Day 72 of “Who’s counting?”

It’s curious how I have always believed, like most other people, that all I need to write, is time on my own. Today is the 72nd day of not seeing another human being, and yet, most of what I’ve written is daily letters, forty of them, and the occasional poem. The magnum opus is stuck on chapter three, the characters of short stories seem to have taken off on their own lockdown, and my creativity with words is mostly spent trying to keep my relationships alive on text.

Optimistic people, people with solid mental health, people who can afford to say it have all said that this is the time to rediscover yourself, to find out what else you can be good at, to finish projects. But this isn’t a holiday. It isn’t even a sabbatical. In the tenth week of looking at your own face, irritation comes more easily than optimism, despite rigorously adhering to every self-help list pointer- schedule, yoga, shower, chores, hobby, even video-calls. There are times when even the most introverted individual wants to go out into the sunshine, sit down, and just look at people going about their business. To spend an hour with a person, just sitting around, not talking, music playing in the background. To not have to let a phone ring, while you stare at your own face on the screen, wondering if the other person is free to pick up. To stifle the urge to never disconnect a call, and simultaneously, never call someone because the disappointment almost doesn’t make the delight worth it. These are the kind of dark times that are like a cloudy day with a forecast of rain. If there is a storm, you barely have time to focus on much except escaping it. With the weight of clouds, all you can do is look out and wonder when it is going to hit.

All I need to write is not just time, for now, I veritably have all the time in the world. All I want is a glimpse of an unknown person who could be the next character, a smell I’ll describe as the subject of an entire poem, a touch to tide me over. Survival is not living, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Survival is making sure you’re alive, capable, and functioning when life eventually comes around. Seventy-two days of survival, and some more to go.

Al(one) Together

“There will be bad days.” This line keeps reverberating in my mind today, constantly- probably because I have uttered the words that follow, way too often- “Be Calm”. These are dark, uncertain times. It is curious how life seems boring and desultory one minute, and then takes a turn, plunging us into the curse of interesting times, which make you long for the solid shabby comfort you resented. A little more than a fortnight ago, amidst growing concerns around the world, my haven was intact. In fact, in the arms of the person I love, I had everything I wanted, and yet a suspicion if this comfort was all that could be. And then, in the span of two weeks, I am here, he is there- and we are struggling through the changing times much as everyone else, without notice, without each other’s presence to mitigate the worst of our fears. Most people either begin with a long-distance, or have some prep time before they are thrown into it. Like the rest of our relationship that has been nothing if not spontaneous, so has the separation. It is like you packed for an overnight trip and on reaching the destination, were told that there was a slight problem- no one knew exactly how long you’d be here. But then, the isolation that has tested us this far has also revealed to us the sides of each other’s personality that we love and respect, and the ones we accommodate with a grimace. We have grappled with expressions of love and passion and patience, and seen each other be the anchors not just for the lover, but for their own selves, which is equally important. It is how we know that even if we’d had months of preparation, we would probably have not done it half as well as we are doing it now, under duress, living and loving and breathing, and facing our fears. We, like many around us, are privileged, and like many others, are susceptible where others aren’t. Neither of us knows where this is going, except that we are going, alone, together.

Compassion vs Empathy

In the Patanjali Yoga Sutras (Chapter 1, Sutra 33),  the principles that should govern our interactions with others are laid down. Specifically, in the face of others’ misery, we must have karuna, i.e. compassion. Note that it is not maitri (friendliness), anukampa (sympathy) or samvedana (empathy) that we are asked to live by in this context, but compassion. This might seem curious- what could be more intimate than to be empathetic, to resonate someone’s feelings, to walk the proverbial mile in their shoes?Why does compassion, which is less of an emotional response, rank higher than empathy in the ranks of self-realization?

Both empathy and compassion, by definition, are a step further than the basic sympathy- most individuals would feel bad to some extent at the sight of a starving person or a dying dog or a beautiful landscape razed by fire. Relatively fewer are empathetic, or able to identify with the emotional state of the suffering entity. There exist empaths who feel the pain, sometimes literally, and are overcome by the turmoil that such emotion brings. They may not always know how to channelize it. This state of being highly sensitive or attuned to someone’s pain, however, is sometimes just as undesirable as apathy or a well-meaning sympathy, even if that seems counter-intuitive.

Karuna gains the highest place owing to one element- knowledge. The awareness that comes with the ability to look beyond someone’s emotional state to its origin or cause guides true compassion. For example, a doctor’s efficacy lies not in feeling the intensity of the patient’s pain- their compassion is rooted in having the required dispassion to judge which remedy will alleviate it. Where empathy would paralyse response, compassion empowers. Compassion does not involve any personal ego- be it in attaching praise or blame. In being empathetic, one may take on a burden too great to bear. In being compassionate, one begins to understand how to take responsibility without feeling it to be a burden.

Apathy and sympathy are in ignorance, empathy can tie you down, but compassion liberates. 

 

 

 

…but megalomania is a natural tendency of the Sapiens- the incessant urge to construct narratives out of unrelated incidents and unknown people, to take multicolored threads and weave them into cape or noose, depending on the mood. But always around ourselves, for ourselves. A man who will take the last leaf spiralling down from an autumned branch and make it a metaphor of his own fragility. A woman who will hear of deaths-of strangers, of corals, of stars and entire galaxies- and use them to bolster her faith in her own sense of living. Is any human truly capable of empathy?…

Then come and kiss me…

When your lips touch mine, it is much more than one shred of slowly dying skin aligned on another. More than all the metaphors every poet through the ages has dreamed up, that I will write for you tonight and every other night. 

When I kiss you, I don’t hear violins- only the sound of your erratic heart thudding next to my erratic heart, against a backdrop of car horns and creaking bed springs and nosy pigeons looking for a place to fuck.

When I kiss you, we don’t smell of roses. We smell of each other’s morning breath and different varieties of caffeine. Of day-old layers of sweat mixed with perfume that you say you can now pick out in a crowd, if only I were to waltz in. 

Kissing you is bewilderment and anticipation and gratitude at this moment we’ve found ourselves in. That we could lose in the next instant. That we somehow forget to worry about losing, as long as we have it right now.

Kissing you is the sum total of my deepest desires and my darkest fears- the knowledge that everything I could ever want is here, and the knowledge that life can never top this again. A state of thoughtlessness hitherto alien to someone like me. A degree of thoughtfulness I could never have unlocked without you.

Kissing you is not falling in love– it is just being. 

On the power of Grace

Dear Love,

It has been a long time since I last wrote. It is not like I haven’t considered it- several times over the past four months I have sat myself down, prepared to let the words flow. And then they have paused, unable to find themselves in alignment with the emotions pouring out.

These four months have been some of the most difficult in my life, more so because of the inertia in other sectors of my life. Turbulence gets countered if one part of life, career or relationships or anything at all, is going well. When nothing is- when you’ve never been more alone (literally) in a three BHK house on the 24th floor in an isolated offshoot of the city, those are the times when turbulence threatens to swamp you like an asthma attack.

And those are also the moments in which, if you keep enough faith, Grace reveals itself to you. Grace, a word I have been highly sceptical about, up until the previous year. The obvious interpretations of “grace” have always been manifested around me as either an intense pressure to be nice all the time, or an exaggerated belief in religion and divinity. Both of which I had been growing increasingly disillusioned with- and it was at this time that you came to me, speaking of grace. In the past 365 days, I have been swept away by what grace truly means. Embracing my innate niceness as one of my greatest strengths, to be used spontaneously to help anyone who needs it is a kind of grace I have grown into only in the light of some Otherworldly Grace I can’t begin to explain. You were an instrument in bringing me to it, it to me- for that you will always have my unspeakable gratitude.Grace has come into each action that I now perform, a consciousness so delicate that it is ingrained in every breath.

Yours,

Love

 

In crippling self-doubt

Manto writes of how, in moments of crippling self-doubt, his wife would tell him to stop thinking so much and simply put ink to paper. Curiously, the first part of that statement is what my Ideal Reader often says to me as well. It is true that if you let the pen run faster than the tangled web of your own thoughts unraveling, then you might sometimes, come across a written insight that you know nothing of, a window into a part of yourself you have hitherto artfully covered up with old rags and newspapers, and a bucket turned upside down for weight.

Writing is a dangerous game because it dismantles every notion of control, one line at a time. If you think you are taking a poem this way or that, deciding the fate of a character. completing and sequencing thoughts and logic, then you probably haven’t been writing long enough. Every seeming choice is but a ‘seeming choice’, even the last minute replacement of one name by another, the drop of a word, the inclusion of another. Becoming a writer is perhaps the easier part. What is more complex is trying to reverse- engineer your formula, to figure out whether it was the weather, or the astronomical alignment of celestial bodies, the shade of ink,perhaps- what gave you a masterpiece on July 24th, 2015 that you could not replicate on October 10th, the following year? As such, can you ever truly know if you shall continue to be a writer?

All you can do, is write, right now.

 

Breathe

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast, the Red Queen tells Alice. Sometimes, when I am having an anxiety attack, I like counting them down on my fingers until I can breathe again.

One, our doppelgangers exist in parallel universes, and time runs slowly enough in one of them for there to be a me that still exists without knowing what you taste like.

Two, the touch of your fingers on my skin is not an anesthetic but a thread looping in and out to make sure I will never be quite that frayed again.

Three, millions of books exist, and hundreds more are being written even as I type, and yet none holds the story we have in our souls.

Four, the touch of your fingers is the red thread, but I am the one stitching, every moment, every day.

Five, our doppelgangers exist in parallel universes, and time has sped ahead enough for a me that exists in knowledge that the last time I tasted you, was the last.

Six, in this moment, I am breathing.

Tu es en moi…

Several years ago, I read a French phrase that struck me rather hard. In place of I miss you, the French say, Tu me manques,  which translates to a literal You are missing from me. Even until the beginning of this year, if you were to ask me how I miss you, I would perhaps say it echoes the very nature of this phrase, like a wrenching cramp somewhere inside me, reminding me very distinctly of what is not there. But I think it has been changing, very gradually, with you and me, with us as we evolve.

You are so firmly in me, everywhere- you’ve already become the parallel mental voice, the voice of calm, of humour, of the one that reminds me that sometimes a breath is all it takes to start fixing things. The one that gently chides when I sometimes start on my downward spiral of self-hatred, and tugs gently at the part of me that knows that I am much more than a sum of my worst mistakes. You are here, never really gone anymore, even in distance and silence.

Tu es en moi, mon cher amour. 

 

On learning to love with more abandon…

I have always been somebody who likes control, and many a time I have proudly declared how my “backup plans have backup plans”. Every event I organize is micro-managed, I have a book and a playlist on hand at all times in anticipation of people who will turn up late and I’m one of those people who laugh at Monica’s character in FRIENDS but is secretly her (breasts of a Greek Goddess may or may not be part of the deal).

Over the course of this year, I am learning that the semblance of control is the biggest illusion of them all. This doesn’t mean, as some might conveniently interpret it, that we have no responsibility. We do, and nothing can absolve us from doing the best possible we can, but control is something we’ve never had and will never have. I’ve always been a sceptic, naturally, innately. I’m sure I wasn’t born this way, children have this incredible fearlessness that is directly correlated to faith in their own invincibility. But somewhere over the years, like most other people, I have developed a knack of questioning, which is great, and some measure of constant disbelief in things, which is not so great.

I’d been watching Sadhguru’s videos on how we’re so afraid to lose something we do not actually possess and ever since Oree got me started on Sri Sri’s work, the videos and the book, ‘God Loves Fun’, this has been coming up more and more often. And I’m not going to pretend it’s an automatic transition, but there has been some level of a turnaround in how I approach situations now. I like retrospecting a lot in general, for better or worse. I like examining situations that have now settled emotionally, with a mental microscope. This is not so much to brood, but to learn, to see if I can spot a tear or a break point, to see where trouble began. Even this analysis is leading me to the conclusion of a lack of control.

I didn’t control when I got into love or when others did.  I didn’t control detours,exits, every moment that I should have supposedly seen coming, well I couldn’t have. I could only have lived through it, which I did, and lived through it as best as I could given my knowledge at that point. I cannot look back at my eighteen or twenty-year-old self, at age twenty-four and wonder why. There is no basis to it. I can, similarly, not try to constantly jump to look ahead to thirty or forty or even twenty-five. Again, it is equally baseless. The only moment you can control is the one you exist in right now. It is like that quintessential song. If tomorrow never comes, would they know how much you love them?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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