A Candle in the Wind-V

If she thought she was magically rid of the pain of separation, she was wrong. It would return at the most unexpected times, and break her with greater intensity than before. The initial lift in her mood did not sustain itself. The craving for having Abhinav back in her life returned with more vigour. In every sense, she felt like a drug addict who had been taken off the drug abruptly. She suffered from severe withdrawal reactions and it made her realize how dangerously ‘dependent’ she had become on her relationship with Abhinav.

She hesitated going back to Dr V and opening up, simply because she feared that he would give up on her. But when days went by without progress and she found herself only sinking further, she had no choice but to go back to him. This especially happened when her moments of intense craving and desperation ended in her calling up Abhinav. Like a drug addict, she would seek his companionship. But his response was cold and when he hung up, she would panic in a way that was unbearable. Her panic was so profound that she felt she would rather die than contain that feeling within her. It made her run back to Dr V. But contrary to her fears, he never gave up on her. She couldn’t understand it. All she knew was that it was helping her. That would be an understatement. It saved her life.
Over time, she was less hesitant of seeking help from him. Her mind had learnt to trust him. She felt like a little child, learning to walk with him by her side. He on his part, was persistent and his words were always pearls of wisdom that could only have come from a deep wisdom of life and from an insight into the human mind.
And thus, it went on for a long time. She, Abhinav and him. Her mood swings. Her dependence and impulsivity that would lead her to call Abhinav and beg him to take her back into his life. And he would wound her more each time. This would land her at Dr V’s doorstep, and he would rescue her from her own self. Eventually, there came a point where she started bypassing Abhinav in this loop. Every time she felt impulsive and desperate to talk to Abhinav, she would just turn to Dr V. Her mind had learnt that the warmth and companionship she expected from Abhinav, was coming from Dr V. In the safety and security of the niche he provided for her, she blossomed. In an year’s time, there was no tell-tale evidence of the tragedy that had transpired in her life. She was the picture of happiness and she had managed to come out of her small, solitary world and become part of a larger world, with more people in her life and more meaningful endeavours. This was the first time she had unfurled her personality and connected to people from different walks of life…people who loved her and filled the emotional voids in her life in ways beyond what she could have imagined. Most importantly, she had become better as a human being. From that point on, she had a special reverence for suffering, and she never ignored it. She could leave people alone in their happiness, but she could never walk past their suffering. For this, she was loved the most.

She saw less and less of Dr V. He had taught her to fly and now that she could fly independently, she did not wish to burden him and take up any more of his precious time. But every time she met him, she expressed her deepest gratitude.

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A Candle in the Wind-IV

Diya walked slowly to the wards. Despite the exhaustion, she found the energy to see patients. She interacted with them and their families. It somehow made her feel better. There was one thing she knew. She wasn’t going to let him down. He had bothered to invest so much of his precious time and energy on her. She wasn’t going to make his efforts futile.

In the evening, she stayed back for the surgery. When she entered the OT, he was already there, talking to his colleagues, getting ready for the surgery. She felt strange standing amidst people she did not really know. She did not expect him to take notice of her. He surprised her by walking up to her and asking, ‘So how are you feeling now?’ She smiled through her mask and replied, ‘Better!’
He explained to her the background of the case, the diagnosis and the surgical procedure. She trembled as all eyes focussed on her. Just before he started, he closed his eyes in a silent prayer. She was touched by the gesture. She had only seen artists pray like that, just before their performance. Despite all the experience and expertise, there are so many variables to every event. Every artist prays for those variables to be favourable to his performance; his art is his God.
He started and the surgery went on for quite some time. At the moments that needed intense focussing and carried with them uncertainty, he was quiet. At other times, he spoke to everybody, and even joked. As the surface of the brain came into focus, she trembled with excitement. He was talking about the area he had exposed. She couldn’t refrain from asking,’Can I touch it?’ He smiled and said,’Go ahead!’ She felt this structure which always made her speechless, and her passion seemed to spill out. ‘Are you going to be a neurosurgeon?’, he asked. ‘No…a neurologist, perhaps. I am pathetic with surgical skills’, she replied. The surgery progressed, and she watched, enthralled to the core.

As he wound up with the procedure and started suturing the scalp, he asked her, ‘Do you want to suture? Done with your surgery and casualty postings?’
‘Yes, but I am not confident. I told you I am bad with surgical skills’, she answered.
‘Suturing is no big deal. You are gonna do this’, he stated.
As all eyes looked at her, she thought she would faint. She looked at him and realized he would not take no for an answer. Her hands trembled, but he did not criticize. He encouraged her and by the end of it, she felt she could do it again…and do it better! ‘Now, was that so difficult? You did it yourself !’, he remarked. She smiled gratefully.

Next morning, after rounds, he put forth his perspectives on neurology versus neurosurgery…and why he felt neurosurgery was more gratifying than neurology. As he concluded, he looked at her and added, ‘As for surgical skills, they come with time. Don’t go by your current clumsiness; you have only started. Give yourself time before you draw a conclusion.’ He got up and asked, ‘So, neurology or neurosurgery?’
‘Neurosurgery !’, she laughed. ‘This is how I want to see you always’, he said, and left.
She walked back to the wards. She couldn’t believe this. She was just not the person she was yesterday. She had barely thought of Abhinav in the last 24 hours. And even when the thought made a brief entry, she felt sad, but not lost and turbulent. Dr V had taught her the most important lesson in life- to look for self-worth within, and not outside.

The patient who had been operated yesterday was doing well. Coincidentally, it was his birthday today. At 70, he had survived a head injury and a surgery. He thanked his stars and thanked all of them. His family distributed sweets and Diya was happy to be a part of their happiness and celebration.

From that day on, she talked to her patients and their families about their lives. Until then, she had lived the life of a medical student, taking an interest only in their illness. But that day on, she developed a desire to know her patients- know them as individuals. She felt responsible for her patients. This built a cord of connection between them and her. Somehow, as they let her into their stories, her own stories receded into the background and faded away. For their stories had far more tragedies than hers…far deeper. It was here that she first practised the very attribute that the brain practised- to be oblivious to one’s own pain, and yet, feel a heightened sensitivity to the pain of others. Consciously, she was unaware of the silent transformations in her mind. But these reflected in her behaviour.

A Candle in the Wind- III

Next morning, she woke up with a flu. She took the day off and spent the day in bed, painfully aware of every hour that passed. Kavitha dropped by in the evening. Aware that Diya had barely eaten the whole day, Kavitha coaxed her to eat. But Diya had no appetite. Kavitha’s presence was reassuring, but Diya feared the loneliness and desperation that would return. ‘I want to die…I don’t want to live’, she chanted through her tears. Kavitha had never seen this face of Diya. Diya was generally happy and bubbly, and it was unbearable to see her in this state. Kavitha had tears in her eyes as she hugged Diya tight. Love was an emotion she could relate to, and she understood the depth of the wound love had left behind on Diya. Abhinav had been the center of Diya’s world- the sun of her solar system. ‘Take rest for a couple of days. You need to focus on your health now. To hell with Abhinav. We will sort out things slowly. But take a break from college. Apply for leave. You anyway have this flu for an excuse’, Kavitha advised. Diya was thankful for this warmth. She hugged Kavitha tightly, wishing she could stay back and keep her company. But Kavitha had to leave. ‘I will see you tomorrow. Just try and sleep for now’, she said. Diya nodded.
The evening passed and she managed to get through the hours of the night as well. The next morning, she decided to go to college and submit her leave application in person. She had no clarity on how long she wanted to be away. She had no idea what she was doing in life. None of that bothered her anyway. All she knew was that she wasn’t well and that she would be back only when she got well, whenever that was.
She walked to the Neurosurgery department. Dr V was in-charge of their postings. She liked him. He was friendly and approachable. Besides, she had always been in love with the brain, and so, she liked anybody who associated themselves closely with the brain. He was talking to someone in the OPD. She walked up to him and handed him the leave-letter. ‘I am not well. I want to apply for leave,’ she said. He looked at her, perplexed by her abruptness. She repeated her statement and burst into tears. He regarded her for a second. ‘What is the matter?’, he asked. ‘I am not well. I have flu.’, she said. ‘Nobody cries because they have flu!’, he said. He got up from his chair, patted her gently and walked to the door. ‘Come with me’, he said. She followed him to his room.
‘Now tell me the matter’, he said to her gently.
It was his tone. It made her look up. There was softness and warmth in his eyes, and a genuine curiosity to know. Quite unlike the psychiatrist. She narrated her story. He did not interrupt. She was clumsy at first, but as she spoke, she relaxed and was able to narrate with more clarity. She paused occasionally to see if he was judging her. But his eyes were just as soft and receptive. So she continued.
She felt like a fool at the end of her narration. It was the first time she had heard the story in her own words. It sounded stupid. She wanted to laugh at herself. It made her feel like a weakling who was incapable of being loved and incapable of handling her emotions. Probably, these were his very thoughts now.
‘Diya, I want you to listen to me very attentively’. His tone made her look up again. Contrary to her fears, he didn’t seem to be laughing at her.
‘You are a beautiful person. When I saw you on your first day here, you were so full of energy and happiness. I could not have imagined there was something like this sitting in the background!’, he said.
A drop of happiness rained in the desert of her mind. Until that point, she had believed that there was nothing of significance in her personality. Abhinav had only reinforced this by breaking up. But here was this renowned neurosurgeon, talking to her insignificant persona, validating something of worth in it.
She gave him all her attention. ‘I used to be like you. Overly sensitive. It is a good quality to possess, but sometimes, it is detrimental. My father was always worried about this aspect of me’, this was his opening statement.
He was like a tranquilizer. His tone was hypnotizing; it soothed the inner voices in her head and put them to rest. His eyes looked deep into hers as he spoke, and captured the attention of her mind. Her mind was suddenly quiet and still. In its silence, his words sounded loud and clear. That was the only sound she could hear. The nurse had interrupted to ask him something…the phone had rung twice…but she heard none of that. Her mind trusted him in his ability to rescue her from her current predicament. In the darkness of her mind, his words gleamed like gold. Indeed, those were the golden words that marked the turning point in her life. Until then, she had never looked at life analytically. She had never probed into the deeper pockets of her mind. She had never introduced herself to the philosophy of life. He introduced her to it. He took her on a journey of the human mind- its drives, its need for relationships, its need for validation, and so much more. It was fascinating. She felt as if someone had suddenly thrown her a rope to cling to, while she was still at risk of drowning.
‘So hang around. Don’t apply for leave. See the patients in the ward. We have posted one for surgery in the evening. Stay back for the surgery.’ He flashed a smile and asked, ‘Feel better?’
Diya nodded, but did not smile.
He imitated the grumpy expression on her face and said, ‘If you feel better, let it show on you!’ She smiled.
‘That’s a good girl. Now off with you. No more crying’, he said. He got up, gave her a pat on the shoulder, and left.

A Candle in the Wind-II

She was awake for a long time, and at some point, the panic gave way to exhaustion and she slept fitfully. When she opened her eyes the next morning, she felt unrested and sore. Her eyes felt hot and heavy from lack of sleep. Her head felt heavy and clogged; there were a million noises within it. She lay in bed for a while, unsure of herself. She felt that her whole life had collapsed and closed in on her. She couldn’t bear to think of getting up from bed, facing her parents, facing the day ahead. There was no longer the drive to live life. All she wanted to do was lie down in her bed for eternity. She tried to get up from bed, but was gripped by a feeling of intense nausea. She felt dizzy from the effort. Her body seemed to have given up as much as her mind. She looked at the clock. It was seven. If her parents did not see her downstairs in another hour, they would come looking for her. Slowly, she reached for the phone and called Kavitha. Kavitha was her best friend and she stayed just a few houses away. The moment Kavitha heard her voice, she knew something was terribly wrong. ‘I need you to come over now. I am in a terrible mess. Mom and dad have no clue. I don’t want them to know…they won’t understand. Can you come over and say you want me to drop you to college today?’ By the time Kavitha arrived, Diya was dressed and ready. She came downstairs. Kavitha engaged her parents in conversation while Diya stuffed her breakfast into her bag. She ignored the exasperated expression on her mother’s face and walked out with Kavitha. She filled in Kavitha on the details, but there was not much time. After dropping Kavitha, she rode to college. She felt a strange detachment from her surroundings. Hoping that things would get better with time, she attended her clinical postings. But she was lost in a nothingness she couldn’t describe. As time ticked by, the panic returned. The moment she thought of returning home, she felt terrified of the loneliness that would greet her. She spent all morning dreading this one thought. Finally, she could bear it no more. So she decided to meet the psychiatrist and confide in her. She had just finished her psychiatry rotation; that was a blessing. She walked slowly to the Psychiatry clinic, her hopes renewed. The psychiatrist was a middle-aged woman- soft spoken, approachable and pleasant. She smiled as she saw Diya approaching. ‘So how are you? What postings now?’, she asked. Diya’s eyes suddenly welled up with tears. ‘Ma’m, I am not well’, she said. ‘What is the matter, dear? Tell me. Relax, and tell me’.
Diya tried. The words came out in a jumble. The psychiatrist heard her out and smiled. ‘This is a small problem, my dear. You are worrying over nothing’, she said. Diya was disappointed. The psychiatrist went on consoling her, but her words sounded hollow and distant. ‘So, pull yourself up, wait for a couple of days, and if you still feel just as low, take this tablet. It is an antidepressant’, she said as she jotted down the prescription.
As she rode home with the prescription in her wallet, she was certain of one thing. She would not take the antidepressant. She felt a soreness in her throat, and by the time she reached home, she felt cold and feverish. Her mother touched her forehead; it was warm. And yet again, she was thankful. This physical illness would provide her a cover for the illness of her mind. She took to bed, closed her eyes, and went into deep sleep.

A Candle in the Wind- I

Amidst spells of sunshine, one does not anticipate rain. On a sunny day towards the fag end of May, when temperatures are boiling, it is unthinkable to wake up the next morning to an overcast sky and the pitter-patter of the rain, with not a trace of the sun that had dominated the skies until that point in time.
For her sunny spirit, sorrow seemed alien. But she proved that she could go as low as she could go high. And so, her sorrow knew no bounds; it easily slipped into depression. Depression was a sea; there was no end to it.
She had seen the clouds approaching, but she hadn’t taken notice. Abhinav had been uncertain all along, but his continued presence in her life made her optimistic. She nurtured the hope that his confusion would clear…that he would open his eyes to her love…that they would be married some day. But he had never really committed. Verbally, he had always expressed his doubts on their compatibility. But in gestures, he had always sprinkled his affection. And her mind had always banked on non-verbal language; she had always found more truth in that.
But last evening, he had called it off. ‘I am going back to Delhi. I am meeting Neha. I don’t know my exact feelings for her, but I want to explore that relationship. We are not good for each other, Diya!’. The words still echoed in her mind. Somehow, the mention of a potential relationship had finally forced her to focus on what he had been saying all along- ‘We are not compatible’. When he had said those words yesterday, her mind had gone blank for a second. And then, the hammering started. She felt that a thousand people were hammering in her head and screaming at her- ‘You are not good enough!’. She wanted the screaming to stop. But it didn’t. It irritated her. She drove like crazy while he sat next to her, watching her reaction. ‘Stop the car’, he said. She didn’t. ‘Stop the car!’, he screamed. She stopped. They sat for five minutes in silence. ‘Are you okay?’, he asked. She nodded in silence. She started the car, drove slowly, and dropped him at his office. As he got off, she never once looked at him; she just stared straight ahead. ‘Take care of yourself’, he said. She wanted to laugh. She couldn’t believe it. They took your heart, damaged it, and then returned it to you, asking you to mend it yourself. She started the car and drove off, never once looking at him.
The hardest part had been to face her parents. They had no clue of what was happening in her life; their only concern was that she had been coming home late these days. What would the neighbours think? While such trivial thoughts bothered them, she wondered how she would conceal the bleeding wounds of her soul today. One look at her face, and anyone could tell she was a wreck. Well, there was no escape from it. She rang the bell and her mother opened the door. ‘Where have you been after college? Do you know what time it is? Is this the time to come home? Is there any girl in the neighbourhood who comes home at this time?’ The words were a blur, but for once, she was thankful for the screaming. It had masked her actual state of mind. ‘I am going to my room. I don’t want dinner…I ate out’, she said. This was greeted by more temper, but it gave her the excuse to run to her room without revealing the internal chaos within her mind.
In the solitude of her room, she felt a little better. Better than she had felt that evening. She showered and took to bed. In the darkness, she suddenly felt scared. A strange feeling of sheer loneliness took over, and made her panic. No tears would come; all she felt was a rising panic. Her mind was a turbulent sea. It was as if someone had cut off all her anchors and left her to herself in deep waters.

The intangibles in life

Dear Ledzep,

In reality, there are no words to express what I feel upon news of your death. Like you always said, emotions-the intangibles…can words ever really do justice to their depth or spectrum? I quite doubt. And yet, an attempt to outpour…

The seven notes of music, in various permutations and combinations, create symphonies. Each one of us is a symphony. Each symphony relates to certain other symphonies, and in association, creates music.

You were a symphony I could relate to. And together, we created music. In fact, you were a part of every music that rose from within me. Like Dagny points out, it had become impossible to think of one without the other. Two butterflies that savoured the world around, one still new to the world and its ways…the other wise from an inherent wisdom and the experiences journeyed through. I love what someone wrote about you- you carried within you the wisdom of the hills.

Given a choice between the sea and the mountains, it is the mountains I love. Magnanimous structures in silent acceptance of the world of which they are a part. It is as if they have learnt that their magnanimity is of no significance. Where did these giant creatures learn the lessons of tranquility? They guard within them a wisdom and maturity that can only come from age and sensitivity. They are ancient…as old as the earth to which they belong, and they have a past to speak. They possess a beauty born out of years of moulding to the play of the forces of nature- the sun, the wind, thunder and lightning, the rain…

On the contrary, the sea rages and protests and threatens. The sea secrets are different from the mountain secrets.

It is amazing how many things in day to day life take my thoughts to you. When I listen to an Ilayaraja composition, mesmerized, I know you would have loved it too. Perhaps you might not really have, but I knew you would have merged with my mind to experience the same emotions that break out in my mind. I feel I know you as well as I know myself, simply because your mind had the ability to fly. It would just leave the tree that was Ravi, and embark on a journey that I would want to take. You would never lead…you would follow (with your wisdom of the hills 🙂 You would sense my exhilaration…my anxiety…my fear…and you would gently steer me to what I really wanted, without really ‘leading’ me.

In our independent lives, we were into different disciplines. But for the ones who see the intangible, the essence of each of these diverse disciplines is the same, for they all connect at some fundamental level to life and to creativity. I see in physiology the same essence you saw in chemistry. And that is the source of the spark…the passion…the inspiration. I read an excerpt by your student, quoting you as ‘Throw those Indian authors away!’. I know what you meant…by no means demeaning the nation…but throw the books that teach you to score in exams without getting anywhere near the concepts…killing the last remnants of creativity in the student’s mind. Books that kill one’s thoughts…one’s learning process…

Sometimes, there is the sudden urge to send you an e mail despite the awareness that no reply shall come. But then, if I gather my thoughts closely and perceive you, I can almost tell what you would have replied. That makes me realize that you had instilled into all of us a bit of yourself- all the ones you touched…and in that sense, you are immortal. You preserved for me the perception of the beauty of our interactions. Even in your physical absence, I can relive the emotions our interactions always created. In some ways, you are more alive within me now than you were while you lived. For when you were alive, your mortal form lived far away. But now, you only live within me. 

These days, I find myself collecting every footprint you left in this world, so as to be able to add more strokes to the sketch I have of you in my mind…so I can have a more complete picture of you…so you can seep into deeper recesses of my mind.

Like someone wrote:
“Like my young wards , I am spellbound when a beautiful flower suddenly appears my way.
I am delighted by the colors that abound and the fragrance which fills my senses.
When the flower starts to wilt, I don’t cast it away , but preserve it gently in my book of thoughts. If perchance ,I come upon that page, I take a while and once again savor all the moments when the flower was in its full bloom, and…. Move On….”

Or better still, sow the very seeds that were your mind within my mind…and when the plant grows and the flowers blossom, you will be born again.

In the end, I have to say this. For the last 2 days, I have been listening to an Ilayaraja composition. It seems to have done what words can’t. Music perhaps does more justice to emotions than do words. And this particular composition…it creates in me a peculiar mix of ache and joy, that together amount to you. The ache is the loss of you…and the joy is the experience of you. 

Hugs and lots of love…Can you feel it from where you are?

A season of darkness

The place was Bangalore….and those were the 90s. December was the best time of the year- the festive mood was infectious and the air was filled with the sound of laughter, Christmas carols, church bells and pop music and ballads playing off the records that people passionately collected. The nights were cold and I loved to be warm and cosy in my bed. But the darkness frightened me. I do not remember which I feared more- the ghosts I had read about in books, or the robbers that I knew were real. Back then, I believed in ghosts. As I lay in the dark, with my eyes closed tight, I was certain that if I opened my eyes, it would be to find ghosts in my room. My heart pounded loud and I was sure that ‘they’ could hear it. I would pray hard and pull the sheets over my head. My breathing was laboured and I would be drenched in sweat. I was certain that even if I wanted to run, I wouldn’t be able to move a finger- I was so frozen. Even if I wanted to scream, the voice would just die in my throat. Long hours would pass in this fear and there were nights when I wouldn’t sleep until the early hours of morning. At other times, exhaustion would take over and I would sleep fitfully. Sometimes, the fear of an intruder overrode the fear of ghosts. I would gaze at the window and let my imagination take over as shadows moved across the window. The stairs to the rooms upstairs were right outside my room and the slightest noise would make me wonder if there was someone at the stairs….what if someone had broken in through the door upstairs and come straight down? Every day, I feared the night and the darkness that came with it.

It was around this time that a new Goorkha made appearance. The colony had a Goorkha, but then he was never to be seen or heard….except on the last couple of nights of each month, when he was to receive his wages for the month. Then we heard him- he would blow his whistle so loud that it would wake us all up. But this new Goorkha was different. He was middle-aged, with twinkling eyes and a silvery moustache. His face was pleasant, but when he smiled, the smile seemed to hide some deeper sorrow. 
From then on, the nights were different. This gentleman turned up promptly every night and went about his night patrols dutifully. The sound of his whistle was most reassuring to me. As the sound faded into the night, I would be anxious. But it would return in some time. Around midnight, he would stop his patrolling and take refuge at our doorstep. I would hear him cough occasionally. It would make me feel guilty for I lay in my bed, warm and comfortable. I imagined him at the doorstep- cold and shivering. I shuddered to think of all the potential dangers that lurked in the darkness that surrounded him. But the presence of that human being just outside my window was reassuring. My fears were alleviated and I slept peacefully.
On the days he came to collect his wages, he talked about his family, particularly his daughter. He reminded me so much of the ‘kabuliwala’ I had read. As I thought about him, far away from the familiarity of his home in an alien land….far away from all that he loved and treasured, my heart went out to him.
He was around for an year or two. Towards the end of that tenure, he was increasingly restless and anxious. He seemed eager to get back home. When he finally announced his departure, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I longed for him to be reunited with his land and family. On the other hand, I knew I was going to miss the reassuring presence of this human being at my doorstep every night. 

Years have gone by….I am in a different place and time. My fear of darkness is on a more rational note now- it doesn’t give me sleepless nights. But to this day, his face is vivid in my memory. I wonder if he is still alive….if his silvery moustache is all white….if the sadness of his smile has vanished. I wonder if the mountains can echo to him my thoughts and my eternal gratitude to him for the difference he made to the little mind that was terrified of darkness….