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 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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Heat

We are out of it already.
We are no longer in love.
We love that is certain.
And that is good enough.
If they touch us, they will know a fire here was once lit.
We are just heat, you and I.

Love is such a fleeting emotion anyway.
I think I am in love with you.
And already I have lost the feeling.
Now I am merely thinking, drifting in its aftermath.
As smoke
Rising in the air because somewhere there was a fire.

I want to extinguish myself.
Because I am consumed by my love for you.
​I want to be alone in love.
When I am completely in love with you.
I want to be a match struck in the rain.
Drenched, spent, pointless.

No person can always be in love with another.
Don’t woo me everyday.
And I shan’t hanker for you either, everyday.
Let us fill our lives with annoyance, irritation, disgust, disillusionment, apathy.
This way, we shall burn all the brighter when we meet.
And our combined heat shall set the universe aflame.

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Kiss

The universe puts
Two friends in a room
Rolls a joint
Makes them smoke it
Soon he starts to sing
And she laughs
languishing on the bed.
He lies beside her
As they always do.
He touches her body
Trails his finger on her arms,
Her legs, then up to her hair.
He makes up a song as he goes along
It makes them both laugh
But suddenly he is over her
As he sometimes does
At a home they share
It’s nothing new
But today she sees that
He has perfect lips
And a face to die for
She laughs at the cliché.
His eyes darken.
Hers shift.
She makes a joke of it.
Oedipus Rex.
She stutters the play.
They laugh.
He knows the game.
They have that connection.
They can have entire conversations
Without any context.
And still understand each other.
‘No. The wicked zamindar.
Who always has his way
With the nubile village lass.’
They laugh some more.
He moves away
And she misses his warmth.
It’s a cold room.
There’s no heater.
She siddles in again next to him
Just for the heat, she tells herself.
It’s her right.
He is her own joy come to life.
He fists her hair hard
‘Too violent’, he says
Loosening the grip.
But she enjoys it.
They have been violent before.
They have played scrapping siblings too.
He snorts a laugh and sprays her hand
She goes ‘Ewww…’
And rubs her hand
Against his clothes, his chest.
He arrests her hand and licks her palm.
She cries in protest, laughing.
They are children at play
The universe makes them play
A very adult game.
He traps her hand between his
He holds her by the waist
And sings his made up song
They laugh anew.
They have smoked potent stuff
The best money and friendship can buy.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks drunkenly
As his hands trail down her body.
‘I am not touching this’ he says
Pointing to her breasts
‘And I am not touching this’ he says
A finger hovering around her vagina.
She holds her breath
Releases it on a laugh
As he warms his hand
Between her burning thighs
‘So hot’ he says.
‘Go sleep on the other bed,
you are so hot.’
‘Only there’, she protests
And places her frozen fingers
On his neck.
‘Ugh.’ He pulls at her hair again.
Her face lifts off the pillow
Her breath fans his face.
They are children.
They lock eyes.
Their lips are close.
Too close for this game.
They wait a heartbeat
They wait an eternity.
They hover around a kiss.
‘Sleep on the other bed’ he says,
Impatient, suddenly angry.
‘I am hungry’, she wails,
A demanding little girl.
He offers her a chocolate
And puts it in his mouth.
‘Take’ he says.
She pouts and rummages
For her own chocolate bar.
‘Does he want me to kiss him?’
She dismisses all her instincts.
Are you horny?
She asks herself instead.
She proudly fishes out a large chocolate bar
Refuses to share it with him.
They pretend to be children.
They pretend like only adults can.
They bury away the awareness
They bury away this memory
And never speak of it again.
Later,
He finds a way
to blame her,
to hate her,
to stay away from her.
She doubts herself.
And in the doubting,
loses herself.
That kiss they never share
Changes the course
Of the entire universe.

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Summer

I know you won’t think of me now.
When the sun scoops vanilla clouds
And there are new friends
Planning exciting summer picnics
And dances mid summer nights.
When you can share your dreams
With colourful people who enjoy
Without intent, without intensity.
No.
You won’t think about me.
You are a summer child
And I am the dreary crone
Of relentless, lonely monsoons.
I am the trees dripping rain
Drunk, somnabulent in green.
I am the monsoon winds
Whipping grey and cold
Boringly intent.
Boorishly intense.
Pursuing.
Truth.
You.
Can.
Do.
Without.
Within.
No.
You won’t think of me now.

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Morning 

It’s 7 am.
And I wake up in a warm bed
too large for a single person
to neighborhood noises –
clattering vessels and conversation muted
by walls and windows.
My head pounds to the beat
of a sprightly mixer making chutney.
My eyes shut tight against light
wish for a gun that would
shoot the migraine away.

I am pregnant.
My stomach swells
with your good intentions
and your kindness
that refuse to be born.
My pregnancy lasts
a lifetime of wanting,
desiring decency.
My pregnancy refuses
to birth
our conventional desires
and so shames only me.

It’s 7 am.
In the morning
Words have more clarity.
Even those that lack depth.
Worlds have hope everywhere.
Today is a new day.
But where I live
with my swollen stomach
my head pulsing failure and loss
morning brings only sickness.
And a heart heavier than
The light of a piercing sun.

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Ageing

Cities change. That familiar landmark next to the empty lot doesn’t look the same anymore now that the empty lot is a seven storied building. That’s what strikes me on Instagram.

My city has changed. It’s no longer familiar. While I have been living, ekeing out my existence teaching, puffing up with self-importance when I ‘Like’ a comment on a post on the Modi government on Facebook, things have moved on, changed. Entire buildings have been built. The sky has turned blue, then grey, and then a pregnant red at night portending rain, while I have idled days away watching American dark comedy, watching Transparent.

At the restaurant, I suddenly catch myself in a mirror and start because I look familiar but also like a stranger. Who is that woman?
My hair greys out at the edges of my face, but shines burgundy, and my skin ruddies with a smile and the heat. My body is thick, substantial, proud. I pride myself on being self-aware but now I am constantly startled by how little I have changed in love, in anger, in friendship. So that woman in the mirror I glimpsed so startlingly cannot be me. She looks self-possessed, bored, self-important, and indifferent even when she smiles.
Everyday, I scrub at memories so I can erase a bit of the people who have left, so I can reassure myself I don’t hurt anymore, so I can reclaim myself. It’s like moulting. Everyday. It’s painful. Everyday. But the woman in the mirror looks like she has it all figured out. That woman looks like she would dismiss pain like a fallen eye-lash hair. Hardly caring about anything.

The city brims with people and stony faces. I dream of crisp weather and faces that care. But I myself don’t care anymore. People are tiring and tiresome and no one is more so than me. For someone with deep sated commitment phobia, I have lived too long with myself.

The city can’t go on for too long. There’s no water. Rain is a promise and a sludgy curse. The heat is intolerable in January we whine to each other but don’t know of any productive step that would bring the cool back to the city. The buildings kiss skies proclaiming progress in brittle, glassy confidence. Inside, people are dying a little each day. The dead walk amongst us smug, laughing, defeated, raging like mad on their car and bike honks on the streets. We choke and die anew in traffic.

A friend tells me China has foresight while Indians are riddled with religion. China focuses on the future, plans for decades from now in smog-filled cities that are all about urbanity and development. China dreams of world domination. We fight over what Rama wore to bed at night in newer, urbane accents. We dream totalitarian dreams, impressing no one with our vocabulary that labels everyone and everything in binaries.

Numbers are never odd. My tarot reader reads my cards and is appalled that I have no savings. Why is the future a preoccupation then? I reassure her that I am not worried about the future. I want to figure this now out. I want to figure out this strangeness with my own familiar skin. She chides me for not worrying about the future. But you must care about money she exclaims. She won’t take money from me. Money is inconsequential we both say at the same time. Unless you don’t have it, she warns.

I decide to educate myself in economics and see that entire countries are debt-ridden and states have over-drawn accounts.

Nothing gets done in this city. They announce tenders for laddoos for the Namma Metro inauguration. Everywhere, the streets team red and angry with the deluge of vehicles. The metro divides us like an orphan vein throbbing in self-importance, bursting varicose with the crowds even when it connects nothing with anything.

My head roars like rain on the asbestos sheets of the metro station, filling me with unnecessary insights on the cusp of another birthday.

  1. Bangalore is dying.
  2. This, right now, is all there is.
  3. You are already who you are.
  4. Families are full of people who are too familiar and unwilling to be surprised by each other.
  5. Heed Shakespeare. Moderation is the key.
  6. So even when you are burnt out in life, even when the city no longer speaks to you, even when your lovers belong to other people, be grateful.
  7. Anyone can fuck anybody and orientation is just buggering bullocks.
  8. Readiness is all.
  9. When your dreams die and your lost, unconceived baby dies, mourn quietly, in silence.
  10. Guard your privacy and your grief, even if there are willing ears and others’ fingertips to wipe your tears.
  11. Don’t make life about yourself.
  12. Don’t make a life for others.
  13. Don’t make. Life. It happens.
  14. Ageing is just old things looking different and new things becoming familiar.
  15. Ageing is change. Until it no longer is.
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