As a child, it wasn’t for me to be very brave about pouring water over my face. What if a ghost attacks in that split second when I close my eyes?! I’d gladly take all the time in the world to carefully wash my face without having to close my eyes / soap burning them.
I dont know when it started or when it ended. But I distinctly remember how it ended. One fine day, I had a scratch on my face. Tiny, but enough for me to throw a tantrum and blame the toddler sister. I wouldn’t wash my face as the wound was hurting. And it just wouldn’t heal! And finally, one brave morning, I decided to close my eyes and splash water in one swift motion! Voila! It didn’t burn as much, and there was no ghost!
And that, my friend, is how I learnt that the ghost is within us, and we see it clearly with our eyes closed! Moral of the story is – bath often, wash your face more often. It is okay to close your eyes!
I haven’t written much frequently in the last 3 years. I blame having nothing to write about apart from the misery of the world and the personal drama. For a long time, I thought there was nothing ‘happening’ around me. So finally took a step, and decided to venture outside my 4 walls to see what the world is dealing with. And what I saw, in a single day, are all worth pages of stories each. Let me summarize today, so that one of these days when I have nothing to write, I have something to brood on.
Scene 1 – a vaccine centre in urban Kerala. Sparingly crowded, with enough and more frontline staff taking care of the entire arrangement. And then I notice, the crowd is almost fully elderly. Not surprising since free vaccinations are mostly for the 60+ age bracket. But what struck me is how all of they were alone. One or two couples, one or two with a bystander. But most of them, alone. For a vaccine that keeps them safe from a fatal virus. But, alone.
Scene 2 – a town bus stand in urban Kerala. I enquire bus timings and walk away as I was running late. But the driver reminds me he is my best bet and assures to reach my destination in time. And he does. Drives safe, but keeps his schedule. Kerala private bus? Oh yes, I was surprised too.
Scene 3 – an office reception in the heart of a Kerala city. I rush in with my share of food delivery (juice for the scorching heat). The guy at the reception insists I try out his food recommendations. Casually mentions vaccination, Covid deaths and how he lost his family members. Casually? Is he over it? Or is he just too much in denial?
Scene 4 – security guard at the office reclined on a sofa. The building is empty except for me and him. Is cctv all that’s making me feel safe? Or is it his occasional checks on me? Or is it his taking away the earphones as I approach the door? Or is it just his greeting and enquiring if I’d be there the next day?
Scene 5 – an auto rickshaw in urban Kerala. The mobile app is screwed and I am struggling to make him understand how to ‘fully’ quit an app and reopen it. App lights up and we begin our journey. Visibly distant to conversations I initiate, he looks new to the city, with his distinct slang. I get down a bit too away from home so that he finds his way out of the maze quickly. I explain the route and walk home. And I turn back to see him still parked where he dropped me off. I walk again and turn back again. He is still there till I take the last turn and out of his sight. Then I hear him accelerate and go his way. Was he looking out?
I casually throw these words away in friendly conversations with my people. Sometimes jokingly, sometimes desperately trying to hide the hurt with a joke. I understand I am not entirely fair in throwing these words around so easily. But, it just makes life a bit easier to hide under these blanket statements than pinpoint this person or that incident.
Patriarchy. We are all victims and survivors of it. Men, women, others. Young, old and ‘lost in the middle’. You, me and them. But often, the grand layer of privilege helps you look beyond it. Privilege of money, people and freedom lets you move forward and leave it all behind. But yet, once in a while, it creeps up through tiny crevices and hits you before you know it. Misogyny soon follows and drowns you in a pool of guilt and helplessness. That’s not to say we are bunch of helpless clueless beings. But when the blow comes from unexpected directions, it’s only naturally you fall and struggle.
Very evidently, this blog has been all about me and my experiences and how I perceive life. This is also one such, but I am unusually hesitant to write this down. It brings me shame and sorrow to quote people from my life this way. But I need this to be off my chest. So here it goes. Fair disclaimer: none of these is immediate family/friends. Phew!
Doesn’t matter what you achieve or do. A woman is a burden to the family. ‘It’ needs to be unloaded onto another family through marriage.
You will be defended and protected because we care about you. But only as long as you abide by the ‘rules’ we lay down for you. Else you are an outcast. An immoral woman.
You may be 30 or 50. You better check with ‘family’ before you decide what to do with the money you earned. Oh this credit card? No, that’s not for you. Why would we waste our time trying to sell it to you!
You may be on the right track, driving abiding to rules of the road. Bang! But that accident is all because of you. Why did the men of the house ‘let’ you drive?!
Okay, let’s say the mistake is on both sides. But now if we go to the police, it’d be ‘uncomfortable’ for you. So let’s just say your male family was driving, and not you. 17 year old teen boy would also be okay, just not you.
The list doesn’t end, but let’s just stop with top 5 for now. So is the blame all on the world and none on me? Absolutely not. There a lot of times I have played the ‘woman card’ and got of annoying insurance/loan representatives. Many times when I have been over protective and unnecessarily worried about a female family member or friend. I have enjoyed a childhood favourite movie overlooking the spewing misogyny. It’s one step at a time to break this century old thoughts and ideologies. One step at a time.
At one point or the other, do we not all want to be in some kind of list? List of students who move on to the next class in school. List of students who got into the prestigious college. List of people who can buy land in Mars. List of people who survived an accident. List of people who would make it through one more day. Endless lists of endless things. Endless feats. 30 under 30, 40 under 40, 50 under 50… but why? Lists give you a sense of accomplishment. Ticking every item, striking off each accomplishment – a list is a definitive way of measuring success at a personal level. Impersonal lists may or may not be definitive, but they still are a means to see how far you have reached.
Sometimes I wonder how cool would it be to be actually featured in some ’20 under 20′ or ’30 under 30′ list. It would feel super amazing I suppose. 20 under 20 is gone and 30 under 30 is also slowly slipping away. Never mind though. 40s and 50s are right there intact. Okay, now it sounds very weird. It’s almost like I believe there has been any such actual accomplishment in life. To clear things up, that wasn’t quite the intention of this intro. I am only trying to put my thoughts about lists and their relevance in our lives.
You and I – we all have lists. From grocery to daily to-dos – the list of lists is endless. Do you often wonder how these lists take control of our lives? Marking things on it and striking them off are so satisfying, aren’t they? The feeling of accomplishment of something. And it is all that we all live for. Some mental lists, some paper lists, some unwritten lists – reminders on the things to chase for. It is fascinating how aimless one feels without a list of action items. What happens to free will and thinking on the feet? Oh well, they do exist. But almost always enveloped by a big picture of some bucket list or to- do.
There were times in life when I had more than 3 to-do planners. With groups and folders and RAG status and what not. I still have some of those kind. But all of them are for work. I’m too scared to keep one for myself these days. It just feels like a blaring proclamation of my failure to strike things off them. Or some such weird thought. And lost in that fear and uncertainty, I guess I’m just missing out on some really fulfilling moment of life. Exactly like so many other moments in life.
P. S. This is a writing I’ve been working on for some months now. With many interruptions and excuses, I managed to delay this forever to be published. Ironically, this one strikes one thing off my ‘not-written- down’ list – write away with an endless expanse of ocean outside the window! Last word written exactly in time before my last day with this view – oddly satisfying!
It crushes my soul and bleeds my heart, Like I can’t breath and survive another minute, Seeing you here, stuck and lost, Waiting for the door to open, For someone to let you out, To the world outside, to your natural self, Embracing life as you know it.
I feel your pain choking my throat, My eyes welling up from an unfamiliar sorrow, Unknown and strange are my thoughts, With the tears I shed for you, no matter the hate.
Scared and hopeless, you and me, I open the door through the fear, Knowing its only for you and for you to never return, And for me to be here without respite. Sans your sorrow, does mine diminish ever? How would you know, after all you are a dog!
‘This is the last batch from here’, said father, tossing in the final jackfruit into the trunk. Inching to probe why, I retracted my words as an afterthought. It’d only pave way to another round of blaming. How much I don’t care about the construction, how I’m not paying attention to its details and on and on it’d go. Why else would I not remember that the jackfruit tree is going down to make room for the Vaastu appropriate kitchen! Sigh!
Decades later, that scene still stays fresh in memory. The chopping down of the tree, starting of the construction – I wasn’t there for any of it. It was only way after the completion of the house did I even come back home. But for some unknown reason, that random conversation and a vague memory of the ‘plot’ linger.
Sitting down in this tamarind’s shade, I feel connected to this strange land and place. Like it was never so strange or unbeknownst. Life has always been full of gratitude for me. Many things to be grateful for and many people to thank. Appumash tops my list of people to be grateful to. Ironic enough, I’d perhaps never thank him for I’ve never really known or met him. A wandering soul in an ottamundu ( ‘a slightly dignified version of a loincloth) that I spot once in a while in the neighborhood. That’s all I knew of the man. But as I learnt that he is the one throwing tantrums and standing against the slaying of my tamarind shade, there grew a new sense of kinship with the nameless soul. And I learnt he has a name – Appumash – as a memory to be grateful for, forever.
After all, it is just a tamarind tree, isn’t it? What’s there to be grateful for a tree? One could say nature’s balance, sustainability and global warming or whatsoever. But it’d be far from the truth. I do not possess such great visions for the future of the world or concern for our existence. Neither would Appu mash have them, I presume.
A companion in my solitary afternoons. The majestic branches arching over the house as a shade. And the fond memory of mother cribbing about the fallen leaves that ruin the yard. And father dividing and distributing ripe tamarinds to everyone who pass by. That is what the tamarind holds for me. An image of my past, a shoulder in the present and a hope for the future.
But is it also the darkness that takes away our share of the sun and the moon? Does it not appear as haunting hands through the windows? One could view it, in all its vicious and dark shades. But to my eyes, it is a magnanimous tree in the brightest phase of my life, being my shade and shelter.
After every withering autumn, I wonder if it’d ever turn green again. With its luscious green, isn’t it protecting my soul more than what I could ever do to save its existence? Somewhere then, a tree becomes more than just the shade as it embraces you and holds you tight to its roots.
Katha kettutha.. – the words echoing in my ears for a month now. Did you hear the story? That’s the literal meaning of it. But the depth and profoundness of those words are unfathomable to me. Every time he asks if I ‘heard the story’ , there is a great deal of wisdom, love and thrill in his words. The undying spirit of a man eager to live life to its fullest. The man who’s only a memory now. But his words and his stories are etched forever in my thoughts.
So he died. Big deal. People die. Hundreds of thousands of people do. A hundred lives passed as I typed this sentence, all over the world. But when it’s close home, that’s when it halts the world. It was unexpected now. He was doing good, going by his life and taking care of ammammai, and watching over all of us. But I wouldn’t say it’s out of nowhere. He was old. And I thought he was dying a decade ago when he was hospitalised. Somehow with a certain age, you think people are ‘die-able’. And he was in that category. More than anyone else, he was the one who made peace with it the most. He wrote down his obituary, funeral arrangements, last wishes, and namesake will of all his and his wife’s belongings to the last detail. Neatly folded the document and entrusted with my dad for safekeeping, only to be presented when the ‘time’ comes. Without exaggeration, I literally wrote down his exact words with some fillers for his own obituary in the newspapers. I couldn’t believe I was doing so but did that without a thought anyway. Thatha never stops to awe you, never ever. He was a meticulous man, even in death.
It’s been exactly a month now. Am I seeking closure? A week ago when I started writing this, closure is what I sought. From the time of hearing the news, until this moment, I can’t stop hearing he asking me ‘katha kettutha’. Through the rites, I hardly cried. I was in a trance, shocked by this voice in my head. It felt like there are more stories he wanted to say, more memories he had to share and more about him that we all had to know. With time, of course the voice is fading. And that’s when I realized what I seek is not closure. What I seek is for his memory to stay with me. Not once a year during thavasham. Not when I taste a food he liked, or when I hear his name, or see ammammai. I want to bear him in my thoughts as a constant. A random story he once said, his mannerisms, his appearance, the ring he never let me have but always let me try steal..
I thought seeing ammammai without pottu would be the most heartbreaking thing after. It is the empty arm chair and the missing ring to steal that kill me though. It’s not what he was to others, it is who he was. S. Narayanan.
These days have been about masks and PPEs. All in an attempt to protect ourselves from an unknown (do we know it yet, really?) enemy. The way I see it, what came in handy with these masks is the fall of facades. There’s no compulsion to smile broadly, or acknowledge an acquaintance. Not even an attempt to hide a frown. The mask does it all for you. The ease of covering up all that you feel or forced to express. Does sound like a blessing in disguise, doesn’t it?
The above is a write-up from a while ago when Covid-19 was still ‘news’. Somehow, I was convinced to find a silver-lining even in those dark times (maybe not entirely silver – let’s settle with bronze!). Over the past few months, however, the wave of optimism died a slow painful death. Work was growing beyond acceptable limits, friends grew further away with almost no see and less talk – life was stalling in short. When all else fails, you turn to family. But for me, that also failed when they threw my fancy dinner suggestion out of the window. So yeah, New Year’s Eve is a complete flop. Rather, it almost was. And suddenly, it rained! And in that instant, everything changed for me. The drizzle, the fragrance of the earth and the gentle breeze! New year is always new hope, no matter how clichéd it may sound. Happy New Year! To new beginnings!
I ran a month-long race and won against myself. I took up a challenge and wrote for 30 continuous days – scribbled would be a better word. Every productive activity must have some takeaway. So what are my key takeaways from 30 days of blogging?
Don’t repeat this stupidity. The challenge eventually makes blogging a chore more than the passion to write.
That being said, find some other excuse to write. Perhaps, start some series similar to the travel diaries or book reviews done in the past.
Every random thought in life deserves a spot. Today’s stupidity might become tomorrow’s wisdom. Write away without reservations. You’re the most important reader.
There were random comments and likes (apart from the ‘spammers’) on the blog from within the WordPress community. What I realised on visiting their sites: Good content is all around you. You just need the eyes for them.
I don’t really have a 5th takeaway. But 5 is a round figure! Give in to your random pleasures like compulsive writing. It pays off in the long run.
All that said, will I come back to blog again tomorrow? I highly doubt it. But I’d frequent the space more often than before. Until then!