Changing The Way I Look At Love

I have allowed myself to have my heart broken in the same way over and over again for years. You may say there’s a pattern but I will defend myself for a while before I actually agree with you. I have the same excuses too:

“They were different people.”

“People outgrow each other.”

“Priorities change. Sometimes, people realise you’re not their priority.”

The point always comes down to me pinning my expectations from love on to someone else. Maybe it was what my parents told me as a child: “You will have to take care of yourself because there may be a day when we’re not around to do so.” I always felt the need to fill that space. As I was telling my best friends this week, there was always a sword hanging over my head telling me that I’d have to find someone for myself because no one else would.

In a world where we’re constantly told to be independent, the need for a partner to lean on seems contradictory to me. With the burden of real life and growing up looming starkly over our heads, the fear of loneliness and the constant need for emotional support just stand out as more painful. We have been conditioned over time to seek it from outside ourselves. Maybe in cuddles, loving messages, hand-holding, and kisses, we seek a completion that we don’t promise ourselves.

And honestly, why don’t we?

I have found myself distancing myself from societal ideals of marriage more and more over time. It may be a case of bitterness and a bout of cynicism, but I rejected marriage as a necessity earlier this year. My parents told me I needed it to be “settled”, to “procreate” and I found myself asking them what I asked myself too — why the fuck should I?

Settle for what? Settle for whom? How am I supposed to settled when I was raised to not settle? Wasn’t I raised to aim higher? Why should I settle?

As far as procreation is concerned, I realised that was not my cup of tea as child-rearing is the kind of responsibility I assume I will never be ready for. Besides the fear of having to be a complete human’s go-to person for everything, there is a narcissism attached to wanting a tiny version of myself that I have never had at all. The idea of another version of myself circling the planet is more panic-inducing than exciting.

So those arguments have been settled.

Now, tell me. What else do I have left to look for when I am told to look for love to feel complete?

Companionship? I have wonderful friends and parents.

Emotional support? I have wonderful friends, parents, and a therapist I can thankfully afford.

Fulfillment? My job has blessed me with the kind of fulfilling joy that makes me love Mondays.

Something to keep me warm at night? There is a reason I sleep in the middle of the bed, holding on to two pillows, and with an extra blanket. I’m pretty damn warm when I need to be.

Altruistic love? No love is really altruistic. When we give, we do it with the expectation of getting something back. When we look for love, we look for the kind of love that we got from our parents. The kind that brought a sense of understanding regardless of the good, bad and ugly. Who are we kidding when we think that someone is going to give that to us without expecting the same in return? And how would we possibly learn to give unconditionally just by being in love?

Don’t get me wrong. I love love.

I have loved love all my life. I have sought it in my friendships, stories, movies, books, words, music… everywhere.

I have found love within myself.

It sounds ridiculous and I would not have believed it if you told me I would love being by myself and with myself a year back. But, things brought me here. Heartbreak drew me away from love and closer to myself. As I spent days crying in my own company, I found a solace that a man couldn’t give me. Over time, I spent more time with myself because I genuinely loved it. I didn’t miss pretending to enjoy getting to know someone I didn’t want to know longer than the time it took me to put my mouth to theirs and leave.

The second I realised it wasn’t my responsibility to be with someone for anything but my own happiness, I realised my search had ended. I cannot mince my words with this. It is not and has never been our responsibility to find love or to feel better in it. It is, however, our responsibility to respect ourselves and the bodies we have while we’re here. I am not a fan of living a long life, but I’d love a happy one.

Right now, my happiness is the dinner I just had and following that with finishing this piece of writing that I started today. It isn’t the best writing I’ve done. But, it made me happy. It definitely made me happier than a man has ever made me or probably ever could.

That said, if someone does want to change my mind — they’re welcome to. It just has to feel better than good food or being happy with yourself on a Sunday night does.

Fall In Love With Their Eyes First

Your eyes light up in the sun. They light up in the light of a stray lamp on your desk. They light up even when I am here in the dark, begging to be let go; and your eyes still hold on to me.

I always imagine your first days in this world and wonder what it was like to look through those eyes and see the stronghold you had on anyone who dared look into them. How did it feel to have someone make you feel so safe and vulnerable at the same time? How does it feel to be drowning so deep and still feel like you’re floating through the most tranquil of streams? You’re the calm in my storm, my love. But, if I had to hold on to the light in your eyes to weather it out, I would probably perish. 

I can’t be poetic about your eyes. I don’t know how to say I am screaming for help when I look into them. I cannot tell you that I’d rather go blind than never get to see them again. I cannot tell you what I’d do to see radiate joy every time you’re beaming. Did you know your eyes grow darker with sorrow? My black eyes are all I have to show for the sorrow I hold within me. I have wept nights borrowing the brightness from yours. I’ll be the burning lamp in your eyes if that’s what it takes to keep the light alive. I’m ready to be pulled deeper into the confines of your warmth. Take me in with your eyes. Hold me down with them. Allow the spark to burn. I’ll float on your caramel wings. Hey butterscotch, let me swirl into your whirlpool.

I’ll swim lap by lap

from coast to coast

to make the twain meet.

I’ll have to exhaust my lungs

to tell you I am ready to drown

at your behest.

I’m a switchboard controlled by your eyes.

Push my buttons and watch me be your puppet.

Your sights and my sounds — we’re a melody waiting to go off-tune.


How “Kapoor & Sons” Made Me Wish For A Loving Grandparent

I wrote this in April last year and I didn’t have the heart to publish it till I had a conversation with a close friend yesterday about emotionally absent grandparents. I discovered this in my inbox this afternoon — like a sign from The Universe. Maybe I’ll never make peace with the grandparents I never had. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough (if I ever choose to raise children) to watch my parents become the grandparents I didn’t have. Till then, I have this.

 

When I walked in to watch Kapoor and Sons, I was expecting to be hit in the face by some extreme good looks and a tidal wave of emotion. Within the first half an hour, I was in love with the grandfather (played by Rishi Kapoor). As his stubby fingers navigated their way across an iPad, discovering YouTube and YouPorn all at once – I giggled to myself.

The flights that Rahul and Arjun take to meet this adorable old man when he has a heart attack reminded me of a flight I took two years back to my own grandfather’s funeral. He was the only living grandparent I had known till then. In contrast to my inconsolable cousin, I was a picture of nervous calm. I had a dissertation to submit in four days and while I was concerned about meeting my mother who had just lost a parent — honestly, worrying about an emotionally absent grandparent’s death was not a priority.

The family I consider my own is very small and comprises my parents and myself. Anything outside that remains an extension of it. I was always told that family is everyone you’re directly related to by blood; that you cannot choose your family. No matter what age I am, I have wished, at least once a year that I could choose my family. More importantly, I wished I could keep my grandparents – the ones I never had the opportunity of knowing.

The one I did know refused to ever look me in the eye when he addressed me. I may have been in his prayers by default, but I was never in his line of affection. His funeral two years back left me feeling a lot less than I should have when family passes away. My 12-year-old cousin looked at me and asked, “Don’t you miss him at all?” I struggled to explain that he had given me nothing to miss. The pain of being the ignored grandchild is one I don’t wish to share, but I guess it would be fair to say I have a skewed idea of grandparental love.

My other grandparents had passed before I was born or soon enough for me to have little to no memory of them. Relatives who knew Ammachi (my father’s mother) tell me that I remind them of her. She was, at least in photographs, a formidable woman and I am told that was the case. She kept to herself and dominated the kitchen with the few things she knew how to cook. I would love to describe myself that way, but my twenties-esque lack of identity stops me. I just believe what they tell me. I am told my other Ammachi (mother’s mother) would have been appalled at the way I sleep off in the middle of mass at church or that I would have enjoyed Appa’s (father’s father) dry sense of humour.

But, I will never know.

The myth-like quality to these anecdotes about my grandparents makes me wonder how my life would have been different if they were alive and a part of my life. Maybe, I would have spoken Malayalam better than the polite nodding and half-Tamil I pass it off as. Maybe, I would have appreciated a generation I have no ties with. My fear of offending people way older than I am that comes out of a fear of authority would be replaced with love for other old uncles and aunties who reminded me of my (as I would like to imagine) doting grandparents.

Instead, I have been bestowed with a blank space in my brain that I fill with pictures and anecdotes I don’t get to relive in vivid detail. I am stuck with the memory of a dark room and calling out for Appa as he called out my name. I may not remember his face outside of what my parents or old photographs tell me, but I live off this manufactured memory. I know Ammachi is watching over me as I sit in the living room of our ancestral home – a 1BHK flat in suburban Mumbai. Yet, I cannot help but wonder where she was when my best friend was showing off the sweater her Paati knitted for her in the sixth grade. I wonder if she could even knit.

Growing up in Saudi Arabia in the ’90s and the early ’00s ensured that I lived in constant fear of the wars I heard about on TV. My parents did not shy away from exposing their child to international news (But, God forbid I watched a kiss on TV) and it scared the bajeezus out of me. What if the bombs that rained from the sky obliterated the exact half of the house that my parents slept in? It didn’t make any sense and my parents laugh it off when I tell them of my childish fears, but the fear persists. As is the case with most Indian families, I wouldn’t have had grandparents to be passed on to in the event of my parent’s eventual demise. As an only child, I have been trained to understand that this is a reality and not even a far-flung one. Sure, it’s in the (hopefully) distant future, but I have been taught by my parents to never expect the safety net of family to spread wide open for me if they ever had to depart before their time.

When I watched Kapoor and Sons last week, I found myself thinking, “Huh. I don’t have a family like that.” I love stories about dysfunctional families and this one hit it out of the park for a Bollywood movie. All their problems aside, there is no way you cannot help but feel for the Kapoors trapped in their own egos and past wounds. Dysfunction isn’t ideal at all, but family is.

My parents and I often huddle up together and miss these grandparents that their parents would have become and never did. They wonder the same things that I do and marvel when they see their parents in me. This is not just a story of me reflecting over absence. It is a story of my parents’ loss too, and having to live with the fact that their parents would never see their child become the adult that I am becoming. While in the movie, Dadu Kapoor was a constant source of stories to anyone ready to listen, we made our own. Somewhere, I realise now that my parents tried their best to never let me miss the presence of a grandparent.

As Rameshchand Kapoor’s presence in the film becomes the anchor for the family that has drifted away from each other, I wonder where my anchor is. Is my anchor my father, the only man in the mother-father-child trifecta and my favourite voice of reason? Is it my mother, the pillar of strength and goofballery? Or is my anchor more like a compass within me, pushing me towards new places to call home and new people to choose as family?

Watching Dadu Kapoor made me realise that family is more about the emotion than the people in it. It didn’t matter if you hated them on most occasions, but the people you call family are just going to be there forever. It reminded me that home has to become literally where your heart lies or whom your heart lies with. It could physically be thousands of miles away from you, but if you feel you’re home – you have probably found family.

 

Chaddi buddy

You’re 24. I know it’s an odd number to be dedicating something to you. But, it’s another milestone I am celebrating. It’s been 15 years since we became best friends. Let’s come out and say it. We were best friends the second Ramona ma’am made us sit in the same row in 5th grade. In the 15 years that we’ve been together, I made you cry only once (read: The Shanana Baby Sham) and I thought I should do that again. This time, though, for the right reasons.

Why are we still best friends? We have spent nine years away from each other. That’s 60% of the time that we’ve been together. (If you were here, you would not have needed the calculator to know that. I did.)

In the nine years that we have been apart, we told each other more secrets and shared more than we did in the earlier six. Whether it was the boy I first loved, the boy who ruined my reputation in school, the boy we both liked in school — okay, that’s a lot of boy talk. Since then, you have also literally called me up to discuss disgusting medical conditions that I wouldn’t hear from anyone else or just when you needed a shoulder to lean on. Or when you’ve had “GOSS!!!!”

I have called you when I needed to talk to someone. You’re the first person I think of whenever something major happens and you’ve been the first to know many things. In some cases, you’ve been the only person to know about some of these things. You were the first person to tell me to get over that boy. You were the reason I did get over him. We were each other’s first period buddies. When no one wanted to discuss it, we discussed our first periods in immense detail (I swear, I can retell the whole thing back to you).

In the years that have passed, you have given me more reason to laugh than to cry and more reason to be glad I have a great girlfriend in you. You’re the goddamn best for a reason. You have been there.

For those who don’t know, I could recall the time that I had to call off a party because no one wanted to come for it but you. You still decided to make it home and spend time with me because you didn’t want me to hate my life. You wanted to be there and you were one of two people who wanted that for me.

Our parents always low-key pit us against each other. But, we never let that get in the way. Eventually, I grew taller than you and you were healthier than I was. When the WORLD pit us against each other, we didn’t let that get against us. At my lowest moment losing the quiz in 10th grade, you held me by the shoulders and said, “I am happy I won and I am happy I won against you because that’s how good you are.”

In the deepest throes of my anxiety, you told me you’ll make sure I have a new job by the end of that year. I got that interview because you sent me the tweet asking for applications. I owe you the happiness I have to some extent.

During a bad time with a stupid boy who broke your heart, I stayed on the phone and sang ALL of Beyoncé’s “Irreplacable”, including the back-up vocals. I almost got kicked out of my room by my roommates at 12 am, but it was worth it. Because it was for you.

All our special moments and our mutual interests aside, I need to tell you the one thing I have been trying to say through this whole post and through our life together — you’re worth it.

You’re smart, funny, determined, honest and the most loyal person I have ever met. You are angry when it matters and you’re so easy to love. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is no reason for you to believe otherwise. I know you live with a crippling fear of being alone for the rest of your life but:
1. that is not a terrible thing and,
2. it is not true because you have me.

Thank you for existing, you goddamn pearl taken from a swan’s butt. I love you more than I say it. I love you more than you can imagine. This is your day and this is your world. Go get ’em, tiger.

Here’s the thing — I have been afraid to write here lately. I gave away a chunk of myself when I did my 366-day project last year and I was suddenly confronted by the reality that I had said more than I had expected to. In the time since then, I have written pages and pages in my diary and cried into it, not knowing where the words would end. It is a well inside me that seems to have no end. It’s going to be a while before I can empty the well to make coherent thoughts. Till then, I have words I hope no one has to face. It’s one fear at a time.