Tag Archives: sad

A Fixing

It’s warm in December and I wake up to crows cawing with a ferocity I’m inexplicably used to. Little worm heads poke out of my strawberries that were never good enough to eat to begin with, and the rat that lives in the kitchen now has a partner called Martha and they seem very happy.

It’s terribly warm this December and the sweat that has settled into my hair seeps down to my scalp and begins to smell like the rot of the day that gets caught easily in fingernails, but can’t be completely scratched out. And who even invited the houseflies? Look at them, settling themselves down casually on yesterday’s muck before launching on today’s lunch.

It seem inevitable, that the death of the calendar year come with some sort of gloom. One must, however, celebrate the survival of it all. All the baseless worry and the baseless hope.

It starts with the cupboard. A lot of people say it starts with the bed; it ideally should start with the bed. But for me, it always starts with the cupboard. It starts with getting out all I have and arranging it into neat folded piles – the dresses, the bottoms, the never-once-worns. Once in a while I shuffle their assigned places in the cupboard. One never knows what works till one has tried it all. Fixing the disheveled heap of cloth and cloth and cloth, because it’s easier to fix than whatever it is that really needs fixing. Hanging the chiffons and georgettes because they unfold too easy, keeping the belts away because clothes don’t slide down any longer, making a mental note to fix this button, that hook, those straps because you’re now with new people in a new world and what may be old to the old people in the old world is still new here, if you just fix this button, that hook, those straps.

I find the patchwork shirt I wore the first time he found out I was crazy. I find the black skirt I wore the first time I found out he was. The shirt I failed an interview in. The sari I never wore to the wedding I couldn’t get myself to attend. All the cloth of all the clothes in all my lives except this one, lying there awaiting new meaning from the new year. If only it was easier to forget why what must end even began.

It always starts with the cupboard, the fixing. Easier to discard, easier to mend, what must be. Easier to discard than mend, which is where it gets complex. With humans too though, much more. Easier to discard than mend, is where it gets complex.

I pick up the old green dress with a hole in the hem from a cigarette burn three years ago. I bring out my sewing kit and sit cross legged with the dress in my lap, ready for the fixing. The needle is threaded with the remains of the green (olive green, not the bottle green of the dress) thread I have, and pushed in from back to front, repeatedly, till a shoddy job of fixing is done. It takes a short five minutes, and if one were to look from afar, one would never spot the gaping wound and the scab I’ve crafted on it.

Imagine now, fixing a soul. Finding the hole, feeling it out, understanding the reason behind it. Then taking the time to find the thread of the exact colour and threading it onto the needle that’ll hurt least. Having the strength to push it in from back to front as the soul winces in pain while it knows it’s for the best. Ensuring you’re doing a stellar job of fixing so that the soul itself can’t find the wound again if it looked. You can spend a year, you can spend a lifetime, and at the end of the day you’ll still question yourself on who it was who told you that you had the right to go about fixing souls, deciding what’s broken from your limited perspective.

That is why it always starts with the cupboard.
It takes an afternoon.

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The Nest

There’s a pigeon in my kitchen. She’s a lovely grey, if there’s even such a thing as lovely grey. It’s not silver, it’s just a clean warm earthy grey, accented by highlights and shadows from the sun catching her feathers. She frequents my kitchen window, and there’s a twelve-twigged hint of an upcoming nest on the parapet outside. I presume they have something to do with each other.

But today, for the first time, I find her inside my kitchen. She’s crossed the windowpane, a feat no other bird of this bashful species (or any species for that matter) has dared to attempt before. Somehow the birds always know to stay out of houses, even when windows and doors are left ajar. I imagine the thought of the imminent confinement scares them away.

And yet, and yet, Pidge the pigeon (I have decided to name her) is in my kitchen, stomping on the cold black granite with her orange claws, pacing up and down the kitchen counter in a hurry, like she has important business to attend to on the top of the fridge, but this can hardly wait for the important business that needs attention on the opposite end by the sink.

She stops for a breath every now and then, her neck’s purple green plumage vibrant in the sunlight, and cocks her head up to look at me. I must seem quite unthreatening to her, for she gets back to her many businesses immediately, marching across my kitchen counter, no time to waste.

***

I’m back in the kitchen. There’s the human standing at the doorway and looking at me. She lets out a low gasp at first, but I look at her and calm her down. She switches on the fan, and continues standing at the doorway and staring at me. I can tell she’s scared, but also curious. We’ve seen each other before, but always across the windowpane. This is the first time we are on the same side.

She smiles at me, and I can’t bear it. I think she’s named me in her head. The other birds warned me this often happens when a bird crosses the windowpane in the presence of a human. This, or death. I’m glad it’s the former.

My heart beats faster in my chest, and I don’t know what to do. I’m walking from one end to another frantically, trying to get my thoughts in order. I look at her, time and again. She seems calm now, her beautiful brown skin smooth as the insides of a worm on a warm summer afternoon, her black eyes darting across the room at things she’s worried I will kick over as I scurry around, trying my best to buy time.

She leaves momentarily, and I make the most of it. I rush to the clothes stand, and peck the fragrant pink towel as it dries, picking up each strand of her delicious black hair from it. There’s thirty six in all, and I carry them lovingly back to my developing nest, ready to spend the day weaving them in. They are weaker and finer than twigs, but smell like mogra some days and rose on others.

One day, when it’s done, I’ll invite her in.

Your Sunday Morning Trip with Uber Pool

She bit her lip and fiddled with the ring on her finger, looking out the window at nothing in particular. It would have been wonderful if the city had given her an abyss to stare into, but it gave her concrete and windows and the occasional street vendor; really stealing the poetry from the moment.

She turned to me and mouthed something, so I unplugged my earphones and said “Yes?”

“Windows. Can we put the windows down?”

I gave her a nod and rolled down my window, as did she. The driver did too, almost too keenly, as the freshly generated fragrances of the suburbs started to pour into our cab. I could mostly just smell the rain, or whatever it smells like when it rains. I read somewhere that it’s the smell of some metabolic by-product of a kind of bacteria, emitted by wet soil. It’s the sort of trivia that hits you on an idle Wednesday afternoon when you’ve been scrolling down your phone for too long, your thumbs have gone to sleep, and then you realize you probably should get back to work.

Her phone suddenly began buzzing. She looked at it, sighed long and hard and then answered. The voice at the other end was shrill and loud, and started speaking almost immediately.

“Cut the gobi, clean the paalak and boil three eggs,” she responded dispassionately, once again fiddling with her ring. “I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

She had a melancholy look about her face when she caught my eye, and I couldn’t help but offer an understanding smile. Sometimes you just know when someone needs a smile. She sighed out a smile in return and said, “It’s just been a long day”

It was 8.37am, to be exact.

I looked out of the window on my side to see a vegetable vendor wrapping up his cart for the day. Behind him was his wife, who’d completed her cooking for the day in the three houses she worked in. His son would return from his night shift as an auto rickshaw driver soon, and they’d have their one meal of the day together. 8.37am could be a tiring time of day.

The cab took a swift turn off the main road and she reached inside her handbag and put on several red plastic bangles on both her hands. As she did, a piece of paper flew out of her bag and onto the seat. She looked at it, pursed her lips and crushed it and threw it out onto the road. Then she directed the cab to her destination, and almost braced herself a little before she stepped out of the cab.

Another pickup was scheduled just down the road, and a pleasant young boy in very crumpled clothing and worn out chappals got into the front seat of the cab. He leaned out the window to wave excitedly to someone on a higher floor of the building we were outside, then buckled up his seatbelt, turned around to look at me and wished me good morning. I nodded back with a half smile, the way one does to strangers. He whipped out his phone from the back pocket of his jeans and settled into the seat, visibly grinning as he read through an old conversation with the concentration millennials seem to reserve only for social media.

After a couple of minutes, he made a call. As he reclined his seat a little too far back, he said, “Yeah, no gym for me today. I’m exhausted.” He then plugged the hanging aux wire into his phone, put on a song I couldn’t recognize and settled back into the overly reclined seat with a smile on his face and a sigh of contentment.

And soon, I left the cab and walked back home, feeling not so alone in this new city, as half of Mumbai embarked upon their Sunday morning in yesterday’s clothes, without yesterday’s company.

Leaving the Lighthouse

“The dip of the light meant that the island itself was always left in darkness. A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.” ― M.L. Steadman

I was young and foolish. Agreed, young is an arguably relative term, but then so is foolish. And yet, it’s all I’ve got to work with. I was young and foolish and in love. I wanted to be in love and he wanted to be happy; so that’s really where the trouble began.

Such a small word, and it means so many drastically different things to different people. To some it means stability. To some it means loyalty. Love to me then meant magic. It meant unpredictability and thrill and just a little bit of danger; enough to seek a lighthouse but not quite enough to seek harbour yet.

I think love for him meant peace. I think he was young and foolish too.

Do you know what lighthouses do? I don’t. But from all the stories, movies and legends, they seem to be both guiding lights and warnings signals for each and every ship at sea. Am I the only one who senses the irony in that? It must take everything in a lighthouse to look at a pretty little ship and say “You’re beautiful, but if you come any closer, you’ll get hurt. So go there.”

Some people are like that too. Selfless, you’d think. Strong and selfless and guiding lights to those who need them and those who don’t. But while we’re all applauding these lighthouse people for their maturity, we forget that it must take everything in an unbalanced ship to hear “You’re beautiful, but if you come any closer, you’ll get hurt. So go there.” The unhinged love stronger, you know. They run towards the light and seek warmth and love louder.

You were my lighthouse. I guess it was hard to see my hinges off from way up there. My ship wasn’t even in the midst of a storm, the sea and sky were clear and calm and I think that’s really what led me to you; the insufferable quiet of it all. I thought I’d dance in your light for a while and leave at day break, and so I did.

Once.

Felt like enough, until it didn’t.

It took me months to pass by you again. I even took a detour, for the heck of it. What harm is a lighthouse, I must have thought. What harm is another dance in the light, the light that’s shining for everyone to dance in anyway. And so I came, and danced a while in your warmth, and just as it was time to leave I noticed that the closer I got, the darker it became. You weren’t meant for me to embrace, you were meant for me to love from afar, for everyone to love from afar – little did I know then, it’s darkest where the light is being cast from.

The trouble with our tryst was that you never offered me safe harbour, you just told me the rocky island was secure. I nestled my head on your shoulders and asked if you were comfortable. “More than I should be,” you’d say, because you knew you had no room for my anchor. I was a universe too late and the spoils of the ship at the bottom of your island weren’t mine to keep.

How much we fools in love bite our wretched tongues until they begin to bleed. I loved you till I realised you were a warning sign for a menacing coastline. I loved you till I realised your light was meant to usher me, not warm me. I loved you till I realised you weren’t mine to love, till I realised that who I was wasn’t for you. A cage made of hopes is but still a cage.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” ―John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

COME AS YOU ARE

Picture Credits: Hardik Batra

Welcome to my standard night at ISB. It’s 4am and it’s both late night and early morning. I can hear the Gurbani playing in the east as Calvin Harris slowly morphs into Nucleya to the west of my room. Outside in the living room, people are discussing public policy in rural India over a game of Monopoly, and as I look out of my window I see a rabbit hop towards the wood heated from last night’s bonfire. It gets too close and immediately backs away, hopping once again into the darkness. None of us gets a how-to guide, you see? Everybody’s just somewhat winging it.

The wine is over and the temperature is at it’s lowest for the day, so we bring out the rum. The Monopoly has begun to disturb friendships, so we bring out the rum. We’re out of ideas and the paper is due in two hours, so we bring out the rum. A little liquid courage never hurt anyone, so we bring out the rum. Only to wake up the next morning, thirsty, exhausted, drowsy – yet somehow more accomplished, dearer, warmer.

I won’t lie, it’s been an especially gruelling year – but that’s what we came here for in the first place, isn’t it? A year that would ideally have taken two. Not just in what we learn and experience but also physically, mentally, emotionally. Some days we surprise ourselves and own it – the classes, the assignments, the study groups and the networking, still somehow managing to spend quality time with the ones who matter. And yet, some days, we leave our spectacles in the refrigerator.

That’s the beauty of life at this pace. Ever so often it reminds you that you’re still human. Allow yourself a breath – a wasted day, a missed deadline, a failed interview. And then get back up, immediately. That’s what we came here for in the first place, isn’t it?
A year that would ideally have taken more time.

And now with graduation day almost in sight, I try to think of all the ways to tell people all the things I wish I’d known when I began my year here, most of which have to do with emotional stability. That even as you start out, you will meet people who see the same stars as you do. They will inspire you, overwhelm you, bring out the best and worst in you and slowly become a part of you.

But people, as people do, change. Sometimes you just outgrow the ones you started out with, for you mature with experiences, not with years. All of a sudden you’ll be looking at the same stars, seeing different constellations. And nobody is better or worse for it, we just make our own momentum as we go from bone crushing hugs to firm handshakes.

And then there’s the ones you find and keep – different momentums, different starting points and all that jazz. But the same escape velocity. They come out of nowhere and as they do, you realise that for this one year, you’re always one decision away from a parallel universe. And for that one reason, this year is the beginning of anything you want.

I wish we could have bottled this year, like a perfume. Breathed in a little every time life got dreary or uninspiring.

But we can’t, so we bring out the rum.

Pills We Don’t Take

It’s hot and my toes are sweating. It takes a special kind of heat, you know, to even realize that your toes are sweaty. I push my way through the crowd and head towards the balcony. Some ventilation would do me good, do my toes good.

As I reach the balcony, I notice a boy sitting in the corner. I haven’t seen him before. To be fair, I haven’t seen most of the people at this party before; but this boy, this boy looks especially out of place. Like I wasn’t supposed to have seen him before. I wonder if I should step into his line of sight. He seems like he wants to be left alone, at first. But as I linger at the entrance, he looks up at me and smiles.

It’s not so much a smile, actually. It’s a half smile. And a half smile is a dangerous thing. Half smiles hide more than sullen faces ever will. Half smiles come with a sense of resignation, the wrong kind of peace.
He smiles at me, half smiles at me, then looks away, into space, at nothing really – maybe a star, I can’t be too certain. I walk across with my drink and stand at the edge, looking down into the beautiful city, lights dotting the landscape till as far as I can see.

“How does one bring themselves to forget someone who loves them?” says a voice from behind me.

“Nonchalance and distractions, mostly,” I say, still look at the moving specks of light in the distance.

I can feel his eyes on me as I say this. He’s probably hurt. He’s probably aching in love, furiously looking for a profound explanation to justify his pain.
I turn now, to look at him. There’s an interesting expression people have when they don’t get answers they want to hear. A look of confusion mixed with incredulity, a feeling of “How could you!” with a side of “Oh”. His moustache is barely sprouting and his eyes are red with memories of someone who held his hand one moment too long.

“You’re young,” I say, as I turn back to face the city and its specks of light, their anonymity comforting me.

“Until I’m not”

I don’t know how to respond to that. That blatant crisp truth. I’ve been young, I’ve been in love and I’ve been in pain and I’ve been in thought. I’ve wanted to sit in someone’s lap and not be touched at the same time, I’ve wanted to play with someone’s hair and not call back and I’ve been young and I’ve been old and it never really goes away. I don’t remember much but I remember feelings.
And the trouble lies in the expectation. The expectation that someday true love or maturity or destiny will work its magic and you’ll fall into a love that won’t make you claw your insides out. The expectation that things will turn out the way everyone who ever comforted you said they would, the way everyone who ever comforted you wished they would.

So I turn back to face him, determined not to fill his head with false promises of a world that’s fair and a heart that beats one beat at a time. But as soon as my eyes meet his, I know he knows. He knows what I want to tell him, and he knows I won’t.

“I know,” he says. “I know”

A few days later he jumps off the same balcony. I don’t feel anything.

He’s left a note for me, they say. I still don’t feel anything. I open the note that looks like it has been scribbled hurriedly in pencil, rewrites on top of rewrites, and remnants of a chewed up eraser the only saving grace of the words meant to be hidden.

“How could you forget? What kind of sickness of the brain eats up your ability to love someone back?”

Nonchalance and distractions, mostly, I think to myself, as I forget what I’m reading.

The eye of my storm

What is this need to be in a constant unrest that engulfs you? Just when the air around you has settled and the sun is finally shining its brightest; this need for a hailstorm, for rain and thunder. As if the calm doesn’t make you feel alive enough. As if the fragrant wind doesn’t please you unless it ruffles some feathers if shouldn’t ruffle, unless it breaks some branches it shouldn’t touch.

What is this unsolicited aversion to tranquility? Has your life been so tumultuous that when peace finally arrives it must be nothing but the eye of the storm? And even so, who can explain this itch to take a step out into the whirlwind? Is the silence beginning to bore your demons?

It’s late in the afternoon as these questions cloud my mind. I sit on the balcony and enjoy the rain, watching it turn the blue sky grey, and the yellow soul blue. Lightning breaks the horizon in the distance and I feed off it like a parasite of havoc. Drenched to the bone, the cold takes my head and makes its way down my spine and I smile as I feel it warm something inside of me.

There you are, somewhere, happy and whole, loving me with a love I can feel to my toes, a love I’ll never have to recover from. It’s so serene it’s killing me. This recklessness will be the death of me and yet it’s what’s kept me alive for so many years that it’s the only way I know how. And even as I feel my dreams take shape in the distance as you talk about us ten years from now, twenty, even forty… I can’t help but wonder what happened in all those dreams I don’t remember. What did I create some nights with my own imagination that was so confounding, my mind decided to leave it behind in my pillow instead of carrying it along? Was it something different from these pictures you paint, was it what enters me every now and then, this sudden urge for chaos, for godless limitless fearless love that takes fate by the throat and says I know you have plans, but bugger, so do I.

I feel myself settling into the cloud of plans and as wonderful as they seem they’ll amount to when they do condense, there are moments when I feel I need the rain tomorrow, or I need to fly. This silence of the clouds is making my demons restless.

I may be wrong, I may be so wrong, I may be wishing upon stars and planets as they twinkle in the sky for something completely and ridiculously unholy. And you may be right, you may be so right, when you tell me stars are just distant suns and tomorrow, maybe day after, I’ll be doing and not wishing, but not today.
But I wasn’t made to stand on the sidelines. I wasn’t made for rationed rational love and I wasn’t made to wait and wish.

I find it staggering that my soul knew a time before you. Who was I? What did I do in all the time I now spend talking to you? In whose heart did I live, how was it warm? I can’t remember a time I wasn’t incessantly wishing, waiting, hoping for the future, the next five years, and the next plane ticket that’ll bring me to your side. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t dreaming about your beard scratching my cheek, your elbows cupping mine; I can’t remember what I was waiting for before I waiting for this.

You feel like home.
And there’s something amiss when home feels way too far away in space and time, don’t you think?

The Loneliest Day

On a lonely day,
through the grim glass of my bathroom window,
I see the faint outline of a pigeon every day.
It slowly blends in with the dusk.

Every night when I am alone,
I can hear her grunt as I settle in.
There’s something comforting about recurrences.

She must be asleep when I go to the balcony
to watch the haze of lights
racing along the road in the dead of night.
I like these ripples through silence.

It gets a bit cold and there’s a slow drizzle,
the clouds drowning the waning moon.
There aren’t any stars to fade away tonight,
I find solace in their irrelevance.

I shun the cold breeze and go inside,
Turn on the TV for some more noise.
Flip through books, look for a cigarette,
And finally decide to dim the light.

When my eyes close and the conscious fades,
I recall the pigeon wasn’t alone tonight.
Suddenly I realize with a little dismay,
She brought a mate on my loneliest day.


This poem was anonymously submitted for a guest post. 
All rights remain with the poet.

The Peril in Being Cool

He said “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

– The Velveteen Rabbit.

You ever go a string of days feeling a feeling you’re no stranger to, and then wake up one morning to decide you never want to feel like that again?
I think I’m about to. I’m about to never feel like that again. And I’ll tell you exactly how.

I’ve been in this situation before and I’ve been this person before and let’s just say the situation got the better of me. I argued with myself first. This is me. This is me at my rawest and purest and it’s who I am. If something doesn’t fit me, I discard it. As a rule.
I can’t change who I am at the very base.

Oh… but I can.

People can be complicated, yes, but I am people too. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s intoxicating when somebody is so unapologetically who they are. It’s not about changing yourself so much as changing perspective, which is just a pretty way of saying growing up. I could spend my life shutting my windows to every thunderstorm that comes my way in fear, or I could wake up one day and use its roar to comfort myself with the thought that even nature needs to scream sometimes.
Perspective.

I’d say I’d like to stop thinking, for light hinders sight as much as it helps. But the world knows that’s easier said than done.
So I’ll say I’d like to feel more. Just feel, and if it feels like home, follow its path. Trust the vibes that you get. Energy doesn’t lie. Stop the moment the path feels unfamiliar. Explore it from a distance. Turn back the moment the path feels resistive. Of all the things you allow on this path, be it pain or loss or intolerable passion, the one thing you shouldn’t allow is mediocrity.

I enjoy controlled loneliness. I like wandering around the city alone. I’m not afraid of coming back to an empty house and lying down in an empty bed. What I am afraid of is having no one to miss. Nobody who stirs me up inside; the thought of whom puts everything else on hold. And with time and age and experience and heartbreak and all the maturity that comes with these, I’ve realized no one’s ‘the one’ unless you make them the one.

Can I promise to never get upset or show signs of neediness? No, I can’t. I wouldn’t call this love if that was something I could promise. I will melt inside when it’s called for and I will get bat-shit crazy when it’s uncalled for because what I choose to feel is all-consuming or nothing at all. It’s my definition of real. Real emotions and real people. With nothing to hide, only perspectives to change.

I feel younger today. Like time actually gave me time. I feel like I have the time it takes. And even if by the time I am Real, most of my hair has been loved off, and I get loose in the joints and very shabby, it won’t matter because once I’m Real, I can’t be ugly. Except to people who don’t understand.

And that’s precisely the peril in being cool. You won’t understand.

The Hedgehog’s Dilemma

A number of hedgehogs huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another.

It’s a theory called the Hedgehog’s Dilemma. Freud used this as an analogy for human intimacy. Apparently you can only get so close to someone without unintentionally hurting them as well as yourself.

Ah well.

What do we, as humans, run away from? Intimacy is a relative term. For you, intimacy maybe the laughter during sex. For me, intimacy maybe the comfortable quiet during a stroll in the park.
I’ll tell you what intimacy isn’t, though.
Intimacy isn’t ordinary.

Why, you might ask, would someone write a poem that doesn’t rhyme? Maybe it’s because putting too much thought into something kills the essence. If we’re too careful, we’ll turn out ordinary.
I can turn you into poetry, dear, but I can’t make you stay. There’s a difference between somebody who loves you and somebody who would do anything to keep you. It’s the difference between want and need, I think.

I’m looking at the November sunset and thinking, if day must turn to night, this is a beautiful way. Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what it needs to. And we could think of all the ways things fall out but so little of what could happen does indeed happen. There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly. I’m no expert on relationships, but I know that if I’ve loved you, I’ll paint our sunset your color.

If people just lived off promises and guarantees, this world would be a broken place. People live off hope, that’s why it’s still warm, you know? Because people live off hope and try in the best way they know how. And they make their quills blunt together, so they can stay warm longer.

I can be mature and I can be poised and I can be an elegant dream, if you’d like that.
I like it some days too.

But don’t love me for that.

Most days, I’m lost. I write to find myself and I paint to get lost again. Science can’t excite me like a paradox can. I’ll forget things you say and do, but I’ll never forget the way you make me feel. I’ll forget your birthday but I won’t forget the way you smelled on our first date. I’ll stay close to anything that makes me glad I’m alive. Make me glad I’m alive.
Most days, I’m chaos.

And this chaos could be the quills that push you away or the warmth that pulls you close.
That’s for you to decide.

Who’s to say your quills won’t be sharper than mine?