her

Let her withdraw. Let her say what she doesn’t feel, and only feel what she would never say. Let her be afraid of getting hurt, of indifference. Let her fiercely preserve her dignity. Let her know that nothing good would ever come out of certain truths. Let her quietly conform to societal expectations. Let her pride trample old yearnings. Let her be wary of perceptions and mortified of drowning in stereotyped roles and wrong presumptions. Let her foresee that she would be judged unfairly. Let her (always) be the one to understand. Let her accept that she would never be sure of what goes on in another’s mind. Hence, let her lie.

Where They Say It Better

Stand very still.
Look at me, my eyes,
if that will help.
The words I really want to say to you
are under these.

~J. Allyn Roser
 
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

~e.e.cummings
If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land. 
 ~Pablo Neruda
 And then read this.