I think I’ll be coming of age for the rest of my life. I immerse myself so much in an experience, a person, a hobby or a job that it is a death of the rest of me. And then later, I must rebuild life all over again.
I’ve spent the better part of two years disconnected from people, especially personal relationships. And I think, for about three years before that I was too absorbed in a few specific people, to the exclusion of everything else, including the things that make my identity. This is the thing I have been examining for the past six months or so, since I decided to open my mind to the idea of boundaries.
All my life I’ve been told that this kind of immersiveness is bad, weak, dangerous. Post-mortem analyses of abusive relationships and substance addictions point to this trait as the prime cause. On the other hand, this very thing is also prized when it is labelled ‘passion’, ‘ambition’, ‘dedication’ or ‘loyalty’. So I guess it is neither good or bad, it just depends on the other people that it benefits (or not). Either way, it is a part of my innate nature so I cannot call it good or bad; it just is.
I know now that I am neither a weak, nor clingy, nor needy person. Astrology provides me the only language to explain this. I am water, after all, supremely capable of adapting, of easily taking other shape and form. I may even stand charged with having no colour or taste of my own but it would be wrong to say I possess no identity. Water endures where air merely drifts away, where earth wears away and where fire must die out without fuel. This cannot be anything but persistent identity.
The last week I spent in Pune, let me reflect on these things. Somehow it’s never quiet enough inside my mind, in Mumbai, for me to get to these realisations. And there’s the fact that in Pune, I’m welcome but never expected to be anyone or anything. There are no labels and those that there are, are quieter and more malleable. I guess that’s what a safe space should be like. This trip was good. Settling.
I’ve decided, like consciously made a decision, to build the relationships in my life. This means remembering people beyond the must-do actions and allowing conversations without agenda. It means not agonising over how unproductive or unintelligent I’m being. And it also means allowing myself the vulnerability of saying,
“Hey, I’d really like to meet you. For no reason at all. Will you meet me?”
It’s actually not that hard to do but I keep stopping because of other things and forgetting how easy it is to start again. Well, I’m glad I remember now.
Wow, this feels like a really heavy post, doesn’t it? And here I had started writing about the state of my love life. Yes, there is a state. But I think that’s a story for my other blog. The water flows that way but it leaves behind traces of its damp here.
I started this year on a promising note. At a houseparty overlooking my favorite place in the world — the sea. But in a small, intimate setting that was rife with warm conversations rather than awash with alcohol and escapism. There was music, there was laughter, there were hugs and there were promises. There was also good advice served up warm with upma, friendly digs spicing up gently offered perspective. And it allowed me to start the new year quite literally unencumbered by fear. I am a different person, a SuperMe when I feel cared for and seen and cherished.
And in the first week of the year I have already broken through fear that lay unseen but heavy on me, like ice. I’ve also fallen SPLATCH flat on my face but hey, even my blood stains make art.
And today, I’m in Pune. I’m here to heal. Pune doesn’t comfort me. It allows me the time and breathing space to heal, to collect thoughts that otherwise run like scared chickens through rush hour traffic. It’s cold but oh Pune makes it seem welcoming.
I’m still carrying a cold that first began plaguing me in early December. An ex-friend once told me that phlegm represents the pain inside our bodies. Oh boy, is this coming up in fits and jerks. But like The Fever (this is an experience disguised as a person, not the medical condition) told me last week, “Get it out, get it all out, it’s all good.”
I was also reminded today of something that I know but seems hard to remember in the microbattles I struggle against every day — I’m doing some excellent work with people I respect and like, work I believe in that challenges and stimulates me. And there are books. And music. And other people and experiences.
A couple of days ago someone started a protest against Islamophobic trolling with the novel idea of using the Urdu font for their Twitter handle. That idea brought me so many thoughts and feelings — the complex power/privilege structures implicit in language, the history that it carries, what language says about my identity and what a wonderful way to take a stand. This has gone viral as of now, with lots of people standing in solidarity by doing the same. i believe in the cause but do not want to echo the same action because of my own cultural/linguistic history struggling with Hindi-normativity. And I was able to discern all these thoughts and also communicate them without feeling attacked, defensive or worn down. This is such a fresh approach to standing for one’s belief and moving the world to a better place.
I have opened my bookshelf after a long time. I’ve been reading on the fly the way I eat on the fly because books are as much my sustenance as food is. I’m really looking at my books and they’re scattered (though neatly because me) in so many places. I tuck away comfort and wisdom in lots of different corners of my life, just ready for me when I need them the most. So now for the questions.
What graphic novels do you suggest I drop some hard-earned money on? It’s been over ten years since I was formally introduced to this aisle. And I’ve learnt, as with so many other things, I straddle two worlds that shouldn’t have boundaries but do. Comic afficionados don’t seem to read other things, as such. And avid book enthusiasts don’t seem to actually consider comics real books. Huh, why? Graphic novels are books that are also beautiful. I am in a great place. I have tasted and know some of what I like but I’m still open to so many more delightful things in this medium. I don’t enjoy classic superhero stuff. I’ve read and enjoyed Sandman, Fables, Transmetropolitan, Lucifer. And I’ve grown away from boy-coming-of-age stories like Blankets and Y:The Last Man. Where should I take my eyes next?
Which one of you told me about Sharp Objects and swore it wasn’t as disappointing as Dark Places but maybe even better than Gone Girl? I intend to buy it and if it doesn’t live up, I will hunt you down and do a Gillian Flynn on you. I will not be a Cool Girl.
Have any of you read Kamila Shamsie or Alexander McCall-Smith’s books other than Mma.Ramotswe? Anybody? Anybody? Huh, huh? Damn. But they’re respectively joy and comfort in paperback form.
Have any of you read Crazy, Rich Asians (the book)? Is it a bit like The Joy Luck Club, in that it’s enjoying a moment because it’s about Asian people and representation matters? I hated The Joy Luck Club TBH. I mean, I get the value of a book talking about Asians, yes. But it was so depressing and angsty and worst of all – monotonous. Memoirs of a Geisha was better but then again, I read it as a teenager and now that I know about white saviour complexes and co-opting narratives, I may think differently. Reading as a woke adult means thinking about these things too. And if it’s just about representation, American Born Chinese (a graphic novel) does a decent job putting Asian faces into literature. Lovely illustrations, too.
Who still remembers and loves Milan Kundera? I feel like he and Murakami were neck to neck in the hipster reader stakes a decade ago. I went the Moody Euro way while popular taste went with Weird Japanese. Am I standing alone with Identity, Ignorance, Slowness, Laughable Loves and The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
And now I’m just going to randomly name books and authors that I fell in love with at first page and have never wavered since. The Fault in Our Stars. Richard Bach. The Time Traveller’s Wife. Louis Sachar. S.E.C.R.E.T. Dream Angus. Erma Bombeck. The Kite Runner. Spider Jerusalem.
Does anybody know why PG Wodehouse books dropped their old cover art style of orange spines, white frames and outlined colour drawings for these pastel-ey full page watercolour thingys and can I get a little commiseration please? I miss the good old days.
This month began with news of the passing of one of my close relatives. A few minutes before midnight, he was found at his computer, hand still on the mouse, the light and life gone from his eyes.
So much has been happening, in terms of places, people, conversations, experiences and emotions that I have not had time to process everything. I haven’t been able to write all month, mostly because there wasn’t time or space. But also because my thoughts are still unshaped, unarticulated. My coping mechanism is usually to put the onslaught of impressions into deep freeze till I feel able to examine them on my own. It allows me to ‘perform’ myself, bringing my usual mundane thoughts and behaviour to the fore while my insides are carefully contained even in their churn, till we get to terra firma.
That’s why I have seemed ‘completely fine’ through devastating circumstances like abuse, breakups, money troubles, professional politics and death. The shattering comes later. Of course, there’s a finality about death that leaves long-lasting stains, if not scars. Maybe that’s why the world is slightly more forgiving about a person dwelling on the aftermath of bereavement than about the other things.
Things seem very different this time. This is not the first time I’ve seen death or what it does to the living. I’ve gotten used to dealing with experiences that are considered hard, alone, simply because there hasn’t been anyone around to empathise, to support or even advise. Perhaps it comes from being an only child in a nuclear family with a lot of struggles. Maybe it comes from not feeling a sense of belonging anywhere, a common feeling for immigrants (even if it’s within the same country — displacement has everything to do with how we feel and very little to do with distance and geography). It could even be a personality thing, having made radical choices my whole life and gotten used to only attacks and backlash.
But the hardest thing about this month has been dealing with strangers, people and cultures very different from me showing support and empathy. In the week following the death, I journeyed up into the remote mountains, cremated and closed a life. I was not just aided, I was carried by virtual strangers. Hospital, cremation ground, food preparation, real estate, possession disposal, moving, travel, lodging — these are things that occupy a lot of space in one’s mind in a new place. Everything just moved around me with safety, consideration and respect.
This month showed me how alone I stand, and how long I’ve been standing that way. The people I intimated about what had happened were almost all work-related — my need to be zealous and inform when unable always. I sent out a message on two groups — Alphabet Sambar and another group of people I’ve been meeting socially for a few weeks. Alphabet Sambar turned out to be an unaccountable source of support last year when my mother had an accident. This year, I guess I just didn’t have time to read the messages and perhaps in a day or two it passed from people’s memories.
The other group sent me comforting messages. Then I started my period while in the cremation ground and the weather turned bitterly cold with rain. And the rough paths we had to climb to get to any building in the village seemed unsurmountable. I sent out a distress signal message on this group. The first response to come was a voice note that said, “Everyone has problems. It’s so hot in Mumbai, you won’t believe…” My eyes blurred — the one and only time this month. Callousness and cruelty move me to tears in ways even death doesn’t. I quit the group and switched my phone off. When I switched it back on later in the evening, another person from that group had messaged asking how I was feeling and what I was going through. I felt curiously distanced from everyone and everything, like these emotions and words were just paper buildings and I could close my eyes and it would all vanish. So I went into myself and the paper world burned away.
I returned on Diwali. And in the 7 hour journey, I checked into my socials, finding an invitation to a get-together for people who had nowhere to go in festival season. It felt so serendipitous. The three weeks since then have been a constant procession of people with faces I recognise but whose words and sentiments are so startling, I’ve spent all month just coping with the shock of it all. When did the world decide to be nice to me?
It wasn’t being nice last year when I was routinely harassed and ridiculed on and off stage. It wasn’t being empathetic when I was told that I was being unprofessional for missing a work day while getting my mother admitted to the hospital following an accident. It wasn’t being kind when loves turned traitor, friends turned gaslighting manipulators and colleagues became thieves.
I guess I should be grateful for the respite. But I’m afraid to relax. And yet, I think of the thing that has coloured this entire month — death. Who knows what lies around the corner?
I have not yet processed how I feel about the person who passed. When you’ve known someone your whole life, it’s difficult to ascribe one emotion to the relationship. Everyone else in this family has died following a prolonged illness. Their impending and actual deaths had time to build and choreograph the actions and emotions of everyone else, including mine. But this one happened with no warning. One day there’s a person occupying a full life, filling conversations and minds with words, filling spaces with cells and smells and noises, filling relationships with agenda and desires and memories. And the next minute, one is watching a shell of a body on a funeral pyre and setting fire to it.
Actually, I think one never gets used to this no matter how many times one does this. This was my seventh time inside a cremation ground and it wasn’t any simpler. Final goodbyes still smell like pain and release and prayer and fear and anger and peace all in one.
Work has been surprisingly good. Not surprising because there wasn’t effort. Surprising because I feel like I’ve gone so long with no acknowledgement and fending off attacks, regardless of effort — that I can’t recognise it without fear.
I even performed a few times, all soul-enriching experiences. I’ve been watching Glee in my spare moments this past week and I feel like I’m seeing the story of performance through new eyes.
Maybe the stones have given way to roses now. It doesn’t make getting hit any less startling though. But one doesn’t fall asleep on stage. I’m still standing.
Mid 2000s: I was fresh off the press, newly minted professional and facing a reality that I was not prepared for because the generation before mine had never seen it — RECESSION. I was the forerunner of a generation that would only be named a few years later but would come to define worldwide shifts. I had lived in the same city my whole life and I had rarely ventured beyond my home-college-workplace circuit – physically or mentally.
I found my dream job in an industry that I’d wanted to join and a good company. I had also been blogging for over a year and was just discovering that I had a voice and a place to exercise it. Each day was a new lesson. Even my daily commute became an adventure. I learnt about who I was and where I came from — because you really can’t have one without the other.
Mid 2010s: I took to the stage as a quest for a new life, smarting from deep wounds, forcing myself to shed every skin I’d accumulated. I started, with a promise to myself to carry a mindset of healing and not vengeance. I wanted to tell stories of hope, of inspiration, of triumph. It meant tapping into deep wells of emotion, of wading through long accumulated hurt, of salvaging the good parts, of picking out the broken bits and attempting to heal them.
One story that cried out to be shared, was of the bruised history of this city . Maybe all big cities are this way and each one in their own unique way. To me, the stage feels like a hyper concentrated experience of being a Mumbaiker. You are constantly being stripped down to your most basic truths because there is no time or space for extra baggage. And yet simultaneously, there is the sad knowledge that we cannot carry anymore, a lingering memory of all that we leave behind. It is us. I have been writing this story in diary entries, in blogposts, in poetry and finally, in performance for over a decade now.
Last month, one telling of this story was picked to feature in The Habitat’s fortnightly line-up of oral storytellers. I ran through a story that sits comfortably with its words, because I’ve shared it so many times now. When I realised it was being recorded though, I asked if I could have a do-over. This is such an important story, that I felt it deserved more than an autopilot telling. They obliged.
The better part of this month has forced us all to examine in brutal detail, our emotions, our motivations and our identities. #MeToo encompasses and colours every interaction, every thought we’ve had about another person, every desire, every play for power. Raw, so raw. This is the only way I can explain what happened when I went back for a do-over telling.
I went up on the stage where I first learnt how to be a performer, with a story that finally fits right, after the years of edits and retellings and rethinkings and research. And midway, I felt myself collapse inside. The audience blurred before my eyes, my breath caught and I felt like my insides were old, withering and flammable, catching fire. and I felt like I was watching bricks and walls that make me, collapse. I mumbled “Sorry, I must leave.” and ran off the stage. I couldn’t stop shaking, sweating and feeling like I was going to drown in something unidentified that was rising from inside me. It was a good ten minutes before I recovered enough to be able to re-enter the room.
My story had nothing to do with the MeToo movement but it is laced with pain and we are living in a world of burning, screaming pain. I imploded. Where else could it happen but on stage, where one’s truths rise to the surface? When I returned, a stranger caught my hand and said, “Please go back and finish your story. It was so touching. I really want to hear it fully.” It gave me the courage to start again and luckily the host welcomed me back up.
A performance shifts in every rendition. And if you’ve seen this piece before, you might notice that it sounds sadder and more melancholy than before. But maybe that’s what the truth of this piece is — stripped of its showmanship and its sugar. This then, is FLAMINGOS, a story about the city I love and about people just like me.
Chinchpokli is a station on Mumbai’s Central train line. Cotton Green and Sewri are consecutive stations on Mumbai’s Harbour train line. All three of these roughly correspond to Lower Parel on Mumbai’s Western train line.
Most of the mills have been or are being redeveloped into urban commercial/office centers. Due to the laws, many of them are not allowed to destroy the original construction, which is why exposed beams, industrial pipes and chimneys still dot this landscape.
The flamingos appeared this year as well, delayed but in greater numbers. Bombay Natural History Society (among others) organises walking tours to see the flamingoes. You can also find your own way from outside Sewri station (on the east) to the docks where between rusty boats and fish-stained ropes, you may catch a glimpse of these migratory pink birds.
This was also published to XX Factor awhile ago since it deals with gender politics. But this post is also about who I am becoming or maybe who I’ve always been or maybe that doesn’t matter.
Last week India’s #MeToo / #TimesUp movement rose (again), sparked off by Mahima Kukreja’s outing of standup comic Ustav Chakrobarty sending unsolicited dickpics and badgering underage girls for nudes. It set off a chain reaction examining the complicit parties, the enablers and patterns of predators. Thread:
Since then it has spread to other performance spaces, to advertising, to media, to journalism, to publishing and more. All these alongside Bollywood’s own filth outing with Tanushree Datta’s allegations against Nana Patekar. And across the ocean, the US is grappling with the same issue over a man named Brett Kavanaugh. Sharing this video here as the only positive note of this story:
On one hand, I am so glad that these stories are finally finding their voices. I cannot even begin to comprehend the trauma of carrying these toxic secrets for so long and there are so many, so many of them. Every morning I’m waking up in fear over which man I’ve known, read, watched, applauded, appreciated, spoken to, smiled at will be outed as the next sexual predator. We are in so much pain.
It’s forcing a mirror to all of society and not just its toxic males. A few men I know have been outed at predators. Did I know? Did I suspect? Was that action that I shrugged off, actually an indication of something more sinister? Should I have laughed at that joke? Should I have warned this person? I introduced these people; what if one person took that as a trust guarantee and do I carry some responsibility if anything happened? What am I missing in the world and about the people around me, today?
So many of the stories I’m hearing have not even made it out yet because the victims fear that they are too young/unimportant/powerless and that their predators are too famous/rich/powerful. I am grappling with recognising that the victim of an assault or harassment can build an unreal sense of the perpetrator’s power while trying not to invalidate their feelings. How can you say “I believe you” and “No, that’s not true” at the same time?
Then there was the outing of someone I knew slightly and hadn’t really liked (though not because I had an encounter of this kind with him). He was outed by someone who in the past, has enabled my own abuser despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The question that hung over me was ‘Should I support someone who did not support me?’. It was a time of personal reckoning, figuring out who I wanted to be. I’d thought these aspects of my character would be set and figured out by this time in my life. Clearly, character is a lifelong process of testing. I passed. I don’t know that I feel good about it. Is feeling like I was denied justice, a better feeling to live with than guilt and vindication?
This same person, along with a lot of other people also put out a call asking to be told if they were friends with an abuser. It made me really angry at first. And then I realised, people don’t know what they’re asking for, when they ask for that door to be opened. When the sheer magnitude of this truth hits them, many recoil and their reaction is to assume they get to judge whether they should take action or not. No, I say. The minute you ask for the truth, you are asking for the victim’s trust. And the minute you bring judgement in, you are violating that trust. Complete trust in return for total lack of judgement is the deal. Here’s my thread on this matter:
Having said this, I’m realising that maybe I invite confessions and sharing from people just by talking about these issues. Over a decade ago, when I wrote this post about child abuse, it provoked a volley of reactions that I did not expect and did not know how to handle. I considered quitting blogging. A friend told me that I had stood for something and that mattered to the people who were sharing with me and that I had a responsibility towards them. I interpreted that to mean I’d have to be a space of listening (since I’m not qualified in any other way to advise, heal, police or protect). If you read the above post, please also read this as the conclusion of that. I am rethinking this now.
I asked a close friend (a survivor and an activist) for advice. This person asked me how many people who were spilling their truths onto me and expecting me to rescue them, showed up for me back in 2012? I could argue that some of them were too young, some too married (like this is an illness that renders one incapable of logical and just thought towards unmarried people), some not strong enough (as if strength is a talent some are born with and which becomes public property to exploit). My answer was…NOBODY. I have tried hard not to become cynical about people since then and I’ll admit I often slip up. I cannot forget that I live in a world that enables and applauds my abusers for the same things that they attack and condemn me for experiencing. It is so hard to feel empathy for enablers, even harder than feeling it for the perpetrators.
And finally, I am realising how easy it is going to be vomit, to dump, to offload resentment and rage. Neither of these are logical or fair-minded. They just are — powerful and unstoppable. I’m trying hard not to talk about my own experiences partly because I do not want to co-opt the narratives of the people speaking up for the first time and partly because it might become a case of Chinese whispers with people blaming my perps for things they did not do as part of the pervasive ‘Men are trash’ feeling. As justified as that feels, I know I cannot live with those feelings. I just can’t.
Mercifully a friend who’s been away from all this rescued me in a single conversation last evening by asking me to remember to retain my capacity for joy. That’s all. We each have to live with the consequences of our actions, our emotions and our words. What’s most important in the long, long run of life? I choose joy.
I’m sitting up in bed typing this, something I haven’t done in many years. I stopped this to help me distinguish between work and leisure and to establish regular hours. It’s served it’s own purpose but today I give myself a little leeway. I wanted to say this in September and wake up to October on a fresh note.
I’ve been unwell. Seriously unwell. I woke up on Saturday with the kind of sick feeling that you feel inside your cells, painting your very mood green (because this is the colour of bile). It was so bad that for the first time in my life, my doctor paid a house call. And for the first time in a long, long time, I’ve just sagged into my pillows, into the sofa or wherever I’m breathing allowing time, sickness, medication and words to drift over me.
I know I need to get some tests done, given how often I’ve been falling sick lately. But I also know that my body usually echoes what my emotional state is. I think I’ve been unpacking a lot of old traumas since December, starting with the domestic abuse event that SXonomics conducted(very successfully).
So many things have come up since then, like they were just waiting for an outlet — including external factors. This boundary business is a lot more effort than it seems, for me. I struggled with it and now I’m not but it’s brick-by-painful-brick labour.
I’ve written about how there is suddenly an influx of people and references and conversations around me about my ex. He’s existed on the periphery of my thinking, popping up in my thoughts occasionally during PMS or residual bad moods. But the last few months have been an onslaught of being forced to think about him, about the relationship and about what it has done to me. I can only assume that this is good; I have to.
But since my birthday month, other tightly packed traumas have been unravelling. Last year I had to let go of a number of close relationships and I realise now I’ve been carrying the heavy hurt of that all this while. I’ve been struggling for closure. A friend once told me that closure would always have to be one’s own secrete recipe. And I’ve accepted that but how then, does one achieve closure? Now I know.
My closure comes when I give up on the person. Where I can no longer see any value in their being, feel no sympathy, no hurt over their actions, just a mild irritation that they are still standing in front of me or in my mind. It’s very undramatic. One moment they are saying or doing something quite trivial and the next I cannot tolerate another minute of their existence. So I erase them from my world. It’s happened before and I don’t know why I never learn that I cannot force or rush it. It always happens and it happens on its own timeline.
In my birthday month I met someone on a dating app. It was supposed to be a casual coffee and it turned into an 8 hour conversation on politics, music, people, family, culture and more. We disagreed with a lot of friendliness and mirth. And it freaked me out when I came home. He reminded me so much of my ex. The passionate political viewpoint, the quiet sardonic approach, the ideas on consent, even the exact same damn dysfunctional family problem. It was so many things to consider. I remembered what made me fall for my ex and it terrified me that these traits could still hook me in willy-nilly. I tried to distance myself after that. But oddly, we met again. And again. And it was just as bizarrely good. It was really quite traumatic, finding myself enjoying a moment with the heavy dread of “I know how this turns out and it’s not good, not good at all.”
Mercifully Mumbaiker schedules have given me pause and time away to think. I’m in a better frame of mind now, not terrified at the thought of this person’s existence. I’ve had a chance to tell him the reasons for my reticence and he has listened with that mild-mannered acceptance that I now remember can also exist alongside Capricorn’s ruthless opportunism and cold-blooded people-trampling. I will probably keep him at arm’s length (I always thought my ex and I would have made for better friends and now we are nothing but a poisonous, monstrous thing). It’s better for my emotional health this way but I don’t have to fear him so much that I’ve to run away from him.
The person I was in love with last year, showed up on my radar. I gave him one last chance and he let me down again. I didn’t even feel bad. I think I was expecting it and this chance came from a sense of fairness, not affection. I was even able to move into a work discussion with him. And there, he faltered and faltered so badly, I knew I had reached the end. So I opened that door labelled Closure and I walked out.
Recently I met someone on her birthday. All in a flash I suddenly had a name for the unease I was feeling. It’s Libra month, a sign that has always made me uncomfortable with its smooth, diplomatic manipulativeness. One of the biggest traumas of last year came from a Libra person. And here she was again, in another body, the same pretty looks, the same fussing over perfect body proportions, the same artful juggling of classy and relatable, the same charm masquerading as warmth. I held her at arm’s length too. But she slipped into my life in that smooth (I call it sneaky) way that Venus people have.
I told her it was difficult for me being reminded of someone who hurt me in the past. She hmmmed reflectively and said,
“We draw in what we fear the most.”
She pointed out my pattern of violent relationships, comparing it to her pattern of liars. And when I told her I was scared of Libra’s twisting of the truth under the garb of diplomacy, she said,
“Yes, we do that. I’m confronting what my pattern of lying boyfriends says about me. Lies, that’s my lesson.”
See what I mean by sliding in? How can I not like someone who understands and articulates this so? As the evening wore on I relaxed into the conversation, the events around and other people.
I realised much later that some of her habits irritated me already. Venus people are full of excessive fussing over how they look, how other people, how things smell, what colour things are. I indulged it with my previous friend and called it love. And she discarded me like I was a slightly offensive crumpled tissue paper. I’m holding on to this thought now. I can choose to keep these traits alive in my memory. I do my best to treat people well and that includes not judging their personal idiosyncrasies. But I don’t have to be blind in my affections and then left hurt and bewildered when they don’t accord me the same depth of feeling.
I know the adage goes that you cannot love someone when you judge them. But maybe I need a little better judgement and a little less love-bombing. Walls are built between people, from such petty things. But a wall that serves as a protective boundary, does its job well.
I am clearly drawing in situations that I need to examine or which afford me the chance to re-examine my own feelings. It’s bringing up all sorts of feelings of terror (I am such a scaredy-cat) and grief. But curiously, they aren’t lingering as long as I feared. They come up like large signs bearing the names of people who terrify me with how easily they’ve hurt me. And then the signs float by and I realise they’re just paper. I don’t even need to turn them into paper planes.
I’ve been on a hiatus from the life I was leading through most of this year and the last. One notable conversation I had in this time made me realise the importance of boundaries in my life.
I’ve always been a boundary tester, a rulebreaker, a label hater, an opposer of all things that feel restricting. But now I think I also need to learn how to define and maintain boundaries in my life. It’s very exciting to be able to flow and ebb and dissolve and rise from chaos. But it’s tiring and now it feels futile.
I think all human beings and interactions need some kind of boundaries but most of our world is entrapped in boundaries set by other people that have become prisons. In that, I have no regrets over who I have been — in testing the world I live in and finding where I want to go, how far and in what way. Boundaries are only good when you set them yourself.
My boundlessness has caused systemic corrections like violent reactions from people, actions that feel like profound betrayals and my own sense of feeling drained and exploited. The cycles I go in are to love in a burst of passionate emotion and give and give because it just feels good to give — attention, affection, objects, time, energy, commitment. Unsurprisingly I’ve drawn takers, most notably the abusive men and a handful of manipulative friendships.
With complete objectivity, I can see how I fit their scripts as well as they fit mine. But even someone who enjoys giving runs empty eventually. And the fellow actors in my scripts have punished me for not being perennial while having reached a point of not giving anything back. Balance off whack. And the solution? Boundaries, defined better, well and early.
All this is probably really obvious to anybody outside of me. But I can feel this understanding at a cellular level now. I’ve been figuring out what boundaries mean to me (outside of ‘prison’ or ‘control mechanisms’). I’ve been navigating the kind of emotions that rise, how many of them are remembered traumas and how I can proceed in spite of them.
So what has this looked like? It’s been about saying no to a work project, something that caused me a lot of agony because it runs so against the grain of my work ethic (kill myself if need be but deliver, deliver on time, deliver over the promise but DELIVER). I know this comes from a very early place of not fitting into the education and social systems (gender role, nuclear family unit etc.) and so overcorrecting in a bid to ‘be okay’.
It has been about getting off the stage. I needed to face my fears about the stage, I needed to break the victimhood of being gaslit, violated and hit for being visible and I’ve done it all. It was a hard choice getting off the stage once I’d fought my way to it feeling like a place of comfort. Especially so because I wondered whether I would ever get back on again and whether my entire life of performance would have to go hand-in-hand with reliving traumas. Saying goodbye to anyone or anything is always hard only because of this — because you don’t know if it’s the last goodbye. Thankfully, for me it wasn’t.
And then it was about learning to walk away from situations and people. This was actually the easiest thing to do, perhaps because I’d done the more visible things like work and stage before this. Years of not having a choice of escaping traumatic situations, of being blamed and shamed for those situations made me have to grow a Warrior whose motto was never back down, take everything head on, offense before defense etc. It was so exhausting and it never really felt like me. Worst of all was being related to by the world as if that was my entire being, not just one facet developed as a defense mechanism in certain situations. That’s what all the harassment of last year (“Manhater”) was about. I’m a Creator, not a Destroyer or even a Warrior. Now that I know I can be the other things if I need to, I can retire them until further notice. All I had to do was walk away from some situations.
I’ve found help in watercoloring. Oddly enough, this is the one artistic medium that never appealed to me, even though I actually had some formal instruction in it. Maybe that’s exactly why — anything that came from the system felt like an imposition, an imprisonment to me. I started on watercolours after a friend took it up and shared his works with me. There’s something soothing about working with water, about the gentle brushstrokes, the undramatic (I used to think boring) colours. And I’ve resolved that this will not be one more thing that I turn into a competitive, goal-oriented thing. I’ve been carrying my kit to events, coffee with friends and even meetings. I joked to a friend that this is my new hipster behaviour. He just smiled and said,
“It’s not a hipster thing, it’s just a Ramya thing.”
which is the nicest thing I’ve been told in a long time. I’ve been painting swatches, squiggly nothings, letters etc. Sometimes they look good, sometimes they’re unmemorable. And always, I feel accompanied, well-adjusted and complete with that brush in my hand.
The results have not been bad at all. I fell sick a fortnight ago — the kind of dark, no-end-in-sight sickness that afflicted my very soul. I couldn’t breathe sometimes and spent hours coughing or gasping or just passed out in some version of asleep. I don’t think this is a coincidence at all. An ex friend once told me that phlegm represents pain. It had to threaten to choke me before I could release it willingly. For the first time in I-can’t-even-remember-how-long, I spent an entire week in bed, not checking my email, not answering my phone, drifting between sleep and fevered wakefulness. The past week has been returning to the world and I’ve given myself permission to do it slowly and without apologising. It hasn’t been bad at all.
I’ve also been meeting friends. Yes, it turns out I do have a lot of friendships and people who are genuinely happy to see me. Some have even been from places I had labelled Trauma Points inside my head — Twitter and Poetry. But I’ve been doing all this with boundaries (as far as possible). Limiting my time, what I say, what I ask about, the things we do.
which also works, in my opinion. Please go read. It’s not a rant, I promise.
They also carried a collage of my lipart journey, to illustrate how I found my self-worth in colour. I’ve been a longtime fan of this website so I’m very happy to add my story to all the wonderful ones in their collection.
I’m like Sleeping Beauty in that I’ve been dead for most purposes, except for two years, not a hundred. An entirely consuming set of relationships and work projects burnt through me and left me in nothingness. And now I feel ready to awaken or be reborn. I say reborn, because everything feels fresh and new, […]
Polyamory: Millennial Free Love Or Old Cheating With A New Name? I’ve written about polyamory before though on The Idea-smithy rather than here. Let me start by explaining why I did that. I know running two blogs is no mean feat but the trickiest thing is not the ideation (hah, look at my name!) or […]
Last week India’s #MeToo / #TimesUp movement rose (again), sparked off by Mahima Kukreja’s outing of standup comic Ustav Chakrobarty sending unsolicited dickpics and badgering underage girls for nudes. It set off a chain reaction examining the complicit parties, the enablers and patterns of predators. Thread: I want everyone to know @Wootsaw is a piece […]
I thought about him yesterday. Not the angry, violent, horrible monster that the later times have made me need to remember of him, but the early times. I had to. He’s the source material for my romantic imagination. And my imagination is the only thing that rescues me from the quagmire of emotions. I am […]