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.


Image Source: Shutterstock

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Theme Reveal! #AtoZChallenge – 2017

Remember the time I told you about the girl I killed and buried so that another one could emerge in her place? One who looked and sounded like her, but was disdainful of all of the things the first one believed in?

Writing horror/gore comes easily to me not because I’m never scared, but the opposite. That’s my secret, Cap. I’m always scared; there’s always a boogeyman under my bed. It’s easy to write about the familiar. 

I have participated in the A to Z Challenge once before, in 2014. Afterwards, I was so drained that I swore, Never again! and quit writing for a month or so. And yet, here I am. For me, this year the challenge is not just about coming up with 26 different posts for each day of the month. It is about something else as well. The more challenging “unfamiliar territory”, if you will.

Last year, when I read around 80 books (which is the highest number for any single year that I’ve been reading) I read a lot of romance. One that stands out, and will definitely stand out for a long time, is The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. When I read it, it seemed like a simple enough story of someone who had loved and lost. The events do not occur chronologically. The chapters are written in alphabetical order.

Later I realized I was wrong in much of my review. The more I thought about it, the cleverer the book seemed. It gives us glimpses of a relationship. These glimpses actually allow us to construct this relationship for ourselves. There is heartbreak, yes. The story is told from a single heartbroken point of view, also yes, but that is enough. The story is so beautiful. We’re given so little to work with and we end up creating and interpreting the rest.

All through these years, I’ve maintained that I cannot write romance. That it’s the most difficult genre for me to write. Romance isn’t easy to write because our emotions cannot always be captured in words. Which is why this minimalist technique (that looks deceptively simple, in spite of being complex) works in making the reader feel what isn’t expressed in words. In this case, the book definitely owes much to Levithan’s skill.

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For this year’s A to Z Challenge, I’m going to attempt something similar in the genre that I have stayed away from ever since I buried the girl with the notebook. And I’m going to employ the technique that Levithan used in his book – of giving you brief snippets from the story with events occurring at random.

Wait, I’m not done. What’s the other thing that I like as much as I like books? Music. The posts will be named after alternative/indie/progressive rock songs – songs I’ve loved, liked, sang in the shower, cried to, being comforted by (and two classic rock songs that I hate (but they fit)). Because no story is complete without a good background score!

So here’s my theme: Minimalist Fiction (shall we add On the Rocks to that?)

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The Fear Of Being Underwhelmed

–Some extremely emotional/sad content ahead. This is a post I composed three months ago. I never thought it would see the light of day because I could not frame my thoughts as coherent sentences. My aim in publishing this today, I guess, is to examine my own thoughts in an attempt to understand them. Pushing the Publish button does force us to stand back and construct full sentences instead of writing jibber-jabber. With that said, there are some conflicting, confusing, and personal things coming up, which, honestly, I don’t think will help anyone. So if you don’t feel like it, please feel free to skip this post.–

It’s been over two years since I wrote this post, the only surviving post on my blog from that era. The reason I did not delete it with the others is because I felt it might, maybe help someone, in a similar situation might relate to it, and find the words to express what they were feeling.

That statement still holds true. Depression gives you jaded glasses through which it forces you to look at the world. Nothing interests you, nothing impresses you, and you’re pretty much a breathing vegetable on the emotional front. In the internet parlance, I would often state that everything is so “meh” in a lighthearted attempt to throw the focus off my mental state. If you want to be optimistic about it, you could say just as much as nothing made me happy, nothing disappointed me either. But that’s digging too deep for the silver lining.

The worst part of it was that I had no one to speak to about it. I had my blog for a while, until the posts were found out, but there was no one I could speak to, not one person who would listen. Or maybe I didn’t try to reach out.

Music plays a big part in our lives. I had very few non-grey days during that period (as opposed to now when I have few grey days) and whenever I could, I’d listen to music. I say whenever I could because even music has the ability to drain you on a bad day. It can enhance, terrible as that sounds, the greyness of your mood.

It was around that time that I heard Temple of Thought, by Poets of the Fall. I realize whatever I say post this statement may sound silly. It is not. Nor am I trivializing my condition, because I know what I went through. I am only telling you how one song, one band helped me at a time when I was at my lowest, strange as it may sound. I received medical attention for my condition a few months later (it’s a different story that I still refused to take my medication – they’re still safely tucked in a drawer) but until then, all I had was Temple of Thought on repeat. There was still no one to talk to, but there was a song reassuring me, a voice telling me, that it is going to be alright, that someone will be there for me. The extent to which it worked, I don’t know, because I was still jaded, still feeling neither excitement nor enthusiasm nor… anything. But I will admit, it was comforting.

The more songs I listened to, the more I began to appreciate everything about them. The lyrics (mostly penned by their lead singer Marko Saaresto) were better than most poetry I had read. When I first published my poetry book, on one of the promotional websites, I cited his name as one of my influences.

A few months ago, the band was in Bangalore on tour to promote their new album. For the first time in so long, I felt excited. I wanted to go for the concert. To see for real the people who helped me when I had all but given up. It was a confusing feeling, given that I had ceased erupting for joy lately, even on the days when outwardly I expressed happiness.

When you’ve been dead for too long, you don’t know how to respond to stirrings of life within you.

R noticed my enthusiasm, and though he is not a fan himself, he agreed to go for the concert with me. He was quite amused by my shenanigans, I think. I have never told him, or anyone (until now, when I put this up on my blog, however briefly) about the impact their music has had on me. Which is when the ugly rose its head again.

The ugly said, they will let you down. The ugly said, you have too many expectations from them. The ugly said, they will be terrible on stage and whatever support you had from them, unbeknownst to them, will be lost forever in the pile of disappointment you will face. The ugly called me a silly fangirl. The ugly said I was giving a larger than life reverence to mere artists who did not deserve it.

The ugly will do all in its ability to smother down even the littlest flame of joy in you.

The first time I tried to book the tickets, it didn’t work due to a system error. I was glad, strangely. Now I realize that was probably ugly’s doing. The ugly wanted me to fail. Ugly wanted me to sabotage my own chance at happiness, to live in that detachment I’d been living with for so long.

After that first attempt, I had given up trying to book tickets, making excuses upon excuses, mainly due to a fear of being underwhelmed by the same people whose music had helped me. R convinced me otherwise. He asked me to give it another go. I refused – stubborn and moody as I am. Mere days before the concert, I gave a try – I think I was looking for a sign. I think, in a superstitious haze, I convinced myself if the tickets were full, then that meant I was better off not having attended the concert. Complicated train of thought, I know.

They were not full.

Of course, like the happy ending in movies, they were not full.

We attended the concert. Oh, and that night, among so many of their wonderful songs, they sang Temple of Thought. I was happy. It was a simple joy.

It may take years before I am overjoyed by an event or display the kind of enthusiasm I was capable of before depression overtook me. I liked my extreme displays of emotion, because they had an innate… humanness to them, that this feeling of sorry indifference forced upon me does not. Someday I will reach there. Until then, more music for me, especially, from my favourite band. They will never know who I am, but this only goes on to prove how much influence someone can have on us, without them even knowing about it. It just goes on to prove, that when you’re good, even without realizing it, you’re helping someone, in some corner of the world.