I did not break through. I could not break free. I surrendered. To make the chains stop hurting.
I often falter infront of the mirror because it reflects my reality. And only in it's dreaded face do I acknowledge my incessant addiction to fantasies. I am but an escapist, I murmur, staring into the mirror. The mirror smirks. People have it worse, it says. Heavens know the weight on my shoulders is enough to make my back droop but the mirror tells me, even with blunders as indelible as a birthmark, I am just an insignificant speck fading away to infinity, and that ought to offer me a moment of a few unburdened breaths. The mirror asks me to stop romanticising the pain in hopes of healing because true healing begins when you stop craving it. When you come to terms with the fact that some scars are going to stay, and not as embellishments. Scars are all they'll ever be. There will be no beauty to them. Just ugliness. And terror. But less pain and maybe one day, enough strength to narrate their stories. The mirror is not wrong. Not at all. Then why do I feel like a hostage of it's arguments?
Why do I take shelter within poems even when they're to no avail? For I am now, at the end of this one and the chains still won't stop grappling.
Perhaps, the only thought that elicits a smirk as I stare at the empty walls is the fact that even after everything you couldn't break my heart. I had already been walking the tightropes, more or less. Was ready to let go of the slippery parapet when you came along and caught onto my hand. Your pleading eyes were somehow more appealing than the dive behind me that was meant to be my escape. In that moment, as I was dangling by the only thread of your hand holding mine, there was a relief beginning to surge through me. There was a part of me so high on your touch that it wanted to keep breathing. Was I doubtful of my will to end it all? I do not know. But regardless of my denial, the choice between living for you and dying for myself had been made. And the calm that it came with was so utterly consuming that I didn't realise when you let go. It took me a while to register that the string had broken leaving me at the mercy of freefall and before I could question the sudden emptiness in my hands, it was benumbed. The impact of the fall braced me before I could fall apart. I hit the ground before you could break my heart.
A laughter so contagious that if it were a drop of water, it could make a barren heart bloom into a bouquet of flowers. His eccentricity stood out. Not in a dark twisted way but rather, mysteriously. I could never have fathomed him to be a church goer for I can't remember a time when he wasn't engulfed by smoke rising from the cigarette dangling between his fingers or a time when there was no whiskey on his breath.
I could have easily concluded he belonged to the likes of me who were forced into this weekly tradition had I not seen him alone. Always.
He never stood in mercy or bowed in prayer. Just sat there, every Sunday morning, on the last bench during the service and stared ahead as if he was trying to dare Jesus into a trial by combat.
The gossipers whispered about him. About his dark and seemingly damned soul. "That arrogant fella never opens that mouth unless he has to be downright ghastly. Why even insult the lord by coming here at all? Brings down the atmosphere of the entire room with that foul expression." But that's what they were. Gossips.
For down at the Fusion bar, round the corner at the end of the church street, he was the life of the party. Always talking. Always merry. Always making people laugh. Always laughing.
Remember how I had mentioned that he never smiled? Well, there was once a time when he surprised me. On a windy autumn night when I asked him about love.
On that cramped porch, surrounded by empty bottles and rising smoke, I saw his blurry face look up at the dark sky, his lips curl up into a tiny, almost oblivious smile, just for a moment before blending into a smirk. A softness had flickered in his eyes before it was replaced by the intense hollowness I was more familiar with.
And before another word could escape me, he took a long drag and turned all possible answers to my unuttered question, into smoke. And then, he never smiled again.
They say he loved a nun who despised cigarettes. Hated them more than she hated his tattoos. More than alcohol. More than his impertinence. But, she loved him more than she hated cigarettes. They say, she loved him more than she loved God. And perhaps, God couldn't stomach that.
I'm in my very early teens when a classmate walks up and looking at my black painted nails she says, "It's a bad women's trait." The elder brother she looks up to has told her that girls who wear black paint aren't virgins and so, my heart sinks. Not at the ridiculousness of it, not at the tragedy of my character being defined by a colour but at the possibility of people seeing me as "impure". I do not paint my nails black thereafter.
I'm 15 now about to choose the stream I'd like to study further when an elder tells me there's no point in dreaming what's beyond your reach. I clench my fists and immediately bite my tongue so it wouldn't talk back.
I'm 16 and my english teacher tells the class that she should not find the word "rape" in our answer scripts for it's too crude. So we write modesty outraged, instead.
I'm 17 and I discover my lip shade is too loud and the depth of my neckline decides whether or not I'm "asking for it". I've worn my lipstick like written apologies ever since.
I'm 18 when the person beside me slips his hand up my waist and I sit there holding my breath too stunned to react. I run towards father to complain but the aunts hold me back. "Boys will be boys", they say "would you ruin the family relation over something like that?" So I clench my fist, bite my tongue and zip it up, once again.
Until I'm 19 and it repeats. Same audacity, same insolence with a different face. But I can't take it again so I turn to the world this time. I write poems to pour it all out. But along with the open arms come the raised eyebrows. "Not all men!" they scream. And I cower back not knowing when did I ever say all men.
I slowly turn back as I watch the world quarrel amongst itself. When did the narrative become all about whom to blame and whom not to blame? Where did my trauma get lost? Why do I have to explain and beg for audience's discretion? Is the audience that naive? Or does it prefer living in denial?
So I stop writing "those" kind of poems thinking I'll return when I have the right kind of poem.
I'm past 20 now and I still do not know what the right kind of poem looks like. I do not know how unafraid I've come to be or how far I'm yet to go but I do know that I do not bite my tongue anymore. I might not throw fists but never again would I clench them just to swallow the poison. I would not explain being a feminist with the disclaimer "I do not hate men" everytime, just so you approve. I would not beg for what's right.
My demands are not requests but they are willing to wait for you to understand that they're anything but unreasonable. For you to realise that there are millions like me and our defiance is not an act of aggression but a cry for consideration. And until that happens, I'll glide the lipstick on my lips like the pen I put my signature with. And I'll wear my nails black better than the distaste you wear on your face at the sight of it.
On the 7th session of our weekly appointments my therapist managed to make out a 9 letter word amongst the seemingly incoherent mess the meekness of my voice used to present her with.
N I G H T M A R E
Her desperation to help and frustration over the zero outcomes of past trials latched onto it like a starving kid on a piece of bread. Dissection of the problem right to its core was initiated. When the cause couldn't be identified, she worked her way to the next best thing at her disposal. The solutions. By the time we were done, I had with me, a list of mindfulness exercises, some colorful pills and a handbook of nightmares. As I perused through the index page of the thin, fancy book there were various headers typed elegantly in italics which were supposed to lead me to my answer. "How to spot the causes?" "What physical reactions might follow?" "How to reduce the nightmares?" "What to do if you can't reduce them?" And so on. I read till the end and then set the book aside utterly unsurprised at my disappointment. There was no answer. "What to do when you wake from one?" last header had stated.
The manual didn't tell me what to do when you wake into one. They never do.
Stop building bridges for people who only keep burning them down. Stop bleeding for vampires with unquenchable thirst. Stop jumping off cliffs for those who would neither be your wings to fly nor catch you at the end of the fall. With all that magic, all that love within you, don't you dare walk through fire again just to thaw a frozen heart. You're a pheonix, darling. Risen from ashes over and over again. You contain an entire cosmos within you. So the next time you let the wolves howl at you, make sure they treat you like the fucking moon.
My heartbreaks taught me that the times when I'd be at the offering end of pain will be the times that'll keep me up at certain 2:00 ams. They taught me that when fingers are pointed at you it's better to be silent than deeming someone's pain small and insignificant. They taught me that people aren't monsters but that won't keep them from driving satisfaction out of hurting you when they crave it. That the modern era has coined fancy excuses to hide behind and feel better about their wrongdoings. They've reduced love to definitions of chemistries and possibilities and whatnot. They taught me that anguish never turns you cold. And those who say it does are merely using it as a cover-up.
My heartbreaks taught me that my heart will always be big enough to wish to heal all the pain that exists in this world but my hands will be too small to hold them all and so I'll have to make some choices. Make preferences and choose some over everyone else. And sometimes, the same choices will feel trapped and want to break free and it's okay to let them because it's not your fault. And even if it kills you, It's okay to let them go for they were never yours to keep.
My heartbreaks taught me that I'm allowed to love people, to kiss them where it aches and live or die for them but I'm not allowed to save them.
A chunk of meat suspended in a rock which is orbiting a literal fire ball? In a galaxy spanning to vast and unfathomable distances.
What am i? Among the quasars that scintillate four trillion times than that of the sun and Giant black holes that gobble up light in a flash and bend the fabrics of space-time.
What am i? Amid this grand circus of life. Amid all the hollow and shallow dreads of existence. Amid the perplexing carcass of gloomy reality.
What am i? Nothing.
I am nothing but the decimals between one and zero. A scruple of conscious matter fluctuating between nothing and something. A void trying to fill its own emptiness. A tragedy parodying a fortune. A beginning in the course of its own end. A book deserted in the middle of a busy street. Waiting to be read. Waiting for someone to rummage through my mess. Waiting for someone to read my story.
A story carved on the face of time. Of edges, mountains and rivers to trains, cars and office cafeterias. My entire existence can be compressed into the micro strings of DNA. Forged betwixt hormones and genes. And my life, a quaint burrow of a rabbit trying to hibernate and survive a dreadful winter.
I grazed at the surface of my own ridiculousness until i could finally convince myself not to. I trembled with fear in my eyes and an lump in my throat, Too busy to see that a cheerful life is a guile tint on the glass of reality.
Did i turn myself into it. Was it a deal? Maybe. The only thing that changed was time and do i have to tell you that time then changes everything? The involute becomes the absolute. The sight becomes the scene. The portrayal becomes the reality. I becomes us. Yes. Us, but without you. Us. But without all the songs and shillings. Us. But without all the poems and writings. Us. But with a pipkin of love lavish in pain. Us. But with a smudge on a letter without your name. Us. But with a sparkle on a sky of hue It's always us but without you.
"... it's about time, we learnt to accept ourselves for who we truly are. From historical times, women have been pressured to squeeze into the standards of beauty, society has prescribed for her. And social media has only further warped our relationship with appearances, so much that we don't even recognize ourselves anymore. With Sakhi, we hope to plan more such programmes to restore the confidence of our young daughters." The audience thundered with applause as Reena was being awarded the most promising NGO of the year 2021 award.
Congratulations and bouquets wouldn't stop pouring in, way after the show was over. Reena had a hard time opening the door with both her hands still full. After a minute of struggle, she finally made her way in, first and foremost, getting rid of the painful stilettos, dropping her designer bags, trophy flowers right by the doorway, and finding her way in the dark to slump onto the couch.
After laying there for what seemed like forever, Reena willed herself to gather some strength and trudged towards the bedroom. Turning on the dim yellow lights, she stood before the dresser and slid out of her evening dress. She sucked her belly in and unclasped the compressing body shaper to let out a deep sigh of relief.
Next, she carefully took off the emerald studs that belonged to her grandma, placing it back into the velvet pouch. She then plucked off the bobby pins from her hair one by one, that were holding up her high bun in place, unravelling cascades of her free falling tresses. She ran her fingers through her hair, and unclipped the silk hair topper from her crown, letting it fall off to the floor, and clomped towards the bath, to wash off all the leftover stains of expectations.
She looked at herself in the mirror above the basin for a full minute. With her eyes still moist, she headed into the hallway, fished out her phone from her purse, and clicked a selfie. 'I love you and recognise you,' the text read. Her phone pinged a moment later.
"Why are you so beautiful?", he swayed and swooned under his sweet alchohol breath, leaning ever so slightly towards me, planting the softest kiss on my clavicle.
This safe space, I needed it as much as he did. Perhaps, more than he did. We spoke about it over one long, lonely night. There was consent. Explicit consent. There was chemistry. Enough to power a nuclear plant. There was clarity. We are strategy counsellors afterall. There was comfort, precipitated over the years of watercooler conversations. And ofcourse, there was confidentiality, with our careers at stake.
It took me a moment, but even in that state of blissful high, I'm sure I noticed something more, a strange fragility in the air.
Inspite of his mildly inebriated state, brought upon by the malt and the salt that we poured into the night, it seemed like he looked for some feeble sign of my approval.
And for a man who cut straight to the chase, oozing confidence and dominating success, everywhere he touched, the hesitation in his eyes was awkward and frightening.
Tenderness was a helpless newborn someone left behind at our door. Neither of us knew what to do with it, and none of us wanted to be the cruel one who abandoned it.
Hey, why do we have a whiteboard marker in the bathroom? he asked.
To practise Urdu calligraphy, so I can tattoo sabr(patience) in unmentionable places, I thought to myself and giggled, tickled by my own humour, but muffling it down to a smirk, considering how close I could be cutting to the bone.
Good question though, dear husband. I'm relieved he was only mildly curious, not rolling over on the floor, laughing, in wicked amusement. Then again, he couldn't do that, not even in his wildest imagination, because bathrooms in Mumbai are one tight squeeze. How romantic!
Hold on, while we entertain the shower sequence thought bubble, and I earnestly begin to answer the original question, I must demand to know, what was he even doing, fiddling behind the geyser.
My beloved, he has access to the choicest of writers and poets in our study, even more importantly he has easy ingress to his wife's mind, my rough drafts. But they all lie there, undisturbed, waiting for a pair of eager eyes.
He tried to read for my sake. Infact, I'll give it to him, he has struggled and failed, like three times in the last one year itself, to sincerely read one book, but somehow falls asleep at the same page, each time — except, except when he is in the loo.
That's when he is alert and ravenous, hungry for every loitering alphabet around, that dives through his orbits and falls into the great intestines with a splash, stirring things up. The morning edition of the Financial Times is the routine laxative that works just fine. I scrunch my nose in disgust, each time I glance at the eyesore of the water crisped, warped version of the freshly minted news; but that's marriage for you. Eventually, you learn to tolerate each other's kinks.
There are days however, when the morning paper lies abandoned. And in all honesty, I had never stopped to wonder, that if the news wasn't being flushed, what else was being processed. Today I finally asked.
That's when he confessed, that on days he forgets the papers, he would religiously read the labels of shampoo bars, shaving gel tubes and mouthwash bottles, or anything else he could lay his eyes on. Thus, while rummaging for his next reading material, he stumbled upon my stash. The whiteboard marker in question, was found cornered in the crevice behind the geyser.
Coming to why I had the marker for private company, it's for that flashing moment of epiphany, when that grand idea for my next piece bolts in, or when the perfect line in iambic pentameter flashes its toothless smile at me, or when a rhyme slides in smooth, with its arms wide open, like Shahrukh on his knees.
All of which usually happens right when I'm incapacitated to write it down anywhere, no phone, no paper, soaking wet in suds, splashing under the showerhead, singing high octaves of la la la laaaaaa, like the Liril girl from the 90's.
My mind is a motley of disorganised thoughts stacked into each other like the women in 6:05 pm Andheri fast, ladies first class train coach, a hundred open tabs crowding and yanking at the central core of my attention. Ideas fly in and out of my head at blitz speeds. And I can't rely on my memory that's already stretched too thin to remember anything for posterity. That's where it helps, a dry erase marker and the pristine white bathroom tiles, and I'm ready to capture the flashing genius.
And now with both of our whacky revelations, what makes complete sense is to somehow juxtapose and encourage our individual quirks. And I think I have figured the perfect drawing board for the first drafts of #31stories .
We are here at the edge of December. There's something ironically warm about this month. Perhaps it's the cold air, the seasonal cheer, a new batch of hop(e)s and cheesy, melting togetherness.
It has been my yearly ritual to do one post a day, consecutively for all 31 days of December. Last year's theme was 31 letters. This year's theme, we'll know tomorrow.
I nudge you to join me in this endeavour. Pick your own kind of challenge. It doesn't necessarily have to do with writing. It doesn't have to be a big task either. Anything. But something that should make you stretch your limits, just a little extra. Try your best to stick with it and keep the streak going as long as you can. You might fall off the track, but get back up and jump right back in.
Get creative and write me a comment when you decide to join in. Let me know what would be your personal challenge. Together we can hustle and huddle through it, and step into 2022 with the right foot forward.
When i would fall i would hold my gaze for the path was drifting from where it began and i held my head up mighty and high i made no declaration i made no sigh I play with my boys and i climb the giant rocks I ran on the fields penniless, in my socks, and i forged my way onto the mountain top It was my only journey, a beautiful start.
When i fell in love i rolled my dice gotta make a move gonna break the ice, If she is beautiful and she is hot "this is what is love.." That's what i thought, With hormones raging With emotions blazing and of all that i could make i knew that my heart was at stake, And i broke down a king with no queen a king with no crown.
When i saw myself fly like a swan on a lake there were no heart breaks there wasn't anything at stake, I made an elevator It took me to the stars But dead bodies left me with remnants of scars, I believe not in love but more in logic I call everything nonsense if it appears to me, magic. And youth is a song that all the warriors sing but old age is a gift that time would definitely bring.
When i saw myself fall and crumble into fragments, With my withered body With my fickle soul, I sit with treasures but no power to play, A curse of time, an utter dismay, But i stood afar and saw the sight when the day prepares for the arrival of night, My journey has ended and I'm still on my way But the sun will shine again that's the promise of today!