Utopia

You must be so happy‘, they said.

About what?‘, I asked.

Your book is getting published! What else?

I sighed.

Yes. I am very happy indeed.

This morning, as I drove to work, I passed the wetlands that have somehow survived the process of urbanization. There are green pastures in the vicinity. Just before Onam, those pastures were transformed into temporary shelters for cows and calves. The animals had been brought from different places. I would peer into those eyes that looked back at me in all innocence. I felt like a traitor. These animals were unsuspecting. They had no clue as to why they had been brought here. The whole day, those scenes played in my mind- the animals grazing on the pastures, the calves nuzzling against each other, little boys playing with some of the calves. After Onam, as I drove that way, none of the animals were around. The pastures and wetlands stared at me in mute silence-

A silence that seemed to echo the screams of hundreds of animals as they were slaughtered.

There is ‘Keagan‘- the calf in the neighbourhood. Every evening, it is at our doorstep for food. Bread, biscuits, oranges, watermelon- it will eat anything, as long as it is not tasteless grass! Keagan is a male calf and will be sent to the slaughterhouse soon. When I pat its forehead and peer into its affectionate eyes, I always think of that moment when this animal would be exposed to man’s brutality…

I wonder what one would see in those eyes then.

I think of my cat that passed away a few months ago. I think of its helplessness as it lay in mute silence, suffering, until death put an end to that suffering.

         Somehow, one can never run away from the pain and suffering that has touched one’s life. Even as one celebrates one’s ‘success’, these faces peer from the abyss of the mind- a reminder of how transient our moments of happiness are and how our happiness is rooted in the happiness of the world in which we live. 

My publisher looks at my book as a commodity. The future of my book is gauged in terms of how it would sell. Profits, expansion, competition– these are the words that govern the modern world. Aspirations are built on the foundation of these words.

If you ask me, I would say anxiety is the dominant feeling that defines my current state. A little excitement, a little happiness, but profound anxiety.

For me, the future of my book is defined by the lives it would touch.

Can my book bring about a social transformation, however little? This is my concern. For me, the publishing of this book is a dream, not an aspiration. And that dream is much larger than just building my identity as an author. That dream revolves around cinema and the human mind.

Cinema, that has been a companion to me in all my lonely moments…

Cinema, that taught me to celebrate my vulnerability…

Cinema, that taught me to love and to live.

When I watch a good movie, I experience a father’s love, a brother’s reassurance,  family moments, and all that I miss in my life. My loneliness abates and I experience the warmth and emotional comfort of a big joint family!

Could my book help people discover themselves? Could my book transform society’s perspective of cinema and revive ‘good cinema’? These questions define my dreams.

So, there is a long way to go. And if my book can bring about such a transformation, that is my happy moment.

        For that happiness is collective happiness- of a society, of a community. And it is only at that moment that the suffering faces that peer from the abyss of my mind will be put to rest. For they would have achieved their purpose in my life.

The journey of a book

Books…

My earliest companions.

I still remember the stories of pigeons and farmers in my textbooks. I still remember the eccentric Kutchu and his family. Those books breathed life into these characters and made me fall in love with them.

I still remember the adventure and fantasy that Enid Blyton’s books treated my young mind to. My brother’s friends would lend me fat comics of Laurel and Hardy, Richie Rich, Archies, Phantom, and many other characters that no longer exist.

I loved long journeys because dad would buy me books. I often had trouble disconnecting from a book. Once I started reading a book, it was important for me to read it at a stretch. I would read books late into the night and have trouble waking up the next day. I would sometimes hide books between the pages of my textbook and read.

To me, books were people. Each, with its own personality and its own story.

While the taste for books changed as time went by and the experience of life percolated into me, my deepest attachment has always been to children’s books. Perhaps because they connect me to the child within- the child that I haven’t lost to the ways of the world.

Despite this deep engagement with books, I never really thought about what it took for that book to find its way out into the world. Not once did I think about that journey- from an abstract thought in a writer’s mind to a visible form. The appeal of the cover, the appeal of the author, the binding of the book, the texture, the layout and organization of the content, the fonts, the pictures, the captions, and a million other things that made me pick a book, were somehow taken for granted.

It is only today as I publish my first book that I awaken to this realization-

The realization that a good book is as much the outcome of its content (that forms the soul of the book) as its aesthetic appeal and its literary quality.

 
When I finished writing my book, I was overjoyed and excited. For years, I have been talking about cinema in the context of mental health. It was first an overwhelming perception, and then an abstract thought. It would seep into my conversations with people. It would seep into my thoughts when I tried to analyze human behaviour in the context of the diversity of circumstances that encompasses human life. Probably, the first time it took some form was when I wrote for a blog on ‘Cinema and mental illness’. The final trigger was the seminar I attended on Film Studies. It took me three months to write the book. I wrote randomly, as and when I found the time.

Once the raw manuscript was ready, I stepped into publishing. Publishing has left me more battered than has the writing. The initial part was enjoyable, because I had to write the blurb, synopsis and defend this book in terms of what made it unique. Writing these made me think critically about my book from different perspectives and increased my clarity with respect to why I had written this book, who my target audience would be, and what message I was trying to bring out through this book.

Publishing, I had hoped, would be a literary experience. But it was far from it. One expects publishing to be a process wherein the manuscript is revised from a literary and aesthetic point of view to make the final outcome worthwhile. But instead, the manuscript steadily moved through book design apps, publishing guidelines and regulations-
A mechanical process that seemed to have abolished human creativity, common sense and intellect.

In fact, there were segments where the aesthetic appeal was so poor that it almost appeared as if they were accidents. The process of revision exhausted me. The words of the manuscript now play even in my sleep for I have read these words innumerable times in the course of these revisions. The only wisdom I have acquired is in terms of what I must not do the next time I publish a book.

And that brings me back to the question of what brings out a really good book. I think one must submit one’s manuscript to a publisher who has a real love for books-

Someone who recognizes the fact that a book is a work of art and not a commercial venture…

Someone who recognizes the fact that market-driven aesthetics have very little to do with the true aesthetic appeal of a book.

So is the case with editing. One must get one’s manuscript edited by someone who has a love for language, and is unwilling to compromise on the literary standards.

As the taste of this publishing experience lingered in my mouth, I was tempted to have a look at the books that I have collected over time. For the first time, I looked at their cover, their interiors, and many other aspects that I had always overlooked. And for the first time today, I see the journey that these books have taken to be here on my shelf!

Behind the Screens

I remember this conversation I had with a student of mine.

I like to be different. I don’t like the mundane. I have always wanted to be different from the crowd‘, he said.

Being different is in vogue. Eccentricity is a fashion statement. It doesn’t matter what you do to be different. You could dye your hair gray (purple is already taken!) or you could opt out of an employment just so that you make yourself different from the crowd. An emblem that says ‘I am different. So please pay attention!’

 

However, people seldom realize what it takes to be different. Different not by way of an emblem, but different as in ‘different’!

The commonest statement I hear about my own self from people is- ‘You are different‘.

Years ago, I remember somebody who liked me.

But what is it about me that you like?‘ I asked.

You are different.‘ he said.

I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at that time. I wasn’t even sure if it was a good thing.

Years ago, when I appeared for my first interview abroad, and the consultant asked me what brought me abroad, I told him how much I loved travelling and how career was the best excuse to travel. I was certain I was being very raw and childish in my answers. At the end of the interview, these were his words:

You will not have trouble making your way up in this country. You are different!

I remember the man who had kept me company when I had missed my train to Edinburgh and hopped on to another train, desperate to catch the last connecting train at Newcastle. When we made it on time, and I bid goodbye to the man, he said to me- ‘You are different!

Thereafter, many people said this to me…

A stranger who narrated to me the entire story of his life when I was travelling in the bus…

Madan, who became my best friend when I was abroad…

More recently, my patients and my students.

Today, as I publish my first book, I hear the same statement.

So what made me different?

The truth is that I was vulnerable and suffered from low self-esteem. As a child, it was not so. My world was resplendent with the love and affection of my parents, my extended family and my friends. It was a world of bliss and I spent all my childhood, lost in my perceptions of this beautiful world. It was adolescence that broke this bubble. I was suddenly self-conscious and anxious. I thought of all my friends as beautiful, and myself as ugly in comparison. They seemed to be so sure, so certain of what looked good and what didn’t.

They seemed to know it all- the best places to hang out, the best movies in town, the best shade of lipstick to wear, the right thing to say, the right thing to do.

I was suddenly having trouble making choices. I was having trouble participating in conversations. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that this was not my cup of tea. I came to acceptance of the fact that I was never going to be like them, however hard I tried. I think it was this acceptance that made me focus on my perceptions. The feeling that I was not interesting or attractive, caused me to focus on my surroundings and shift the dais to other people. I loved being inconspicuous and anonymous.

I would always be lost in my surroundings for I always found them far more interesting than I ever was.

I think it was this involvement with my surroundings that gave me a glimpse of the world that would have been impossible otherwise. I saw things which I might not have seen otherwise. It was this lack of need for attention that always seemed to capture attention- sometimes from the best of people. In fact, I would often be uncomfortable when people paid attention to me. I would be shy and clumsy, and would make a fool of myself. And yet, some of those people were very kind and loving. I think it was this aspect of me that captured the best of friends and the best of experiences.

It took me a very long time to get comfortable with attention. I wouldn’t claim that I am fully comfortable with it now- I am only comfortable with attention when I am talking about something I am passionate about, and people are focusing on the content of my conversation, and not on me. Or when I am in the company of very close friends.

But in general, attention continues to make me blush…visibly!

 

 

Nobody understands me!

It was Saturday night. The phone rang. My friend was on the line.

‘How is it possible for me to get back to this marriage, after all that he has done? It is a question of my integrity. He expects me to get back with him, considering the picture he has painted of me to my children? How will my children ever respect me again? He expects me to forgive him, considering the humiliation I have suffered on account of him? What respect will my parents, my relatives and our family friends have for me? I can never forgive him for this. Everybody wants us to get back together, but how? For the kids, they say. But am I not a person too? Don’t I have a right to my life? What about my feelings? Why is nobody seeing that? ‘

These were my friend’s words to me as she talked to me about the current predicament that had destroyed her peace.

I was aware of her suffering. And I was aware that this suffering was chronic. She had endured this for years now. Her husband had always failed to see her emotional needs. They remained unfulfilled. These unfulfilled emotional needs had thereby governed her attitude to life.

On Sunday, my friend sent me a voice recording of her conversation with her daughter.

‘So what have you guys decided, Ma?’

‘About what, baby?’, my friend asked her.

‘About the separation. I don’t want you guys to separate, Ma!’

‘Listen, baby. You don’t think about all this now. Your exams are round the corner. You concentrate on that. When you come home for vacation, we will all sit together and discuss about this.’

‘How can I not think about it, Ma? When people take such stupid decisions, how can I not think about it?’

The child had started crying.

I listened to the entire conversation, including the child’s conversation with her dad. There was only one question that the child was struggling with:

What about my feelings? Why is nobody thinking about me? Why is nobody understanding me?

I was devastated after listening to that conversation.

The subsequent week, my friend’s parents had come over to meet me.

‘She is our daughter. And while we do understand that it is difficult for a woman to put up with such psychological assaults, she is equally responsible for these issues. All along, her solution to all the problems in her life was escapism. Her life style, her friends circle, and the current predicament, is as much the outcome of her flawed ways, as her husband’s flawed behaviour.’

These were her father’s words. He added:

‘I have long given up on my daughter. She does not know the value of relationships. Her relationship with her parents and with her own children are very shallow. She lives in the belief that she is wise, but in truth, she is a fool. Being proficient in your job or being technology savvy have very little to do with the wisdom of life. I wonder when she will understand this. Has she ever thought about our sorrow as parents? There has not been one gesture on her part that has ever made us feel that she has any concern for us. Her mother is only an unpaid servant in her house. Not once, will she sit down with her mother and have a conversation. Not once has she called me and asked me about my well-being. Our simplicity is no longer acceptable to her. It no longer matches her status.’

I sighed. These parents were also struggling with the same feelings-

What about us? Why doesn’t our daughter understand us?

After they left, I sat down at my desk. As I ruminated on the issue, my eyes fell on the DVDs that I had piled up on the table. I scanned through them. I stopped when I came across the poster of ‘Sneham‘. On an impulse, I decided to wathc the film all over again.

Sneham, written by T.A.Razak, who passed away recently. Director Kamal had written a long column on his memories of T.A.Razak. I started watching the film.

Sneham is the story of Padmanabhan Nair, who is compelled to take up the role of a father to his younger siblings, on account of the untimely death of his father. Padmanabhan Nair manages the household to the best of his abilities and caters to the emotional and financial needs of his siblings. His deep reverence for his father forms the basis for the meaning he derives from this role. He keeps to himself his struggles and hardships. The siblings fail to understand the hardships and sacrifices that have gone into this journey, and refuse to acknowledge this. They choose their own paths and devalue the merit of their older brother. Despite Padmanabhan Nair’s shock and hurt at the insensitivity of his siblings, he accepts their inability to understand or value his feelings. This acceptance enables him to move on, despite the fact that his altruism causes him to sacrifice the very woman he had loved and intended to marry.

As his siblings desert him, he shifts his attention to the invalid Manikutty who is his neighbour and who is paralyzed and bed bound. Manikutty has no expectations of life; she regards herself as worthless and her physical dependence on her mother causes her much sorrow. Manikutty liberates her pain in her paintings and creative pursuits. She lets the world come in through the window of the room that she is confined to. The window is her window to the beautiful perceptions of a world that is denied to her- the breeze, the rain, the sunshine, the darkness, the light of lamps in the darkness, the thiruvathira songs that come floating in the silence of the night…

Manikutty’s fragile world is sustained solely by her mother for they have no family to fall back on. One night, her mother succumbs to an acute abdominal pain and dies. Manikutty’s world is shattered.

I started crying as I watched this part of the film. I paused the film. I always cry when I watch this segment of the film. Those helpless and lonely moments that are lurking in the darkness, waiting to throw us off balance, while we go about our lives, unsuspecting.

We spend all our lives, complaining about not being understood. We believe that others are responsible for our misery because they do not understand us and do not value our feelings. It is only when life snatches those elements of our lives that we have always taken for granted that we learn to appreciate the abundance in our lives.

Lohithadas once said:

Life will not warn you. It will not ask you if you can swim. It will just throw you into the sea…without warning. You will cry and scream, but nobody will rescue you. And then, you will learn to swim in the sea. For that is the only choice you have! You will swim and survive, or you will drown.

You cannot question the unfairness of life. You cannot expect life to understand you. You have no choice but to embrace all that life metes out to you.

I think once this understanding seeps into us, we become more accepting of life and of people. And that acceptance often moulds us into individuals who have immense potential at resilience. And resilience is a far superior trait in the art of survival, than is intellect or logic.

It is not the strongest of species that survive, but the most resilient- the ones most capable of change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The empty nest

Karthika

Her name is not Karthika, but I will call her that. She reminds me of the old Malayalam actress Karthika. To me, Karthika was synonymous with melancholy. Even when she smiled, there was that sorrow that hid beneath her smile.

A sorrow that had lost its fury…

A sorrow that gave her character…

Like a black mole on a pretty face.

It was when I was working as a guest lecturer that I met Karthika. She was my student. She was a quiet girl who kept to herself- the kind of person who was comfortable not being noticed. She was more or less invisible. It was as if she saw nothing of worth in herself.

So it came as a sort of surprise to me when I was told that she was the class topper. I couldn’t remember much of her from my classes. My tenure of work in that institution only lasted a few months for I moved on to a permanent job.

Many months later, their college principal called me to ask if I could take classes for the new batch during my leisure hours. I had a deep regard for that lady and besides, I had developed a strange attachment to that institution. So I agreed.

I started taking classes for the new batch. The old students that I had taught would often stop by and speak to me. It was then that I noticed Karthika. She was very shy and barely opened her mouth, but she would never miss an opportunity to catch me during these classes. Sometimes, she would wait until I had finished my class for the juniors, just so as to get a glimpse of me. She would smile shyly, but would be too tongue tied to utter a word.

‘She is your die-hard fan!’, a friend of hers told me once.

‘But why?’

I would look at her for an answer, but she would only smile.

Their results were out in a few weeks after I had joined. Karthika topped with a distinction. She was the first distinction student from that college. I was very perplexed by her personality, but since my associations were very brief, I did not reflect much on it.

Meanwhile, my birthday was approaching. The 22nd of March. I had almost forgotten about it and was busy chopping vegetables one Sunday morning, when the doorbell rang. I was surprised to see Karthika and her friend.

‘We happened to pass by. So we thought we would drop in’, her friend said.

As always, Karthika said nothing. She only smiled. I tried to start up a conversation, but Karthika barely spoke. Her conversation was limited to one-liners in response to my questions. Her friend made up for it. Finally, they stood up and were about to leave. At that point, Karthika clumsily took out a cover and put it on the table.

‘This is for you’, she said.

There was a gift and a card in that cover. A birthday card. It was only then that I remembered my birthday was round the corner.

I was quite shocked. I couldn’t understand why this child was going out of the way to make me feel happy and loved. I had done nothing for her. I had not spent a long time with them either. Anyway, I thanked them and they left.

The next Sunday, I invited them for lunch. I picked them up from their hostel and Karthika was full of excitement. Her friend told me she hadn’t slept ever since I had invited them. They spent time with me until evening and then I dropped them at the hostel. Karthika’s face was very downcast.

After that episode, she would always come up to me with little gifts when I went to take classes for the juniors. Earrings, chocolates, cards. And she would expect nothing in return. All she wanted was my presence in her life.

I was very perplexed by this whole affair. I could sense a dependence in the child’s attachment to me. I hadn’t seen that in any of the other students who were drawn to me. It was almost as if my presence in her life was a lifeline- something she couldn’t do without. I was aware that her mother worked abroad. Her mother had left when Karthika was a child; the child had spent all her childhood missing her mother. Though her mother tried to make up for her absence by constantly communicating to the child through whats app, skype and phone calls, the child craved for her physical presence. Perhaps certain aspects of my personality provided her an emotional security that she was seeking all along. A phenomenon of transference perhaps?

Karthika was more comfortable with text messages than with face to face conversations. I once asked her who her best friend was.

Sowmya‘, she replied.

‘Why?’

Sowmya taught me a few things about life. Her father passed away when she was a child, but Sowmya makes a celebration of life. I like that about her. She keeps her sorrows to herself, and goes about wiping the tears of the people in her life. One would almost be fooled into thinking that she had no sorrows of her own.’

The child seemed to have insight. When she talked, she talked with a maturity that one couldn’t associate with her childish simplicity.

I spent more time with her. In all my time with her, she would go out of the way to make me happy. What bothered me was her dependence. She was fragile. She could not bear separation of any sort. After a phone call, when I hung up, she would struggle with the separation. If we met up, she would be happy and excited all along, but when it came to saying goodbye, she couldn’t confront that moment of parting. She was dangerously dependent on relationships.

I talked about it to her once.

‘You value relationships a lot. And that is a quality that is so rare in the modern world. But slowly, you must learn to outgrow the dependence, especially in a world where there is so much hurt and insensitivity all around. If somebody you are close to, leaves you for any reason, you mustn’t break down. You must be able to move on. That is all that worries me’, I said to her.

‘I know. But I am unable to even think of such a thing. I am emotionally unstable. I cannot control my emotions. Once, I had been to a psychiatrist for this issue.’

‘Hmmm. When was that?’

‘When I was in 10th standard. I had study holidays and my mom had come over. When she left, I became very disturbed. I felt so turbulent that I wanted to destroy everything. I even made attempts at suicide.’

‘Did meeting the psychiatrist help?’

‘No. In fact, it was after meeting the psychiatrist that I felt suicidal.’

I smiled to myself. The new generation psychiatrists!

‘I suppose it is to do with your mother’s chronic absence. As a child, the separation must have been very painful. And when we are children, we cannot rationalize pain. So we resist the feeling. And the resistance grows over time. Each time your mother leaves, it probably replicates the pain that is unresolved in your mind.’ I said to her.

‘No. I had never felt that way before. In fact, I would never get along with her when she would come home for vacations. I would find fault with everything she did. When she finally left, I would get back to the life I was used to. I had always been comfortable with solitude.’

‘Hmmm. Then why did you feel different that time?’

Karthika struggled to speak up.

‘That time, I felt I would lose my mother for good.’

‘Why?’

‘I found out that my mother was into a relationship with somebody.’

‘Huh?’

‘My parents have never been in good terms. But left to their own, they are nice people. But they can’t get along. That vacation, I accidentally discovered a few text messages and voice messages on my mother’s phone that made me feel she is into a relationship. I confronted her with this question. She reacted aggressively and warned me that if I went on questioning her, I would never see her again. She had actually come for 2 months of vacation, but she went back after a month. That disturbed me. I couldn’t take that feeling of losing my mother.’

I was speechless.

‘What happened after that?’, I asked.

‘Well, I became very aggressive and turbulent. And suicidal. I couldn’t study. My teachers had to take me to their place in order to help me concentrate on my studies.’

‘How did you get over it then?’

‘I ran into Sowmya at that time. I would tell her everything, and she would talk to me. Somehow, her companionship would help me find peace with myself. I would forget the unpleasantness of the whole situation.’

‘Hmmm. So how are things now?’

‘During her last visit, mom admitted that she is into a relationship. She had no choice but to admit. She probably intends to go for a divorce now. She told me that she has suffered a lot in her life and cannot take that anymore. She told me that she can only ask me for forgiveness for this decision.’

I was speechless. I did not talk anymore about this issue.

I thought of one of my friends who is in the process of a separation. Her children are aghast at the separation. But my friend is convinced that the children can be made to understand that relationships sometimes don’t work. And then you have to let go of them.

From my experience with children, I have always felt that children are most comfortable with the integrity of their world. Unless they themselves share a traumatic relationship with one of the parents, they are never really comfortable with a divorce. They may make a conscious effort to understand the circumstances that have led to the divorce, but ultimately the divorce leaves a scar on the child’s mind. A scar that the child or parents may not be aware of, but that will manifest in their behaviour at different points in time.

I want to talk to my friend about Karthika. Perhaps it could make a difference to her perspective towards the whole issue. Karthika’s condition is labeled as ‘borderline personality disorder’ in psychiatry. But once you have heard the story, you can only laugh at labels-

Those labels that limit the infinite possibilities of the human mind!

 

 

Lonely in the crowd

I don’t like the way you scare these stray cats!‘, my mother said to me.

Do I scare them, mom?‘ I asked.

Yes. I don’t like the way you scream at it. It would frighten the poor creature. And you call yourself an animal lover!‘, said my mom.

I don’t mean to frighten it, mom! I just like taunting it. The way kids taunt each other. I only mean to say ‘Caught you!’ when I am screaming like that!

Yes, but it doesn’t know that, right?

Hmm…true. But I keep imagining it understands. Somehow, I feel it thinks of me as a fellow cat.

Indeed!‘, said my mom.

I smiled to myself. My mom was probably right. But then, for years now, animals have been my companions. I identify with them so much that I often forget I am a human being.

The world of humans is very frightening and confusing to me. I no longer know how to behave in their world. I no longer know what behaviour qualifies as normal in their world. I am so worried that my ’emotional excesses’ would be labelled as abnormal that I prefer to keep a certain distance in most of my relationships with humans.

But that is not me. I am myself when I am with nature. Or when I am in the company of animals. In this world, my behaviour stems from my feelings. Animals don’t care about the content of my conversation; they care more about the tone and the gestures. And I have always been more comfortable with this non-verbal language that directly connects to my emotions. Only when I write or teach, the words feed off my emotions. At all other times, I am guarded with humans.

Animals reciprocate so well to the language I speak to them that I feel one with them. I am more connected to the stories from their world than to the stories from human life. Where does one find stories in human life today? Most of the time, I only find numbness.

In the evening, I was watering the plants. I suddenly heard a commotion and as I walked towards the gate to investigate the source of this commotion, a cat squeezed in through the gate. There were six dogs chasing it and barking at it. The cat was running for its life. Fortunately, the dogs could not squeeze through the gate. By the time I had figured out what was happening, the cat had spotted me. It was frightened and it ran towards the backyard. I was worried that it would go out through the gate at the back of the house and run straight into the dogs. I went to the backyard to inspect and did not find the cat there. I could see the dogs just outside, waiting for the cat to appear. I took some water and sprinkled it on them. They ran away. I walked to the other side of the house and was shocked to see the cat crouching on the fence, shivering in fright. It was aware of my presence, but was probably so frightened of the dogs that it decided to confront me than confront the dogs. I stood just where I was, hoping I hadn’t scared it. It waited for a while and then jumped off the fence.

At dusk, I lit up the lamps in the courtyard.

Today was Onam. But all around me, was darkness and loneliness. I sat in the courtyard, lost in quiet reflection. The night was still and silent. Only the sound of crickets broke the silence of the night. There was not a sound from the houses in the neighbourhood. Not even the sound of television. The lights were faint. The only sound I could hear was the clanking of vessels from my own house. I regarded the faint light of the lamp. It was reminiscent of my own spirit. In the deep darkness and loneliness of my life, I could find within me a faint glow that had somehow survived. Yes, it was beautiful. But it was lonely and scared. It didn’t know how much longer it would burn.

For a moment, I wondered how I would feel in my mother’s absence. This beautiful house and its beautiful premises in my mother’s absence. This Onam in my mother’s absence. My eyes welled up with tears. Even the thought was frightening and miserable. How did I end up becoming so lonely? My mother’s big family. The family that gave me the best childhood one could ask for. The family that created the most beautiful childhood memories one could ask for. Today, they were strangers in our lives. My father’s big family. They had never been close. But that hadn’t stopped them from exploiting us. The beautiful circle of friends I had left behind in Bangalore. But I couldn’t go back to Bangalore now.

I have often been tempted to stop those lonely people I see on the street and ask them-‘What is your story?’. The woman who walks the streets alone, her hair unwashed and unkempt, coiled and knotted like the roots of an ancient tree. The beggars who sleep under the shade of the banyan tree at Town Square. The mad man who sits at the bus stop, talking to himself. It is only when life passes through us that we learn to notice the faces that do not feature otherwise in the scheme of our lives.

Suddenly, I think of the cat that was trying to escape the clutches of the dogs and running for dear life. There is so much suffering in this world that goes unnoticed. Even as we celebrate Onam with grandeur, there are millions of people who are suffering quietly. Millions of creatures who have nobody to complain to. 

I put off the lamps and step inside the house. I talk to my mother about what I feel. As I talk, I start crying. My mother is perhaps the only woman who is aware that beneath all the extroversion and courage I put up, I guard a fragile mind. My mother talks about the truth in nature and about faith. We talk about the solutions we can think of. I have a good cry and then I feel better.

Prayer and crying are often synonymous to me. It is only in my moments of vulnerability that I can cry. To cry is to drop all the defenses and let go. To cry is to expose the wounds of the soul to an invisible force of nature that unveils itself only in these moments and listens to you.

In a few minutes, I am back to my usual self. I am excited about my book and I am excited about many other things. That moment of vulnerability has passed.

This morning, I hear my mother calling out to me.

Look who is here at the gate!‘, says my mother.

By now, I know that if my mother is excited about someone at the gate, it must be an animal. I think it is the calf that visits us every evening and demands food. Or perhaps a cat that my mother has spotted. But it is not. It is Milky. Milky is a white stray dog that had once wandered to our house and that we had fed. I had given it biscuits and chocolate. It had come a second time, wagging its tail. But after that, it has disappeared. We had waited every day in the hope that it would appear, but it hadn’t. And here it was, wagging its tail and smacking its lips.

Milky! Where were you? You finally remembered us!

We put out biscuits and the dog ate hungrily. I thought of the people of Kerala. A lady had said she would take any risk to ensure that all stray dogs would be caught and killed. A priest had honoured her. At this moment, I wasn’t quite sure whether these dogs deserved to be killed or we humans ought to be killed.

Happy Onam!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Summer, the Desert and the Digamma

The first time that I read this post, I couldn’t read beyond the first few lines. I was speechless and unable to do anything at all for a few minutes. I felt everything that I had prided myself on, until this moment in time, was futile. I felt a strange helplessness…a strange awakening in me.
The last several years of my life have been about self-preservation and survival. While I helplessly watched a beautiful and emotional world fade away from my life, I found myself driven by the need to survive and to protect my self-worth in a world where there was no place for vulnerability. I succeeded in the survival game, but there were nights when I would desperately fight the anxiety that seemed to appear out of nowhere and frighten me. I couldn’t figure out the cause of this anxiety for a long time. It was much later that I realized the anxiety was born out of the numbness that filled my moments of nothingness. My mind was so accustomed to the sublime emotions that had filled these moments of nothingness in the past that it was anxious at the numbness that had replaced them. I slowly reverted to reading and to films. Where else can one find emotions in the modern world? Like Mini describes in this post, the desert within my mind and its longing for the green. For what once was, and now isn’t.
I have never asked Mini why she has never published a book. But then, that doesn’t come as a surprise in today’s world. In a world where formula and market-driven goals decide the fate of art, the artist is uncelebrated. After reading Mini’s posts, it has become difficult for me to easily like anything. Most of the time, I find my own words very hollow. Recently, someone recommended a blog post that they found overwhelming. I couldn’t find anything in it. And now I know why standards are important in art. Art should set very high standards because only then will true essence find its way to the minds of the vulnerable minds that need it. I have realized in the course of my life that vulnerability defines life. And only vulnerability is capable of preserving the beauty that characterizes life. It is the vulnerable souls who need art to preserve their own spirit. The only responsibility we have towards this planet is to preserve the stories- stories that capture the essence of all our lives, in the words we write or the memories we create- the medium is immaterial. Mini, I can never thank you enough for the life your words instill in me- the patch of green that they awaken in the desert of my mind.

of shoes 'n ships

Desert sky

We entered our sixth year saddened and in pain.

Every day my son asks me,

‘How long my father, until we return?

I miss the children of our street,

I miss the taste of our water

And the weather of our gorgeous country.’

Shiva read out the lines to me this morning. Written by Salam Ashara, a Syrian refugee. It was part of an article on refugees in an old edition of Gulf News, one that fell out of a shirt that came from the laundry. The launderers here fold the clothes around newspapers while ironing – perhaps for ‘structural support’ as Appu insists, or, as I suspect, for the fresh, crackling sound it gives off when you touch it.

Just a few lines of poetry, crisp like a starched and ironed cotton shirt. Lines written by a father who wants to keep his country alive for his children. How…

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