The face in the mirror

Water is my healer. Not only does it soothe the external scalds of my body, but it also soothes my mind. And so, I spend hours in the shower. I can never have enough of water.

It is then that I can see something glitter in my mind. Unopened boxes of thoughts, like presents carefully gift-wrapped with glitter paper. Presents sent from heaven. I am like a little child, excited and eager to open these presents. “Shhhhhh!”, says a voice in my head. Then I know I must be quiet and still, though I am trembling in delight. I know that this is a special moment, for I can feel being surrounded by a blanket of silence. The sounds from outside appear distant.

Invisible hands open one of the boxes. Inside is a mirror. I pick up the mirror. A woman stares at me from the mirror. Her face is that of mine.

“Who are you?”, she asks.

“I am a woman”, I answer.

“Oh, you are a woman! Then you must be seeking love? A man’s companionship perhaps?”, she asked.

“I don’t know what I am seeking”, I say.

She laughs. A high-pitched laughter.

“Look at me carefully. Maybe you will know what you are seeking”, she says.

I look at her carefully. Suddenly, it is not my face I see. It is Fousiya’s face. Fousiya, playing with her child. I can see her worry lines; but at this moment, she is fully involved with her child. He is her world.

“Fousiya!”, I call out. But she can’t hear me.

Suddenly, I realize it is not Fousiya. It is Indu. She is painting. I can see by her side all the paintings she has made in the last one week. There are only a few days for the exhibition now. I touch the mirror, and Indu disappears.

There is somebody else in her place now. Who is it? It is Sangeetha. She is sitting in the garden all alone, trying to understand her place in the world.

I see them all one by one. All the women whose stories I have lived. The women I have met. The women I have read about. The women I have watched in films. They are all there.

And finally, I see my own face appearing again.

“So do you now know what you are seeking?”

With that, the face disappears. So does the mirror. And so do the presents.

Now I understand. Who am I? I do not have a story of my own; I live in the stories of all these women. I live- in their vulnerability, and in their strength. In their moments of security and in their insecurity. In their happiness and in their sorrows. In the fulfillment of their love and in the melancholy of their solitude. I am all these women. And so, how can I define myself as distinct from them? How can my needs be different?

I spend my life liberating these women. Each one of them. Through the stories I write. And in doing so, I liberate myself.

 

 

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Return to innocence

child

I have been searching for quite some time now.

Within me…

Around me.

For some trace of the innocence that lit up the world once upon a time. It used to be everywhere- within me, around me.

I was not proud of my innocence then. It used to embarrass me because it prevented me from being street smart- a trait necessary for survival in a man-made world. I felt ashamed of the ignorance I demonstrated in social circles. People discussed popular soaps and TV shows and raised their eyebrows when I appeared completely ignorant of their very existence. Those were embarrassing moments because people looked at me with a question mark that almost seemed to ask: ‘What planet are you from?’ I feared those awkward pauses in conversations that came up when they picked up a trending topic and expected me to contribute an opinion. I often felt out of place. Everybody seemed to settle so naturally into a common world of people, places and interests. It baffled me as to how they all shared the same interests. They knew exactly what dress to wear for an occasion. They all watched the same movies. They knew the top ten songs trending at any given point in time. They knew how to order drinks and how to shake a leg. It all came so easily and naturally to them, and I wondered where they had learnt this art of fitting in. I wondered what their secret was. How could they possibly know what was expected of them?

On the contrary, my world was so different. It was as if I was still stuck in my childhood reverie. I continued to love and long for the world I had reveled in as a child. I continued to love stories, walks, games, riding, nature, children- all that I had loved as a child. I could sit on the terrace of my house and watch the moving clouds, the trees yonder, or the people faraway who looked like little blobs that moved on the landscape, and feel enthralled. I could read a book, find myself transported to a magical world, and feel happy. I could play with a child and feel happy. But I couldn’t talk about these things to people. There was no place for such emotions in conversations. I dreaded moments where I was forced to socialize with people who had no room for the true magic of life in their conversations. I was happier chasing happiness as I defined it, and I would chase such joys, collecting beautiful perceptions as they dropped into the basket of my mind.

I have always loved the company of children. I would surround myself with children. It was perhaps my attempt at holding on to the childhood I never wished to leave behind. It came naturally to me; I could settle effortlessly into their world without disrupting the integrity of their world. They never regarded me as a threat or as an intruder and they easily allowed me into the privacy of their beautiful world. My house was home to many children in the neighbourhood- children of all age groups. Children who walked into my room, would find it hard to leave. My room was full of things that would delight a child. In fact, many people would mistake it for a child’s room. My neighbour’s daughter who was only 2 years of age, would refuse to go back to her house at the end of our play. I had to pretend to play hide and seek to hand her over to her mother and slip back to my house. I remember 4-year-old Sai Shraddha who came crying to me because her brother was being sent to boarding school. I remember that night when she and her brother came to sleep over at my place. We spent half the night talking and when our eyes finally began to slip into sleep, Sai Prem asked me,”Vidya didi, do you know why we close our eyes when we sleep?” I was certain he had a beautiful answer. “Why?“, I asked. “So that we can see our dreams better“, he replied.

I remember young Srijit whose sister was getting married to one of our acquaintances. Srijit was a shy child and he was deeply attached to his sister. He had come over to his cousin’s place for the wedding. There were many kids in the neighbourhood and we would all play games the whole day long. We would also play pranks, taunt and tease, and have silly fights. Srijit became very gloomy towards the wedding. After the wedding, when he said goodbye to all of us, I remember that forlorn look on his face when he said,”You will get married too and go away, right?” It was only then that I understood what was playing on in the child’s mind. He felt a sense of loss when his sister was getting married. In the brief time that we had all been together, I had temporarily covered up that loss. And now, he felt it again. He sensed the fact that you could not own people forever. I was deeply touched.

Children made me feel beautiful. They thought the world of me. This was delightful because in my world of adults, I certainly didn’t qualify for ‘beautiful’. I would take Sai Shraddha to the terrace, lift her up, and the two of us would chatter away, oblivious to the difference in age. Somehow, we saw the same world, and it was lovely seeing it together. The wind would blow and a few strands of my hair would cover my face. Sai Shraddha would suddenly stop talking, look at my face with awe, push aside the strands of hair, and innocently remark, “Vidya didi, you are so beautiful!” She would sometimes pinch my cheeks, play with my hair, mess it up totally, rub noses, give me a hug, and say,” You are so beautiful!” Children taught me that beauty was something deeper than what adults make it out to be. Her mother surprised me one day by informing me that Sai Shraddha had started to ask every young man who visited them if they would marry Vidya didi!

I also remember the poor children in my world. Especially the children who belonged to the construction workers who would appear out of nowhere, set up a temporary shelter made of bricks, and go about their work while the children were left to fend for themselves. I remember the sight of little girls carrying their younger siblings and taking care of them. In those days, it was not their poverty that I saw. I saw their abundance. The glee on their faces as they crawled and climbed mounds of sand in tattered and soiled clothes, struck me. It seemed to reflect pure, uncontaminated joy- a joy that was progressively thinning out in the world I lived in.

I was torn between these two worlds. On one side was that beautiful world of childish innocence, and on the other side was the adult world where innocence had lost its value. After much embarrassment over my innocence and ignorance, I learned to surround myself with people who were street smart and adept at survival, but who valued the innocence within me. I owe much to these people for they taught me essential survival skills. Also, they exposed me to the true essence of a world I had feared until then. There were people who were truly passionate about music or dance or films or places, and they would be willing to take me along and help me find out for myself what I liked and what I didn’t. That awakened my interest and curiosity, and also helped me shed feelings of worthlessness.

In later years, responsibility taught me much. When I was forced to stand up on my own feet and take decisions on my own, I realized that it was necessary to understand the ‘business of life’- the shrewdness and manipulation that was all around. One learns the ways of the world, at least to a degree that enables survival. I feel proud that I did learn, despite being me. However, at the end of it all, I look at the world with new eyes. I look at it all over again, and realize there is something I have been gradually losing. Something I miss immensely. At first, I couldn’t point out as to what it was. But now, I am beginning to see light.

All around me are people who are trying hard to establish something. Everybody is competing with everybody else. Everybody wants to be the hub. Everybody wants to be spoken to, and spoken about. Everybody wants to be unique, different and famous. Applause and appreciation- these are the driving forces for most people. People wish to be successful, and to most people, success translates to money and fame. People chase formulae that would lead them to success. But in truth, these are people who have permanently lost the one gift that makes life worth living- the gift of innocence. I have finally realized that it is this childish innocence that preserves our ability to be truly and purely enthralled by experiences. Only a mind brimming with childish innocence can feel the joy of a little beam of sunshine stealing its way into the darkness of a tunnel through an inconspicuous crevice. Give me a choice between fame and innocence, and I would choose innocence. For in that state of innocence, there is nothing that you wish to prove to the world, and so you are free. Free to feel and be enthralled. Free to cry and to laugh. Free to be mystified and to explore. Free to be clever or foolish. It is in this innocence that we discover the real ‘us’. And to be true and real- that is the greatest freedom of all. For then you are what you are capable of. Nothing more, nothing less.

I sometimes look at the millions of people trying hard at establishing themselves, and wonder how many of them still have the ability to be delightfully tempted by the food spreads that Enid Blyton artfully describes in her books. I wonder if they have the ability to be tickled enough to laugh aloud when Buster, the dog, sets himself on Mr Goon’s ankles. These private moments when you can feel the temptation of food, the thrill of a mystery, or the satisfaction of playing a prank on a troublesome character- these moments are priceless. For the simple reason that you are real in these moments.

I think back to the most beautiful moments of my life and I realize that they were all embedded in innocence- in the innocence within me, and around me. Whether it was the joy of playing with a child or holding the hands of someone you loved, the happiness of those moments was rooted in the innocence that characterized our personalities then.

In conclusion, let me quote one of the most beautiful pieces I have read about this innocence. This is one of the pieces from Michael Jackson’s book “Dancing the Dream“. It is titled ‘Wise Little Girl‘.

I know a wise little girl who cannot walk.  She is confined to a wheelchair, and she may spend the rest of her life there, since her doctors hold out almost no hope of ever making her paralyzed legs better.
 
When I first met this little girl, she flashed me a smile that burned me with its blazing happiness.  How open she was!  She wasn’t hiding out from self-pity or asking for approval or protecting herself from a sense of shame.  She felt completely innocent about not being able to walk, like a puppy that has no idea if it is a mongrel or a champion of the breed.
 
She made no judgements about herself.  That was her wisdom.
 
I have seen the same wise look in other children, “poor” children as society sees them, because they lack food, money, secure homes, or healthy bodies.  By the time they reach a certain age, many of these children grasp just how bad their situation is.  The way that adults look at their lives robs them of that first innocence that is so precious and rare.  They begin to believe that they should feel bad about themselves; that this is “right.”
 
But this wise little girl, being only four, floated above pity and shame like a carefree sparrow.  She took my heart in her hands and made it as weightless as a cotton putt, so that it was impossible for me to even begin to think, “What a terrible thing.”  All I saw was light and love.  In their innocence, very young children know themselves to be light and love.  If we will allow them, they can teach us to see ourselves the same way.
 
One sparkle from a little girl’s gaze contains the same knowledge that Nature implants at the heart of every life-form.  It is life’s silent secret, not to be put into words.  It just knows.  It knows peace and how not to hurt.  It knows that even the least breath is a gesture of gratitude to the Creator.  It smiles to be alive, waiting patiently for ages of ignorance and sorrow to pass away like a mirage.
 
I see this knowledge itself in the eyes of children more and more, which makes me think that their innocence is growing stronger.  They are going to disarm us adults, and that will be enough to disarm the world.  They feel no reason to spoil the environment, and so the environment will be cleaned up without a quarrel.  A wise little girl told me the future when she looked at me, so full of peace and contentment.  I rejoice in trusting her above all the experts.  As light and love drive away our guilt and shame, her prophecy must come true.

 

 

 

When you are made of stardust-II

god

There was this poem I once read. It is called ‘Footprints in the sand‘. This is how it goes:

One night I dreamed a dream.
As I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
One belonging to me and one to my Lord.

After the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that at many times along the path of my life,
especially at the very lowest and saddest times,
there was only one set of footprints.

This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said once I decided to follow you,
You’d walk with me all the way.
But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”

He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
Never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.”

When I first read that poem, I was speechless. It was as if through this poem, God was prompting me to look back at my life and dwell upon those dark moments when I had thought I was all alone. I then realized that there had always been something- a clue, a direction, a sign that I couldn’t ascribe to anybody. Something to guide me when I was completely lost. My instinct would prompt me to follow it, and I would see light again. And then, I would learn to trust myself again.

But those were not the miracles. The real miracles were those moments when I would find myself caught up in situations that were beyond my ability. I would always approach such situations with fear for I was well aware of my weaknesses. At such moments, I would plunge into the situation, certain that I wouldn’t survive this phase. I would cry to nobody in particular. And then the miracle would happen. The universe would respond, and take up the burden. The most unexpected things would happen (what I would then label only as wishful thinking until they materialized), the most unexpected people would step into my life, and everything would be taken care of. It was almost as if a well thought out plan or scheme was being followed. But who could have planned it and tailored it so perfectly as to suit my needs? At such moments, this is exactly how I have felt- as if I was being lifted and carried by somebody, and then deposited on the shore, where I was safe once again. I would wonder if I had dreamt it all, and I would be filled with something that I can only describe as gratitude. A gratitude that would fill my heart with the invisible presence of God. I loved this feeling- it was more overpowering than the moments we spend praying formally to God. To me, this was the moment of prayer, for I could feel God flooding my being. In the gratitude I felt, there was God. And this time, my faith in the universe would be restored.

I have often felt that I am a child of the universe. At all the times that I have not trusted my ability to confront a situation and cried to nobody in particular, the universe has always responded- in a way only a mother can respond to her child. And this faith has made me feel loved, cared for, cherished and protected- a feeling that one cannot derive from mortal relationships with fellow human beings. I feel I have a universe to turn to, whenever I really need help. The helpless child in me has to only cry for her to hear me. I have often felt invisible chords connecting my soul to the soul of the universe- to the heart of life. When my soul bleeds, the chords tug at the soul of the universe, and awaken it to my misery. The universe then propels its infinite limbs- people, places, forces, and tends to me. I have also realized that I am also one of the limbs of the universe, and it mobilizes me when there is the need to tend to another suffering soul. Once we learn to recognize this power- the power of the central force of life that comes from the heart of the universe, it is impossible to feel lonely. 

Yesterday, I had been to the hospital for a follow-up. I bought a thank-you card and some chocolates. I met all the doctors and nurses who had taken care of me when I was hospitalized, and thanked all of them. I especially thanked the sister who had stayed up all night in the post operative ward and tended to my needs. They were thrilled by the card. I meant every word of what was written on the card. And they are apparently framing it and putting it up on the display for people to see! Everybody was happy and I love these moments when I can thank people and make them see the worth in the roles they play. I love the happiness of the world, and I promise that until my last breath, I will keep making people happy…as often as I can!

 

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. 

 

 

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. 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the shoes of a writer

What is your advice to aspiring young writers?‘ This is a question writers are often asked.

Here, I have a distinction to make. What aspirations are we talking about? The aspiration to be a writer? Or the aspiration to be published? It has taken me years to understand that the conventional definition of a writer is different from what actually defines a writer.

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A writer…

I wonder how many young people would want to be writers, if they knew what it takes to be a writer and what it is to be a writer.

Being a writer is the realization of a potential. It is a journey, not a destination. A writer is a personality type, and not anybody who writes stories or essays or poems. A writer is one for whom writing is like breathing- it sustains him and keeps him alive. It is immaterial if his work is pronounced good or bad by the world. It is immaterial if he is published or not. It is immaterial if he becomes famous or not. He writes for the integrity of his spirit; writing keeps him together, keeps him whole. But in the process, he often unearths certain truths and deep philosophies of life that connect not just to him, but to all of mankind. His words offer hope, strength and consolation to the numerous souls who are otherwise immersed in a world of struggle and suffering, and they become the medium through which his work reaches out to the world. A true writer gives- to those who are in need of his words. But left to himself, the true writer has no desire for name, fame or publicity. In fact, he often finds himself intimidated by attention and expectation; he is comfortable in his anonymity. It is his work that he loves. It is his engagement with life and with his writing that he loves and desires. It is this that he aspires for- the ability to engage with himself powerfully so as to be able to write.

Throughout the history of literature, various works have been published and written anonymously, often due to their political or controversial nature, or merely for the purposes of the privacy of their authors, among other reasons. 

There are so many good reasons to write: revenge, passion, the purging of grief or despair. The love of beauty, the exposure of villainy. The recording of a life (one’s own, or someone else’s) for preservation. Or one might hope to inform later deliberations about history, as Thucydides did: “[If my work] be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content.” And then there is the matter of fame, in the present or in the future. How many do not write in hopes of attracting the admiration of a distant posterity? With what awe does the ordinary scribbler contemplate the glorious achievements of Chaucer, Cervantes, or Fielding! In silence, in secret, perhaps he dares to imagine himself in their company, in ages yet to come.

One kind of writer, at least, is immune to the lure of fame: the anonymous writer. No name, no literary glory. What would possess someone to go to all the trouble of writing a book and then take no credit for having done so? What compulsion drives this strangest of artists?

Anonymous is more than a pseudonym. It is a stark declaration of intent: a wall explicitly thrown up, not only between writer and reader, but between the writer’s work and his life.

A writer is indeed a personality-type, and deep empathy lies at the core of that personality. Empathy is often a misunderstood term. Though many people understand that empathy is different from sympathy, they perceive empathy as a phenomenon akin to kindness or compassion.

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Empathy is the ability to dissociate from the self and become the ‘other’ momentarily, feeling the vibes and currents of the other, experiencing the other.

The ‘other’ could refer to inanimate bodies too- one can empathize with the river, the wind, the moving cloud, or with any inanimate force in the environment.

It is this empathy that allows writers to perceive life in inanimate bodies- to perceive the spirit of the river, the spirit of a forest, the spirit of a mountain, each different from the other and unique. It is this empathy that enables a writer to perceive the spirit of all living creatures inhabiting this planet. It is this empathy that enables a writer to perceive the wounded, shattered and fragmented mind that often lies beneath the aggression and violence demonstrated by an individual. It is this empathy that enables a writer to read people’s secret thoughts, decipher people’s underlying motivational drives, differentiate between fake/manipulative and authentic statements or acts.

It is this empathy that weaves the writer inseparably into the fabric of the universe so that everything that affects the universe is his own concern. He is pained by the war in another continent, he is pained by the stories of rape and murder, he is pained by the suffering inflicted on the poor by governments and capitalists, he is pained by the human assaults on nature.

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This empathy makes him a ‘feeler’; his perceptive ability is strong- in intensity, range and duration. His perceptions are intense; they encompass a broad range of stimuli, and they last for a long duration, knocking at the doors of his mind, urging him to act and deliver.It is this urge that eventually drives him to writing.

This empathy defines the artist in general- be it a writer, painter, sculptor, scientist or teacher and propels him to rise above the pain and suffering of his world.

Often, personal trauma plays an important role in a writer’s self-discovery. The writer is in a state of constant inability to fit in and to conform to the ways of the world around him. This creates persistent conflict in his mind, and the drive therefore, to resolve this conflict. The writer discovers that he is unable to express his personality freely in the world because convention and reality impose restrictions on him. The world therefore suppresses the writer. Often, there is a suppressed world within a writer- a beautiful world that he is constantly trying to retrieve. The writer is sensitive to the sharp contrast between two emotional worlds- the bitterness of his experiences and the rich possibility of a fantasy. It is this contrast that contributes to the beauty of the world in his mind.

Initially, the writer finds his escape in reading, and in other sources of aesthetic engagement. He connects to words that resonate with the suppressed world within him. As the writer reads extensively, the words find their way into his unconscious. The deep empathy enables the writer to experience the words as his own. The barrier between the words and his emotions is broken down progressively. It is then that he learns to translate his own emotions into words. The writer is often self-conscious. He may stammer and stutter when spoken to. But left to his spontaneity, his perceptions knock powerfully on the doors of his mind and he creates magic with his words. As the writer matures, his empathy causes him to expand the horizons of his mind to embrace a larger segment of the world. He awakens to the vast expanse of human conditions- poverty, illness, loss of a loved one, natural calamities and man-made disasters, death, oppression, and much more. It is then quite natural that his mind is never quiet, for it feels the torments of a universe.

So, coming back to the question that I was trying to answer here- ‘What is your advice to young aspiring writers?’. I would say the question loses its significance in this context. However, my advice to society would be to create opportunities for children- opportunities to engage with their environment, with stories and books, with their own perceptions. The true writer would automatically discover himself in the process. It is when such opportunities are absent (as is the case with our current education system) that children never discover their potential- a scenario that breeds mental unrest and mental illness.

To the writer (the writer personality), my advice would be- preserve your anonymity. With the advent of blogging, self-publishing and numerous platforms to ‘advertise’ , ‘promote’ and ‘market’ one’s writing, the writer often gets distracted from his path.

I remember reading somewhere that psychologically, one must be a nobody. To the world, we may be many things. But to ourselves, we must be a nobody. That is when we write best- when we uncover some truth of significance to the world, for we do not shield us from ourselves. All other writing is only our means of appeasing our bruised ego. I think that is also why failures contribute more to ‘growth’ than do achievements. Failures provide us an opportunity to be a nobody and be comfortable with it.

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