Posted in Journal

The Best Sunrise

I suppose Dil Chaahta Hai (The Heart Desires) will always remain the quintessential Indian film on friendship, at least for us millenials who grew up with its music ringing in our ears. Every time I get together with friends, the title song makes a quiet run at the back of my mind –

Dil chaahta hai, hum na rahein kabhi yaaron ke bin

“The heart desires that we should never be without friends

S asked me once which my favourite sunrise was till date. I remember trying to imagine a picturesque scene by a beach or on a mountain top, watching the sun come up on the horizon, and failing to come up with an answer. I’ve never been a morning person, and could hardly recollect a pristine sunrise caught in the film of my mind.

If he asked me again today, I’d finally have an answer. The dawn of September 19th, 2021. I wasn’t at a beach, or atop a mountain. I sat with my feet dangling from a poolside, feeling the cool water rippling around my ankle. SE sat next to me, and SM diagonally across. We could hear birdsong in the background, as the sky lightened subtly. It had been a wild night – lying under the stars with our tongues let loose by too much alcohol and rambling on for hours about work, relationships, happiness, the present, the future and everything in between. I couldn’t remember the last time I had spent a whole night awake. As dawn broke and a rooster crowed, I revelled at how still the world was around me, how calm the world was within me. I belonged here. I was present there with all my heart, enveloped by quiet ripples of happiness.

This was where I wanted to be, always. On a terrace, by a pool, at the beach, on a mountain top, in a car… the place doesn’t matter, as long as my people are around me, every time I pass through darkness into the light.

Posted in Journal

10 Out Of 10000

As part of my work, I’ve been roped in to contribute a dot to a large canvas of research that’s expected to revamp the public health system in the country. I received an email yesterday, asking for a short bio and a photograph to be uploaded to the collaboration’s website. As thrilled as I was about being featured in such a space, having to produce a picture bugged me. I didn’t have any.

Well, I have tons of pictures with friends. In a group, I’m a hoot. I look amazing when there are people around me whose energy I can feed off of. I love being with friends, and that shows in the photographs. You can almost hear the laughter.

So it’s not so much that I hate having my picture taken; I hate having my picture taken when I’m the only one in it and am aware of the fact. There is nothing that discomforts me more than posing for single shots. I get extremely nervous and self-conscious and my smile gets all creepy and fake. Hate it, hate it. Needless to say, photographers had a fairly horrible time at my wedding. I never click selfies either. Of the 10,000 odd photographs in my gallery, there are less than a dozen photographs where I’m the sole object of attention.

It’s quite funny too because I am quite the narcissist. I stare at the mirror and have more than the required level of appreciation for the woman in it. I don’t think I’m ugly; I think photos of me are ugly. And this has been the case for as long as I can remember.


There is a passport size picture of me at 7 or 8 years, long well-oiled hair tied back in the typical Malayali fashion, eyes darkened with kohl, with just the barest of smiles at the corner of my lips. I remember hating that picture, because I always hated my oily long hair. Looking at the black-and-white picture now, I think she looks adorable.

There is another photograph from a couple of years later. I am wearing a red checked sleeveless frock with a white tee-shirt inside, the sole modern outfit among all the dresses I owned at the time. My hair was cut shorter, and I was smiling just a bit more, because I was proud of my dress. When I finally got the print, I remember the dismay that struck me – I had forgotten to hide inside the tee shirt the ritual black thread that I was made to wear around my neck for good fortune. So much for a modern photograph. Now though, I don’t mind the thread so much. I love the innocence in her smile.

The last monochrome passport size picture is from when I was in the 10th grade. I’m in my school uniform, and my hair is braided on either side. I was never very good at braiding, and it always happened that the one on the right would twist 90 degrees once I was done, and no matter what I tried, it would never look symmetrical. My big ears stood out conspicuously. I remember being conscious of the hair and the ears, and wishing I looked more like another classmate, whose picture showed off her silky hair and casual flawless smile. I hold the picture in my hand and struggle to recognise the pale, youthful, fifteen-year-old, and wonder at how small and vulnerable she seemed.

There is a photo of standing against a rock on one of our trips from college. Another picture marred by the skewed stark black thread seen against the clavicles. I was always so fixated on the thread that I never noticed how sweet she looked. On the verge of 20, much too young and innocent.


I look through the gallery and finally find one recent picture that seemed to be fit for submission. I have the institite’s identity tag around my neck. It was taken towards the end of the day by a colleague; my open hair is in a little disarray, and the eyeliner that makes up for my droopy eyes has all but vanished. There is a big toothy smile on my face. My skin looks dark and oily. I put in a subtle filter to make myself look a little better before uploading it.

A few years down the line, I’m sure, I wouldn’t notice my hair or my skin or my bare eyes – all my focus is sure to be on the bright big smile.

Posted in Journal

Wine and Words

I chanced upon a poem yesterday, and as subtle unforeseen happenings often do, it shook my world. The earth shifted just a little under my feet, and I fell away, losing myself to the wine and words. Both bloody. Both heady.


Mad Girl’s Love Song, by Sylvia Plath.

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moonstruck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade;
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes, they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

Posted in Journal

A Drunken Ramble

I am starting to like being drunk. I feel the psychological need popping in from time to time; the doctor in me is getting just a teensy bit concerned, and the daughter in me not being able to help wondering if I’m gonna go down my father’s path, but damn, it feels good.

I also wonder if it’s getting clubbed with emotions. I find myself craving a drink when I’m sad, and I’m worried about being conditioned to link the emotion with the act.

It was on a recent trip to Goa that I really got down to business. Other than a few occasional cocktails, and perhaps an odd beer with friends, I had never really drunk on purpose before. Goa was all about cleansing myself – losing some bits, gaining some, forgetting an old canvas and creating a new one. I drank four nights in a row; sang, danced, preached, shared, laughed, sighed. And came back home a new person.

Something of a trigger had me reaching for the penultimate bottle of port wine that I managed to have smuggled out of Goa. It helped me let things out – all the pent up thoughts that I wouldn’t share with MB. I cried a bit. And then tried calling up three of my best friends. One answered, and she made me laugh. Things fell into place again. It was alright. I have successfully tiptoed around the shattered glass pieces without bleeding.

One bottle of wine left. A trillion little pieces of glass still left to pick out. I wonder when I might need the next bout of cleansing.

I wouldn’t want to attach wine to depression. The former isn’t easy to come by, and the latter falls too easily into my lap.

I need to seek balance, one way or the other.

Posted in Journal

In Dino

I wish I could freeze this moment.

Smiles dripping into laughter, too giddy to write this moment into eternal existence, singing myself hoarse over and above the lead’s voice as the old song blasts from my phone’s speakers.

In dino, dil mera, mujhse hai keh raha.. Tu khwaab sajaa.. tu jee le zara..

These days, my heart keeps telling me.. adorn yourself with dreams.. and live a little..”

And I do.

Posted in Journal

Pushing My Luck

I’m doing it again. Fooling myself.

On the one hand, I’ve stopped filling my hours with mindless engagement with YouTube video suggestions, since my brain positively identifies it as wasted time. But on the other hand, I’m hardly getting any work done. Most of my time is spent reading. Perhaps it’s the way society has always glorified literature – I do not feel ashamed about spending all my waking hours engrossed in a book. The discovery of the online web serial “Worm” on wordpress has me surging through the chapters for hours till some sense of fatigue settles into my eyes. The rest of the time has me gobbling down food – breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, dinner, all diffusing together in an amalgamated endeavour to let me pass time legitimately. You need food for survival, and it somehow feels justified to be filling my time between reading with food.

I feel good, though. Really, really, good. I have clarity that had been lacking for a long time now. I’m not on an emotional high, but that ensures that I’m nowhere close to a crash either.

I’m talking to myself again while riding my bike, and man, have I missed the company! Unknown to most, I’m quite fun to be around with inhibitions down, and, but for a few of my friends who’ve got a glimpse of the drunk me, I’m the only one who’ve had access to the full show. The quirky ideas, the jokes, it’s a whole sitcom up there in my head. I’ve missed that, sorely.

All that’s left for me to do is manipulate myself to get off the bed and actually get around to getting things done. It seems like more and more deadlines are springing up by the minute. One for June 30th, another for July 31st. Both exciting and interesting, if only I can get rid of the nagging feeling that I might be biting off more that I can chew. Hell, I haven’t even gotten around to the stuff I bit off two months ago.

Maybe I should just keep cutting myself some slack. Things have always had a way of falling into place just before stuff hit the fan, so maybe maybe I could afford to push my luck a little further.

Bread, nutella and mangoes, here I come.

Posted in Journal

Just ‘Cause

I text TR I love him, and he immediately rings me up thinking I’m planning to kill myself. I can’t help cracking up.

TR’s texts make me smile, and then laugh a little in that warm silly way we do when we feel the fierce glow of friendship emanating from someone. For all his frustrating ‘Sheldon-ness’ (TBBT reference), ridiculous self-praise, and the trying habit of weaving sex and condoms into the most random discussions “to fight against the stigma”, there is an odd sense of innocence and old-fashioned integrity about him that makes you refrain from murdering him. And then there are these moments when you absolutely love him for being a part of your precious circle.

This is the kind of relationship that can only arise from unnecessary conversations that run deep into the night, perhaps under the guise of studying together, when secrets spill from drinking a heady mix of moonlight and silences. There is a rare clarity that comes with sleeplessness juxtaposed against heavy night lights. We feel raw and infinite, and become willing accomplices in betraying our deep dark souls. And in doing so, forge unlikely bonds and bridges.

“Please don’t die”

It feels good to hear this from some people, even in jest. People who don’t necessarily gain anything in particular by having you stick around, who aren’t dependent on you in any way, whose existence doesn’t become an obligation for you to stay alive. Knowing there are people who wouldn’t want a you-shaped hole in the universe, just ’cause.

“Will talk tomorrow. Don’t worry, kal tak zinda rahungi.”

I’ll be alive till tomorrow anyway, I assure him, laughing.

Till tomorrow, and for weeks and years afterward, I hope; as long as I know there are people who vouch for a me-shaped existence, just ’cause.

Posted in Journal

The Mornings After

It cannot be easy to live with someone with mental illness. I realise that on all the mornings after.

The mornings after I cry inconsolably for no apparent reason. The mornings after I keep asking MB if he’d be alright if I died. The mornings after my tears wet his shirt, or the pillow on his lap. The mornings after he tells me irritably that perhaps I shouldn’t have married him if I had plans of killing myself anyway, and then, after I pull away and retreat to a corner, calls me back to him again and hugs my tears dry. The morning after I snap at him for no real fault of his own, for being himself and not someone in my head. The morning after his tired fingers massage my forehead ridden with migraine for the millionth time. The morning after he preaches some obscure philosophy without any real idea about what I needed, without actually helping. The morning after I think to myself whether he would one day tire himself out listening to me, holding me, preaching to me, over and over again.

His words make no sense to me, and do nothing to heal my soul. He doesn’t understand my struggle. His frustration seeps through from time to time, no matter how hard he tries.

But every morning after, I am thankful to have someone who chooses to stay, no matter how hard it is.

Posted in Journal

Reflections

I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind yesterday.

Twice.

A TEDx talk I chanced upon while scouring a website the day before had a woman describing a real-life neurobiological method not entirely unlike that described in the movie which was used to map out the regions in her brain that lit up in response to possible limerence, and about some conditioning she underwent to literally fall out of love. When she mentioned the movie in passing, I wondered about watching it sometime soon, but soon forgot about it. But when I opened Netflix yesterday evening, the movie was tagged on my home screen as a new addition. It would seem multi-million dollar companies know thou better than thou knowest thyself. In any case, I took as a sign and started watching it.

I remembered clearly the first time I watched the movie although the premise and storyline remained somewhat vague; it is almost uncanny why I should attach so much importance to such a random moment in my past. This was some time in 2009. I skipped through major portions of it, proclaimed my disinterest and largely scoffed at anyone who talked about it being a good film. The re-watch was testimony of how you can look at the exact same thing at various time-points in your life and have entirely different reactions.

I saw myself on screen. The person who changed her hair to cope with problems. The impulsive decisions. The spurts of crying. ‘A fucked up girl looking for her own piece of mind’.

I saw my relationship. How she was with the nicest person she had ever been with, and yet felt trapped because he gave her a lecture about drinking and driving around with a friend at 2 AM. How she found him boring, and he found her irresponsible.

I knew it was a movie about relationships and heartbreak, and I did have vague memories of some scenes, but the one thing caught me unawares was the ending.

He says it’s okay, and they hug.

As credits roll, I feel tears at the corners of my eyes, a faint trickle, and then the gasps and the uncontrollable outburst. Breathing becomes difficult, my vision blurs and I press my face against the pillow and weep for an eternity.

When MB gets home I tell him I wanted to watch a movie with him. Round two. As the credits roll, I set the phone aside and lean against his chest.

That’s me, I say.

He’s skeptical as usual. But he tries to accommodate my fancies and smiles anyway. Nicest guy I’ve ever been with.

This is how I am, I say. Impulsive. Feeling trapped. Do you remember how I colored my hair after we broke up? You see?

I feel like a child, trying to make a futile point. Silence falls.

It’s okay, he says. We hug.

It’s okay.

Posted in Journal

Where Magic Lurks

I want to be there, in the land of writers and singers and dreamers. Where the nights float away against a bonfire as the gentle strumming of guitar strings lets me step on the moon. Where colourful people sit against pale stone walls and tell each other stories of surreal survival. Where hope rises like a phoenix from the ashes of sorrow, and poetry lights up our souls with each other’s glow. Where magic lurks in the corners of strangers’ smiles, and we drown out our collective insecurities with thumping heartbeats. Where the spirit of a lost song forms from our silences and lets its lyrics fall on our barren tongues like raindrops.

Alisha Pais’s voice rises boldly from the screen.

Shine your shoes it’s time to go

Let’s take a trip to the end of the world…

We can waste away the day

Oh, just waste away today

But when we find the things we love,

We’ll have wasted nothing at all..

– Alisha Pais, “Up” | (Sofar Bombay)

I watch her sing and imagine myself as one among the crowd, tapping my fingers to her rhythm.

.

Some of the best nights of my life were spent in a cultural alcove by the name of Adishakti, a theatrical arts research laboratory that lies in that point where the bustling town of Pondicherry converges with the hidden world of Auroville. There is a visceral hurt when I recollect how I came to know about them only in 2019, my third and final year in Pondicherry. The discovery of the Remembering Veenapani Festival, conducted in the memory of its founder Veenapani Chawla, was a delight unlike any other. One week of enchantment. Some evenings featured plays – Adishakti’s own Bali, the mesmeric Perch Collective with Mondays are Best for Flying out of Windows, and The Gentlemen’s Club by Patchwork Ensemble whose catchy tunes still spring at me from time to time. Another night was an immersion in the world of Simon and Garfunkle. We danced to the dynamic beats of parai and sat spellbound by the sensual moves of lavani. I lived impatiently from one night to the next, willing the daylight to fall away faster into darkness.

The week flew by, and all too soon it was over. I can still taste the freshness of those moments spent in the quiet amphitheatre, a surreptitious gathering of perhaps a hundred people, enthralled by incredible art and beauty. People from all around India, and even outside India, forged together as one in the magic of those nights.

Even after I moved on, I vowed to return to Pondicherry every year in April, if only to be a part of the festival again. The dates of the shows were marked bright on my calendar in 2020 as soon as they were announced, and the excuses for availing long leave from work were ready as well. I could hardly keep my excitement in check.

But then the pandemic struck. The world went into lockdown, and the festival stood cancelled.

Now in the midst of the second wave, yet another April has gone by. We could never really know when the world would go back to the way it was. Uncertainty, suffering and loss loom around us. Words wander without company; songs echo in sober baritones; dreams wilt against the embers of grief. We slip from solitude to loneliness as our worlds shake and collapse around us.

But some day, people will come together in vibrant hues, and they shall sit in circles or against pale stone walls and let their stories emerge from the ashes of their grief. Some day we shall let our loneliness give way to the collective voices of survival, and the stars will shine just a little brighter above the dark green canopy. Some day, a hundred odd strangers shall gather in a wild open amphitheatre to celebrate the sheer essense of humanity, and they shall laugh and laud and let the moments trickle into eternity.

Whenever it might be, I shall meet you there – in the land of writers and dreamers.