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!








2 thoughts on “Lonely in the crowd

  1. It takes courage to open up – whether in life or in writing. I admire yours – you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable. Keep writing, Vidya. That’s the best therapy – for loneliness, among other things.

    1. Mini,
      Writing is a blessing, isn’t it? It is one of the few places where I have preserved my vulnerability. While every writing is unique on its own terms, I have always found myself most fascinated by those ones that lay bare the struggles, pain and suffering that characterizes human life. Perhaps this is the reason why I was most drawn to Lohithadas, T.A.Razak and the likes. I think one has to go through immense suffering in order to be able to write like that. I worship all those people who taught me to see the value in our stories of vulnerability. I wonder if anybody can ever replace Lohithadas- his script, in particular. The power of language!

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