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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Your Lady Knight

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She’s my best friend, practically my sister; after my family, she’s the most important person to me, so I just want to tell you: don’t hurt her. Keep her happy. Don’t hurt her, because if you do I will hunt you down.

I’ve never threatened a friend’s boyfriend before. I’ve never needed to, or actually, I’ve never felt the need to do so. I haven’t really seen many relationships among my friends, and I was always friends with both parties, who had been friends beforehand. So I never needed to interfere, and moreover, I always knew that the relationship in question wasn’t going to last, either because it was unequal, or just plain unhealthy. In one case, I honestly never cared to make threats about either’s emotional damage, because you threaten to hurt people who hurt part of you, and the two in question were never that. In the other, I suppose that, in preventing long-term damage, I was the deliberate cause of a lot of pain (though I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to claim full responsibility), and sometimes I wonder if I should feel sorry. But I never asserted that if one was hurt, I would make the other suffer. The harsh truth would be that I didn’t consider it necessary.

This, though… this was different.

It wasn’t just that the person in question is more than my friend, my sister. It’s the crippling fear I feel that someone will play her false, that they will take the gentle heart she gives them and do something unspeakable to it. Shubh shubh bolo, a voice that sounds eerily like my mother’s scolds, but then I remember how that very mother is driven by that very fear every time I set foot outside the house. My grandmother, during one of my complaining sessions, told me that when I have my own children, I will understand my mother. Seems like I won’t need to wait that long.

Living in a different city, distance and bitter reality prevent me from holding my best friend in my arms when one of us needs it. So I settle for preventive warning. Because if, God forbid, if my warnings are ignored, then they will come true.

You’re my knight in shining armour, aren’t you? And her voice is amused.
Of course, I say, and I am amused and dead, dead serious. Of course.


Shubh shubh bolo- Hindi for ‘say good things’. It’s like ‘Be positive’.

Sorted

Aside

“I just thought, dude I have to get this girl something, man.”

At the sight of the now plain steel of the pendant, and the hole where there once had been a glittering stone, her lips twisted into a grin. With a laugh that was half a scoff, she tossed the old chain into the ever-expanding ‘junk’ pile and spared it only a passing glance more.

Natasha continued sorting through her vastly engorged closet, occasionally adding an old or outgrown piece of clothing or a now-useless trinket to the junk pile. Soon- very soon- the junk pile had grown much larger than the ‘keep’ pile, and what had once been a neat (subjectively speaking) room now resembled a field of battle that had but recently seen terrible carnage.

With a despondent huff, she flopped down, not particularly caring where she sat. Therefore, it was only to be expected that such carelessness would be punished.

“Ow!!”

She jumped, messily trying to manoeuvre into a position that did not involve something small and hard digging into the tender part of her ankle. Finally successful, she groped around under her for the offending object.

When she had successfully disentangled it from the trailing ends of an old stole, she wished she could safely throw it hard into some corner of the room. Inadvisable, since the cheeky little bugger was likely to find some other more painful way of gaining her attention though what else an innocuous chain with an equally innocuous pendant could do, she could not imagine. Still, better safe than sorry, as the old adage went.

“Stupid Arnav.” She grumbled. “Still annoying me after god knows how long… still manages to find a way to piss me off…” In a lacklustre sort of way, she held the little chain around her neck and looked in the mirror.

A real grin bloomed on her lips. “Such a cheap piece of shit he is.” She murmured fondly, nostalgically. She turned this way and that, as though admiring the way the cheap steel piece looked on her dark skin.

A quiet laugh escaped her lips as she pulled it away. Then her expression became thoughtful as she studied the necklace in her hand.

“I’ve got something for you.” His perennially amused face appeared beside her. The expression, as always, made her long to smack him for no particular reason, but she restrained herself. 

For me? Why on earth would you have anything for me?” She asked, tilting her head and looking at him in utter confusion. They weren’t anything special to one another, after all, even as friends.

“No dude, it’s like, I have to give you something, just like that.” Well. Weird all right, but who was she to decline gifts? Although she remained a little wary.

“It better not be a bath in Slime Pond or something like that, or I will kill you.” She threatened, only half-joking. His grin widened. “No, come on man, it’s nothing like that. Don’t you trust me?”

Nope, not at all.” She replied cheerfully. “But jaldiiii, I have to goooo.” She tapped her watch emphatically. He only gave her that very-very annoying grin in return, which she returned with an unimpressed look, and reached into his pocket to extract, with great flourish

“A necklace?” She stated the obvious with a raised eyebrow, looking from Arnav to the object in question. Jewellery, however inexpensive, is not Arnav’s area of expertise. 

He dropped the grin, looking slightly sheepish. “My bhabi (sister in law) helped me choose it and all- I didn’t know what you’d like- and I thought, like, she might like a knife but then she might stab me with it-“

That surprised a laugh out of her. “Both true, how well you know me, Arnie.” She held out her hand and he dropped the necklace into it. “That’s so sweet of you, and I do like it. I like red.”

He cocked his head to the side, scrutinising her. “You’re not just saying that to make me feel good, na? Like, you actually like it, right?”

She snorted. “I wouldn’t spare your feelings. Trust me, I do like it. Now I really have to go to class, so… move.” She sidestepped him before he could, anyway, and walked off. “Thanks for the chain, dude!”

She wore it after about a month, winking at him over the dinner table when he noticed. It was a cheap necklace, and its crimson colour would, over time, wear off, but that would still take a while. For now, she appreciated the thought. ‘It’s the thought that counts.’ She told herself , even when she saw the silver shine of the steel begin to poke through the fading red.

She sat there for a few seconds, remembering. She was still kind of-sort of in touch with him, and he’d hardly changed in essentials since their school days. Apart from the thinning hair and the slight bulge in the middle- a common object for her jibes- the six years seemed to have passed him by.

Her fingers closed around the now-completely faded, forlorn-looking metal pendant. An amused quirk rising to her lips, she put it carefully into her ‘keep’ trinkets pile. After all, she didn’t want to lose the damn thing again, did she?