I miss being in love. The feeling that saves you in the morning, one minute after you awaken into a mundane day. That stomach-clenching, gut-wrenching, breath-stopping, cliche-spewing sensation that surprises you often. That nervous, embarassing cloud that surrounds you and feels strangely good. I miss it.
No. Missing being in love is just loneliness, the lonely of not having a dream to inspire and carry you over life’s utter mundanity. It isn’t quite that, even if I am lonely.
I miss how easy it used to be to fall in love. I miss its effortlessness. I miss not even knowing that it could be an effort.
I feel my age now. In my body, some, yes. But mostly in this tiredness. I worry more about being hurt. Whether my sentiments are reciprocated or not matter more to me now than they ever did. And even if I now know I will survive heartache and pain, I just don’t feel I have the patience for it anymore.
What do you when you tire of the effort of living, when you don’t know if you have the will any more for the very thing that makes life, worth living? You start to get old, to decay.
Last month, I injured my foot and sustained a fracture. I pushed myself, my independent self, into diagnosis, medication and healing. Then I strapped on an ugly bandage, unwieldy boots and a grim look to face my days’ schedule. I’ve been alone the past few weeks.
Exactly one friend checked in on me. The others were busy, caught up in their own lives and my family was out of the country. I asked myself if I was being heroic. Indeed I have that flashy, drama queen streak to me. But this wasn’t it. There is no glory in surviving a lone existance.
I wanted to see what the rest of my life was going to look like. Here’s what I found. A steady, peaceable existance, devoid of drama or much fluctuations. I barely noticed when day turned to night and vice versa. I didn’t hurt, didn’t worry, didn’t frown, didn’t nothing.
The house is full again and I have complete mobility now. Nothing stops me from going out and meeting people now. And in two days I’ve experienced hurt, awkwardness, discomfort, worry, irritation, anger and bitterness. I don’t like my city, don’t feel home here. My social circle makes me restless, not invigorated. And living feels like such an effort all over again. I think I’m better off cocooned in complete solitude than a world devoid of the chance for love.
The day stretches on like a chewing gum that’s lost its flavour a long time ago. Yet, you won’t spit it out. Maybe you’ll swallow it and feel a twinge of guilt as you remember your biology teacher telling you that it’ll stick to the inside of your stomach and ruin your digestion. Memories of school always depress you. How can anyone call them ‘the best years of their lives’? Such horrible lives those people must have now. They must be lying. All you remember of school is sarcastic teachers, leering bullies and the breath-choking fear that a single red mark can produce.
It’s a hot day, the kind you’ve missed the past two months, feeling awkwardly guilty about it since the whole world is waxing eloquent about how nice it is to have winter in this city for a change. But all it makes you want to do is close your eyes and go back to sleep. If only the blanket didn’t feel so prickly. The delicious comfort of the woolen blanket is gone with January. Now you feel slightly disloyal to summer.
With massive effort, the kind that no one else could possibly understand or appreciate, you heave out of bed and brush your teeth. You remember to water the plants, trying hard to smile at the fact that the basil leaves planted a week ago are finally taking root. But as you move away from the window, your smile drops like actors must drop their costumes the minute they’re off-camera. In the brooding non-thinking that follows, you manage to tidy up the room, make the bed and run a load of wash. Enthused by the thought that maybe that was just waking up grumpiness that ailed you and that activity will make you feel better, you run a second round of wash on the cotton sheets. Time to clean them and get them ready for summer. Yeah Yeah! Yeah! The washing machine rings and gets running and shows that it’ll take 67 minutes for the ‘Blanket’ cycle of the wash. *Sigh*
Twelve minutes are successfully wasted checking email, messages and comments. When the phone rings, it’s forty minutes over already. And you’re trolling weird articles on random sites, feeling shittier at the thought of the scumbags who share the online world – and the offline – with you. The phone is jumping up at you, admonishing you for your useless, wasted little life. You stare at it, defiance being all that you have the energy for. And you hit ‘Silence’ vindictively. But the flashing light even on the muted phone gives you no sense of real satisfaction.
Satisfaction, that’s an elusive concept. Do you even remember what that felt like? You must have been satisfied once. You must have been happy once. You’re usually a happy person. That’s how the world knows you. And does it?
You’re all alone in the white-yellow brightness, in the throbbing aliveness of summer. Then the doorbell rings and you know you’re not. You’ll never be alone just when you want to be left alone. Enough already. Defiance deepens to something else. The heat behind your eyelids is sinking down into your breath. And suddenly you remember how to turn that into energy. You could be a poster-child for both, Freud and Einstein.
The doorbell is still ringing, the sounds getting closer. You imagine the doorbell getting pushed…the finger that pushes it…jabs it…RING….RING…RRRRIIINNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGG.
That’s the last thing you remember.
“No more questions, milord.”
This post also appears on Social Mantra.
“It is such a secret place, the land of tears.”
– The Little Prince, Antonie St.Exupery
What shall I do when I find myself lost, without a map or sign of redemption?
And how will I remember that there are those who await my return,
When the darkness wraps me, leaving just a knife-edge sliver of light to show my downfall?
I know the sound of two hands clapping and sometimes I try to figure out the sound of one hand clapping (as the Zen koan goes). But recently I’ve discovered the sound of loneliness.
What is the sound of loneliness?
It isn’t silence.
Some of us actively seek silence. Some of us like solitude. But that’s aloneness, not loneliness.
Lonely is feeling invisible in a crowd. Or unheard in the melee. Lonely is when you want to talk to someone…anyone…and all you can hear is telephones ringing and no one to pick them up. Lonely is when you want to talk to one person only and everyone in the world but that person wants to talk to you.
The sound of a telephone ringing till it gets cut is the loneliest sound in the world. Whichever end you are at.
We live in cold storage during the week, shutting away emotions, fears, aches and fevers till such a time that we can experience them ‘on our own time’. And then the weekend is when it all comes back….like trying to live all of the previous five days in these two. Of course the weekend really starts on Friday evening.
I hate crowds. I feel suffocated in groups larger than three. Strange since I live such a crowded life. But that’s just clutter – bodies, masses of breathing carbon moving around me. The real people are the ones who are greater than rituals, more meaningful than furniture, more unpredictable than habits. They make me feel. Too much. Not more than three at a time, please….it is positively decadent luxury. Like starving through the week and then feasting like a glutton after that. An average human being could die of that in the non-metaphorical world.
Fridays are often a plethora of impressions, a crazy psychedelia of emotions. People I missed so much and suddenly find I feel not a thing for, sudden realization of how much I love someone, accidentally bumping into those I was petrified of and now I find myself getting bored with, a gnawing emptiness when unaccountably I miss someone at the most inopportune moment, an inexplicable sense of loss of someone sitting right in front of me, annoyance over ill-timed but not unwanted affection, deep mirth over the hysterical irony of life’s situations. It is that instantly suffocating smell of smoke that I’ve never quite gotten used to, the headiness of a slight alcohol high that I’m constantly playing hide-and-seek with, the giddiness of meaningless jokes and deep conversations sleeping together. It is like not being able to tell green from blue and periodically getting stuck in a turquoise tapestry.
So I suddenly shot out, on the pretense of ‘taking a walk’. It felt more like those days in a swimming pool, trying to stay under the water the longest, learning to deal with the burning eyes and lungs that felt like they’d explode. An almost imagined movement at the corner of my eye would make me wonder (always) if the stories were true and there were strange, magical creatures at the bottom. And then, suddenly, I was tearing for breath, like even being conscious of that forbidden idea meant that I had to be expelled from Wonderland. So thrashing, I’d make it back to the top, breaking the surface of water just in time to put all such stupidity out of my mind. But I never really forgot. This is what it feels like, all these years later.
The moment I walked out, was like that moment of instant clarity, of great gasps of air free for me to breathe. The grand tapestry crystallized into a good comfortable sepia film. And as always I knew, that I never wanted to be a part of the other world again. I stood and watched the sea across the road, for how long I cannot tell. The cars seem to zoom past, not quite real but a film running by that I could walk through anytime I wanted, only I’d tear the screen if I did and there wouldn’t be any more film to watch.
I told someone once that I wished I had a job that let me work through the night, alone, when everyone else slept, without having to talk to or meet anybody else…and sleep through the day when the world was awake. ‘Escapism’ is what he called it. Is it?
You know how people keep telling you to ‘just be yourself’? Well that ain’t quite possible sometimes. For what if your self is nothing more than the capacity to conceive infinite new images and facades? A talent, a capability, a tendency to create…that’s all. Not a creation or a being or a tangible characteristic itself. Well all I want is to be myself then. Apart, distant, while close enough to see and even feel…just a bit. But able to switch off the impressions when it got to be too much.
From across the years an almost forgotten voice of a friend comes calling, “Don’t worry so much, little one. Some day you’ll learn how not to be swayed this way and that way by the vagaries of life. It will come with time.” Still waiting.
Then my phone buzzed. Blurry-visioned (though not from tears), I saw my hand move slow-motion almost to read. A text from the only person in the group I thought had any genuine affection for me.
And without another thought, not a backward glance at my sepia film, I just turned and walked back in. Love is everything then. It is really all that binds me to this world, that holds me back. I now understand why they call it a bond. When it tugs at me, no matter how close I am to achieving nirvana, I come back. Invisible silver threads weave me into the turquoise tapestry.
Friday evening and I was leaving work. Later than expected, about 3 hours later than I’d have wished. I got into the cab and paused for those brief seconds that are those rare occurances in a Mumbaiker’s day when he or she thinks of absolutely nothing. Then snapping back into action, I pulled out my phone and dialed. At any point of time, I have a list of people that I absolutely have to call/ call back and have not had the time to, earlier. Connectivity is only leading to disconnectivity. I tackle these calls on the otherwise unproductive commute.
Network not available.
Oh damn, did they suddenly take my ISD facility off? Must remember to check. Ah, well, next number.
Damn, this must be the middle of day rush for his workday. Will have to call later on my way back.
Ring ring ring…
Meeting? Date? Train? Loud nightclub? Who knows? At least the call went through….she’s just going to have to call me back when she sees the missed call. And I hope I hear it when she does.
And that is when it hit me. I was flying over the flyover. It always felt like flying. At least it used to, when I used to look out of the window and actually see things. That’s why it is called a flyover, isn’t it? Because you fly over it. 🙂 Instinctively I reached for my scarf to tie my hair out of tangles’ way. And then impulsively I let it be….who’d notice, it is supposed to be wind-swept anyway!
The back of the taxi was silent. The traffic to my right but blurring faintly. The bright lights…street lamps, hoardings, car headlights moved to me and brushed past. I can’t explain it. Perhaps I had just chanced on a rare moment of perfection in this perfection-obsessed but so-very-imperfect city. We were cruising along just at the right speed, not so slow as to stretch my miniscule patience, not fast enough for it to seem like reckless driving. Just the right pace to watch the city approach and pass me by as I passed it by.
I thought of my friend who moved into the city a few months back. Over a conversation of why she quit a promising job and a fun city, she told me that she was trying to make a fresh start after breaking up with her live-in boyfriend. I nodded sympathetically, thinking of memories ingrained in places that we’ve shared with other people. But she corrected me when she said,
You know, in most places, it really hits you how lonely you are, how much you miss having someone…anyone. But in Mumbai, you don’t. It is hard to be lonely here.
Suddenly all this while later, I understand. It isn’t that there is a lot of companionship here, it is just that you don’t miss it. Friends lay scattered across the globe or even in the same city, it’s like they’re all on different planets. Relationships, like everything else are finite, limited and on-the-go. And yet, work is a balm to injured egos and thwarted affections. The daily bumps and scratches of commuting dull the pain of loss.
But above all….if there are cities made for lovers, places meant for families, Mumbai is the place for individuals. You are permitted to be as mundane or as extraordinary as you want. There is enough to replace what people in other places call the best things in life. It hits you in the middle of a perfect moment when you realise that you have no need, no desire to share it with any particular person. You are complete in yourself and the moment. Why then am I writing this here? Yes, perhaps I do need to share the experience….but rather than hold it in a quiet, intimate bond with another person, I throw it out into the faceless open of strangers. What was lived, was mine alone and the experience can be shared with anyone, everyone. Everyone is equal and hence no one is special. I feel complete in myself and in the moment.
Loneliness after all, is an incompleteness, a feeling of being stretched, of being one person having to fill the space meant for two. But I don’t feel that way very often. If anything, true Mumbaiker like, I am constantly trying to fit too much into too little. A lot of ideas into one blog, a lot of sharing in one timed conversation, a lot of friends into one limited social circle, a lot of living in one small life. I am so much more me than I have the time or energy or space to be.
You can’t lose yourself in the crowd here, it just just you and you as far as the eye can see. Your choices, your opportunities, your alter egos, your mistakes, your rewards, your life.
That beggar at the signal, is who I am glad not to be. The laughing couple is who I have been once, but so long ago that it is like childhood memories, so sepia-tinted thta I am not sure if they actually happened or I just imagined it. Even memories I have to places I shared with loved ones, are so steeped in tender emotion, so special, never shared, never to be shared with another person.
If there ever was a place to learn the value of solitude, to start to fall in love with yourself, it is this. True, it really is hard to be lonely in Mumbai. This is a city for one.