Dynamite

I cannot tell for certain when I knew I would end up with a career in teaching.

Family and friends of the family would say they knew right when I was five and had just started school. My favourite play activity after school was using the cemented wall at our utility area at home as a blackboard and ‘teaching’ imaginary students all that I had learnt in school that day. At the time, I believed very strongly in chalk (everything had to be written down neatly so the children could take notes) and using the cane (on the recalcitrant walls that refused to answer my questions correctly). Amused, parents, neighbours, relatives, and friends would always buy me more chalk and wooden rulers that passed as canes.

I was in high school when I acquired tuition students because there were two North Indian twins aged eight, our neighbours in Indiranagar, who needed help with studying languages, especially Kannada. The neighbour insisted on paying me a modest amount – Consider it pocket money – to ensure her daughters scored decently in their tests. They did. And I felt my first frisson of excitement at being called ‘Ma’am’, planning how to teach them, test them, and using a red pen to correct their writing. I used the money I earned to get more books at the circulating library.

I was twenty when I first entered a training room at the London School of Speech, Koramangala. My student was a tall, thin, strongly perfumed, coiffed-haired, sixteen-year-old Arab boy who knew conversational English but couldn’t understand grammar. I started coaching him in English grammar, and recognising for the first time in my own life how the rules actually worked, using Wren and Martin (a most wrongfully denigrated book). It worked. In twenty days, both of us had understood a lot about grammar and he felt confident of doing well at Christ College. On the last day he gave me a letter he’d written, ‘To my best sister who really taught me English, thank you…’

That same year, I entered a corporate training room for the first time. And for the first time, I received training on how to train. I had to sit in on my senior’s session as she made Parts of Speech, and Subject-Verb agreements, and Verb conjugations, fun, light, (the sessions were mostly held at night) obvious, and palatable to a largely second-language English crowd who were in Bangalore to join BPOs and call centres. Our students were almost the same age as us, often older. The sessions also happened at client locations – IBM, Accenture, and the like. I learnt very quickly to dress in a sari, wear big bindis, look imposing, knowledgeable, and experienced on the first day of the session. It was easy. I had the best role models in my lecturers who taught me at Jyoti Nivas College. I never revealed my age in class and my bearing was such that I unhesitatingly commanded people in their 30s or even 40s on how to use verbs correctly on calls and write better emails. This institute paid us very little, but gave us food and an inexhaustible supply of coffee (disgusting instant coffee), cardamom tea (to this day I can’t stand cardamom tea), and cookies through the night, and also dropped us back home by 4 am each day. The rush of this job was incomparable to any I’ve had. I didn’t dream of quitting in spite of having to be at college again by 9 am. I had always needed little sleep and if my waking hours could help me be fun and authoritative, and if I got paid (even if only a pittance) for it, I was sure as hell doing it. That’s how I started working very early on in life for no other reason than the high of doing the job (I always got excellent ratings as a trainer) and being financially independent (I could buy my own alcohol and cigarettes and clothes and books and music and no one could say anything to me).

Over the years, I tried various things to do with language, writing, and teaching – including being a journalist, MCing, creating and moderating communities, editing, doing voice-overs – but to this day, the rush I get when I first greet a new batch in a training room and the high I leave the room with, is incomparable to anything else. It’s why I was always sure I would open a school of some kind in my life.

Facilitating is pure meditation. For those hours in training, I am entirely focussed on the needs of my trainees. It’s all about quickly understanding their worldview and background, and then sharing a new perspective with them in a convincing way. Nearly always, they buy what I am saying. That’s the rush. The Fuck-I-was-born-to-do-this high. It is not an easy job; it’s definitely not for everyone but it does come very easily to me.

When I think about it like this, then it feels obvious that I did create a writing school and a community of writers, after all. It’s unsurprising also that I have been doing this for ten years of my life now. Bangalore Writers Workshop (BWW) which is both my creative child and a protective parent turns ten on January 20, 2022. Through these years, I have had the privilege of working with over 600 creative minds (only counting BWWers, not counting the corporate workshops we’ve had) learning so much more about the world and myself. The ethos of BWW has always been to be more aware as writers of text. As a community, it’s that awareness that has changed or at least made a difference to all our lives. I couldn’t be more grateful. We have mad, involved discussions on everything ranging from world politics to the different kinds of drains; we’ve raised money for migrant workers during the pandemic; volunteered time and efforts for those afflicted with COVID-19 during the second wave; written about, debated, and protested against CAA (when that was the only crisis we knew of); published one anthology of our writing; held numerous poetry readings, book launches, and book discussions; or simply met up for drinks to talk about the absurdity of life. Now that every thing is online, we’ve learnt to host BWW Socials online as well so we feel connected and reassured. The active, engaged, thriving BWW community today feels like an inevitable force of nature. It is certainly my lifeforce.

Ten years in, it’s remarkable how much the experience of running writing workshops and creating and moderating a community of writers has helped me grow and change as a person. As we all know, change is always painful, and growth always hurts.

When we started out, I was a stickler for grammar, syntax, punctuation. Ok. I was pedantic. Then I realized being pedantic meant that I was also being close-minded. I still believe in the sanctity of a well-crafted line, and my pulse still quickens when I see perfectly worded text, but the intensity with which I tried to impose these rules on others has pared down to a minimum. Students for whom English was a second language have humbled me with the openness of their worldview and I couldn’t in all honesty justify to myself being narrow in my own outlook, even if it was about the elements of language and style. Besides, the world has changed (and how) and we have worthier causes to pursue (if one must).

When we started out, I didn’t really believe in my own abilities. Sure, I knew I was good at what I was doing; it came easy to me so I never questioned it. But I always thought the skills I brought into the group, the experience I created could be done by anyone. That lack of awareness of my own power led me down inevitable but avoidable paths (in hindsight). I looked to others for praise, recognition, and even validation. Naturally, there was disappointment, disillusionment, a sense of betrayal, drama and stormy emotion, bad blood and all the rest of it. The people with whom I started this journey are no longer with me. It’s unfortunate it happened but those lessons led me to a better understanding and appreciation of my own skills and gave me the strength and independence to chart BWW’s course the way I always wanted to, without arguments and heartache.

When we started out, I was sure I would have at least two books out in ten years. BWW changed that. My own writing had to take a backseat. The wise Shashi Deshpande Ma’am warned me about this early on, but I still thought I would be able to facilitate workshops and write. Crafting an experience that was fun but full of gravitas, honest but not mean, meant the world to me. The BWW experience had to be just so. That was always the first priority because that’s how I made a living too. The joy came in mentoring writers who would do well and fulfill their writing destinies. So many of our students have successfully published their books, and nearly half our students have seen their work published in literary magazines. That’s perceivable success. But there is also the success one doesn’t see; one cannot measure stories about students changing lives, world-views, leading happier, more fulfilling lives. Relationships that have bloomed and blossomed through BWW. Couples that were born who got married and went on to have babies. Couples that were born who taught each other something, became muses, and changed each other. Business partnerships that sprung up. Families that came together with a shared passion for literature and reading. Parents and children who began to understand and appreciate each other better after the workshops. Women who found the courage to get out of unfulfilling even abusive relationships. Troubled writers who found a tribe. Men and women who began to question their upbringing, the stifling rules a regressive society thrust upon them and who found the courage to break free, in both small and dramatic ways. These are examples of what a writing workshop can do as it sets about making writers aware of the text. And these stories are the only victory that means anything to me.

When we started out, I thought it was all about me. ‘Look at what I am offering you, you aspiring writer.’ That ended very, very quickly. It’s all about the people. I learnt to be more empathetic. Workshopping a story together means threshing out details. You can’t go in to that adamant about what you know. Workshopping a story meaningfully needs a deep, immersive understanding of a writer’s world. It’s imperative to see how the writer views the world. Context is everything. While I continue to hold very strong opinions on politics, philosophy, and everything else in between, interacting with such a diverse group of people made me sensitive to the legitimacy of a point-of-view. I learnt that I could completely disagree with a worldview but I could still see the beauty and humanity in a person. I began to understand the world with more nuance. ‘Those who can’t, teach’ is bullshit. I have struggled trying to find more mentors for the workshop because good writers don’t make good facilitators. Writing is all about oneself. It’s a me-first activity. Facilitation is all about putting others first. A facilitator can never talk a lot about themselves or be half-present in the workshop. It’s like being in a Game of Thrones type battle. Your arm can get cut off, but you continue to anticipate your opponent’s moves and you continue to fight. I have been severely ill, burnt out, dealing with anxiety and depression, but inside the workshop I am 100% there, uncompromising on the quality, focused on giving my students what they need. What made it tenable, unalterable, and yes, easy, was having a community that pushed me to give more, that encouraged me to be my most authentic self as a facilitator, as a mentor, as a friend.

Today, I don’t need to wear a sari and a big bindi to be taken seriously in a classroom.
Today, I don’t need to be taken seriously at all.
I owe this knowledge, this freedom, and the bliss that comes from both, to my students, and for that I will forever be grateful.

In all my twenty years as a teacher, I have learnt that with teaching it’s enough if you laugh a lot while learning together.
The rest will follow.

In all my life, personal and professional, I have never celebrated a tin anniversary and got a diamond to commemorate an occasion. Yet, today, here we are. ‘I’m diamond, you know I glow up’. So I will leave you with the beautiful Bangtan boys who have brought so much joy to the world and to me because I can’t say it better than them now about this anniversary and this world we live in today – 

This is getting heavy

Can you hear the bass boom? I’m ready (woo hoo)

Life is sweet as honey

Yeah, this beat cha-ching like money, huh

Disco overload, I’m into that, I’m good to go

I’m diamond, you know I glow up

Hey, so let’s go

‘Cause I-I-I’m in the stars tonight

So watch me bring the fire and set the night alight (hey)

Shining through the city with a little funk and soul

So I’m a light it up like dynamite, whoa oh oh

Dynamite by BTS

Read Father Figure, the post on the launch of BWW here.

Read Shashi Deshpande’s speech (advice to aspiring writers) given at the BWW launch here.

Of course, it will be terrible if I don’t sign off with the thank yous to:
First and always the BWW Community, for everything. But mostly, for trusting me with your stories, your voices, and your love, and for making BWW a safe, warm, welcoming, and engaging space.
The mentors’ team at BWW that I did manage to create – Sarita Talwai (for the kids’ batches), Vijay S (for poetry), and Mahima Jain (Freelance Journalism) who share my passion and vision around writing and facilitating. I am so grateful to you all.
Thank yous also to our erstwhile teaching partners: Philip John, Rahul Shingrani, Hari Ravikumar, Manoj Nair, Jon Magidsohn, Keerti Ramachandra, Deepa Padmanaban, Anu Gummaraju, Keerthana Jagadeesh, Indrayudh Ghoshal, and Rheea Mukherjee.
All the writers, editors, and publishers who generously share their time and counsel for the benefit of the BWW community, thank you.
Ayush Gupta and team WetInk for WetInk without whom absolutely nothing about BWW would work or be green and easy.
Our design partner Reuben Samson who tirelessly and consistently delivers my purple visions on time and with zero iterations.
Our location partner Work365 Spaces and our erstwhile location partner Newbridge Offices.
Special gratitude always to the Revannasiddiah family (Vinoda Ma’am, Rajesh and Rakesh) and FORHD.
Our photocopiers Kumar Sir and Ravi Sir.
Our event partner Urban Solace – Cafe for the Soul and my darling Perry Menzies for being the kindest, warmest host in Bangalore.
Our website and technical support team at Netzary Infodynamics. Special shout-out to Bhoomika K B, Alok Kumar Sahoo, and Ramdas S. Thank you so much!
Our publishing collaborator/partner Atta Galatta for sharing the vision of a Bangalore-themed anthology.
Our legal counsel Suparna Umashankar, especially during the dark times.
Our accountant Krishnamurthy Sir from Attitude Consultants, for putting up with my woefully inadequate knowledge of money, finance, taxes, and basic mathematics.
My mentor, therapist, and friend Kalpana Tanwar for letting me see and letting me learn. I wouldn’t be a diamond without you.
My mentor and friend Kalpana Tatavarti for always being available for advice and counsel, and pickles.
Lastly, a big thank you to the family and friends (you know who you are) for everything important and real like love, food, conversation, books, clothes, gifts, support, holidays, homes, wines, substances, and money.

Someday, I will make you all more proud, I swear. Till then, thank you very much!
Thank you for your time!
Eat well. Be well. Stay safe. Stay inspired.
Let’s be happy, healthy, and let’s love and laugh a lot!



Posted in Happy Days, Idle Thoughts, Social Message | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Mind

My father’s mind is a minefield.

It trips us all up when we argue for veracity.

He remembers specific things in a defined sequence and with great accuracy.

Our trip to Kashmir when I was a year old, the way we rode a horse together there, my cheeks turning red in the sun, and how everyone said that I looked like the apples in the orchard.

He remembers how amused he was when I yelled at him as a three year old for not buying me a doll.

‘What sort of a father are you? You can’t even buy me a doll!’ I am reported to have said. He was with his friend then. They had both laughed so hard on the streets of Malleshwaram.

He first came to Bangalore from Mangalore when he was only twenty one years old. It was for the job he held for over thirty years. He remembers his first breakfast – chitranna. He thought it would be something new and exciting. Instead, it was just lemon rice.

Every time he narrates these stories, not a word changes. But he conveys the same excitement, the same discovery each time. He believes them. He relives them in the telling and the retelling. Since there are other witnesses to these stories, they are corroborated, verified, and they become facts about our family.

Now his reality tells him stories that he believes are true. There are no witnesses to these new stories. Here again, the sequence doesn’t change. We can only argue that it’s illogical or unrealistic or impossible.

He believes he once walked on hot, burning coals at a temple festival in Mangalore in his thirties. This is how he makes sense of his vericose veins, the hyperpigmentation on his legs. They are not signs of a health condition but the aftermath of fulfilling a dare.

He loathes the help we have currently. In his mind, she’s a thief who has variously stolen from him – chicken curry he made, eggs he had boiled, and groceries. He stopped even occasionally cooking around four years ago; we’ve had our help for three years now. It’s a distrust that’s deep-seated. Nothing will dissuade him.

He talks about how he cooked chicken for my cousins (they loved it) and how they all drank whiskey together when mom and I were in hospital for our respective surgeries. My cousins are vegetarians.

There are shops that have shut down in our locality including the ubequituous corner super market, 24 hour open petrol bunk, the medical shop, the bakery, the salon. If you probe, he will deliver a fantastic story about strangers that thrums with possibility.

At home, things get misplaced because he still tries to do housework. He cuts vegetables the wrong size. There is a story always about why my mother insisted he do it just that way. He hangs out, indescriminately, fresh or unwashed clothes to dry. He folds and secrets sweaty clothes inside cupboards and drawers. He misplaces house keys, the TV remote, mobile chargers, and headphones. There’s always someone else to blame, often our help.

He dislikes all my male friends. They have variously insulted him or mooched off me or made passes at my mother and me.

When cornered, he uses anger to justify the frustration, maybe even mask the fear. He remembers slights and arguments that never took place in perfect detail. He cries that he will leave us and go die somewhere else, and that we won’t ever find him.

He knows to strike at the fear in the core of our hearts.

My mother thinks it’s a sign of awareness, mean-spiritedness even, not illness. I wonder too at times.

Then he withdraws into a quiet shell till the episode is forgotten. It takes him about two hours to forget a fight.

My mother is tormented by the lies, stressed out with constantly keeping watch, and exhausted from the lack of support a husband is expected to provide.

Even as I am numbed by the experience of constantly being the parent, the decision-maker, even disciplinarian, I am amazed at the human mind.

Dementia has made my father dull, slower, quieter, and completely devoid of empathy and understanding. Dementia has blessed him this fertile imagination, a quick-witted slyness.

I tell my mother she has a husband who is a great storyteller. I have learnt to workshop his memories as if they were stories we were all reading together. This helps us listen to him, on the rare occasions he speaks to us or shares things, and appreciate the way his mind works.

There’s no insight to be had but there’s peace, often even entertainment, in the letting go of logic.

When you tell stories, only being authentic matters. And that he is.

Stories are not about truths and arguments, though they can show both. Stories are ambiguous, messy, and personal; more imagined than truthful, intrepid, sly and devious even.

So who is to say that they are not really true?

Posted in Idle Thoughts | 5 Comments

The Close Shave

Naturally, my household and I are not socialising much. If at all we do, it’s in bubbles. I have met friends for walks in the park. I met another friend at her house where we always sat with at least two feet between us. Stuff like that.

Last Thursday, my Uncle organised a lunch for us. We were 12 people in all including two young children. The family that hosted us had six members. It was a ceremony and we had a late lunch. It was the largest such gathering we have been to since corona began. I was apprehensive but not socialising or dressing up and getting out has been driving me crazy. So in all honesty, I enjoyed the break.

We had a late but delectable, ceremonial lunch on leaves, and laughed at the antics of the children. For a while, life seemed free of fears and fun.

On Sunday when I woke up, I felt an itch in my ears and throat. By Sunday night, I was coughing and feverish. I could feel myself getting worse.

When I woke up on Monday, I had a bad sore throat and my head felt hangover-heavy.

I didn’t think I had COVID-19, but I had to check for sure. Also, having gone out and having met so many people meant I couldn’t be 100% sure I didn’t have it.

When I saw my physician, she ordered a COVID-19 test too. The symptoms all seemed to match.

The process is simple. The doctor takes down your details and shares it with a lab. You call the lab, set up an appointment, and as far as possible, isolate yourself.

If you can’t isolate in your home, wearing a mask at all times is a safe and essential practice.

The lab technician comes home and takes a swab from your nose and throat. It’s gross and not comfortable but you survive it.

The test should not cost you more than INR 2500 because that’s the cap the government has ordered. Home sample collection charges might be extra. They also collect your Aadhar number and I think the data is collected and tabulated somewhere.

Then you wait up to 48 hours for the result, all the while isolating. Touch fewer surfaces by restricting your range of movements.
If you have people around you, it’s imperative that all of you wear masks.

I had it easy because I could shut myself rather comfortably on one floor of my house and my mother supplied the meals.

In all this time, I sipped only warm water mixed with ginger. I made spice infusions and had that instead of tea or coffee. And I did a lot of steam inhalation and the ever-so disgusting salt water gargling. I also drank over-the-counter, herbal cough syrup copiously.

I got the result in under thirty hours and I didn’t have COVID-19.

By then I knew for certain that I didn’t because my sore throat had almost gone, and there was no sign of a cough. However, I had lost my voice.

So now I have a very sexy, raspy, bluesy singer voice and I am sad that when the antibiotics I take for the laryngitis I do have works, I will get my normal voice back.

This week was mildly stressful.

It also showed me again and anew how fragile life is.

It made me realise that much as I love people, food, dressing up, getting out and all the rest, this is definitely not the time for such risks. And it is a huge risk if you are immuno-compromised. While it is true, I didn’t get corona when I went out this time, I did catch laryngitis. It is an infection and I have been super vulnerable to infections since I turned 29 and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. So I probably got it from someone who merely carried the virus and perhaps had a mild case of the sniffles. But when I caught it, it became big, almost covid like, and finally retreated as laryngitis.

And here’s why this post:

  1. If you are even mildly ill, stay indoors. Seek help and treatment on time.
  2. Don’t ignore your symptoms.
  3. Don’t avoid consulting a doctor because you have heard all the conspiracy theories about doctors being in on a COVID-19 scam and needlessly testing people to make money.
  4. Get tested at the right lab. Check costs and don’t get scammed. It should not cost more than INR 2500.
  5. Isolate at the first hint of illness because you might be around people who are vulnerable.
  6. And, really, please rethink social gatherings. If you must meet large groups of people socially, meet outdoors in parks or gardens, and don’t touch each other, and don’t eat or drink together.

My cousin was upset when I yelled at him and my dad for shaking hands. But social graces mean nothing when you are dead. And it’s not me being paranoid. Even if I am, unless you can give me a vaccine, I am entitled to this paranoia and you can really fuck your judgments.

So as far as possible, I urge everyone reading this to maintain social distancing and to stay indoors as much as you can.

If you have COVID-19 and die, you are just a statistical number, and no one gives a fuck about that. For all of us, remember that it’s only our immediate family that will suffer the consequences of losing us in such a meaningless fashion.

Parties, weddings, get-togethers can wait. Funerals don’t.

So please stay safe. Please wear masks the right way. Touch and eat only with the people in your bubble. Keep your bubble small. Let’s please look after each other.

Posted in In Sickness and In Health | 2 Comments

La vie en Violet: dixième partie

I don’t really remember when it started. But a few years ago, when I had consensual, safe sex with my then sexual partner, it felt like claws were tearing open my insides. And we weren’t having passionate, violent sex, nor was he hung like a horse. So I was horrified by the amount of pain I was in. This was when I wanted him. He still turned me on. I desired the sex. Besides, we only met for sex and a smoke after. In that time, we caught up on his life, work, and travel. He was not privy to my mind. It was an arrangement built on mutual respect, admiration, and desire. What we both had in common was a love for well-written copy, travel (him more than me). It helped that we were both such workaholics, we never complained about the other being too busy to catch-up or even shag. We genuinely understood. For as long as that arrangement worked, it was empowering, sexy, and honest. The sex wasn’t break-a-bed hot, but we were both no longer in our 20s, and so we satisfied each other well-enough till that day when having his dick inside me was not pleasurable at all.
The chafing and scratches remained for an agonising week.

A couple of weeks later, it was the same. I wondered if it was him or me.

I did what any sensible girl would do; I found another lover. Unfortunately, this turned out to be someone who didn’t believe in penetrative sex with condoms. And I will never have unprotected sex because diseases and infections have a way of catching me. He had other ways to satisfy a woman that worked, but after a while it didn’t help my experiment.

I succumbed to a meet-and-fuck date. The guy was civil, polite, decent, with clean hands and feet, and didn’t smell bad. I am not ashamed to say that to me he wasn’t even a person. He was just a penis whose insertion in my body would show me if I were the problem or the men. I used lube and supplied the condom. When it was done, I burnt a little but nothing at all like before. I thanked the bloke sincerely in my mind and drove home feeling sexy and powerful.
In three hours, I had a UTI. My body broke out in chills, a fever, and I constantly had the urge to pee. I went on antibiotics and medication for a week. It was not pleasant nor easy.

After I recovered I travelled to Europe and America for a long awaited holiday. I avoided penetrative sex on holiday concerned about having another UTI episode. Celibacy trumps trauma any day. Besides, I knew, or so I thought, that I wasn’t the problem.

Last year, I was in bed with a lover whom I found very exciting. But we recognised quickly enough that my vagina was shut for business that day. No amount of lube or other work helped. I recognised that it was during a very stressful period, but I felt desire for this man. I always had. Yet there I was dry as a raisin in a summer sun in the tropics. It was as if my lips were sealed shut with a chastity lock. I didn’t even know such a thing could happen. He was wonderful about it all and for that we still remain friends.

Around the same time, my mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis like me, also suffered from a dry mouth that altered the way she tasted food. Everything she ate felt spicier than it was, and burned her mouth. Her eyes on account of being dry, even with regular drops, developed infections at an alarmingly frequent rate.

Watching her suffer and plough through this with aplomb but a great deal of discomfort has been like watching my future in a mirror. But my mom’s issues started when she was in her 50s. I am still in my 30s, I chant in self-pity.

So when I returned to India last year, I rushed to my psychiatrist who is also a sexologist and told him about my many instances of extremely painful sexual intercourse.

In the meantime, I had, of course, done my research. It seemed possible that I was peri-menopausal. But it seemed more likely that my body had betrayed me yet again and that I now had another auto-immune condition called Sjögren’s syndrome (pronounced Show-Grens). He sent me to visit a gynecologist and she ruled out the possibility of this being a physical issue. I was next supposed to show myself to a rheumatologist and corona happened.

In the midst of the first lockdown, my father’s health took a turn for the worse. I was stretched thin and so stressed that my Blood Pressure started to climb and never dropped down to normal again. I now had high blood pressure too.

Finally, earlier this month, I started experiencing debilitating fatigue for no reason. I stopped even the sporadic exercise I had been doing. Just breathing felt draining. I had begun to notice a slight sensation of dryness on my tongue.

For years now, I have found it extremely difficult to cry, to weep, to actually shed tears. I recognised that this had started almost around the same time as I started having issues with sex.

A couple of weeks back, when I finally drummed up the courage to visit a new rheumatologist, he confirmed Sjögren’s syndrome for both my mother and me. It’s an autoimmune disorder, often existing in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus where the body eats up its own lubricating glands. There is no way to prevent this. The degeneration of the glands is permanent. Eye solutions, sprays for the mouth, vaginal lubricants, rarely surgery are the only means of relief. It also leads to extreme fatigue. It could also work on one’s organs.

I decided to drown my sorrow in substance and painkillers only to recognise that the act further dried up my mouth to the point of acute discomfort. No amount of sipping water or chewing ice-cubes help.

So unless India legalises CBD oil for conditions such as mine, I have to try and make do with prescription drugs that unleash a chain of adverse reactions.

The timing of all this is ironical at best, downright cruel at its worst. Corona scare implies the absence of any and all sexual activities for most aware, sensible, sexually active non-partnered people. Honestly, sex is the absolute last thing on my mind.

The drug busts that are happening everywhere ensures that legalising medical Marijuana in India (which is great for dealing with anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, and the like) isn’t going to happen in my lifetime, at least.

The constant fatigue and joint discomfort has rendered even gentle walks impossible in the past few weeks. Naturally, I have put on more weight or maybe it’s just how I feel now – heavy, ponderous, dry, stiff.

The rain doesn’t help.

Weight loss tips or other such insights won’t be tolerated, so hush, dear reader.

So why am I unabashedly sharing such personal details and bragging about my new autoimmune acquisition?

The purpose is not to elicit pity (fuck you) or sympathy or exclamations of concern (Thank you, but really no) or titilate people about what is now definitively, my non-existent sex life.

I think I write because women’s sexual health and pleasure is never talked about even though it is about health. Living with a dry vagina or a wet ass pussy, the two ends of a woman’s sexual spectrum and reality (and everything in between) needs to be understood better by both men and other women. I want to talk about vaginismus and how frustrating and debilitating the idea of being dry really is. It also fucks with the way you view your own sexuality.

Lastly, I want to help people understand and look at co-morbidities seriously and with empathy.

Rheumatoid arthritis by itself won’t kill a person, but look at the life it forces its people to live. Note also how everything from anxiety and depression to Sjögren’s is connected to having an autoimmune disorder.

As a diabetic, hypertensive person with at least three diagnosed autoimmune disorders, and living with ageing parents one of whom suffers from dementia, COVID-19 is the worst nightmare to live through. Compound that with the fact that I live in India as a business person dependent on an economy that enables sales, and people still living with the great denial of our political lives and times, and now see how stress takes on a whole new meaning. And stress is a great trigger for everything from RA to panic attacks.

Then I speak to people who say COVID-19 in itself doesn’t kill. It’s a conspiracy. It will just come and go, drink herb tea.

I step out of the house and see people who wear no masks or wear masks at their necks, shoulders, eyeballs, what-have-you, spitting phlegm happily and noisily on streets.

All this and I literally cannot even cry.

So tell me now, how is that for a fuck.

 

 

 


Read the past health episodes here. 
And if you notice how I really can’t count, shut up. 
La Vie En Violet – 9
La Vie En Violet – 8
La Vie En Violet – 7
La Vie En Violet – 6
La Vie En Violet – Yo are not sick; just fat
La Vie En Violet – 6
La Vie En Violet – 5
La Vie En Violet – 4
La Vie En Violet – 3
La Vie En Violet – 2
La Vie En Violet – 1

Posted in Blue Funk, In Sickness and In Health | 10 Comments

Eviscerate – an anniversary special

Eviscerate. Eviscerate. Eviscerate. I repeat to myself sitting in the car speeding towards the airport.

It’s a damn clean job, I can tell dispassionately. Even objectively.

He bangs his hand on the wheel when he realises that I am still weeping. “Baby, don’t. Don’t go. I told you not to cancel, not to go. We can still go home. Don’t cry.”
I am ice beneath the tears. When I answer my voice is steely. “I need to go. I can’t deal with this. I should not have to deal with this.” With this, my tears stop. But I clutch the stomach to stymie the bleeding.

I feel like halal meat. Let it bleed. The worst parts removed. All the rest is now clean, edible. You can almost taste the goodness and wholesomeness of this choice.
The butcher gets all the credit. Take out what you don’t need anymore. Nothing haram in this life anymore. No unnamed desires or designs to stem. It’s all flowing, easy, under control.

Meat is to be frowned upon.
Meat is inconvenient now.

I bleed and press against the skin trying to come to terms with your decisions that seal my fate. I remember how you once sucked meat from marrow, from bones. Time was you relished it. But now it’s all an inconvenience.

So you turn vegan because it suits you, and eat an avocado for breakfast with a sprinkle of salt, and drizzled mildly with pepper. No indulgence. Only wholesome goodness.

You make gaucomole as I grow green with envy; bile rising over my bitterness of seeing you in love, of watching you unsee me. You pay more attention to your furniture, your ash tray, your organic waste.

I google what happens when you are knifed in your gut by someone. The responses are as expected. It’s strangely reassuring. There’s a feeling of absolute tranquillity, an icy aura that clings to you. Your eyes overflow with tears. You might lose bladder and bowel control. You feel lightheaded and at the same time foggy. Then the hot blood pounds against you, and if you lose a lot of it, you bleed, lose consciousness, and if left untreated, you die.

“Can we share a smoke before you drop me off?” I cry.
Silently, he lights two cigarettes and puts one in my mouth.
He is shaking. “See, baby? I am stinking”, he says painfully, coming closer. The blood roaring is so hot and noisy that I can’t smell him. I can barely taste the tobacco. It’s already the 42nd one in four hours. If my lungs weren’t in shock, I would be dry heaving onto the pavement.

With shaking hands I light another cigarette and with wobbly lips I kiss his cheek and say goodbye. He gives me a tissue packet, pulling a fresh one out to wipe my tears. He is tender when he does this. He is so young. A child almost. The tears swell in my eyes. “Look after him” I whisper.
I can’t believe I say that. But I can’t say anything else. There’s nothing else to say.
His lips brush my trembling ones. “Go. Go back home and feel better. It will be better soon.”
It won’t. Where does he get this wisdom from? I suddenly see him as an old man. He has lived many lives, known much pain. I want to pull him to me and protect him. But I also wonder if he is shrewd, manipulative, the hand that twisted that knife in my gut which is why I am bleeding all over the airport.
“Baby, don’t blame me.” He reads my thoughts.”I love you.” He presses my palm.”But if you do blame me, it’s OK too. He will do the same thing to me someday.”
I nod mutely. I don’t agree with him but at that moment, I am grateful for him. I kiss him goodbye and kiss goodbye to all the life I have ever known, all the love I have given.

I stumble inside the airport blinded by tears and blood.
“Madam”, he holds my hand as I am about to pass out. “Come, let me help you.”
“Yes,” I sob. “Please help me. I have been knifed. I don’t know what to do. There’s so much blood all over.”
“Madam, please calm down. Let’s weigh your luggage. You know Hindi? Aap ro kyun rahi hain? Why are you crying?”
“Ghar. Mera Ghar…” I can’t bring myself to say that I lost my home, the only one that really felt like home. And that defeated, bleeding, I am returning to my roots. Roots aren’t the same as home. I will never again know another home. I don’t know that then.
“Pardesi story, Madam. Hum sab ki yahin story. We all outsiders have this same story. That’s what we do. This is our life. It will be OK.”

Why is everyone obsessed with being OK? I know it won’t be. Nothing will ever be OK. He doesn’t understand that this is my home. He can’t see my knife wound. He doesn’t feel the blood even when he holds my arm to steady me. The airport swims. Liquid pools of people shimmer around me.

“I am Khaled.” he says. “I will help you get your boarding pass.” He takes my phone, I unlock it for him and he looks for the Lufthansa app, and scans the QR code on it. He hoists my luggage and puts it on the scale. I am dying and still my luggage is overweight. I suppress hysterical laughter. Khaled holds my arm tighter and steadies me.
“Your luggage is overweight. But I will handle it. You don’t take tension for this. ”

This is what I need to do all the time. Play the damsel in distress so everyone will always allow my overburdened luggage, and feel proud and chivalrous at having helped me. I have never asked for help. I have never let my guard down like that with anyone but you. But I can ask for help. I can be frail and fragile for everyone. I can be young and dainty. I can be a damsel. I learn this skill – being a damsel in distress – when I am dying. It serves no purpose anymore.

Khaled fishes a bottle of Evian from somewhere. “Please drink water. Shall I sit with you? My shift is over. Ghar jaane hi waala tha. Your flight leaves in four hours. You have a lot of time. Shall I buy you something?”
The tears roll down my cheeks. I feel like Blanche DuBois depending on the kindness of strangers.
“Thank you. No. Where are you from?” I whisper.
“Pakistan, Madam. Please calm yourself. Drink water. Come sit here.” We move into the airport.
He still doesn’t notice the blood that’s soaking my black clothes. Khaled deposits me on a pale pink couch. It’s absurd to be sitting on it. It’s absurd that it even exists. I sit obediently thinking why is it a stranger feels so much concern for me? Why am I not invisible to him? Does this mean other people can still see me? Does this mean that by not seeing me, you have not erased me entirely from existence? Do I even exist? Still? For days now, I have been entirely invisible. Only springing to focus when I was to be cut open, sliced, eviscerated.
“Why is the bathroom so wet?”
“Did you not cook today?”
“Have you only been sleeping?”
“Why are you having a panic attack?”
“How can you have a panic attack in front of him?”
“Did you take your meds?”
“Why are you only swallowing pills?”
“Why can’t you look after yourself better?”
Little by little, my existence dwindled. And the blood surges out fresh, hot, sticky at these remembered accusations.
My coat is stained red, the colour of my lips, my hair, and the blood that’s just overflowing from where you knifed me.

But the flight is in four hours and I press my bag on to my stomach to stem the flow. I am an escaped half-slaughtered lamb. I don’t know if escaping a prison when you jailed yourself there, is of any merit. I am no Papillon.
There’s just no escape, it would seem.

“Ma’am, you can go for a security check and towards the gate after an hour. Just sit and relax here for now. I will come right back.”

I sit and slowly let the blood soak everything. I see only red. The shop displays are botched red, as are all the people walking busily and gaily with open wounds, bleeding, soaking the floor in crimson, vermilion, scarlet, puce. They see me and quickly avert their eyes as if my wounds are contagious.

Khaled returns with a lunch box of diced musk melons and a coffee as black and opaque as your heart has now become towards me. “Here, eat this,” he says. He treats me like I am a child now as he pushes the fork into my hand and helps me to hold it. The tiny, Ikea fork pokes into the skin of the melon, impales it. I bring it to my mouth and the melon oblivious to the reality of the world, explodes wet and entirely too sweet in my mouth. Khaled looks pleased. “I grow them,” he says. I swallow the coffee coating my mouth with welcome bitterness. I scald my tongue. This new sensation of pain sharpens the wound in my gut.

I clutch my stomach, heave. I am going to die, I know that. This is what I did. I handed you the knife after blunting it. I thought that would help. I didn’t imagine, couldn’t have imagined, the fury with which you would plunge that knife into me. Blood coats my fingers thickly.

I will die. I am determined to. I just didn’t want to die near you. Or for you. I had to leave, scurrying away like a poisoned rat, to die elsewhere. But I am dying, that I am certain of. I gave up too much of myself for you. There’s nothing left now. I will crawl back to my roots and cradled in that comfort, I will bleed out one pale drop at a time. I am full of such grand, but anemic plans.

I hiccup.

Khaled produces the Evian again. “Drink this.”

I gulp the water down. I have no life, no home, no control over the hiccups as they take over, like I let you take over my life. I am entirely culpable. I let my guard down. I let myself dream. I let myself love someone more than I loved my own self. I had no control. I should have stayed. I should stay back. I don’t need to get on the flight back to India, to the roots. I can stay right here and…

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. My heart pumps out negation in rapid bursts.

I sputter water. My hiccups turn to cough and then to shaking and silent sobs. The blood soaks the pink sofa that’s turned a dirty rust.

People are watching. Maybe finally everyone can see the blood for what it really is. Maybe everyone always saw the knife wound and I didn’t recognise it. Maybe now finally, even you will accept it for what it is. Evisceration. I stare back sightless.

And Khaled says, “You have a long flight. You have to control yourself.”

As his words penetrate the fog in my brain, something shifts. Khaled from Pakistan has shared something profound without realising it. But I catch it. Breathe into it.

In that instance, I learn how to control.

Posted in Blue Funk, Idle Thoughts | 1 Comment