Yellow-paged love

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I find you to be demanding today. Demanding to be eternally read and remembered, while thousands more continue to be born and bred, taking up shelves in bookshops and libraries that I may never get to see, touch or smell. Pages unflipped, will yellow before the dust settles.

I find you to be wanting today. Wanting to be picked from the shelf, to lay open and breathe. And so I will. I will take each of you down, let you lie on the cold wood, naked and free. Stretch your legs. Go wild and let the wind kiss you, flip over your fading brown, and bend your spine.

I find you to be seeking today. Seeking to be close to me, like a lover. You whisper through the corners of my bag – nudging me to sneak glimpses at you and snatch words from half-opened pages, every chance I get. In a synchronous dance, we move, we slide – we read, we ride.

Three walls and a curtain (4)

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A.. B.. C.. D.. E.. Blink.

A.. B.. C.. D.. Blink.

I recite the entire alphabet over and over and wait for the eyes to blink. My voice trembles the first time. I’ve never felt so desperate.

Letter by letter, blink by blink, we form words. We slowly put disparate words in context, trying to form sentences, while comprehension challenges our fortitude.

The systems have shut down. Muscle by muscle, limb by limb, paralysis has taken over his entire body, trapping him in a horrific nightmare. From the neck down, his body has estranged him from himself. He never loses consciousness. He watches himself stop feeling.

Patiently, we let the restlessness slither out of us. When speech fails us, we invent new forms of communication. Each day, I recite the alphabet and through blinks of his eyes, he ‘speaks’ to me in the beeping three-walled intensive care alcove.

Just 48 hours after the accident, he has accepted his condition in its totality. He has gulped down the pain of reality, or rather, the reality of pain, as bitter as it was. The dire predicament came a little too close to his face. Leered a little too long into his eyes. But in the break down moment when it was easier to shift gaze awkwardly and look away, he chose to stare right back.

Over the months, we shared jokes and laughed about misspelled words and misunderstood sentences. He asked about my day and slowly, we talked with such ease about things that speech could never convey. I forgot missing sound.

He spent 58 years carving a life out for himself, bit by bit. It took less than 58 seconds to steer him to an uninvited turn. But even in the worst conditions of his life, he didn’t stop being my father – completely present with me, giving, strong, protective, nurturing, even uplifting.

His will to stick it out superseded the medical textbooks, the depression, the fear and the body. Today, about 3 years and 3 months later, he walks independently by my side, recalling the seven months in the hospital fondly. He has recovered partially but exceptionally from paralysis, after a critical cervical surgery, years of excruciating physiotherapy, medication, innumerable massages, and a lot of resilience. While he still undergoes treatment every day, his unwavering faith and unyielding perseverance are enough to numb the pain and pull us all through to the other side with a grin that yells, “booyeah”.

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*Related posts: Pieces (1), Grey Skies (2), 628 (3)

Better safe than sorry?

For a long time now, I’ve been wondering about what it means to survive as a woman in a place where you’re stifled and crushed every time you try to lift your head up. I’m getting tired of the better-safe-than-sorry mantra that has been shoved down my throat by pretty much every person I’ve known since I was 4. Well, I have been safe and I still am sorry.

I have given up comfort for safety, I have changed my priorities and compromised on principles for safety, I have given up my freedom and my sense of self  for safety. I have embraced the unfairness in the world and have tried to find positivity and meaning each day. I have devoted myself to work, while knowing that as a woman, my chances to make it in a male-dominated field in this country are less than 1 per cent. But that is a story for another day.

When there are days, and there are many, when I get sick of it – the news; the tragedy of my kind; the everyday life of fear, shame, conformity, defensiveness, vulnerability, avoidance, “appropriateness”, and struggle with my self and my surroundings – I would bawl in frustration or be enraged at the reality of it or hate myself for falling into the trap. I am then asked by people around me to get real. They tell me that they get it, and it hurts them too, but this is how it is and I’m not the only one affected by it. I am basically told to get over myself. I am told to consider myself privileged because I have not borne the fate of someone else who got raped, or trafficked, or abused in the ample other ways only men know how. Some others tell me that even men face challenges and what about other sections of the society that are suffering? I nod along at the pointlessness of speaking up, and move on to less uncomfortable conversations and wait for the emotions to bubble up again. Yes I am not the only one affected by it, but is that supposed to comfort me? Rather, it invokes the most grieving, exasperated physical reactions in me. Get real, you say? This is as real as it gets – and I face the consequences of this grim reality each day. Is my freedom and my safety a privilege? I have often questioned myself and come up with the same answer over and over and over. No. It is not and it never should be. Yes there are others who’re in far worse conditions but that does not make my life better or privileged because it is anything but that. The comparison is meant to diminish, dismiss and distract from the problems at hand. As Ash Beckham aptly said, “Hard is hard. Hard is not relative.”

“Sure, I’ll give you a hundred reasons why coming out of my closet was harder than coming out of yours, but here’s the thing: Hard is not relative. Hard is hard. Who can tell me that explaining to someone that you just declared bankruptcy is harder than telling someone you just cheated on them? Who can tell me that his coming out story is harder than telling your 5-year-old that you’re getting a divorce?

There is no harder. There is just hard.

We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better or worse about our closets and just commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.”

– Ash Beckham, TEDxBoulder.

People fear voicing out their rage lest their genuine concerns be ignored and rebuffed as just another rant. But even when it sounds like a rant, hear them out. The bitterness is real. Their concerns and problems and troubles are real. They come from a place of severe, uncompromising disquiet deep within.

After being this cautious, in one of the safest cities I know, I have still endured severe sexual aggression in this normalized, toxic rape culture we live in today. And I have back down each time in fear that any of these incidents could turn into a potentially life-threatening situation.

Like millions of women out there, I have been conditioned to struggle for my survival since a young age. But the one-sided struggle remains fruitless. The just-world hypothesis might help deal with negative social phenomena but it is only as good as that. Injustice steers the wheel of reality and women have inherited it over centuries.

Women are also a part of the problem. That deserves another post altogether. But the gist is that we are all closeted. We are all trying to be the safest we can be. We have all compromised on our freedom in order to be free. But we need to speak up. I have resisted writing this post for a very long time, thinking that the words would be written and soon forgotten, and I should rather focus on more action and less talk. But it has sneaked up on me, in several other posts I’ve written on completely unrelated topics. It has slyly crept up in my conversations with people. The truth is that I need to write to make sense of it. And I need to speak up to spread the word. You should too. Because we want to thrive, not just survive.

Grey Skies (2)

It is a wet, grey evening draining itself into darkness. I get a call. There has been an accident. I sit there. Then I pack.

It is a misty, early morning in Mumbai. As I wipe the fog off my window, I wait to arrive at my stop, unaware of how often and for how long would I be frequenting this journey.

It is the longest walk of my life. The stairs relentlessly show a way up. Visitors, security, nurses, doctors, patients, wheelchairs, stretchers briskly move about. I feel cold.

Aah a familiar face. Another. And yet another. They hustle me inside those large doors that read ICU. I walk. 628. I stare at faces that stare back at me with blank eyes.

This is it. 628 they had said.

*Related posts: Pieces (1), 628 (3), Three walls and a curtain (4)