The Spider’s Web

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The alarm goes off, piercing through the cold December morning. It is still dark – all the stars seem to have died. A tangible darkness, like a shroud. Like my shroud. I’d felt at peace while asleep; the alarm changed that, allowing the darkness to sit on my chest like an incubus paralyzing me.

It sings a pleasant tune – more a lullaby than an alarm. In its pleasantness, I sense an evil. A smile that holds knives at the ready. A smile that will slit your throat even as you smile back. Yet it won’t stop ringing.

I grope at the darkness and find a drawer whose steel handle is like ice. I’m about to shove the alarm in, when I find the things I’d lost. Things I thought I’d lost. A long time ago. And among them, a mirror with a golden frame shimmers through the darkness, inviting me to look.

I do and I see again the ugliness I’d forgotten, a resignation, a despair, all woven in. I throw the mirror in after the alarm, and a brief flash shows it to me – shows me the spider’s web in the corner.

I collect my resignation, I collect my despair, and I walk towards the web. I bite my thumb to draw blood. I spit out chunks of skin, erasing off the prints of my fingers. My swollen eyelids burst in pain. And I get the spider’s attention.

My knees tremble for I know it’s the end. Yet I keep walking, one foot after another, on a single silken thread. I see it rise from slumber, its drool spilling, my ugliness mirrored in its ugly eyes. It smiles and reminds me of my alarm clock, the clock that started this mess. I feel no desire to turn back. I walk, I surrender, I’m consumed whole. Then there is nothing but darkness. All the stars seem to have died.


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The Tribute

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There are places you do not belong to. Places that are physical. Places that are moments in time. Yet you find yourself in them, wondering what your purpose is, and where you’d find this purpose.

I feel like that right now, that I do not belong here, but I must not turn around. There are throngs of people around me, each in black, carrying flowers, weeping. Some sing tributes. I know the lyrics as well as any of them, but I do not join in. I hear ocean waves crashing on boulders in my ears – which is strange as we are far away from the ocean. The headstone lies right in front of me and I read each letter, left to right, observing the font, the color, the texture, each curve of each C, each line that makes the I and the Ls. But I refuse to believe it – this is someone else, a namesake, a doppelganger, an impostor.

Just last month, I’d sung one of his songs to entertain my friends; at the time I did not know that today it would turn into a song of mourning.

There’s a tap on my right shoulder. I turn around to see a man, dry-eyed like me, my dazed expression mirrored on his face. He says nothing, but I nod, and let him stand by my side, and we both turn to look at the headstone. I trace the letters with my eyes again.

“Isn’t it strange,” the man says, “when they say ‘loved one’ they only mean family or friends? Sometimes, strangers are loved ones too.”

“Except he wasn’t a stranger, was he? I know what you mean though. We all lost a loved one.”

“His wife and children…” he began, but trailed off.

“I caught a glimpse of them before they opened the service to the public. The wife refuses to believe it was a suicide, I hear.”

“He seemed so happy…”

Yes. Yes, he did. Maybe he felt like he was in one of those places – a gap in space and time where he felt he didn’t belong. When you’re going through the worst, you decide to put up the most cheerful front.

“The last song he sang the night it happened was a song about death,” I said to the man. He nodded, pursing his lips, a vein twitching in his neck, as though he too was on the verge of breaking down, like the rest of the crowd.

A long time ago, I had attended one of his concerts with a friend. I wanted to tell that friend how much those songs meant to me. But he had stopped me, saying he couldn’t hear me above the music. The subject was left for another day, a day that never came around, and I never got to gather my answer.

“You know what I hate about this?” the man said,”They’re going to romanticize this. Romanticize his death.”

He’s right. The press and the public love a tortured rockstar. It’s one of those tropes, sadly.

“It isn’t fair. Not to him, not to his memory. Not to people who admire him,” I said in response.

I think again about the song I’d sang last month, a song I’d spent a lot of my younger days singing. That too is a song about death. There is undercurrent of death in all his songs. Was it in front of us all along? Could someone have helped? Was the warmth, the friendliness, all a facade and nothing more?

The hours pass by, and soon, just a handful of people, the man who’d been talking to me, and I stay back. I’m still trying to collect my thoughts, collect all the ways in which his songs affected me, affected my life. It’s haunting, how certain things permeate our being, how the sudden departure of those we did not really know drains us so emotionally. But in the end, my reasons can be summed up in one line.

I take out an old notebook from my coat pocket. I’d written the lyrics of one of his songs in it over a decade ago, and pressed a wildflower between those pages. I take the now-withered flower and place it near the headstone, a lonely ghost of a flower among all the other bright ones.

“Thank you for showing me how to live. And goodbye.” I cannot bring myself to say his name, but no tears of mine wet the headstone.


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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.

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 Train To Nowhere

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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.

 

 

Your Namesake

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There isn’t a lot left from what we were
Save for your name that still hangs
On my tongue like the taste of sugar.

It rests between my lips, as they meet
It lies in the pain, as my lower lip is bit
And it ends on the roof as the tip it greets.

Along came a stranger, with a song
Shook my hand, but upon hearing his name,
It was my world that shook, after so long.

A strawberry smile he had too,
But every moment, a pinch on my forearm
To remind me, it’s not you, it’s not you.

I stayed away to save myself, but in restless crowds,
His eyes followed; I admit, my heart stirred,
Because try as I did, they sought me out.

Upon his smile are a million lies of love true
Knees tremble, I want to give in too
Years may have passed, but I longingly
Remind myself,

It’s not you,
It’s not you…