One night, her words won’t rhyme.
Her verses will die a slow death,
a little at a time,
mocking every memory she wrote.
On that night, your poetry will write
herself a suicide note-
broken, baffled, bereft of hope,
wishing, she could feel
a little less empty,
and a little bit more.
On that night, kiss your poetry to sleep,
tear her note to shreds, give her a shoulder
on which to weep,
tell her that you believe, in her stead;
and in the simple fact that poetry
can never truly be dead.
Tell her, that you believe in her,
and in tomorrow, a time
when she’ll turn her sorrow
into the most beautiful thing the world has ever read.
Watch over her, until she rips apart
her suicide note from end to end.
Then pray, that on nights like these,
she learns to write something better instead.
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One night, her words won’t rhyme.
Know the easiest way to woo a writer? For beginners, don’t set your sights on being their muse. A writer’s work tends to be a reflection of things they understand, but their minds are constantly preoccupied by thoughts they cannot grasp and concepts they cannot comprehend. A writer is curious and eternally intrigued; what they already fathom will never fascinate them.
In essence, never be a known entity to a writer. Instead, be the enigma that evades them. Be the emotion that toys with their inhibitions, but one they would still give a part of their sanity to decipher. Be an incomplete poem, be a half-written story; be the crumpled piece of paper tossed frustratingly into a bin because they couldn’t find the words to describe what lies within.
Know the easiest way to woo a writer? Be the paradox they couldn’t put into words.
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 have been asked this one question that always tends to touch a nerve.”Shamir, tell me one thing, don’t you ever fall in love?” I think I’ve spent so much time wondering that I’ve repeatedly hit the end of my wits. But I think I’ve finally found a satisfactory answer, so here is something I came up with-
I remember when I was 17 years old, I took this girl to McDonald’s for my very first date. We’d been seeing each other for three months straight now, and everything was going better than great. She was 10 days older than I was, with skin that looked whitewashed with this unearthly glow. And if her skin was as white as milk, her hair was like fine strands of silk, which smelt of strawberries; it was weird because every time I put my head on her shoulders, I felt hungry.
Anyway, so I thought I’d take her out for a meal, spend a day telling her how exactly I feel; how having her around was a big deal for a guy who didn’t know the first thing about love. She spent a few hours looking into my eyes, and the rest with her face in Chicken McGrills and french fries, but yeah it felt kind of nice, knowing I could be this comfortable with someone. Just being around her made me numb, with a feeling I couldn’t put my finger on, but that emotion would quietly linger on putting a smile on my face that made me look dumb. For the first time, I had let someone into my personal space, and she waltzed in with such grace, that I was stunned.
Anyway, right after she’d had her fill, we walked to the counter to pay the bill. Now see, this is the part that made me wary; because the numbers printed by the little machine were scary for someone who never liked spending too much. I was cautious, being a miser is what you would call it, but it was simple self-defence for a guy with more dust than money inside his wallet. As I reached for the paper, I could feel my palms start to sweat, my throat go dry and my forehead drenched, and wet. She smiled, and I smiled back, in regret.
I think my love blinded me to how she hogged one burger after another. 700 rupees? I was convinced I was dating Godzilla’s mother. I kept staring at the white piece of paper and what was in it, losing my composure with it, growing paler by the minute. She tugged my shirt and asked “Is everything okay baby? (Like if I said no, it was going to make a difference maybe.)
But eventually I thought I could make a few exceptions; after all, wasn’t love all about learning to live with imperfections?
That episode though, became something in the distant past. Fate turned; crashed and burned, and things disintegrated so fast, they just couldn’t last till the very end. First my money ran out, then she ran out, with my best friend. To the fickle concept of love, I said, never again.
Two years later, a blank slate. I found myself in the midst of another date. I’d known this one for 19 years now, in fact right from the very beginning of my days. I stood on a white tiled floor, and she on a hospital bed, in a half paralyzed state. We’d been here several times straight now, and things were anything but great. She was 24 years ahead of my age, but with a beauty that even today, leaves me in a daze. Her skin had creases and had started to sag, her face looked like it had been dragged through six weeks of jet lag, but that smile, oh that smile, was the best thing anyone could ever have.
For an hour we gazed at each other in quiet silence, for the rest I looked at scars left by the violence of the chemotherapies on her skin. Cuts and bruises uninhibited, for a sin my mother never committed. Just looking at her made my heart sink; it was like someone added one part ink to two parts milk. It hurt how a faint impurity could taint the very essence of beauty.
At that moment, one of the doctors I’d seen around walked in. You see, this is the part that made me wary, because the words printed on the paper in his hand were scary to someone who wanted to see her recover. I got up and stepped outside the door, to a suffocating corridor on the second floor. I walked up to the benches arranged in a long line; my mind preoccupied with how she was doing with a chemotherapy needle slowly piercing her spine. Was she crying? Was she fine? I could never tell. Those few moments are the closest I’ve ever come to dying.
During those terrible moments, I was grateful for certain things, like a significantly advanced science stream and a soundproof door to muffle the screams of an angel losing her wings. Ironic why they called the room intensive care.
I think my love blinded me to the predicament we were in. We were breathing the same air, but only one of us was living a sin. I took her out of the ICU in her wheelchair, pushing no faster than what her back could bear. “Is everything alright Mom?” I asked her, with a petrified stare. I dread asking, or being asked this question, even today.
So when people ask me, Shamir, why don’t you fall in love, I give them this one explanation first. I do fall in love but the definition of the word itself is something I’ve never been able to infer. I’ve felt good love at a bad time, bad love at a good time, I just don’t know which one it is that I prefer. Maybe I fear that both parts of love are a paradox I won’t be able to break or bend, or maybe the women I’ve loved will inevitably leave me in the end. I know what I have lost and how much I miss them. Which is why the question of love doesn’t touch a nerve, it wrecks my entire nervous system.
But what I realize, is that I fear not love, but possibilities. I wrap myself in insecurity, but I still admire the sanctity and the purity of what love tends to bring. Maybe I’ll find love hogging over french fries and onion rings, maybe I’ll find it frozen in the midst of chronic cycles of suffering. I don’t know, I can’t read fate; but if love is anything like what I’ve had to take, I think I prefer to wait.