New Day | #AtoZChallenge

Engulfed. That’s how I felt during those first few days. By the toxic fumes of what was left of us.

I’d go to sleep with my breath and unshed tears getting caught in my chest like a tumor.
I’d wake up and you’d be my first thought even before my eyes opened to face the dawn, and the pain would press down on me like I was drowning.

I couldn’t throw my thoughts into a suitcase and throw them away like I did with so many of my things when I couldn’t bear to see them.

The ticket stubsA receipt from that one time we got matching toothbrushes. The sunglasses I bought because you recommended them.

Sunshine. How do you escape sunshine?
Do you know it falls differently during different times of the day? It’s golden yellow around 2 PM, bends around buildings, and alters your shadow. After what happened, the 2 PM sun turned into an enemy I couldn’t bear to look at, one that reminded me of all the times we met at that time, one that made me angry, one that made me scream.

Everything made me scream.

There were days I wished I could scream with more than just my throat and lungs. I wished I could scream with my hands and the tips of my toes. I wished my skin could scream and shed and erase every last trace of you. I wished I could stop wanting to see you at every corner I turned in the street. I wished I didn’t break down in to tears all the time when I thought of you. I wished the day turned to night at 2 PM and I didn’t have to face that shade of gold that carried your name. I wished my heart would just explode and kill me, instead of letting me carry on and suffer.

I wished I wished I wished.

Then one day you weren’t my last thought before falling asleep. Another day, you weren’t the first when I woke up. The sun was still my enemy, the tears still came uninvited. And yet, with each new day, it hurt a little less and a little less.

I was guilty that I didn’t think of you that often.
I was relieved that I didn’t think of you that often.

It hasn’t stopped hurting. It may never stop hurting, and on days like this when I write about it, it returns like that first day.

But time goes on, and blood eventually stops burning.


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!

N

Advertisements

Reaching For A Low Sky

“And what will you say when he asks since when you’ve been unwell?”
“Since yesterday afternoon.”
“And when he asks if you’ve taken any medication?”
“I took some cough syrup.”
At this point, a grin would spread across his face. This scene has been played out so many times in our home that I know what is coming. My fever-parched throat readies itself to whine, call out to my mother.
“And what will you say when the doctor asks when you’re getting married?”
“Mommy!” I shout out to her to let her know of my irritation that has nothing to do with my illness.
Mommy comes over, smiling at my father’s “dreams” of his daughter’s far-off wedding day. Dreams he has begun to have when the daughter in question is seven.
“Your daddy’s just teasing. But one day you’ll have to go.” Her smile turns wistful. The father of the future bride barks out a laugh.

My brother was never teased this way. His fevers and coughs were just fevers and coughs. His visits to the doctor did not have prospective alliances looming over them, brides lurking around in their trousseau. His doctors were never equated to matchmakers waiting for eligible bachelors to fall ill.

Parents, armed with their bedtime fairy tales and their “good-natured ribbing”, are essentially salespeople. And good ones at that. Fairy tales tell you the damsel met her prince and they lived happily ever after. That is the height of your heroine’s aspirations. The ceiling, the sky. For instance, in my dad’s hypothetical scenario, never once does the doctor ask if I maybe wanted to become a doctor myself. Or anything, other than “Would you like a groom with your prescription?

This height of aspirations, not seeing beyond the “happily ever after”, was perfectly summarized in another conversation from my childhood. The youngest one in our group loved (and I mean LOVED!) to play the bride in our games. Just the bride, mind you. She was quite young, a kindergartner at the time if I remember correctly. Our neighbor’s daughter, who was in college, often came over to pinch our cheeks when she saw us playing. One day, she asked the little one why she liked playing the role of the bride. She whispered something into the older girl’s ear, whereupon her eyes widened theatrically and she exclaimed, “Haaye main marr jaawaan!” This roused our curiosity, and after we demanded, “Didi, usne kya kaha? What did she say?!” a few times, Didi revealed to us that, “Use sajne ka shauk hai. She loves to dress up.

That is honestly all that’s sold to us. And that is enough. It leads to a lifetime of insecurities and doubts on self-worth, creating scared little girls whose only ambition is to be a bride someday. (Note how I say “bride” and not “wife”) And why? Because it’s nice to dress up? Play a bedecked and bejewelled centrepiece as a linear continuation of our childhood games?

Now you could argue that this limit on women’s aspirations is a thing of the past. After all, both the examples above are from my childhood. And that now, girls are encouraged to choose other, better ambitions than settling down unwillingly into someone else’s life and getting lost in it. If you believe this, then I’m here to shatter those beliefs (as much as I wish you were right)

girlslifevsboyslife
Image Source

These magazine covers are from September 2016.

This is just the beginning of a certain kind of conditioning that states your main aim is to look pretty. That’s your ladder. It starts at a young age and something we carry into adulthood. An unmarried woman past a certain age is automatically labeled a failure, even if she’s the CEO of a company. She’s labeled “angry”, “aggressive”, “frustrated”. Never “successful”. Never “fulfilled” or “happy”. The world cannot compute even the possibility. The world has not taught the woman to aspire to this happiness, this success. How dare she? 

Then there are some of those (I’m struggling to not use expletives here) who complain, “But if women really could do better than they are now, why are all the famous scientists men?” These people need to be high-fived. In the face. With Thor’s hammer. (Then they would probably ask why Thor is male, but that’s just not an argument that’s worth getting into.)

When girls as young as eight are taught that their whole worth depends on their “swimsuit bodies”, it teaches them that their priorities are different. There are others who do not even have the advantage of a decent education. There are definitely those who go against their conditioning and against these obstacles. But the ones who’ve just been hit with the hammer have never heard of them. Cherry picking exists everywhere.

As for the “happily ever after”, if there’s a more guilt ridden position than “wife”, I’ll be happy to hear it. If you work, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. If you have friends and a social life, you’re guilty. If you don’t, you still are. There’s guilt anywhere you turn, because you are always expected to be a certain way and somehow, you are always failing to meet those expectations. To use my own example, I’ve lost count of the hints that have been dropped around me that it’s now “time to quit my job and take care of the household”. Ridiculous as it sounds, it appears that I’m a rebel of sorts just because I go for work.

It’s taken me years, but I’m finally learning to let go of the “wife guilt”. Letting go of it one wedding bangle at a time. It’s taken me even more years, but I’m unlearning my “Cinderella Complex”. My “Snow White Complex”. My “Hell-literally-any-fairy-tale-with-a-prince-and-damsel-in-distress Complex”. I won’t deny that I suffered from it – it was a part of my upbringing. It is all I heard every time I fell ill, every time I changed schools, every time a family friend came to visit. Every time I was reminded that I was a cumbersome responsibility that my parents had to shed. All of these expectations that didn’t even lead to a cute dress up party, as my little friend claimed a long time ago, but a disappointing, underwhelming experience (which I wrote about here). 

When I wrote the above-linked post, in his comments, Marty Rubin pointed out that women give up so much of their freedom when they get married. It occurred to me that though we all know this to be true in most cases, we still go ahead without a second thought because it never crosses our minds to negotiate better for our future. We put a lid on our dreams because of the fears that have been instilled in us. We don’t even realize it at the time, because our minds have been warped into believing that we’re meeting the ambition that was set for us from childhood.

Why are we doing this to little girls?


This is the Women’s Day week and I’ve written this post as a part of #WomenOfBlogging. If you’ve written a post about this theme, please add it to the Linky:

Edit: The Linkup Widget isn’t appearing on my blog. If you have written a post for #WomenofBlogging, in addition to adding it to the Linky, please drop a comment below as well. Thanks!

The Train To Nowhere

sreesha-divakaran-petrichor-clouds-railroad
Image Source: http://designtrends.com

Rumbling loud, those wheels on steel;

Hurtling down, like the sun on me

Burns, sears into the tissues

Hidden; it vibrates within my shoes.

 

Save me, hurtling train, take me home.

The train to nowhere, open your doors.

Let’s seek faraway lands together,

Take me away, away, farther and farther.

 

Grows the sun’s noise in my head

Oh, take this off, this strait jacket

I am not mad; why don’t you hear me scream?

Have you all been deafened by the sun’s heat?

 

The rumble comes closer, oh, so near,

Give me a place for my head, you hear?

The wheels are rolling, the sun beats down,

No matter. The steel is cool; I’m home now.

 

 

The Prison

“Let me out of here!” his screams echoed back to him, bouncing off the dull brown walls and dying out. He pounded hard on the iron bars that confined him, sweat glistening on his brow and mixing with tears on his cheeks. He could hear whispers, muffled voices from the other side of the wall, but no one seemed to hear him.
It was a strange prison cell – there was no back wall. There was a corridor in its place. He felt exhausted, and the heat was unbearable. He swallowed large gulps of air; the only thought on his mind was escape. He ran down the corridor. His footfalls echoed loudly, startling him as he ran. For a moment, he thought there was someone running with him. He paused, but heard nothing. Wiping off some sweat, and after taking some more heavy breaths, he began to run again. He reached the end of the corridor, only to find another barred door.
Agonized, he fell to his knees and screamed. Screamed for the door to fall open. Screamed for the voices on the other side of the wall to hear him. Screamed for them to quiet down. Screamed, until his voice drained out and reduced to painful hiccups.

**************************************************

The writer roughly crumpled another piece of paper and tossed it into the dustbin. His coffee sat on the table, unattended and cold, with brown scum collecting on top. He hated that, but he did not even notice it today. His protagonist was just not speaking to him. The sub characters behaved like they wanted to be heard, but not the protagonist.
If the writer didn’t know any better, he would have thought his protagonist was in some kind of a prison!

The Big Fat Indian Wedding and The Bride

Weddings are beautiful, colorful, joyous occasions. In this country especially, where weddings involve a lot of drunk dancing, colorful, shimmery clothes, horse-back riding, henna designs, fat aunts pulling your cheeks, and whatnot. As a child, I had attended several weddings with my parents, but my main aim in those days used to be sampling the various dishes at the buffet table. I was not a big eater (back then, at least *wink wink*), but I simply had to have more than one serving of gulab jamun, if nothing else. The first wedding that I was really a “part of” was my brother’s wedding. That was fun. I was his only sister, and being a delusional teenager, I was convinced all eyes were on me (the bride was right there of course, looking really beautiful; but sure, all eyes on me!). All the cousins were at home and we all talked late into the night, kept pulling my brother’s legs for being the first one of us to get hitched and all the customary wedding jokes made their rounds. Best time of my life, I thought.

Many years later, preparations for my own engagement were going on at home. I had assumed (as a delusional teenager years ago) that if my brother’s wedding was so much fun, and all eyes were on me, then mine would be bigger, better, with more eyes on me (cos, you know, I am the bride). But on my engagement, I felt like a spectator. The relatives, the cousins, were all the same. The clothes were shiny. The henna was deep on my palms. But I stood in a corner, watching things unfold. I knew everyone was there to celebrate a new chapter in my life. But I felt disconnected from everything. I watched and watched like everything was happening to someone else, like it was a movie I was watching. My ears felt hollow, like I had a cold. All the conversations were just a buzzing in my ears. I did not know why. I was bored. I stood there, updating my Facebook status, because I did not know what else to do. Even the cousins left me alone. No one pulled my legs (they did, after the engagement; it was quite hilarious)

After the engagement, there was the wedding. Now, I could say I was too influenced by that one episode of How I Met Your Mother, where Lily and Marshall were getting married, and Barney would make absolutely irrational demands, all in the name of “the bride”. I must say, I expected a similar sort of treatment. I thought I’d be lazing around and people would pamper me just because, you know, I am the bride. But bookworm that I am, my idea of lazing and bossing people around was sitting in a corner and reading a book (Mario Puzo’s Omerta, to be exact (oh yeah, I remember which book I was reading the day before my wedding!)). This angered my parents a little bit, as there was a lot of work to be done before the relatives started pouring in and I was not helping. “But I am the bride!” I said, scandalized. I was made to shut my book, and march straight into the kitchen. I consoled myself that this is just a glimpse of the rest of my life, and the earlier I get started, the better. I was in a grumpy mood.

The guests arrived that evening for the day-before-the-wedding party. People I had never seen before walked up to me with very wide smiles to tell me how beautiful I looked. I was still in a grumpy mood. The photographers wanted me to change clothes every half an hour and pose for them with one hand up in the air, one strand of hair flying, one flower too close to my nose blah bla. The grumpy mood became grumpier.

In most Indian families, the daughter’s wedding, though a happy occasion, has elements of tragedy in it. The scripture says that a woman is an object merely meant to be protected by the parents till the day she gets married, after which she is not allowed to keep in touch with her parents. Most Indian parents adhere to this strictly (even today, from what I hear!) and don’t ever meet their daughter once she’s married off. While some may argue that times have changed and parents do meet their daughters after marriage, the elements of tragedy exists in terms of dowry (in some Indian cultures, even after the daughter is married off, the parents still have to keep paying the groom and his family, like a never-ending EMI!) Where I belong, women are held in very high esteem and we are a matriarchal society (yeah, what else can be expected from blasphemous beef-eaters, right?) So, even after I got married, my parents could come and visit as they like (the family I married into is from a different region, but anyway). But, when I think of other families, I got to thinking, if I am so grumpy, then how would brides of other regions feel? Truly happy and excited? Or scared sh*tless?

I was nervous, ill-at-ease. Like when you’re joining a new school. You know you’ll probably make new friends. But you’re leaving all the old ones behind. You will miss them. And you don’t know what sort of an environment you’re stepping into (Indian marriage = Dulha le lo, dulha… ji, madam, rishtedaar muft mein milenge! Har rang aur har size mein!)

Weddings are beautiful, colorful, joyous occasions. If they are happening to someone else, and you’re merely watching from the sidelines with a bowl of popcorn in hand. Not when it’s your own, and you feel you’re merely watching from the sidelines and even the popcorn doesn’t cheer you up.

Here’s the status I updated that day:

(I was not as anti-textspeak then as I am today)

 

the unknown


yeah don’t go so much by the title. there is no philosophical wisdom here. just a poor little girl screaming to be heard.
a lot of us, including me, have this selfish thought that everything beyond our own problems is irrelevant and insignificant. yeah you know that feeling. we know it, accept it, refuse to do anything about it, and yet don’t mind its presence.
i was quite content at my workplace (yeah well, usually… i mean, i’ve been to hell (college) and back, so…) then, just then, don’t know when or what or why, something went wrong. don’t ask me why, because what went wrong is what we will here-fore refer to as “the unknown”.
so it just happened on this particular wednesday. don’t know why the unknown chose me on a wednesday, because usually i like wednesdays in office. the piece and quiet is, well, not an everyday (read Monday-Tuesday) occurrence in the office. the unknown gripped me, and it sort of robbed me of all emotion. all but one – restlessness. restlessness so strong, so all-consuming, that i couldn’t think straight, couldn’t get anything done. i was angry at the unknown. but when you don’t know what you are angry at, there is not much you can do about it. i was lonely, with only the unknown for company. i was suffocated.
and yet, i did not know what caused this. or why. i screamed. no one heard. it was maddening. people seemed deaf. made me feel like a ghost, just floating through some parallel world interspersed with the living world.
it went on to the next day. it seemed to me as though the day blended into the night and the night into the day with no real demarcation between the two. there was no sense of time. it was like i slept and woke up in the same parallel world and at the same time, like a nightmarish jet lag. and there was no escape.
i don’t know now what to do. or who to speak to about this. i have never known anything like this before. i have never ever before in my life been so frustrated. and the worst part is, i don’t know what this is directed towards. am i really dead? is that why people cannot hear me scream? wish i knew…