Don’t hang yourself on the noose of someone else’s attachment. It’s nice to feel needed but nice is an illusory trap. You are the sand and the ash inside a dormant volcano. You won’t be held inside a fist or even an embrace that breaks at the first sign of heat.
Do not shatter over the sound and fury that is the face of a person’s humanity turning on itself. You are not glass, not paper, not wood, not stone. You are the center unbound, holding the chaos outward. You are the eye of the universal storm. You won’t be snuffed out by a few angry breaths.
Don’t string yourself together on other people’s definitions. Those thoughts are full of knots, ones they’ll never care to disentangle because they’re about someobody else. You are the water of churning whirlpools. You won’t be contained in a net that tears and loops so easily and is discarded like straggling threads.
Do not find yourself in tatters when toxic thought and poisonous words infect your being. You are not the wastelands laid bare in these fumes. You are the chemistry that gives everything a place, a season, an identity. You are all that was and also all that comes after – the death, the survivor, the guilt, the redemption and the reprise.
You are more than can be imagined. Take the rest of your life to find out what all.
I see you look with yearning eyes for people who don’t make time and space in their life for you.
I can only give you second best – my company. I say second best, not because our conversations are less than the ones you could hope to have with anybody else. But I can only be second best to the company you keep with yourself. For what are we in intense friendship and passionate love, but students of our own natures?
We are learning with every interaction in life, pleasant and otherwise, what we like and what inspires us. We examine what brings out the best and worst in us and also, how our best and worst look. A lesson is always more fun with props and with other people. So, let us love together we say to each other, meaning let us walk side-by-side on these solo journeys into ourselves.
When you yearn for the attention of someone who isn’t there, take a minute to ponder that absence. Savour that sting, the emptiness inside your mouth where words usually tumble about. Allow yourself to taste your hunger. And tell me, whether or not, you caught a glimpse of YOU in there.
Lonely is just the space to check if you’ve learnt a new lesson. It’s the full stop between labels, the deep breath between words that defines these things. You’ll never be lonely again when you remember you. And when you forget, I’ll be there to remind you as second best.
What if we were all places instead of people? Towering construction. Sweeping grasslands. A rabbit hole. A pothole. A wrought iron staircase. A treehouse. The ground floor of a building under redevelopment plans. A library. A cell for illegal aliens. The verandah of a brothel. A nursery. The last window of a factory floor. A town square. The green room of a fading star. A shop.
Aren’t we all places already? We are worlds unto ourselves with gates & doors called identity. Know me and gain entry.
Some of us are plush, luxuriant drawing rooms that invite guests to sink in and never leave. Some are spider webs, some carpets, some thresholds. Someone is a transit point on public transport, bright, always impersonal, always busy. Somebody is a bus-stop in the rain, holding both promise and fear. There’s always a person who is the most comfortable spot under a tree, perfect at a particular time and one season. And there’s the one who is your favourite spot on a threadbare sofa with creaking hinges, whose prods & pokes spell comfortable familiarity. One person is an amusement park and another is a discotheque – one lively in the day, another at night and each full of gloomy foreboding at other times. There are even those who are museums, furniture shops, antique stores.
And what else are those we envy but places we look at in a glossy brochure, wishing we were there? Ah, but they tell us, you wouldn’t want to live here.
What is the place that you are? And is it your favourite spot in the world
You may look back more often than the world tells you that you should. You may linger in places you’ve already spent too many dark moments in, with no increasing clarity. Why did she leave? Why did he stay silent? What were they thinking? Did they ever consider how you feel? Do they ever think of you?
Your past-diving may be more than your body can bear, even if your emotions are hungry. Your gaze may sear across unresolved incidents and unnamed feelings, seemingly never reaching conclusions. Why. When. What.
You may plumb all these depths over and over because you are the boundless universe. Your life has had fathomless lessons that are too big, too nuanced, too glorious and too stark to keep up with time. It is true. You may need to read a story again to make sense of it. A joke could make you laugh no matter how often you hear it. And a song may ring on in your head for years without your ever understanding its words.
Maybe some day clarity will come. Maybe the answer will materialize in the sky that you look up to, for guidance or the sea that you gaze at, hoping for a reason to hope. Maybe knowledge will find you in a book or a conversation or a new teacher. Or maybe the lessons will just seep into your skin, more mist than rain and settle on your bones.
A lesson in letting other people live out their crashes. A lesson in not get hit and run over. Lessons of goodbye. Lessons in silence. Shh.
You can look all you want. Underwater, no one hears you scream.
It’s not something we take into consideration. We even consider it so rarely that if it does happen, we are quick to assume ulterior motive. And we continue to buy into the myth of the cold cruelty of cities, of a story where characters never speak to each other or care about one that falls, of people who never touch each others’ lives at all. We believe humanity to be a rapidly evaporating commodity that’s barely contained only in the oldest and most decripit of associations. Yet, every close friend and every great love was a stranger once.
Growing up in 90s Mumbai meant dealing with the reality of terror attacks, political unrest, union conflicts & bomb blasts. There were also people sheltering together, unknown hands helping one another through floods, acts of blind trust & good faith in humanity that probably saved more lives than the authorities.
Once, I fainted in a Mumbai local. I had been indoctrinated well enough in public transport safety to get down, stumble and collapse onto a seat, holding my bag tightly to me so no one could steal it. A stranger sat down next to me, offered me water, offered to drop me home. When I refused, she gave me her shoulder as she half-carried me across the pedestrian bridge, 2 staircases and to the auto stand. I never knew her name and I don’t recall her face.
A month later in another train, the woman before me swayed and might have fallen off had it been in the other direction. The train was so crowded, she didn’t even hit the floor, just sagged onto me. I held her till the station arrived, walked her down, sat with her and asked if I might drop her home. She consented and I escorted her home. It was no bother at all. I think the universe was giving me a chance to give back and a big lesson too.
Look around you. These are not zombies, not monsters, not cold machines, not malicious agenda. You are surrounded by a world of human beings and the possibility of connections. Kindness and good faith are the magic ingredients in a connection. It’s all there, if you allow it to happen and allow yourself to be a part of it – the kindness of strangers.
A steady gaze is also a cocked gun. This gaze makes the world go silent, words dropping away, identities falling away, sounds melting away and all that exists is that tenuous link held by eye contact. They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. These windows pull you in just as much as they penetrate your being. You cannot touch without also being touched. This touch your skin won’t feel but everything inside you will.
There is a wealth of perceptions that lies buried under good manners. There is yearning, unreasonable. There is rage, unconscionable. There is desire, filthy, savage and uncontrollable. There are screams that merge need and satiation. There is worry, seeping into the cracks between the best laid plans. There are war cries that are claims of identity. They lie shuttered behind blinking eyelids and wavering gazes. And when you make eye contact, you will see your pretty covers taken down to wash. Laundry day for your insides. You will feel the rain and you will be the clouds and you will see it all.
It will be hard to remember the boundary between you and me and the world and them and sense and feeling and structure when…when you look straight into these eyes and they look back at you. You are simultaneously witness and the witnessed. The audience and the performer. The existence and its perception.
It takes two to create and not even a fraction of a second. And it takes one to break it and we always do. Because this game of identity & eye contact is one that we all like to play. Just until we remember that when those eyes shut, there is only darkness.
I’ve written reams and reams about home – going away from it, running in search of it, how it defines me, how I define it. I am a Cancerian, after all. We make this world feel like home. Maybe not entirely coincidentally, my contribution to International Poetry Day 2019 was also titled HOME. This video was shot and produced by the fab team at kalArt (who also produced my GODDESS video). Please watch and if you like it, leave a comment here or on the video.
When I came across this performance a few years ago, I was moved to tears. I knew even then that it had lessons for me that I was not yet ready for and would need to keep returning to, to embrace them.
Some time ago, I incorporated this idea into one of my performances myself. It gave me so much emotionally and in my understanding of the art of performance and of living.
Recently, the difference between thoughts and emotions have been occupying a lot of my mindspace. What constitutes intimacy? How do I justify feeling this for person 1 and that for person 2? What is one to do when logical thinking tells us that wrongness has to be ascribed to a person or a relationship? Are those feelings to be cancelled and if so, how?
I went back to the original experiment, inside my own mind-theatre. I imagined myself sitting, the way Marina is as a crowd of people pass in front of me, each staying for a minute in silence with me. I know now that I am quite capable of spending an entire minute with a stranger in silence because I’ve done two minutes of it on stage with a roomful of people I couldn’t see, some of whom wished me harm.
It got complex when I imagined the people I knew. People who came up in my mind were past lovers, former friends, family members. I started crying when I thought of one person. Crying because there were such complex and conflicting emotions and I know (have always known) they experience the same. I realised the world was never going to understand all the things that happened between us, labels did not adequately encompass it. I have not forgiven their actions because forgiveness is too simplistic a term – I know their reasons, they know mine, we both wrote the story that was us, what is there to forgive? I was able to just stay in that feeling and then pass to the next in time (like Marina did with Ulay).
Then I thought of another person. This one was never that important to me. They did something malicious to me once and I’ve never liked them since. What they did won’t be considered that evil by most, yet it profoundly hurt me because it hit on one of my early traumas. Each time I’ve seen them after that, I’ve felt a gut reaction, my stomach contracting, my face clenching. I know their reasons for doing what they did (not justification). I’ve spent a lot of time telling myself I’m wrong for having such a disproportionate reaction, trying to tidy it up. It is a lot of effort. And even inside my own mind theatre, this experiment doesn’t allow you any of the masks of words or lies. I knew if I actually had to do this in real life, I’d either throw up or run away, no control over my limbs. If somehow I was forced to stay in that chair (maybe restraints, physical or my own stubborn will), I would not, not be able to smile at them or even look at them impassively. I would burst into tears and not the kind I’d have cried for the previous person. Those were relieved tears in comparison. These would be frustrated, angry, hurt-animal-raging-painful tears.
I allowed my mind to go all the way there. And realisation settled over me. I feel what I feel. I am still me. My logic, my ethics (which are in the realm of thinking, not feeling) still stand and they watch as another part of me – my feelings – flow around uncontained. That means I am more than the beliefs I espouse, more than the stands I take, more than the ethics I champion. I am not made less strong or less woke or less anything because I choose to dislike the second person and allow the first person to be what they are.
This was a big thing for me, realising how much of my reactions have been peer pressure influenced. Only I can decide what/who I like and why. I may not be able to explain why and I do not have to justify it to anybody. When it comes to actions, yes, I may need to take a stand (such as ending a friendship with a MeToo perpetrator). But I do not have to negate whatever I felt for that person (meaning don’t have to question whether our past friendship was genuine and don’t have to think of myself as stupid for trusting them). I may be required to act and speak in certain ways out of consideration and respect for the world around me. This is not lying, this is merely adhering to the ethics of maintaining the integrity of the universe I inhabit. This is also not nullifying whatever else is inside me because those emotions that seem to contradict – they have their place too, inside me and inside this world.
Minimalism. Colour pops. Office beanbags and gym balls. Ironic teeshirts & cause-stickers for formal wear. Technology slimmer than our desired waistlines. Value systems bigger than paychecks. The planet. The economy. Endangered species. Endangered morals. Flexible schedules & flexible boundaries.
We survived Y2K (of which an entire generation exists in blissful ignorance). We listened to Angry Girl music and the shattering of software powered dollar dreams. We watched optic fibres bring calls, jobs and international credit cards into our homes. We taught the generation before us that love really was blind because we could fall in love, lust, friendship and even careers over a glass screen. We saw the dotcom bubble grow & burst. We weathered one, then two then three recessions. We were blamed for killing everything. And we did.
We killed hierarchical structures. We killed paychecks-as-value systems. We killed corporate irresponsibility. We killed sexual harassment as common rite of passage. We killed unrealistic real estate prices and marriage rituals. We killed legalised homophobia & systematised racism. We killed the world as everyone knew it. Because the world changes every day but it flips over a new millenium only once in a thousand years. Maybe that means absolute annihilation of dinosaurs. Maybe it means creatures of water & earth learn to fly.
We aren’t done, not even half-way through. But who knows what is midlife crisis anymore? We also gave the world the concepts of quarter-life crises, of burnout & sabbaticals, of life-changing career flips. While we’ve seen the threat of nuclear weapons and much human devastation, we haven’t yet allowed a World War.
We aren’t the fresh new kids anymore and the millenium is now fully (and freshly) an adult. This means the generation after ours, are ready to pick up from our mistakes, move into our gaps and maybe build new things of their own. But don’t forget, WE KILLED IT FIRST. 😊
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