Thanksgiving

I don’t have to be reminded it is December. As November slowly rolls into December, I can feel it. A welcome transition all around me.

A little less humidity…

Clear blue skies…

Misty mornings…

Pleasant evenings when I can feel a little chill in the air….just enough to remind me it is December…

Winter blushes in the roses and bougainvillea in my garden, as they smile at the bright sunshine, their petals crisp from the cold that is unique to this season. A crisp and rosy freshness conspicuous by its absence otherwise in a tropical land where the sun and monsoons dominate most of the year.

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A little red rose blossoms in the garden of my mind. Its fragrance is familiar, and it awakens a part of me that has been dormant all along-

The woman in me….

Womanhood is a unique facet of a woman’s personality, with a core of its own. A core that shares a delicate relationship with the human being and the individual in her. The three have an unspoken contract. When the circumstances are favourable, she is prolific. But when adversity strikes, she makes room for the other two.

In the blossoming of that fragrant red rose, I could feel the essence of my womanhood…

Delicate, fragile, exquisitely beautiful. Incapable of sustenance in adversity. Its need for the most sensitive, tender, loving care. Something that only a winter spirit was capable of. A winter that would wrap its cool arms around the freshness of the fragile petals of this flower, shielding it from the harshness of the sun.

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Every winter unlocks the girl I once knew myself to be.

No…I was never pretty. But that was a strange blessing. It allowed me to be myself. It allowed me to be secretly infatuated, and build an imaginary world in my mind where I lived the moments I believed I couldn’t live in real life. I would laugh when my friends raised the possibility of falling in love. That was for them. Who would fall in love with me? And so, I continued living the life of a child in the real world. The dreams that my adolescence gifted me, I kept to myself. Locked up in a secret corner of my mind. I was content just gazing stealthily at someone I was infatuated by. I was actually terrified when that someone would come up to me and talk. Then I trembled, my legs shivered, and I was certain the pounding of my heart could be heard outside. I was terrified that they could read in my eyes what I felt for them!

I suppose I had a duality about me. Something my friends didn’t seem to have. I was adventurous, loud, crude, mischievous, fond of food, and I loved riding and driving. Conventionally unfeminine traits. My female friends were soft spoken, graceful in the way they walked and talked, very proper in the way they dressed, with rather feminine interests.
But within me was a feminine spirit I couldn’t articulate in the real world.

It took love to articulate it.

I still remember that day. That day when he stood before me, stammering and struggling. I couldn’t believe it was possible for him to run out of words. He was 6 feet tall and I was self-conscious when I looked up at him. It made him more self-conscious. I felt giddy. I couldn’t figure out if it was from excitement or anxiety. I couldn’t believe this moment was real! He stood there, tall and strikingly handsome, his eyes deep and probing, hiding a world beneath them. I lowered my eyes.

The rose blossomed for the first time in me and its exotic fragrance flooded my being. I transformed as my feminine spirit mustered the courage to spill out. It spilt out into the way I lowered my eyes when he fixed his eyes on me. Into the blush that I tried to conceal when he taunted me. Into my strides when I walked, hugging this feeling that was love. Into the bubbliness and exhilaration I failed to contain when he was around. Into the anxiety and restlessness I felt on days he was away. Into the tenderness I felt within when I held him close.

For the first time, I loved myself. I loved the unruly strands of hair that fell on my face. I loved the dreams that gleamed in my eyes. I loved the fragrances that lingered about me. I loved the softness of my cheeks. I loved the warmth of my skin. I had fallen in love with freshness and fabric and textures and colors and fragrances….almost as if they had abruptly been introduced into my world! Never before had I felt beautiful this way!
There was magic in the words he said to me…in the way he said them to me. They made me feel exquisitely beautiful.

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As is the case with all impulsive beginnings, the endings are often tragic. So not very long after we confessed our feelings for each other, we fell out of step with each other. And we tucked it under the label of ‘Just an infatuation!‘.

Beauty is a season. And that season was gone. But the spirit of the woman within me had been awakened. My love had no recipient now, but I lived my life with zest and vigour. The memory remained fragrant, and I was content with that.

When love stepped in next, it came disguised in the form of friendship. I didn’t recognize it. It was slow in its evolution, and it was beautiful. A beauty different from that of impulsive love…

Love that invisibly, but palpably filled the infinity of the spaces between our interactions.

In those spaces, there was a strange missing and longing that spoke of our deep friendship. We were absolute monkeys, forever teasing and taunting and playing pranks on each other. But in the smiles we gave each other, there was an unmistakable trace of that love we felt for each other.

And yet, this love had not penetrated our thoughts.

It stayed as a feeling, and that was beautiful. On days we didn’t see each other, there was a gloom within that we refused to notice. It was ironical that all our friends jokingly referred to me as his girlfriend, just to irritate us. Eventually, I took the cue and I would irritate him, pretending to be his girlfriend. And he would pretend to be really annoyed. I would ask him to gift me roses and we had a bet on that. And one day, he surprised me by getting me a bouquet of roses. He pretended to throw them at me. ‘Don’t ever ask me for roses again’, he said. There were double-meaning statements we made to each other, and they hung in the air, uninterpreted.

And beneath this game of pretence, we never realized that there was a big truth hiding…waiting to be unraveled.

It finally grew strong enough to permeate our thoughts. I remember wanting to confront him on this. It was a very anxious moment for me because unlike my previous experience, we were thick friends, and I did not wish for anything to cause the tiniest crack in our friendship. I thought back to all those moments of overt concern and care….to those double-meaning statements….to the feeling that I could read in his eyes and in his gestures. It gave me the courage to ask him. I remember how I had held his hand and dragged him out after morning rounds.

‘Can I ask you something?’, I had asked. ‘I am scared though’, I had added.
‘If you want to ask me something, you better ask me now….coz I am in a really good mood right now’, he had replied.
I looked into his eyes and felt he knew what was coming. I remember getting coffee from the machine. I remember how we sat next to each other that morning, sipping coffee.
‘So, do you see me as just a friend….or is there something more to it?’, I had finally asked.
He was quiet. I had wanted to die at that moment. I looked at him and was surprised to see the sadness in his eyes. He reached out for my hand and stroked my hand affectionately. I had never seen him this sad.
‘I am not asking you for anything. I just wanted to know what you feel for me’, I had said.
‘I have loved you ever since you drew my caricature in class and passed it on’, he slowly said and smiled.
I was taken aback. That was a term before.
‘I have loved you from a distance all along. But I cannot step into anything. It would only get complicated….for you.’
I nodded. Race was the issue.
‘I have asked my mother many times if I could marry an Indian girl. By now, she knows there is someone in my mind. But my father would never agree.’
We both sipped our coffee silently.
I took a deep breath and asked ‘So are we going to let go?’
He ruffled my hair and asked,’Will you wait? 5 years or maybe more?’
‘Why not?’, I answered.
‘Sigh! You have complicated my life. I was a carefree, happy-go-lucky boy. And you have made me a worrier now!’, he half-taunted.
‘So am I really your girlfriend now?’, I asked.
He smiled, ‘You have always won.’
I pretended to frown.
‘I have let you win’, he said. ‘And I like to see you win’, he added.

We sat there for quite a while, holding hands. He stroked my hand gently and I did not want to leave. We soon saw the rest of our gang approach us and we quickly let go. They suspected nothing. The general taunting and mocking went on, but today my heart was not in it. I wanted to be alone….be alone with this feeling. I went home with the Chinese record I had just been gifted.

There I was at home, listening to a song in an alien language. But at this moment, it stood for everything that someone had felt for me.

Besides, I had always loved ballads. The phone rang. I picked it up. It was him.
‘How did you know I liked ballads?’, I asked him.’
‘Oh, I have spent enough time with you to know your taste for music, food and clothes’,he said.

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In the one year that we were together, we spent our lifetime. I couldn’t believe love had this dimension to it. Nothing had changed between us, for we had that bonding right from the start. But now, there was a deep contentment we felt as we gave it direction. We went about throwing surprises at people on their birthdays. I remember the pup we gifted an animal-lover friend of ours and the fish we gifted to someone who took pride in his aquarium. We celebrated holi, diwali, Christmas, Valentine’s day, and even Chinese New Year together with a whole bunch of friends. We went go-karting, boating and bowling. We played shuttle and we played UNO and Monopoly. We went to donate blood together. We went to Coffee Day at Sadashivnagar to eat apple pie with ice cream. Those guys loved us because they were amused to see an Indian girl with a Chinese boyfriend. I always blushed when I saw them smiling at the spoonfuls of ice cream he fed me. He was like that. He always believed I was incapable of patience. I was always restless and too excited to sit still and cut the pie into little pieces or shell out prawns from the dish. I was like a child and he treated me like one. We drove down all the way to ‘Friends’ at Koramangala to eat fish and chips. I tried my best to like the authentic Chinese food we ate at ‘Lemon Grass’, and he gave me a knowing smile when I swallowed the expression on my face. He pushed all the dessert towards me and said quietly,’You can have that!’ The others smiled.

He had this habit of holding my hand whenever we crossed a road. He didn’t seem to trust me on that. The patience issue again. Ironically, he would encourage me to drive his friend’s car that I was always hesitant about, but that I wanted to. He would push me to try all those new feats that I would regard with conflict- a desire to indulge, mixed with hesitation. He was always proud of me. And so, I found my personality expressing unrestricted in a judgmental world. I was surprised to discover that I was really good at go-karting. Almost as good as him. I was beginning to differentiate between what I liked and what I didn’t….between what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at.

I loved the way he would ruffle my hair every time he thought something had upset me or disappointed me. My friends would look at me with envy.

For he cared. And he cared like hell. He sacrificed to care. The way only parents do. He could never bear to see me struggle or suffer. He wouldn’t let me do anything difficult; he would take it on himself. He was like the wind that wrapped itself around the milkweed- the grip loose enough to let it float free, and firm enough to prevent it from falling. He was like winter wrapping its arms around the delicate petals of the rose that smiled up at the sunshine, the arms shielding the flower from the harshness of the sun, while the rose basked happily in the warmth of this tempered sunshine.

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Once in a while, we went to the Buddhist temple near the college where he had studied. He would look at that college building, make a sad face and say,’This was where I first landed when I moved from Malaysia. I was so lonely and homesick in this new country.’ It somehow made me sad too. He would imitate my expression and laugh. The truth was he couldn’t bear for me to be sad. He would instantly transform that moment into humour and make me laugh. The beauty of our relationship was that we communicated our love more through the silences than the words. And this was palpable. Not just to us, but to all the others in our gang who looked at us with admiration. We had squabbles too. And when we had them, they were bad. And yet, not once did I fear losing him. When they ended, I would always have tears in my eyes. ‘Crybaby’, he would make fun of me. And then ruffle my hair 🙂

I missed him like hell when he went home on holiday. We had all gone to see him off at the airport and I remember how the others taunted us and left us alone to say our goodbyes, pretending to look away. I remember how he had arranged for his friends to take care of everything for me while he was away. I remember how I hid in the rear of the car when we went to pick him up from the airport on his arrival and how he had guessed I would be in, hiding. I remember how he sat by his friend’s side, talking to him, while holding my hand quietly. I had missed that terribly.

The memories are too many. I can’t find the words to write them down any more. My heart is flooded with the magic of those memories and with a deep gratitude I feel.

To time and destiny that brought us together…

To the truth in the love he gave me…

There is none of the bitterness or sorrow that generally accompanies relationships that never culminated in marriage. Marriage is so far removed from love. On the darkest days, I only have to look within….to find the warm glow of a memory. There is none of the loneliness and emptiness that often creeps into our lives as time passes by. For I have the companionship of these beautiful memories. Memories whose fragrance permeated my soul- a fragrance I shall carry with me when I leave behind this mortal body.

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"When the memories are gone, so is the soul." From the South Korean movie 'A moment to remember', 2004

A. Ayyappan’s poem, ‘Ente shavapetti‘ comes to my mind…

https://vchathoth.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/to-those-who-shall-carry-the-burden-of-my-coffin/

Perhaps if I were given the chance to write one more chapter into this memory, I would choose one day with him. To go back together and visit all those places that are tagged with those memories. To sit next to each other, stare into the nothingness, and cry. Cry with gratitude.

And to feel those hands holding mine and stroking them gently….the way I know them to. To feel those hands ruffling my hair again…

A Reverie

I was lost in some deep reverie as I stood on the platform, waiting for my train. The platform was a chaos of people…

People from different walks of life, bound to different destinations, presenting a brief glimpse of their worlds to a casual observer.

As I watched people rush past me, my own world suddenly seemed to come to a standstill. In the moments that lay until my train arrived, I slipped into a state of non-existence. The uncertainty that had been haunting me for a while, faded into the background.

People were slowly settling. A porter was handing out tea and snacks to people in the compartment of the passenger train that would leave in a few minutes. A mother was struggling frantically to pacify a baby who had been crying for the last ten minutes. A girl was hurrying down the steps, desperate to make it to the train.

A train arrived on the opposite platform and the platform that had been quiet, suddenly turned into chaos. People bumping into each other….struggling to get past each other on the stairs….porters unloading cartons off the train. The guard blew the whistle and the passenger train slowly inched out of the platform.

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The chaos and commotion had given way to an abrupt silence and stillness.....

The station suddenly turned still and quiet. The contrast was striking. I had just witnessed how it took only a moment for everything to change.

Even the deepest chaos could abruptly give way to tranquility.

I smiled at the thought of how I felt most alive at that moment. It has always been so. It is not in my moments of self-absorption that I have felt alive. I have always felt most alive when I slip into this nothingness.

In the moments between the arrival and departure of a train….

In the moments I look out of the window of a speeding bus or train at the moving canvas of landscape that refuses to pause….

In the moments that I am lost amidst an ocean of people….

In the moments that I stare at the infinity of a clear blue sky….

‘Ma’m!’, I heard someone screaming.
I turned around to see three familiar faces, smiling wide at me. My ex-students. Their excited faces lit up my heart. I went back to those days with them. I had loved it….right from the beginning to the end. For a teacher, the most elating moment is when students you have tutored finally begin to ask you questions that make you think. Their batch had given me that moment and I had hugged that moment. We teachers are rather fortunate for even in the modern world, we continue to receive the kind of sincere love and gratitude that perhaps only students are capable of.

We learnt….and we learnt without really realizing it….we learnt with conversations, laughter and lack of fear…we learnt the subject through the fantasies you created. Won’t you come back and teach us again?

This was their question. I smiled. ‘We miss you every single day.‘ I missed them too. For us teachers, there is no comparison between batches and students. But every batch treats us to its unique moments. In retrospect, those moments attain a nostalgic charm. ‘Our Paithalmala trip is pending. You promised you would come!‘. Yes….I had promised them. And I will. For the love of nature and for the love of my students. ‘I am desperately trying to relocate to Kannur. Once I do that, I promise we will go!‘. They beamed and finally, bid goodbye. I watched them walk away and I realized how much I loved my students. All of them. Right from the ones I taught during my postgraduate days to the ones I teach today.

There is something in their emotions that is raw….that carries the excitement, exhilaration and optimism of youth….that instills hope.

Perhaps it is possible to create a better world tomorrow if we work hard today to keep their spirits alive. The sound of the engine in the distance made me look up from my reverie and put an end to my thoughts.

When I reached Kozhikode, it was dusk. I thought back to all those times I had alighted at Kozhikode with my heart soaring. Work had been my greatest motivation and somehow, when things are alright at workplace, everything around you looks beautiful and promising. I loved the feel of Kozhikode, the touch of humanity it still retained, its streets that retained something of its essence.

I have always been able to listen to places and I have always loved places that speak. Kozhikode always spoke to me.

Cities and villages to me, are ancient people, immensely rich in character, brimming with stories. I love them just as I love the wisdom and affection of old people.

It was my greatest desire to explore the length and breadth of this city. There was a strange affection I felt towards the fisherman who let us watch him fish, casting his net deftly into the sea with his practised hands….towards the bearded man in rags, who gazed at the sea, perhaps reminiscing better times in this city….towards the old gentleman on S.M.Street who patiently displayed all his wares for me to see, never taking offence at my curiosity. As Muslims, Hindus and Christians went about their livelihood on crowded market streets, conversing and laughing to drown the ache of the struggle in their lives, religion went unnoticed…

On these streets, one only saw the toil for livelihood that binds humanity.

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With practised skill, he cast the net into the sea....
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An unusual quiet corner of the busy S.M.Street

I shall never forget the palpable warmth of these streets. There was that feeling of wanting to hug every human being here, for Kozhikode still retained a good bit of the humanity that once thrived in abundance in our villages and towns. And perhaps that is why art is very much alive here. For true art thrives on humanity. There is music in the hearts of people here….irrespective of their class or creed. Ghazal nights and classical music concerts cater to Hindus and Muslims alike….to the rich and to the poor. In Kozhikode, music unites people for the people here continue to seek soulful music. People have a deep reverence for education. Book-lovers are in abundance.

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A ghazal night....

A wound within me sends an ache that briefly disrupts this beautiful feeling. The wound is my workplace. Over the last several months, I watched work transform from being an inspiration to something that could no longer move me. Dead and numb is what I have felt. I have spent the last one month at home, dreading to get back to my current workplace. There is such a huge barrier between me and my students. Between what I am eager to give them and what they have always loved to take, there is the ‘system’…

The system, with its political and capitalistic interests, the insecurities and complexes of peers, the complicated nature of the strategical games they play, and all the other nuances you can name.

It is an energy game, and when the energy balance tilts unfavourably, you lose the drive to continue. Then you have to rest and find ways to replete your energy. As I lay in bed, recovering from my flu and anemia and cognitive exhaustion, I felt blank. The strange relief of not having to think or plan. Physical illness sometimes is a blessing for the mind.

Little messages poured in from my students. There were steady interactions with them and at that moment of numbness, it was they who brought back feeling into me. ‘Are you planning to leave the institution?,’ they asked. ‘Most likely‘, I said. ‘We will miss you, but wherever you go, we hope you will keep bringing in a transformation around you.‘ This was their answer.

Students always surprise me. For they leave me awed at what they are capable of. The maturity of thought and the sensitivity they are capable of. From the discussions on Aamir Khan’s statement to the tragedy of the educational system in India, they have surprised me with their insight and their maturity. Something visibly absent in most of their teachers.

I sometimes wish medical colleges were like paramedical colleges or like schools. One teacher exclusively for one subject. It would mean a lot of workload for the teacher, but it would take away the complications. Wishful thinking.

When I stepped into college today after a month’s absence, I felt detached. There was no sense of belonging. I had made up my mind to leave. When was the only question. I sat in my cabin, relieved that I had put an end to months of conflict. Just as I stood up to go and meet the HR, a batch of students I had taught before I had gone on leave, rushed to me, overjoyed at seeing me back. They all spoke simultaneously. Of their relief that I had come back. Of the chapters in my absence that made no sense to them. I was in a dilemma. At the beginning of this year, I had inaugurated classes for them and for the MBBS students. With lots of promises. With words that promised to make the course exciting. With promises of mentorship and opportunities for active learning. Nothing worked out.

The dilemma continues. The conflict between the responsibility towards the students who are waiting for my decision and the need to care for my own self, continues. I wait in uncertainty as decisions hang in the air.

The definitions of success and failure have suddenly blurred in my mind….

Perhaps success is often the outcome of multiple failures that never reached their outcome, but paved the paths to that outcome. Others may walk these paths tomorrow and achieve that outcome, and through them, you see yourself succeeding!

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