There She Goes Again, With Her Dancing Shoes

It was in the third grade (or second, or fourth, I forget) that they decided to split the dance and gymnastics classes at my school. At first, all the students of a class would attend both. After the split, girls attended dance and boys attended gymnastics. If you had a written note from your parents, you could attend gymnastics even if you were a girl. Boys either did not want to attend dance (or their parents did not want them to), or were not given the option. I’m inclined to believe the former. This was the 90s and schools just casually propagated certain stereotypes this way.

We had been learning kathak until then. That year they made us switch to bharatnatyam. We were asked to wear a frilly skirt over our school uniforms. The new dance teacher was a formidable looking woman who wore a teardrop bindi that started between her eyebrows and touched her hairline.

Every year, I looked forward to the day we got new books and other supplies from school. This included a new pair of ghungru – for dancing. But then I was a skinny, awkward little thing whose ghungru came loose and slowly got dragged across the dance floor, held by an almost undone knot around my ankles. Add to it that bharatnatyam and I didn’t get along as well as kathak and I did. I thought I wanted to switch to gymnastics then, and chop my hair off like the other girls who chose that route.

My mother, an accomplished bharatnatyam dancer from a time in her life pre-marriage/pre-kids, took this as a personal affront (which is weird, because I was never enrolled in lessons outside of what was offered in school, but we’ll get to that). She had her waterworks and emotional blackmail at the ready. To which my father, when I thrust a pen and paper under his nose to write the note, said, “You broke your mother’s heart. You can even stop going to school from tomorrow.” Yup, my family is the overreacting kind.

Anyway, ghunghrus trailed, the elastic band of the skirt pinched, and a deadly looking teardrop bindi made me wanna pee my pants every time it looked my way. Then we moved, as we did every time, and the dancing stopped. Flash forward to a stranger asking my mother why I, the daughter of a once-famous (or so I hear) dancer, never learned it myself. She giggled in that schoolgirl way and left it at that. Later that day, I repeated the question to her. She had her reasons. I had my minor resentments.

I danced anyway, for school functions and such. I knew my limitations as a dancer, but I also knew I had fun while dancing. That’s all that mattered. And my teachers had enough confidence that I would not mess up on stage.

Flash forward to me as a 25 year old, dancing (if you could call it that) with a bunch of my friends atop a platform to steps that had nothing to do with the slow sad song that was playing (I think the DJ was going through a rough patch. You’d guess the same if you knew which songs he played). Best day of my life. Until…

Flash forward to me as a 27 year old. My friend B was teaching me some sick moves, which I was copying with my two left feet and some mustered grace. At some point, I tried to show her that step from Timber, slipped, and landed on my ass. Several hands shot out to help me up. I’d never laughed that hard before. Best day of my life! (So far)

Last year B asked me to join dance classes with her, to which I replied, “Uhhh, I don’t think so!” What followed was that she joined the classes and I went off to Pondicherry. And you all know how that turned out.

Then it started gnawing at me and I wondered, Should I? After all, the best days in my life have seen me dancing. And by dancing, I mean, looking like someone drowning calling for help, but whatever. After toying with the question for a bit, I decided, Yeah, I should.

It… did not go very well.

Joining the dance class was like going back to the skinny, awkward little thing that I was (minus the skinniness). I realized I cannot keep count in my head, you know, of the 1, 2, 3, step, 5, 6, 7, step variety. Dancing while completely sober is not that fun, and dancing with strangers (not to mention more graceful and with more practice) will make you feel more like a misfit than you already do most of the time. (Also, some other shit happened that day that I may talk about during the A to Z Challenge. Or not. I’m not sure yet, just keep your eyes peeled, yeah?)

So I left, thinking, Ok, so what’s new, I always quit everything, boohoo. And then I told myself, This is why we never wanted to learn dance in the first place. It’s ok. (Sour grapes, I tell ya)

Flash forward to a few days ago when another friend told me about yet another place from where he is taking dance lessons. Another form of dance. One which I wanted to learn a long time ago, but never did because I’m a graceless two-left-feeter.

And now it’s begun to gnaw again. Should I give myself another chance to learn? Or just accept that any form of real dancing isn’t for me?

PS: I write some of my posts in advance and schedule them, including this one, so it’s possible that by the time you’re reading this, I have already joined said lessons. I’m impulsive like that.

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Mr. Heckles and I

H joined our team at work a couple of years ago and disliked me almost instantly. I say “almost” because at first (during the first week at least), she tried hard to force her way into our group. We were a tad cliquey back then, but polite nevertheless – after all, we all knew how intimidating it is to be the new team member (plus, we were adults – cliques do not exist in the kingdom of adulthood). But seeing just how hard she was trying made us suffer from secondhand embarrassment – she monopolized conversations, gave out too much personal information, invited herself to our little outings without being asked.

It became apparent that H had some kind of a problem with me specifically. I was assigned to train her; she was hierarchically above me, but I’d spent more time with the project. I suspect her dislike stemmed from her considering me “unqualified” to train her – despite my tenure with the team, I was still the youngest. She made her displeasure about it known quite vocally multiple times, in multiple crowds, in multiple terms. She also often put me down because I was married, and a mom, and according to her “unsuitable in the workforce due to these reasons”. Talk about unfeminist!

Her dislike grew because I was no less vocal than she once I started noticing her behavior, which had, by then, turned badly unprofessional. The others were quite diplomatic in the way they handled her; I’m not particularly adept in that department. Later on, the others too dropped their pretenses, except my friend B, who was by then the only one still polite to her. B is a good person that way.

Just a few months after being with us, H decided to quit. I was overcome with guilt, and began to wonder if I should have done something differently, tried harder to be nice in the face of her hostility (instead of paying her back in her own coin). I’m pretty sure there’s a list somewhere of people who hate me vehemently, and I’ve always found their hate amusing. So this was no inherent need in me to be liked by all. Why this uncharacteristic change of heart in her case then? Out of fear.

I found out that she liked Howard Roark, on whom I’d had a huge crush at one point (as huge as crushes on fictional characters go – in many a fantasy, I have wished I was Dominique Francon). I tried to use our mutual affection for Roark to extend an olive branch. She (obviously) did not reciprocate, at which point, I was filled with a cold dread that led to this conversation between B and me:

Me: Oh my God, she’s Mr. Heckles. She’s my Mr. Heckles. And I’m Chandler.

B: What rubbish! What makes you even think that? The two of you have nothing in common. 

Me: She likes Howard Roark. I don’t know anyone else who does. Except me.*

B: Big deal! She’s not Mr. Heckles. You’re not Chandler.

Me (borderline hysterical): The woman is always complaining about me. When I look at her, I see myself ten years down the line – bitter, miserable, bitching about people. What if I really turn into her? What if I die alone like Mr. Heckles?

B (pretty annoyed at this point): You’re not gonna die alone. Shut up now.

*There were other things which I mentioned – but let’s not elaborate.

This seems melodramatic to me now, but back then, I was convinced beyond all reason that a fate filled with jealousy and loneliness (and dying alone) awaited me. As you already know, in spite of knowing better, the influence of certain situations/people has often clouded the way I think and led me to believe strange things. I genuinely began to see her as a future version of me. Maybe that was my guilt talking. Maybe I was more affected by her hate that I needed to be.

That’s not the only reason why I never forgot her either (I had a moment a few months ago where I couldn’t recollect her name, but it came back to me eventually). Just a few months after H quit, I did too. Since then, I’ve been landing only in projects/organizations that do not have a team structure for my role (what a weird coincidence), and therefore I do not have any opportunities to mingle with people. I don’t do well when I don’t talk to others – I’m just programmed that way (unhealthy co-dependence and a need to yak with people whom I’m on similar wavelengths with) – and this explains my (joke of a) career graph in the past two years. When I think about that, the guilt resurfaces. Followed by the fear.

What do you think, Reader? Do you ever get accosted by fears like mine? 

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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.

Everything Must Go

First it was goodreads.

Well, obviously. What else could it be, knowing me. It’s cluttered with nearly everything everyone’s ever recommended. Friends, acquaintances, even enemies. Even the site’s own recommendations based on what you’ve already read. Which is a good thing; it isn’t annoying like Facebook’s People You May Know. Even a bad book, after all, trumps human beings. I had even added books based on my mood or ideology – I went through a phase where I added a bunch of Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins and whatnot.

All the books I own are enshrined in a lovely oak wood shelf in my room, placed in a way that it’s the first thing I see when I wake up. Creepy, perhaps, but better than mirrors or photographs of lovers. Never one to willingly give in to egotism or sentimentality. There was no way anything was going to happen to those books, so it was goodreads that took it. For really, an ideology is for yourself. If I am an atheist or a feminist, I already know that that is what I am without having to read a book about it. I don’t need other authors to validate what I already know. When you realize that, you suddenly wonder why there are books on the subject on your TBR shelf. They may be interesting, but why read over and over what you already know. So out they all went, books I had added in the spur of the moment, knowing for sure I would never read.

A relative’s solution to all of the world’s problems is to clean. Pick up a mop, scrub or duster, and clean. every surface, wood, marble, glass; clean. I never believed in that wisdom, because it is but a distraction, the newly shined house, much like a new haircut, or new clothes. A distraction, not a solution.

A distraction of the kind that would explain the mountains and mountains of clothes piled up in my wardrobe. My old roommate would often complain to her friends about how I had too many clothes that took up precious shared closet space. I didn’t have a fraction back then as I do now. Or did, until recently. The depression led to more and more being bought and brought in, until they piled on, piled on and on like garbage, like vomit, like the blackness in my mind threatening to swallow me whole, like the wooden doors of my wardrobe were an obese stomach about to burst through the shirt that tried to hold it in. I couldn’t take it anymore. They disgusted me, once what were my favourite colours and shades. So they went next, after the many books on virtual goodreads shelves. Eight large bags. Why in hell did I have so many clothes? Why do I still have so many that I can go on for months without having to repeat. Why, really? I have no paparazzi hounding me waiting to smear me the moment I was seen in the same outfit twice. Why then do I have this ridiculous number of clothes and shoes? They went next, the shoes. Even looking at my little indulgences made me sick to my stomach, like a bug from mayonnaise gone bad.

Having gotten rid of these little materialistic things, I let go of friends, both false and true. So many of the former, so few of the latter. The ones that mattered and the ones that didn’t. And strange how quickly they scattered, for what was I but a speck of dust in their minds, swatted away with the lightest gush of breeze. The shock of it, as if they were waiting for me to say goodbye so they could finally leave. The surprise at the support from unknown, unexpected quarters. I bade them all goodbye for who they were friends
with once wasn’t who I had turned into; they deserved none of it, none of
my burdens, no matter how obligated they felt to shoulder it. I couldn’t figure out myself who I had turned into.

Then the connections to them – the internet, for who makes phone calls
anymore. Does anyone? If someone does, I don’t answer; so much easier to not
let anyone hear my voice, worried that they may ask what truly happened and worried that my voice might crack and shatter like the mirror I refuse to look at.

Then went the music. The new phone is a stupid piece of junk. It has the storage memory that could as well have been a small single digit number and the stupid thing doesn’t even come with an external memory slot. So out went the music, the favourites, the ones that
made me cry and smile and reminisce. But I’m only pinning blame because I am pushing off admitting that music had been on its way out since the past couple of years. Why have I, whose life and emotions were so inextricably tied with music, denied myself this simple, but necessary pleasure? Why tear off a part of my soul like the skin off my palms? I can’t say, I don’t know, except that all the roots begin at one place.

I do not wish to give up writing. I don’t think I could. But who am I fooling, I couldn’t write well if my life depended on it. I do it cos it gives me something to do, somewhere to vent. And in all honesty, I wish for once someone would give me something more than empty words. I waited and waited some more; I wrote and I wrote some more. But I can’t. Not anymore.

I’m exhausted.

tl;dr: hiatus.

The Heavier Expectations

A few weeks ago, I was discussing Past life regression with an acquaintance. While I was always interested in the study of the mind, and the subconscious, and Freud’s theories, past life regression is a wholly new area for me. I had, of course, heard of it, but it was not something I gave much thought to. To me, until then, reincarnation, or past life, or the manifestations of accumulated karma were a largely religious concept, and therefore something to be dismissed as hokum. They were also, to some extent, a Bollywoodesque idea, that had run its course somewhere in the 90s.

No matter, because the idea was still intriguing, and I have to say, all of a sudden, I wanted to know if I had lived lives before. Wait. I’d be lying if I said the idea took root when the discussion happened. The fact is, I had been curious about past lives ever since I read Ashwin Sanghi’s The Rozabal Line, back in 2009. It has come and gone like a whiff every now and then since then. If such a thing exists, then I’d like to know something about it. Anything. It is difficult not to romanticize about it once the idea has planted itself.

But this particular discussion dug its toes deeper into my head. Suddenly, I was googling past life regression in the middle of the night, in the midst of a splitting headache, and reading all I could find on the subject. I dreamed up all kinds of scenarios, where I sat with a practitioner and discovered who I was, and dramatically discovered my relationships with those who are in my present life. Most prominently though, I secretly harbored this fantasy that I would discover I was Sylvia Plath or Anais Nin in a past life. A girl can dream, eh?

One of the articles I read said that the only people who are advised to perform past life regression are those who feel there is something lacking in their present life, or those who are trying to find the root cause of a problem or emotion. I have always felt this strange sense of “not belonging”. Not to this world, not to this period in time. Always a little lost, always searching for “home.” Always trying to figure something out. I have written several posts about this as well. This explains the Sylvia Plath fantasy!

The reason why I am a writer today is partly because I have been trying to explore these questions. On the other hand, I believe writers must keep an open mind – to all hypotheses, to all ideas, to all experiences. I also believe writers must give in to instincts and emotions. Writers grow through excesses. The excesses they fit into their short attention spans. The whys. The hows. The alrights. The welcomes. The loves. The lusts. The harmonys. The cordialitys. The honestys. The opennesses. The acceptances. The understandings.

The being.

My error was, however, I bracketed all writers into these open-minded souls. I forgot, at the end of the day, we are humans. Humans with our pettiness and our general smallness of mind. I went out into the world expecting the same openness from everyone around me, placing the burden of my heavy expectations on their broad but weak shoulders.

Where I went looking for open-mindedness, I found the same kind of world I sought to abandon – closed, small souls, calling themselves creators but being nothing more than lice trying to trample each other on one head of hair. Angry souls. Dishonest souls. Backstabbing souls. Lonely and afraid souls. Friendless souls. Judgmental souls. Mocking souls.

Not souls. They were mere humans.

I went looking for people, who, perhaps felt as lost as I. I believed I would find the honesty and humility I was looking for in a crooked world. That maybe, in being among my own kind, or who I thought were my own kind, I would find myself. That together, we would better ourselves. Instead, all I found was a subset of the same people who already thought they were higher than the rest simply because they could string sentences one after the other. Who I found were those looking for instant fame. Writers on the outside, nosey, obnoxious neighbours on the inside.

Not writers. They were mere marketers.

Often, even in friendships, my expectations of others have been too great a weight for them to bear. Perhaps, this is an extension of it, and perhaps, this feeds my somewhat dormant misanthropy. It cushions the disappointments that come my way.

I wonder if I were to actually do the regression (since that is, after all, what we were discussing), what would I find about myself that would explain my boredom? What would I find that would stop me from placing so many expectations on simple-minded folk who do not deserve it.

 

The Valley Of Cloves

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The tapping of the soles of my brown shoes

Dies a dull death as the ground meets them

Charred, charred the ground beneath moves

Pushing me ahead, promising me salvation ahead.

 

All through the valley, scattered wide

The stench assaults my nostrils, of burning flesh

From the bodies of a once-haughty tribe,

They were trapped, the tribe clasped, it engulfed.

 

Brought along the burning on its back

A smell so cloying, like an incubus’ call

Almost, I turned around, to fall into its trap

Determination against addictions, almost unheard of.

 

The cloves beckoned me, for the bodies still

Carried them burning in their fried mouths,

Fried lungs that stopped breathing

Much before their time was out.

 

And yet I walked on, paying no attention

To skin that peeled off like burnt paper

Or is it paper that flakes off like burnt skin?

Would He even recognize us, the Maker?

 

Walked on till the mouth of the valley

There was no promised salvation, only an emptiness

All I knew had given in to the cloves’ delicious fury

With the world gone, I was left to be taken by loneliness.

 

And I heard the cloying beckoning me again

Come back to the valley

We have cloves here

We have what you want here.

 

The New Friend

The five year old was shouting to be heard over the noisy whir of the blender. One hand held the lid of the jar in place, and with the back of the other, I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. I turned to the shouting, tiny human, tugging at the waistband of my jeans and looking up at me expectantly.

“I wanna go meet my friend!”

“It’s scorching outside,” I said calmly.

“No!” he wailed, “My friend is waiting for me in the park! I want to go meet him! Now, Ma, NOW!”

The tug on my waistband felt stronger, more determined, persistent. I sighed and opened the lid and looked at the half mashed bits of banana in the smoothie I was making.

“Fine. But you will finish this smoothie and only then we’ll go to the park. Your friend can wait.”

The boy was jumpy with impatience. He gulped the smoothie faster than I’d ever seen him gulp any food or drink. As he ran to get his pail and shovel for the sandbox, I asked him who this new friend was.

“I met him yesterday.”

“But what’s his name?”

“I didn’t ask.”

He bolted out the door just as I grabbed my keys from the bowl on the table close to the door. I saw him rush down the stairs and called out to slow down.

“You’ll fall down and hurt yourself! We could’ve taken the elevator.”

“It wasn’t working! I checked!” he replied without breaking his stride.

I smiled as I watched his enthusiasm. Barely three feet tall, and his whole being seemed so focused on meeting and building sand castles with his friend.

The sun was blazing down on the sandbox and the air was hot and humid. The playground was empty – predictably, given the heat. My son set down his little tools and got to work.

“Right, so where is this friend of yours?” I asked, a tad irritated.

“Right here,” he replied, without looking up from the sandbox.

“You dragged me down here to meet an imaginary friend?”

“I didn’t ask you to come. And he isn’t imaginary,” he replied, as coolly as before.

“You will not talk to me in that tone, young man! We’re going back home this instant. It is hot; this is no time to be out playing!”

He gave me a deaf ear. This infuriated me further. I forcefully picked up one of his moulds and began to walk away, announcing, “I am leaving. You can be here alone if you want.”

“No, Ma! Wait” he cried. When I looked over my shoulder, I saw him quickly pick up his sand toys. I walked back into the lobby, with him close at my heels. I stole a glance at him and noticed him smiling. That was odd.

The elevator was working now and I pushed the button. It was one of those old-fashioned elevators with cage-like doors that had to be manually opened. My son was still smiling. Once we stepped in, my son said, “Ma, turn off the light, I want to see my friend.”

“Enough with this friend!” I replied exasperated.

“Please, Ma!”

I gave in, because I was in no mood to argue. Heat gets to me like that. I flicked the light switch off and the elevator was plunged into darkness, being lit up briefly as we ascended the floors.

It was during one of those brief moments of light that I noticed – there were not two, but three shadows in the lift.