Let’s think about regret. Decisive people rarely seem to have regrets. As a decisive person myself, I weigh what a situation is worth & if dithering will help. Regret seems to not be worth it. Who has time to regret the past when a lesson can be gleaned for the future? FOMO life doesn’t allow for regrets.
Yet you may come upon a time when even your speediest, most decisive self isn’t able to escape regret. You call it age catching up. You name it fear or cynicism. You realise that you are no different from others trying to escape people and feelings they don’t like. Your nemesis is regret. Escapism always looks like running away, no matter what the cause.
I am sitting in a garden of regret now. I call it a garden because I’m realising this is a feeling, an emotion that grows in me, from me. I’m trying to keep from bolting. I’m looking around to examine what is growing around me. Blossoming & festering are two words for the same act.
I thought we regret the bad things in our lives. But I’m finding regret in the times I’ve trusted, the ones I’ve loved, the hopes I’ve nurtured. Honest self examination means allowing every possibility to exist. I must admit that regret grows even in the most decisive, courageous, responsibility-taking, careful self that I’ve created.
Regret means admitting there may have been better choices. It means acknowledging your decisions weren’t always best. It means accepting that you weren’t always your best self. And what of the selves that aren’t the best? They cannot be escaped or ignored. They are the bigger part of you. The ones enduring mistakes, making even more. The ones personifying the messiness of living. Of emotions, memories and navigating a way forward.
f I didn’t have these, my life would have been a straight trajectory from adolescence to death, choosing the most optimal roads, going to fixed destinations. The mistakes cost me time and effort and many rewards. In coping, I found other paths, other gifts I didn’t even consider, let alone work for.
Maybe regret is a reminder that living is never going to be a simple sequence of right decisions.
Ten minutes ago I looked up from the Netflix show I was watching and the calendar screamed a date at me. In a few hours, it will be 9 years since I made one of the few impulsive decisions of my life. It is a decision I’ve been punished for over and over again. It keeps coming up no matter how many times I try to finish out the sentence, heal it or bury it. It gets used as a hydrogen bomb by nasty, dysfunctional men trying to hurt me for their low self-esteem. It slips out in the lashing out of friends who find this easier than accepting their own fucked up lives. It shows up in the judgement of relatives, of ex friends and even future colleagues. And it gets co-opted by people trying to prove their crusader status. It just refuses to die.
In 2010 I met someone at an Open Mic, a newish event in the city that happened just once a month, which I began attending as audience and slowly, tentatively, as a reader. I’d missed a couple because of personal issues and that day I’d decided to venture out seeking some joy for myself. I spotted him at the door and remembered him from a previous event. Chances for fun, pleasure are so rare when you live your life feeling burdened by duty, responsibility and imposed labels. How could I let this one pass? I struck up a conversation, pushing away my own natural shyness.
In ten days, we’d walked the beach, attended two concerts, shared a bottle of wine, eaten at a hole-in-wall joint and exchanged hundreds of messages. And then he told me he wanted to be with me. “A real relationship, not this open relationship shit” and “Brutal honesty, no plan Bs, jumping in with both feet” – his words. I told him I’d take a week to think about it. The next morning, 17th of July, I woke up with a single thought.
What was I going to learn in a week that would change the way I felt?
I knew it was uncharacteristic for me to jump in on impulse. I hadn’t been impulsive with my affections even at 16. And after the tumultuous 20s (heartbreak, assault, two recessions, unemployment, MNC politics, sabbatical) I had walked into 30 embracing the future and leaving behind old expectations. The new me I decided was strong enough, not too afraid to, to say yes. And I did.
I was so wrong. In the following week, that very day in fact, he told me things about himself and his family that any honest, decent person would have put on the table BEFORE suggesting a relationship. And then he said I was free to walk away if I wanted. Generous? No. He told me this at the airport on his way to a funeral. I did not want to feel like a monster dumping him hours after I’d said yes, and just before he went to a funeral.
So I told him to set that worry aside, to be there for his family and that we could talk more when he got back. This never happened. I’ve run this over and over in my head. There were so many lies caught out later, so many omissions of truth surfacing only when they absolutely could not be hidden. Always too late, always in situations when I would not have been able to walk away.
I am aware that I fell into the clutches of a monster. It does not matter whether he was himself a victim or not, what the state of his mental health must have been at the time. None of those matter because none of those were my doing. And I’ve spent nearly a decade trying to repair a life that he systematically and brutally shattered. I’ve struggled with so many people rushing to support and enable him, many of them people I’ve loved and trusted. And I keep taking on attack after attack.
I keep trying to leave this memory behind in my past and then find myself having to deal with people trying to bring it back. I also struggle with the weight of this decision. What is the lesson? What is the lesson? I can hear myself screaming inside my head. It’s very hard to remember to tell myself that life is not a school and that lessons are things we tell ourselves to feel like enduring hardship was worth it. The randomness of this horror is too much to bear. So I persist in seeking out the lesson.
Nine years ago today, I went down a path that has taught me only things I wish I did not have to learn. I have learnt to fear men (something that did not taint me even after facing child abuse and assault by a partner). I have found a self that prefers the company of books and silence to a life of being pawed and mauled and attacked. I have learnt that I must look with suspicion towards anybody with even a hint of mental illness, of sexual dsyfunctions, of violent backgrounds, of claimed childhood traumas. Because any one of them could destroy a decade of my life and not even care.
Well, I care. It is my life. Sometimes I think the only thing that saves me from the things I experience, is my ego. Ego rescued me from the devastation I experienced at 20 when I told myself that my life mattered more than a man who didn’t care if I lived or died. Ego decided for me that a rapist was not going to dictate how my body functioned. Ego even allowed me to say to myself with remarkable clarity on the day this monster threw me out onto the street that,
This is happening to me. This IS NOT me. This will not define me.
Maybe it’s bravado. But I’m still alive. It doesn’t make remembering dates like this easy though. I thought I was on safe ground after I nullified the effect of his birthday and the day he proposed (also Valentine’s Day). Seventeenth of July ambushed me.
But another thought creeps in, one that has been at the back of my mind for a couple of days now. In a few hours it will be the birthday of a man I met at a WordPress event a few years ago. I was there to organise an event of Alphabet Sambar, one of my proudest endeavours taken on in the life I built post monster. This man has met me only once but we’ve exchanged dozens of emails and messages over the years. He has a curious knack of not being at the top of my mind at all but showing up just when I need a little brightness in my day. Sometimes it’s a song recommendation, sometimes a painting that his daughter made. Sometimes it’s a message asking how I’m feeling that day, friend? And sometimes it’s a little Bible truism with a reminder that Jesus loves me too. Even my radically non-religious self feels comforted by this.
In a few hours, it will be his birthday. I say a few hours because where he lives, it is still the 16th. The day of the lunar eclipse, an event of prime import to all Cancerians (him, me, so many others). I guess that’s all I need to say to myself. The seventeenth of July is a lot of things. I hope my fortieth takes me into a future self of wisdom, not fear.
Much gets said about the frenzied pace of a metropolis and its coldness. But every big city is an organism of parallel layers, bubbles even, that jostle along, seemingly oblivious to the others’ presence. My city is Tinsel Town, it’s the financial capital, it’s the safest city, it’s a port, a tropical island, an organised crime base, a place starved for time and space and a mental border between South and North India. I inhabit a few of these bubbles and only occasionally, with great effort, do I cross over to the others. Because they are all Mumbai and anything that is Mumbai is mine to witness, to touch and experience and love.
In 2009, the BMC, Mumbai’s civic body invited citizens to come paint the walls of an arterial road abutting the railway track. I jumped at the opportunity to splash paint and spend a day on the streets. A lot of friendships were made that day that we spent whitewashing, priming and rendering street art on the rough wall of Tulsi Pipe Road.
The paint has since worn away and been covered and recovered with other such wall projects. The pavement dwellers who were displaced for this day of fun for the more affluent, have eked out their homes again too. Bollywood posters come up now and then and in the past year, election campaigns as well.
The city grows and breathes with every newcomer here. I just got to lay my handprint on it for a day. Even if it lies buried under layers of others, the city and I communed that day in September.
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.
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.
When I was a child, my primary school building had a tree growing in the ramshackle courtyard outside. One had to climb a few boulders and avoid the loose stones and holes burrowed in by rodents to reach up. And once one got there, it wasn’t comfortable since it grew on a huge, sharp-edged rock. It also offered very little shade, having dwindled in foliage over no one knows how many generations of children. But the tree did allow for contact, if you knew how to reach it. And I did. To its northwest, angled towards the steep side and atop a jagged patch of rock, was a spot just big enough for my bottom to perch on, legs drawn up close. And if you were small and kept very quiet, no one would come looking for you to tease or order or threaten to tell a teacher.
I’d go there every few days, having failed to find my place in the complicated world of primary school. People were full of greed and jealousy and spite and temper. But the tree was peace. It was silent, harmonious in a way my numerous music tutors never would be. I never needed to speak words aloud, fearing correction, judgement or sneering. The tree seemed to know. In its company, my bruised little heart would feel the gentle embrace of its shadow (the only spot where it fell, right over where I sat). Trees feel safe to me. They are old and carry the lessons of time, unlike buildings which only speak of their builders money and politics.
I spotted this tree at the junction of a rapidly disappearing Mumbai (the textile mill belt) and the greedy new city emerging in its place. Flanked by the wall of an old mill and facing a spanking new skyscraper, this one holds stories that would fill history books, only no one will ever write one. But I listened and it gave me a glimpse into a thousand lives, in a single breath. I can still talk to trees and they still carry stories. Thank you, old friend.
Why do we look back when the natural way of things is to move forward? Because it’s easy? Because it’s nicer? Life never seems quite as wonderful when it is being lived. But in comparison with what we’re feeling and facing and surviving at this moment, the heydays seem like glorious times.
I know why this is so. An experience being lived is an onslaught of sights and sounds and feelings and thoughts and information hitting us faster than we can handle. Later, we examine our scars, our lint, our debris and flotsam. Sometimes, we add to it from what someone else said or something we read or learnt elsewhere. And we construct a story. We build a painting. The present has a way of being simultaneously overpowering and mundane at the same time. So in our stories to ourselves, we colour hard and deep.
The colour spectrum of life goes in the opposite direction from a ray of light going through a prism. The future is an unknown cavern of blankness. The present is a hard prism that’s simultaneously confusing and colourless. But the past, the past is every colour we choose to lay on it. We are light beams travelling backwards in time, just as we are conscious experience moving forward.
Small wonder then, so many of us spend our lives rapidly turning forwards and backwards, always worried we’re going to run into some disaster but unable to keep our eyes away from the alluring past for too long. The blankness ahead is inviting and scary and what we’ve left behind reminds us of the colour we turn it into. The past is technicolour and we are the prisms that make it so.
The 60s talked of free love. Millennials say fuck-buddies or if they want to be nice, friends-with-benefits. The term polyamory is having a day. It’s no newer than the other ways we negotiate the politics of sex and affection.
I live in compartments of emotion and logic. There is what I feel & desire and what I decide that it’s practical to say & do. The system works but love is an inconvenient fit. It refuses to stay contained to a schedule, a format, a relationship status. It screams like a ravening beast for more, more, never satisfied with the appropriate time and agreed-upon rules that it has been assigned. I don’t know if intimacy can be constructed with an easy-to-follow recipe, paused as convenient or left-swiped when it outlives its purpose. Because intimacy is not easy, convenient or of a purpose. It happens as it is built into the very DNA of human interaction.
We assign it words, weigh it with ideas like jealousy, self-esteem, ownership, patriarchy. But these are no more than nets we’re trying put around something that is fluid. Not even liquid because even that flows within the containers into which we pour it. Intimacy is air, love is plasma – moving between boundaries as if they don’t exist.
It is so much effort to erect and maintain walls that will anyway fall. Therein lies the nub. Love and intimacy are not hard; they’re terrifying. It’s a horrific prospect to go along with something to an unknown destination, knowing that it will transform you, take away from you and possibly give nothing in return. That’s not an adventure, that’s a horror story. It’s easier to run in a maze of our own making than fall into the wide unknown. So we work this together. Failing together, even in different places is a form of intimacy too.
“We are undercover passion on the run
Chasing love up against the sun
We are strangers by day, lovers by night
Knowing it’s so wrong, but feeling so right
I guess that two can play the game
Of part-time lovers
You and me, part-time lovers” – Stevie Wonder
The last time I wrote here, I was on the other side of a birthday. And it just struck me that I’m now in the last leg of The Thirty Diaries. Appropriately, I’ve had an article published on Arre titled ‘My Tinder Bio: Not Here To Mother 20-Somethings‘. My overall mood, as in the article is breezy, slightly scarred but relieved and hopeful.
I’ve started a few work projects and am realigning how I find myself as a professional. My work ethic is always priority so systems, organisation, quality and timeliness are at the forefront. But I’m also considering my health and the moral/emotional implications of my every action. I’ve learnt that I cannot afford to neglect these.
I thought my 20s were dramatic, full of corporate fast-tracking, flashy/useless pedigreed boyfriends, cancer devastation in the family and dealing with the post-millenium (read: Recession-riddled) economy. Have my 30s been saner? Well.
There was the BIG FAILED ENGAGEMENT. This has undeniably coloured my experiences of this decade the most. One part of this is the realisation that relationship matters will always influence my well-being and identity more than other things. After all, my 20s were also driven as response and survival instincts to one heartbreak and one abusive ex. I did become a workaholic, something I recently learnt could be close to a condition called ‘high functioning depressive’. I learnt very early to substitute professional success for emotional stability and romantic happiness. But as with any other addiction with roots in emotional tangles, it created structural cracks in my being. A lot of the things I’ve experienced in my 30s have been these, including the heavy darkness I’ve struggled with through the better part of the decade.
The other side of it is the world’s reactions to me. The 20s were about my fighting back suffocating pressure to couple up and to succeed in tradition-approved ways. I naively thought the 30s would be easier since this pressure eased up as those folks seemingly gave up on me. But the broken engagement brought them crawling back with attacks. As recently as three months ago, people who I’d never met were influencing my work by declaring that I would wreak my married colleagues’ relationships. There’s the r onslaught of people’s expectations on what kind of a ‘Strong Woman’ I should be. It’s countless people outraged that my ex is dating someone, all culminating in the expectations that I should ‘rescue’ the new girl. It’s men I’ve rejected needling me about my failed engagement with statements like “Uske talent ki kadar karni chahiye“. It’s younger people putting me on a pedestal, then expecting me to rescue them from their life decisions and attacking me when I don’t play knight in feminist armour. No, the world is just as awful in my 30s, albeit in a different way.
In that sense, my script is still the same. I’m constantly at war with the world because of who I am. I have to be, because the only choice is to surrender to a life of silent harassment and abuse. There have been a lot of times in my 30s where I’ve felt like I couldn’t go on (which I never felt in my 20s). The ‘magical’ rescues in the form of career wins and passionate friendships have been fewer. Or maybe I’ve just felt the shadows deeper. This is, I’m learning, who I am. I feel fear deeply and my reactions to it may seem disproportionately strong. I am a crab. I retreat into my shell and in that sense, I’ve done that with my entire bruised and assaulted past.
I went to a condolence visit this week, in honour of a deceased family friend, the mother of one of my school classmates. I was quiet and awkward. My past does not give me a reason to feel comfortable or happy in it. I was overwhelmed by the people expressing great warmth and pleasure on seeing me. I also met people who had not been nice to me (notably this gentleman who shuffled awkwardly, then asked why I wasn’t married). I realised that people who harass other people about their romantic choices or their bodies are desperately unhappy about their own. I told him, “I don’t think I need a reason to NOT get married, I need a reason to be married.” He shrugged and then said, “Yeah, that’s right. Smart you are. Don’t make that mistake. No one is happy.”. Sigh, strange as it may sound, that did not vindicate me. I don’t want to hear about other people’s misery, least of all people who’ve added to mine.
Almost magically (so I guess magic is actually still a part of my life), my Arre article showed up online just that instant. It felt like the universe was telling me that all things were okay. The three year old grand-daughter of the lady who passed, came and sat on my lap and told me stories. Her mother hugged me and I learnt that she’s a Ph.D., making me very proud of the world I came from, even if it wasn’t always nice.
And this morning, this picture came up on my memories. Maybe life is about creating your place in the universe. Or maybe it’s about discovering it. I hope I can enter the 40s with wonder.
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I’m really enjoying the company of books and my plants. For the first time in my life, these don’t feel like temporary or even like escape from the loneliness between men. Because I’m realising my times with men have been my loneliest. I know I’ve probably had bad luck in this regard. I also believe […]
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