Quiet Distress | #AtoZChallenge

“I cannot believe I told you that. Any of that. I didn’t mean to, I’m so sorry.”

The lights on the dashboard were still hazy around the edges, too sharp in the centre. But I was not as lightheaded now, which meant I was awash with regret and embarrassment at having shared so much about myself with someone I barely knew, someone I only texted once in a while, and sometimes shared a few drinks with after work.

About the side I kept hidden. The other face. The uncovered one.

“It’s all right. I had no idea.”

That quiet pity in your voice stung. I didn’t need it. I said so.

“It’s not pity,” you said, “I’m angry. Angry that you had to go through all of this alone. Have you ever talked to anyone about this?”

My hand was already yanking the car door open, “I should go. This was a bad idea. I shouldn’t have burdened you.” My house wasn’t too far. I was tired and dizzy, but I could walk. Or so I thought.

“Don’t worry about it. This conversation never happened, if it makes you feel better.”

You started the car again. Why had we stopped in the first place? I can no longer remember. I was quiet after that. We weren’t close and now you knew more about me than those who were. Strange how things change. In a day.

We were at my gate when you asked me to stay for one more song. “Another time.” I said as I stepped out.


Hi everyone! I’m working on a minimalist fiction project for this year’s #AtoZChallenge. The story will be shared in snippets, and the events occur non-sequentially. It is for the reader to interpret and form the “whole”. You can read all the posts here. Join me, and do share links to your AtoZ posts as well!

Q

Unsent Letters

He walked up to me, wheeling two large suitcases, and asked if the seat next to me was taken. I said it was not. He was new to the city. Originally from your hometown – something I’d guessed even before he said it. His mannerisms were so much like yours. He was right out of college, optimistic and wildly enthusiastic, bubbling with newfound energy. It reminded me of us at that age, when we were still together.

I saw you a few months ago at the mall. The same day that you saw me – yes, I caught you turning away just as I looked up. There was indecision in your face; I’m sure it was mirrored in mine – do we speak? Do we smile? Or do we ignore? Do we pretend to forget?

A few aisles across, in the aisle for baby products to be exact, your wife was examining something on display. She was with a woman with a broken nose. Your mother. The frail short woman with the broken nose and kind voice. Am I still the only one who knows that story? Or did you tell your wife about it?

I noticed your hairline was receding, and there was a bit of grey. I wondered what you noticed when you saw me – the newly formed double chin or the lines that were beginning to show?

The chatty boy next to me was right out of college. And I ask myself, has it been that long? It seems like yesterday; it also seems like forever ago.

 

 


Note: This week a lot of us are talking about the upcoming A to Z challenge. Unsent Letters was the theme I had decided on at first before switching to my currently untitled minimalist fiction project. I didn’t want this chapter to go waste, so sharing it today 🙂

Lessons from Blog Stalking

A quirky blog post title can sometimes grab your attention. I chanced upon one of these quirky titles a while ago on Twitter, visited the blog and got hooked. Hooked? Hell, I fell in love! The language, the stories she told, all of it. What’s more interesting is that the particular post title which introduced me to the blog was related to pregnancy – not a subject I would usually read about on blogs (or anywhere, for that matter).

It took me two or three days and I had read through all of her posts, written over a span of a few years. I read it with the enthusiasm I usually reserve for the best of books. I laughed and cried and gasped with her. What struck me most was her raw honesty. It was not about writing with “utter fearlessness” (maybe it was that too; wait I’ll get to that in a minute*), it was about how her soul, all her emotions were laid bare on paper. The blog had a heartbeat, or so it seemed. I’ve not seen that kind of honesty in a lot of blogs. She was writing for herself, like she did not care if there was an audience, and yet, she addressed her readers directly whenever she could. In *one of her posts, she called out the bullshit of one of the most despicable Indian bloggers I’ve had the displeasure of knowing. Called him out, and how! Of course, he didn’t mend his ways or anything, but felt good seeing someone showing that douchebag his place (something that I could only do passive aggressively till date).

I felt a kinship with her, like if she and I came across each other in real life, we could be good friends.

Unfortunately, she does not blog so often these days.

Recently, I decided to look for more blogs like hers. Personal blogs, life stories. Since this year, I’m going through some… “stuff”, my obvious choice was to find stories similar to mine.

I had little success.

So I went to my next obvious choice – personal bloggers whom I know/have heard of/have read at least and who write well (life’s too short to go through archives of bad grammar).

With more success than the previous attempt, and yet…

The reason I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for was because most bloggers lacked the complete and utter honesty of the first one, and the authenticity that comes with it. Not that they weren’t being true, but the extent to which they were true – it felt like something was holding them back – how I sometimes feel about my own writing. I get it though; not everyone wants their innermost thoughts plastered out, coating walls like that, which is perfectly understandable.

So I categorized personal bloggers into:

1) Those who speak about themselves, their thoughts, their lives (and if you’re like the first blogger – friends, family, frenemies, neighbors, dogs, whathaveyou)
2) Those who write one sentence about themselves and then weave generic scenarios around it. They write about everything from the traffic to the weather to vacations, and while the idea, the thought may be their own, they’re catering to someone else.

Type 2 is invariably more popular than Type 1, because they are writing stuff that a wider group can *relate* to, topics that *resonate* with so many people etc., etc.

Type 1 writes about more specific topics. I prefer Type 1.

When I first started blogging, there was this one blog I used to read. I didn’t add it to my list (like I did with Hyperbole and a Half) because she used to write only once in a year or so. I used to visit it intermittently before. Because she was a Type 1, or used to be from what little I remember, I visited her blog during my above-described quest. The post on the top, written sometime last year, started with “I’m not a feminist because I don’t believe we should ask for equal rights.” I was taken aback – this was not someone who had misunderstood the concept – she knew this was about equal rights, and she voluntarily chose to not want them, which is… puzzling. This was a deal breaker for me, and I said, “Girl, bye.”

In the end, I found quite a few good blogs to go through. Blog stalking is a strangely enriching experience. You see their writing evolve through the years, you see their lives changing, their thoughts changing. You see them contradicting themselves – turning their beliefs around by a 180. Learning. You see them learning. In turn teaching you.
You also notice the silly things – how they adored certain things when they were young, but now love to bash those very same things because that’s what the rest of us are doing.
You see their pain. Their losses.
You see their struggles.
You see them fall in love, fall out of love. You see them move on.
You see them set goals. Achieve them. Or not.
It’s like this time capsule – so much of them captured in their archives.

Eventually, I reached those points in time where I had first come across their blogs. I called it the present, even though it could have been a few years ago (my version of the present is always a little ways behind everyone else – the past two years have been an unfortunate, unmemorable blur for me). I tried to remember where the blogger and I were in our respective lives during those timelines. I skipped the posts I had read when they were originally written. Newer posts hit me like a jolt. For instance, someone had written about Demonetization, and I thought, “Whoa, wait, this is so recent.” Like I said, my version of the present is just a little bit old, so something that recent is basically the future for me (does that even make sense?)

There was one blog which surprised me a bit. I’d never heard of the blogger before, but when I checked the blog out, it became obvious that she had certainly visited mine at least once. I changed my blog layout when I returned from my break. In the old one, I had a Blog Roll on the sidebar – links to blogs I read. Some of those blogs are those of my friends who neither write often nor have their blogs listed on any communities. Like the blog of my friend Wii (who was, incidentally, the inspiration behind one of the two main characters in this story (I hope he never reads this post)). Some are the findings of a “blog-hunting exercise” I carried out some time ago. Interestingly, her blog roll was an identical copy of mine – the exact same blogs that I follow (including this one blog that only the blogger and I know of and hasn’t been updated since 2015 with a total of about 3 posts!)

At first, this made me think that if someone went through my archives, I’d be mortified. I’m more embarrassed by my old posts than anything that happened to me in real life. There have been times when I felt there’s too much of “me” in my posts, as if all my vulnerabilities and weaknesses are out there. (And typos; let’s not forget typos.) But then, I went back to all the good lessons I learned and thought, who do I want to be? The honest writer, or the one that deletes the un-pretty posts once they start looking stale?

PS: While they were all fantastic, I won’t be linking to any of the blogs because a) it’s not stalking if you spell it out, is it? b) I don’t want them to feel I’m flattering them or whatever c) they should not feel obligated to link back. Hence, it is best to keep it all anonymous.

Changes, Self-Indulgence, and The Four Year Cycle

Of late, this rough little slimy rope has been growing around my mind telling me I sound overly self indulgent, a la Elizabeth Gilbert from what I assume to be a pre-Eat Pray Love era. I have criticized the book in the past because I felt it was the work of a privileged person who had the means to indulge if she so wished. But I stand here corrected, because unless we’ve been on the edge of chaos and confusion, I don’t think we are in a position to judge. So humor me while I too find my footing like she did.

While I do not have the resources to take a year off work and go eating in Italy or cycling in Bali, I do know that I’m going to move out of my comfortable box. For two whole years now, I have been caught in this conflict between stagnancy and listlessness. This is partly because I’m used to things changing – change, as the saying goes, has been the only constant in my life.

Growing up, we changed cities every four years (give or take one year). Which meant every four years, I had to leave behind friends, houses, familiar settings. Which means, even now, while I am surprisingly loyal to my friends, I remain a tad detached out of fear of being eventually uprooted from their lives. This is my normal.

This paved the way for the identity issues I’ve spoken about before. This also paved the way for the what bothers me most: the lack of a place I can call home. I’m perpetually homesick for a place I do not even know for sure exists. (And I’ve written so many times about this subject, I sound repetitive even to myself).

This year, I will complete eight years in Bangalore. That’s double of what I’m used to. This February, I will have lived in my current residence for four years. Those who know me know that every part of me rejected this house since the day I moved in. The reasons why I have my name on the contract, the forceful ways I’m tied to it – all of it only caused me to reject it more. You cannot turn a house into a home if you’re so busy disconnecting from it. Did I give it a try? Yes, because as I mentioned above, it’s a house that’s been forced on me, so goddammit, I tried to make it work. But eventually you reach a breaking point. One where the dissonance around you shakes everything you know and you’re willing to let go of it all. Why now and not before? That’s a story for another day.

The next part of my grand 2017-figure life out plan/idea is that I’ve decided to move to a different city. Which city? I don’t know. Am I jinxing it by speaking too soon about it? Maybe. Is the world a hostile place right now (quite possibly on the brink of war)? I do believe it. But eight years ago also the world was a shaky place and I still quit a cozy job to move cities for my own reasons – a move which was unanimously labeled “hasty and stupid” by family and friends. I still like to think I made it, professionally at least. Only back then, I knew where to move and what I wanted to do. Elizabeth Gilbert knew where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do. Right now, I do not know either.

Who’s got advice for me?

Decisions at a (Metaphorical) Gun Point

I had life all figured out as a six year old. There was nothing to it – you grew up, became an adult, and then everything would be at your fingertips. Quite simple.

It was as I grew older that I felt I was losing fragments of my grand plan, and that things weren’t as transparent as they seemed. This led to maturity giving way to immaturity. Like I’m Benjamin Button, but on the inside. Frankly, I was at the peak of my maturity and ambition at age six.

How did I get here?

There’s a reason why we are told to make decisions with a cool head. The reason being, the decisions we make at a metaphorical gun point are often terrible.

Depression does not allow you to have a cool head. It is a permanent gun pointed at you when you have it. Your actions seem mechanical and you feel you’re just going through the motions. At the same time, there’s an incessant restlessness in you, a tingling in your feet that tells you to run away, do something reckless just so that something happens and you feel something. Anything to forget what’s hurting you; anything to feel anything else.

In December, I made some poor choices out of the desperation that comes from being there – I got back in touch with a group of people I had broken ties with because I intensely dislike their hypocritical and negative outlook towards life [it drains your energy right out], just so I could have someone to talk to. I was so terrified of the fact that if someone did not tie me up, I might harm myself, and my future looked so blank and bleak (mostly blank) that I just wanted someone from the future to come and tell me everything was going to be OK. Reassurance. I wanted to take a trip, just to get away from everything. I wanted to relocate to a different city, because I felt claustrophobic over here all of a sudden.

I held myself back.  For once I let lessons learnt in the past rule me. While I did reconnect with the people I mentioned above, and also may have said/done some borderline imbecilic things, I did not let myself make any decisions that would in the long run have severe repercussions. I decided to give myself a month to “calm down” so to speak.

A month later, the immediate restlessness had subsided and I collected my follies from the previous month. Whatever hurt me then was still hurting, but not in a slice-your-heart-open way. I was definitely calmer, could sleep better, and while I still desperately wanted to see a therapist and get help, I was stopped by the doubts I have on the competencies of Indian therapists, given some less than satisfactory experiences I had had in the past [If anyone reading this has a recommendation, I would surely welcome it]. I considered a career change, and when nothing came to light, and I began to feel restless and directionless again. I did the only thing that I could think of then – call up my oldest friend in the middle of the night and cry (this is not alarming – she’s used to it by now, I think).

My friend and I look alike; everyone tells us so. When my son was a year old, he met her and was confused as hell. It is because of this that when I look at her, I think of her as me in a parallel universe – a universe where I have not made the mistakes I’ve made. I always looked up to her for her independence and her levelheadedness. She never bowed down to parental pressure (yet another gun point of sorts) and has so far made a good path for herself. So imagine my shock when I was crying that night about how lost I was feeling and she replied with, “Dude, we’re all lost.” Of course, I insisted I was more lost, and that at least she had a plan. Turns out she also did not have a plan. No one has a plan.

In any case, having a plan negates everything I believe in. But I had assumed as a six year old that by now, I would be thirty and thriving. Instead I’m thirty and confused. Which is frightening, because a decade ago, I was twenty and confused. I have said it before that nearly every mistake I’ve made in the past twelve years can be traced back to one great mistake. So while I still do not have a plan, contrary to what I had hoped for at the end of my previous post, and may never have one, what I do have is an idea: to retrace my steps to that one great mistake, and start over.

Let’s see where this goes.

Epiphanies and Second Chances

The knuckles have been cracked. A neck rotation stretch has been done. But the writing is still a little rusty – beginning with sentences in the passive voice. But write we must, and here’s why.

After a terrible few months, I think I had an epiphany of sorts. Make that two epiphanies. No, correction: one epiphany and one sort-of-revelation. You’d think an epiphany would be a grand event that shakes the ground beneath your feet, tears the sky open like a curtain, lightning would strike and thunder would roar, and lions would fall from the sky. But, like nearly everything of importance that happens in a person’s lifetime, epiphanies strike without fanfare. Silently. A simple thought that seems to clear a lot of the fog.

We’ve been taught since childhood that we must not let go of that which we love and that which loves us. I love to write, and on some days, the good days, writing loves me back. It would be foolish to waste that for the reasons I had. My reasons included plagiarism, the terrible state of literature, the terrible state of the world, the terrible state of my life, the rampant back-scratching and reciprocation in the blogging community, the lack of audience, false friends and more. If you think about it, really think about it, I think I did not give up writing for myself, but I gave it up for others. Which is… mind-numbingly stupid.

I may not be as great a writer as my dad thinks I am. But I’m not as bad as my colleague thinks I am. I may not be as good as a certain writer, I may not be as bad as another certain writer. But I’m a writer in my own right, irrespective of where I stand on a scale that someone constructed. And that’s true for anyone who is or wants to be a writer – it doesn’t matter where you stand or who reads you – you have a gift, don’t give that up. We don’t give up on gifts; so few have them, and even fewer have the chance to use them.

So while I sat, wallowing in misery and self pity, and doubts about my ability as a writer, fears about my ability to even carry on with life, a voice whispered, “You don’t get second chances. Don’t give up on writing; that’s the one thing you have that’s entirely your own. Don’t give that up. If you do, you’ll never turn the clock back and get back to it.” I think it was the voice of rational thought. Or, for the spiritually inclined, maybe it was the voice of God? Or maybe my role models speaking to me from the beyond? Whatever it was, it made me realize that I have to do this – I can’t protect my work from being stolen, I can’t force people to read me, and I can’t control what happens in life or who I meet or how they treat me – writing is something I must do. Anything else I say, anything I say to not write, is an excuse, feeble at best. Granted, to reach this conclusion (or epiphany, as I like to believe it is), to understand that you don’t get second chances, to get it through my head that you don’t let go of what’s important, I had to go through the worst pain I’ve known – something, which, at the time, I believed, it would be impossible to recover from – but it’s taught me so much. It’s taught me what’s truly important, and made me realize I was about to throw that away out of pettiness. And I’m recovering. If you had met me this time last month, I would have told you that’s never gonna happen. But to heal is a choice I must make for myself. And that’s what I’m gonna do.

And I’m gonna keep writing till I can. Cos that’s what writers do.

My Solo Trip Debacle -or- My Eat Pray Love Fiasco -or- (simply) My First Solo Trip

Choose Your Own Adventure books are quite popular. So for this post, I guess you could Choose The Title You Prefer. Because the post is about such a non-adventure, I had to give my reader something!

What feels like aeons ago, I quit my first job, packed my bags, locked my one-bedroom rented flat, returned the keys to the landlord, and moved to Bangalore. In the first three months, I had lived in four different residential areas, across the length and breadth of the cit Silk Board Junction. The first was a hostel of sorts. As I tried to figure out the various “mains” and “crosses” that make up the labyrinthine layout of the city, I noticed a restaurant that started using as a landmark to remember the way.

Much later, I made a huge move in my career, and thus began what I will always refer to the best phase of my professional life. Right before my transfer to the new team, the old team members and I decided to go for a short trip. We stopped on the way at this little dusty, nearly invisible bakery for breakfast. The breakfast was fine, but what I remember most is all of us laughing a lot. A lot! I don’t even remember the joke, but that memory brings a smile to my face.

The whole world, it seems to me, is “embarking on a journey of self discovery”. I am not used to doing a lot of mainstream stuff that involves me burning a crater in my pocket, but this year that’s all I seem to be doing. I bought an iPhone recently, which caused one of my best friends, a Nexus-wielding knight in sports-label clothing, to give me the nickname “iSheep”. Now while it is one of the cuter nicknames I’ve earned over the years, I don’t like to think of myself as one of those sheep-ly people.

Why then did I go on this utterly sheep-ly activity of a solo trip? Because I was curious and determined and damn near egoistic about my introverted abilities of staying out of the company of other human beings. Plus, while I love travelling, I got a little tired of waiting for everyone to be free at the same time.

Those who know me know that my dream destination is Paris. Yesterday, a Buzzfeed quiz told me I was anti-romantic, but oh, hell, no, I want Paris. The wine, the air, the love in the wine and the air (Fuck you, Buzzfeed Quiz). Here’s the thing though – pisspoor people like me don’t go to Paris. So I chose a place that, if nothing else, had street names beginning with “Rue de la lalalala”. I went to Pondicherry (yes, I know, that sounds sad in comparison, but it’s a lovely place)

So I packed my bag and set off, feeling for the first time since second grade like a “grown up”. I went to the bus station and asked the clipboard guy where to wait for the bus, and he told me to “wait near that bakery.” A few minutes later, I realized it was the same bakery where I had breakfast with my friends a few years ago. Things were looking up. This is a sign, I thought to myself.

Then the bus went around half the city picking people up. Interestingly, one of the stops was near my old hostel, right in front of the restaurant I had noted as a landmark. My mind went into some kinda cosmic-sign-philosophy-overdrive, and words like “Retrace”, “Odyssey”, “Cleansing”, “Independent”, “Journey”, “Enlightenment”, “Find Yourself” and other jargon appeared like blips, like on the Ghost Radar app. So excited was I about the whole “on my own” thingy that even peeing in a public restroom made me do a little celebratory dance (yeah, don’t ask).

sreesha-divakaran-pondicherry

That was the view from my room. Quite breathtaking. I stared long and hard at the early morning sea and thought to myself, “This is really where a person can think.” More daydreams followed, of me sitting in a chair facing the sea, writing pages upon pages of my next book, with biographers lining up to find out more about the reclusive author who can only write while facing the ocean.

A few hours later, it hit me. I was not writing. I was not looking at the beach either. I was not even thinking. I was just, sort of, simmering. Like soup. It made no sense. I realized I had more thoughts in my head while on the toilet seat, or in the shower. Not quite in a hot cottage, feeling kind of immobile, cos the lady who owned the place had four dogs. Call me a monster, but I don’t like dogs. They scare the shit out of me. Don’t you remember what happened to Thalia? From And The Mountains Echoed? So I stayed put in my room. There was the beach right there, but instead I chose to get coated in sweat and dust.

s-d-petrichor-clouds2

Then I thought maybe I could go all spiritual, hmm? I went to Auroville, a place where others have found wisdom generally found in the snowy peaks of Himalayas, or that pond in Kung Fu Panda 2. I won’t lie to you – it’s an amazing place and you must go there sometime if you get the chance. But here’s the thing:

I’ve never been very spiritually inclined.

I was determined to make this work, nevertheless, like a little soldier. But while other people somberly marched up that giant golden ball, seeking inner peace and all of that, I went “Whoa! Cool! This is like the Cerebro!” And while other people seemed to be taking their meditation session very seriously, I spent my time trying hard to focus while marvelling at the crystal in the centre of the hall, staring at others, trying to control my laughter because the gentleman behind me began to snore – in short, everything but meditate.

I mean no disrespect. It’s a wonderful community, but I am just not the right person to appreciate it. Correction – I do appreciate it, just not in the way it was intended to be.

I went back to my cottage feeling rather let down by the whole “solo” experience. I craved company and realized, maybe I’m not so anti-company as I thought I was. I most definitely function better with other, than I was doing on my own. This, certainly, was some kinda revelation to me.

And I can’t say the trip was wholly without adventure. I discovered that I can frame an entire question in Tamil, thereby impressing the locals who until then had taken me for a bewildered tourist. Of course, it’s a whole other matter that I did not understand a word of their answer. But nonetheless.

So, did I attain the nirvana that I had hoped? No.

Will I go gushing to my friends about how solo travel changed my life (till they hatch a plan to murder me)? No.

Will I go on another solo trip? As much as I love travelling, and as much as this seems to work for so many people, I don’t think I’m one of those people. So, Maybe no.

But Pondicherry’s cool, right? Oh, yes, definitely! Take sunscreen.