Recognizance

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I’m two months and three days away from my 35th birthday. For most of my life, birthdays meant very little to me, apart from having to explain the blues to whichever significant other present at that time, that it was just additional, once-a-year-special, PMS. In the past decade, the dread-word has turned into an uplifting experience, where my inner scheme-r saunters out, comfortably, to shake hands with my (rarely-seen) inner goddess. For the past decade, I’ve been a mum. I’m the one who schemes the surprises, drops huge and mostly fake, hints, and fawns herself like a goddess every time my two boys beg and plead for more clues to the promised bounty as their eyes gleam bright with hope and joy. I like their birthdays, wait-breathlessly even. Mine, not yet, not by a mile.

The blues descend at unexpected intervals. A few years in between, they only came around to help me clear-up after the party. And quickly departed, like awkward conversations. Sometimes, they turned into squatters, living inside my chest, anchoring my breaths and joining in the chorus of the woman who has taken up permanent residence in my brain.

This year, they’ve upped the ante. My birthday is weeks away, but I’m already reeling from the demands of my needy, uninvited guests. Who needs to do a SWOT analysis, when you’ve got the shrink and her entire community of mirror-holders holed up inside you?

So here’s where I stand. I’m going to be 35. I’m a woman, although there’s not much of the sacred feminine in me. I’m not a nurturer or comforter, things that are just fine as long as they don’t gang up with that mommy-guilt bitch. But this is not self-pity, it’s digressing. Back to the recognizance list.

I’m going to be 35. My body feels and looks older: roughly 10 pounds over weight, a c-section-worthy tummy pouch, and I look like one big, chunky, zebra-crossing, from my chest to my thighs. Atleast my stretch marks make for good you-owe-me-your-life-tricks. Does the fact that my babies think they scratched and shredded me from the inside, mean that I’ll have to set aside some money for their PTSD therapy? Maybe. Atleast I’m getting a good laugh for now.

So, I’m going to be 35, and I don’t look like how I would have liked to look at any age: hot and cool, at the same time. I’m not on top of my career game, although I don’t know if I’m the career-type. I’ve done my bit of corporate dressing, and working from home sometimes brings in the sweetest kind of work satisfaction, dressed in my jammies. But I could have been more. More more. This is perhaps the only time in my life that I regret my lack of ambition.

I was raised, perhaps un-knowingly, on steady doses of greatness. Not just you-did-a-great-job-kinda greatness. Change the world, impact a billion-lives-kinda greatness. Generous doses of the need-for-the-sublime. A carousel of what-if’s and could-be’s that waited for me to clamber on. It could be a brilliant professional career that was jet-setting and yet conscientious. It could be the books that I wrote in my head that were just waiting for bleeding hearts around the world to hum to them. It could be the invention of the next big thing or the great big cure. It could be the kind of love that old movies were made of, the kind were someone sang to me the songs that my brain had not yet written. Okay, I can see that I was borderline-delusional. But it was childhood, right? The delusional bit was what made it magical.

I hate these half-found definitions that say childhood ends at teenage. I don’t agree. I don’t think mine has ended entirely, since I’m being honest, at 11:58am in the morning, without a drop of liquid courage in my system. A few days ago I caught myself whining to the folks currently raising me, about how I’d be able to do something better, or plan better, when I’m grown up. Their indulgent smiles only spurred the panic attack that followed the realisation that I’m a soon-to-be middle-ager who is still waiting to grow up. I didn’t even need the gawd-what-kind-of-a-mother-am-I trip switch, this time.

Any how, I’m going to be 35, don’t have the body or the professional high I currently covet, am still hungover from delusions-induced-seeking, and am a lousy matador to the bull called life. I continue to feel like the rolling-stone that would have loved to gather some moss. Green moss, real-estate moss, stuck-with-super-glue kinda dependable moss.

The good part about being my kind of morose is that I don’t need a solution or an answer or a quick fix. I already know how to fix this, or most of this, atleast. I only need you to be quiet and read this while the bitch in my brain wants to know why I’m at this particular crossroads every year, when I have the bloody map in my hands. I like alliteration, bitch, I scream back. Birthday Blues Beckon. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

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Where Eagles Dare

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Since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to eagles. Maybe it was because they flew higher than any other bird I’d seen, wings stretched out proudly under a blazing, unforgiving sun. Perhaps it was the hypnotic, concentric circles they flew in: riding the invisible whirlpool of the wind without the slightest flap of their wings. To me, they were ethereal and powerful, unruffled by the humans who abounded around them.

It was much later in life that I learnt I shared another connect with them, a far more personal one. My granddad, known to most as Dr Kripalu, and to us, who inherited his many books, as the M.G. Kripalu (always written in perfect cursive that grew slightly shaky as he aged) who we called Bapuji, was named after one such mythical eagle. Mysore Garudachar Kripalu, he of the keen eyes and lofty personality, carried with him in a foreign land, memories of his sweet-smelling Mysore and the blessings of his family deity, Garuda, in more ways than one.

The year I turned 30, my mother took me to the see the God who gave Bapuji his name. In a tiny temple in the tiny town of Bindiganavile, I saw the part human-part bird Garuda, who seemed achingly familiar to me. Was it because he shared the same proud, erect nose as my granddad? Was it because he found his purpose in serving Vishnu, the way my granddad found his in serving animals? Of the many feelings I felt that day, there was also a small sense of validation that perhaps I was more eagle than I knew.

But I forgot, as I tend to forget often, that I am a particular gender. The many bloodlines that run in me, don’t matter. The evolution-proof quirks and inherited features, the assimilated north and south and west, don’t matter. Garuda is not mine to claim. I lost him when my mother married my father and inherited a fiery Goddess called Bahucharaji. She learnt to love Her, the same way my grandmum learnt to love Garuda after she gave up her beloved Venkateshwara. And I lost all of them, when I married a man from another faith. Perhaps that’s why, my relationship with deities has always been a troubled one.

Every year, as I sit with for the annual pooja of the family deity, I search for Garuda and Venkateshwara and Bahuchraji in the Jain ritual stripped of idolatry. On a square, wooden board, etched in polka dots and lines drawn by the husband’s pudgy fingers, is the Gotrej Ma who I now turn to for the protection of my babies. She is spoken to in a language that is foreign to me, and I’ve learnt to curb my aching for form and familiarity, and see beyond the primordial drawing, to recreate the same affection I feel for the king of birds.

Faith is personal: the faces and names enshrined within me, are mine to keep or to discard. But it irks me that for society, a woman’s faith, can only be an inherited one. As a daughter she must put her faith in the one her father worships; as a wife, in the one her husband claims.

A single, high-pitched call pierces through the thick heat of a summer morning. I’m nowhere near a window, but I instinctively look up at the ceiling, a smile on my lips.

‘Anyatha sharanam Nasti tvameva sharanam mama, Tasmat karunya bhavena raksha raksha Janardhana.‘ There is no refuge but me, no other benefactor than me, for I am both the protector and the preserver of my world. Ethereal, powerful, the wind waits for me, willing me to rise, unruffled. The eagle in me, calls me home.

On Being Unmoored

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It takes so little, so unexpectedly, to set you adrift. I seek my anchors afresh, every day, but on some days, the very things that weigh me down, cut me loose, spiraling and breathless.

I woke up this morning to a birthday alert of a friend who passed away two years ago. Although his death was not unexpected (is death ever unexpected?), the timing definitely was. He had finally gotten a healthy donor for a kidney transplant, his vitals were doing better than ever. We’d made plans to catch up for a meal before he left for his home, Calcutta, a city I’ve loved and yearned for, without actually ever understanding why. See you soon, he had said. He would have been 45 today.

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Suspended by faith: The Howrah bridge over the Ganges, masquerading as the Hooghly. Calcutta, 2015.

Tallying bills is a definite recipe for unmooring, so I won’t detail my anguish and angst about how money makes me nauseous, when I wish it really made me giddy.

Then there’s this poem I came across, a sliver that put something that can’t be moulded, into words:

Self-Potrait by AK Ramanujan 

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Sehnsucht

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A sea of trees,
bound by a wall of grief
under a bleeding sun.
The wailing wind
rides on growing whispers;
swelling,
suffocating.

The empty tread
of a forgotten song
sears the flickering light.
Shadows and demons
come out to play
in cracks and crevices:
the haze of the future played out in the past.

The moon waits, patiently,
feeding on
memories that returned with no last-known.

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Sehnsucht (n., origin: German)
“The inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what”; a yearning for a far, familiar, non-earthly land one can identify as one’s home.

A survivor’s memory

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Like a war-time photographer, I’m suspended over me as I type this, burrowing away for posterity the hot tears that roll down furiously. Why are goodbye’s so tough? Absences so immediate?

There’s a lot of quiet inside me today, the kind of quiet that is heavy, leaden. The usual cacophony of thoughts and counter-thoughts has eased up enough for me to feel the full ache of a freshly-carved hollow. Somewhere inside, an air bubble is fighting with a suppressed wail.

Although each absence is unique, I use the same palette of emotions and expressions to deal with them, differing in the intensity of the hues perhaps, but limited by what I feel, always.

I’ve a survivor’s memory. A memory that heals/forgets/blanks out hollows so I can live, thrive, be foolish all over again. It’s helped me love again, and again.

That is why I write, perhaps. So I can remember and love a a little less.

It reminds me of an anchor: rusty iron holding on stubbornly to ever-shifting sands. Why do we need anchors, mama, the first-born once asked me. So the ship can stop in the middle of the vast ocean, and just stand and stare, I said. But why, he persisted, not satisfied.

When he was younger and saw me crying, he needed tangible answers, causes, hurts, events. Now, he slides in next to me, patting my hand, saying, I know, ‘just’.

What are the good days to be a writer?

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Days when the wind is the song you need: soft for melancholy, gusty for affirmative, sweet smelling for hope.

Days when cigarettes, one after the other, don’t match up to the sheer trip of the new idea that has lodged itself in your brain.

Days when the battle has won, but you remain, bloodied and in tatters, hot tears balled in defiance or with a white flag sometimes; near the end, but not quite dead, as wisdom and agony compete to register first on your soul, and you become your own Prometheus.

The fall of the last refuge

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Sneaking in
unheard,
quietly creeping below the duvet folds,
they lie
motion-less
next to me.

Waiting,
patiently.
Endlessly.

Unaware, cocooned in my ignorance,
I surrender to sleep,
my defenses logging out,
slowly.
The fire of the fight
ebbs out,
methodically.

The attack begins at dawn:
nibbling through my brain,
they reach my soul,
swarming over,
pervading the darkest corners.

A plague of hope.
Those damn dreams:
back from banishment, again.

Keyboard-For-Hire

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Yesterday I sent a young boy to his first dance, his mother’s pride wrapped around him to shield him from the cold of a world he has entered too soon. Two days ago, I paid homage to a woman I’ve never met, and before that, I made bouquets of someone else’s love and affection. As they dance, aspire, make love, smile, do they remember that my words watch over them, quietly, bringing me the stories I’ve written but not always lived?

Words to watch over holiday-glows and college admission dreams, warming new homes and selling hot hope, slivers of promise and paradise and permanence.

Today I will make someone cry, with words sheathed in longing and despair and abandonment; slow, deep, methodical slashes of a pain that is not mine. Two days later I will resurrect a lost dream, prop its weary bones with the blood of my words.

The words watch over me too, quietly, not always patiently: an unwitting medium who builds them a life that can be erased with a single tap.

Letters from the Battlefield – I

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It’s that time of the year again, Big Guy, when happiness equates the money in my wallet.

I seek happiness yet again, a cold fear creeping in my heart, reminding me to steel myself and mine for joy in dust and mended possessions, in the smiles of my children and the possessions of others.

What did my grandmother teach me about this time of the year, I wonder again and again. She never equated it with money: and yet how has it become the anvil of my joy? She was bereft of a home too, as I am, but her prayers never turned to beseeching, her gratitude was never tinged with longing.

You test me, giving me the chances I’ve sought to evolve, and yet I implore you to make it easy for me, I ask you to allow me these temporary joys that deviate me from the purpose of my soul. I stand scared; I have not the fire in my faith to withstand the hammering that will shape your vessel.

Forgive me, Good One, I let you down every day and yet I ask to remain lost for the strength to battle ebbs from my heart, and the hurdles in my path are insurmountable in my weary eyes. I cannot fight today, I cannot stay up long enough to witness your miracle. Give me my illusions, my trappings, my shortsighted joys, my temporary quests. Let me win this battle and lose the war.