As the days fall into the alcove of that dark place from where they can never be regained or relived, I wonder how much of our lives are just memories. Yet, I believe, memories will never do justice to what is. They will always be coloured by our imagination. Sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Yet with what ardent fondness we hold on to some of them. We are prejudiced in that way. We try to reinvent our past by picking and choosing only certain moments to chronicle. We make pictures where everyone is always smiling. Or eating. Or winning an award or are cutting birthday cakes. You’ll never see people taking and storing the other kind of pictures. The dull, the boring, the everyday. Worse, you will never see the under-the-surface personal tragedies. Someone choking on their daily life. They are the unspoken for memories, nobody wishes to deal with them, present them for public consumption and acknowledgement. They are – these unwrapped memories – the orphans in time. Moments of our lives not chronicled but wilfully neglected and negated. Consciously and not-so-consciously. They are hidden in that darkness that subsumes all things ugly and painful. But they don’t remain hidden forever. On rare occasions a stray ray of light illuminates the ugliness that was, the pain that slipped into an asphyxiated silence, the urgency with which we remembered to forget them. How we wish for their quiet demise. Yet they surface to meet us making us feel vulnerable and, for a long moment, all alone in strange world. In their wake we tremble a little. Lose our confidence a little. Doubt our choices a little. Little by little, thereby, we become complete. For we are human and our life stories are never concluded with only pictures of us cutting birthday cakes.
She looks into my eyes.
I lower my face, search for answers on the ground.
I don't want the responsibility.
This unspoken guilt is enough for me.
She waits patiently.
I prolong my quest to eternity.
Denying acknowledgement of her sight.
Acquiescence is not part of my life.
Silence begs to be excused for a while.
I hand over my handkerchief.
There is a language of the soul
that can convey the meaning of time
in a dying second not more,
show your life’s guiding desire
in an amused rise of the brow,
in a hidden smile reveal
a love hundreds of years old,
in a knowing glance
denounce time’s sacred cows,
decimate the distance of centuries
to make forever real right now, and
if you ask me ’what language
does the soul speak?’
I can only shrug, smile and
say, I don’t know
how to put it in words.
Stray ray of light
a dream that beings
the space in a crowded
Inspiration of Gods,
timelessness and the eternal tune.
The only feeling
I do not doubt,
or seek reason for
The rememberence of lifetimes
split in two,
me and you.
It must’ve been that song. That damned song again. Looping in my head. Too hushed; too soft-footed to be heard clearly yet loud enough not to be ignored as yet. It could’ve been the rush of that virgin sunrise on the desolate beach where I stood this morning all by myself imagining something beautiful beyond that calm sea. It could’ve been that love that suddenly overwhelmed me with life today. Or could it be the desire that invaded my being without being invoked – to set all my baggage down on the corner of some unnamed street and walk again like the gypsy I am. It could’ve been all of these. Or some other feeling I don’t know how to put into words at this moment. Whatever it was, I am thankful for it because it made me think of you. I wished to see you today. Simply watch you walk by before me so that I knew there was, after all, a good reason for all these feelings of mine that strip me of all the skins I hide myself in and, for a long moment, stand naked in spirit. Innocent and Hopeful to everything that is.
I found a lesser hell in your heart,
you saw a lesser one in mine,
together a heaven, to forge,
we tried so hard
from the lesser parts,
but it just kept breaking
There is a misunderstood distance
born out of a complex, confused
so we play hide and seek with
our own selves
reluctant to bemoan our secret
most days we hope this charade
will come to an end
as we struggle within with what’s
so natural to us
but then we stall and digress
to talk with passing faces in a rush,
live in an inescapable mesh,
tell them a little of our secrets
and like that we talk to each other through them
as with psychics they do with their dead,
we revel in a unfathomable madness
so typical to us,
and just when I accept this slow
a playful wind whispers
in my neck of the woods, and
I hear your voice as the birth song
and I call back your name
as the last prayer that in me is left
I howl at the moon
just in case you are
at the other side of its crest.
I raise my eyes from the paperback to watch her take the vacant seat across me. Too many bracelets, I notice. Metal nudges metal gently as she rearranges her orange-coloured skirt almost playfully. I hear a wind chime in some other time, some other space in my mind. Gypsy, I say to myself. The train jerks into life and starts a slow locomotion that begins to rhyme with my heartbeat. I watch her from behind the safety of the book. Safety from what? Before the question is formed in my head instinct takes over and makes the choice for me. The book rises an inch or two in my hand to hide my face from eyes downwards completely.
She sits still watching the concrete world outside blur into a pulsating mosaic as the train gathers speed. I try to look down at the page open before me. Each line takes three times the energy and time than before to read. Words suddenly seem lonely. Meaning disassociates itself from the dried ink on the pages and floats somewhere in a vacuous world between her and me. Ten minutes pass slowly, meaninglessly. With each minute comes a strange sense of foreboding that fills up my being. Damn gypsy, I say.
Some say that when faced with certain death on battle fields a soldier can display a delirious courage which isn’t courage at all but an irrational surrendering to the inevitability. I close my book and place it on the seat next to mine. The coach is largely empty. Her sitting across me cannot be an accident. I look down at my combat boots for a long while before I raise my eyes again to look at her. She looks straight back at me. I hold her gaze. Or does she hold mine? I find it hard to differentiate.
Two jet black irises from underneath long dark eyelashes blink once as if in warning. A tumultuous hurricane hangs in her eyes precariously, ready to be unleashed with abandon at the world – without remorse, without mercy. This is no goddess of the rainbow, something tells me; this is the goddess of stormy seas and sunken treasures. There is the ruthlessness of a killer in those eyes but they are not a killer’s eyes. I see a poignant emotion in them – a sparkling, victorious pain that a woman giving birth would have in her eyes. A pain that was pregnant with joy. She raises her right hand to smooth down an unruly strand of hair that doesn’t exist. Metal against metal again, the wind chimes begin to sound inside my head. I forget to be civil. I forget the courtesy of the smile. I stare at her. Without shame.
Then she smiles at me. There is a hint of understanding held between those lips. Can she read my mind, I wonder. Does she know the emotions crashing like giant waves on the seashore of my heart? As if to emphasize her well-defined gesture a train passes by our window in a thunderous roar, shaking the very earth under its many a hundred iron wheels. Time stops and space recedes into the far corners of the coach. I hear my heart beat from outside my body. The air between us fills up with a rhythmic beating of my throbbing heart. I open my mouth to speak. Something. Anything. A raspy ‘hi!’ escapes my throat and leaps towards her as if to possess her consciousness with its underlying meaning thereby making all further pleasantries unnecessary. ‘Hello!’ she says. Her voice breaks from her being like a large iceberg and falls into the cold sea of my soul. I am jolted back into life. The iceberg starts melting inside of me. I start to choke with a rising feeling of displacement. My thoughts are disappear into the void of nothingness. A certain blindness of mind overtakes my body. The moments become pure sensations. Touch, taste, smell, sight and sound. She looks at me as if in anticipation of my next move. A provoking playfulness gleams over her face.
My left hand fumbles in search of the book lying by my side. She is still looking straight at me with amusement growing on her face like a sunrise in winter. It lights up her eyes, her high cheek bones, her aquiline nose. The roar of the waves turns into a thunderstorm in my ears simultaneously. It’s too late for me to escape into the book. Or to the back of the coach. Or to the far end of the world. An unfamiliar kind of certainty places its iron clad fist around my heart. Do I wish to escape this joyous pain? This visceral delight veiled in the mystery of a world I have vaguely visited in my dreams? My heart answers in negative instantly and my mind is in a limbo to offer an alternative.
The coffee-boy slips into our world unnoticed. ‘Would you like some coffee, sir?’ I hear his voice though I hardly turn to see where it came from. ‘Two, please.’ I say without hesitation. I offer her a cup which she takes graciously, thanking me. The unnaturalness of our actions doesn’t go unnoticed in my head. But the sensation of familiarity, a familiarity that is hard to put a finger on but still lingers with the power of a trance, is overwhelming.
The train changes tracks with a deliberate jolt. I imagine the sparks flying as iron wheels slide over iron tracks. The grating noise of metal on metal reshapes my vision into a memory. A boy of ten stands on a platform reluctantly waving farewell to his family. His heart is heavy and eyes full. There is a stranger standing next to him whom he calls his ‘aunt’ but has ambivalent feelings about. He is afraid and lonely, and is trying to put up a brave face. As the train pulls out of the station slowly groaning he hears the faint sound of a wind chime from a faraway place. Or was he imagining it? The aunt tugs at his arm signalling its time to leave. He closes his eyes shut to the world outside of him. Two large tear drops slide down his cheeks slowly and hit the dusty platform floor as pounding drills that were meant to burn holes into the core of the earth so that the hot magma inside her heart could be released into the open wounds of his young soul. He turns around and walks behind his aunt into a world without his parents – into a world peopled with strangers who spoke in stranger tongues, observing him as a curiosity. With a single step he turns from a little child to a circus clown. And the drills pound the earth silently. Through the nights. Through the years. And as he lies in the dark of his room he remembers with gratitude a face in a school uniform smiling at him from across the table during lunch breaks. And he remembers the distance between then and now, he remembers the sneaking coldness that took over the future as present fumbled to find a sure-footing. He remembers a recurring dream that allowed a young boy to keep on believing in dreams. All this time was this where it was all leading him to? Sitting across a stranger who has laid claim to his consciousness as her inviolate right?
“You can talk to me, you know. That would make our journey interesting.” Her voice is reassuring, her tone pitched to an effortless command. It breaks off my reverie. I smile, for once, as one should – without effort, without the gesture overshadowed by feelings of obligation, and lean forward unknowingly. A faint smell of fresh lilies welcome me. “Of course, I can,” I reply. I am ready to take my first step out of my dreams. The crushing wheels of the train spin relentlessly taking her and me forward to some unfathomable future which at the moment holds no significance to me. For this moment is complete with her in it.
‘Happy New Year!’
They shout again. Tweet. Text. Fill up our Facebook walls with it. Call to smear it over our ears that drips like thick, wet paint after a while. Mirthfully fling it at us on the chance occasion of a face-to-face meeting in the real world.
‘Happy New Year!’ What do they mean, I wonder? What do those words, spoken with such jubilant spontaneity, mean? Really mean? Wasn’t it just yesterday we were raining tears over the length and breadth of the vast land that is our nation over the gang rape and the subsequent death of some poor girl in Delhi? What changed? When? How long does it take for mourning to stop and become this overwhelming joy that spreads through our hearts, and spills into the streets and sprouts across the all-encompassing virtual world? Fleeting is human life, I know. Fleeting still must our feelings for the loss of it be, is it?
As I sit pondering over my rising aversion at this mass hysteria over the ticking of a clock, a singular thought takes shape in my head and suddenly it all seems right. The mirth is born for a reason. It has a meaning. What ‘Happy New Year’ implies is far greater than just its literal meaning. The meaning is far grander than getting drunk, or wild parties. The meaning is far glorious than I have ever hoped to find in those three words. And it is this:
From the first gasp of air we struggle for to the last, what we are offered by life is a fighting chance – a fighting chance in and for Life. That is why in spite of the growing grotesqueness of evil, in spite of intermittent loss of faith in mankind, in spite of often being turned into disposable pawns in unrelenting power games that operates in a darkness we cannot even fathom, our will to survive as a race succeeds. In rebellion we rise – as individuals and as a collective force – every time the option of having no options is shoved down our throats. Whether it is in a small gesture of standing up to the prejudices of a boss, or gathering and garnering the collective energy of a whole nation that can topple despotic governments, the human will fights back. In the name of human decency it fights. It fights in the name of Equality. It fights in the name of Fairness, Freedom and Justice. It rises, and fights for all the virtues that makes us Man.
Every ‘Happy New Year!’ we wish one another is a subconscious hymn offered at the altar of that fighting chance each one of us has. Against all odds. Every moment of every day. For the next 365 days. It is a reminder to fight for what makes life possible, gives it meaning and makes it worthwhile. Above all, it is a clarion call – as long as a fighting chance exists – to fight. Just like the 23-year old physiotherapist in Delhi must have had till her last breath. It is our right. It is our responsibility.
Happy New Year, and Salute!
In their Faith,
In their Love,
Before their gods,
In their condemnation
In their sacrifices
and in their Odes,
On open roads
that lead to dream worlds
By corner stores
filled with vintage books
and Rock n’ Roll posters,
At coffee shops
discussing Byron and Plato,
they both never cared for,
In desolate streets
that whisper of lost hope,
At overdone dinner tables
that beg for soul,
At sunsets that fall despairingly
into earth’s hollow,
On nights that felt
just a bit too cold,
And the silk bedspreads
were neither friends nor foes,
As laughter pleaded guilty
And tears didn’t do so,
In that restless silence
that echoes in homes,
In the germinal closeness
behind locked doors,
On the days that were loaded
with the premonition
of a great sorrow,
For whatever or for worse,
they stood together – dying
As little sighs that escaped
unheard into the world.