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Read part one

In my heart I knew that she didn’t see the sense I was making. She was adamant and her words could have been engraved in stone. She didn’t want to be married. Not to me, not now. Somewhere in my heart I was sure that she would say no. But I felt, dreamt, hoped that she would reconsider. When she returned home that night, her eyes gave it away. Well, at least we didn’t need to have a long conversation.
“No, K. I cannot begin to imagine a marriage again. I thought you were aware of that,” she said. “Don’t curse me for wanting more Jay. I was just giving it a shot,” I replied.

“I can vacate this house early this weekend,” she said. “So it is all or nothing?” I asked.

“Knowledge that you are looking for more and I am not makes this relationship unfair. The rhythm we had is disrupted and I wish to not force you to stay unmarried. We have to go our separate ways,” she said.

She packed a night bag. I assumed she would be heading over to Tee’s house. I wanted to hug her, kiss her and say a proper goodbye but she wore her best strong face. I didn’t want this to become anymore ugly than it already had.

I don’t think I should feel guilty for wanting more. But in that moment I did. She shouldn’t feel obliged to conform to my wants. I respected her decision. But I couldn’t help but wonder what this new phase in my life would be like. Without her and without the safe space we had created.

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She was at a crossroads, a very noisy and confusing one. She knew what to do yet she sat down at the corner of lost. Her mind couldn’t process the information she had just received. Sometimes making a decision, any decision is tough. Knowledge of the decision being irreversible made it worse. But she couldn’t avoid it much longer. She had to respond.

She couldn’t decide how to phrase it though. She headed over to her friend’s house and knocked on her door. “He asked,” she said instead of hello. Her friend put on her coat and they went out for drinks. This discussion needed too many cocktails in the mix. Through the first three cocktails, she didn’t say a word.

Finally Tee broke the silence, “You won’t even think of saying yes?” “I just can’t Tee. I know how it will turn out. I am not meant to be in a marriage. There has already been one sour experience. One more?” Jay replied.

It is like he doesn’t even know me, she thought. “I know what you are thinking. I give him credit for trying. He wants to spend his life with you,” Tee said. “Oh shh! This is a logical decision we made years ago. He has melted into sentiment and I need to leave,” Jay muttered.

She had reasoned it out in her life. 40 was too old to be married. She liked her life the way it was. She didn’t need it to conform to society’s approval. But he was exhausted of staying outside the realm of normalcy. He had made this very point a number of times in the past 6 years. She wasn’t willing to give up her freedom. He wasn’t ready to choose this life forever. They had fought it out many times before but their love had kept them intact. Perhaps time had come to take a decision straight from the mind. Her heart was bound to mess it up. If he had made his choice, it was time to vocalise and stick to hers.

She felt weak just imagining the conversation. She will have to pretend and pretend well. There was no need to shed any tears.

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I love how sometimes you have no control over how the world brings people together. I was drawn to a meeting today that I was extremely reluctant to attend. But it turned out to be extremely grounded and eye-opening. I saw one of the best plays (dance, song, drama) on development and its multi-layered effect, including consumerism, loss of land, globalisation, media, government’s promises, on people in the villages. This was performed by a composition of people from across the districts and it is being taken to the districts. The play was powerful, sarcastic and truly well performed. I was fortunate enough to see it in a small audience and interact with the performers after.

On days like these, I feel fortunate to be able to meet such people and engage in wonderful conversations. It is interactions like these that renew my hope that there are many dynamic souls doing their own little bit to change the world; the knowledge keeps the fight going for me and reminds me that being surrounded by such causes make working in this field totally worth it.

Luckily, I have been surrounded by passionate, kind and fiery women and men for a while now. I am glad I met them for they enrich my understanding of the nuances in development and working with communities.

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Part one             Part two

Ever since he could remember, he used to read books. In his adolescence, once he stumbled upon a new author, he read every book of the author’s he could find. The books kept him company and allowed him to remain free.

A man is always a prey to his truths. Once he has admitted them, he cannot free himself of them, he thought. Is that why he refused to even voice some of his thoughts out loud? He scribbled violently into his notebook. Several hours later he thought, Tomorrow will be a truthful day.

His class solemnly walked in the next day, as per usual. He told them there would be an assignment for the hour and read from his book, Who are you? Where did you come from? What is a childhood habit you cannot forget? What do you want to become? Who do you want to be like? What do you believe you deserve in life? On the contrary, what do you take for granted in this life? What moves you? What reminds you deeply of your identity?

These questions, he continued, will hold answers that you must not be scared to admit. Search your soul, dig deep, take your time, write down the most truthful answers, he said.

In the wee hours of the previous night, he had felt that the simplest questions had the most difficult answers. The response to who are you could no longer be a mere ‘man’. It required acknowledging the invisible characters that in turn shaped this male identity. The ease with which he had been taught to segregate the black and the white with logic increasingly made him uneasy; the greys that existed needed to be admitted as well. Asking a room full of teenagers these questions might not generate the expected response. But the questions, he posed, were to just get them started.

Feeling a compulsive need to shy away from his brahmin identity had forced him to believe he was casteless. He had only just begun to see the ways in which this layer of his identity had shaped his thinking or even life at large.

He sat on his chair and observed the class deep in thought. He wouldn’t collect the sheets they wrote on. He didn’t want their answers. He simply wanted to urge them to question the birth of their multi-layered identities. He hoped, unlike him, they wouldn’t lie to comfort themselves for a majority of their lives.

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Part one

He strode into his college early the next morning. He taught literature at a college to students who didn’t seem to care. But honestly at the age of 17 did he really care about life or literature? Growing up, his grandfather would take him to a quaint library near their house on a scooter. Every evening, grandfather would force him to borrow a new book and squat outside the house till he finished it. His love for reading began early and the interest was nurtured. Wasn’t he lucky? He had access to a good library and a grandfather who encouraged reading. Many of his students lacked a love for reading or an inkling of interest in books. They came for the compulsory credit from the class.

Was he merely ‘lucky’ to have had the fortune of reading while growing up? Presently, he dismissed it and proceeded to teach his class Shakespeare. The class did not feel the passion in Portia’s speech; neither did they react to the cruelty of Shylock. They sat mute and dopey or simply used their lips to read. He shrugged his frustration off too. After switching jobs for many years together, he finally settled for this job in the college. His qualifications could have gotten him better jobs but his soul craved the literature. He couldn’t forget the mockery he was put through in his family. Only fools leave the material world for the literary, he was told. He wondered if his choice was an act of rebellion?

In this frame of mind, he imagined a few new labels: Unmarried, 35, silent, Hindu, heterosexual, lonely, God-fearing, nationalist. These felt deeper and closer to his personality; however admitting them scared him. This process had forced him to discover himself without pressures of society’s cruel judgments.

As the list of labels grew, the size of the boxes increased. As the invisible was being acknowledged, the visible was frightening. His inner gaze would never play truant again. But was acknowledgement enough? He pulled out his copy of Shakespeare to read. Only words could help him find his way or rather distract him today; words of a great writer of course, not his own.

You speak an infinite deal of nothing, he muttered to himself.

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Words, they say, free you from boxes. Words, he felt, created boxes. Boxes are crowded and claustrophobic. For a while now, he had been battling putting himself in boxes with labels. Everyone around seemed to be able to label themselves proudly. They strutted around town flaunting it; writer or painter or smart ass, they claimed. He found all labels restricting. Even a number of them together. His fluid mind wished to flow freely from one stream to the next. Often, he was told he was lost and ‘couldn’t make up his mind’. Observers felt, this resulted in no active goals in life. He, on the other hand, felt that no direction was all the direction he needed.

But sometimes, he couldn’t convince himself of the truth in such statements. The voices from outside overpowered him into picking a few identities. Even then, he could never answer the question, “Who are you?” The uni-dimensional “man” would escape his lips.

He couldn’t answer it with any more honesty. Nobody ever seemed satisfied with “I don’t know”. The pressure to always know, to understand oneself, to dream big, to think ahead was all too intricate for him. He shrugged his shoulders and let the matter slide.

When alone, he was haunted by these very thoughts. He tried on some of the labels that were obvious: Man, adult, literate, upper-class, brahmin, city-dweller, car owner. The boxes were chilling and unnerving. He needed to embrace them to understand the privilege that came with them. He needed to study them to accept the authority it gave him. He no longer could wander, pretending these labels didn’t matter to him or to his personality. Unless he truly accepted them, he couldn’t comprehend their power.

He paused to ponder, do the labels seek to liberate the souls or further restrict them? He was yet to find some answers.

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She waited by the window and stared at the skies. The clouds looked ready to burst. Yet, there was no sign of the rains. She ached for the clouds to give in and wet the city. The air was still without any breeze even. The five seconds of chaos before the showers began were her favourite. She was reminded of when her eyes welled up right before she broke down. Only the clouds were far less dramatic.

She loved the company of rains. The end of the heat was always a pleasant time to look forward to. Even the water flowing freely on the streets was tolerable when it rained. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. They were not going to arrive today. They were at least a couple of days away, she thought sadly. Her nose could detect their impending arrival before anybody or anything else. The smell of rains would waft to her nose and distract her from her work. What she liked best about the rains was watching the dogs on the streets right after. The rains would have swept away the familiar smells and replaced the streets with a range of smells. They would spend hours roaming around excitedly figuring out their way through the new scents.

But, not she. The rains for her were the safest place she knew. She would cuddle up under a sheet with a hot cup of tea and watch it rain from the safe quarters of her home. She had a seat next to the huge windows where she would be seated. However, the best feeling had to be falling asleep to the noise of the raindrops. She had a metal sheet as her ceiling; when the rain came down hard, she would drift off to the raindrops clattering on the sheet. What seemed to annoy her visitors was a welcome noise to her. More often than not, she craved it for a sound night’s sleep.

She continued to stare out her window for a while after, wishing she was wrong and the rains would surprise her today. She only missed her old friend.

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Sometimes she looked closely at her own life to observe her actions and reactions. She found that over time she developed a behavioural pattern. It was one that led her to similar situations interacting with a range of similar people. She was forced to think if there was something in her response that needed to change. Else, she wouldn’t be attracting these forces. If indeed, this logic holds true, what did she need to change.

With these thoughts in her mind, she walked down a familiar street in her neighbourhood. Memories of incidents that had taken place on that street raced through her mind. The street light, the footpath, the fall, the ankle, even the dustbin at the end of the road, all reminded her of the past. She was surprised as she had thought that many of those memories would just be blurred by now. But on the contrary, it felt close.

However, she didn’t consider physical similarities in her experiences to her emotional experiences. Somehow the two seemed better understood once kept apart. But could she really judge an experience without considering the location? The more intimate kind of emotional experiences made this very challenging and she was a pretty emotional person. Her heart doing most of the weight lifting. Her instincts were a huge part of her decisions; though she ignored them as often as she listened to them. Later, often finding herself in a situation which was kick worthy. When she described this feeling to others, few understood. Some told her, she was overreacting. Others that this too shall pass. The best kind were those who didn’t see the problem at all. Not that again, she would feel and dismiss it. Eventually, she resigned herself to the feeling that nobody understood and stopped complaining.

To her fortune in the later lost years, serendipity guided her to a female writer whose thoughts resounded with hers. She ached for more and binge reading was a given. In her words, she had found reason, sanity and acceptance. She didn’t try to explain it to anyone, anymore. At the least, she understood the webs she weaved. Intricate and complicated.

But the acceptance kept her going. Because for always, she will have the books to turn to.

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I wonder sometimes on long journeys in autos, as I watch the streets go by, what is going through the minds of those walking on the streets. It is pretty wonderful to stare at them and imagine the wonderful things they are thinking of. But sometimes, they have conversations out loud and I cannot help but overhear. Then the possibilities narrow down and you are forced to deal with reality.

Today’s overheard conversation made me think. A mother and daughter were in a share auto with me till Mehdipatnam. They were in the middle of a bad fight. Unfortunately for them, I understood Tamil. It was uneasy to watch the dynamics of their relationship unfold. The mother was authoritative and forceful. The daughter tearful and sombre. The mother yelled and held her stare but the girl’s eyes were firmly fixed to the floor of the auto.

It reminded me of the many fights I have had with my mom. I would be on the verge of tears but her cold exterior always made it tough to see that she meant well. Years later, we have a mutual understanding and I understand her reactions better. As I watched that mother-daughter fight, I wondered if every mother-daughter relationship had to go through this to get to the calm spaces of understanding. Do some relationships never make it? I wonder.

As I got out of the auto, I wondered if I should smile at her. But the mother’s cold looks kept me at bay. I walked away reluctantly.

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Don’t tell me what to do, he thought; “If you say so,” were the words that he spoke instead. What he felt rarely made it to the ears of the people that deserved it. He was told how to work, how to speak, and sometimes even how to bathe. One would assume that at the age of 45, he could function of his own accord; do as he pleases with his body. But that was hardly the reality.

His personality was unfortunately one that resisted controversy and, more importantly, confrontation. He was attuned to succumb to another’s will. Submissive, you are, he was told . He smiled a genuine smile cause he had no logical response. Your silence is mistaken for inaction, some others said. He laughed with knowledge that his battles were fought in his own time.

But, he wasn’t this nonchalant on the inside. Quite the contrary. He was faced with a quandary; his need to voice his concerns battled it out against his adamant nature to stay sombre. This battle was fought within his mind and fought frequently. Despite the unease, the silence always won.

But, for him, this wasn’t a new phenomenon. He had heard the same statements for years. He had already been through the three stages of grief. First, there was the denial. Then, the years of trying to ‘fix’ it. Finally, the acceptance. Now where is the fix?

“Hidden deep within you,” his therapist told him. How deep and will he ever unearth it? These questions the therapist refused to answer. He needed to figure it out all by his lonesome self. No matter how old he gets. The path he knew wouldn’t be conflict free but it has proven to be a disconcerting and discomforting task.

And he is still finding his way.