(Not) All Too Well

For the first time since the year began, I am sitting down to write about the waves of feelings that I let wash over me in the last six months. I never stopped writing. I wouldn’t have survived without it. But, addressing large emotions hasn’t been easier when I did that with as much clarity as I could muster.

I have had to fight emotions that I wasn’t prepared to feel. No one told me I was going to feel this way. And by this way, I mean betrayed by people I love, the things I love, and worst of all — my own body.

I have had good days. I have had days of absolute objectivity where I could see the past for what it was. And I could see the present and solve the problems at hand. If they could be called problems at all. I mean, I am a woman living in an urban population in a house and I am well-fed and well-taken care of.

I saw a toxic relationship for what it was. I saw that I was far more blessed than I could have imagined. I am fulfilling two of three resolutions for the year and I couldn’t be more “on course” for things than I ever have been. I am really adept at a job that I love immensely and gives me purpose that I have been seeking outside of myself.

But, it’s nights like these that makes me not be grateful anymore. It’s 1.30 a.m. on nights that are humid and there is no wind in to let the leaves on trees blow gently. When the sweat doesn’t trickle on my body anymore and just sticks to my collarbones, beautifying it, but also making me question why I love the city I call home so much.

It’s nights like these that I spent awake for someone else, probably writing just like this. But, having my words belong to anyone but me. To have complete responsibility and autonomy over the words that I say out loud, or write has been feeling new to me. When I am not speaking to be heard, but just thinking out loud. I have pages, whole diaries, and so many posts over here that I wrote to be read, to be heard — just to be seen, for God’s sake — that I have to now take responsibility for. Forgive her, Father, for she assumed she was loved. Silly girl.

My anger and my sense of betrayal with the world around me has manifested within my body. My body responding to the world outside and the voices within has betrayed me so many times in the past six months that I am not sure of the autonomy over my words anymore. I mutter affirmations to my body, hoping it will heal itself magically with potions I don’t have or cannot conjure. But, I end up much like I did today — screaming, kicking, crying — on the bed, willing myself to get better. I walked, I jumped, I lifted, I ate more, I ate less and honestly, I’m just tired of having to change my body every time there is a problem. I am tired of minor inconveniences that are veils for glaring issues.

There are genuinely, even now, days that I just want to shut my eyes and never wake up again.

We have not learnt to give up on the things we love best. We haven’t learnt to give up on what we thought gave us purpose, but what was actually just another person and seeing them everyday. What do we do when we are lied to? When we have to reconcile with the idea that what we loved dearly is not a part of our bodies anymore? What do we do when we realise that we actually considered this person a part of ourselves, enough to think that we are living without limbs without them? What do we do when our own bodies betray us?

A part of me feels like I have been here before. Many times, in many births. In many forms. I have been here and I’ve been… okay.

I hope I am right.

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.

 

Terrible Weeks Call For Terrible Writing

I have had a terrible week.

It was a shitstorm of injuries, adult responsibilities and realising how much distance is just not something I will ever be ready for.

I woke up this morning, my eyes swollen from lack of sleep and excessive crying and looked at myself in the mirror. There is a slight vanity I attach to sadness and don’t ask me why I do that. Every time I am crying, I look in the mirror to see myself. It is still unclear if I am looking for the mirror to tell me I am okay or if I am just literally looking to see what I look like when I cry, quite like toddlers do.

As I looked at myself in the mirror, I remembered the last year and how every time I woke up crying and anxious, I just needed to be told I could go on. I just needed to be told that there is a world out there that I can be a part of, a world that may not fully understand me but will probably still want to accept me.

I looked at myself and said, “You have tried way too hard for you to go back to that now.” I thought of every day in the past week and how it disappointed me in every way possible. I couldn’t go back to being the person who gave up on her life before it even began.

I have been told in the past week that I am not good enough, that I am not someone that a certain person would like to be seen with, that people I love don’t have time for me. But, I still want to love myself.

We’re in a world where it is a crime to be happy and love yourself despite the odds. The odds need not look like intense distress. But, I would really like to love myself right now especially considering I have no one to pass on the torch to.