Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Traffic to Hadal

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Bangalore is late
Oh! Bangalore is late
I wait, and two others,
They wait
For CPS, the eminently quotable,
Burning, hellish CPS

To launch the book they forgot
To bring the first time.

A broken door, and a friend waits
For a car in gentle Bangalore.
Oh! Bangalore is late
Bangalore is late
As we wait

For a word from Hades.


Friday, 20 February 2015

Hidimbi by the River


Bhimasena: lover,  keeper of secrets, healer.
How burdensome your love for
The lotus-blue Panchali
To whom the Saugandhika
and it's quest were just another sorcery
Of dark eyes.

My skin lightens,  Bhimasena, draining
Itself of jet,  along with the memory of you
The seed grows,  Bhimasena,  and I grow big
Enough to envelope the forest in my womb
In an incestuous hope that you will enter it.

The forest, it grows dark,  Bhimasena
Dark as our love was when you chose
To walk away,  dutiful son,  loving brother
Absent father. Bhimasena

(Inspired by Bhima: Lone Warrior, the English of Randamoozham by MT Vasudevan Nair)

Monday, 19 January 2015

Spicing up a boring evening

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We sat watching the sky one day,
Me and I, drunk on rain and the universe.
We talked of love, and light that travels sullen and ancient,
A requiem to the stars.

The Saturday sky turned a many-layered cocktail
Heady, unreal, a sky that was ours
Each band of colour differing in weight,
Just like the love we knew

Dragons emerged from the periphery of our shared boredom, the suburbia of our existence,
Embroidering the sky with calligraphy of fire,
What if, we thought.
A gigantic T Rex, a colossal wall of water, a tired,  dying sun.

The world had been quiet too long.
What else was there to see but stealthy spaceships, resurrected reptiles
And wise dragons that extinguished love
With an ancient, magic flame.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A friend indeed.

How do you relate to social media and its presence in your life? I have a complex understanding of my relationship with it. I don't Facebook much and finally gave it up two months ago. I tweet and instagram a LOT, and these two are my primary SM vices. I lost a friend, temporarily, and assorted family for a while because of how much I tweet, to whom and what. I read this piece today that said women who are on social media a lot tend to cope better, and are less stressed. I don't know about that but for me places like Twitter and Instagram and to some extent, Facebook, have been a refuge from what's going on inside my head or out in the world.

It isn't easy to explain why I tweet. I am not even sure I can, even if I wanted to. I'm always surprised when people say they enjoy the things I tweet. I tweet mostly about completely irrelevant things, sometimes I open up a discussion and at other times I tweet links to my writing. My following list is impeccable, though. News, feminism, writing, poetry art, music, cars, crochet, photography and friends. I truly believe the list of people I follow is a delight.

But there's always some level of discomfort when I am asked how I met one of my closest friends, or when someone asks me how I know something, or someone, when the answer is Twitter. It isn't the easiest thing to say in a social setting that isn't online. It gets awkward and I shy away from the judging a little.

The truth, really, is that social media has opened up for me the world. So much has been altered and affected because of it, especially with regard to information, to the kind of people I choose to interact with, even the kind of books I read. For the life of me, I wouldn't have been this aware of issues of, say, trans people of colour if it weren't for Twitter. Or about the complete and utter asinine attitudes of Hindu right wing fanatics. That's the kind of stuff newspapers in India rarely ever carry. While all of it is fascinating, the larger gain has been the wealth of interactions and the few friends I have made.

It isn't very difficult for me to feel affection and take to people who are interesting. I trust them to be good human beings and have very rarely been let down. On social media, it is particularly easy because, according to me, you weed out the peripherals right in the beginning. Your interests bring you together, perceived anonymity and not being physically present in front of someone makes it easier to say what you really want to say without being intimidated by their presence. Even when you aren't having a conversation with them, you are witness to what they talk about and make your own mind up about them. Someone seems talented and beautiful, and you feel that you want to get to know them a little better but suddenly a bigoted streak emerges, and you shut down. Another seems intelligent and charming and then you meet them and you understand everything about them is made of Google. It's quick, and judgemental, to do this but what I am trying to say is that you actively choose your friends, instead of hanging out with colleagues, train friends, old school/college buddies or neighbours because chance threw them your way.

The friends I have made on Twitter are solid gold. The connections I've forged are simple, direct and full of love. When I hear people say, "Wow, people make friends on Twitter," in that condescending tone, it makes me feel a gamut of things. I feel defensive, amused, annoyed all at once. And then it occurs to me that these are also the people who have fallen for a Nigerian bank scam or found their partners on matrimonial websites.

These connections I have made have all moved offline, into a space where we make the effort to keep in touch with each other in various ways. It is also the reason I prefer to use the words offline/online life instead of real or virtual. Real life automatically assumes that the connections made online are fantastical, or illusions at any rate, and therefore insignificant. But look at the scores of people who have found companionship, help, sisterhood and love online. How is that unreal? What part of throwing yourself into a teeming timeline alive with personality when you want to get away for a bit is unreal or unwelcome? I get a glimpse of a shy, funny guy who goes trekking almost every weekend and his Instagram in autumn is soul-fillingly beautiful. A new father, doing his best to be an involved one, tweets about his little child with pride and love. A homemaker, a magician with words, makes me look at flowers, snails and torn leaves like I've never seen. I get a peek into the life of young girl who lives a charmed life, everything perfect and she, grateful for it and beautiful at it. A girl who likes elephants and is honest and open, another who embodies love herself. Yet another who created the word optimism. One who likes post-its, another guy who says exactly what he wants. Another who hides, and another who reveals. People who constantly make choices that make you think about your own, people who bring serendipity into your life by being who they are, people who are genuine and warm and empathic. Why would I exchange this for a neighbor who concretised his entire lawn or a colleague who doesn't like to dance?

I spend a lot of my time alone and for me Twitter has become a huge companion. Does it reduce stress? I think it might. Does it help me cope? You bet. And it isn't just me. A friend tweets about being alone with her child, and a wave of warm sympathy flows to her. Another tweets about a health issue, and I see a swarm of concerned tweets directed at him. I tweet about being lonely, sad, sleepless and the lucky ducky that I am, I am deluged with messages and tweets from complete strangers, filled with hugs, stories of their own, suggestions to sleep better, offers to call me.

It restores my faith in the goodness of people and gives me the luxury of being able to continue trusting people. I am glad if women feel better about themselves because their selfie gets a ton of compliments or if you use a heavily-distracting time line to get away from your little mess. Am I going to die, old and lonely with my phone screen for company? Maybe. But hey, at least I'll die with people who will tweet about my funeral.


Monday, 1 December 2014

Lyra's Painting

This piece of fiction walked out of this picture on instagram and stayed with me.


Lyra’s Painting

After Lyra left him, he didn’t get out of bed for three days. Work calls came, friends texted him, his phone buzzed with the determination of a cheery firefly who wanted him to chase it. No one had ever known him not to respond, even if he owed them money or had to meet a deadline.  The morning of the third day, a couple of friends decided to come round with beers to see if he had lost his phone or if he had suddenly been inspired by impulse, and spirited himself and Lyra away for a few romantic days somewhere. He hadn't let them in. 

Saturday morning stood stoutly in his living room, a room that was neat as a pin, as sunlight and order bounced off the walls. All morning, this room harvested the benevolent sun, past heavy curtains that were drawn aside to let warmth and light in. The shock-white rays fell on a perfect rectangle patch of carpet, rough-hewn and tribal in motif, from his travel to a distant village in the Turkish mountains.   If you were to stand with your back to the window, the sun warming your yearning, then to the left of you would be a book case, one that stood till your waist if you were a tall person. The books, curiously, were arranged with abandon. The short ones stood guard over the taller ones, the thin ones had a wanton time between two thick ones. Nothing in alphabetical order either: the Ns followed the As, the Ss slacked off after the Hs. Genre? No. Biography sat in all its lofty seriousness with a shy, leather-bound volume of short stories; and science deigned to hobnob with plastic-encased issues of comic books.

Directly opposite the bookcase, on the other side of the room stood a bicycle; one bicycle and a hook where Lyra’s hung till a few days ago. His bicycle, red, sleek and perfectly steady against its hook on the wall looked like it had never been touched, when, in fact, all he ever used was that to get around the city. Just above his bike, was the ghost of Lyra’s.

In the space between the bikes and the bookshelf, two feet away from the carpet stood an undisturbed green sofa. No one had sat on it for some time. The cushions looked startled into being equidistant from each other, and there was no trace of a depression or crinkle on the seats.  No one, indeed, had sat on it for some time.  On the carpet was a minimalistic table that he had made himself -- from picking the wood to curing it and bringing it to still life.  The top of the table was covered with a carefully careless collage of coasters, the kind you place your drink on. If you looked a little more thoughtfully, you could see the coasters were placed, to a crazy scale, in the vague positions of where various countries were placed on a world map. To a far corner sat a coffee-table book on style and fashion in the 1920s, neatly angled, elegantly placed.

Everything was in its place and the house was just right, as it had always been. Nothing was missing, everything was as it always was; everything, except Lyra.  As he lay in the two feet of space between the sofa and carpet, blindly watching maniacal dust fairies in the streaming sunlight, he idly wondered what she had been wearing when she left. Maybe the green dress she had sewn herself, but that dress had come apart a long time ago and he didn’t remember her having mended it but he was pretty sure he saw her wearing it recently or was that another dress of a similar shade and he hadn’t noticed because he was largely colour-blind as most men are Lyra used to say but then she said a lot of things about men like they couldn’t find the things they were looking for even if they were right under their nose just like he couldn’t find Lyra all this time when she was right under his nose as he taught her month after month how to become a better artist than he was and he couldn’t see her limpid eyes, crooked smile and razor-sharp chin because what she created on her canvas was far more than he ever could have imagined doing himself or teaching his students. Teaching had never been what he wanted to do as he had always been told those who can’t teach, do but these aphorisms, what were they in the real world but methods of pigeonholing other people and circumstances and sometimes just making yourself feel better at the cost of others and that is exactly what he had been doing with Lyra for a long while though she hadn’t complained and he didn’t know if she actually believed that or if it was just his imagination that she had been a dissatisfied because he constantly made himself feel better by being associated with her because oh the places she would go with her art! Even in the year that she had lived away from him after her lessons her work had been marvelous and talked about and that is how he had found her again; all he thought he wanted was to be with the things she created, the things he couldn’t read in her eyes (not for the want of writing but because he was so unread) he could see in her art and soon her heart came pouring out of her eyes and heart and mouth and everything she made, she said, was inspired by him and how she loved him and she had loved him the day he taught her how to look at yellow truck and see an entire city in it. Or so she had told him and he had trusted her, he had chosen to trust because he couldn’t believe someone like Lyra, with the beauty of the sky and the heart of lark could be his, that all the art she created stemmed from her love; he knew not if it was love for him or love in general because that is all she was and now there was no warmth in the house but that of the morning sun which was oh so cold –

The bell rang and he came right back to the dust fairies, cold from his thoughts and the morning sun. It was day four, he realized since Lyra had gone and if he spent any more time away from the world, he wouldn’t be the one Lyra fell in love with. He got up off the floor, straightened his light sweater, ran his hand through neat hair and rubbed his shaven face.Yes, he was okay to open the door. At the door, stood a boy with headphones and mouth chewing in askew circles, presumably according the beat that filled his head. He held forward his hand which had what looked like a handwritten note. Not letting go of the door jamb, the bereaved man took the note from the boy. Before he could offer him a tip or say thank you, the boy walked away, completely immersed in the music that his red headphones piped into his ears.

Coming back to sit on the sofa for the first time in days, he took a deep steadying breath, opened the note and read its contents. Cold fire iced his veins and his hands shivered, making the letter paper seem afraid of being held. He put it down gently on the table he had made, sat for a moment with his palms on the sofa by his side. He heaved himself up steadily, went into the bathroom, washed his face and picked up his razor; methodically yet swiftly, he changed his clothes – a pair of red pants, a beige shirt, a sweater and a white hat. He went to the door, got his keys, bag, umbrella and a book and left his apartment.

Outside, the world looked like it had stepped out of one of Lyra’s paintings. There were umbrellas on the lampposts and the sky was a parallelogram that hadn’t died, the trees were lashing wildly, rejecting being strangled by each other, even though there wasn’t a wind, the men and women were 10 feet tall and everyone wore benevolent smiles, the sea stood like a large rock, at least a foot taller than the men and women, vertical and immobile for a good five minutes before it receded gracefully, gradually instead of being tropical and messy by crashing into waves; stray cats had spindly legs and they trod drunkenly, children walked in dizzying circles, revolving and rotating, like little earths around their parents, the flowers were singing and the sidewalks rose and fell in gentle waves of sighs. A seamstress, a guy on his phone, a tuba player and a motorcyclist all played cards and talked loudly till the 10-feet-tall passersby had to tell them it wasn’t allowed to talk in public if they didn’t want to end up without a sewing machine, a phone, a tuba and motorcycle respectively. They talked some more, loudly, and continued to laugh.

He walked across the square and looked at the ground to see if it would steady him and tell him if he was in his city or in Lyra’s painting. His head spun when he looked at ground, so he looked up again and looked back. Up in a sunlit window, he saw a man in a spring sweater watching him, watching a man walk across a square that was filled with geometric, intersecting lines, neat lines that were fast filling precisely with the red of his blood, or was it the red of his jeans.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

What do you know of love?

1 comment:
How impossible are the things you ask of me.

Ask for the moon, I say, or the stoic, boring sun
Let me write your name in blood, I offer,
A wild flourish on this vast, ever-changing sky.

Let me pledge my first-born to you, and make you
An unwitting Rumpelstiltskin.  Let me tattoo our love
On every wall, door and window of my vision.

Ask me for an arm, an eye; any organ that you don’t already own
Ask for my flowers, my words and my thoughts
Demand that I lay them out as a carpet for you to tread on.

Amuse yourself as you throw me a challenge
Pepper it with a kiss, as I tell you I’d do anything for you
Ask me to part waves, ask me to be abhorrent.

I place these offerings, scented with incense and sincerity
For you to pick and choose, so I may prove my love
Even though you’ve never asked.

How much more can I offer, I ask, as you reject
Hyperbole, and laugh, albeit lovingly, at the drunkenness of
My soul. What more can I give you?

None of this is enough, you say; Or did you say too much?
Pretty words are just that. Instead, you say,
Give me your understanding, give me a world without you.

How impossible these things that you ask of me
How small, how devastating.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


I've loved a poet, a dreamer, a boy who never grew up,
He loved me with kisses on the forehead,
Strung poems in my hair
As I lay against his warm skin, on a bed on the floor,
While a Madras moon stood guard outside my window.

I loved a magician once
With dancing feet and a crooked smile.
He claimed my shoulder as his own one night,
As he made the stars rain with his sleight of hand;
His vanishing trick, an unmatched act.

I've even loved a bore, a nice guy who couldn't see
That I would be best when I lived free
He gave me trinkets in silver when I ran
A bribe, an imploring or a slave chain.

Totems for each of them, a horcrux for all.
A radio song for the magician,
Scars for the poet,
The bore, books and patience.

My evening  settles, gentle and low, a houseful of silence
Knocking at my door.
I open up a magic box, the magician's gift to me
Take out a poem, yellow, old and rusty

A caress here, a paw there, a hard yank of my hair
A memory, a moth, an unused black quill
They clamber out of the poem, and sit on my hands,
I greet them, gentle and slow
Where have they been, I ask
To the poet, the magician, or with the bore?


Sunday, 19 October 2014

On touch.

The thing about living largely on your own, without another adult in your home, is that you get the bed all to yourself. You can wake up looking like a platypus and the only thing you have to face is the mirror. Pretty much everything you do becomes a thing of freedom and joy. And yet, that freedom is something I suddenly have too much of.

For about five years now, it's just the kids and I who have been living together. With kids around, the snuggles are quite a few. What's more, however, is them bumping into you, them wanting to be picked up, them stepping on your toes shod in new shoes, their elbows digging into the soft flesh of your thighs, their feet on your faces, their heads crashing into your PMSing breasts, their grubby, food-hands on your arm, them clambering on your shoulders for a better view when all you're trying to do is sit quietly in bed and find some peace. To some, that sounds romantic and sweet, and in all fairness, it is quite cute. I know I'll miss it when they grow up and stop touching me so much. I started to wonder, though, why was I so conscious of their sense of utter claim over my body. Why, like most mothers, wasn't I taking this for granted; in a sense why was I even thinking about it.

The answer came to me a couple of weeks ago, when my parents were visiting. My mum, mostly reticent about physical expressions of love, casually stroked my back. At any other moment in my 20s, that would probably have translated to me as a warm assurance of something she was thinking about. This time, however, that touch electrified me. It made me stop what I was doing and tell my mother, I like it when you touch me like that. As is my wont, I said it before I thought about it and the more I thought about it, the more absurd it sounded to me. That a little motherly touch like that would awake all my nerve endings. From there, thought was but a giddy spiral and things that I hadn't thought about it years, or perhaps ever, emerged.

For someone who thrives on touch, who actively likes all forms of physical affection, I realise I haven't had the comfort of touch in years. A quick hug these days has become like shaking hands, but sharing a hug with someone who genuinely loves you -- as a friend, as a lover, in a filial way or in a fraternal way -- has healing qualities that one cannot ignore. Holding hands with a woman when words are not enough, sitting in the crook of a man's arm as you watch a film, being hugged by a caring, affectionate friend, feeling strength and love in that embrace -- those things have come rarely and intermittently to me in five years. And I didn't think about it till recently, when I realised each nerve ending in my body was screaming to be touched, to be told in more than words that someone cares enough and likes you enough to hold your hand, kiss your cheek, ruffle your hair, and not just get into your pants.

I argue, then, with myself, as I am prone to doing. Isn't the touch of my kids enough? After all, I am always cuddling them, kissing them, holding them, touching them in a sense that is complete and natural. They reciprocate too. Little imprints of wet tiny lips stay on my cheek for hours after I've had a kiss. And what kisses they are: the kids put everything into them, their entire body arches up into mine, and they pour every minute of their existence thus far into kissing me, hugging me. That should be enough, I think, and yet I find it isn't. I cannot understand why it is so, but I know it isn't.

I do not miss the sexual touch at all. In fact, I miss it least of all. There is warmth and comfort in that, no doubt, but I don't find its lack big enough in my life to go looking for it. A loving hug, hell I'll walk miles for it. I lose words sometimes, I am severely limited by the fact that I can only think in two languages, neither of them my official mother tongue. I find English severely limiting when I want to express the overflow of love I feel for some people. I find it frustrating that I can't say anything beyond I love you so much my heart feels like it's drowning and bursting at the same time. In a non-platonic relationship, that feeling is easy to translate. But in a friendship that's pure and simple about love, what does one do? Invariably, then, I express with my body and skin. My skin that revolts belonging to the rest of me and rises up in a life of its own, my arms that love hugs and being filled up with the form of someone I love.

In moments of intensity, I observe my skin like a layer of ghost. It separates from the rest of me and between itself and the next layer of flesh forms a raging, roiling river of energy. It lifts in a blue, restless wave, crashing against itself because it has nowhere to go but back in the channel formed between my skin and flesh. I know this energy is calling out for soothing. I know this cold fire that my skin is on is willing to be doused, but all around me, most times, is the freedom of space, and air and the wind. Too much of everything.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Stop with the "I am really sorry, but..."

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I grew up reading popular literature about how a sorry is so hard to say, an apology so difficult to make. But even in the face of that, apologise we must. Set egotism aside, put pride away and apologise with love and humility. Great advice, except that, personally, I've never found it difficult to say sorry. To strangers for knocking them over or to those I love for hurting them. Maybe because I screwed up so often. Maybe because I didn't think it took away anything from me to say sorry. Maybe because all that mattered to me was reconciliation and peace. Whatever the reason, an apology had never been a problem.

But time goes on, and then you grow up and you realise the weight of an apology. You realise to most people it means you won't do again the thing for which you apologised. For others, it means you respect them. For one reason or another, I noticed I was making sincere apologies to people I loved and down the line, repeating the action that hurt them. It was then I realised I was apologising for hurting those people, not necessarily for the act itself. Some were within my control, others were the twisted result of my lack of it. But in very few cases did I actually feel bad about the act itself. What worried me was that I had hurt someone. I thought, well, this is good, I am genuinely apologising for the hurt I caused, it means I care, it means I continue to live in my own image of a loving, caring person. And so, subconsciously, I let myself off the hook, believing I was doing the right thing by apologising for hurting people, patting myself on the back for making the fine distinction. Oh, lovely hindsight.

Then you grow up some more. You grow up and suddenly, you're being hard done by. Perhaps that was always the case, but when you're younger, you're quicker to forgive, to let go, to understand and give room. And the apologies are coming your way. The things that hurt you, and the things that were offered apologies for are being repeated. Someone else was now being you. And someone else was offering you the same distinctive apology that you had been offering others. An empty, meaningless mollification that fooled you and the other person into believing that it really mattered to you that they were hurt. 

What, then, was an apology, I started to ask myself. What if I was doing the right thing, and as a consequence, hurt someone I love? What kind of apology do I tender then? And what responsibility did the apology put on me, if I did find a way to apologise? Who in my life deserved apologies that, when offered, would bind me to a lifelong responsibility? How much of myself could I preserve by sticking steadfast to the ramifications of the apology?

As with all things that confuse me, agitate me, I figured what I decided about an apology was what it was going to be. For me, an apology has meant to fix the situation as best as I could. I say the words, I undo the things that can be undone, and work bloody hard to make up for the things that can't. I find I am fairly unpredictable, and not in the most charming of ways, so I carefully avoid the inclusion of, "This won't happen again." I realise it is a cop-out and that that is me giving myself room for the things that I have, in my opinion, little or no control over. Dangerous, skiddy situations where I may resolve to not screw up, but invariably do. An apology to me, then, was a firm and solemn promise to do anything from that moment on to make the situation a little less hurtful, to make the other person genuinely believe and feel that she or he was special, and important to me. That, really, is the key to my definition of an apology. To introduce, remind and reinforce the fact that the person who was wronged is indeed integral to my life, that I care about the person. Because, you see, that's what I'd like to know when an apology is acted out: that yes, someone screwed up and will make things better. So that the next time it happens, I know and can trust the promise of the effort to make it better. I like to think it is what I do.

Which brings me to the modern apology. my pet peeve. More and more I hear apologies that sound like this: "I am sorry I hurt you, I acknowledge that you're hurt BUT this, this and this is why I did it. And if you can't understand that, there's no point in explaining further." To me, this negates the entire apology. Why am I being told why it was done at the moment where I am too hurt to process this? Isn't that a different conversation for a time when emotions are sorted, when the hurt subsides a little, when love and support are reinstated as protection devices? To me, an apology with a "but" is no apology at all. Furthermore, it makes me, or the receiver, feel petty and like a fool for feeling hurt in the first place. Because, you see, we place logic and reason so high up in the way we are supposed to process things that when something is explained according what the offender finds reasonable, it appeals to us, overriding what we are feeling. Emotions are just as important, no? If you were to act by logic alone, all of the time, where is the space to love and cherish? 

Adding insult to an injury by explaining your reasons while you tender an apology dimishes greatly the experiences that the person one has hurt is feeling. If not outright invalidating that persons's upset, definitely cutting it down to borderline silliness, wherein that person feels like they overreacted. In a true apology, there's no place for reason, there isn't place for explaining. There isn't also any place for a "this is it, I gave you an apology and you must accept it because it is heartfelt." What are these but words? A righteousness that slips into an apology is far more damaging, I feel, than no apology at all. 

Accepting an apology, too, is fraught with threads of greys. Accepting an apology immediately is a graceful thing to do but what if, in that moment, there is no grace in you to give? So now, you're not only hurt but also seen as petulant and ungracious; and in most relationships where important apologies occur, the receiver knows that this is how they're being perceived. To insist on accepting an apology, when the hurt is too great, or the incident too close, is yet another burden the giver of an apology places on the receiver. In return, the receiver places the burden of guilt, and subsequently, anger on the giver. I try and limit myself to a heartfelt apology and the promise of making something better. Acceptance, while it may ease my conscience immediately, is something I know will come in time. Because, by the time you reach my age, the ripe old age of 34, there are very few conflicts by which you lose a person to the lack of an apology. Most people you've built your life around, or are in your immediate circle of fellowship, are those you want in your life even if there is no immediate apology or acceptance of an apology. We talk things through, and eventually an apology comes or is accepted. It is why we are adults. 

I can't apologise for my future mistakes, but I can do my darnedest to fix my current ones. In essence, an apology to me is a promise of upholding love and respect for the person you are engaged in conflict with. And that promise is long-standing, firm; to be reviewed and reminded of when the goig gets tough so that the person who is likely to be hurt the next time (as much as you'd like to avoid it) is sure that it isn't just words that came to them the last time, that there is a promise that will follow to meaningfully make it up to that person. 

Unless of course you've broken their phone or lost their pictures. Then just go into hiding. 

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

How crochet saved my life and other stories of mental health

Crochet is as feminine as you can get. It uses thread and a hook to create extremely beautiful things, a skill that's been handed down from one generation of nimble fingers to another. Folks ask me, sometimes, how I started to crochet. It was a bored summer vacation, we hadn't gone anywhere that year. I was in class eight or nine, or in between and possibly getting on my mother's nerves. A neighbour offered to teach me crochet and my mum jumped at it. I was a non-indoors kid. I wasn't interested in sewing, cooking, working with hands (or any of the other things that were thought generally "girly" or non-cerebral) but I am also extremely polite and couldn't say no even though I wanted to. I made some really ugly pen-holder covers and coasters in bright red and yellow acrylic yarn. Safe to say I was nowhere close to being hooked. I let it go after that summer and didn't pick it up again till I was 27. From then on, I crocheted intermittently till last year where I launched into it rather feverishly. It saved my life, and not just literally.

Recently, a flight attendant had a job offer withdrawn by Emirates when they found out she had once been treated for depression. I was angry, saddened and outraged by this in equal measure. People with mental illnesses have it tough as it is, without them being at the mercy of unemployment. In light of that, the following post is about mental illness, two of which I live with. If you'd like to stop now, you should. Because, I know, one story of mental illness sounds like another story of mental illness. And it might be exactly the same thing. Because illnesses are a great leveller. But every time a story is told, two things happen.
1. The person who tells the story feels, I think, better, in varying degrees.
2. Some lonely old soul, ill herself, might find hope in the fact that there is another one like her, and that help is possible. 

In the summer of 2012, I was diagnosed with one mental illness. I remember the diagnosis making me laugh. Such an inappropriate reaction, I thought to myself even as I laughed and I couldn't understand it. But apparently, that's how most of us react to news we don't understand. Since forever, I'd been told I was mature far beyond my age, I'd been told how strong I was, how even my grandmother felt stronger because I was around, how my female friends felt the same. My bane, funnily enough, is that I'd never been told I can't do something.

I sat in the doctor's office hearing her say, "I wish it was bipolar, (as suspected) it would have been easier to treat." (A little lacking in her bedside manner, I thought, fleetingly.) I laughed, sought to understand the condition a little more ("I urge you to read online about it.") and asked her what I must do next. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disordera not very well understood disorder, and fairly new in terms of research and ideal treatment. I now knew why I was screwing up so badly for the few years before that. My life, almost literally, was unravelling. If you don't mind a little personal information, read on. I was underperfoming at my job, made worse by the fear I'd get the boot. I was living in a (second) ruined marriage, I was angry all the time, or sad. I had been sleeping for perhaps two hours a night, or not at all, for about three years. I was yelling at my kids, I was overcompensating for it by stretching beyond my means to give them things and experiences. I spent money badly. I was alienating everyone in my family, parents and brother who genuinely love and care for me (although in their own definition of it) and I gradually stopped reaching out to close friends. I kept new friendships superficial, albeit genuine. Nothing, in short, was going right and I came to a point where I felt everything was spinning way out of my control. 

If you've ever played the fun game of imagining what it is like to be in the middle of a whirlpool trying to gather loose pages of your 800-page manuscript, while wanting to save a couple of somersaulting kids, and your favourite shoes, tying up your hair, drinking your last glass of wine, then you probably know what it felt like to be me then. I'd fix one thing and another would fall apart, I just couldn't keep up. I ran and ran, I struggled to keep it together but somewhere a leak sprung, then another, and another. I was tired of it and in October of that year, even though I had started on anti-depressants, I tried to end my life (obviously unsuccessfully). You'd think after drinking a solution of finely-powdered coal mixed with water (what they gave me in the hospital to clean my stomach) and being made to solemnly promise to the police (yes) that I would never do such a thing, I'd have better sense than to try it again. You'd be wrong. Because about eight months later I did it again.

My self-worth, my sense of how dispensable I was, sense of having done nothing right was so deep that even the presence of my kids didn't stop me from wanting to end it all. So when the nurse asked me why I did it and hadn't the thought of kids stopped me, I found myself saying I was convinced that anyone who took charge of them after I was gone -- their father, my parents, my brother -- would do a better job than I did or would do. It was after my second episode, when my medication and the therapy was going r.e.a.l.l.y slow, that I was diagnosed with bipolar-disorder as well. While the borderline personality disorder explained the intensity of joys and sadnesses, when I felt them, my inability to maintain 'normal', peaceful relationships, my constantly-slipping world and my irrational anger, this one explained better my erratic swinging between great highs and great lows. The latter was easier to treat, I was told, because it had more to do with chemicals in my brain than with my very personality. 

The first time I tried to commit suicide, my folks were around and enlisted the help of their friends who were also their neighbours, for moral support I guess. In hushed tones, this lady told me consolingly that their daughter too had gone through a rough patch some time ago and needed help, though they mostly keep it quiet. I was too spaced out to ask why, and grateful that they were there for my parents, but I remember thinking why. Moving on from there, I remember thinking, if more people knew about mental illnesses, panicky, desperate cases like me would be easier to spot. 

It would be safe to say mental illness is as debilitating to your life as cancer is to your body. It isn't easy to spot, in yourself or in someone else, because we all have different ideas of what is normal. Perhaps there is no normal, but I am sure there is happy, there is peace, there is love, there is gratitude and there is contentment. If you find none of these in your life for long periods, then you need some level of help.

I belong to a Facebook group that has women as members. It's all kinds of things from a place for networking to seeking support, apart from being a place to meet other like-minded women. The number of difficult, sad, painful stories on that group astounds me. For each real story of pain and depression, I want to reach out and hold that woman and tell her there's no guarantee that things will be any better, and all we can do is try. Their posts, strength, dilemmas all make me cry. Many others, within and outside that group, don't have the kind of support I do. I don't even want to imagine what their challenges are like. 

Today, I live completely broken. I say this as a matter of fact and admission. It is not an attempt at pity, from myself or anyone else. I say it as a matter of truth: I live with the generous financial support of my parents, the support of my counsellor, the deep, miraculous kindness of my friends and the everyday reminder that I have kids touched by the best of the universe. I am thankful for it every day but the truth is nothing works in my life, right now, in the way that will make me independent and secure. I struggle for companionship. I struggle to live a life that is fulfilling because many times, I can't do the things I want to -- either for mental or emotional reasons, or financial ones. I struggle to do everyday things on some days: be civil to my kids, bathe, eat, answer calls, meet deadlines. I do more things in one day that I hate myself for than a whole month-ful of things for which I like myself. I am terrified to join the work-force again because I feel I might get in my own way of success, or even functioning. I still cry a lot, I am still deeply sad, I still fly into terrifying rages, I still feel the strong clutches of hopelessness and despair and I continue to have suicidal thoughts. 

But the counselling has brought back a modicum of self-awareness and preservation. I am able to keep the suicidal tendencies and thoughts at bay, but with great, great difficulty. I fight hard when I fight back against the desire to end it all, but it's usually touch and go, like a really close, really equal arm-wrestling match that you don't know which way it is going to go. I can't stress enough the importance of getting help, of sticking to your counsellor till he or she tells you, no matter how much better you're feeling. 

One of the things I discovered through the most difficult phases in the last couple of years is that depression, a huge part of many mental illnesses, is deeply seductive. It loves holding you in its cold, lonely womb and you feel safe there, because you can continue to beat yourself up over all the things that you think you did wrong. Why is beating yourself up so comforting? I don't know, because it is natural, I guess. As kids, we aren't taught to feel good about ourselves, we aren't taught to feel proud of our achievements. Our small triumphs are always compared with the bigger ones of others, and so the natural thing for us to do is to self-flagellate, to berate ourselves till we can shed responsibility for what we do. 

The other thing I discovered was not everyone will believe you, understand you or try to understand you. Family members will be in denial (my father and brother still are, constantly challenging my explanations of why I am the way I am or blaming me directly for my "failures".) Friends will say, "oh, that's the latest fad, everyone seems to have it". (I don't blame them for thinking that, though, India has very very large numbers of depressed people alone, so I can't imagine the numbers for other mental health issues.) Others will quietly listen to you and make sure they don't get in touch often. But then there are others who will put every bit of kindness and gentleness their soul can summon and shower it on you. In my estimation, none of this is their fault. We talk too little about mental health issues in India and the reason I write this fractured, and possible uninteresting post, is to contribute to the small number of voices that talks about mental health issues to bring it out into a less shameful, more supportive space. (In fact, even as I write this I hesitate to post a link on my Facebook because, you know, how will it affect my family. I don't even know if this is worth sharing, in fact.)

And this is where I will come back to my crochet. The mindless hours I spend doing the work of crochet, of repetitively using my hook, of constantly being surrounded by my yarn, helped me see some things. First of which was to see how working with your hands gives you some level of focus and clarity. I found out making beautiful things that people like is deeply gratifying, but there also lies the trap of validation and seeking approval. Doing hours of crochet allowed me sit at home, be asocial and yet be productive. I understood why many, many treatment systems use occupational therapy. Seeing all the colours of my yarn, envisioning a product, designing it and finally finishing it all give me varying levels of satisfaction, and joy. It's a great tool to shut my mind down and not think about the bad things, and by the time I am done fighting the darkness in my head, I've created something that's beautiful and usable. 

I don't know where I am headed. I do hope, though, that I'll live to see my kids grow up into happy adults, that I'll find companionship again, someone I can fall in love with and someone who might feel the same way about me. I hope I'll ease the pain that I cause my family. I hope I'll leave a mark in this world in some small way, find my own place in the sun. I have a long way to go, I am nowhere close to taking complete control of my own life, and at 34, that makes me feel all kinds of terrible things. On good days, I have great hope and optimism. On bad days, like today, I can't even write a decent blog post. All I can do is continue to focus on my one reason to not crash the car the next time I drive. 


If you think you might be suffering from depression or any other mental illness, here are a few things that I hope will help. 

1. Go to a good counsellor any way. You could come away with an all-clear. My suggestion would be to go to a counsellor instead of heading to a psychiatrist first. I find the latter, in India, are all too eager to prescribe medication, and have generally found them less willing to listen, and use alternate therapies. A good psychiatrist or psychologist will usually suggest a combination of medication and what is informally called talk-therapy. I was lucky enough to find it at NIMHANS.

2. I regularly told two people in my life that I think something is wrong with me and that I need help. They were in denial and didn't make much of it. (I don't blame them, I was a fully functioning individual.) Don't be afraid to tell someone you love and/or trust that you want to seek help, and badger them over it. Enlisting support to go to a counsellor is a good idea, the diagnosis can be a bit sudden and quite possibly, a shock to take.

3. Don't overread or take pop-quizzes and self-diagnose. We all have traits of most "disorders" in us. Only when they start affecting the smooth functioning of your life can it be considered a problem.

4. You don't have to be ashamed, afraid, cynical. You might be extremely intelligent, extremely self-aware and you might think no counsellor can help you. I did. I was wrong.

5. Find a hobby.