Turn on the light

The lead vocalist asks us to raise our hands if we’re proud of who we are, as people and as artists.

And something suddenly unravels inside me, a tightness that’s been there for a while. And with a few other wavering hands, I raise mine up in the air and smile.

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There’s a gentle drizzle. The accompanying breeze makes the yellow paper lanterns sway, as if in rhythm with the light strumming of the guitar and banjo down below. The drums weave a comfortable,solid presence as fifty-odd people, friends and strangers hum along. Music does this to people- it makes one body out of individuals, a body moving in seemingly eccentric patterns but with a wonderful coherence.

There is silence towards the end of the show as the performers play the opening bars to a song they have dedicated to survivors of depression. What amazes me is that it isn’t an awkward pause. In this audience, there are people who, in some odd way, understand, either first-hand or through their loved ones, what it is like to not want to get up at all, to not eat or bathe or write or paint for days, or to just do all of it in a frenzy until you’re not sure what you’re doing anymore. There are people for whom turning up to a live show like this is one of their greatest achievements this month- they might not have stepped out of home for weeks. There are also people who are lucky enough to be mostly non-depressed, even happy, and who take this moment to understand how that isn’t necessarily a “normal” every one is used to.

As I raise my hand, standing here in this city that I’ve been both non-depressed and depressed in before, it is because I am proud today- of myself, of being able to sing along, of showing up alone, of continuing to write even if it seems to be most ordinary on some days. It’s because I can now raise my hand without feeling weird about being happy about my own existence. And because I have done a lot of things in the past year, good, fun, somewhat crazy, mundane, only for myself, and have loved doing it. It’s because the rain, and the lights, and the songs have the ability to make the darkness beautiful and bearable. And so does my writing, and your art, and someone else’s strumming, or playing or mere existence.

There will be bad days. But try and hold on long enough, and there will be good ones.

Listen to these guys (When Chai Met Toast) here:

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On turning into my mother ( And how it’s fine, really )  

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At 18, in college, as I slowly grew into my “wild” side, casting away the demure facade I’d maintained all through high school, I gave my parents some cause for concern. Suddenly I transformed from having no social life to staying out late, going on trips with my friends, and discovering the phone and internet in ways that many of my peers would have already experimented with a few years earlier. In my headstrong, teenager mind, I decided that I would have a cool life, full of new experiences each day, as if to compensate for the stagnant calm of my life hitherto.

The one thing I utterly disliked was being compared to either of my parents, be it in terms of academic excellence or personality. I was especially determined to not resemble my mother in any fashion, and derived great pleasure in telling her how I was so totally “not her”. And yet, a mere five years later, living with a set- ranging from brilliant to not-so-great- of my own choices and actions, I find that I have, in a lot of ways, realised that very fear.

My Friday plans now include figuring out which clothes to wash on Saturdays. I can’t go to bed with dirty utensils in the sink. I don’t randomly say a yes to late night bike rides with friends I don’t know very well, even though I love bike rides. I don’t indulge in crying my eyes out for more than ten minutes at a time, choosing instead to do something practical, like cleaning the room or my cupboard. I still entertain the words of lovers, but don’t really believe them as willingly as I used to.

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Of course, I am also not my mother in many ways. We are two women with vastly different character quirks. She hates being alone. I love my solitude. She can laugh off many things with a careless ease that my twenty-three-year old over-thinking self envies at times. She moves on quickly, and I have never really moved on from anyone or anything.

But look closely, and you can tell how related we are. It’s not even something we focus on most of the time, but it’s there. We both believe in six impossible things before breakfast, just that they differ in specifics. We both shut the world out when we read, and eat chocolate when someone is being indifferent to our feelings. We can finish a tissue box between us when we watch Lion King, but we also have the ability to step up to make all the logical decisions when necessary. Keeping my head when others about me are losing theirs, is something in which I’d rather take after her, than anyone else.

So yes, as I become more me, I am, in some ways, turning into my mother. And that isn’t really a bad thing.

Dear Fellow Traveller,

Like me, do you sometimes sleep through

the safety demo on flights,

firm in your belief that your flight,

of them all, will never land on water,

because nothing ever happens to you anyway.

On other days, do you map out scenarios,

of potential seas and oceans along the way,

and what temperature the water will be,

and if, in the melee, you’ll choose

not to slip the life jacket on?

——–

 

Are you just as fascinated by red things-

tomatoes, boys in ragged capes,

Danger signs, life jacket tubes?

Do you check under the seat with your toes,

to see if they are telling you the truth-

and then laugh wondering if

your life-jacket lovers will ever be

this close when you feel the urge to jump?

——–

Sometimes, when your throat gets

a little too tight, do you reach for

the oxygen masks they aren’t dropping yet?

Is it only you feeling the pressure a little too deeply,

as you face the choice between being a cloud

and longing for solid ground?

When the shadows start getting larger,

and the bottom falls out from under your stomach,

do you, like me, always land a little more blurry

each time? Do you still manage to keep your head

amidst the clouds?

Memories of My Grandfather

My grandfather was an eccentric man. On Sundays, when he had the day off from work, he would get up quietly after finishing his morning newspaper, surreptitiously slipping a nail clipper into his pocket, and declare, “I’ll be back in a while.” My grandmother, long weary after years of marriage, would say nothing, only watch from the balcony as he strode out towards the lane that would lead him to the main road.

He had a fixed route; much like the newspaper boy or the milkman does, covering four to five houses. Each of those houses was owned by a particularly close friend of his, some considerably younger in age. Despite being direct to the point of bluntness, my grandfather had endeared himself to all sorts of people- shopkeepers, the local meat-seller, the affluent neighbourhood doctor and all the little children. It was for this last category of people that he took his long-winded route every Sunday. Upon reaching their houses, he would demand that the children line up in front of him, and one by one, he would carefully clip off their uneven, dirt-stained nails that had strayed to many a prohibited place in course of the week; the muddy school field and the fertilized pumpkin patch in the backyard, were, by far, the most civilized of those places. He would gently chide the ones who’d been exceptionally careless- his favourite epithet for them, and indeed, for careless people in general, was “Holder!” Three decades after his death, the closest explanation I have managed to find for this seemingly random phrase, is that sloppy people reminded him of the flickering tube-lights in our house, rendered vulnerable by their faulty holders.

After completing this ritual, Grandfather would on occasion, stop for a cup of tea and a long chat, most often at the home of his favourite friend, the Doctor. He would hold forth on diverse issues- the rising vegetable prices, the latest policy of the government, the war, the heat in Delhi, the children. Then, suddenly, he would rise from his chair, and in one sweeping motion, rip off the calendar page still displaying the previous month’s dates on the wall and mutter under his breath again, “Holder!” Whether he was referring to the caretaker’s inattention or man’s futile attempt to calibrate time in general, no one knew.

None of Grandfather’s friends and acquaintances minded this periodic imposition on their homes and families. Indeed, they had begun to look forward to the routine, and sometimes, when the sweetshop owner Kalika Babu’s wife forcibly chased her child down on a Friday to trim his nails, her husband would stop her and say, “Oho. Leave the child alone till Sunday. It’s the tradition after all.”

When he retired from his government job at the age of sixty, Grandfather made a few changes to his schedule, and his friends learnt to expect him on both Wednesdays and Sundays. He didn’t linger long on the weekday, but he always made sure to speak to every member of every family. He would listen with great attention even to the youngest child, all of two, who proudly showed off her latest attempt at learning a Bengali nursery rhyme. The lady of the house would say, with an exasperated sigh, “Dada, you must not spoil the children by bringing them something every week.” He would nod seriously, and then sneakily slip a few sweets into the children’s pockets once she’d turned her back. Children loved him as the adult who never ignored them in favour of seemingly important “adult business”.

On what was to be the last Wednesday of his life, Grandfather got up as usual at 5.30 a.m., ignoring the niggling feeling of a heavy stone tied to his chest. He put on his shoes slowly, taking a little more time to tie his laces. “I’m going”, he called out to my grandmother. He’d already stepped out by the time she noticed that he’d not said, “I’ll be back in a while.” He never came back. I think his last thought would have been a gentle regret as he touched the nail clippers in his pocket. For all the little fingers with dirty little nails as they rested on the gates- waiting.