“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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,
but never your laughter
for I would die.
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,
but never your laughter
for I would die.
“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)
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.”
Two decades ago I barged into a class and under the scrutiny of fifty pairs of eyes that had turned towards the door, I tripped and fell. I didn’t pause for a single second on the ground, and dashed towards my desk, trying to overlook the classmates who sniggered. And it was only when the teacher shrieked ‘Your socks are soaked with blood!’ I looked down at my bloodied knees. The wounds gaped wide enough to require sutures but I was too preoccupied with my embarrassment to feel even the slightest stab of pain. As everyone fussed over my injury, caressing my head, and offering me a glass of water, I felt the pain in my legs explode. That’s what I remember from that day. If you don’t dwell on it, the hurt is negligible. I took to suppression as a coping mechanism against injuries and setbacks; I don’t conceal or run away from hurt, but face it with an essential detachment, like events unfolding in the life of a close acquaintance where I have a ringside view of everything but I am spared the pain. I don’t dwell on the ground to look at my bleeding knees.
February was tough. I lost a sister, an important plan fell through, a close friend disintegrated into depression, and I witnessed (and still witnessing) a career-related legal drama. If I allow myself to take it in all, the chaos would choke me. But over the years, my mind had adapted to detach and distract itself from the dreams that crumble, the people I lose or the ennui of everyday existence, filing them away in neat little cabinets. Life is too short to mourn about what happened and what didn’t. I am yet to be loved; I am yet to achieve my goals. There are so many places I haven’t visited yet; there are so many books I haven’t read yet. I go from one day to the next, concentrating on what is and what would be. The past can’t be crammed into my life.
I extrude the unpleasant by replacing it with small moments of pleasure. A day after my elder sister died, I felt guilty about the happiness that bubbled up in my chest on seeing the new and vivid bougainvillea blossoms near my home. On the days when love disheartens me, I write about love. I read wherever and whenever possible. The calming monotony of laps in the pool or feet pacing on a long walk is something else that I look forward to. My ambition had blunted in the recent years, and I am trying to revive it; but all the while reminding myself that it is just a job. I am not one of those revoltingly joyous and perky individuals brimming with optimism, but I refuse to drown in despair too. Life is just normal; sometimes I create my own happiness, and sometimes it creeps in unexpected.
I take solace in the unusual; even the absent lover has a peculiar charm. It can sometimes morph into a constant and subtle longing for him to witness the world with me, to witness me, to let me witness him. These are the moments when I walk about interposing minutiae of my idea of him into the world around me, blending the two seamlessly. Today I drove to IITG and spent few delightful hours walking the large green grounds and catching up with old friends. All throughout I carried him around to hear that song on the car radio, to see that lone black bird on a tree with red blossoms, to be enthralled by that sunset over the vast river, to hear the conversations I had, or to laugh over my hair fanning out weirdly in the wind. Sometimes an intangible absence makes me feel more alive to the world than the tangible objects that crowd it.
A bowl of crisps, rain outside my window, a soft bed and the cinematic pursuit of five nights.
The Color of Paradise (Iranian): A blind boy gifts his grandmother a green hair clip and she lovingly pins it onto her dress, the sisters accept a necklace made out of tin bottle caps and a comb; treasuring the gifts of love thoughtfully selected by one who couldn’t see them. Traipsing around the Iranian countryside, Mohammed’s life is colored by the same joys that occupy the lives of ten year olds. He wonders what lay beyond the forest he couldn’t see but knows is near. He is exasperated by the questionable reading skills of the boys of the local school. His fingers move fast across the notebook in Braille as a curious teacher looks on, and the same fingers study the rhythms of nature. He wonders what the birds talk about, and the call of the woodpecker fascinates him. He touches his sister’s face and is amazed at how much she has grown up in the past year. He adores his grandmother and craves his father’s acceptance and love. He has his moments of grief, breaking down the wall of joy and self-reliance he has created so painstakingly. He doesn’t expect much from this world, but his father does from him. The man’s insistence on a ‘normal’ life free of responsibilities of taking care of a blind child, and hopes of getting re-married bring about a slew of personal tragedies abruptly overthrowing the veiled paradise he inhabited but failed to recognize. It’s a cornerstone of cinematic excellence, yet the end left me in dismay.
My Neighbours, the Yamadas (Japanese): Pimple-faced, overtly self-conscious and perpetually lazy teenager, Noboru, receives a phone call from a girl. Now, that’s a first in his life and also in the family’s collective set of events. Grandmother, mother and sister lives up to their uncontrollable levels of curiosity and eavesdrop shamelessly on the phone conversation.
Grandmother: “Does he have a girlfriend? With his looks?”
Mother: “A real girlfriend?”
Sister: “His face is red!”
Boy tackles the huddle of curious women with a few menacing glances, they cower away. He rushes back to his room.
Mother: “You insulted him, Mother!”
Grandmother: “And you are the paragon of motherhood!!”
The movie is filled with vignettes of the life of a middle-class family in Japan but rings true for families across the world. The panic of losing their little daughter in a crowded shopping mall, confronting hooligan bikers in their neighborhood, finding the black hole that shelters lost socks, the politics of deciding dinner menu, the fight over the television remote that can shame any Kung Fu enthusiast, the frisky and headstrong grandmother with a disposition for cooking unpronounceable dishes, the ever-frazzled and clumsy mother, the aimless and all knowing teenager, the smart sister, the dynamics of a ‘real’ marriage of a tough and harmonious couple; the movie chronicles what it is like to be a family, cruising on the same boat of Life, and not always steering in the same direction. Witty and endearing, this movie is a delight.
A Separation (Iranian): Sometimes it’s nobody’s fault, but circumstances need only a tiny shove to spiral into the bounds of no return. A dutiful son taking care of his Alzheimer-afflicted father, a wife who needs some fresh air out of a monotonous life, a precocious eleven year old daughter anxious about her parents imminent separation. And then there is the family of the caretaker who is hired to take care of the Alzheimer patient. There is a lapse of duty, a fit of anger, a scuffle and loss of the caretaker’s unborn child. There is anger, legal complications follow, love is tested, distrust ensues and facades fall as each person struggle to hold on to what they dearly love. And just when things settle down to an amiable decision, befitting all involved, mere words destroy it all, unraveling what binds them together. It’s a slice of life movie with achingly real characters. Sometimes despite every effort, things fall apart. And we wish life wasn’t so complicated. And we wish communication was easy. And even compromise.
How to Make an American Quilt: She followed a crow’s flight at the wake of dawn, wrapped in a quilt to shield against the autumn chill, and true love awaited her at the end of it. Was the crow a symbol? I’m still working on that. Finn is flighty when it comes to completing her Masters thesis, and her boyfriend has just proposed. She accepts because it isn’t an unreasonable age to get married. She goes to live with her grandmother and grandaunt to work on her thesis, and encounters a motley bunch of quilt-makers who are all set to make her wedding quilt. And while Finn struggles with her ideas of the impermanence of marriage, monogamy and the charms of a local boy, the quilt-makers each bring their distinctive pattern into the quilt and the stories behind these quilt patches help Finn course her way through indecisiveness, infidelity and finding love. Six stories of love, loss, passion, tolerance, togetherness, trust and hope. It’s a pleasure to watch the lovely Winona Ryder, and Maya Angelou too (bibliophile hangover). I am always on the lookout for crows now, but where is a good crow when you want to follow one?
Where is the Friend’s Home? (Iranian): This movie is about a eight year old boy, Ahmed, who accidentally slips in his bench-mate’s copy in his bag and is traumatized by the thought of his bench-mate’s expulsion from school on failing to hand over the homework the next day. The film chronicles his search for his friend’s home in a nearby district and the people he encounters in his search. It is a simple story, nothing superfluous. And this lack of a crowded plot and interesting deviations can be a killjoy for a certain section of audience, but it’s a delight for my heart overflowing with the love for Iranian movies. One gets the feeling of running alongside Ahmed in his quest for his friend’s home. A lovely watch.
I visited the Sunday Book Bazaar at Daryaganj recently, and I felt faint with excitement at the awe-inspiring treasures in front of me, rows and rows of books scattered in the pavement, waiting to be picked up by readers for less than the price of a cup of coffee. I did what any self-respecting book lover would do, ignored the mortified glare of the people who accompanied me, and sat down at the pavement next to a huge pile of books that included New York Times best-sellers, rare editions with yellowed, well-thumbed pages, translated works from all over the world. I looked sadly at the size of the two totes my sister and I carried; and considered dialling a taxi to take a greater haul home. I added twenty new books to my library that day. And one of them was Joyce Carol Oates’s ‘We Were the Mulvaneys‘.
It’s the saga about a perfect American family; a Dad with a flourishing roofing business, a cheerful Mom who was more of a friend to her children, three talented sons, an angelic daughter, a quaint farmhouse, adorable pets, a bustling social life, devout God-fearing hearts and the happiness of making a perfect little world for themselves, the perfect world of the Mulvaneys. Then ‘it’ happened. The incident. That dirty word. And the world sided with the ‘rapist’. The Mulvaneys fell apart, the family disintegrating gradually, time playing a cruel trick of engraving the hurt deeper each day, the knife turning in their hearts a little more each day. Each individual of the family, Mom, Dad, the three brothers and Marianne Mulvaney herself, the angelic girl to whom ‘it’ happened; were a ‘casualty’ of the incident. They didn’t crumble immediately, but the helplessness and the frustration of justice denied, falling prey to social stigma, disappointment at each other’s reaction to ‘it’; the failure to protect the lovely Marianne, their world, ‘The Mulvaneys’. How it breaks your heart! Knowing the Mulvaneys at such close quarters, having been handed such an intimate view of their lives, their goodness, their love, their perfect life; and the slow destruction of everything they treasured, the love fading behind uneasiness and their misery. Oates’s is at her finest, describing the trauma of this family, turning to obscurity. But time heals the scars, or at least makes them strong enough to endure it. There is reconciliation, triumph of hope and compassion at the end. But, why? At what cost? Why them? Why anyone at all? It’s fiction, yet it can be anyone. It can be about me, about you. I couldn’t help the tears brimming in my eyes, as I leafed through the final pages of this remarkable book, this moving account of human emotions, flaws and redemption.
And in the evening, I watched Barkha Duttinterview a rape victim of the 2002 Gujrat riots and sat listening to the trials of her family. It’s a ten year old trial of her family fighting for justice, fighting for survival, fighting to bring up two daughters unscathed. The husband’s eyes gleaming with tears as he talked about the troubles they had to face, the threats they had to endure and how they kept it all aside for what is right, what is just.
I remembered the various accounts of sexual abuse I’ve heard through the years. A friend’s sister, who had a problem of bed-wetting till the age of 23, was a victim of incest at the age of 3 years. A neighbour was a victim of marital rape every time she had an argument with her husband. A classmate was groped by few men during a Durga Puja crowd.
Many women. Many stories. A dirty word in their lives; Abuse, Incest or Rape.
It had been coming for a while. I couldn’t see it outright, but the signs were there; creeping along the subconscious, an occasional peek now and then; the dirty word glaring at me from the front page of the newspaper as I nervously flip it over to the light-hearted page 3 gossips, a scene from a TV show-the girl running, thinking ‘will she escape?’ and the helplessness of knowing she won’t; the muted paranoia of letting my sisters go out into the world where unknown dangers lurk at every corner and I’m not there to watch over them every moment; the constant efforts to ‘blend in’, worried of being singled out, of sending any wrong signals, not ‘too quiet, too shy’ any more, as I try being social, to blend in. My mind tries to remind me of ‘it’. There had been too many signs recently; a newspaper headline, TV shows, this book. And I unconsciously shut out these triggers, not dwelling on them out of habit. My memory is remarkable, not in retaining, but in ‘forgetting’, in ‘undoing’, in convincing myself ‘It never happened’, congratulating myself on moving on so effortlessly, dreams and hopes in life still intact, nothing ravaged. My memory saved me, burying unpleasant details, hushing out any voices from the past, those words in the newspaper, that helplessness of the girl running, that muted paranoia.
I too had been through it. I was led to believe I had been lucky. I was ‘only‘ molested. Once that tricky portal of thoughts open, the sentences from my past escape and crowd in, vying for my attention. “Only molested”. “Not raped”. “It could have been worse”. “It happens to every woman at some point of her life”. “Girls get molested in crowded buses every day: a pinch, a rub”. “If you don’t dwell on it, it’s like it never happened”. There are rare times when I wonder how I got so close to being another Marianne Mulvaney, but I didn’t. I escaped; from the bad things that a man can do to a woman. But I had a narrow escape. Was I lucky? Hell, yes. I thank God for sparing me the trauma, and my life. But the questions like “Why did it even have to happen?”, “What could have been?”, “How can my parents not protect me?” still haunts me when I lessen my guard over my subconscious. Family support and therapy can go a long way, I have heard. I can’t imagine what rape victims must go through; their feelings towards self, towards family and friends, towards society at large, and towards the unfairness of being singled out, disrupting their life’s course; the life that wasn’t supposed to include ‘it’.
My family had supported me through my jittery nervous existence, through the bouts of depression that followed, but I was disappointed that nothing could be done to punish the guilty. I consulted a psychiatrist and all she said was, “so, the lesson is to be cautious. And never to use a shared auto.” And nervous laughter. As if it was a joke. As if we are discussing a trivial matter, as if it was a moral science class in school with a ‘Lesson’ at the end. I knew she couldn’t help me, only I can heal myself and move on. Only I can trick my memory, bring my life back on track, and make up for lost time. I have done it, I don’t think about it anymore. I can write about it now, even though I don’t bring it up in conversations. I can watch the scene of a girl being molested on TV without wincing. I can watch my reflection in the mirror and not feel self-disgust. I can talk to people, chat with friends, fall in love, and enjoy life every moment. Sometimes I am aware of it being a little forced, this determination of mine for an untainted memory. Few aspects will take time to get used to; like to trust someone.
It’s still taboo in our society. Sex in movies, live-in relationships, homosexuality etc is being accepted gradually. But the uneasiness of society when dealing with sexual abuse is still prevalent. My heart goes out to those women who have suffered ‘it‘. Not just the street hooligans, there can be a beast lurking in that friendly neighbour, that teacher you idolize, that man sitting next to you on a flight. Who knows? Who can say? Where can a woman be safe? In homes where incest is “not seen”, wife swapping among brothers still prevalent in certain communities, and maintaining family relations triumphs over moral justice? In offices where lewd remarks, sexual harassment-outright or suggested, uncomfortable male gazes prevail and again “not seen”? In a society where news of ‘a woman raped at 1am after a party’ gets out and all one hears is the contempt for the careless woman staying out so late at night and questions about her character? On the streets where a young school girl returning from school is stared down from head to toe by road-side loafers who comment on her breasts and thighs?
Who has given men right to abuse a women at whatever time of the day it might be, at however lonely a place it might be, and however skimpy her clothes may be? How can one say ‘she had it coming for her’? How can one violate another person in such a brutal way just because she’s a woman, correction, she has a vagina? Who defines these moral codes? I know I am being too hopeful in wanting a society where a woman’s dignity is never unduly violated just because she’s there, within reach of groping hands.
The best we can hope for now is looking after ourselves and being cautious, fighting for justice, and support victims of such crimes-be it incest, sexual harassment of any sort, molestation or rape.
I pray for a world when this dirty word vanishes from the surface of the earth.