To love, and to be loved

Trying a hand at fiction…

I had seen the message notification in the morning, but I ignored it, certain it was from some random stranger. It was evening when I finally opened it.

“Happened to read your publication. And also the feature in the newspaper. Beautifully written! Keep writing!”, it read.

The profile picture was that of a little girl, clinging to a man who was in all likelihood, her father. I zoomed the picture and realised that the man in the picture was none other than Faisal. 

I felt a sudden pang of nostalgia. Memories of London suddenly flooded my mind.

London is not a chapter that I open often. Not because I dread the memory, but because I cherish it way too much. Like the presents we cherish and open only when we are alone and free from preoccupation. I like to open it slowly, gently, and with much feeling. And then hold it close…become one with the memory.

But now, I found myself at the doorstep of this memory, unprecedented. I was hesitant. I hadn’t talked to anybody about those years for a long time now. There are memories that I like to carry in my mind as raw perceptions. Perceptions meant to be felt. I didn’t want to touch them and spoil their beauty with analysis. So I refused to share them; I never talked about them. I felt they were alive only within me, and they would die the moment I let them out. On every occasion that I unwrapped them, they overpowered me and rendered me speechless. In the dark solitude of my life, they often made me feel rich.

I ruminated on this text message for a long time, unsure of how to respond. It was like a little comet that had landed into my world from that land of fantasy. I thought about my life then. It was so full of people, so full of love. But after the lonely battles I fought and the numbness they left behind, I wasn’t sure how I was to respond to the warmth of this text message. Its warmth made me glad, but there seemed to be an infinite distance between the numbness that had become my natural state now and the emotions that this text was calling for. There seemed to be an infinite distance between this numbness now and the emotional excess that defined me in those years. I had changed beyond recognition. Necessary for survival, but at the expense of a precious part of me that I seemed to have permanently lost. Except within the confines of my mind.

I was struck by the child’s face in the picture. She had dimples and her curly hair was tied up into a pony. Faisal held her hand and she clung to the security it provided her. The picture was blissful. I could sense the deep meaning the child instilled in Faisal’s life. She was Faisal’s world. It made me happy. Happy that his life had not taken a bad turn after we parted. Happy that he had what I could never have given him. I suddenly felt free.

“Thank you, Faisal. I was surprised to hear from you. Is that your daughter in the picture? She is very cute”, I replied to him.

His reply was instant:

” Thanks for replying. You are a wonderful human being. Yes, she is my daughter. I did not have your contact details. I stumbled on your publication one day and tracked you down. Congratulations for all your achievements! I am so happy for you!”

I could sense the happiness in those words. Once upon a time, we were really close to each other. I could decode the emotions that fuelled his words. I could sense his joy now, at having found me. His uncertainty and silent quest had come to an end. He had found me and I had responded. He was at peace with himself.

“I am an ordinary human being, Faisal. Leading a very ordinary life. London feels like a distant dream now. I cannot believe I lived there once!”, I replied.

“You are a determined person. I feel you can achieve anything you set your heart on. I remember your inclination for writing and art”, he wrote back.

Achievements. The word always makes me smile. From the perspective of the system, I am more of a rebel and a failure, than an achiever.

I replied:

“Most achievements come from being a nobody, Faisal. When I moved back from London, I had no plans. It was suffering, loneliness and misery that I moved back to. But I guess that enriched me as a person. I saw much that I might not have seen otherwise.”

“Can I talk to you?”, he asked.

I suddenly felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t ready. 

“I need some time, Faisal…”

“Don’t worry about the call if you are not comfortable. But I am honestly very happy with your achievements. You have done very well in life!”

I wondered why I wasn’t ready to talk to him. The last we had spoken was in 2005. After that, so much had changed. I had changed as a person. There was so much I hadn’t wanted to talk about, after London. How could I explain my journey thereafter? I couldn’t. I think the one journey that is best left alone is the journey of suffering. Somehow, that is a journey that you cannot risk talking about- the journey that broke you until you were born again. That journey is so sacred that you do not wish to undermine its value by verbalising it. I cannot talk to him about the millions of wounds that now lay within me. Wounds I had painstakingly sealed, all by myself. I was more comfortable with my mask. 

I thought back to my life with him. I remember what had brought us together. It was the journey of pain and suffering that he had travelled and that I could see in his eyes, though he spoke about it matter-of-fact. His father’s early death had put an early end to his childhood. He had learned to deny himself the pleasures that children of his age indulged in. He had witnessed helplessly his mother’s solitary struggle and that had seeded in him the urgency to grow up fast and shoulder the responsibility of the family. These circumstances had shaped his attitude to women. He was driven by the need to protect them and to shoulder responsibility. However, he believed that beyond this, a woman had no needs. As our relationship progressed, the monotony of it weighed heavily upon me. The beauty in my life gradually faded away. His inability to engage meaningfully and find joy in the little things in life- in conversation, in nature, in travel, in hobbies and art- it suffocated me. I found them all vanishing from my life. I felt a huge barrier come between me and the world. I found myself sinking into depression.

I found it hard to communicate this to him. Especially since it wasn’t something he could change. It was probably rooted in the fact that he had alienated himself from all these joys very early in life. For him, achievements were pleasure. And that was understandable. But my personality thrived on these simple pleasures. I couldn’t do without them. Perhaps, if he wasn’t so caring towards me, it wouldn’t have been difficult for me to communicate this discordance in our personalities. But he was a wonderful human being and he cared deeply. That made it difficult.

While I was struggling to find the right words to communicate, he surprised me one day by speaking out my mind.

“You are in conflict. You feel suffocated being in this relationship, but you find it difficult to step out as well.”

He sensed it. I remember the melancholy in his tone when he said this to me and my heart went out to him. 

That conversation propelled me to try harder to stay in the relationship, but I realised that the natural course of our relationship was headed towards separation and so, it was futile working against the inevitable. Our relationship staggered as we found ourselves caught up in confusion, insecurity, guilt and agony. That made us a little bitter. When we parted, we were bitter. But now when I look back, I realise that bitterness was superficial. It was only human- a transient emotion that was necessary for us to find the courage to part ways without damaging our self-esteem.

I remember the freedom I felt when I stepped out of that relationship finally. I remember sitting in a sidewalk cafe on a cold winter morning, eager to feel the warmth of the sunshine. I remember feeling the joy as the warmth of the bleak sunshine percolated into my senses. I remember feeling ecstatic at the aroma of coffee, at the sight of people walking on the sidewalks, at the sight of the ferries on the river. I remember feeling alive again.

But today, when I read his text message, I look at Faisal against the backdrop of the years after London- the years of loneliness and suffering. It is gratitude I feel- for what he gave me, and for what I haven’t had in my life for the last several years. 

Not that I miss him. Or that I repent or regret. But today, I see the abundance in him; I see his worth. And it makes me happy to see that he got what he always deserved and longed for- a family to come back home to, to call his own.

This makes me appreciate the irony of life. We don’t need happy marriages. What we need is truth- in our relationships, in our emotions. Unfortunate are the ones who lose love and their ability to love, to traumatic relationships.

Technology: My gateway to the past

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I must have watched about forty episodes of Buniyaad by now. I have lived the life of the resilient Lajo– from her youth to her old age. The orphan Lajo, who has learnt to take life in its stride, and has learned to laugh at her miseries. “Gaiety becomes ingrained in the character of one whose life is filled with misery“, remarks her uncle when Lajo responds to Master Haveli Ram‘s practised discipline with laughter and gaiety.

Buniyaad digs into the foundation of relationships. Buniyaad essentially explores the factors that shape the human spirit- the factors that nurture the human spirit and awaken man’s humanity, and also the factors that erode the human spirit and take man away from his humanity and from his own self . Buniyaad takes us through the lives and minds of people in relation to their circumstances.

The relationship between Lajo and Haveli Ram forms the core of this story. It is the strength of this relationship that forms a pillar and holds disintegrating family structures together, preserving and protecting humanity against all odds- the partition of India, the homelessness, the economic crisis, the differing motivational drives of the youth of the family, and much more.

The story therefore dwells generously on that phase where Lajo meets Master Haveli Ram, capturing those intricate moments that bind the two into a deep rooted relationship.

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The gentle, somewhat shy and hesitant Haveli Ram, a man of principles, and the high-spirited, playful and mischievous Lajo. Their personalities contrast, and yet complement each other.

Ramesh Sippy creates magic in these moments:

The laid back evenings when Haveli Ram tutors Lajo. The innumerable memories created in that hour that form the foundation of their subsequent relationship. Those tiny moments that may appear insignificant to a trespasser, but that weave the invisible threads of a deep-rooted relationship between the two. The grandfather clock ticks in the backdrop, as if marking these priceless moments in their lives. ‘Vichhovali’- Lajo’s uncles’s house in Lahore, transforms in these moments into a house that harbours the couple’s most precious memories. A house that is eventually orphaned at the time of partition when the family is forced to move out, reminiscent of millions of houses that stood as mute witnesses to the journey of human life- to the unfolding of the human spirit- its throbbings, its pangs, its woes. Houses that witnessed the woes of partition. Houses that witnessed the demolition of the human spirit as the ‘individual’ assumed importance and family structures disintegrated,  and money and power replaced human values.

There is something very Indian about this serial. One falls in love with the traditional Indian spirit, and understands the true meaning of love, respect, mutual regard, relationships, patriotism, womanhood, patience, kindness, compassion and other human values that today, are merely on paper. I think stories of those times dug deep into the cultural essence of our country. Today, the authenticity has been replaced either by blind conservatism or by rebellion and denial.

Take Indian women, for instance. There are women who believe that in their submissiveness to patriarchal systems, they are ‘upholding’ traditional Indian values. Such women are oblivious to the big gap between traditional values and conservatism. Conservatism is only an emblem; an emblem that is to be worn for the world to see, an emblem that conceals the darkness of their spirits. And then we have women who wear the emblem of individuality. Women who do not wish to be looked upon as submissive, and who wish to break free from the chains of tradition. Sadly, many end up denying their feminine qualities in the process. For many young women, abandoning the traditional lifestyle and embracing a western lifestyle, defines individuality. Most find their identity in their lifestyle.

Where are the Indian women who taught us that womanhood was a far superior quality for beauty lay in the feminine? Where are those Indian women who taught us that individuality was about the freedom of mind, and that the mind could find its freedom even beneath traditional garbs? Where are those Indian women who taught us that courage was not about the liberalism with which one dressed, but about confronting the horrors and tragedies of life, surviving them and outliving them? Where are those women who taught us that courage was not about sitting in the company of men and smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol , but about sitting in the company of men, and being able to talk intelligently about the subjects that concern human life on this planet… from politics to astronomy!The women who taught us the difference between rebellion and revolution?

One is mesmerized by Lajo and Veeravali, as they discuss the political scenario of the nation. ‘Somehow, my heart lies more in revolution than in these textbooks of literature and Mathematics!‘, says Lajo when Master Haveli Ram tutors her.

They are all unique in their own ways- Lajo, Veeravali, Mangala, Nivedita. And yet, there is something common to them- that traditional Indian spirit that gleams in their eyes, like a raw, uncut diamond. They are vulnerable and easily wounded. But within them is a spirit that enables them to outlive their personal tragedies. It is this resilience that makes them attractive- their refusal to be victimized by the tragedies in their lives…their ability to be wounded, and yet gather themselves up and walk again.

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Somehow, Buniyaad transformed my world. In this numbness that surrounds me, I always look for emotions. The opportunity to feel. To feel without having to think. To cry, to rejoice. And with the characters in Buniyaad, that is what I have been doing. I cry with them, I rejoice with them. And I find that I am suddenly able to do the same in my life. They teach me to pause in the course of my life, just so that I allow myself to feel…so that I can rejoice, and I can cry. They teach me that its is okay to be wounded…it is okay to cry. Just that you must be able to get up and walk again.

Technology is a boon. For many, it is a gateway to the future. To unknown possibilities. For me, it is a gateway to my past- to the emotional world that characterized my past-

It is a gateway to the forgotten essence of a rich tradition and culture that we somehow left behind.It is a gateway to the forgotten alleys where an ancient Indian spirit lies, trampled by the horses of globalization. It is a gateway to the humanity that once thrived on this planet.

I had never imagined that some day, I would be watching all the TV shows and cartoons that I watched as a child, recreating the magic of my childhood.

I have now moved on to the classic cartoons. I realize that even cartoon characters in those days were inspired by life. As I watch the adorable Pluto who is carried away by his impulses, but is moved to tears by the suffering of fellow creatures, I feel that perhaps these stories that made up my childhood, have played a huge role in shaping my perspective of the world. I strongly suspect that these stories that sowed the seeds of humanity in me and have expanded the horizons of my mind to embrace all living creatures as deserving kindness, empathy and compassion.

The past will never return, but I know that I will always belong to the past. Every step that I take into the future, will always have its foundation resting in the past- a beautiful and fragrant past. A past that has immortalized itself in my soul and that shall accompany my soul in its journey from this world. This beauty and fragrance is all that I shall carry from this world to the next…

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These paths-6

She stood in front of me, smiling. I blinked.

Eight years had passed. It was unbelievable. But today, as she stood in front of me, smiling as she always used to, I felt nothing had changed. The years in between vanished from memory. I felt as if I had never left Anjarakandy.

You haven’t changed!’, she said to me.

Neither have you’, I replied.

I have a baby now!’, she said to me.

I know’, I said.

You never kept in touch! I tried contacting you on so many occasions. Your number had changed. I even thought of visiting your house to get in touch, but I thought you might have locked up the house and gone’, she complained.

Life changed a lot, you see. It was a tough battle. The situation was worse than it was when I used to work here. I just found myself drifting with the flow’, I replied.

I remember how it was for you’, she sighed.

We were both silent for a moment, lost in reflections of the past.

Dad passed away. In 2011’, I continued.

We talked about life after Anjarakandy. I told her about the events surrounding my father’s death.

What about your father?’, I asked.

He passed away too. In sleep. It was a good death.

I nodded. I remembered her account of her life with her father. He had never given the family a moment’s peace. I couldn’t believe there could be fathers like that. Her brother had taken his place. He used to run the household from a young age. The clashes between father and son were severe. The son would walk away and the father would vent out his anger on the women. The women were the ultimate victims. They had learnt to accept it as their lot. They had reconciled with the fact that it was a man’s world.

How about ECG ummumma’?, I asked her.

She laughed.

You remember her? She passed away too’. She replied.

How could I forget her? The lady who had put to good use the ECG recording and used it to fuel the chulha! How could one forget her?’, I replied.

So how is your married life? How does it feel to be married?’, I asked her.

I think the best life is to have the luxury of solitude. My husband is a good man. So are his parents. But marriage has brought with it responsibilities that I had never anticipated. Also struggle of a different kind’, she replied.

The first question many people asked me was about marriage. Lakshmanettan was the worst. He wouldn’t just let go of the topic!’, I said.

Why can’t people leave others alone? There is a throbbing and bleeding mind within each one of us. Only we are aware of how it throbs and bleeds. And so, we are the best judges of what we want in life. Why can’t people understand this?’, she introspected.

I was surprised by her maturity.

Lakshmanettan still lives in the old world, Fousiya. He means well, but he doesn’t realize that times have changed and people have changed dramatically. Relationships and marriages are no longer what they used to be’,  I said.

Yes, that is true. He still lives in the old world’, she repeated.

At times, it is fun to answer these questions. Usha sister had asked me the same question. She had advised me that it wouldn’t be easy at times when one needs help and support. To that I had replied-

It certainly isn’t easy now either. I feel both marriage and singlehood come with their own set of risks and problems. It is just a matter of which type of risk one is willing to take. You were more comfortable with taking the risk of marriage and I was more comfortable taking the risk of being single.

She didn’t say anything further’, I stated.

Her jaw must have dropped’, she replied.

You bet!’, I said.

We both laughed aloud.

After you left, I lost my laughter. I didn’t realize, but the other sisters would always say that I had changed after you left and that I rarely laughed’, she said.

I was touched by her warmth. Her ability to preserve the sanctity of those moments. The truth in her emotions. Something I miss in modern times. Something that I feel only when I watch an old movie. She was full of old memories. I could hear their tinkle in her mind. I always feel drawn to people who cherish memories and talk about them with nostalgia. I feel they are capable of much good. Lohithadas had said that too.

How much we used to laugh when you were here. Remember Subeesh? What a team we were. So much so that the Nursing Superintendent had shifted me from the Medicine Department because she couldn’t bear to see us so happy’, she recollected.

But that didn’t kill our happiness. We found our own ways to get past all those hurdles. In truth, we were knee deep into problems, but that made us cherish these moments all the more’, she added.

I was silent. The silence that communicated the joy of those years. The memories that I guard in the sanctum sanctorum of my mind. That phase of my life could have found a place in Basheer’s novel.

I tried committing suicide’, she said.

I snapped out of my reverie.

What? When? Why?’, I asked.

My engagement was called off. I had got into a long-distance relationship. A relative had introduced me to him. We had never met, but we used to speak for long hours. I grew dependent on those conversations. Our families went ahead with the engagement and a date was fixed. My brother arranged for all the gold. We had our house painted. At work, everybody knew. After Ramzan, he came down for the wedding. When we finally met up, he said I looked very different from what he had seen of me in the picture. He backed off. There were no further conversations. I had got used to them. I couldn’t bear the void I felt within and on an impulse, I swallowed some pills. I was at work then and I managed to get hold of a random assortment of pills. Antibiotics, antihistaminics and whatever I could get my hands on. I fainted and was admitted. Nothing happened though. I was discharged after a day of observation. I applied for medical leave and was home for quite some time. Those days were probably the worst times in my life. I couldn’t lift my spirits. People in the neighbourhood were making up stories about my wedding being called off. Eventually, I decided to get back to work. I was in need of distraction. I had never wanted to get married thereafter, but my brother wouldn’t marry until I was married. There was a lot of pressure, and I eventually gave in to an arranged marriage. I talked to my husband about this tragedy and he was very accepting and considerate. And thus, I got married. But I hadn’t come out of my misery. Misery slowly gave way to numbness. But my husband was accommodating. He left to Dubai after a month’, she explained.

My husband is nice. So are his parents. But the financial responsibility of the family is on him. He has two siblings. Also, he suffers from Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. Until then, I hadn’t even known that something like that existed. I thought that was the end of my world. It took a long time to come to terms with that. Eventually, I spoke to a lot of doctors, read up articles on the internet and consulted physicians. I saved up enough to buy a CPAP for him. Also, I got to know a few others who suffer from this syndrome. That gave me some consolation. My husband always feels he couldn’t give me any happiness. But I tell him that my priorities are different. That he understands me and trusts me is most important to me. He would often push me for a divorce, but I would convince him eventually. Things are better now’, she concluded.

My eyes welled up with tears.

I took up BA English distance education. I cleared my first set of papers’, she said to me triumphantly.

I held her hand and said to her, ‘Fousiya, I think your life is beautiful. It is rich for it is so full of meaning. The little steps you both take to overcome the obstacles in your life and materialize your dreams, will add value to all your achievements. I remember my PG days. They had been so full of struggle. There was so much pressure from home and from my HOD. But when I eventually got my degree, there was a special sweetness to that degree. So don’t ever give up.

She nodded. ‘Why are HODs like that? Our department HOD is also the same. She tortures her PG. The PG is a very nice girl. She is a divorcee and has a child. Despite all her problems, she works hard and does a good job. But the HOD always finds fault with her work. Sometimes she goes into her room and cries for hours. I console her and give her as much encouragement as I can. Why can’t people spread happiness? Why is it necessary to blow out somebody’s happiness in order to feel happy?’, she wondered aloud.

The world is like that, Fousiya. BTW, what should I get for you from home?’, I asked.

You don’t get me anything. I will make something for you one of these mornings. Remember the time you had come home for Ramzan? Those days were so much fun. We used to go out so often’, she said.

We can go out now as well. But what about your baby? Wouldn’t it be difficult?’, I asked.

No. He loves going out’, she replied.

In that case, we will go out. I must try getting in touch with Sri Devi too. I can never forget our trip to the paddy fields in Rasna’s village’, I said.

Are you writing anything these days? You used to write so much!’, she said.

‘Oh yes! I just finished writing my first book. But it will take time for it to be published. Perhaps next year’, I said.

I still remember my first day in Anjarakandy. The day I had started writing. The most beautiful day in my life.

Oh! That is so nice! Am I a character in that book?’, she asked.

No, Fousiya. This is a book on Malayalam Cinema’, I said.

Oh! You always said that I would certainly be a character in your book’, she said to me.

Yes. You will be a character in my second book. There is enough of life in you to be a character in a book. My second book will certainly be set against the backdrop of Anjarakandy. It will explore my bittersweet relationship with this place. Somehow, it reminds me of Shivapuram village in the film Mazha– the village that Bhadra is attached to. Nashtapetta Neelambari. Anjarakandy is truly that to me’, I replied.

We spoke some more, trying to remember every little perception that had created ripples in our mind.

In the evening, as I drove back home, I hugged this feeling. This ripple in my mind. This tinkle of memories. How else can I describe it? I drove past groves that were so dense that not much sunlight penetrated into them. Only the hum of crickets and the chirping of birds could be heard in their silence. I passed quaint little shops with wooden planks for shutters. They hadn’t lost their rustic charm. Age had made them beautiful. I passed paddy fields. I passed old gardens that continued to believe in the beauty of common flowers- hibiscus, rose, mandaram, jasmine and chethi (jungle flame), to name a few. The Anjarakandy river was not far away. This rendezvous with these old paths had now become a significant part of my day-to-day life here. They transported me back in time. For they remained the way I remembered them. Time hadn’t done too much damage to them.

These were my thoughts then:

Some stories cannot begin where they ended. The end is the end. It is a permanent closure. For people change, circumstances change and we ourselves change.

Change irreparably.

 And so, I am still reeling under the effect of this strange continuum of a long forgotten story in my life. Like I once wrote, I was never really comfortable with change. I long for people and places to retain their raw charm. I feel a deep sense of loss when circumstances and the battle with life robs them of this rawness and peels off their warmth, sensitivity and vulnerability- elements that define this rawness.

It is gratitude I feel. I feel grateful for this ability to feel. Grateful for the kind of people who have touched my life. Grateful for the beautiful memories. Grateful for this warmth that surrounds me here at Anjarakandy.

 

In the album of the mind

The 30th of August, 2008. These were my thoughts on that day.

Now, we all have our role models. Many a time, they are people from day to day life. Of the numerous souls we interact with, there are those few souls who silently and stealthily creep into our minds.

If we were to search our souls, we would find them there- engraved into the depth of our souls.

They are people who are passionate about life, and yet it is a passion that is no longer needy. They are people who intrigue us. For buried in the story of their lives, is the story of our own lives. They are people who inspire us to plunge into the depths of our own lives, for they give us a glimpse of the crux of life, and help us believe in its beauty.

In the past, as a child, I had no scarcity of role-models in my life. In family, among peers, in school and in college, there were so many people who set standards in terms of life. Today, as I look around me, all I see is people lost in the rat race and money game, chasing shadows and mirages. The pace of their lives and the internal conflicts they portray, can never inspire. In modern times, I have found a profound dearth of role-models. This post is an attempt to reflect on some of the role models in my life. It is a tribute to them as much as it is a revelation to me.

The first person that I shall talk about is the dean of the institution I work for.

Raised in a small town before having joined the Armed Forces Medical Services, his ascent has been a very gradual process, and the fact that he has experienced the struggles and joys at every step of the ladder, is reflected in his modesty and maturity, and the ease with which he interacts with people from different walks of life, with a very deep understanding of the differing needs and attitudes at different planes of life. A tall, lean, mellow person- I found him so receptive that I ached to know the person beneath those credentials. It took me a while to get to know him. For in all the settings we interacted, he thrust the dais back at us, listening to us, attempting to understand us, and gently steering us to help build perspectives and arrive at decisions, while he stood backstage, absorbing us in totality. Eventually, I realized that this was the secret to his insight into each one of his employees and students at an individual level.

Our relationship grew with time. So much so that I now find myself deeply bonded to him.

I do not know if the absence of a father-figure in my own life makes this feeling stronger, but looking into those eyes, I have always felt that peculiar mix of love, admiration and respect that only a father can evoke in a child.

This brings me to the realization that true freedom can be discovered only within the realms of one’s mind. Here, there are no rules and conventions to abide by. Here, there is only the truth of emotions.

On every occasion that we have interacted, I am left with a residual feeling of wanting to be a better person. He sets my standards and defines the standards that I aspire to meet. He seeds in me a desire to do things that would make him love me and feel proud of me. I never want to let him down, for in the realms of my mind, he is my father.

 

The mind is beautiful in that it paints its own picture of human relationships, independent of convention and scientific facts. Perhaps girls my age dream of prospective life-partners. But I have often conjured in my mind precious moments where a father listens to his daughter attentively, absorbing all her passion and zeal, absorbing all her intellect and stupidity, absorbing all her innocent joy, reveling in it and basking in it. Moments where a father guides his daughter, gently steering her towards what he knows is right for her, helping her arrive at that plane of thought. 

It is not by virtue of his knowledge that I look up at him, but by virtue of his wisdom, and the underlying human being within that wealth of wisdom- a warm, sensitive and caring soul beneath that infinite wisdom.

I aspire to be his best child. I aspire to borrow from him- in mind and in soul. 

On some days, he smiles at me affectionately. On such days, I find myself in high spirits. On days when we converse and exchange thoughts, I feel a deeper sense of contentment. On days when he condemns me, I am upset and disturbed. It gnaws at me until I find myself a little child, running up to him, and accounting for my behavior/act. When he smiles at me, I see sunshine around.

At that moment, I am a little child basking in my father’s reassurance. 

To me, he is a voice of the value system of the past. He strengthens my belief in myself.

In the album of my mind, there is a picture that my mind guards passionately. It is a picture of a father and daughter, basking in the sheen of their relationship. I can see their faces clearly; there could be no element of doubt.

 

Thanksgiving

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

A little less humidity…

Clear blue skies…

Misty mornings…

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

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

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

The woman in me….

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

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

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

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

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

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

It took love to articulate it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet, this love had not penetrated our thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To time and destiny that brought us together…

To the truth in the love he gave me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independence versus Interdependence

In the progress of personality, first comes the declaration of independence. Then comes the realization of interdependence.

I have been pondering on the independence-interdependence equation for quite some time now, especially in the context of Indian marriages.

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I look at my colleague whose life revolves around social networking and fashion- the only highs in her life at this point in time. She has been married for 8 years now and when I look at her life now, it is hard to imagine that love must have been a component of her marriage at some point in time. But it was, and she recollects the initial years of her marriage as very happy and fulfilling for they revolved around companionship.

She remembers the endless conversations about everything and nothing…she remembers all the sharing and caring…she remembers the energy and enthusiasm the relationship instilled in her. But she does not recollect when the magic faded away. She only remembers how the challenges grew as life unfolded, for there were pressures- sometimes from both families, sometimes at work, and these only multiplied as children came into the picture. Housekeeping itself seemed a mammoth task.

Listening to her, I couldn’t help thinking how she regarded each of these as her individual problems. I guess that is ingrained in the mindset of a traditional Indian woman that the problems are hers alone, and it is up to her to strike a balance. Meanwhile, her husband started to focus more on his work, and his preoccupation stole away the qualitative time they had spent in the initial part of their relationship. As the environment at home became more charged with responsibility, her husband responded to the stress by finding outlets to unwind and relax. He loved his job for it gave him a sense of productivity and achievement. He socialized with people at work and outside of work. He lead an active life on all fronts- career, social circles and recreation.

For her, it was the other way round. Work reduced to just being a source of income and a distraction from the responsibilities. She no longer had the energy to define or chase her career dreams. Fighting the variables dominated the equation of her life. Frustration gradually crept in, for most of her energy went into the mundane things that she did not enjoy doing. Her husband distanced further for he did not look forward to spending time with a woman who radiated negative vibes most of the time.

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I couldn’t help thinking how this was the story of almost every Indian woman today. On the Indian landscape, there are women who have never explored their potential, for they just move in from the protected environment of their parents’ home to the protected environment of their husband’s home. They are women who have never defined independence- the very first step in the progress of personality. These women will continue to limit themselves to a small world for the rest of their lives and may never explore their potential.

Then there are the more fortunate women – fortunate to have been raised in a more liberal environment. These are women who are given the freedom to dream. For these women, marriage can be a sophisticated affair. When challenges enter the marriage scenario, these women often feel the currents for they find themselves robbed of their dreams. Some will rebel and opt for separation. Others will hang on a trifle longer for the sake of children, banking on temporary outlets such as social networking and extramarital affairs. Yet others will rediscover individuality and liberate themselves within the framework of the relationship. The tragedy is that in each of these cases, the relationship has been emotionally severed, irrespective of whether it is legalized or not…

Once companionship absents itself in a marriage, the marriage has lost its essence.

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The interesting fact is that this attitude is more prevalent in Indian men, especially of this generation- this escapist response to stress. It is often not the case with men from other races or even with Indian men raised abroad. For them, a problem is something that binds both people involved in a relationship. A man’s role or a woman’s role are not charted in black and white. In fact, a man feels responsible for the woman, for she is emotionally vulnerable and fragile.

Who doesn’t wish for long lasting companionship in a relationship? It is the one dream that brings two people together into a relationship. And if one sheds off all the social conditioning, one would realize that expression of one’s personality to its fullest potential would be the ultimate motivation of every individual, man or woman. A relationship can only provide a source of strength and energy in this process. And so, independence rests on interdependence.

In a world where every external element tries to extinguish the flame that characterizes the richness of one’s spirit, the purpose of a relationship must be to provide a cover that shields one from these external elements and helps maintain the flame, nurturing it, amplifying its brightness and warmth.

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