Category Archives: Family

Everything’s Fine.

 

She sits next to me, staring vexedly at the purple sea. An expression more complex and perplexed than it was meant to be. For the first half an hour, no one talks; the only sounds we hear are the hollow murmurs of evening walks and waves crashing against the rocks under our feet. Then, after an eternity, she turns to me, breathes, and says “You’re the worst friend I’ve ever seen”. This hurts twice as much because deep inside, I agreed.

Soon, she gets to her feet with a swoon. Tears running free, glistening in the light of the moon. Like the salt in the sea breeze was singeing her wounds, she screams– Stop suffering alone. Stop hiding behind closed doors to trick me into leaving or believing that no one’s home, not when I can see you and your mess grieving through the fucking window. Stop telling me you want to make it on your own because you don’t need to. This isn’t the pact of friendship I agreed to, stop defending the pain it takes to keep you because this suffocation is unending and I need to breathe too. Stop leaving me at every turn because by now, I’m lost and blind. I’m tired of the million times you’ve said “everything’s fine” when I can clearly see I’m being lied to. For the sake of three long years of friendship that we’ve both been tied to, tonight, just tonight, I ask for truth.”

An overwhelming urge to purge all my regret is up till here now, but I don’t. I want to justify every action, reaction, every fear now; but I won’t. With a sharpened blade of quiet restraint, I slay every word in my throat as that little voice in my head goes – We don’t speak about our problems at home.

When I was a seven-year-old, my father was fighting a war when he crashed his plane. He jumped out in time, but the forces of nature weren’t kind on the day as he fell to the ground in the most excruciating way imaginable, as bleeding on a shattered spine. Lying and dying in abominable pain, his surgeon told him he’d be lucky if he ever learnt to walk again.

But even when consigned to a wheelchair bereft of the ability to stand, my father would hold take a ball in his hand, repeatedly pick it as his 8-year-old son knocked it back to him in a game of cricket. Come to think of it, 15 years on, I can’t write on a feeling as crippling as staring at the bedroom ceiling or the walls knowing your dreams were reeling and reduced to thoughts no one else would ever know. My father taught me this- we don’t talk about our problems at home.

When I turned 18, my father asked my cancer-stricken mother to choose between a house near the hospital and one near my sister’s school. Despite her weakened defences, the impending pain, the consequences, my mother chose the latter because she could deal with her demons at hand but not with the inconvenience her daughter would feel if we moved during her board exams.

I remember on hour long cab rides back from the hospital after rounds of chemotherapy, I could hear the muffled screams of her agony shake her, on every swerve, every turn, every speed breaker on the road. But for two years,  the only sounds I ever heard were those of silent suffering that torched her, but never a single word to describe the torture or the strain. Never a single complaint about a choice she consciously made on her own. My mother taught me this- we don’t talk about our problems at home.

I want to tell her this, the reason she can’t break my walls. Why every secret is a secret, and why I don’t believe I suffer at all because I have no problems. I’ve been raised by two people who’ve been cursed to go through a whole lot worse through fate’s decisions and they never let me understand what it felt like to nurse such grave incisions.

I want to tell her about the time I broke my shoulder, as I sat on my bed groaning and moaning in pain, my father took one look at me and said “That’s cute; but I fell out of a plane”.

I want to tell her about the mother who never cried because of a terminal disease, but broke down because being in a wheelchair wouldn’t let her cook for her family every eve. My parents taught me this- pain is a very subjective entity when you put the grievances of your loved ones before your own. My parents taught me this- we don’t talk about our problems at home.

But instead of the million words inside my head that I could have said to my friend, I offer her my first line of defence – an apologetic smile. I look at her, hold her hand and say

“Everything’s fine.”

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How I Found Home Again.

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I had never felt so uncomfortable in a place that I had come to call my second home. The small, muddy ground with two rusty goalposts at each end had always been reassuringly familiar to me; but not on that one night. Over the past year, I had covered every inch of the ground more than a thousand times; right from the first day of college to the last day of the university team trials. I loved the ground so much that my once gleaming, white Star Impact Spectras were now permanently coated with a dull brown tinge that so often ended up on my shirts after rough falls. My legs had almost memorized the physical attributes of the turf; how the far left corner was slightly elevated and how a little patch halfway up the ground was particularly hard to sprint on. I can embarrassingly admit, I didn’t even know my girlfriend as intimately as I knew about the little, muddy pitch in the centre of my college.

When Mom’s cancer happened, I was forced to see two of my most cherished things in the world spiral towards unimaginable predicaments. With Mom’s steadily deteriorating health, I was slowly starting to spend more and more time away from the little field I used to practice in. I sorely missed what it once made me feel – the thrills of exquisitely timed sliding tackles, the earthy aroma of petrichor during rainy football sessions, the joys of the wind beating against my chest while sprinting; the sheer nostalgia of memories was overwhelming. Those poignant shards of a shattered imagination were now replaced with far graver memories.

On that night, I stood once again on the same ground after God knew how much time. The sound of gravel scrunching beneath my shoes felt like listening to a song that I had long forgotten, but one that I suddenly rediscovered on the radio. I could hear the crowd roaring and the bright floodlights illuminating the field radiantly, lending its brown colour an alluring, lustrous glow which I think it always deserved. I had been there so many times before; soaking in the pressure, the crippling expectations and the electric atmosphere. But that night was different. It was strange for me, this feeling. I had built my footballing reputation on being a calm central midfielder who feared little. But on that night, I felt nervous and uneasily anxious. The worst thing was that I was fully aware of why it was happening.

I didn’t look on my right-hand side because I knew she was watching me. I also knew she understood little about the game; had no clue about the intricate tactics, the industrious endeavor and the orchestrated teamwork it required to assert one team’s supremacy over the other. All I knew was that I would mean the same to her on the pitch as I did off it. She cared little about my team or the opposition’s, she was only going to watch me and be oblivious to the rest of the world. In 18 years of my life out of which I had spent 10 playing the beautiful game, this was the first time that she had come to watch me play. That night, I wanted to give her something to smile about after what had been a tumultuous few months for all of us.

I still remember how it felt the same way like my first match did. My legs felt like jelly, my stomach had turned so violently that it felt like someone had tied my guts into a scout’s knot. I couldn’t focus, I was sweating and the game hadn’t even begun. Trust me, there is nothing worse than sudden self-doubt on the big stage; that one moment when you completely forget your very purpose of existing. That horror of letting everything unravel when it matters to most was terrifying to me.

When I heard the whistle, it took me a few seconds to register that the game had kicked off. It was like the world had dropped its burdens on my shoulders, but I told myself that nothing mattered more to me than the lady who got up from a hospital bed after a chemotherapy to watch her son do what he loved. I wasn’t going to let her down, I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I did. Failure was unacceptable on any night; but tonight it was simply unthinkable. I had no way of knowing if she would ever watch me play again, so I knew had to make this one performance count.

Over the course of the next 20 minutes, I played like a man possessed. I dived recklessly into tackles, ran twice as hard as the man I was supposed to mark, and constantly told myself that this was just another game. I don’t think my body was listening. By halftime I looked like I had taken a momentary dip in the college’s heritage well; my head was aching with the lack of composure that usually regulated my body’s physical output. It was then that I realized what my fear truly meant. And for the first time since the match started, I smiled.

I realized that I felt different because that night, I wasn’t playing for myself anymore. I was playing for someone else, someone far more important. None of the hundreds in the crowd had ever seen what it took me to become the footballer I was, but the lady smiling quietly at one dark corner of the field certainly had. She had seen me caked in mud and exhausted from training camps, she had seen me in hospitals with sprained ankles and torn muscles, she had seen me distraught after defeat. She had witnessed and understood the true aspects of my art and my worth as an artist, which is why on that night, the weight of expectations felt heavier than it ever did before.

Before the second half began, I went up to her and talked to her. My heart felt lighter knowing that today, all I had to do to make her proud was just to be myself. Just like how I was the centre of her universe, she was all that mattered tonight and nothing else came remotely close. Win, draw or lose, it didn’t matter anymore; just knowing that she was watching me was all I could be grateful for.

I played the rest of the game with a heart that knew, for the first time that night, just what it had to do. I ran my socks off in the second half and also scored a goal that I still regard as the best of my life, considering who I owed it to. We drew the game 2-2, but the disappointment of the draw didn’t wipe the smile off my face for the whole night. The ground felt familiar once more, and I smiled again. She looked at me, she smiled too; and in that moment, I found my home again.