Tree you are.
Swaying by the cliff
Your roots sunk deep
In the hidden crevices
Of rock.
Strong. Dark. Impenetrable.
The winds whip your leaves.
In the light of endless sunsets.
It’s all play to you.
Wind and gale
Only a gentle breeze.
Tree you are.
The changing seasons
Mere reasons to grow
Flower. Fruit. Wisdom.
Tree you are.
Life you are.

This poem was written for my BabyVat.

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Untitled by Suma Bhat

The sun was young
And earth raw
When it all began
By the street corner, over coffee and cigarettes
They found out how they liked their beer
Chilled, and bajjis, steaming
And their love for reading, words and
The longing for the pain and joy in the abstract
That flower there, that rock, that vulgar colour
Or that child with tousled hair
The wind on a sticky face
All these that made the hearts race

But the sun grew colder, consumed
By his own importance
And the earth bled
A little at a time
And wilted in the cold
Earth was lost as she wondered
What had made the sun turn distant
For days and months she writhed
Replaying an effrontery, a slight
A hurt she did not cause, until
She realised that’s what the damned sons do
Blow hot, blow cold, mostly self-serve
And pin the blame on others, what nerve!

You suns are so vain
You erupt, burn and dance
Only to die a cold death
I may burn with you, perhaps die too
Only to be born elsewhere
To make another sun come to life
I am the earth
I was built to last; for endurance.

About Suma Bhat

Suma is from the Chimpanzees of Bangalore Writers Workshop. You can read more work from this brilliant friend of mine at Suma Rambles. Read her recently published short story, Girls Come Home.

Suma is a writer to watch out for, and you heard about her from me. Remember.

Suma and I have been in touch for over three years now, and we do it the old-fashioned way – through long emails, and reading work by each other. This time, Suma wrote to me saying, “I truly wrote it with the one intention of filling you with a bit of cheer.”

Thank you, Suma. You have no idea how much you and this mean to me. And how fabulous this makes me feel.

About Paeans for the Pain

When a BWWer writes me something special, it goes here.
Why do they do it?
I don’t know, but I am, to put it simply, eternally grateful and so absolutely overwhelmed always.

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krishna stains me black
I look one night and there we are.
He is me and I am him
Stained together in black.
Stars twinkle
in the wild darkness
That is us.

That black is us.
Entwined together,
Running parallel
He and I
Seeking colours
We play with many hues
He and I
Our words stumble yellow
Blush pink, burn red
glow purple, and dissolve
In an endless ocean as blue.

In the white frothy expanse of the galaxy, he is I and I am him.
And we are stained black.
Void and complete – an entire universe.

Posted in Blue Funk, Happy Days, Idle Thoughts, Intoxication Induced | 1 Comment


The words,
O is right. Followed by N.
Then, E.
What’s that word?
Like poof.
In those books
You know what books?
The books with pictures.
For children usually.
Comics. Yes. Like comics.
O gods.
It’s such an easy word.
You know, I am actually an articulate person.
That’s a big word.
I used a big word just now.
I know this. It’s a simple word.
You know that’s why this is scary.
I am losing my words.
Can you hear me?
Am I speaking?
See? I can’t tell what’s real.
Everything feels real and unreal.
Like a dream.
No, not a dream.
A a cauchemar
How can I remember a French word!
It started with the spinning.
Then I was in the washing machine.
They told me that I fainted.
A few seconds.
I don’t remember.
I don’t know what is happening.
I want to tell you.
I want to talk to you.
It’s very very frightening.
I don’t know if I am coming
Or going.
But it’s the words.
They are surely going.
Like you have gone away.
Because life is busy.
Work is hectic.
Dates fuck with your life.
New people beckon.
Don’t they?
Till one day.
They just go.
What IS that word?
It’s a D word.
Like a thing in a fantasy story.
You know.
That thing. Everyone does it. Easiest thing to do in fantasy.
Thank the goddess.
It’s a trope in fantasy.
It just goes.
This is like that game.
Picture game.
What’s it called, the game?
Only I am not painting
any pictures
with my words anymore, am I?
Of course I am crying.
I can’t remember my words.
I have lost my words.
My senses.
My sanity.
See. I’m talking to myself.
Am I not?
Because there’s no one else.
Listen in.
That word.
It’s what’sthatword?
It’s a song.
I am sure of that.
Yes! A Metallica song.
One minute I have them there
And the next
They just go.
And all that criticism, you know.
No love.
Just diss.
Fade works, no?
It’s a D word.

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La Vie en Violet: huitième partie

Around now, I begin to suspect the frequent changes to my medication.

My psychiatrist told me that my anxiety is a result of all my other illnesses. In that sense, it’s pretty organic and not a result of anything emotional. Having autoimmune disorders makes one more prone to anxiety. And it’s not the other way around. I am shocked. But once I am out of my consultation, I realise that this is typical doctor speak.

No doctor ever holds their disease responsible for anything.

Being on immunosuppresants to deal with her Rheumatoid Arthritis is what led my mother to have cancer. But my rheumatologist will say one has nothing to do with the other. My gynecologist says that I can have a baby even if I use condoms, even though I have hypothyroidism and PCOD. No sweat. The only issue I might face in conceiving a baby is because of the medication I take for rheumatoid arthritis. And my endocrinologist says that my weight issues are not because of hypothyroidism but PCOD and the fact that I don’t consume only 10 calories a day.


They never want to see it all holistically. And they never want to take any responsibility even if they are the best doctors you can find. I don’t care for alternative healing so I am stuck with allopathy. That’s why people like me have no other option but to become quacks ourselves.

I know my body and my mind and so I start seeing changes in how I am feeling about people and work. The irritation is mostly gone. I find that I am genuinely interested in another’s point of view. I grow inordinately fond (given current head space) of my BWW batch. I handle my corporate assignments with little stress.

But I need to sleep in the mornings for a good four hours or so after breakfast. I work my schedule so I can accommodate this new quirk.

I get invited to IIT Delhi to give a talk on creative writing. I determine that I want to make it a hands-on session with very definite takeaways for the participants. My head whirls with what I will say and how I will say it. It’s not my first time to Delhi, perhaps my sixth or seventh, but I have never really seen the sights. This time I will. It will be a great break. I decide to stay with a BWW student who has been inviting me ever since she moved there. I am excited about getting to know her better as a friend. This trip seems godsent.

I am prepared two days before I am due to leave. I have organised my life and work to perfection – like in the good old days. I feel little strain. My only niggling concern is the new prescription for a drug used only for depression. I am not depressed. My friend and I decide that I must get a second opinion after I am back from Delhi.

The day to leave arrives and I realise that I actually don’t want a holiday. My corporate assignments need my attention. There’s so much I have put off so I can work when I am better and the to-do lists make me guilty. I swallow the guilt and reach the airport fairly early.

The panic swirls inside me on just entering the airport. I am trying to walk tall like one should. It’s easy with the heels. And I immediately miss my best friend who has been in communicado for a few months now. He won’t talk to me or even attempt to resolve our issues or even give me closure. I feel pathetically stuck. We don’t put it behind us and move forward, nor do we truly fight it out. I am incapable of going on normally without him even when I am going on normally without him. At the airport, I am reminded of him a little too potently. It’s worse that we had idly talked about seeing the sights of Delhi together once.

My heart has started its crazy rhythm. I join the check-in queue which is ridiculously long for Air India and tell myself to breathe and not stress myself thinking of heartaches now. Unnecessary.
But that’s when this man comes up behind me in the queue and starts talking on the phone. He talks to a friend in Sydney about how he has discovered himself after quitting his job, how they were mostly clowns and now it strikes him, now that he’s no longer there and having to dance and suck up to the goras. His voice is annoying, a little whiny, a little desperately seeking reassurance, and listening to him, the hysteria bubbles in me.

Everything is so visceral. I can feel the arch of my legs from my heels, the way my breasts rise and fall as I am trying to breathe, and the tears at the corner of my eyes threatening to overpower me. His voice surrounds me everywhere, magnifies. I feel incredibly alone standing amidst so many people in the Bangalore airport. I feel like I am an open, bubbling wound. The tears drip down my cheeks in panic.

I call a friend who answers but puts me on speaker in a car filled with people I don’t know too well. I am hurt and desperate but I can’t subject myself to the indignity of breaking down in front of mere acquaintances. I hang up.

I feel as if I have no one else to call. My mother will freak out. It’s not fair to worry my parents. My friends in the US who know and understand my attacks would be sleeping. I can’t think of a single person to call. I can’t think at all. I feel dizzy, helpless, angry.

I have forgotten my headphones at home. I curse myself. The man drones on and on in his loud and whiny voice about life, the world, and Facebook. Can I scratch him and throw away his phone? Will they arrest me then? What will happen? Just then he says, ‘deewaron ke bhi kaan hote hain’ meaning even walls have ears and how you never know who is listening. I want to snap a ‘honey, the whole fucking queue, that’s who.’ He brags about the new softwares he’s using. This time I see that even others in the queue are annoyed by him. It’s not just me, I reassure myself. My fury is normal, if a little disproportionate.

The queue stays put. We aren’t moving. I imagine conversing with my estranged man. We would bitch about the inefficient Air India ground staff. It calms me. I am sure that I will miss my flight. That also calms me because if I miss my flight IIT Delhi will just cancel the event. I dream of sitting somewhere at the airport after buying a coffee and smoking and bawling my eyes out. Then I will go home. Then I can sleep, eat food, watch insipid TV. Look sorry when someone talks about this missed opportunity. But I will be happy. Burnout? Or anxiety? Or is it depression now? But they call for the Delhi flight. By now, I am crying into my hair. In spite of everything, I check-in easily. I walk to the security tall and bouncing and I can feel the stares. I ignore all people coldly. Even security gets done. My friend has called and left many messages by now. I ignore her. I dream of ignoring her through the entire trip because I feel irrationally betrayed.

I catch myself marching and hear my friend’s voice. ‘You have checked-in. They have to wait for you.’ So I go buy water. I am parched.

I finally reach my gate and call my friend. I tell her about my panic and how I am mad at her. The tears are furiously rushing down my face, into my T-shirt. I hang up telling her I don’t want to talk now. A few people notice. I try to look like something fell in my eye. I don’t think I convince anyone.

I look away and try to breathe. I just keep breathing till the tears stop. People are openly staring at me. I hold my head high and walk into the restroom. In the mirror, my eyes look swollen and intense.

When I get out after ineffectually splashing water, they are about to start boarding. The tears start again. I swallow them. I head to the queue, board the flight swallowing lumps in my throat. Maybe if I cried it out, it will be fine. If my seat is a window seat, I might be able to cry. But the flight is terribly crowded and I don’t have the window seat. I am in the middle of two men speaking Bengali and I know one of them wants to desperately get to know me because he is friendly like that. I try friendly but aloof and close my eyes, but the tears well up. So I decide to write. It helps. But the man finally interrupts, ‘Madam, you are continuously writing, I am sure you are a writer.’ Someone is playing the Vishnusahasranama by MS. I wonder if my suffering or grief is richly deserved. What god wilfully creates suffering?

The seats are comfortable but the men spread. I spread right away too. I don’t care that they touch me. They can touch me. No one will ever touch me.

After maybe an hour, I am fine. Raw. Torn. Bleeding on the inside. But outside no one would ever know what I have just been through. I see how my relationships become an excuse to wreck me.

Delhi is sweltering and muggy. My ambition to look like a hardass Punjabi woman melts in the heat and I look like a wet Mallu porn star as I wait for my pick-up at the airport. Once I settle in to my room, I allow myself to bawl and completely fall apart talking to my friend on the phone. I lie awake till 4 am, writing, crying, and even praying. I know then that I can’t stay in Delhi and do a holiday.

I conduct my session the next day at noon. It’s a success. My friend books me on a flight back to Bangalore. I am in Delhi for just one more night. I am happy to get out of that miserable city.

At my friend’s place, we eat, catch-up, share stories, and meditate. The meditation puts me in a happy zone.

I reach the Delhi airport the next day at 4.15 pm for a 6.50 pm flight. It helps. I am at ease. Neither the noise nor the crowd bothers me this time. I pat myself for braving a crowd so soon.

I decide then that I must share these experiences with people. The intent is awareness. This too can happen. This is how it plays out. This is how you can attempt to deal with it. My posts get me a little sympathy (Thank you, but no thanks) but mostly it’s as if there’s an epidemic. People dealing with panic attacks, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts… They share and instead of annoyance, my heart bleeds with them. We talk doctors and medications. We exchange stories. I feel purposeful. I am happy that I can write and that my words can bring people to open up. It’s humbling.

Students from IIT Delhi add me on Facebook and share stories about their journeys. I am not irritated by the intrusion at all. A distraught boy talks to me about his painful break-up. It tells me unequivocally that even when I was worse than a train wreck, I was able to do justice to my passion. For once, I am proud of my ability to work and write when my world is falling apart.

I should not do crowds and I need to stay away from anything that could make me feel even a little stuck. But even so, the next attack is probably around the corner.

Life ahead will be filled with more experimentation of illnesses and drugs, I am sure. But for now, I have found my purpose and passion again. I have been able to take charge of my situation and control the experience so my anxiety and panic attacks have become empowering.

For now, and for all of us who deal with chronic suffering, it’s enough.

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La vie en Violet: septième partie

Resignation is a curious thing to surrender to. What it does is that it saps you of the will to live. I think I am depressed because I wake up in the morning one day and groan that the world didn’t end the previous night. I refuse to get up. My phone tells me that it is just 6 am. So I decide to turn on to my other side and go back to sleep. Only I cannot turn!

The thought of the effort involved in turning exhausts me. I lie the same way, waiting for the energy to return. I am so gone by now in my own head that I don’t even realize that this behaviour is alarming.

Days go on with the fight kicking back every now and then. I get the energy to run classes, create modules, plan other activities, look at hiring and training more facilitators for BWW so that someday I might not have to teach if I don’t want to. On the surface, everything is hunky-dory and normal with what I decide are a few bad low-energy days. I explain that away because I am emotionally a little distraught still for I am constantly thinking of my important relationships that have gone south.

My parents are so worried about me that they both shrink into themselves and start to resemble old, weather-beaten birds. My father starts to forget things more often. My mother tries hard to pull me out of it. Seeing them worry, I resolve that I must act normal, be cheerful and energetic at home. We go on long drives and eat out often.

Then I have a new batch begin – full of ten bright passionate minds, eager adults who want to become writers because literature has helped them in life. As they are sharing their stories and talking enthusiastically about books on the first day of the workshop, I want to stand up, shout ‘fuck off, you pathetic wimps’, and storm out of the room.

That is when I know, something is seriously wrong with me. I rush home to Google symptoms of depression. I am not depressed. That’s when I see an article on the symptoms of burnout and as I am reading it, I am ticking every one of those symptoms. It’s suddenly empowering. I know what is wrong with me. I have a name.

I get treatment. I am asked to continue on the anti-anxiety meds I self-medicated, and I am given a mild anti-depressant.

The anti-depressant starts giving me incessant killer headaches. Think migraine. Now, have a migraine spread on both sides of your head and throb at your neck. Add nausea. But I plough through my days hopeful and positive because I am doing something. I feel back in control.

I confess to my class that I am in the throes of a burnout. They are such decent human beings that they act surprised. They assure me that I have not been a monster to them. I am humbled by their love. The zest to teach and the empathy to hear and nurture other people’s stories returns.

We get the author Vasudhendra for a guest session. He is so humble, sincere, bright, and empathetic that I am reassured about the purpose of my work-life at least.

The women in my life make great efforts to share and give me a ear whenever I need it. We think that the medication is working even though the headaches are an everyday occurrence now.

The doctor assures me that the headaches might just be stress-induced and have nothing to do with the medication. I can’t counter that, because, of course, I am bloody stressed out. He increases the dosage of his medication and weans me off the pill I had prescribed myself.

The headaches increase and are so bad that I just have to go lie down in complete darkness when I have one. But mostly, I persist to reclaim my life and positivity. The batch helps tremendously with their dedication to the craft and to bettering themselves. It’s extremely rewarding for me.

After one such class as I am driving back home, happy and content, I get stuck in a traffic jam on Suranjandas road. I am there for about ten minutes when the heavens unfasten and it starts to pour. All around me drivers get hysterical and start honking. But we don’t move. Of course.

The music I listen to, to drown out the cacophony of the outside world makes my breath catch because it reminds me of happier days with my friends. I start to feel my breath hitch and my chest constrict. I think I am having an anxiety attack and to stave it off, I call a friend but she’s busy at a dinner and can’t help me just then. I resolve to help myself but find that I can’t breathe at all. I gulp in air but end up feeling as if my head is going to explode.

A part of me dissociates and watches in fascination. My Goddess. I am having a full-blown, real time panic attack. The traffic still doesn’t move. The noise of the rain and the traffic is deafening. Even in that noise, I feel I can hear my heart thundering in my body.

I imagine dying in the car. I imagine just banging through the cars like in movies. Just to be able to get out. Just so I am no longer stuck. Nothing distracts. I find that tears are furiously rushing down my face. I know then that I need help and in sheer desperation call the one friend I think might help even though we had fought a couple of months ago and are no longer on talking terms.

He miraculously answers my call. He is wonderful. That day it takes me an hour and a half to get home from Suranjandas road. It usually takes 15-20 minutes even with traffic. And through all that time I am sobbing hysterically on an international call while he teaches me how to breathe. I manage to drive when the jam does clear. I use the time to clear our misunderstanding as well. My heart feels lighter but I am still raw and torn by the time I get home. Even with medication, I have had a panic attack. This can’t be good.

Over the next few weeks, I have milder versions of the attack. I start keeping a journal where I write letters to the great love of my life in the hope of getting closure. Of course, I don’t share it. I realize that I must see my counselor again.

Therapy and talking to my counselor helps. I understand that I am already on the path to recovery. Her pride in me and her sincere admiration of my attempts to heal myself are a balm. I just have to wait out this period of my life and continue as I am. I am doing everything I can to help myself. She tells me to allow myself to experience the negativity and the hostility knowing it’s not real, knowing it’s not at all my nature. I try that and soon that nasty voice disappears. But the headaches increase multifold.

The other areas of my health do remarkably well. My rheumatologist is thrilled with my blood work. He decreases my medication. For the first time, both of us think that my RA might go into remission one day and I might be pill free.

My psychiatrist agrees that my headaches are pill-induced. He changes the drug. The new ones give me no headaches but makes me want to sleep all morning. I stay up till 1-1.30 watching innane videos on Facebook. I sit with my dad and we even watch Kabbadi matches on TV. I read everything about Game of Thrones online. I even start dreaming of swordfights and medieval wars. But in the morning, I am dead to the world. I have very low energy. Conversation is an effort. I honestly don’t know what to type or say to people who check-in. I avoid going out except for my classes. I work only as much as I absolutely need to and push the rest of my plans to my now To-Do-Once-Better-List.

But in spite of me, I end up taking two more batches and I manage to take on two new clients. I have to. I have loans to pay and my finances are a nice holy mess. I am even excited by the work. But as the deadlines approach, I am crippled by my anxiety to deliver. Only sheer determination makes me complete things somewhat on time. I am surprised when my work is not just approved but praised. I tell myself I have earned two whole days of sleeping and watching TV. Right now, being left alone is the best reward.

I tell my psychiatrist about this lethargy. He changes my medication again.

<to be continued…>

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La vie en Violet: sixième partie

What they don’t tell about workaholics is that the pleasure and purpose of working changes to rage and resentment. Insidiously.

So much so that I can’t remember when it began. Just that slight annoyance at someone else’s badly done work suddenly balloons into something large and unforgivable. Empathy, so essential in a writer and a teacher, flies out of the window. There’s no desire to understand the other side. There’s no will to be excited by new people and their newer stories. Only a new, hitherto unheard voice – nasty in thought – starts to speak. This is the snide voice that is discomfiting and distressing at once.

‘Look at him, can’t spell correctly but wants to talk about literature.’

‘She does not know the difference between its and it’s and her book is coming out, it seems. Everyone is a writer these days.’

I fight the voice. Early on, I separate the voice from the real me. I recognize that it’s not me who is really that awful. It’s something else. There’s a war inside me everyday.

Social media is a hostile maze.

The hostility is both inward and outward.

I hate seeing happy pictures by others. Earlier, when some of my students had spoken about how they hate social media because people only post happy things, I was aghast. I am the sort of person who is happy when others are happy. But now…

And the debates on social media! I never suffered fools gladly, but suddenly everyone and everything is a fool.

The voice is constantly and meanly shouting ‘shut up’ or ‘go away’ at everyone and everything.

Everything is tiresome and no one is more tiresome than me.

The rage is always controlled, choked backwards so I feel as if I am constantly lit up on the inside. Like a traditional Diwali lantern.

So, I can’t sleep.

In my wakefulness, the voice mutters more hate. This time, it’s directed towards me.

Caught up in the battle between the real me and the nasty me, fighting the self-hate, my heart feels like it’s constantly pounding and that breathing has to be a concentrated activity.

Soon, easy tasks become labourious. Mails pile on. Work is discarded. People and phone calls are ignored. Guilt piles on quicker and thicker than the drafts by my enthusiastic amateur writers. I find myself unable to do anything remotely resembling work.

I can’t even do entertainment – books hurt too much if they are good and I can’t do bad now, movies bore, only TV series help because I can throw myself into that world; I can binge watch. And when I do surface into the real world it’s more odious, overbearing, and overwhelming than before.

A fog envelopes me. I swallow anti-anxiety medication and wait for sleep to consume me.

Everyday, I wake up thinking today the fog will be lifted, that I will not feel my heart beat like a techno club in Berlin, that I will think about the mails I have to answer without dread. They are just mails! I have never taken time over mails!

But the fog doesn’t lift.

The heart beats a strange rhythm on waking. It feels heavy in my chest, heavier than my breasts, and my head throbs light but incessant. Even surrounded by white walls, flowers, and trees, I can’t breathe.

I not only have to breathe, but I also have to live and get through another day without coming apart too much, without unravelling in front of others in either rage or this crippling, inexplicable grief. There’s no sense needlessly worrying or antagonising family, friends, and students.

The fight to contain it all inside leaves me exhausted and distressed.

But really, why am I so anguished in life?

There is no reason. Nothing is so crippling that it cannot be managed.

Work is good. I am surrounded by people who love and respect me. I do what I love and can deliver the best at. I have this one niggling heartache, an important relationship in a state of crisis, but nothing untoward has happened. Everyone lives and are, in their own places, healthy and happy. I tell myself that it’s just the fog greying everything around me.

I see me trotting in sunlit perfection like someone in a Wodehousian book but weighed down by this invisible dense cloud around me that turns everything into a commentary by this nasty voice that has never been me. Suddenly, I am Hamlet and I am also the ghost.

There is no joy to life. That is not the same as saying life is joyless. No.

Life is joyous but the voice tells me that life has passed me by. The voice convinces me that it’s only downhill from now on.

I have rarely doubted myself. The voice slyly reminds me of failures.

My real self caves at the assault.

I give in hoping now that the fight has ended, there will be peace. But there’s only emptiness. While there was rage and resentment, now, there’s only resignation.

My heart squeezes at the sight of a contrail, at the rhythm of familiar music, even happy laughter in memory of lost love. No tears come. Only my breath thickens.

I am stuck.

<To be continued…>

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