When you are made of stardust-I

I had felt a wall come between me and the world.

That was exactly how I felt. I watched with envy and sadness people talking, laughing and making merry. How fortunate they were, to be surrounded by people! They always had somebody to lend a hand- drive them around, take them shopping, take them to the hospital, take the burden off their shoulders. They could comfortably break down and crash because everything would automatically be taken care of. And here I was, running errands until the day before my surgery. I was my own chauffeur, my own maid, my own parent, my own friend. Not that there was nobody to help, but since the people who were willing to help were not familiar with my world, I would have to help them first- orient them and settle them into the role. There was nobody who was familiar enough to just take over without having to be told anything.

I played parent and child. The rational part of me was the parent. The frightened part of me was the child. The rational part of me did all there was to be done- the routine chores from which there was no escape, the hospital visits and the tests, the planning and organization that went into the surgery, and everything else. I remember how two days before the surgery, I had been out in the sun all day long, and returned to the car, only to find that the car keys had disappeared. I had finally given up the search and returned home for spare keys. If I had stayed longer, I would certainly have collapsed from a sun stroke. I remember feeling miserable that day.

The rational part of me also tried to keep my fears at bay. I worked part time until a week before the surgery, just to keep myself pleasantly distracted. I took myself out on nature walks. During those walks, I would hunt for lonely snakes and reptiles that were shunned and abhorred by the world, and feel this desire to hold them close. I would treat myself. I bought myself two chairs- a rocking chair and a recliner. I thought of the days after surgery when I would comfortably sit on these and read or write or just be. The child in me was pacified.  I remember how I had done dishes, washed clothes, swept, mopped and watered the plants until the last day. My neighbours had seen me at these chores and they were shocked when finally, on the day of the surgery, I told them that I was off to the hospital for a surgery. It was only then that they had known. People in these parts are different from city dwellers. They are very selfish and calculative. Every act must be justified in their minds in terms of potential benefits and losses. They will never do anything out of humanity. They shut themselves out all the more when they stand the risk of being approached for help. And so, I found it sensible to only tell them as we were leaving for the hospital.

In the weeks preceding the surgery, I also picked up something to obsess over. I felt the obsession was necessary to drown my misery. I needed something that would keep me glued enough to mop up all the misery until I was back to myself. In this, God helped me. I had been playing a lot of music. One Sunday, I listened to the golden voice of Michael Jackson singing ‘Heal the World’. There was something about that voice that cut through the frozen ice of misery in my heart and made me feel so overcome that I cried. I felt touched by something I couldn’t define or describe. My mother felt it too.

That was what triggered it- this obsession. I realized I was muddled about the events surrounding his death. I went back to a chapter I had opened a long time ago in 2009 when he passed away, but hadn’t done justice to. I looked at him as a child- the chubby little kid who was part of the Jackson 5, singing ABC. I was mesmerized. I watched his interview with Oprah Winfrey. The more I read about him, the more I listened to him speak, the more I felt that invisible force that was trying to say something to me- across time, across space. About him, and therefore, about myself. I realized I had the clue to my personality in his life. I also realized how grossly misunderstood he was. But then, it has always been like that…

The most beautiful souls have always been the most misunderstood. For they are made up of stardust, and not of the matter that ordinary people are made up of.

Towards my surgery, Michael became a living presence in my life. His views of the world, his love for the planet and for children and animals, his love for ballads, his self-conscious and shy nature, his oneness with music, the honesty and truth about his persona- they mirrored my internal world. I can talk to you about Michael as I talk about my own self. The night before the surgery, I remember looking up at the sky and asking, “Michael, Are you there?” In the rustling of the wind that blew through the trees, in the stars that shone in the sky, in the life that flowed in my veins, he was there…

He, and millions of others who have walked these paths before me. The Masters. The ones who belong to the tree of life, of which I am a part too. 

 

 

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Don’t love me

They say they love me. They demonstrate it by showering gifts on me. By making cards for me. By making temple offerings for me. By turning up unannounced at my house and spending hours talking to me.

I appreciate their sentiments, but I wish they understood me. I find it hard to reciprocate to the kind of love where there is a lot of display of emotion, but no understanding. I find it more of an obsession, than love: This constant need to see me, to be with me (sometimes not even knowing what to talk about), to idolize and worship me. Without once understanding the sort of private person that I am.

Yes, I am a private person. That doesn’t mean I am not talkative or I am secretive. It means I have a private world of my own- a place where I like to be, most of the time. It is a world that is like a workspace to me- a workdesk where I am surrounded by perceptions, half done thoughts, fantasies- all arriving at something interesting, something that has a potential for beauty. I cannot afford to be interrupted, especially by mundane affairs. It is often a big struggle, balancing the routine of my life with this world which is my real world- the world to which I belong. And that doesn’t mean I don’t make time for humanitarian concerns, but it disturbs me when people intrude my space because of their obsession for me. I love time spent with suffering souls who seek me because in my words, they may find some hope- some alleviation of their suffering. If my words can provide them consolation and perspective, I cherish the interaction. I love conversations that revolve around something that has fascinated me and intrigued me deeply. The intricacies of somebody’s personality. Of why somebody is the way they are. The challenges in life and the way people confront these challenges. Books I love and the lives and minds of the authors who wrote them. Similarly, music or movies I love and the people who went into their making. Social and political issues that haunt the world. The lives of our fellow creatures. The love for nature. Educational tools that foster imagination, learning and creativity. I love talking about all these. I love talking about anything that revolves around creation of the ideal world that exists in my mind. A world where everybody is happy- their souls are happy. Where our children are happy and not broken. Where there are no mental illnesses, no suffering. This is also the reason why on my next vacation, I wish to visit Bhutan. A country that values spiritual development over and above economic development. Where developmental models incorporate conservation of natural resources.

The truth is I am constantly restless. I am happiest when I am creating. At other times, I am not really myself; there is something missing. But the moment there is a half thought that is waiting to reveal itself- a new thought, I am all happy and excited. For I am creating. It is there in the background as a delicious feeling, and I desire constant engagement with that perception to bring it to visibility. And be enthralled. At such times, intrusion is unacceptable to me. Unless necessary.

I have tried telling people that the best way to demonstrate their love for me, is to love my work…my art. And most importantly, to respect my privacy. I wish they could understand that ‘I’ don’t really exist; there is only the reflection of a beautiful world that exists within me. My mother often says that she sees me as a person who is not really here, but is in that other world- that world where there is no material self, but only the mind. I am grateful to her for her understanding.

I am a lot like the notes in music. When a note in the environment resonates with me, I respond unconsciously to it, and that explains the purity of the emotion that I feel and reflect. I don’t add anything of my own to it; I merely embody that perception and reflect it. This phenomenon defines an artist. But the notes that govern the routine affairs of the world- they are not part of the music within me. So I fail to embody them. 

I wish people would understand. I can no longer commit to people. Not that I don’t love them or that I consider myself superior. I truly believe that there is nothing of value in my material identity. But the very meaning of my life revolves around my engagement with my perceptions and the revelations thereby. I thrive on such unconscious learning; I think of myself as a student for life. My commitment is only to my internal world. I wish people would understand and give me this freedom to be. 

Heal the world

It was the first time I had heard him speak. Until then, I had only heard him sing. He reminded me vaguely of people like Padmarajan, Vincent van Gogh or Professor John Nash. He was shy when he spoke. Shy in an adorable way. Shy with a self-conscious smile that reflected a certain disowning of his material identity. Here was a celebrity. And no ordinary celebrity, but the king of Pop himself. But when he spoke, it was a self-conscious child that spoke. He blushed and his tone was far from assertive. The words were few, but they were beautiful. The way only words from a child’s heart can be. When he was ten, Michael Jackson had said,”I sing what I feel and mean. If I don’t mean it, I can’t sing it.”

There are others I know who are shy in a similar way. My neighbour Swathi. One of my ex-students. One of my aunts. And me myself. It was something that always made me uncomfortable; I was always self-conscious. Now when I look back, I realise where it came from. It came from the inability to ‘grow up’. My natural state has always been that of a child- eternally absorbing the environment, reveling in its sights and sounds, losing myself to the fantasy created thus in my mind. Imagination and fantasy defines the natural state of my mind; I am often lost to it. And so, when somebody interrupts this continuous perception and fantasy, I am suddenly awakened from my reverie. Then I don’t know what to do or how to respond. Because this is the only world I am familiar with. The only situation I am comfortable with is when the other person demonstrates an interest in my perceptions or imagination and finds something of value in it. Then I lose the shyness, and metamorphosize into just the opposite personality. I am comfortable talking about the magic of the world within me, but not about me as such. For there is nothing to talk about me. There are only weaknesses and flaws to talk about. I feel I have none of the worldly attributes that most other people have; I lack that kind of skill and thinking capacity. I am an automaton, driven purely by unconscious forces- forces beyond my control. I see the same trait in all the people I have mentioned here. 
“I don’t think on stage. I feel. I am one with the music and that drives my performance on stage”, said Michael Jackson when asked what makes such an introverted, private person a born performer on stage, the inhibitions all gone and replaced by what is nothing short of genius. Yes. It is this automaton in him that responds to the music that he is moved by. After all, genius is the product of the unconscious. It can never come from the conscious. Genius, in simple terms, boils down to the ability to stay raw. The ability to respond as an automaton to what moves us. And thus, to create from within. Create something that is alive…something that overwhelms and moves. 

The creative mind, deep within, is trapped in eternal childhood. It refuses to outgrow this childhood. It is all feeling and fantasy that automatically brews into art- the most beautiful art.

Over the years, I have learned to accept this shyness as an inseparable part of my personality. Now, when I understand the larger picture, I am at peace with it. Of course, it is embarrassing at times, but I have learned to live with this shyness and social anxiety. Also, I can now identify it in others and I find myself bonding to such souls on an altogether different plane.
As I listen to ‘Heal the world’ and the old Jackson 5 numbers, my heart goes out to MJ. He is no more, but he will live on in my mind forever. 

An unwelcome companion

I had felt it for a while now. This lump on the left side of my abdomen. Most likely, benign. Hopefully benign. When I had read about it all as a medical student, I had only a technical understanding of it. But when it appeared in flesh and blood, it was an altogether different perception.

It was a strange feeling to even feel it- a lump that was very much my own body, and yet not normal. Within that lump were my own cells. Very much alive. Breathing, eating, growing. That lump belonged to me. It was my own life that throbbed in it. And yet, it had to be removed. I would obsessively run my hands over it, and feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want it, but it was there. An unwelcome companion. Sometimes, I would feel it and wonder what made it grow. Some day, something happened that made those cells change character and grow. Grow prolifically without direction or purpose. I would let the question hang in the air. Only those cells knew the answer. If only they could speak!

Illness is always like that. It catches you off-guard. It is always that unwelcome companion that throws your life off balance. To be a doctor is a beautiful thing. It empowers you. But to be a patient is perhaps the worst nightmare. And doctors are more alien to this nightmare and least equipped to confront its horrors for they are often spared much of the routine confrontation with illness, hospitals, tests and medicines that other people are accustomed to. Doctors always sit on the opposite side of illness and are seldom aware of what it means to sit on the side of the illness.

It was a different world I saw from the perspective of a patient. I felt the agony of waiting. The agony and discomfort of tests. I felt the paranoia as I tried to read into the frown of the surgeon as he carefully assessed the lump. I felt the paranoia as I tried to read into the grimaces of the radiologists who appeared confused as they tried to interpret the scan. I realized how intimidating gadgets were in the setting of illness. I hated the MRI machine that looked like a grim robot scanning me with no compassion at all. Somehow, seconds feel like hours in a hospital.

To the doctor, illness is a mere conundrum of symptoms and signs that needs to be addressed; it is merely a technical issue that needs to be resolved. But for the patient, it is an overpowering phenomenon that has changed the very course of his life. It weighs him down physically, emotionally, psychologically.

I underwent a psychological metamorphosis as the reality of my predicament sunk in. I felt guilty in a strange way. I suddenly felt an aversion for all extravagance; particularly food. I could no longer bear to eat anything in excess; I lost the desire to eat for pleasure.

While I was still working and continuing the normal routine of my life, there was an illusion of normalcy. But it wasn’t this illusion I wanted. The first instinct I felt was to cut off from people- especially people I knew. I felt the need to withdraw into myself- to tap into the strength that I could find there. I needed it now, plenty of it. I only interacted with my family and with a very close circle of friends I needed to fall back on.

I also craved for the peace that nature instilled in me. I felt this deep longing for places that offered solitude- old orchards and groves that housed mango trees, jackfruit trees and cashew trees and where there was no sound, except for the rustling of leaves and the cooing of birds. I loved treading on the dried leaves that carpeted the earth in these orchards. Somehow, the dried leaves were like the chapters of my life that had long withered away and fallen off the tree of my life. It was in these places that I could feel my deepest self- the philosophical self that provided me strength and raised my awareness to something beyond the body and the material self.

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I also craved for the company of animals and birds. These mute creatures offer me much comfort though their silent stories. I watched the pigeon that had lost half its leg to some injury and now limped about quietly to pick at the grains that we put out.

The other day, I discovered an old Sarpakkavu. It was very much like the Sarpakkavu I had visited in the premises of many old ancestral homes when I was a child. Very much evoking the feeling described in this article:

In that corner stood a cluster of trees, old, crowded, hissing and rustling. Thick foliage, made up of interwoven creepers , over grown climbers clambering up huge trees and the self sufficient eco system, demarcated this place. Under the canopy hidden by the foliage stood the deities of nagadevatha.

http://www.thealternative.in/lifestyle/sarpa-kavu-respecting-the-order-of-nature/

I walked into the grove that it lead to. I wondered if there were snakes beneath the dried leaves. But somehow, I no longer fear snakes. I love them. I think peaceful coexistence puts all species at rest; they drop their defenses. There is an irrational belief within me that nature will never harm me. There is no logic to this, but it is a feeling that I have learned to trust, largely on account of the experiences life has treated me to. I feel one with all creatures. I felt a desire to go and see the snakes at the snake park. Hold them once more.

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I walked right up to the edge of the grove, fringed by trees. Here, through a clearing, I could see that the grove was placed high up on a hill and looked onto plains below. A beautiful river flowed through the plains while fields stretched out on one side of the river. It was a glimpse of the Kerala I had seen as a child. The picture I had preserved of this land and that I still hold on to. I held my breath. There was a gentle breeze, and time suddenly seemed to have stopped. When I finally drove back home, the misery in my heart had been sealed with the infinite beauty nature had treated me to.

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I learned yet another thing about myself in the course of these few days. I rely on fantasy to find the courage to go through suffering. Around the pockets of pain, my mind weaves infinite fantasies and shields me from the intensity of pain. At all the times that there is pain in my life, my mind switches on the fantasy mode. I dream a lot at such times. I create fantasies involving the people whose presence comforts me. I create fantasies from nature. I create fantasies with regard to what I shall do after the pain is through. I drown the unpleasantness of pain in this ocean of fantasy.

In the evening, as I sat down to savour dusk, I caught sight of the young mangoes on the mango tree. The tree seemed to hold up its mangoes to me as if saying, “By the time you get back from the surgery, these will be ripe enough for you to eat!” I thought of the recliner and rocking chair that I have taken a liking to, and dreamt of the days following the surgery when I would sit out in the garden and write to my heart’s fill. It would be a relief to have my companion out…to no longer feel that lump. But my unwelcome companion has certainly taught me the value of life- of the infinite joys of these simple little things that collectively make up life!