Am I Sure I Want To Shut Down

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Parts of me are shutting down.

I’m not yet strong enough to wear my empty spaces like I do my lipstick.

Last week, I took a blade to my wrist for the first time in two years. I was crying. Not because I couldn’t stop, but because I no longer have anything sharp enough. I threw three pairs of scissors across the room; I retrieved one and sawed until I saw the blood beading on my wrist

I no longer feel disgusted that sometimes, the only thing that makes me feel better is the burning of open wounds. I don’t feel sick or ill, there is nothing slimy and shameful growing under my skin or at the base of my neck. I am as I am, with every dark, dank part of me that no one wants out in the open.

Maybe, at thirteen and sixteen, M could let go of grief through tears. At twenty, it’s not about grief or guilt. It’s about not wanting to inhabit the sack of skin into which this mind has been poured. It’s about this heart being wrapped too tightly in meat to breathe. It’s about blood and bone and sinew that form a prison for dark things that have no place in the sun’s light because no one wants to try and see or smile at them. It’s about these dark things wanting to know how the air tastes, and they will wreck everything to get out.

It’s about not wanting to be this woman, this person typing everything that you’re reading and wondering if you will smile. I slide lipstick over the empty spaces; I feel them growing as more pieces crumble within the structure. Sometimes I dream about everything under my skin simply winking out of existence. Those are the loveliest nights.

I paint a pretty smile on, the sun lights up my eyes, I kiss with a heart that screams my love, and I type and type, when I should have stopped at

h  e  l  p

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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.

 

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.

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.

Someone I Ever Had

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Sometimes I think I still have him. Other times, I don’t- I’ve lost him.
But then, I realise: perhaps he had never been mine to lose.

It’s true: you don’t forget your first love. I haven’t, and I probably won’t. We will change, he and I, more than we have. I may leave, he may disappear, we may, perhaps, never speak again. I might die, or he might go before I do. But I don’t think I will ever forget.

In truth, I don’t want to.

Best friends we were, for two short, lovely years. Love was what I felt for him, love for the most perfect and flawed being I had ever known. Love, then, was the time I realised that this is what I love and want and will look for. This is what I have found, now let him find me.

He never did. He looked elsewhere, for something else, found someone else. Eventually, I did as well. I found something else to look for, found someone else. I think, though, that we still kept coming back to each other in those days. What we had wasn’t special- just different, the way relationships with everyone you know are different. That difference was special- not exclusive, but special nevertheless.

We kept coming back to each other, until we moved too far. Not one of us, you see- we both moved too far away to have something to come back to.

But the problem was that I wanted him still, after love ran out. I wanted his mind, his friendship, his smile. I wanted us to be special- exclusive special. I wanted us to be special beyond love, beyond loving, beyond time and places and the people we would meet.

I think in lifetimes, and don’t give the years enough credit. The years were too long, distances and schedules too much to handle. ‘Best friends’ proved to be too much for us to aspire to. It’s an old label for us, like a garment that doesn’t fit anymore, but that you can’t throw away due to sentiment; like the old photographs that I sometimes take out and sigh over, perhaps breathe a laugh, quell or release a sob; for the sake of that which, at one time, was.

Perhaps I had him once. But I haven’t for a while now, and perhaps I should have known that ‘special’ wasn’t for us, that it was never meant for us.

There is very little regret, anyway.

The Beginning

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I recently came to the decision that I would like to meet my third grade math teacher again.

Why, my parents ask, why after so many years? Closure, I say. Mom asks, Forgiveness? And I can’t tell her, can’t say everything that I thought, sitting in the shower.

Forgiveness. Closure. How interchangeable are these terms? Mom says that forgiveness leads to closure. I’m not so sure.

You do not humiliate eight year olds. Not even if they find it hard to add two three-digit numbers. Not even if they gave the wrong answer in an inter-class quiz- or you think they did, anyway. Not even if you think their stomach ache is a sham, and their tears are tap water, and their red eyes are a little more ingenious, achieved by violently mashing their knuckles into their eyes. Even if you don’t trust the eight year old, you do not tear into them in front of their peers, and use your tongue as a shovel to scoop them out of themselves.

I remember crying, a little. But mostly, I remember fear, Fear of math classes, fear of getting answers wrong, of not remembering my tables. Fear of the half-hour between her entering the class and leaving it. Fear of being left alone if my new best friend- protector, helper, sister- were suddenly sick again. Eight years old, and so much fear.

Hunched over, holding my stomach, tears dry and sticky and shiny on my cheek- “I’ll give you one tight smack if you don’t go back to class now”. 

Shaking pencil lead, and what if I’m wrong- “Always wrong, and so untidy, why do you even come to school?”

Nearly screaming that it wasn’t me, that I had been right, Diya had given the wrong answer, the captain didn’t remember- “I made a huge mistake choosing you in the quiz team.” And everyone staring, and Diya silent.

I still hate her for that, a little. Just unfriended her on Facebook. Oops.

Eight years old and teaching myself not to cry, to hold back tears because she mustn’t see them; thirteen years old and slicing my arms into sections, a veteran at being (faking) strong; nineteen now, and knowing where it all began; Because, from before that, I don’t remember pain. I don’t remember the tears.
Before 3-B, I didn’t know fear.

I want to meet her, because she is the first and most potent demon in my life. She took my self-confidence, and my happiness, and my joy in schooling, chewed it and spat it back in the form of venom that burnt into me, and has left its mark on my soul. When I second-guess myself, when I feel that I’m less than I am, I know that that is the part of Mrs Mitra that I carry around with me, eleven years later.

I have these moments of euphoria where I go, Yes, Goddamnit, I’m fucking hot!!. I want them to be more than than moments. I want them to be my whole fucking life.

I need to see her, not even to ask her why (though I will). I want to talk. will talk to her. I spent all that year, I’ve spent all these years Iistening to her. Now she’s going to hear it all- she’s going to know exactly what she did to me, and how she isn’t going to do it anymore. This will be my closure.

A reason may come. It doesn’t matter, really. And by some miracle, I receive an apology (I’m not fool enough to even hope)- why, maybe I can even forgive.

They aren’t the same thing, you see. But they do both bring peace, in their own way. Sometimes they do go together. But not for me.

Because I’m not even sure I have any forgiveness left for that woman anymore.

nearly, Almost

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Do you ever wonder
What we could have been?

Do you ever think,
Had curves been lines
And had not straight paths
Twisted us way-
Could we have been something,
Do you think?

When my mind thinks of you,
It is in thoughts left over;
Bitter ale
From the bottom of the barrel.
The dregs of things
That almost were feelings,
That nearly became hopes;
Not quite wishes-
Not nearly desire-
Time would have told.

Time tells me
What might have been,
And what instead is;
But I tell Time,
Of hopes that never died
Because they never drew breath-
Of things better off stillborn.

Just conversation;
Exchanges between us.
Time and I, we go hand in hand,
And sometimes, dear,
We may talk of you.