——————————————————————————————————————– For the ones dealing with long-buried memories and healing from old wounds. ——————————————————————————————————————–
It was your smile but it was also the reasons you smiled. Time made a fool of me and it took me awhile to realise I wasn’t one of those reasons. Goodbye, never the kindest of words. You brought it into the realm of cruelty by not even saying it. And I was left, hooked into poisonous questions, holding the word BREAKUP, like a dead baby that no one wanted. I wish you had at least given us a burial.
I have counted the years that passed since, in holes I’ve plugged, papering over cracks of my self esteem with paper planes. They say you’re a new person every seven years. All cells replaced, I’ve been speeding that along. Prising off parts of me that you touched. Hot showers to burn away your fingerprints on my skin, turning wounds into tattoos. I shaped the holes in me into words. I gave them form, let them loose as paper planes.
The wounds that you left on my psyche, on my body, puckered into scars, hidden by tattoos, which carried away the pain & turned into art. The shreds of my self-esteem, I’ve woven into a coat of anger & made you into poetry. For years, I’ve filled in the gaps that you left behind.
So long have I spoken for you in proxy, a ventriloquist talking with a dummy in my head, with your name & face, that when I ran into you recently. (Look at me saying that, like I’d say I ran into a stranger). But you are. You’re shorter than I remember. Leaner. Our conversation is the wake after a funeral, attended only by ghosts.
The paper plane is a philosophy. I’ve lost weight in some places. Gained some. I don’t fit your boxes anymore. You have nothing to do with the ventriloquist’s dummy in my head. You don’t even look like him.
Time, this time an ally, was the decent chap you weren’t. My insides don’t recognise you anymore. The devil has changed his address. Closure can come from a closed door. Or an accidental sighting & no conversation. Hell doesn’t sit here anymore.
From our first moment, we are absorbing information, accumulating experiences. We make sense of how these parts fit into each other by creating stories. This story needs constant editing. Sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes our chances don’t pay off. Sometimes things just change. Disappointment is coming face to face with that gap. It is not unusual, not unnatural, not a reflection of our worth.
Rage is a a common reaction. “I’m supposed to let him/her/them get away with it?” Yes. Whoever it is, whatever it is. That question is about revenge. Whatever wrong has been done to you, revenge will never set right. It’s not the only way forward. It is not even an actual way forward.
Disappointment hurts the ego (though who we are doesn’t have to do with what we thought about the world). Rage fools us into feeling like we’re regaining control. It lets us feel hard done by without having to take our share of responsibility for what went wrong. Vindictiveness lets us pin the blame for our feelings on others.
But punishment does not ‘right the balance’. Attacking someone else does not protect our world from being ravaged by that feeling again. Arguing for the right to be angry doesn’t help us. And to close ourselves from feeling (or “not having expectations”) is akin to starving ourselves of the richness of living. Any reaction that lets us feel self-righteous or entitled to something we aren’t getting, limits us.
There are lessons in disappointment though we need to be in a place to learn. The lesson is not a consolation prize or even healing balm for feeling the sting of disappointment. Don’t be in a hurry to collect it. This might be a time to consider if it’s really a wrong or it’s someone living their best life, which bothers you.
If we’ve been knocked off our course, it’s okay to need time to heal and collect ourselves first. Healing can only happen within (not by correcting some external imbalance). Only we can heal ourselves and it’ll never be by attacking another.
Disappointment is such a hard teacher but its lessons are so deep.
I lost all my Instagram Drafts, at least 15 Drafts in stages of completion. Gone in one shot. Backup? I have a Gallery, Text Notes. But an Instagram post is more than a camera pic and hastily done caption.Last year I felt burnt out by the viciousness of social media, the cruelty on my timelines. I love the internet but this space that gave me a career, an identity, a tribe has become a dirty cesspool. Why continue in such a toxic space?
I decided to try creating the kind of ideas, behaviour & conversations that I wanted to receive. I picked Instagram, a platform I’d been on but not involved with greatly.It has not been an easy year. Betrayals, personal attacks, bullying, work worries and health issues. I have not been able to lie – my moods show. Nothing kills you like having to draw out hope and a smile when you’re battered.I had to unlearn the tendency to vomit online, then battle backlash. Even among those who make this space their home, there is unprovoked aggression. Being healthy & hopeful is not cool. Being authentic invites attack.
But goals empower me to do what is hard. I disengaged from people, conversations & spaces that dragged me down. I found myself watching my own emotions & their expression. Where once I would have turned to the internet to pour out heartbreak, disappointment, annoyance, rage in crafted words, I pondered how I could be less poisonous. I thought I was going to do this only for what would eventually become content. But I’d spent over a decade mining my own life, emotions & experiences for content. So in creating cleaner output, I was healing my insides.
Today I asked my audience if there was any reason I should stay. I was tired of solidiering on. Losing my work felt like defeat. But the answers touched me. You receive what you create. I have.My 💓 sinks at the thought of what I lost. But a blank slate always inspires me. And I have a healthier way to deal with life now. That sounds a lot like hope.
Thank you for reading and accompanying me on this journey. Also, Happy Easter and may the spirit of resurrection guide you!
I saw this on Twitter and decided to ask Instagram because my peeps there are more responsive.
Even so, I was surprised by the questions that came in. And really touched that I was asked. Thinking about my answers helped me pry loose the heaviness that has lain on my mind and consequently, my writing in the past year or so.
I’m just reposting what I shared there, slightly paraphrasing the questions asked.
Top 3 Red Lipsticks!
Maybelline SuperStay DANCER
Faces Canada Ultime Pro REBEL RED
NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream AMSTERDAM
When I performed to a crowd of 200+ people minutes after running into my violent ex (who constantly made me feel stupid) — and the crowd demanded an encore.
When a client told me they turned the work I’d done into a book and handed me a copy. It’s for internal circulation only but that’s for an organisation of thousands. And it made me a bona fide author.
When I thought I was getting fired for a messy project but my boss said my writing skills were on par with people two levels above and that I’d been promoted.
Wash & moisturise face every time I go out & on return. Feeling clean is a big beauty boost.
Smile like I used to as a kid before I got conscious. It makes me feel good & I think it shows.
Exercise daily, even if just a walk & 10 minutes of breathing exercises. Stress weighs my face down visibly on days I don’t.
Top 3 speakers I consider my inspiration
Performance poets who can carry a crowd without ranting or gimmicks — Asia Samson (90s Love), Denice Frohman (Accents), Sonia Renee (The Body is Not An Apology)
Speakers who can share a powerful idea in a way that changes how you see the world, in just a few minutes — Thulsiraj Ravilla (How low-cost eye care can be world-class), Taylor Malli (What Teachers Make)
Speakers who don’t need traditional crutches (like presentations or even words) to bring forth their message — Marina Abramovic (The Artist in In), Salim Khan (speaking at Whistling Woods on storytelling)
Top 3 times when I hit rock bottom
Mid 2000: I got dumped by my best friend/love-of-my-life right in the middle of board exams. I felt like a planet that had got knocked out of its galaxy. Finding my first job gave me purpose. It taught me to find identity in work, not love.
2002–2003: Boyfriend assaulted me. Told me I was ugly because I was a ‘kaali’. Said the only reason a guy would be with me was because I looked desperate. That I would always be the beautiful girl’s ugly best friend. It taught me never to care what anybody, especially a man, said about my appearance.
All 2012: My live-in partner took his ongoing emotional & verbal abuse into physical. Announced a very public engagement. Wanted my family to pay for a multi-city extravaganza. When I called it dowry, threw me out of the house. I was told I should have tried to work it out somehow. Friends told me I should be ‘dignified’, not talk about it and that I should ‘appreciate his talent’. Men said I deserved to be beaten up, that I must have not cared since I looked okay.
How I managed to get back up when life pushed me down
Writing always saved me. When nobody listened to me, the pages did. Later, the internet. And even later, the audience. When I write, I’m able to remember that there is a bigger world than the people who attack me, the situations that exploit me. It’s the biggest relationship in my life now — my words & me.
Finding a different context helps. I get a new job, find a new hobby, reach out to people I don’t talk to much. It gives me perspective, which is the only thing I lose when I’m down. If these aren’t possible, a swim, a bath or even washing dishes keeps me going till I can find something more permanent. Anything with water.
This is the newest lesson of all. I ask for help and I trust that it will be given. I tell myself that it’s okay to shatter and that I will be supported in rebuilding. People have been kind.
Top 3 times when I failed (because success stories motivate but failure story gives lessons)
Not getting into IIM-Bangalore in 2000. I may never ave tried the other things I did (including writing & stage) if I’d been set on that fast track. Hurt like hell then but now I have no regrets.
My biggest relationship ended in the most humiliating way possible. It feels like a failure because I learnt early to take responsibility for everything. It may have been the reason I stayed so long. Such a devastating failure, such a hard lesson. I’m still learning.
2002-Froze on stage at college personality contest. Next round, judge made fun of me. 2007-Last day of London conference. Luggage already at airport. Entered hall to find everyone in suits. Ended up presenting to VP of an MNC, wearing bright orange top & jeans. They were nice about it. 2018-Got attacked for feminist poetry. Went on stage and stood silent for 2min. Audience clapped. Ridicule will not silence me now.
I know they’re not conventionally considered poets.But I don’t think poetry needs to be conventional. I learnt much about writing & life from their words. Isn’t that the best poetry?
Top 3 self-motivational hacks when you’re feeling low
“This too, shall pass.” — Persian adage
Read ‘Illusions’ by Richard Bach
Listen to ‘Here comes the sun’ by The Beatles
3 most amazing books I’ve read to date
‘Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah’ — Richard Bach
The Sandman series — Neil Gaiman
‘The Little Prince’ — Antonie St.Exupery
Help will arrive when I’ve given up all hope. It’ll arrive with friendship, support, respect. And it will come from unexpected sources. Every darn time.
The more you trust the stage, the kinder the audience will be.
Men are my learning opportunities, not my teachers.
My life is dramatic AF.
Songs in my playlist
These are at the top of my ‘Most Played’
‘How do you do’ — Roxette
‘Aap jaisa koi mere zindagi mein aaye’ (a capella version) — American Desi
‘Brand New Day’ — Sting
Top 3 novels that I love
‘Rachel’s Holiday’ — Marian Keyes
‘Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince’ — JK Rowling
‘The Kalahari Typing School for Men’ — Alexander McCall-Smith
Galactic — NYX Cosmic Metals
Read My Lips — Faces Canada Ultime Pro
Oh Put It On! — NYX Liquid Suede
I’ve already done two book-related lists on this series so I’m narrowing this to my top 3 books by women in 2019:
‘Lois Lane: Fallout’ — Gwenda Bond
‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society’ — Mary Ann Shaffer
‘The Bastard of Istanbul’ — Elif Shafak
Recommended self-healing books
More books? Okay, one can never have too many. 😊
Any one from the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall-Smith
S.E.C.R.E.T. — Marie L Adeline (especially if you’re female & healing from sex-related traumas)
I was a diarist through my teens. When I was 24, I discovered blogs which I learnt was short for ‘web logs’. And my diarying transitioned online. Because I wrote under the then anonymous identity of IdeaSmith, I could pour my unvarnished feelings into writing, things I didn’t feel at liberty to say in my daily life.
These were my 20s and I was accumulating new experiences faster than I could process (post-graduation, first job, recession survival, new love, matrimonial pressures). There was fear, worry, anguish and grief for what I’d left behind – things that I was not ‘supposed to’ feel or dwell on. Writing anonymously allowed me to examine each feeling and experience at leisure.
Before I knew it, I had readers and IdeaSmith was a personality, an entity built by me but also by what my readers wanted to read. Possibly because my dark emotions and experiences were not permissible in my offline life (Nobody wants brooding, angry, grieving or annoyed women even in 2019), these writings were more poignant than my cheerful work. Maybe they just suited the mystery persona of an unknown woman on the internet better.
I had a revelation in the early 2010s. I realised each time I wrote or spoke or even read a piece, I relived that memory. So in my dark, brooding words, I was keeping my pain alive. Writing, I concluded, was cathartic, not healing. And in 2014 after abuse, a broken engagement, a nondescript startup, I decided I needed healing. I needed levity & light. Words matter so much to those of us who wield them. It’s hard to bring them to destruction. But the image of a paper plane flew into my imagination.
And from that came a healing philosophy and a tattoo for reminder. This was my first performance as a stage artist, a wordsmith with flight, a new me.
I crossed a birthday last month. Being born near a decade switch, my every ten years seem to align in personally with the defining traits of the decade.
At 20, I was a newly minted adult in a newly minted millenium, a forerunner of the generation that would come to be known by this word. At 30, the millennium & adulthood had taught me tangible lessons about money, employment and stability. Now, at 40, what do I have to show as a human representative of the 2010s?
I found this photo taken last year in a green room minutes before I’d go up on stage to tell a story of love & flamingos. It had been 3 days since the second heat of the #MeToo movement began, bringing down men of repute, men of my acquaintance, men I’d liked, men I’d performed with, eaten with, laughed with, clapped for. It was amid stories of assault by women I knew, women I admired, women I wanted to protect, women I related to. Earlier that day, I had dragged myself out of bed having spent yet another sleepless night of trauma. I’d judged a poetry event. I’d performed at another venue and collapsed on stage. I’d changed at a friend’s house, tried to laugh and lighten up. And I’d made my way here.
I think the MeToo movement is the most significant thing in my mind about this decade, blowing the cover off things I’d never thought I’d see exposed in my lifetime, traumas I assumed I’d experienced alone. It is also a metaphor for my decade. I began it surprising myself by getting swept into what would turn out to be an abusive relationship. Before I knew it, I was in my 30s with a failed engagement, which sounds much worse than ‘Single at 30’. I’ve weathered much since then and things did eventually settle. They keep getting stirred up again. All I have is this breath.
I look up at my reflection, seeing a tangle of stories. Then I take a deep breath and remember,
The capacity for joy will not be lost to me When I look in the mirror It will be all I see
When I open my eyes again, I’m in the green room alone as outside a crowd cheers for me. I walk out with a story about flamingos in a big city.
No. It’s the scariest word in language. It drives people into frenzy. It instigates wars on a global scale as well as at the individual level in the form of violence and rape. It also sits deep inside the heart, every No we’ve ever heard, burning tiny holes in our self-esteem and eventually our ability to dream.
What about this word is so powerful that its supposed counterpart YES cannot boast? NO draws a boundary. NO suggests identity. NO shows us the face of another’s will. Does it nullify the existence of our own?
A friend asked what we do when we are rejected. I said I drown myself in work to forget. Someone said they remove their WhatsApp profile picture. Are these two the same thing? I rush to create a new identity (as efficient and successful) as a reaction to feeling nullified by NO. The other appears to acknowledge their feeling of non-existence by becoming a non-person, at least temporarily on a digital platform.
What happens instead if the answer has been YES? Do we actually remember all the YESes we’ve experienced? No, only the major ones (a marriage proposal, a pregnancy confirmation, a contract) and even these we find ourselves needing to commit to memory with rituals, pictures, anniversaries and the like. Our lives are not changed drastically by YESes and we have to work hard to remember them.
The NOs however, embed themselves inside us and forever determine how we live and who we are. A NO is a changemaker, the magic source of identity-shifting, of evolution, the essence of life itself. It’s true. It’s not pretty or comfortable but neither is birth (or being born). Maybe we are all just a collection of the NOs we have experienced our whole lives.
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.
Yesterday I ran into a friend. The last time we met, this friend visited me at a new home I was building. I was also newly engaged. So obviously, that would be the starting point of our conversation, a picking up where the thread dropped off. I rolled my eyes wryly and said,
“So much has happened since then. I don’t live there anymore. I’m not engaged anymore.”
My friend’s immediate, almost urgent reply was,
“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”
I have navigated hundreds of such conversations in the past six years.
I had a (somewhat) public relationship. Given that I write about relationships and the fact that they form such an important part of my existence, I found it hard not to. Shutting up about that would essentially mean to quit blogging, which would be akin to losing a kidney, a limb and maybe a few other vital organs. But my partner was not an open individual (quite the opposite) and I felt I had to respect his privacy too. So I have never mentioned him by name and I have only sparingly offered details of our relationship, while trying to be honest and open about my own feelings and thoughts (these are mine and I’ve never felt the need to have anyone else’s permission to share them). This has been the trickiest juggling I’ve done in all my adventures with anonymity since I began in 2004.
I didn’t have a chance to think about how this would turn out, if we parted ways. And given how suddenly everything crashed, I barely made it out alive, let alone with enough stability to think clearly. The thing with sudden disasters is that you don’t get time to stop and collect your thoughts. The world hits you with life, even as you’re still lying on the ground with your heart ripped open, bleeding from wounds you didn’t even realise had opened up and were being systematically poisoned. You just learn to cope and hope to heal on the fly, as you get carried along on the rollercoaster ride called life.
In six years, I have run into, got back in touch with and in some way reconnected with possibly hundreds of people. Most people in my world have some connection to my narrative through my blogs, my work and having interacted with me on digital. I have tried to keep my narrative as true to myself but it has to be a filtered, edited one, for reasons of safety and respecting the privacy of other people connected with me. This includes exes, even the ones who have behaved in very, very bad ways.
Last year a friend screenshotted something my ex had put up and sent it to me. I wish she hadn’t. I was not even thinking about him and seeing this forced me to remember his existence in an unnecessarily immediate and close way. She said she thought it would make me feel better but it didn’t.
A few months ago, somebody else told me about someone who liked my ex. They said they were concerned about this person and that they were making a terrible choice. I get that concern. But I don’t get what I am supposed to do in this. This story has nothing to do with me.
“My good friend is close to him so I will not comment.”
I felt knocked for a loop by my friend’s statement. Because I was starting a conversation and their response was a very clear iron-curtain style wall. The last thing that was called that was part of something the world knew as Cold War. Why did my friend feel the need to rush in with that statement when I had not even asked for comment? Possibly they thought I was seeking validation, asking for them to join me in bashing my ex. I wasn’t. I was just telling my story.
But, in the very act of writing this down, I feel my balance restore itself to normal. I cannot fault my friend for not thinking this through. After all, they haven’t seen me in years. I can also see the good intentions behind the actions of the other friends. They were offering commiseration in their own awkward ways. They were also trusting that I would act with sanity rather than viciousness and while that is overwhelming, it is also inspiring. Maybe I can be that person if people think I can be. I write a narrative that is one that inspires me. And I can only write it if I live it. I am so glad to be a writer.
The difficulty in writing your own story is having to explain every word and every edit. But maybe that is also the best thing about it. Remembering the story, that’s all that’s important. The story of me.
The sexes need each other and define each other. Patriarchy rejects this by deeming any form of need or interconnectedness as weak/feminine. But all society and relationships are built on the joint and collaborative strengths of human beings needing and fulfilling each other’s needs in balance. I’ve been asked why I insist on reading or […]
Don’t I look like all the sins you’re going to commit tonight? I felt it too. Because feeling flows through me the way water runs through the planet, within it, over it, above it and into every creature that lives on it. It feels good to dissolve. It feels peaceful to let go and drown […]
Some time ago, I watched a woman walk into a coffeeshop. She was dressed in a neon yellow jacket, neon yellow sneakers & microshorts and sported a ponytail on either side of the head, held back with – you guessed it, neon yellow ties. She looked like she was in her early 30s. I was […]
How many things shall I grieve? I was watching THAPPAD. I thought about the people who have hit me. In plural. I had experienced enough of it before I touched adulthood. Yet, at 23, when a man I loved hit me, I knew something was wrong. Was it the force of his blow, right across […]
In a conversation with new cup users, I went looking for the chronicle I knew I’d written and realised I’d never published it. So here goes for my menstruating peeps, hope it helps! This is a recap and my learnings on my cup journey. I am very happy, now that I’ve figured out how to […]