Of Fresh Endings

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Now even the farewell is done, and it really is just a matter of time before it ends. I didn’t speak much yesterday; only a little bit of garbled nonsense, which was perhaps the only sensible thing to say. But there are things that seem sensible and important to say now, so this is where I’ll say them.

There are no absolutes in life. You know this. You’ve read about it. At the end of your three years, you’ll realise it.

You may think you’re going to remain friends with someone for the rest of your life. But hell, you may not even know when you stopped talking, stopped texting, and it’s barely been six months. Now you’re shaking your head and saying we used to be so close,  and you’re shrugging and turning back to someone with whom you wouldn’t have dreamt of sharing any kind of friendship. That is what happens.

Don’t shy away from talking to anyone, no matter what; the biggest inspiration I ever received in college is now also the source of my biggest regret. I wish I had spoken to her, the girl who will be the first female graduate in her family- hell, the first female college student. She has inspired me, and I may never know her. That is what happens.

You may come to realise that this is not where your heart lies, in these books and names and monuments, with these people, in this college. One morning or late one night, you may wake up crying, or too tired to cry, from a dream of how things could have been. You may find yourself forcing your eyes and mind forward into the book on the desk, with your heart galloping somewhere quite different. This is what happens.

But we are young. You can set yourself on fire and build yourself back from the ashes. You will stand tall and then suddenly break, get back to your feet and immediately shatter, and the best, most painful part is picking up the pieces again and deciding just how you want to build yourself again. How high, how broad, how deep- and stronger, always stronger. We are young, and this, what you build, will be the foundation of the tower of your life. Choose your stones wisely.

Remember to laugh. Laugh often, laugh loud and clear, feel your laugh in your lungs and your belly. Don’t forget to cry. Cry when you’re sad. Cry when something moves you. Cry during sad movies, cry with laughter too. Tears are as human as laughter, and both should flow strong like rivers out of you.

Above all, remember that you need to ask. Question everything. Read so that you can ask more questions. Be kind to people. Be kind to yourself. Fall in love. Have a hobby. Learn a language. Sing loud and off-key. Listen to good music, watch good plays. Watch the news. Don’t mess with Vandana ma’am or Ruchika ma’am.

Find what makes your heart beat faster and your mind move like quicksilver, and go do it. Make no apologies for any of it- loving, laughing, and being human. Least of all that. Look people in the eye, and talk to them, not at them. Dance even if you don’t know how. Get on the wrong bus and get off at the wrong stop, and ask people where to go. Travel alone. Travel in a group. Take photographs. Throw away your camera and make memories.

Hold your friends close, give your heart and mind and time freely, and love yourself with all your heart.

I sound so old, but I feel marvellously young. This thing doesn’t feel anything like an ending. Of course, it’s not a beginning either. I don’t feel tentative or nostalgic, though maybe that will change in the next month (Unlikely. Exams leave very little time for quiet nostalgia, the only kind that works for me because it lends itself quite easily to poetry. History exams have nothing to do with quiet, nostalgia, or poetry).

But, back to the point- this is a fresh ending, one I haven’t read before. College usually ends, in the books I’ve read, with a cocktail of euphoria, heartbreak, regret, and achievement, salt-laced with tears. Promises to remain in touch, to remain in memories and in hearts, and to meet as often as possible. How many of those will be kept, I wonder, and how many will flutter to the ground like glinting gust?

Does it matter? At that moment, I loved you. I cared about you enough to say I wanted to stay in touch. Is the fleeting moment less valuable than the broad expanse of time? Stupid, philosophical questions that matter even less than the promises that- let’s face it- we’re none of us going to keep.

It’s a new ending, a different end to a unique story that all of us have written, in solitude and together. It has been a terribly good one. I hope the next one is too.

Keep Calm and Make History.

 

 

 

 

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On Being Dirty

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Is it ever a small thing, molestation? I don’t think so. It may have happened fifty years ago; perhaps ten; perhaps just five. Maybe it was just yesterday. It could be an open wound or a shiny old scar. You could cover it with your clothes or hair, or you could wear it openly; whisper it to heavy dark demons at night, or scream from the rooftops It happened it happened it happened. Because it did. It happened, and that is the truth.

It may seem, at the end of the first day, like a bad dream. But do you remember your oldest nightmares in detail? I remember in bits and pieces; but I remember that moment, that morning, so clearly- every tiny, filthy detail.

I’m not filthy. I’m not. I know this. I believe this. But I also remember after the initial realisation- I’ve been touched, I’ve been molested- sank into my skin, it was as though something black and oily  and viscous had replaced my blood, emanating outwards from the breast that had been squeezed- like an auto rickshaw horn, I thought- to every vein and capillary in my body. I was terrified that it would bubble up, dark and dirty, through my pores, and then  everyone would know. I’d be bad.

I didn’t keep it a secret for long. Home has always been where I could break, ugly and peaceful. I told my mother and elder brother that very day. There’s nothing quite like the warmth of a hug when you feel as filthy as I did that day. But hugs don’t wash away memories, and no matter what smile I put on at home or how flippantly I spoke, the ten minutes of hell were permanently burned into my brain.

I’m still rather scared of strange men, particularly those around 40-60 years. I don’t remember what my eve-teaser looked like, I didn’t see his face long enough. But black hair, fat face, and smug smirk sailing away on a motorbike- I remember that well enough. Too well, and too little, but enough.

I’ve moved past it, really. I’m not always looking over my shoulder. Mom thinks I should; after all, this is Delhi. But the road of my life will not be paved with stones of fear. I look staring strangers in the eye until they look away. I take public transport as much as I can. I try to live the life I want as much as possible, because the truth is that I am terrified.

Not of men, or what they can physically do. I’m terrified that my body and my belief will be alien and dirty to me again. So I try to live as much as possible before that happens, in the hope that it will never happen.

And really, I’m one of the lucky ones.

 

Love, and No Script

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“But love is blind, and lovers cannot see”
The Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene VI.

I never imagined that love would feel like this. It seemed like a high; a feverish, wild dream that would break fast and ugly. I’m a romantic in that I believe in love, but I don’t believe that love can last. How can it?

If this is love, I don’t understand it. It’s slow and gentle, and I am utterly terrified. What is this tight softness in my belly when I look at you? Where are the fast-beating heart and sweaty palms and the painfully shy glances from the corner of our eyes? Where is everything the books promised me?

I ask, not because I want those, but because they’re all I know. I had a script, a timeline of romance, an how-to love manual in every trashy romance I’ve ever read. But we followed no script and yet broke no rules, because there was really nothing to stop us.

I don’t feel blinded; this is no fever, there is no high; I’m not delirious. I see myself as clearly as I did the night before I met you, the hour before, the moment before you smiled and I heard your voice. I see you more clearly than I once did- your little mannerisms and your smile. The way you chew back words when we breathe between kisses. Your unceasing chatter. Your silences. I see you more clearly, and you are radiant, my darling, and I can’t even dream of being in your arms until I actually am.

My biggest fear is that you’ve blinded yourself with pretty glasses that paint me the colours of beautiful. That one day the wind will blow them off, and you’ll get your first good look at me since we met. That’ll be the day you take your heart back from me, but you won’t be able to return mine, because of ‘ownership issues’. I’ve signed it away, you see, and I’m terrified that yours is only on loan.

But until then, I suppose you can be mine completely. Till that day, I can breathe softly as we part from a kiss and smile at you before the next one. Our clock’s ticking down, but I can ignore it. Let’s celebrate, because we actually have a clock.

Break my heart gently, when you do, if only because I love you so much.

 

Omne

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You’re a boy with stars
In the palms of your hands,
A man with a storm in your eyes
That the lids can barely close over-
When you sleep, I imagine
That it must be like trying to tie down a tornado
With a lock of hair.

You leave dust-storms behind you
With every step,
Raise a whirlwind
With every breath;

I understand better
Why planets move the way they do,
Why stars sometimes, just sometimes
Come down to the ground,
Kiss the earth, and dart away again;
Why flowers bloom and die, it’s not something
To cry about; why time flows and stops
(It does, I swear it does) and runs on again
Too slow and far too fast;
Why things happen the way they do;

All in that little universe that you’ve got
Spinning away in your soul.

Madwoman

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On my last night in school, I went down to the basketball court and lay on my back at the very centre. The stars were very clear. It was summer, a warm night, and with the heat in the air, the chill of the concrete, and the clear so clear stars, it was a curious ten minutes. Ten minutes of heavy breathing, and the idea of a self that rises from the core into forever.

I saw a half-naked man lying at the centre of a golchakkar (roundabout) near the Ministry of External Affairs. It was a makeshift golchakkar, just orange traffic cones placed in a circle at the crossing. It was around a quarter to six in the evening.

He was just lying there, playing with a water bottle. I don’t remember if there was water in the bottle or not; he was just moving it up and down right above his face. I wondered what he could see in the bottle that we couldn’t have, the people who sped by him ensconced in cars, sparing him glances. Some are amused, some are flummoxed, some are innocently disgusted, but they are glances only, thrown like spare change that we don’t want to be caught giving.

I bleed into becoming that man. I remember. My clothes disappear, as do my breasts, and I gaze up into a rapidly dimming winter sky. I’m still me, whoever that may be. I remember. Flat on my back, no water bottle in sight. I’m looking for stars and clear black sky; I can hear cars, and although I’m aware of the people, speeding by and throwing me glances, they don’t really seem human, and their thrown alms of attention float to the road like the down feathers pigeons shed.

There’s a water bottle now though, so I suppose I must seem like that man to the faceless me that speeds by in one of the cars. Half-naked, and here’s a water  bottle. I move it to and fro in my hands, peering in.

It’s clear, and it sparkles. It moves around, sloshes around, and it looks like starlight that’s been forced into a canister, except that I can tell what it is. Stars made liquid, the sun and moon melted, a universe that’s folded in on itself and chosen this particular water bottle to drip into. A condensed swirl of perhaps a million galaxies and light-years of space, all sloshing around in here, pooled at the bottom of a madman’s water bottle. For who else would have eyes to see a universe, but the utterly mad?

I bleed back into mind, I see my breasts rising again like newborn mountains; once more, I’m girl and woman, with the remnants of sanity lying around my mind like so much construction waste dotting the landscape of school. Under my back is a mattress- no concrete or tar- and a ceiling stares blindly back rather than take my rising self like stars would.

I’m sane, you see, just a little closer to it than I’ve been all night, and it’s almost morning now.

Words Beyond Recall

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I wrote a poem
Early in the morning;
Formed words
Out of lilac mist, and with
Clear dreams popping sweetly on my tongue.

I shut my eyes tight
To inscribe them on the inside,
With mist that seemed black to me, and firm.

Then I rolled over and went to sleep
Again

When I woke
Nothing remained; only
A shining light behind my eyes
That burned my words away–

In Your Mind’s Eye

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But imagine this

A girl sitting on a swing at the close of day. Her hair is falling into her face, and she stops every thirty seconds to brush it out of the way. It’s too short to tie, and too long to stay out of the way.

The swing is outside the house, between the front door and the gate. Her legs are crossed under her, a book is nestled among the skirt-folds in her lap, and she is quiet and not really herself anymore.

It’s silly to sit out here when the light is fading so fast, but a few minutes of peace are rare and treasured in this home, and she snatches them when she can. Calvino is a wonderful guide, and when he takes her by the hand and guides her around Diomira, she is so, so lost and whole and in love.

But imagine this

Emily is quiet, not because she has little to say (one day the world hears it, all of it, and recoils and applauds in a single motion, but she is too dead to know), but because she has much to think about. Gondal is in peril, she fears, and if she does not think, Branwell will swoop in and take over, and that will be the end of Gondal as they know it. So she thinks and plots, and if her Julius must sometimes lower himself to base methods, even sheer cruelty, she understands. He loves Gondal; she does too, and so she understands how far love might make even the good and the great fall.

All the time, the moors of Yorkshire are visible through the open window. Pigeons, wild ducks, turkeys, moor-cocks, lapwings- Emily can hear them, or see them wheeling overhead. There’s a single stray lapwing feather on the window-sill. Aunt Branwell musn’t see it, or Charlotte will hear from her and Emily can’t abide that. She takes the feather and hides it in her pocket.

A lapwing feather. Bonny bird, she thinks. She hears the wind whistle on the moor. Emily shuts the window slowly against the cold draught, and thinks.

But imagine

imagine it, though

Tell me what you see.

Inhabit

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Roll your shoulders back, lift your chin, tighten your core.
Raise your eyes, and don’t blink. 
Smile, and let tears sting the very corners of your lids.

Never, ever let them fall.


But perhaps what was needed then was to be. Be sad. Be shocked. Feel the sting of the slap in the face, feel the burn of the humiliation.

Feel the beginnings of affection turn into jagged things; they prick and prick, waiting for time and life to smooth them away.

Be sad; cry. Cry at the half-formed spectres sitting on your pillow, the remnants of what might have been, what you thought was. Cry at the thought of how rosy the world once seemed, and how you can now see little spots of grey and rusty browns in the corners and undersides of pretty, softly glowing things. The world seems a little less bright, sometimes, and your heart isn’t even broken.


So little to say when there’s so much to feel. They’re things you can’t bring yourself to feel, and things you can’t admit to feeling. There are feelings which you fear to name, for it might turn your world on its axis, pull you apart and expose your insides to light and air and truth.

Would you do it? Let yourself and all you know be irretrievably changed, all for the sake of a name of a feeling? Should you? Could you?

I have no answers, and neither do you.


Oh stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.
~W.H Auden,
‘As I Walked Out One Evening’.

Bitter Seeds

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Write about it, they say. So I will.

Maybe I’ll write, now, about the humiliation. About the jolt, the numbness that was shock’, the confusion; maybe even about that kernel of sadness that has since rotted and turned bitter. Would you like to hear about that?

Were you afraid? I wonder if you were; if you knew me, you would have been. I love hard and fast and ferociously. It could well have been forever. Did that scare you?

I could have loved you, given time. Could have liked you in a few weeks. How close I was, teetering on the cusp of affection, dipping a toe in occasionally, but still playing at my self-preserving balancing act; wanting not to fall, but consciously to step down into one side or another. How far you were, and I thought you were close, as close as I was. How prettily you played it- the game and me both, and no rules but your own.

A game with no rules and no stakes, and no end except when you wanted out.

Months have gone by, and I have yet to forget. No broken heart for me to mend, no wounds to lick, no tears to cry and dry and brush off my pillows. No blood. No foul, it stands to reason, but that’s not on. That’s not the way I think, the way I play.

I cry foul, and that’s my rule. No stakes, again, and maybe not even a game. But I still cry foul, and I won’t forget.

It’s hard to let go and find something that might ease the bitter seed inside me that you planted, so that it doesn’t grow into anger. Harder still to find something to sweeten it. It could so easily turn to hatred. I wonder what my hatred would do to you.

Better to fear what it might do to me. Yet I want it sometimes, to hate you. The burn. The ash. The end it brings.

Emotion is a hurricane. I wonder if you ever suspect how much I struggle not to let it rise up and wash you away.

Would it take the rot as well? Perhaps; and perhaps it might take me whole.

How strange it is, though, that there are no regrets. No “I wish” or “If only”.

Sometimes I laugh quietly- at you, at her, at myself. So much to laugh about, if only because I’d rather not cry.

When seen through the shimmer that mists a happy girl’s eyes, you were rather lovely. But what would I give to see you like that forever- to be that girl again? Not much, I suspect. Then again, it doesn’t matter, does it?

Not to you; not to me; not to all else, the infinite number of things that actually do matter.

And one day I’ll dig here again, and there’ll be no seed to find.

Pubic Hair Girl

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It was a nickname of mine in high school. Not one that was used to my face, of course. Maybe if it had, I’d have felt better about it.

I love my curls. It took me nearly ten years- not until I saw Kangana Ranaut on a newspaper cover and how she was lauded as ‘beautiful’, same as beautiful Aishwarya Rai- but I do.

The bastard had a nickname for you- he used to call you something.
What?
Pubic hair girl.

Don’t be his friend, people had told me. He’s really weird. Naïve little girl, you should have listened. But you always thought you could fix things, even fix people.

I got angry because he was calling you a really bad nickname.
Whoa, wait, you and the rest of the guys know about it?
Yeah. The seniors told us.
What the actual fu-

How many laughs and snide looks had I received from people who knew nothing about me but the supposed texture of my hair?

And how had it been told to my class boys; like a boys’ hostel joke, tossed out in the middle of a conversation as the seniors snickered and my classmates looked confused until someone enlightened them?

And why did they never tell me-

Because they used it, of course. How often had they talked about it, laughed about it? Called me by that name, a boys’ hostel open secret?

So… you know that nickname, right? Was it- was it used like, a lot?
Um… from what I can remember, it was used quite a bit, actually, Malu.

Did it cross their mind every time they saw me in class, every time I raised my hand to speak? Did they think: pubic hair girl wants to say something.

It’s not news to me, you know. I’ve known about it for a year, so don’t think you can use that shit against me. I don’t give a fuck.

I found out in my tenth grade, after it had been bandied about for about a year and a half among the seniors- of course, it got to the girls too, and one of my classmates, sharing a room with an older girl, told a friend of mine, who told me.

It came up a year later, after an argument between two guys, both friends of mine. They hadn’t known that I knew, that I’d known for a while, and though I rolled my eyes and scoffed at them, I burned inside.

Because, as I had always imagined, it was tossed into the argument like it was nothing.He threw it out, it wasn’t a big deal, and to him, it really wasn’t.

I should have slapped him, I realise. Should have slapped him and torn his hair and cried- but show no weakness, I thought at that time, and I laughed about it with him for the rest of high school.

I shouldn’t have laughed about it, no?
No, you really shouldn’t have.

People say, laugh at yourself, and no one can laugh at you. But I laughed at myself, laughed about the nickname, and I felt sick every time, and for a long time after. I feel sick now, every so often, when it pops into my mind. It’s not like the stupid things you say and do, which make you laugh in momentary embarrassment when you think about then later. It’s a burn of shame and anger and pain and angst that refuses to abate, and I remember how cowardly I was, not standing up to say that I didn’t like it, that it wasn’t funny. I hate myself, when I do.

It began with the boy I deluded myself into believing was misunderstood and nice underneath; with the seniors who passed it down to my classmates, my friends; with the people who didn’t come and tell me that it was happening, until one did a year later, a year too late. With everyone who thought it was okay to just throw a person’s name around, to give them cruel nicknames and laugh about them and spread them. And there I was, laughing, telling them all that it was okay to do so with every smile, every roll of my eyes.

Pubic hair girl.

I cried. I never told, but I cried.