“I know what the fear is. The fear is not for what is lost. What is lost is already in the wall. What is lost is already behind the locked doors. The fear is for what is still to be lost.”
In Blue Nights, Joan Didion writes about the long and blue twilights, during summer, just before it gets engulfed by the inky blackness of the night as an analogy for how ‘ordinary and expected blessings‘ like good health, finding love, marriage, bringing up a child, travels, new beginnings can be wiped away by sudden and unexpected catastrophes, uprooting the very foundation of a life that one had carefully built over the years. She has a career as a successful novelist and memoirist; a wonderful family; travels around the world; fame and money; and then came the irreparable and sudden loss of her husband and only daughter within a span of less than two years. The anxiety, sense of foreboding, grief and the subdued nihilism in her words made me realize how flippant most of us are towards the “ordinary blessings“.
I have everything I need; a late-blooming yet deep and strong bond with my parents, a sibling who knows me inside out and loves me despite it, seven ‘soul sisters‘ who creates unmeasured joy and camaraderie, a job that enables me to pay my bills comfortably and brings in a sense of making a direct and real difference in the lives of others (in whatever small way), a cosy home resounding with love and laughter; good health of my near ones, and here I use the term loosely to denote just the absence of any major illnesses; a sense of wanderlust, wonder and stubborn hope that (now) fails to get marred even by the dreariest of circumstances; stacks and stacks of books overspilling from every shelf in my room; and the love of a kind man.
Yet, not so long ago, I was drowning in the dark and turbulent waters of mourning about what I want and didn’t (yet) get. And no one wants to be ordinary. The hopelessness that stems from the knowledge that one has not yet achieved the universally accepted cornerstones of ‘success‘ in their specific profession, negates every little achievement and joy that were present at the beginning of the career. Tangled in self-doubt and an unfulfilled and misplaced sense of entitlement, the thought of settling for less pained me to the very core. My parents are quite supportive and happy with the very fact that I am the first and only doctor in the entire extended family including the past generations. But it meant nothing to me, because I had failed my own expectations owing to reasons that varied from circumstantial to self-sabotage or being just lazy. Anxiety didn’t help as much as ruined my confidence every passing moment. My whole worth as a person began to be centred around my academic performance. Nothing else mattered.
I remember my little cousin once asked me the reason behind the suicide of a movie star and I replied that it was allegedly due to depression, which many speculated was over a stagnant career. My cousin failed to understand why an actor who had surpassed thousands of people struggling to get not just a role in a movie and had attained world-wide fame and recognition had killed himself. How was he a ‘failure‘? I struggled to explain to my cousin that success is a subjective term, rooted deeply in comparison to others, and that happiness and well-being is centred around it to varying degrees.
Today I have reached a point in my life where I am thankful for every blessing I had been given unasked for; but I know the helplessness that many people might have due to failed expectations and the vicious thoughts it spurs about the absence of any way out, the complete oblivion of hope, the negligible sense of self-worth and the highly exaggerated delusion of what others will say. I had been trapped in that web of negativity and depression a few years ago for long enough to toy with the idea of embracing death in a bid to escape living. It was the result of a cumulative despair, feeding on certain untoward incidents in my life, that tipped me over the edge when I was challenged with a a period of stagnancy in my career.
While I was battling such negativity, a childhood friend passed away due to post-operative complications following a minor surgery. The day after she died the sun shone brightly in a brilliant blue sky, the bougainvillea was a riot of colour, my mother prepared my favourite dish, my father broke through my wall of gloom with his booming laughter; my sister kicked me in the butt and grinned impishly when I wanted to borrow something from her wardrobe; the television blared upcoming movie trailers, a few friends sent me a postcard from a holiday in Ladakh (because they knew how much I loved the mountains); I read an Alice Munro story; and I had an overwhelming realization that my friend will never experience these ordinary and mundane blessings again.
The world will go on, will bring in the new and hold on to the nostalgia of the past, and she won’t be there to know any of it.
Happiness is being alive. That’s it. Everything else is a bonus. And I had, a decade ago, let the fleeting thoughts of ending it all creep in to my mind; I don’t regret those thoughts, nor am I ashamed. I am immensely relieved to pry myself away from the clutches of such hopelessness and despair. Even now, my life is devoid of the ‘certain things that I want‘, but I am ready to work for them, strive towards them, wait for them. I realize that I will never have all the things I want; but I have everything I need, a wider focus of what this world has to offer and yes, I am alive to enjoy it all.
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He is listening to songs by the band ‘When Chai met toast’, on a loop. I adore his childlike glee at sprinkled Tamil lyrics in a Hindi song.
In the early morning hours, drifting in and out of sleep, I dreamt of narrow lanes, blurry silhouettes of people rushing past, dark corridors, slate blue and dark green shop fronts illuminated by the diffuse haze of yellow lights. I remember being happy.
Throughout the day I tried to recall if it was a random image conjured by my mind or a real memory. If yes, then from where and when? Finally it came to me. Hauz Khas, Delhi. Dusk. Autumn evening. 2012. A solo trip. Walking through the busy lanes. Eating butter garlic prawns at a restaurant after walking six flights of rickety stairs. I remember hearing a strange, high-pitched bird cry, and was told it was a peacock from the adjacent forest. Later, chanced upon the Yoda Press bookstore and it was lit up with soft yellow lights. Browsed for hours. Sat cross-legged on the floor, taking my own time to decide, adding to the book pile. Roamed in the dark corridor studded with paintings and photographs. It was an unfamiliar vibe, a new feeling, very different from the small town I grew up in. More strolling around with a bag full of books. Ate gelato. I enjoyed that ordinary evening of roaming around alone. And this memory jumped to surface today, eight years later!
It is so important to be comfortable being on your own. And I am grateful that I finally do. I relish going to the movies alone every once in a while, and also eating alone at a restaurant , bookstore browsing, visiting museums and galleries, reading for hours , or going for a walk alone. Not just a refreshing break of solitude in a world that just can’t keep quiet, but also being able to do things at my own pace and be in the moment without worrying about making conversation.
At a lab I worked in very briefly, I was horrified at the thought of eating lunch together with a huge group, EVERY SINGLE DAY! At the risk of appearing rude (and I definitely must have appeared so) , I used to return to my room, eat my lunch alone, read for a few minutes while making coffee, and revel in the solitude! This need of mine becomes difficult to explain to those who thrive in being around others. I love being around people too, but I treasure my solitude equally. So much that I sometimes dream of solitude! 🙂
“Only once in your life, I truly believe, you find someone who can completely turn your world around. You tell them things that you’ve never shared with another soul and they absorb everything you say and actually want to hear more. You share hopes for the future, dreams that will never come true, goals that were never achieved and the many disappointments life has thrown at you. When something wonderful happens, you can’t wait to tell them about it, knowing they will share in your excitement. They are not embarrassed to cry with you when you are hurting or laugh with you when you make a fool of yourself. Never do they hurt your feelings or make you feel like you are not good enough, but rather they build you up and show you the things about yourself that make you special and even beautiful. There is never any pressure, jealousy or competition but only a quiet calmness when they are around. You can be yourself and not worry about what they will think of you because they love you for who you are. The things that seem insignificant to most people such as a note, song or walk become invaluable treasures kept safe in your heart to cherish forever. Memories of your childhood come back and are so clear and vivid it’s like being young again. Colours seem brighter and more brilliant. Laughter seems part of daily life where before it was infrequent or didn’t exist at all. A phone call or two during the day helps to get you through a long day’s work and always brings a smile to your face. In their presence, there’s no need for continuous conversation, but you find you’re quite content in just having them nearby. Things that never interested you before become fascinating because you know they are important to this person who is so special to you. You think of this person on every occasion and in everything you do. Simple things bring them to mind like a pale blue sky, gentle wind or even a storm cloud on the horizon. You open your heart knowing that there’s a chance it may be broken one day and in opening your heart, you experience a love and joy that you never dreamed possible. You find that being vulnerable is the only way to allow your heart to feel true pleasure that’s so real it scares you. You find strength in knowing you have a true friend and possibly a soul mate who will remain loyal to the end. Life seems completely different, exciting and worthwhile. Your only hope and security is in knowing that they are a part of your life.”