Migraine

My migraine is a pulsating red dot in a sea of indigo
A Bengali bride ullulating under the pandal in the bustle of a wedding hall.

My migraine stops me in the street and says:
Those lights are far too bright for any kind of real happiness, don’t you think?

Or my migraine complains about the sun:
No good can come from so much sunshine.

My migraine peaks around the full moon.
A romantic guest, it clings to my left temple and whispers a new song each time.

But mostly, my migraine is unreasonable about when it strikes.
An interview, meeting friends, a sexcapade – all are equal, all are dust.

My migraine comes on because I have been lazy in dispelling energy –
A furious, indignant toddler she sits, busy with her tantrum in the mall, and kicks, because I don’t. Yoga.

My migraine is also a man – He needs constant tending to and kindness.
He can perform only in the darkness.

My migraine was bought at a store.
The doc said: I didn’t realise the contraindications of this drug were permanent. All the best.

My migraine is the best.
Because it’s mine. More mine than the family or the friends or the lovers or the fortune or the words – all of which are temporal.

My migraine is a lesson to be attentive.
Life is passing on. Every minute matters. No one matters more than you.

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Posted in Idle Thoughts, In Sickness and In Health, Intoxication Induced | Leave a comment

Memory

The fear is what will happen if the hoarder of secrets loses all his memory?

Where will those secrets go?

Who will hide stories about my paternal ancestry?

How will we ever discover what happened to all that money all those years ago? How did he lose it? Who won it?

These are important secrets.

My mother and I tried uncovering these secrets on our own. We went to trusted sources before my father’s tumour was discovered and the operation done.

We ran to his ex-manager (who continued to be friendly, especially with him) after that final massive fight at home where I almost killed my father. It was kill him or die. Neither happened because our Telugu neighbour intervened. My father still treats her like his own daughter, maybe to thank her for what she did that day.

After the fight, my mother and I spoke to the ex-manager, hoping my father would listen to him should he advise him. We hoped he might know the big secret that began the fight in the first place – where was all the money my father had? He said he no longer had it, that he gave it to someone in need, but he wouldn’t tell us who or why. The bank statements only showed that he had withdrawn all the money.

He heard us out when mother and I cried and showed him marks on our bodies from all his rage. He tut-tutted and smiled when I said in all my youth and all my ignorance that I would kill my father if ever he tried to hit us again. He heard us but dismissed us when we cried and bemoaned how my father’s come to this; he never was this way. That I was the apple of his eyes and today he had hit me this way!

He started sharing. He said how his temper always got him in trouble at work and no one liked him. How everyone hated him. How he never worked. He was idle, improper, his work was always shabby, and as a manager it fell on him to clear it all up, to clean it all up. He had no brains even then. He was just anger, meanness, selfishness, and carelessness. All he cared about was eating, drinking, and lazing about. He was a spendthrift.

The man refused to counsel my father, or get involved beyond the sharing of these truths. He would never have said all this but for the fact that we already had experienced it for ourselves. Shocked and horrified as we were, we couldn’t force him after hearing him. And at the time, living through what we were, we believed him.

It made a mockery of my childhood and all that I believed of my father. It shamed me to realise that all of Papa’s friends, who visited us so often when he still worked, derided him in secret. And his friends who told me to study well, to make my father proud, to grow up and become a noteworthy daughter to the man who was already special, were lying or pretending.

We found it was a brain tumour.

It might have been fatal had the stress of all this in my life not given me the sudden, painful twitches that had me finally seeking a neurologist. My reports were normal. The neurologist sat there flummoxed. I was only 29, riddled with rheumatoid arthritis and a host of other issues, but nothing that pointed to the twitches or what was causing them. He said, ‘Let’s do an MRI and maybe a thorough check-up of everything. I can’t imagine what it is. It could be stress, sometimes, that can cause such things. But you’d have to be tremendously stressed for something like that.’

He looked at me, certain that I couldn’t be stressed to that extent.

I merely laughed. I said, ‘You have no idea how stressed I am.’

And that’s when the story poured out and he immediately suspected a tumour.

And that’s what it was.

That’s all it was. Hence the rage and the violence. The lack of all manner of control and inhibition, the loss of an interest in hygiene. This, from a man who ironed even his underclothes. He wasn’t lazy or mean, poor man. Just ill.

We didn’t find it on time but we found it before I started hating the man whom I loved more than anyone else. We found it before it killed him. Another few days and the neurologist said it certainly would have.

And in all his pain, and all that haze, what I saw foremost on his face when we lied and conned him and took him to the hospital was relief, followed immediately by worry. For me. The daughter I was sure he hated by then.

“But how will you afford all this?”

That is my father.
His concern for others overshadows any concern for self.
It is possible that he did indeed give the money to someone deserving or a very good con.
We’ll never know.
And my father was right about that – it doesn’t matter.

The result of the operation was immediate. There for all to see. He was back to being clean, meticulous, conscientious, and caring. He even made people laugh like he used to. And so many of his friends visited when they finally heard. They were upset we hadn’t told them. This couldn’t be a man everyone hated, a wasteful, disengaged colleague or employee.

Back home from hospital, he started cleaning and taking care of things like before.

When our conservative Telugu neighbour, his other daughter, chided him for sweeping the outdoors being a man, he told her, like his old self, ‘What are you saying! Why should I not clean my own house?’

Importantly, we no longer had fights where he would raise his hands. He never ever raised his hands again. I never felt that murderous rage again in my life.

And sure enough, the ex-manager never showed his face to us; how could he?

And then over the years, my father began to withdraw more into his shell. We said age.

Only when he’d have a drink sometimes, he told stories. He loved telling old stories to people he liked. The same stories repeated in the same sequence every time. Not a change anywhere. You could never doubt his sincerity. You could only admire his skill. Storytelling; some of us are born performing.

We still knew so little about his birth or his family or anything beyond the day he landed in Bangalore with a job in hand and ate ‘chitranna’ for the first time as his first meal, expecting to eat something exotic and tasty, and finding cold rice with lemon instead. That was his first taste of Bangalore. This is a story I have heard twice now. But that’s all I know.

All the rest are stories of my childhood. The sort of child I was. Such a mouth on me. So much intelligence. Even when I was a mere baby.  

He was born also to be a father because my childhood was the best time of my life. I never lacked anything and in spite of everything, I grew up knowing I was special, intelligent, independent, and that the world might not be all correct and right even if everyone thought so. He taught me to always trust myself. That is what made me. That my parents made of me single-handedly. My mother sometimes made me feel less than beautiful, but in my father’s eyes, other people got fatter, darker, fairer, thinner, lost their looks, but I was always beautiful.

But what birthed my father? What was his story before Bangalore?

We tried uncovering his past. We spoke to his longest surviving friend. My mother did.

Uncle told tales of heroism, wealth, power, and then startlingly enough – murders. That’s why my grandmother warned my father not to visit her again when I was seven years old. That’s why we never went. The family was connected to all the wrong sorts of people. To this day, my mother is not keen on learning too much about the secrets of my father’s past. What we don’t know, won’t hurt us.

We never doubted or questioned Uncle. Another friend of my mother recognised my father’s father’s name long ago. Repeated the story of wealth in Kasargod, a large family, a quarrel among brothers, a saint of a man that was my grandfather who donated huge chunks of his wealth to temples in Dharmastala and in Mangalore. A man who lost everything because he married my grandmother, a city girl who hated the life in Kasargod, who insisted they move to be closer to her mother. All of this tied in with what my mother had been told by my father before their wedding. He was never a liar.

And now as his memory fails a little bit each day, he lies often about small things, or maybe he forgets.

A week back when we were on a trip to Shringeri, he lost his way and forgot how to get to the serviced apartment we were staying at. Finally, he found the building but couldn’t find the flat. That’s when he admitted that he was indeed losing his memory, that something was wrong, and he finally agreed to see the doctors very docilely, without protests.

For the first time in my life that day, I saw my father so afraid.  

I worry it’s dementia or even Alzheimer’s. The reports and the doctors say it’s not. Not yet. Only that the after-effects of the tumour will age his brain faster than others’, and that his brain is shrinking with age. So we must engage him with mental activities, do more reading and writing. The neurologist told him that he must write his memories and thoughts down.

The neurologist doesn’t know that my father is the hoarder of secrets and that he will never share.

I am afraid his stories are going to be lost forever.

I will never know my Shetty roots, if indeed they are Shetty roots.
I won’t go seeking them. Why should I? The family I was born into and the family I have made is enough for me. I anyway suffer from chronic anxiety; do I need more?

But how do we uncover the secrets that a dying memory might guard?  

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Tree

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.
Shimmering
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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Stain

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

Fade

The words,
Go.
Oh?
O is right. Followed by N.
Then, E.
One
B
Y
O
N
e.
What’s that word?
Like poof.
Gone.
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.
See?
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
God.
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.
Poof.
What IS that word?
D.
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.
Trope.
Thank the goddess.
Yes.
It’s a trope in fantasy.
It just goes.
Poof.
This is like that game.
Picture game.
What’s it called, the game?
Pictionary.
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.
Listening.
Listen in.
Listen.
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
Poof.
They just go.
And all that criticism, you know.
No love.
Just diss.
Disturbing.
Distressing.
Disorienting.
Disillusionment.
Dissociate.
Faint.
Fade.
Fade.
Fade works, no?
It’s a D word.
Fade?
No.

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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.

See?

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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