Ghosts of grief

When I started reading Ghosts of Meenambakkam, I was very curious. The narrator stood at Meenambakkam airport while meditating on death. Despite all the flights I’ve taken and the amount I have thought about death myself, I doubt I had spent even a fleeting moment at an airport thinking about it. Maybe I feared if I did that the flight might deliver that swift wish. The narrator’s visits to the airport and his thoughts about death, however, were part of a process of mourning; his daughter had died in an unexpected plane crash several years ago. A wound he had barely let heal. He spent those moments outside the airport reliving those difficult last moments while pondering about the things that he could have probably changed.

At the airport, the narrator spots an old acquaintance Dalpathado, a movie producer, who swerves his life that night into a whirlwind of chases and hiding. The secrecy, the danger, the unexpected outcome of all the hush-hush planning make the book a very engaging read. The stormy night makes for an interesting detail in the story; much of which I spent imagining these three men crouched on their fours and whispering to each other in a hut. The danger continues to build around these men which keeps the reader moving forward quickly while imagining an explosive end.

Ghosts of Meenambakkam is written by Ashokamitran and translated by Kalyan Raman (who I was fortunate to have studied under). The writing is crisp and focuses on a lot of details of the surroundings and the night itself adding to the appeal of the book. The life and heart of this book is the underlying sorrow. Sorrows of the past. Of those lost and others forgotten. Of those part of tragedies, both created and accidental. I read it around the time of the passing of Layla. The grief he describes is a grief I understood all too well. Parts of me imagines that he describes these stories in such detail as to detract us from focussing too hard on the larger situation. The story for me was comforting as well as disturbing; like all good stories should be.

[I have had several drafts of this sitting around. But I was forced into thinking about these books and these characters when I heard that Ashokamitran had passed away. He was 85 and a legendary writer of everyday stories that were relatable.]

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Thoughts after reading A Handbook For My Lover

We are used to reading about a sanitised love. A love that is packaged for consumption. Especially on social media. The messiness cleaned out and removed. Vulnerability wiped away. Gore hidden from the naked eye. It is one of greatness. But not a greatness I understood.

Something felt not right. Incomplete.

I recently read Rosalyn D’Mello’s A Handbook For My Lover. I hesitantly picked it up at the literary festival. The cover wasn’t appealing enough for me. I was just coming out of a heartbreak (I might say this for years), I couldn’t imagine I had any heart left for an erotic book on love. It sat in my unread pile and collected dust. I flipped through it and closed it in a hurry. Not ready, I muttered. I picked up my old copy of Anais’s diary to reread. I realised deep and painful was what I needed. (This was before I knew Rosalyn was a fan of Anais. Talk about coincidences.) I began the book; it felt like a walk along a long, difficult and tedious path strewn with emotions, chaos, love, lust and sex. I savoured every word. Re-reading pages. Photographing bits that sounded like my thoughts. I will admit it triggered a lot of memories and forced me to deal with a lot of my own pain.

I confronted you about my strange condition. You said, with the air of a professional, that I was exhibiting an early symptom of that disease called love. I was confused. Last I checked I’d bulletproofed and bubble-wrapped my heart so that I’d be immune from such infections. I told you flatly that this had to end.

Several times while reading the book, I heaved sighs like an old lady. I would shut the book and stare at my spinning fan instead. I was overwhelmed. I have trouble talking about what I feel. I hesitate, use vague words, beat around the bush and never say the messiest things loudly. And here was a book that addressed that mess head-on. A vulnerability in my drowning confusion.

When I sat down to write this, I noticed many excerpts of the book online. But the parts that stuck with me aren’t among these. (We all do relate to books in very different ways.) This book and I travelled a journey when I was ready to dismiss the excruciating missing, the irrational love and the vulnerability of feeling exposed as my own foolhardiness. I couldn’t manage the composure I was exhibiting anymore; silently falling apart on the sidelines of a failed relationship.

If I had to say it publicly, I wouldn’t be able to. But I miss him. His shaved head, his grizzly peppered beard, his confident gait, his quiet vulnerability, his reassuring touch. I don’t want to hide it. I don’t want to be ashamed by it. Mostly, I don’t want to feel it. I try not to be shamed by the world’s need for aesthetics in love and my complete lack of it. Cause the truth is I don’t have a liking for that. Everyone speaks of composure in both love and heartbreak. Yet, my love is messy, chaotic, contradictory and non-linear. It cannot fit into neat packages to be presented as examples to be replicated. It defies even my own demand for clarity and sanity. My love is all over the place; it splatters on the walls of my life and it parades its non-conforming arse. It’s painful and surreal. It is one where there are no straight answers and great depth. It is quirky, weird, abnormal. Add another exclusionary adjective of your choice. Yet, instead of taking pride in it, I often felt shame. My heartbreak was no different.

And here was Rosalyn, speaking of her love, pain, lust, emotions and fears, and her and his imperfections so brazenly. It was real; I could run my fingers over it and recollect rather than imagine. I don’t know if the word to use here is brave. It could be called that. For me, A Handbook For My Lover was what I needed.

I have finished the book now. I feel an emptiness that the loss of a great friend leaves. I have been intensely mourning its finish and still returning to the book. I didn’t want to forget. Both the words and how it felt.

It is a recommended read for those of us who can’t help but feel a bit too much.

To Periyar and beyond

I enjoy travelling. Part of what I hope to do more of every year is travel. Both with people and alone. There is a sense of calm I feel when I am away finding small spaces of belonging. Sitting under trees. Falling asleep in a chair. Drinking beer staring into fields. Falling asleep while reading in a hammock. Walking around aimlessly. Talking about books, the world, life. Looking at sunsets with a twinkle in my eye. But what I like most is the things I learn about myself while travelling.

Recently, A and I went to Periyar. I was a little anxious about travelling cause my body has not been in the best shape. But I went packed with my regular medicines, pain killers and a can-do-it spirit. It started off rocky with me taking a train ride with a baby kicking and screaming throughout. Something I seem to attract on train/bus journeys. Yay, babies. Then it spiralled into a strange sleeper bus ride with no divisions between two seats and a uncontrollable driver who made me turn to stone all night and A sit up with her nose out the window. But we reached. One piece et all.  Promptly after reaching, we drowned ourselves in the smaller things in life. Dew drops. Butterflies. Organically grown strange looking fruit. Picking pine cones fallen on the ground. Our day was spent unwinding from the journey (two consecutive ones for me) and just relaxing in the chair, which by the end of the trip was the space my butt had memorised. By evening, we realised our plans to visit the actual park seemed vague and close to non-existent. Frantically, we looked up a few websites and I used my limited Tamil to book us on an early morning, full day trek. This task wasn’t easy and left me decently sceptical about our trek. Will we actually go? Will they feed us to sloth bears? Did I just confirm tickets with a man who has none? Will we be sitting at the park in the morning ticketless?

We did make it to the trek though. Not without me knocking on a strange door, picking up tickets from a burly man and getting an early-morning view of said Mallu man without his shirt. Yay, men. And we were off for the trek. With a few unplanned, havoc-ridden detours. The trek was chaotic to say the least and marvellous to say the maximum. We ambled behind two couples (one French and one Brit) who were nearly twice my age but so fit. They assumed A and I were a couple and threw our way a few well meaning questions with the undertone of coupledom. It all started well but went on to get difficult and off the regular route. The search for the elephants was on and I was sure if we found any, I would just lie down and let them eat me. By the time we spotted the elephants, my knee had decided to wage a full blown war. We didn’t chase the elephants like the rest of them. We sat in quiet reflection under the canopy of trees. The tall, lush trees were a delight to gaze at. The nooks with streams of water were places to spot A spotting butterflies. Watching the Malabar squirrel jump gracefully from one branch to another made us wonder how we were more evolved than that elegant fellow. It was a place to be present and lost at once.

We waddled our way back to flat land and I spent the next day recouping from fat knees and A from angry toes. I spent most of my time in a chair reading Atwood and giggling to myself. We also ate delicious fish at our organic farm stay, consumed Papaya like I have never relished it before.

As movement returned to our knees and toes by evening, we made early morning plans to go boating. The boat ride was magnificent (words fail to describe) and one didn’t need a fancy camera to take breathtaking photos. We did spot more elephants, wild boars, deers and several lovely birds. Many of our co-passengers were not half as enthusiastic as us.

It was a lesson in many things for me: a) Indians like to boat. b) They can call women with short hair – ‘Saaar’. c) They wake up early to go boating, stand in long queues, push people around and then sleep on the boat. d) Periyar lake was one of the most beautiful bits of nature I have seen. e) People can get super dressed up to come boating. I mean some of them looked like models.

After we finished our hour-long boat ride, we walked out slowly through the park. Enjoying the birds, the monkeys, the silence, the sound of trees talking to themselves and big plus, very few humans. The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful.  We took an auto ride where autos should never go to see views that were underwhelming. Plus though was that I got marriage and travelling advice from the driver. He did take us to a waterfall. Maybe waterfall should be in quotes. Cause there was really not much fall and very little water. Like all waterfalls, this had a tragic story of lovers committing suicide.

We ended our crazy auto ride with a tour of an organic, ayurvedic farm. The woman might have been the best salesperson I have ever met and a really tough school teacher. She snapped at A and me for giggling and not listening to her. We left amazed at her ability to sell products with a strong message that all illnesses will henceforth be cured. Amen.

As our trip began to come to a close, I began to feel uneasy again. Being away suddenly meant more calm than getting back to the routine. I was ready to run. Again.

The trip was an important reminder for me to look after myself; love myself more; be still to notice the smaller things; glance at the skies everyday around sunset; just keep swimming. Being still for a few moments everyday made me see that I had a lot of unresolved emotions. These things take time to heal. I was being impatient and wishing for it to end. But processes needed to be followed and slowly, I would see the end.

I am always glad to travel with my INFJ partner because she doesn’t react drastically to my breakdowns; and she is more giving than I will ever be. We are always greeted with some chaos on our trips. They never fail to make us laugh, reflect on life and bring us closer together.

Till our next trip and our next overwhelming chaotic life lesson, then.

2015.

(Disclaimer: Excruciatingly long)

Well, 2015 is coming to a close. On most counts, I am glad this year is done. Putting aside a brief two-week vacation to Nepal, to my enthusiasm, 2015 has been overwhelming on the low front. I had a couple of surprising heartbreaks, professional and personal, that shook my earthing. A few diagnoses were the additional bonuses on the health front! Woot.

When I used to write on Blogspot (before I wanted a clean start and began this blog), I did a year-end review. I thought it was a silly practise till my conversation with A from last evening made me realise how smart I used to be.

I get bogged down by the low a lot. Perhaps a little bit of this is in my nature. End-of-the-year existential crisis is common and tempting to wallow in. I have honestly done a lot of it. BUT, I learnt a lot this year.

Embracing my personality with all its quirks has been rewarding and relevant. I stopped making excuses when I didn’t feel up to being around people. Especially those I had drifted away from. I learnt to enjoy my company and do what is good for me which resulted in lots of art and getting my hands messy. I began to look after myself more. My health taught me that my mind and body are not separate. The pressures on my mind will be felt by my body. So care is not optional. It needs to be integrated into daily living. Smell a few more flowers, perhaps. Unfortunately, these health crises have forced me to give up sweets and coffee. Something till 2015 I thought was not possible. But I am finding new patterns and routines. Healthier ones. All while remembering that I am really tiny in the grand scheme of things. People tell me this insignificance scares them. But it has been one of the most reassuring and calming truths.

“When I go for a drive I like to pull off to the side
Of the road and run and jump into the ocean in my clothes
And I’m smaller than a poppyseed inside a great big bowl
And the ocean is a giant that can swallow me whole
So I swim for all salvation and I swim to save my soul
But my soul is just a whisper trapped inside a tornado
So I flip to my back and I float and I sing
I am grounded, I am humbled, I am one with everything”
– I like giants: Kimya Dawson

As a surprise to myself, I fell in love. Accidentally. Madly. To an unsuspecting bystander. Though it has left me recovering from a broken heart, it reminded me that I am intense and love is overwhelming. It was nice to sit drenched in the emotion and learn to just breathe. Let the pieces fall as they will. I am still learning to live with my intensity and even enjoy the depth of character that I seek. 🙂 Love dragged me along a long path of self-discovery which has been difficult, painful, stirring, and intimate in discoveries about myself.

My professional heartbreak is far more difficult to write about. Since most of the year and waking hours were spent at the office, learnings are integral to my growth. I had to quit a job that I was fond of because of grave internal turmoil, certain strife and need for more challenges. It became essential for me to embrace that I am young, emotional and vulnerable which people in workplaces often use against me as a weakness. I didn’t realise how much I had pushed these away. Over the years of hearing it being pitched as a negative, I had happily accepted this to be true. Not anymore. 🙂

One of the most unsettling truths of the year was revealed while stranded at the bottom of the Himalayas because of unseasonal rain and snow. Rainer Maria Rilke was the bearer of the news – ‘Life is right in all cases’. Rilke has rescued me on several occasions. His words were a float when I felt I would drown in the ocean of anxiety and self doubt. They were a balm to my soul that felt out of place, making me more home in my skin and less cuckoo. (Or is it be more cuckoo? :))

“Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a young poet

I also turned around my writing this year. It was a much needed change from the self-deprecating stuff I tell myself about lack of any talent. Though I write here, I had not written about the many learnings from my work and the world around me. Starting to write for Women’s Web and Girls Globe is an attempt to fix this. I am happy to add my two-cents to the progress to women’s rights and equality around the world. It is a small drop in the ocean, yet a satisfying drop.

I think writing these words was an important part of taking stock of the changes, both good and bad, the year brought my way. In the darkness of doubt, pain and unanswered questions, I have found it is comfortable to believe I had an unproductive year. One where I have been stagnant and done little to further my beliefs. But I have made a lot of personal growth and some professional strides. This forms part of a learning process to understand myself better and walk closer to the person I want to be.

Hope 2016 is less harsh but as rewarding.

INFJs, mountains and Rilke

INFJs*, mountains and Rilke.

Believe me, it is a deadly combination. When two INFJs decide to go to the mountains to recoup, they mean business. They carry more books than warm clothes. They have writing books, reading books and second-hand books, letter pads, post cards they gather along their travelling paths. It is dangerous to travel with them. They spend hours reading and staring into space. They visit museums with a purpose – to read the explanations. Not like many others who just see and move on.  My INFJ travelling partner is a joy to be around. She allows me to fall deep into my thought process and patiently begins to communicate for me. The beauty is when the need arises, I would do the same.

Our itinerary loving asses were treated to a surprise when the mountains were suddenly elusive because of snow/hail/rain. To be fair, our books would not have kept us warm and we would have frozen to death. So, we spent several days bummed out in coffee shops sipping coffee and wine and eating cake like we would die if we didn’t. It was difficult.

Here is where we rediscovered Rainer Maria Rilke. Rilke is a poet himself and his words were soothing to our distressed souls. We struggled to calm down, relax and let ‘life be right in all cases’. It was hard but I doubt I would have been able to live through that trip without my trusty INFJ and our survival kit comprising Rilke^. I would read him out loud and then sigh over the deep philosophy. We learnt a lot through him, I would think.

We had both read Rilke before. The circumstances – being stranded at the foot of the magnificent mountains – helped us explore the depths of his words.

“It is always what I have already said: always the wish that you may find patience enough in yourself to endure, and simplicity enough to believe; that you may acquire more and more confidence in that which is difficult, and in your solitude among others. And for the rest, let life happen to you. Believe me: life is right, in any case.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke

It was a difficult trip with lots of rain, hail and rocky bus rides. But I remember two moments vividly. One where we were soaking wet, sitting in front of a fire and reading. The other where we were in an airport lounge for insane hours with cups of coffee and reading. Both times aloud and both times lost in the words. (The second book I suspect is another INFJ favourite [perhaps not just INFJs] The Little Prince.)

In my current moments of anxiety, depression and stress, I picture the elusive mountain ranges and repeat to myself: Life is right, in any case. Contrary to the original situation, it calms me miraculously.

*INFJ – MBTI personality type

^ After returning, we discovered in an article online that hard bound Rilke is an ideal present for INFJs. They couldn’t have been more right with regards to these two INFJs.

365 of 365

A little girl walked into a large room. She looked around bewildered. It looked like the end of something. Deserted and empty. Or was it the beginning?

She sat in the centre thinking of ways to write this story. In the meantime, imaginary objects, people and specimens piled up on one side of the room and very real issues, core ideals and values piled up on the opposite side. The room began to get filled. More and more objects. More and more principles. She sat on her stool and watched eagerly. With excitement.

Here, around her and elsewhere, too, the stories had no end. All she needed was tiny space in the world and the luxury to pay heed to her voice. She nurtured it. Calmed it down. Riled it up. Fine tuned its skills. Angered it. And she spoke. Louder and with more clarity as time slipped by. She was young. But knew she had to trust the voices inside her head. Though friends, outsiders, acquaintances, strangers told her not to.

For silence was not going to save her. It, on the contrary, corroded her insides and broke her spirit. The stories, the imagination, the writing, the fire in her soul – these things fed her. Allowed her to grow.

No. It wasn’t the end. Only a beginning.

She looked at the empty room again and wrote furiously with her imagination colouring the pages.

364 of 365

Breakups have always been hard. But I was recently thinking about it and I realised the digital world has multiplied the problems. Earlier it was an occasional memory that would pop up unannounced; a stray letter would land up as a bookmark; a photo found while cleaning under the mattress. Even then, these could be handled and tucked away into the dark corners of the loft. The digital world, fortunately or unfortunately, has complicated life. You not only have to put away physical memories but you have to distance yourself virtually. There is Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, Whatsapp, BBM to name a few. This means there is more than one way a memory, an instance or their very presence sneaks up on you. To ensure sanity, you need to use the very tools that allowed you to know them intimately and thoroughly to place comfortable distance. It is a tough job and requires one to painstakingly go remove digital footprints. Additionally, one can track most of these unfollows and blocks. It makes the pain that much more brutal and repetitive. It is in effect a gnawing feeling that prevents healing.

Or maybe only I feel this way.

363 of 365

It was a party.

One I was reluctant to attend. Too many visitors and too many friends. Ones I hadn’t seen for ages together. Others I wished were no longer on this earth. Which of these were friends and which visitors is for you to decide. For processing and disseminating such information was too much for me to indulge in. They were all dressed formally as the occasion demanded.

The party was organised in my honour. So my presence was mandatory. The crowd made me suffocate. Just a bit. It was what happened when you married a wise, wonderful and friendly woman. Even worse when she was an extrovert. She wasn’t her usual self though. Maybe it was the large gathering. Maybe she wanted me by her side. Though I can assure you, I was useless at helping or calming her down. On the contrary, she needed to calm me down. Maybe it was the occasion.

She looked too solemn. The black just didn’t suit her.

362 of 365

What a shame!

I felt things I shouldn’t. With you not here.

I said things I wouldn’t. With you unaware.

I did things I couldn’t. With you elsewhere.

You were not around to see. For you had left a lot before me.

I pulled a skull from the cupboard and cleaned it up.

I pretended it was you when I was lonely.

Heart out, lips sealed, I offered you some cake.

A cold silence followed.

For you had left before you finished dessert.

This was the cake you never ate.

361 of 365

She and I played with the baby. We bounced him about. I tried to tell him stories but I couldn’t make him smile. Then the conversation of scars came about. He was nine months old. He had no clue, yet, what scars meant. And she and I gave him a 5 minute crash course on physical and emotional scars. His big eyes became bigger. His mother laughed.

‘Just crazy aunties,’ I told his mother. We might have been inappropriate.

Were we being morbid? I don’t think so. Are there things you don’t tell a kid? I hope he listens carefully and someone or the other tells him the truth always.

My niece came over the other day. I noticed how babies tend to follow their natural instinct. I tried to carry her and she screamed a no. I didn’t challenge her word and let her go. She has been this way for a while now. She turns two years in three days and she has refused advances or me picking her up. I try to take her word for it. But often adults around nudge her to give in. Till now, I have put my foot down and respected her wishes.

Why do we force them to give up on their instinct? I wish she holds onto hers.

My neighbour’s daughter is around 7 years old. She is a bright and adorable kid. She came with me and the dog for a walk the other day. The dog has been struggling a little. But she loves kids and I love seeing her with them. The three of us sat on the footpath below the building, like the dog loves to do. Every statement I made she responded with a ‘why’. Initially, I answered very patiently which gave her the encouragement to continue asking more questions. But eventually, I got tired. I almost asked her to shh. Then I realised often adults stop asking questions after a point. This habit actually frustrates me a decent bit. For I imagine that if we all asked questions, the world would be a different place.

How can I whine about adults not asking questions if I teach a child not to ask them? I hope she keeps asking questions. More and more.