Saturday, June 24, 2017

Memento Mori

Image Credit: Hayley Blanck

Yes, it’s an oft heard refrain. Remember your mortality. Remember that you can’t live forever, that there is – notwithstanding alternative beliefs about multiple reincarnations – this one life, one only life and your days are numbered, your breaths measured…if not by some divine ordinance, then by the sheer uncertainty of our actions and their consequences.

You can never know when the reaper comes knocking at your window, the spear ominously hanging off his shoulder.

How often do we take cognizance of this, though? How often are we mindful of our limited time here?

You would disagree. Of course, our birthdays serve to remind us of the years slipping away from our grasp. Of course, the progression of our lives is invariably charted towards sustenance, toward longevity. The inevitability of death is staved off in name of goals, meaningful pursuits, carousing even.

However, as is said, knowing and realising are two different things.

Let me backtrack a little here – some context is in order. To begin with, I am fortunate to not have lost someone very close to me yet – my maternal grandfather passed away when I was 14, but back then I was perhaps still too young to fully comprehend what such loss entailed. In hindsight, I naturally wish I had cherished my time with him more.

In a span of the past three days, we received news to this effect about two people.

One was a former caretaker to my maternal grandmother and had lived with the family for well over a decade. Scratch that, she had become family, so much so that we looked forward to seeing her just as much as the rest of my maternal family on our yearly trips to New Delhi. She would accompany my grandmother to our house when nani would come to live with us for a couple of months, and while her equation with my nani wasn’t exactly pleasant, she loved me and my mother to bits. I have fond memories of being treated to her sumptuous cooking, of her taking care of my daily schedule whether it was waking me up for school or ironing my uniform the night before, of my mother and I taking her out to eat or to shop for sarees and jewellery.

She was diagnosed with oral cancer a year ago. A stout, sturdy lady who never needed medicines and could work all day long even at the age of 55 was reduced to a mere shadow of herself.

I remember the last conversation I had had with her. It was over six months ago, and she had already returned to her native town by then. “I’ll come for your wedding,” she had said, and I was at a loss for words, for marriage was as such inconceivable for the next couple of years, and who knew?

I don’t remember what I said, but I wished her well and expressed hope at being able to see her once again, hopefully recovered. We would invite her to come visit, despite knowing it was a journey she’d be unable to make as such.

I had once wished to learn cooking from her. Had tried even, five years ago when she had been here and I was yet to start college, but it never materialised into full-fledged lessons.

And to think my grandmother would instruct her about her role in dressing my grandmother for her cremation. My nani lives to this day, hale and hearty.

The other was my paternal grandparents’ neighbour. She was a widow, and both her sons were settled abroad. And yet, I had not seen a livelier, happier person in her stead. Not only a huge support to my dada-dadi but an aunt to us kids – we both addressed and regarded her as our masi. My cousins had been, in some way ,closer to her than I ever could be, courtesy having lived with my grandparents during their childhood, but she had been no less fond of me. 

You could say she was family as well.

And just as unexpectedly some three months ago, she was rushed back home from Australia on account of a paralytic attack. It devolved to brain cancer, albeit at the first stage, and she had every chance of making a full recovery. I had only met her just last week. Chemo was yet to take away all of her hair, and while visibly weakened, she seemed to be pulling through just fine. “All these years, I’ve never even had a fever, and now look at this.” Yet another woman deprived of her sense of self-sufficiency.

My mother and I had not stayed for long, promising to come back soon. As if we took it for granted that she was still around.

What a folly to think that way, indeed.  

Being afflicted with cancer is no longer akin to signing your death warrant these days. And perhaps that is why, on both occasions of receiving the news, I stopped dead in my tracks. 

It was just how it was meant to be, one would say.

Death as a concept, an event even seems surreal to me to this date. An idea I can barely wrap my head around. For it doesn’t take long to get back to the humdrum of daily life, does it? Regardless of how severe the loss has been.

However, for the few moments of disillusionment that do manage to catch hold of you, it’s worth the thought – what do we really take away with us when we die? An identity, painstakingly crafted through the proverbial sweat, blood and tears, generously supplemented with acquisitions galore. All of it left behind.

Except for the memories, also equally subject to the ravages of time.

Which is not to say that I advocate for nihilism as a way of life. That, for the fear of eventual oblivion, I treat everything with a certain degree of irrelevance.

Nonetheless, I’m no stranger to the melancholy of transience. And yet, if mono no aware is anything to go by, it is that beauty lies in impermanence.

I, for one, would be driven mad for the lack of a pursuit. Meaning, whether contrived or intrinsic, has to be sought after. That pursuit is just as undeniable as death itself.

I suppose it is all about walking the fine line between the two eventualities, in our own search for that absolute, unvarnished truth. And so it is.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Requiem

Image Credits: Lesley Oldaker
Scribbled notes tucked away in borrowed items on being returned. Chocolates left on the desk next to the earmarked book forever lying open. A brief voice note enquiring after the result of an interview. Languorous walks taken in a breathless evening, in defiance of impending deadlines and upcoming events.

And conversations, countless conversations. From moments stolen in between droning lectures to hushed whispers across the library tables. Between bouts of raucous laughter over long-drawn meals and quiet retellings in the dead of the night.

You ask for tangible takeaways. There are none.

You disagree. There are the yearly birthday gifts, that trophy from a hard-fought competition, photographs done up in a collage above your bed. Souvenirs bought and exchanged, interspersed with the occasional postcard or letter. A varsity t-shirt bearing your name, the yearbook with testimonials scrawled across its pages.

The curated albums, the saved messages. A digital trail of your acquaintanceship, retraced over and over.

You hold onto them in lieu of their givers. You parse the bits together to bolster your knowledge of them, reduced to little more than mental constructs.

It is another thing that your memories take on a life of their own.

I rephrase. You ask for tangible takeaways, albeit living and breathing ones.

However, your time has come. Who can stay forever?

In denial of their transience, you forge your memories into a touchstone, hoping against hope that it will weather the erosive caress of time.

But you see, oblivion - even for how impactful our vocation could be - is our inevitable reality.

Nevertheless, I take a step back from this moribund discourse. Your memories fan the flames of optimism, keeping you warm against the cold insularity of your current existence, your uncertain future. Your ideals are at their zenith, raring to go. You have found ardour and kinship after years of painstaking effort and proximity. Why should anyone put a dampener on this vital force?

The thing is, it is not the only comfort zone you’ll ever know. You are young, so young.

I say - revel in your takeaways, tangible or intangible, only as far as it leads you to the next door. To another bridge.

For a chapter can go only so far. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Desolation

It is the dead of the night, as always, always,
For there is no other time that I can seek
To carefully unwrap my guarded soul.
The wind whistles, as if in complete understanding
Of the quiet tempest which shall yet unfold.
I demand no answers, you see.
No shrieks of ‘why me’ to escape this being,
But tears have a mind of their own.
I breathe through choking sobs,
Staring ahead painfully,
As if hoping the vista would gaze back
And save me the bother
Of putting into words those long-buried remnants
Of hope, love...salvation.
Am I dying already?
Or can I still walk on ahead
One step at a time,
Brushing away stray wishes and indulgent dreams,
Towards the inevitable...whatever that might be,
While caring little for those flimsy little things
That we call relationships?
The metaphorical bridges stand burnt,
And I wish I knew how to swim.
But one must learn, mustn’t one?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wherewithal, Bereft

[Fanfiction written for the Peaky Blinders series. Oh, how I've missed novelising.]


''You see, I've got a bright future…"

It was often that Michael Gray would wake up to the sound of his own words ringing in his ears, the irony of his incarceration (for the second time, he'd have to remind himself) not lost upon him.

There was time for painful reflection after all, a bit too much in his opinion, but what else could he do while confined within these dank stone walls?

Reflection that didn't culminate in him retching from shameful remorse at the thought of having taken two lives within a single day. It so remained that he contemplated the possibility of remorse only perfunctorily.

For no one willingly walked into the lair of the Peaky Blinders with any intention of holding onto their moral scruples. Michael knew what he was in for when Tommy took him under his wing, even as his mother held onto the mistaken belief that he was only required to look the other way.

What he hadn't anticipated was their boss turning on them, every single one of them.

And so Michael would pace the length of his sordid cell, bitterly aware of his conversion to the gang's true methodology – a lethal mix of intoxicating power and force – as the realisation that normal, ordinary life wouldn't sate him henceforth began to sink its teeth into his very being.



The door to his cell opened, forcing Michael to snap out of his usual reverie, as he heard a brusque command emerge from the shadows followed by the sound of heels clicking against the stone floor, the silhouette of a woman darkening the doorway.

He looked up as Charlotte Murray lifted the veil off her face, offering a strained smile by a way of a greeting. Michael rose to his feet, astonishment etched in his features, and gestured to the mourning attire she was dressed in. "Did someone…?"

Charlotte shook her head. "It's a disguise. Your lot has considerably lost favour with the city."

"It's all part of a plan," he sighed in response, echoing Tommy's words, albeit hollowly. She shook her head yet again, this time in disbelief.

Michael stepped closer, tentatively reaching out to cup her face. "That night…was it taken care of?"

Charlotte momentarily leaned into his touch before pulling back abruptly. "It was taken care of," she affirmed, locking her gaze with his, and he sighed again, conveying the apology he couldn't bring himself to express in words.

She stepped back as he continued to appraise her, murmuring, "Why are you here, Charlotte?"

She looked away, unsure of her answer. It lay somewhere between her impending engagement to that cavalry officer stationed in Ceylon and her increasingly inability to stay away from this dangerous, dangerous man.

A man who both was and wasn't like the bunch of gangsters he called 'family'. A man almost the father of her almost born child.

Instead, she simply said, "You killed a man."

Michael stared back at her with affected equanimity, taking a moment to register that his formal charges listed only Father Hughes, that blasted priest. "I would explain, but it won't matter, would it?"

How was he to explain to her the strangely liberating feeling of hacking away at his childhood abuser's throat, a yet unacknowledged thirst for vengeance fulfilled at last?

His silence spoke for him, and Charlotte could barely hold herself together as she turned around and started to walk away.

Michael didn't try to hold her back, choosing to call after her instead. "But you wanted me to be like them, didn't you?"

She didn't look back, and in a single moment of permitted frustration, he punched the wall before him.

"Well, here I am, a fucking Peaky Blinder."

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Misgivings

It wasn’t often that she took to the bottle – hardly in fact – but the days that she chose to become, well, inebriated enough to stop thinking, she was either possessed by a devil-may-care disposition or was too melancholy to bother with anything or anyone else.

It was strange. She usually hated the aggravating effect that alcohol had on her existing frame of mind. However, like most things, she’d come to realise that the intoxicant, used in lesser, precise measures, could be a tool. Whether it’d be to put her nerves at ease in a situation too social for her liking, or to take the seething edge off her ruminations, the luxury of which she would allow herself only within the confines of her room with the unspoken assurance of being left to her devices for hours to come.

(Her father’s nonchalance at her liberty to make a drink for herself at will did come in handy at times, after all.)

Nonetheless, reverting to the occasion that warranted the use of such recreation in the first place. Well, not so much an occasion than a series of realisations acquired over time – most notably, over the past two years – which led her to worriedly introspect, confront herself even, all this while that she was home with time to spare finally.

Realisations of her not so subtle sense of disdain for people not as clever or bright as they should be (whether the need to be about one’s wits was a trait self-acquired or drilled into her through her upbringing was a question she was yet unable to answer). Realisations of her misplaced arrogance with respect to her understanding of the world, her character traits which in her opinion placed her on a higher pedestal than most others. Realisations of her deep-rooted distrust derived either from such aforementioned contempt or fear of being trivialised that kept most at bay, while she was rendered bitterly complaining about the disappointment arising from people tripping over her own deliberately laid traps and obstacles in order to reach her.

All of which served to instil some form of misanthropy in her mannerisms, to say nothing of her thoughts.

It was indeed strange. She retreated further and further into the fortress of her mind, deluding herself with the prospect of being entertained only by those worthy and capable enough of recognising her defence mechanisms, even as she remembered the grim reality that no sane person would be willingly subject to an acid test over and over. Her concern, that the first, preliminary layer of filtration shouldn’t suffice to keep her safe from being betrayed later, served as little consolation. 

But the arrogance, the flimsy assurance of having something of your own to claim…it is what kept her from bowing down and meeting the objects of her misanthropy halfway. 

Easier to keep your head high and march forward, in the everlasting hope that you stand to gain better than what you left behind, isn’t it?

Even if it meant going back to a book and a glass of wine, people be damned. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Incertitude

It is easy to take your own self for granted. I remember a time when writing was not merely a convenient mode of expression, but a necessary fallback against the vagaries of the world.

I can’t seem to place it any longer. Thought self-care could be put on the backburner while I ran after things, often not any less material. Never thought I’d start viewing everything from a life-or-death perspective. Nothing ever is

However, I often forget my own pithy observations about life and the ideal ways to counter its bittersweet snares.

Nonetheless, I itch to write. Something. Anything. In times where my inner realm stands charred in the flames of my self-loathing and its worldly manifestation dangles precariously on the edge of maddening hopelessness, I don’t have it in me to go flailing before another entity in order to be rescued.

The last time I did that, it was akin to being saved from a cesspool only to be thrown in quick sand. No, thank you.

Thus the drive to turn upon what remains of my survival instincts. The lure of creativity, the brief illusion of power -  to be what I’d wish to be, to run free and unthinking…maybe writing is not something I could ever forget, despite making myself believe otherwise…


He doesn’t bother reading through the rest of the entry. “Pessimist,” he almost sighs in response.

I continue to regard him steadily, my gaze turning ever so hostile at the slight posed to me by his lack of patience with respect to my work. “You could at least finish.”

“I don’t need to.”

“Just because I may have conveyed the same thoughts maybe a thousand times to you previously, the written form has more to it than the content.”

“I’m not here to appraise your writing skill. How much more flattery do you need?”

“Limitless.”

“Insecure.”

“You don’t talk.”

“Why not? Easier to point fingers, no?”

“Let me shatter your glass walls next, then.”

My hand snakes up to his, tentatively grazing his fingers. It takes all of my strength to remain composed – my eyes are beginning to cloud, my breath already coming and going in heaves.  I could do with more than just holding hands, but it is all I can allow myself to seek.

He grips my hand nevertheless. “What is it?”

“You know.”

“I do. I still need to hear it from you.”

I regard him, both a plea and an unspoken understanding in my eyes. Of course he knows – we are cut from the same cloth after all. Forever caught up in our heads, unable to demarcate reality from the veritable battlefields which our minds are. Ruminating over our past selves, grieving for mistakes in a manner almost akin to exhuming corpses when they should just be left buried, dead and forgotten to the world except to our own selves.

“Does it matter?”

He doesn’t misunderstand the question. “Never mind, I won’t hold such repetition against you.”

And so I tell him, perhaps for the thousandth and one time, wishing he would simply read the rest of my scribblings instead.


However we write, with the tiniest of hopes, for it to be read. It doesn’t matter whether it is the world, or just one person; writing is also an exercise in vindication, complete only upon external acknowledgement.

It is also a measure of calculated courage over the false bravery of the spoken word.

I write to you, my friend. There are, of course, a dozen threads in my head needing some form of expression, closure even. Not all of them would result in the sort of reaffirmation I need at the moment.

Reassurance that I’m not the only one, certainly not mad enough to be feeling this way. Recognition of my rather skewed perspective on life and the reasons for the same.

I weave words into a veil, hiding behind it while yet calling out to you. I drew that line myself.

For you see, I look to not delude myself with the temporary comfort of your embrace, but stand on my own two feet while drawing strength from your faraway presence. The idea, of ‘help’ being a call away, is empowering in itself.

After all, did you not tell me that “darling, you see, no heroes are coming for you – grab your sword and don your own armour”?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Maelstrom

A quiet moment of gazing at the glowing sky was all it took for her to lapse into rumination.

After all, moments of deep introspection didn’t occur to her unless she was facing a vista. It took all of nature’s breathtaking beauty to still the chaos within her mind.

Chaos, or mere numbness? Her life seemed no less convoluted than a tangled ball of yarn, but she felt more like the needle entwined in the fibres, inert, unmoving… trapped.

Cornered, up against a wall like a frightened prey…unable to rationalise, one step away from lashing out, even as she awaits the killing blow. 

She can’t even remember the chain of events which got her to this unpleasant state of being.

But like everything, the cause didn’t matter either. Futile – everything was so bloody futile. Why was she even trying?

Her own reflection was nothing more than a carefully crafted mirage, vanishing in the realm of solitude to nothingness.

There had been something…someone, even, but the anchors had been torn away long enough for her to lose herself to the distant horizon.

And she didn’t know where to look.

Like broken shards of glass, beautiful yet merciless, her feelings lie scattered before her, wounding her with every step.

And so she trudges forward, leaving blood in her wake. A hazily marked trail, indeterminate yet significant to anyone who would bother looking for traces and yet she sought no salvation, no knight in shining armour.

Just a tiny little spark of hope – that damned double-edged sword – of being sought after regardless.