Friday, May 25, 2018

Just like in the movies


About  a month and a half ago, I came back to my room from work, every bone and tendon in my body and mind tired. After mechanically finishing the day’s chores, I opened my last remaining packet of Epigamia’s blueberry yoghurt and settled down on the couch, switching on Wi-Fi on my phone. I’d been meaning to uninstall Tinder for weeks, and I didn’t even bother replying to the last guy I’d matched with- some tall guy smiling, drenched in pink and yellow colours of Holi. I remember staring at that picture longer than I usually do, and that very second, I received a message: “I’m going to uninstall Tinder, it’s unproductive. However, you seem nice, would you like to text on Instagram or something?”

I took another spoon of yoghurt and considered the possibilities- “You know you can’t find what you’re looking for on a fucking dating app. It is meant for hook-ups and by this time you of all people know that hook-ups are not for you. Grow the fuck up, uninstall that trash and for hell’s sake, stop looking.”- My sister , and it annoys me that she’s right. “I know why you’ve been so dysfunctional, it’s because that thing, that wild, happy thing that used to smile at old women selling flowers on the road and cringed every time you used to see a hungry kid, that fucking thing that made you want to stop whatever you’re doing and drench everyone around you with bad jokes and chocolate cookies, that thing is dying. It’s been smashed, and you took no effort to tend to it, you threw away every last vial of medicine you had, and left it parched, left it to rot, day after night. I know you know this, there you go, this is why you don’t even bother talking to baby plants growing on cracks in the wall, that’s exactly why you stopped saying good morning to your dumb roommate. You can’t hide it from me. You’re running out of time. Don’t wait till I save you. And get off that app. And I will personally strangle you if you touch Vodka again” – the starmarked message from my best friend, which I read every day.

I looked at the picture of this tall guy, holding some random colourful thing in his hand, smiling with a sort of innocence you and I would seldom find today and threw the empty cup into an almost full dustbin.

And I gave him my Instagram handle.

The next day, break time at work, stirring sugar into my Nescafe instant cappuccino, muting people around me, I put on Earphones. He’d requested to follow me, and I followed him back. I carefully went through all of his 70 pictures- screenshotting an Urdu poem he’d written, so beautiful it gave me goosebumps. Even today, random lines from that poem seep into my head- when I’m wearing earrings, when I’m washing plates, when I just wake up, when I shut the cupboard door with unnecessary force. He was good looking, I concluded, and he had a nice aura; he loves his sister, probably has a functional family, wears nice shirts, pakka North Indian only. Where was this heading? We texted for a week on Instagram- about work, about poetry, about Hyderabad, about alcohol. I caught myself by surprise, as I asked for his number, blushing a little for no reason.

Two days later, I caught myself by surpise again, as I asked him out for dinner. “Would you like to join me?” I hit send and buried my face in my palms, just like in the movies, he would’ve thought I was desperate. The things Patricarchy do to people, I remember thinking. To my eternal embarrassment, he didn’t even see the text till it was too late, so I went to take a shower. When I came out, a “do you still want to meet?” was waiting. I stared at myself in the mirror, made a silent promise to not expect anything, to go say hi and leave, but I did end up spending fifteen whole minutes selecting the perfect grey jacket that would look nice but not nice enough to make it seem like I put actual effort.

I was listening to an old Ilayaraja song as I was pacing up and down Kothaguda signal, as always, 10 minutes early. It was 11:53 PM, and every single passing person was staring at me. And then I turned around, utterly unprepared, and saw him, my breath was literally caught in my lungs, as I almost gawked at the ­utter handsomeness of the person walking in front of me. It was just like the movies. He was tall, so deliciously tall, and his cheeks shone like apples, almost as pink as the formal shirt he was wearing. He was blushing, I noticed, and I mentally kicked myself to stop gawking and form legible words. I waved, said Hi, completely avoided eye contact, and asked him about his day. He wasn’t much of a talker, so incredibly cute, and my system took extreme advantage of this situation, as I was consciously blabbering on and on about random stuff, stealing healthy glances, long glances when he wasn’t looking. And then we found a place to eat that was open, he bought Shawarma, and that plastic cover made him so happy, and the fact that he lit up at something simple made me light up a little too. As if on cue, an ice cream waala came along. I’m going to tell this picture perfect first date story to my grandchildren, I thought to myself, as we ate ice cream and laughed, and laughed some more, and I hugged him tight and he got on a cab back to his place.

I’d then spend a good part of the night replaying every single second in my head, and blush myself to sleep, before I severely sprained my left foot. I woke up the next morning and smiled, mumbling a good morning to my dumb roommate, it was then her turn to gawk. At work, Amit asked me why I wouldn’t stop humming, and my professor was almost shocked to look at his dead nerd student walk with a lilt in her stance that she herself had become a stranger to.  My foot was killing me, however, and I had to go to the hospital. Turns out, it was a tiny fracture. My first ever fracture. I remembering feeling a little bit proud at handling the situation well, and I treated myself to a steaming cup of filter coffee at Udipi’s, it was such a long day, and to top it off, I’d gotten my period early, the cramps were unbearable.

And then, a “Beer ?” popped up on my phone. I thought he was talking about work, you see, he was interning with this popular beer company (I know, MBA students always get to do cool stuff) and in an attempt to be funny, I replied “sure, where, when?” and like a teenager, I sent a fucking smiley face. I then smiled at my empty coffee cup, as he then called. My heart skipped a beat, I was so impressed that he actually called, you see, calling is a very big deal to me. I let it ring for a second, and picked up, just like in the movies.

Later that night, two beers and a little bit of whiskey later, we collapsed on his bed, laughing our guts out, my broken Hindi triggering his endorphins, peals of laughter, so pure. He seemed a million times himself, as he offered me a glass of water. Cheeks hurting, stomach hurting, back hurting and this ridiculous spot somewhere along the right hemisphere of my brain hurting, I let myself hit pause and downed half a litre of water. There was silence in the air, I could feel it building up, tiny balloons of silence floating in between us, and then more balloons, and some more, till it was a storm. And I’ll never know why I chose that exact second to look at his eyes, but I’m forever grateful that I did, because the next moment my lips were on his and all those balloons burst around my head, spilling confetti all over us- glittery, sticky sweet sparkles. It was as perfect as perfect could possibly be, the entire package really - sparks behind my knees, and electricity in the middle of my palms, enough to kill the sense of dread that was just beginning to wake up. It was just like in the movies.

I woke up next morning with the sun. There was a dull throb behind my eyes, and a sad song was working it’s way up from my toes. I didn’t dare to turn around.  And then the party started. The sad song danced up my elbows, stood right on top of my nose, and punched me really hard, hard enough to make me remember what had happened in the past few hours.

Blink. “It’s okay, we don’t have to do anything, let’s just sleep”  

Blink. “Talk to me.”  

Blink. “My parents ran away from home to get married...”

His story wrapped itself around us like a silk shawl.  The shawl was torn, a masterpiece  so invaluably torn, letting in just the right amount of coldness for me to pull him closer, and closer still, till we both decided to come home to my heart. I pictured every single detail of the making of this man, this man, a survivor, a platinum grade specimen of this world, and I mumbled a thank you to his mother and a sorry to his father before I felt his eyes close, and I fell asleep listening to his heartbeat. Till this very minute, every element of his story continues to haunt me in my weakest and strongest moments. It was just like in the movies, and it was exactly enough proportions of darkness and light to make the world’s most beautiful shadows, shadows that would dance across his eyes every time we kissed, shadows that would pull his chin down after bites of peanut butter bread, shadows that would make him hold me tighter when we watched Donnie Darko, almost as if he was protecting me, or was it himself? Again, I’ll never now.  I stole some of his shadows, and set them up with mine. It was a match made in hell, and I have a feeling I’ll third-wheel our shadows till I die.

I blinked again, and turned around and savoured my last moment of sanity, before I fell.

Over the next week, I’d fall again and again, over and over, just like in the movies- over  Urdu words,  over days when he had to eat ‘vegetables and shit’,  over his dream standard beard,  his rented Activa,  over kulfi, Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar, shirts and T shirts,  and eyes designed to kill my common sense,  over Californication, over subliminal marketing strategies and other fancy MBA terms, over how I deliberately decided to not let his ‘Don’t get attached’  anywhere near me.  I no longer woke up without smiling, there were flowers on the plants I’d been watering. I let myself listen to music that was banned for months, I let myself glow, I let myself go. I let myself hold hands when there was no reason to, I let myself add him to my 3BHK dreams, I let myself record every minute of us and make a blockbuster out f it. I let myself sink deeper and deeper till I drowned, and then I drowned, and then I finally drowned. We discovered things and feelings and memories about each other and ourselves, we took walks every day and night- into our almost all of our happy days, angry afternoons, and everything in between. His stories were generally funnier than mine, and he effortlessly stole my heart in ways he didn’t mean to. Here was a guy who‘d die for his friends, a guy who’s mother moved me to tears.

A guy who, despite best attempts, couldn’t hide the love of another woman from his eyes.

I thought I would hate her, but then I completely understand why she hasn’t moved on.  As time progressed, this woman slowly crept up in between us, till I realized it was the other way round; that I was the one who’d crept up in between them.  I’ll never admit this to him, but she’s made him so obviously hers, that even when he fled for life as far away as he could from her, he’d left behind pieces of himself with her, missing pieces without which I don’t have any rights over. This splendid woman who’d made him say yes, a woman I try very hard to hate, a woman who almost made me feel like I was trespassing, a woman who I can never betray. I have daydreams where I meet her someday.

Days passed.

It’ll be just like in the movies, Aswitha. You can always write to me. Let’s e-mail each other; it’ll be our Forever thing

I told him that I wanted a different Forever thing, a real one, not once, not twice, but thrice. And he refused, more than thrice. Unfortunately, he comes with neatly packaged bottles of delusion, every time he comes to visit me. And I drink all of them and end up sending e-mails. I’ve sent him ten letters so far. Now I’m in rehabilitation. In my last letter, I told him that our story was too good anyways, that I’d be fine and I hope we’d never cross paths. I don’t know how much of that I meant, I don’t know how much of that I want to make real. I know he’s reading this and I know that he knows that I’ve finally given up like he wanted me to. 

Thus ended My Hyderabadi love story, too short, too much, too heavy, too little.

Today I wonder if I should’ve tried harder, very well knowing that there was nothing else I could’ve done. The fog in my head seems clearer and I find the courage to think about things I wouldn’t have dared to- Maybe it did matter in some miniscule way that our lives were poles apart outside our world. Maybe it would be a case of history repeating itself- his story, I mean. Maybe it did actually matter to him and maybe to me that he’s a Muslim and I’m a Hindu Brahmin and we live in a country with far too many examples of our sort of things. Maybe it’s a sign that I could in no way relate to the way he was raised. Maybe my middle class-ness wasn’t actually compatible with his elitist being. Maybe Bombay and Madras go together, but Mumbai and Chennai don’t.

So I had a conversation with the best heartbreak of my life, and wrote it all down, except for the words I’ll never write- “But in the movies, they end up together”


Friday, September 1, 2017

Musings


Here I am, wide awake at 2:43 AM, physically present on a bed that’s way too comfy for someone who doesn’t sleep.  Being stuck in an existential crisis at ungodly hours does bring one a certain level of peace though; the rare, stubborn sort that cannot be summoned by any other means. Or so I have come to believe, in the past few weeks. Perhaps this is good old Stockholm’s syndrome messing up my grey matter, perhaps it is actually true, perhaps there is no use questioning the origins of my conclusion. (Side note- damn oxymoron).  I have tried and tried and miserably failed to understand my need to explain the smallest of my actions to even the people who least bother or deserve to know,  and as proof to this statement, I’m going to do exactly the same thing.

This would probably be the first (of many?) times where I’m in such a tranquil state. I’ve set the bar so low for the world and it’s workings around me, and I even feel borderline enlightened. I’ve become so accepting of things around me lately, that even my headache doesn’t bother me. It stays just a bit to the right of the centre of my head, and even that bit of imperfection in its location fails to annoy me. I’m consciously opening up this highway road inside me, directly connecting my heart to my ears, and I feel music pouring down in full speed. I usually keep this road blocked, and let the music roam around till it loses all the feelings associated with it and hits me as just sound. Right now, my barriers are broken, and my guards are dangerously down. Of course, the next minute I feel it coiling up just below my ribcage, squeezing whatever exists there into a tight ball. I merely observe, as I become increasingly uncomfortable. The ball of purposefully forgotten/swallowed feelings wakes up, growing in size every minute. I estimated that it would take another couple minutes before it completely expands to its glory, pushing against my insides. I wouldn’t expect anything less, after all, I’ve been feeding it for five years now.  

It is in this rare state of serenity, that I allow my thoughts to quench their thirst for travel. What is it about people like me (Hopefully, there are a few out there, awake and pressure-cooking their souls) that makes every second of every day complicated beyond what’s considered to be normal? Why do we never feel at ease, we never ‘get a grip’? We have never known what this world calls a solid feeling of just letting things be. We are a hundred-fold more sensitive to every tiny thing we see, smell, taste and feel, and a thousand-fold  better at never showing it out. We could be sipping a cup of coffee in the corner of a canteen, and you’d never be able to guess at the battle that’s been going on since time immemorial, gut-wrenching panic building up in each of our nerves, the valley of broken arrows in the centre of our chests, swallowing atom bombs like candy. Sometimes, the tremors show in the way our nails dig trenches as deep as the devil’s heart into our palms, or in the way we try to force air down our throats which seem to be suddenly overpoweringly clogged with mind-numbing pain. The other times, we’re as placid and fragile as the thinnest sheet of ice which hides a roaring, angry, stone-cold lake filled with dead feelings and shattered memories. What is it about us that has made is look at worse human beings with unrelenting, sheer insensitivity, and at the same time, boil up our insides in a volcano of emotions we didn’t know existed at the smallest of good things happening to the ones we love? What is it that renders it nearly impossible to make it through a movie or a song without every bone in our bodies feeling everything under the sun? Why are we almost always disappointed by the way we are treated, and why do we choose to reciprocate with pure love and affection instead of firing back bullets? Why do we choose to be walked upon? Is it because we know that we’re strong enough to take it? Is it because we absolutely cannot fathom the thought of putting anybody else through even a fraction of what we’ve been through? Why do we feel the need to shield our loved ones and take in every single blow before it hits them, at all costs? Why do our hearts break before we could let theirs take a mere crack? Why do we feel all-consuming euphoria before their smiles reach the corners of their faces?

I could go on with this till my last breath, and I most probably will. Meanwhile, the ball has expanded to tonight’s potential full size and demands my attention to maintain sanity. Perhaps, someone, someday, somewhere will answer some of these questions. Till then, cheers to making the world sustain its belief that I’m a completely normal, optimistic person.

Sparkle


More often than not, we are thrown headfirst into certain moments in life- where it is absolutely impossible to decide if who you are is a blessing or a curse, and for an infinitesimal amount of time, the world absolutely stops around you and you see what I’d like to call a projection of your soul. (Yes, I’ve taken the risk of this coming off as too corny, and I hope this doesn’t bias what I’m trying to convey). In these moments, everything else painfully blurs in the background, and the only item in focus is the realization that this projection is the only thing that matters. This projection demands to be understood, and you are forced to stop postponing the process of not being aware of what defines you.

It is in these moments, that you swallow tiny pieces of truth like bitter medicine.

Mind you, this is no ordinary medicine. Each bit you engulf peels away the barriers you have built within who you are, who you think you are, and who you want to be. The ultimate cure would be to unite all these, but simplicity is seldom accepted as beautiful. So, day after day, lie after lie, we build these barriers, and the aforementioned moments, the guardians of our conscience, appear out of the blue to make us stop.

But how can self awareness be possible when the very definition of ‘self’ is constantly changing? The only possible way out is forceful acceptance of the few constant elements of our variable self. These elements make up the projection. These elements sparkle with the strength of being true, sparkle with the elegance of omnipresence, and they sparkle with the power of being the ultimate decider of all your outputs into reality. Lucky are those people who like their sparkles. The majority of us, on the other hand, are led into believing that our sparkles are curses which make us ‘flawed’, and we are done, so done, with statements which say that our flaws are beautiful.

After all, what is possibly beautiful about suffering through every minute of your life with unbound, high functioning anxiety and the need to constantly feel guilt and apologize? What is possibly attractive about nightmares that send waves of panic that knock your breath away? What is possibly not ugly about waking up every day hoping to make it through without another puncture to the heart? And what in the nine worlds, what, is even remotely acceptable about not knowing when you will stop losing faith in your loved ones, and not knowing when you will have your next bout of utter dark depression?

The cherry on this cake however goes to Empathy. Usually perceived as a rare trait and a blessing, and associated with having a kind heart, no one knows about the dark side of being overtly empathetic. This alter ego of empathy is a vicious demon that tricks your brain to believe that you alone are responsible for everything that is wrong with the world. It is being embarrassed for the director of a bad movie that you chose to watch, it is being unable to bear the sorrow of a loved one without feeling intense guilt, it is being unable to read a book without feeling nerve-rattling panic and anxiety for even the characters you don’t like, it is walking into a dirty room and being unable to bear the thought of the inconvenience it would cause to the next person, it is being unable to look at the world without every single wrongdoing being a punishable offence upon self. Empathy is the sugar syrup that fills your heart, which when overflowed, hardens and pierces every nook and cranny of yourself with its bittersweet crystals.

As always, no, this particular piece of writing serves no actual purpose other than giving a small ray of hope that if a problem can be diagnosed by words, there might exist a cure somewhere.

Cheers to the ones whose curses sparkle, the ones whose injured hearts beat to prevent steel hearts from nearly impossible damage, the ones who think too much, feel too much and exist too much.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Maze


She closed the door, and latched it from the inside. She was finally alone, in the safety of her own room. All she needed was a hot shower, and she could get a good night’s sleep. She kept her bag on the shelf and stood in front of the mirror. She removed her earrings and placed them in their box. She took off her bindi and stuck it on the mirror. She took a piece of cotton, added a drop of baby oil, and removed her kajal.

The first pang of unease started when she took off the clip holding up her hair. As she watched it tumble down her shoulders, she felt a pair of eyes piercing into her neck, watching her hair, leaning in just enough to get a whiff. She could almost feel someone breathing down her neck, when she looked into the mirror. Of course there was no one else. He would probably be home, with his wife and children. He certainly looked like a respectable man, what with his vibhudi and expensive smartphone. She hadn’t even noticed his presence in the bus, two days ago, till she turned around to buy a ticket and caught him staring. He wouldn’t stop staring at her even when she stared right back. She felt his gaze on her neck. It was almost physical. She felt it, as though he was running his finger along her neck. She wanted to slap it away. But no matter how much she adjusted her position, how much she squirmed, it wouldn’t move.

She quickly moved away from the mirror and sat down. She was being paranoid, she told herself. People stare, and if it bothered her this much, she can cover herself with a dupatta, she told herself. A tiny voice spoke back “You knew what he was thinking when he was staring at you. You knew that a stranger had access to images of you in ways that you don’t want, in his head. You knew that you could not do anything about it.” No, she told herself, everyone fantasizes. It is human nature. Its not like he had groped her. “But the way he continued staring at you, the way he didn’t deter even after knowing it made you uncomfortable, the way he established the fact that you are powerless against his imagination, is that any better than actually being groped?” , the voice asked. She didn’t respond. The feeling of unease started spreading in her stomach.

“You feel vulnerable and exposed, and painfully conscious of how ashamed you are, in the ‘safety’ of your room, don’t you?” the voice asked. Shut up, she said. Stop exaggerating and overreacting. “But you are lying to yourself by forcing yourself to believe that this is an exaggeration. For hell’s sake, your heart is racing. There is no one else except you. No is going to judge you or criticise you, or tell you that you are attracting attention. Others say that to you, and you lap it up because then they will stop. But you can’t do that to yourself. How hard is it for you to admit it to yourself? Who are you trying to prove a point to? How long before you take off that mask? How long before you just let yourself be?” The voice was growing louder in her head. She was angry because she knew the voice was right.

She wanted to move away from the mirror. She took one last look at her reflection- she couldn’t figure out what her face meant. She struggled there for another half a minute, trying to look into her eyes, and miserably failing. At this point, exasperation took over the reins from whatever it was gnawing on the edges of her heart. She walked away from the mirror, wondering when she would have the courage to meet her own gaze. You are too sensitive, she told herself. “You know the reason behind that too. You know. Are you going to fold that also away into the darkness?” She ignored the voice and stepped into the bathroom.

As soon as she felt the cold tile under her feet, the unease sprung back to life, this time below her ribs. She decided to ignore it, and stood under the shower. She was still fully dressed. Just as she was about to remove her kurti, her hands froze. The unease flared up, shooting upwards into her chest, turning into panic. “Someone’s watching you”. She did not turn back, because she knew there was no one. Yet she felt heat on her back, trailing across her spine. “Someone’s watching you”. She swallowed that voice, and proceeded to remove her kurti. She felt goosebumps on her back. With every inch of skin exposed, the panic grew stronger. Her heartbeat was thudding in her ears. She was quite literally uncomfortable in her own skin. She closed her eyes and quickly removed her kurti, and threw it into the laundry bag with all the anger she could muster. “Someone is watching. Always.”. For a second, she felt exhausted. “How many more years are you going to let him watch?”, the voice asked. She felt the exhaustion in her core. She was fed up. Tired. Tired of fighting against something she didn’t know. Tired of resisting the urge to give in. Tired of the voice. Tired of the guilt, the pain and everything in between. Tired of the lies, tired of the hidden truth, tired of helplessness, tired of the burden. I’m done, she told herself. I’m done.

Her eyes began to prick from the inside as she removed her remaining clothes. She turned on the shower and let the hot water soothe the storm that was wrecking her inside out. The hot water flowed down her face, covering her ears. She closed her eyes and let the memory take control of her.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Commute


The entire month of June 2017 required me to travel all the way to GN Chetty road, T. Nagar, from Tambaram, for my internship, the details of which I’ll tell you later. This process consisted of a long journey that I’d like to split into three phases: Train, bus and walk till Sun Plaza. On the first day, my father being the extremely overprotective father he is, dropped me in his car. The second day being a Saturday, the train journey seemed like a cakewalk. I also took an auto directly from Kodambakkam station to my office, eliminating the other two phases and wasting a hundred and twenty rupees in the process.

Before I start, let me quickly explain my travel plan. My dad/sister would drop me off in the Tambaram railway station at around 9 AM, following which I would board the local train till Kodambakkam, for which I’d obtained a monthly pass. From there, I’d board the minibus S37, which would drop me off at the bus stand opposite Sun Plaza, around 10:30 AM.  The reverse would happen in the evening.

Today being my third day of work, would open my eyes to some nasty surprises.

The day started off okay- I woke up at 7:45, switched on the geyser, brushed my teeth, and went downstairs, inhaling my most favourite aroma in the entire universe- filter coffee.  Smiling even through my half asleep state, I finished the one and a half cups of heaven, and dragged myself upstairs. I actually woke up in the hot shower, and dressed up to the rhythm of select hindi and tamil item songs. My mom had made paruppu saadham with a generous dollop of ghee for breakfast, which smelt utterly gorgeous. I gulped it down within 10 minutes, and I was ready at 8:50. Dad dropped me off at the station, and insisted on accompanying me inside till I boarded the train. I told him to not be overprotective, offending him in the process. I then felt terrible, and apologized to him. In the end, he had his way, and I clucked my tongue as I got into the already full ladies’ compartment, watching him scan the train to make sure I get a seat.  

I quickly changed into train mode: the quintessential dupatta wrapped around my hair, leaving my face exposed, one ear plugged in with music, and the other free to listen to fellow passengers. The train started, and I felt the usual mixture of mild euphoria, freedom, a little excitement and anticipation. I steadied myself next to a steel pole, and felt the wind on my face. I saw this one particular man in the adjacent compartment staring at me. I decided to overlook it, being in a good mood. In all, I was totally unprepared for what was going to happen next, at the Sanatorium stopping. As soon as the train halted, some 15 women rushed into the compartment, taking up all the space in the standing area. I was pushed into a corner of the wall. Slightly bitter that I’d lost some space, I adjusted my bag, and looked around the compartment. Half of the women were young office goers, faces covered with shawls that ranged from bubble gum pink to chocolate brown. I particularly appreciated the effort of the lady near me, who had painstakingly drawn out almost perfect eyeliner wings, and matched her shawl to her kurti. Also, the man was still staring. I was just about to turn around and look at what was behind me, when we reached the next stop, and I almost fell down. A hoard of women jolted into the train, like an angry stampede, crushing everything in the way. I was crushed between a fat aunty and the eyeliner girl, and someone’s handbag was digging into my hip. I tried my best to re align myself, and get a grip somewhere, but my attempts were in vain. I couldn’t move, and I didn’t want to risk a 180 degree turn, in the fear of being cursed by the fat aunty. From somewhere, a hand shot out dangerously close to my chest, and I arched my back in reflex, which caused my bag to push against someone else’s face. I was beginning to mildly panic, and my brain reminded me of something I’d never thought it would- a chemistry lesson on “packing of atoms in a molecule”. It basically taught us how atoms arranged themselves in the most convenient way, to reduce cramming and protect themselves. Through all this, I found the man still staring at me. I frantically tried to spin around to find the most convenient angle, and following three boob-grazes, two knee jerks, and my dupatta getting caught in another zipper, I finally found an angle. I was just about to breathe, and then wham- I was just completely pushed against the wall, and I hit my head quite hard. Annoyed, I turned to give whoever pushed me a piece of my mind, but what I saw scarred me. Five more women tried to get into the already full compartment, and I was completely pinned up against the wall. I was unable to move any part of my body, and someone was breathing down my neck. Amidst all this, my kurti rode up, exposing a small part of my hip, which was very uncomfortably poking against someone’s umbrella. And, my leg started itching. And the smell- every kind of shampoo, deodorant and talcum powder, with sweat. I tried to not gag, and pressed my nose against my freshly washed dupatta.

I was trying to keep it together, but the itch was really annoying. I was praying that some kind soul would pull my kurti down, but everyone was too busy surviving. Then we reached guindy.

I’d like to express my gratitude for being alive at this point.

 The sight of half of the crowd trying to get down,  and the rest trying to not die, random screams and curses, and the plight of a few other people trying to get on to the train, watching all those bodies  being squished, crushed and in pain, is something I wouldn’t wish upon my greatest enemy. By this point, I stopped resisting, and just gave in. I closed my eyes and focussed on reducing my claustrophobia, as I felt random people push me from every direction, squeezing me like some ketchup bottle. “It will be over it will be over it will be over” I chanted. And then fate decided to show me some mercy. Finally, a significant number of people had gotten off the train. I gasped at the one centimetre thick perimeter of free space around me. I have never appreciated air so much. I looked up at eyeliner girl, who was almost in tears. We gave each other a silent nod, and I offered her a one rupee eclairs chocolate as a sign of goodwill. And I stared back at the man, channelling all my anger into my gaze, wishing he’d burn and die. But that lewd piece of shit started giving a creepy grin.

I finally steadied myself, and inched toward the door, for the next stopping was mine. I felt wind on my face, and somewhere deep inside, I felt happiness in ways I’d never felt before. In a few minutes, the train halted, and I tumbled out. I looked at the man, and showed him both my middle fingers, and the dirtiest look I could give. Eyeliner girl laughed and waved at me. In that exact moment, I understood how soldiers would have felt when they survived the day’s battle. I felt like a wildebeest that had just escaped a pack of wolves. Along with my dupatta, bag, and newfound respect for life, I collapsed on to a bench. I untied my dupatta and stuffed it into my bag. I tied up all my hair into a bun, plugged in my earphones, took a sip of water, and continued my journey out of Kodambakkam station.

There was an s37 already waiting, but to my dismay, it was already full. I decided that I was not ready for that again, and decided to wait, and put on sunglasses. Another man came and stood next to me, scanning me. I swear, if it wasn’t for the bus arriving, I would have punched his face. I got a seat on the bus, in a not so good mood, and got a ticket to sun plaza. But, fate loves me, so the bus conductor told me that they only pick up from that stopping, and won’t drop us there. He dropped me off somewhere next to Pothys, and told me to take a right and walk. So I did, and I walked. And I walked, and walked, and I walked some more. By this time I’d changed to walk mode: face fully covered, sunglasses and earphones on. After what felt like an eternity and no sign of GN road, I decided to give up and take an auto. The driver was kind enough to show me directions- one more kilometre straight ahead. We also had a mildly pointless conversation about the weather because that’s how we roll.

I finally reached Sun plaza, and I swear I almost cried when I entered the ground floor. It is an old building with granite floors and marble walls. The temperature instantly dropped, and my mood proportionally went up. I was even humming something as I waited for the lift. I quickly did my hair in the lift, and walked into my office almost feeling brand new. I went inside and stood in front of the AC, which completely restored my sanity, and put a big smile on my face. The train journey seemed like an old memory.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Hostellers


We wake up every morning, contemplate bunking the first hour, remember that we don’t have attendance, and use every ounce of willpower left in us to open our eyes. On those few lucky days, we swallow down breakfast. We bathe in ice cold water during winter, and survive without an AC during summer. We all have a backup job option- a dhobi. Roll call is our priority, and putting up with merciless wardens is our necessity. Our diet is 80% maggi, and laptops are our lifelines.

 We are the people who learn life lessons that will not be a part of any curriculum. We are survivors, who have limited their entire life to a bed and a shelf. We are the ones who can make the best out of nothing. We manage budgets, we cook food, we travel great distances alone. We don’t make friends, we make family. We realize how strong we are, and we realize how precious our parents are. We are the ones who have seen the worst, and made it through with flying colours. We have two homes instead of one, and we always miss one home when in the other.

Yes, we are the hostellers, and we are damn proud to be so.

Between and beyond


“The greatest reader is the one that reads between the lines”

So my sister and I were pooling music into the car stereo the other day, and an Ed Sheeran song popped up. I immediately changed it, leaping from the backseat. Her puzzled expression morphed into an amalgamation of shock and disappointment when I let out a relieved “Phew, that was close! thank god the lyric didn’t start”.  I swear I heard her heart break when I said it out loud: “I don’t like Ed Sheeran”. I felt like I owed her an explanation, so I tried my best: “He hits me too much in the feels, and his music is so damn good that it strikes this weird chord in me and it screws me up big time, I need more emotional integrity to listen to him”.

She walked out!

How could I have possibly explained the sequence of events that takes place in my head, when I listen to him strumming his guitar like some evil, dark, beautiful angel who says things like “Her face crumbles like pastry” ? I wouldn’t expect anyone to understand if I tell them that a mere three seconds of Sheeran makes my throat tighten and yearn for something that I didn’t know existed in this world. Throw in an imaginary quaint wooden countryside villa which reeks of bittersweet, unsaid things (I don’t know who designed my subconscious) into the picture and I’ve got myself a sleepless night. I honestly cannot imagine saying this out loud.

Nor can I fathom telling people “I feel like there is a giant emotional vortex that connects every soul that goes through pain, irrespective of physical boundaries. So, when she gets hurt and accepts it as a part of the love she feels, I lose balance and my heart goes for a toss into the vortex”, when I listen to Cherry wine by Hozier.

Now dear people, this thought process happens for a fraction of a minute inside one average human brain. Can you begin to comprehend the amount of complexity behind every human being who chooses to think about their feelings instead of dismissing them? This question gnawed me for days till I gave in. From that precise instant, I’ve been trying to form thought-subtitles when I look at people being lost in thought.

The results were something that permanently changed a part of who I am.

I used to scoff when people said “Don’t judge others”. I mean, how could you carry on with life if you don’t decide how you are going to think about a person? But now, every visible emotion seems to be a millimetre of the tip of a mammoth iceberg. Deciding who a person is based on mere crude observation seems beyond absurd.

The weight of this particular statement has now crushed and remould my views on people. I suddenly seem to be shrinking into an insignificant atom in a sea of human brainworks. All this has (of course) resulted in establishing a certain motive that made me attempt yet another translation of thoughts into words. And, make other human beings read it. 

Maybe I will gain the maturity to finally listen to Sheeran. Hopes and cheers.  

Inequality


“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”

This particular notion has been replicated, reproduced and (mis)interpreted into SO MANY absurd, beautiful, thought provoking, and more often than not, scandalous ways. Before you reach a point where you /*physically */ cannot roll your eyes back any further, thinking that this is yet another cleverly disguised post about sexism or feminism or anything in that direction, please, you are safe. This is just my attempt to make sense of the extent of chaos this idea has brought along with its wake, in our lives.

No. Men and women are not equal. No. Neither of them is better. No. Neither of them is worse.

I don’t know why the fact that we belong to the same species has to imply that we must be equated. I mean who even brought that up? This is so hilarious on so many levels. (To the feminists who are reading this, please, I am in complete awe of everything that has happened in the female empowerment part of the history, spanning across decades and beyond boundaries. I am so glad that compared to say, the last century, women have overall improved in almost all walks of life. I truly am.) Man and Woman are separate entities, and we are as different as two abstract entities can be. Though the latter has unquestionably been ‘unfairly’ treated over time, I use the word ‘unfairly’ ONLY in absolute terms, with respect to women. Not with respect to men. A woman goes to work, and is paid only 100 rupees, when the salary is 200 rupees. This is unfair because she deserves 200. Where, from where in this universe and all the parallel universes put together did man enter this equation? This shall remain a mystery. A smart woman feels she can help her family function better, and also spend her time more productively, if she goes to a job. Again, how does the fact that a man in her position gets to work but she can’t relevant here? Why the comparison?

To make things more clear, I study in a place where girls are restricted to go out of campus except when they go home, and are restricted to even go outside the hostel after 6 PM. This has made me angry so many times, but, BUT, all that anger was because I knew that I deserved more freedom, and jailing me is not going to protect me from life and its many dark, twisted games in any way. NOT because boys don’t have the same restrictions as us. Even though I fall prey to comparisons and end up whining around saying “If I was a boy, (insert anything relevant) “, or “how come only they get to go out?” after a few minutes, it always dawns on me that I was wrong to compare.

I must confess this particular quote has made the most sense ever to me: “Women are created to do things a man cannot”. However I’ve modified it to “Women and men have a common subset of things which they go about pursuing with all zest and zeal. However, outside this subset, each has a set of things that the other cannot do. They just cannot, and one gender trying to pursue this special set of the other is the root cause of ALL the problems that has happened and is happening and is about to happen in the world.” We have all fallen into a stampede that is running all around us in blind and destructive ways, in pursuit of equality. A very few of us remain stable, in the pursuit of the actual truth, coexistence. In my view, that will just make everyone’s lives so much better, accepting that men and women are different, and learning to make things work with the differences, instead of eliminating them.

Again, I do not intend any offence to either gender by saying this. I completely agree that women have countless problems and have to face horrible situations that men don’t, and day by day things are getting worse for us out there, and a good deal of this problems are indeed caused by men. Some men, not all. But there are definitely ‘some’ women who reciprocate this to men, and sometimes on women too. And there are things that men must face that women cannot even dream of facing. So the next time, stop with “Why can’t I do this?” instead of “Why can’t I do this like him/like her?”

Peace. Thank you.

10 minutes

So I finally decided to pen it down. Whoever is reading this, greetings and thanks for reading this.  I'd recommend you read it with a cup of coffee (or tea, if you are actually choose it over coffee), but then I associate everything with food so.

"All of us are different but we are all exactly the same", I read somewhere. It got me thinking (just like everything else does), but that particular session of overthinking lasted longer than I expected it to. So much that it moved on from being my mind's go to place during class, to actually freeing time to think about it. When it bordered on becoming an obsession, I knew I had to let it out. So here goes : I see so much variety in everyone around me. It never ceases to amaze me. I see a girl in the mornings who actually talks to plants as she waters them, the next girl I see is completely oblivious to the planet around her, immersed in her headphones. Then, there's the newspaper geek, solving the crossword, and then there's the hopeless nerd trying to mug up notes in another corner

All this within five minutes, as I walk downstairs to get coffee. Later when I step out to class, the sheer amount of diversity there hits me hard. The reason for this tremendous diversity in physical appearances is of course, the less than 1% variance amongst all our DNAs, but what about who we are? When it is very obvious that no two people are the same, what could have possibly lead to similarities in people? What makes people want to interact with similar people? Are they attracted to similarities or opposites? What is being similar?  Does this arise due to similar interests? Is that what leads to association between individuals?  My cranium was boiling over with all this as I was sitting in class, desperately failing in my attempts to understand the second law of Thermodynamics. Since I have a particularly funny professor (who looks like Asterix from Asterix and Obelix, a weird cartoon show that I used to watch), my friend and I cracked the same joke at precisely the same time, which inevitably lead to a hi-fi and her "wavelength bro" comment, it suddenly hit me when I saw her eyes sparkle for a second. She was happy that for a second, her thoughts aligned with mine, our interests matched at that point, we connected. Hallelujah. That's what we look for, a connection fuelled by interests.

So I'm thinking this connection is what lead to the first human early men to interact with each other. A random hairy leafy dude probably scratched his leg on a tree bark and another dude saw that and finally found a solution to his itch too. They probably spoke (or did whatever they did) and decided to roam together. This lead to the big hierarchy that we see today:
1. Random hairy leafy dudes and ladies
2. Groups of random hairy leafy dudes and ladies and kids
3. Fights between the group members leading to group division and subgroups
4. So and so till whenever these groups turned into more organised 'religions'
5. Then religions/castes/other groups- till today.
Let that sink in. Take a second to know that we are all born in a 'family' and we belong to a 'religion' in a 'city/town' and that all of these are absolutely meaningless. How similar are you to your family? How similar are you to others in your religion? Probably way less than you are to your chosen friends. If the root cause of all these millions of groups of people around the universe is similarity, and it is quite the opposite now (coming from a person who thinks she is adopted, and with zero religious beliefs), what is the whole point here?
Am I the only one who feels like she's trapped in a mirage of meaningless stupidity all the time, or would that make me a cynic?  Or is the purpose of me publishing this is in hopes of finding a connection with another soul, who thinks I'm not being completely senile with my ideas here?

Too many questions? Welcome to 10 minutes in my head.

Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated!

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