What did we ever do to deserve a sky like this?
The day breaks early today with colours incandescent.
The open skies of the open terrace breathe life into me, and I find purpose again.
There are a few minutes left until the clock shall tell me that it’s 4 in the morning and thereby unintentionally imply that I have stayed awake through yet another night. But this night/morning is special. I met Morrie tonight.
It wasn’t until I had read three quarters of the book that I realised that the contents of it weren’t fictitious and that it was all true.
Morrie and Mitch, in 192 pages, condensed and consolidated so many of my thoughts that I have been trying to process for the last couple of years; amplifying the single chant in my being, something I have consciously striven towards for the greater part of the last couple of years – (pardon the Bollywood trope) Follow your heart.
“Why are we embarrassed by silence? What comfort do we find in all the noise?”
“I am every age, up to my own.”
I convinced myself that my needs were realistic, my greed inconsequential compared to theirs. This was a smokescreen. Morrie made that obvious.
Death ends a life, not a relationship.
‘You’re not a wave, you’re part of the ocean.’
I couldn’t bring myself to read or write meaningful words from the time I returned from Nepal. I gave a big piece of myself away to the country and to re-align myself with the world that I had left behind has not been easy. The ‘tension of opposites’ persists.
At such a juncture, ignoring the nagging feeling in my head (which was conceived when I read the back of the book and groaned at the prospect of having to read two hundred pages of self-help under the facade of a story) and trusting the word of the friend who owned the book, I started and finished the book in one night.
You won’t even realise how you cannot put the book down until you do.
May 26, 2017
Maybe it was the physical exertion resulting from ascending the 20-odd (give or take a few) kilometres from Tatopani to Ghasa, or the psychological stress and anxiety surrounding the trip to Nepal; maybe it was the release of a year’s worth of sexual and emotional frustration, or the unbridled exhilaration and disbelief at being able to complete the first day of the trek; maybe it was the ridiculously affordable and effective locally-brewed liquor or the canopy of stars blanketing the skies above me. The list of what can affect your menstrual cycle is rather long and unimaginative.
On the morning of the second day of the trek, I was awoken by an uneasy feeling in my stomach that immediately resolved itself to be the start of ‘that time of the month’. So there I was – ten days early, a person who has never been early even for a single day for all her post-pubescent life.
Disclaimer: Do you remember the girl, who runs around in white trousers while on her period, in the commercials for sanitary napkins? I am not that girl. I am the girl who falls unconscious from the pain in her belly and who the doctors tell that all she can do is pop pills. I hated helplessly swallowing down those pills.
I wasn’t alone and I did not want my weakness to derail the trek so I popped pain pills, sparing only seconds to curse the universe at large, as is routine, and started off. As I made the slow progress from Ghasa to Kokhethanti, I was quiet, breathless and alone for the most part, perennially lagging behind, ever so reminded of the fat to muscle ratio in my body. In the serenity of the world’s deepest gorge, amongst other things, my mind was a bundle of calculations.
Why can’t I tell my companions that I will need bathroom breaks oftener than usual? Why can’t I tell my companions that there’s a party in my uterus and I wasn’t invited to it? Why can’t I tell them that I need another minute before we start again? What is this strange sense of martyrdom that I am resorting to?
We climbed a mountain that day. I thought I was going to die.
The day after, we braved the infamous roaring winds of the Jomsom basin and crossed a river on foot. I thought I was going to die. I popped more pills that night and drank more local liquor (less affordable, the higher you are), the combined effect of which strung me up high as a kite. I slept like a baby that night, feeling triumphant, triumphant that in the war that my body was waging against me, it lost. I won.
It was the fourth day of the trek (and the third day of the period), when I couldn’t move a hundred metres without my legs giving away. I was foolish to believe that it would only get easier from the third day on. I was giddy and nauseated yet I refused to accept help or acknowledge that I may lose the war that day.
But I did lose the war that day: I resigned to take the bus. In the hours I gained by hiring a ride, staring at the dried blood at the base of my fingernails and biting down on bars of chocolate, I untangled the calculations.
Why is it easier to blame AMS for your inability to walk any further today? Consider this: once in every 35 days (barring the occasional irregularity), you are ill. Menstruation is not a weakness. Weakness assigns a sense of volition to itself. No. Menstruation is an illness, because what is illness but a condition of the body that you did not choose and only have an ounce of control over. You did not want to add to the prejudice against the physical abilities of women; to make matters worse your fat to muscle ratio also did not help your case. You wanted to prove that once in every 35 days, you were no less, but the truth is that you are less. Your body is expelling blood. Take the bloody day off.
Reaching the summit of the trek on the fifth day, at Muktinath, my happiness was still weighed down by the disappointment that I could not walk all the way, that I had somehow failed by revealing and succumbing to the ailments of my body.
I solemnly resolved to return, fitter and stronger, bereft of any malformed instincts to prove or validate the worth of womankind to mankind.
It is still sexism if you are trying to ‘equal’ a man. Women and men are not equal. Human beings, for that matter, are not equal to one another. Sexism only lies in the prejudices you derive from the differences.
Love Affairs In, With & After Nepal
Fall 7 Stand 8
It’s true for those who can count till 8. Octahedral systems. For those who live in 0 and 1 says – fall 0 stand 1. For those till 10 –fall 9 stand 10. For a human who knows infinity – fall infinity stand infinity.
She says it her way. Life. It’s an extraordinary thing. Feet, hands, languages, sweat upon brows, eyes with blinkers, eyes without blinkers, skies, water, snow, wind, trees, little feet, little hands, fire. So much fire. So many words.
And the sounds which flicker around.
…Mumbai Kolkata India Asia…
5:51am on a Mumbai Wednesday
Everything is loud. I’m awoken by the sound of waves and a strong breeze carrying the whooshing sounds to them. I can hear the sea, relentlessly crashing upon the shore, wave after wave. I sit up straight and stare. Ah, fuck sleep.
Everything is loud.
7:38 pm on a Kolkata Tuesday
I wish everything is loud.
I was thinking of a question
If I stand on a shore I can see the sea coming towards me
I know that there is land on the other side too so the sea moves towards the other side
So, the question is what is happening?
I was just wasting some of your time.
Don’t have to know the answer.
Just enjoy the sea.
We always need a friend who knows nothing.
By the way a friend who writes lighting-ly made me question this thing.
Who knew the sky could be so many colours in one day? I’ve seen snow-white turn to steel and menacingly grey which yet again turns to white and thence to a pale orange or pale indigo.. to dark blue to pitch-black and then waking up to the sound of rain and an ink-blue sky.. when dawn is yet to break. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of thinking too much, I simply stare at the far horizon trying to differentiate between the sky and the sea, and for a moment, it’s peaceful and all that goes on inside my head or outside in the world, the riot of emotions and the riot of people – none of it matters. Because there is a place where the waves relentlessly reach for the shore day after day. And there’s some wisdom to be gained from it, I think.
“Do you have a dress?” you ask.
“No, I don’t wear dresses,” I say.
“What will you wear to the club?”
“Track pants and t-shirt, of course.” I dismiss you.
“But you should wear a dress to a club!” you insist.
“You’re stereotyping. I can wear whatever I want to wear.”
“Do you own a dress?”
“I am going to buy you one.”
“I don’t like dresses. I’m a track-pants-person. I used to wear them to work too! I wear them everywhere.”
“Why don’t you like dresses?”
I stutter and stammer, wishing I could summon my guardian angel to put sensible words in my mouth so that I don’t communicate to you like a sack of potatoes.
“Why do you hate dressing up?” you relentlessly pursue.
“I dress up! I dress up.. once every quarter when I feel like it. I like being comfortable in the clothes that I wear and I only ever am comfortable in tracks and t-shirts.”
“Dresses make you feel uncomfortable?”
“I am conscious of my body, yes. It’s part of the reason.”
“You shouldn’t be. You should wear a dress. Let’s go shop for a dress.”
“I hate shopping.”
We don’t shop for a dress.
Nine days later, as I roam a shopping facility that a metropolitan city provides, I look at the rows and rows of clothes on either side of me and find the words that would’ve helped my case nine days before.
I don’t consider clothes an investment of time, energy and money necessary to my existence. I like the six t-shirts and three tracks I own. I do not receive commensurate returns from the investment made while ‘dressing up’. The four times a year that the returns are indeed favourable, I do ‘dress up’: I borrow and I get by.
Nine days later, as I roam a shopping facility that a metropolitan city provides, I come across a little black dress.
I would still wear tracks and t-shirts if I were possessing the type of body that would not make me self-conscious.
Nine days later, I own six t-shirts, three tracks and a dress; and four is still the number of times I am likely to find the aforementioned returns favourable.
Love Affairs In, With & After Nepal
A final few hundred steps were climbed to believe that you can do anything, you can be anything, even if it is everything, even if it is nothing. You are okay.
Three thousand and five hundred steps and then three thousand and five hundred more were climbed to reach bliss point. There was hot tea, careless laughter and dumbfounded disbelief.
Three thousand and five hundred steps and then three thousand and five hundred more were climbed to reach bliss point. There was rain, there was hail and there was snow. There were clouds, mountains and a chimney stove. There wasn’t money, there wasn’t electricity and there wasn’t soap. There weren’t telephones, warm baths or fresh clothes. It was bliss point.
Three thousand steps were climbed to taste the sense of an ending (and a beginning).
Two thousand and some hundred steps were climbed to feel the limbs give up and the conversations with feet cease.
Twelve hundred steps were climbed to feel the lungs complain and the frustration pile up again.
The sun slid down the sky that threatened to tear the dark clouds asunder so that tears and fear threatened to magnanimously make their presence felt.
Two hundred and sixteen steps were climbed to realise that bliss does not come easily.
Little by little, a wise trekker once said.
Love Affairs In & With Nepal
The sun tan on my hands is akin to the memories in my heart – both perhaps will fade with time. Adrenaline no longer courses through my body as adventure no longer moves my feet – both certainly will be rekindled time and again.
The torn map in my hands is akin to the feelings in my heart – both perhaps seemed pivotal to my being at the start but neither certainly could plead its case over time. Blood no longer rushes to my head as 9.8 metre per second square no longer is the approximate rate at which my body is freely falling towards the earth – time had stood still and certainly will again.
Love Affairs In & With Nepal
I can’t hold a pen right and it isn’t because of the blisters. I haven’t held a pen right since I last wrote a letter to you; I never told you this. It’s a coincidence, I tell myself. The clouds are vicious white waves, the sky is a vast blue ocean and my limbs feel as heavy as lead. I sit in this chair with sheets of newspaper splayed out in front of me in a manner haywire. The coffee in the masked white cup is still warm. They didn’t spell my name on it right.
The blisters on my fingers and feet hurt the same today but the ones on my knees and calves hurt less. The nails of my fingers and feet don’t look chipped, not if you look at them the way I do – with eyes closed. To start walking an unknown terrain under the malevolence of the midday sun was a rookie mistake, I tell myself. The setting sun cast such a glow, such a spell when I reached the top that I did not feel the lead in my limbs until the morning after. The coffee in the masked white cup is starting to be cold. I hate coffee. I take it every time I sit in a chair with sheets of newspaper splayed out in front of me in a manner haywire.
I haven’t read a word of it, the newspaper – only doodled on its margins, trying to piece together awkwardly framed sentences. I tear off each page after having exhausted its capacity to be written upon, crumple it up and throw it inside the waste basket a few metres across from me. It’s good practice for target shooting and for letting go of your words. I’ve thrown my notebooks away; stopped collecting souvenirs as well. I only carry a pen in my pocket now and I only write when near a waste basket which isn’t very often. The fire and desire I saw lit yet suppressed in your eyes when we parted last are what keeps me going, keeps me awake at night and keeps me from waking in the morning. I’m stupid, I tell myself. It’s going to rain today although the sky is astonishingly blue. It’s the kind of thing that you’d say with equally astonishing conviction, which is the kind of the thing that I love about you. The rectangular piece of technology in my other pocket doesn’t vibrate as often as it used to. Curiously, I don’t remember when it vibrated last but I remember that I haven’t spoken to my family in 49 days, to my friends in 28 and to you in 63. I extract it from my other pocket, look at it and put it back where it was. I collect the newspapers and the pen, stuff one under my left arm and the other in my pocket, and start to walk away. The coffee in the masked white cup is virgin.
The pavement is so clean that I wish to take my sandals off and walk barefoot upon it. I don’t. I suspect that the pavement might even be warm. I walk uphill. I imagine walking past the emaciated middle-aged man with one arm unnaturally shorter than the other, the little siblings trading red roses for money and the young man with a truncated torso, as I walk past square duplexes built with concrete, steel and glass. I don’t miss you, I tell myself. I make stray conversations with pets and sometimes their owners. I make stray conversations with bicycles and sometimes their owners. I walk uphill, till the staccato of cement gives way to the crunch of grass. The view isn’t particularly scintillating or one that makes great poems but the summit is unmarked and forlorn. I sit down on a rocky ledge, spread my legs out and try to write a bad poem. Four lines in, I realise that there isn’t a bin around.
How can the sky be the limit when it in itself is limitless?
I laughed, I cried.
I fell, I flew.
Oh, we do not deserve this world.
You may think you’re a traveller, not a tourist.
But, no, neither of you deserve this world.
None of us do.
The world is big, and you are small.
You do not own any of it.
The world was here first.
Imagine two people. Both are fiercely independent and both like quiet. One wishes to carpe diem unto infinity. He wants to walk a million miles with no accoutrements, no entanglements and no predispositions, and then a million miles more. He wants to sleep under the night sky and wake up to the sound of waves lapping at his travel-worn feet, with the smell of salt in the gentle warm breeze whispering sweet nothings to the bare bits of his skin. He wants to roll in cold, white snow and swim in oxbow lakes even though he never learnt how to swim. He wants to stand on the edge of the world with arms akimbo, wishing he had a cape fluttering behind him and an S imprinted on his chest. He wants to dangle his legs from a sea-facing cliff and eat food from a box with chopsticks. He does not know how to use chopsticks nor can the food, the name of which he knows not, be eaten with chopsticks but he never fancied limitations and definitions anyway. He wants to light a cigarette – only light it – whilst sitting on a precipice; he’d stub it out on the rocky surface, and then flick it into the nothingness below him, as if the cigarette were an ivory striker on a carrom board he had grown up playing with. He wants to sit atop a speeding bus that is weaving its way through the labyrinth of roads nestled in hills and valleys, with wind in his hair, music in his ears and smell of wet copper red earth mixed with dew-kissed leaves smeared on his skin. He wants to watch the northern lights from his yellow tent with nothing but a flask of coffee that his gracious hostess, from the night before, lent him, a torch light and a book that he bought from the local post office, because he was overwhelmed to find that they stocked novels in his spoken language, especially after having meandered for so many days through kindness and beauty of unknown tongues and origins.
The other one breeds realism of the paranoid variety in every molecule of his being. He likes safety nets, contingency plans and insurance. He is anxious of under-using the faculties he was born with and of misusing the privileges he unfairly receives. He likes the nighttime. He’s not an insomniac; he simply thinks sleep is a waste of breath that could be used to knit the worlds that his perception of reality has denied him thus far. He likes order, design and to-do lists. He has more calendars, checklists and Post-Its pasted on the walls of his room than he has posters and pictures. He likes to sleep till late to avoid waking up to the claustrophobia he’s churning out each day. He reassures himself that he’ll change, he will.. when the ‘appropriate time’ comes and the ‘circumstances’ are conducive. He shushes the impulses that seldom course through him. He likes the occasional self-endangering, masochistic thrill. He’s self-conscious and, outbursts are despicable things to him. He doesn’t look up at the sky through the window from his room at all.
Imagine another. He has a deep distaste for the excesses of materialism and consumerism. He despises furniture and luxury transportation. He fancies walking and ponders on the insufferable self-pity swallowing us all whole. He ponders on our desperate need for nomenclature and our abuse of it. He thinks of one of the quotes by one of his favourite authors: “Cats don’t have names. Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.” He ponders on “the ineffable yearning to be saved” and to find meaning. He does not find it in him to be able to give himself over completely to another person by way of the thing they call ‘love’. He’s known infatuation, longing and lust but the notion of love eludes him. He wishes to melt away by melting into the teeming throngs that suffocate the world. He wishes to expand across the sky and be one with the universe, uncaring of the multitudes populating the world below with their cantankerous politics and insatiable thirst to control what was never theirs to control. He likes music, dance, a few best friends, sleepy Saturday mornings and spunky, sexy conversations that last till dawn.
And imagine one more. He is painfully aware of himself, of the gaps and the surpluses in him, of the war inside and out, and of the faceless stranger he sees look back at him from a mirror. He is swimming against the current in an ocean that is the universe whose ends he’s unable to grasp. Put them all together into one person: this is she and she is a you or a me or a he. Who are you today?
It’s a very recent habit when reading a book that I own – to mark the lines that mean something to me. Maybe if I ever lend the book to someone, they would know if we liked the same lines. Maybe if I read the book again when I’m older, it’ll be nice to compare notes with my younger self. Maybe I’ll never touch or open the book again and all I’m trying to do is leave as much of me as I can with book, as it will leave much of itself with me.
I finished reading Catch 22 twenty-four hours ago. I didn’t always have a highlighter pen with me, but the times I did, I sat and coloured the lines that moved me the most.
Twenty-four hours hence, I want to shout those lines out to the world.
- He was working hard at increasing his life span. He did it by cultivating boredom.
- Men went mad and were rewarded with medals.
- There were many principles in which Clevinger believed passionately. He was crazy.
- ‘Maybe a long life does have to be filled with many unpleasant conditions if it’s to seem long. But in that event, who wants one?’ ‘I do,’ Dunbar told him. ‘Why?’ Clevinger asked. ‘What else is there?‘
- Fortunately, just when things were blackest, the war broke out.
- ‘..I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving that girl. She was built like a dream..’
- Doc Daneeka rose without a word and moved his chair outside the tent, his back bowed by the compact kit of injustices that was his perpetual burden.
- Chief White Halfoat demanded with simulated belligerence..
- ..and the piercing obscenities they flung into the air every night from their separate places in the squadron rang against each other in the darkness romantically like mating calls of songbirds with dirty minds.
- ‘If you’re going to be shot, whose side do you expect me to be on?’
- ‘What could you do?’ Major Major asked himself again. What could you do with a man who looked you squarely in the eye and said he would rather die than be killed in combat, a man who was at least as mature and intelligent as you were and who you had to pretend was not? What could you say to him?
- ‘But suppose everybody on our side felt that way.’ ‘Then I’d certainly be a damned fool to feel any other way. Wouldn’t I?’
- ‘..I used to get a big kick out of saving people’s lives. Now I wonder what the hell’s the point, since they all have to die anyway.’ ‘Oh, there’s a point, all right,’ Dunbar assured him.’ ‘Is there? What is the point?’ ‘The point is to keep them from dying for as long as you can.’ ‘Yeah, but what’s the point, since they all have to die anyway?’ ‘The trick is not to think about that.’ ‘Never mind the trick. What the hell’s the point?’ Dunbar pondered in silence for a few moments. ‘Who the hell knows?’
- She was not interested in money or cameras. She was interested in fornication.
- There were strands of enlisted men molded in a curve around the three officers, as inflexible as lumps of wood, and four idle gravediggers in streaked fatigues lounging indifferently on spades near the shocking, incongruous heap of loose copper-red earth.
- Yossarian thought he knew why Nately’s whore held him responsible for Nately’s death and wanted to kill him. Why the hell shouldn’t she? It was a man’s world, and she and everyone younger had every right to blame him and everyone older for every unnatural tragedy that befell them; just as she, even in her grief, was to blame for every man-made misery that landed on her kid sister and on all other children behind her. Someone had to do something sometime. Every victim was a culprit, every culprit a victim, and somebody had to stand up sometime to try to break the lousy chain of inherited habit that was imperiling them all. In parts of Africa little boys were still stolen away by adult slave traders and sold for money to men who disemboweled them and ate them. Yossarian marveled that children could suffer such barbaric sacrifice without evincing the slightest hint of fear or pain. He took it for granted that they did submit so stoically. If not, he reasoned, the custom would certainly have died, for no craving for wealth or immortality could be so great, he felt, as to subsist on the sorrow of children.
The night was raw. A boy in a thin shirt and thin tattered trousers walked out of the darkness on bare feet. The boy had black hair and needed a haircut and shoes and socks. His sickly face was pale and sad. His feet made grisly, soft, sucking sounds in the rain puddles on the wet pavement as he passed, and Yossarian was moved by such intense pity for his poverty that he wanted to smash his pale, sad, sickly face with his fist and knock him out of existence because he brought to mind all the pale, sad, sickly children in Italy that same night who needed haircuts and needed shoes and socks. He made Yossarian think of cripples and of cold and hungry men and women, and of all the dumb, passive, devout mothers with catatonic eyes nursing infants outdoors that same night with chilled animal udders bared insensibly to that same raw rain. Cows. Almost on cue, a nursing mother padded past holding an infant in black rags, and Yossarian wanted to smash her too, because she reminded him of the barefoot boy in the thin shirt and thin, tattered trousers and of all the shivering, stupefying misery in a world that never yet had provided enough heat and food and justice for all but an ingenious and unscrupulous handful. What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied, abused or abandoned. How many families hungered for food they could not afford to buy? How many hearts were broken? How many suicides would take place that same night, how many people would go insane? How many cockroaches and landlords would triumph? How many winners were losers, successes failures, rich men poor men? How many wise guys were stupid? How many happy endings were unhappy endings? How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls to blackguards for petty cash, how many had never had souls? How many straight-and-narrow paths were crooked paths? How many best families were worst families and how many good people were bad people? When you added them all up and then subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert Einstein and an old violinist or sculptor somewhere.
I can’t remember the last time that I both loved and hated a book so much, in equal measure, at the same time. Joseph Heller sure knew his way around the human mind as he did around words. Fin!
Do you ever want something so much that you don’t? Do you ever not want something so much that you do?
September 7th, 2016
What if I told you that the only thing real
is the hymn sung by every millimetre of your sun-kissed skin?
What if I told you that the only thing real
is the hammering of your brave porcelain heart, scarcely contained within?
What if I told you that the only thing real
is the flake of clear white snow on your weary fingertips?
What if I told you that the only thing real
is the words that pour out of your soul but never your lips?
What if I told you that the only thing real
is the turn of the wind and the canopy of stars that you are beholden to?
What if I told you that the only thing real
is the universe inside you?
What if I told you that the first time I saw you, I ceased
to be real.
Like slicing butter with a double-edged sword, your fingers cut through to my nervous system to set my peripheral neurons on holy fire.
Like electricity coursing through yard fences, your hands sparked in my body a few hundred volts of sensuality.
Like lightning tearing the sky asunder, your arms struck me with the burning radiance of a thousand silver satellites.
And ice turned vapour.
Of flying on broomsticks. Of finding the perfect cheesecake – and eating all of it. Of teleporting to the world of penguins – hell, of teleporting from anywhere to anywhere. Of bungee jumping off dizzying heights and levitating too. Of befriending enough number of dogs that you could make a football team out of them. Of willingly losing your way inside a maze of wood-panelled bookshelves that rise high into the clouds. Of northern lights, yellow tents and cups of coffee. Of endless nights of stargazing lying on warm (or cool) white sand. Of listening to the sound of waves till dawn breaks. Of Neverlands. Of Shires. Of the worlds beyond what meets the eye.
Of tracing continents on the palms of someone.
Of running your fingers across every inch of the face of someone, memorising every freckle, curve and crease, absorbing every smell.
Of swaying bodies, wind-swept hair and rain-soaked streets, and inebriation in moderation.
Of interlocked fingers spinning a world inside them; of eyes that are more vocal than words in a speech.
Of losing yourself – of disintegrating, against every fibre of reason, in someone else’s hands, legs and lips.
July 18th, 2016