Today isn’t a particularly special day. It’s just a rather random Thursday that I’ve spent doodling in the memory of various people and the times I’ve lived with them, that I need no particular occasion to celebrate. So cheers to you, and us, and all that we’ve been through and the people we’ve become. I love you.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
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.
To my companion in all things Murakami (and many others),
You are a storyteller yourself. So tell me,have you ever just picked up your pen and written down something, seemingly normal, and begun to realize its depths only much later?
A little under two years ago, I penned down a story called ‘The boy and the mirror’. It was written within an hour, reflected some of the very conventional romantic turmoil in my life at that moment and it was a concept that just flowed, without much thought being attached to it. It is fascinating how much your own mind can conceal from you. I see that story now in ways I hadn’t even thought about earlier.
Sputnik Sweetheart refuses to leave my brain, and this is, in particular, because of one specific incident that ties in to these other thoughts. One of the women, Miu, is trapped in a Ferris Wheel at night, and she happens to have a pair of binoculars. With nothing much to do except wait, she trains her binoculars on her bedroom window visible in the distance. And then she sees herself inside her bedroom. I won’t give you details lest it ruin the book for you. But to cut a long story short, it is as if her consciousness is split into two. She is in two places at the same time, if you know what I mean. And no, it isn’t a time-turner story.
Which brings me to, Horcruxes. I know it isn’t quite the same idea. But I have always wondered if there are other ways to create horcruxes, accidentally perhaps. Is it only murder that can tear one’s soul? Perhaps love can as well. This is a good question to research- does love in facts rip the soul, and if so, is the rupture permanent or temporary? But that is for another time. (By the way, it is interesting how Riddle’s diary would have had fifty percent of his soul, and it was created with the murder that is perhaps the most justifiable out of all that he committed- that of the man who abandoned his mother.)
Moving on from that detour into Harry Potter, I don’t know if you’ve felt this way- torn, between parts of yourself. I have, on occasion. It is interesting because of late, I have been reading some bits of spiritual philosophy that are focused on considering oneself whole, as an integrated being. You aren’t torn, or split, or divided, it claims- it is a construct of your mind. Well, of course, it is. But I do need to live with my mind. I cannot arrive at a certain destination in my mind-map before it is time.Perhaps the process can be accelerated, but honestly, I have a feeling that conflict leads to the best stories.
So coming back to you, the storyteller, would you keep the peace or the stories?
Watch your mother gaze at the ridges and bumps
On your sunshine-stained face, wondering where
she’s gone wrong in sculpting her personal
Mona Lisa. Watch your father hit ‘Love’ on your
social media profile, only to lean close to you and
whisper, “You need to get your skin fixed.” Watch
those hassled parlour attendants voice a question
that is certain to drench you in a little pool of your
melting insecurities. “Why don’t you take care
of yourself?” Watch those cucumbers on your eyes;
Watch for an entire calendar year the brownies on
someone else’s plate. Watch the scars as they jeer
at exotic creams advertised in between your mother’s
favourite daily soap- Watch the women in those same
daily soaps jeer and shame each other. Wash your face
with soap, for the fifteenth time. Watch your face
in the mirror. Remember the time you spent watching
a slideshow of old pictures of yourself. Watch that serving
of forbidden food in front of you, lest you relive the pictures.
Watch yourself, trying so hard to hide your scars. Watch me,
trying to tell you that if the Grand Canyon were unblemished
land, no one would give it a second thought. Watch yourself-
You, as magnificent as a rain-clad horizon. Don’t watch at
the window for acceptance that comes only with clear skies.
For just a moment, watch with love, and watch
your favourite constellations shine
With your light.