Tag Archives: pain

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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Superman.

Every morning, a Superman wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Eyes dead, bloodshot red from the fatigue tearing apart the insides of his head. His usually perfectly combed hair is a mess; mangled, tangled, strangled dense and untidy every inch of their previously lustrous lengths. He is fully aware of his steadily declining health, but is bent on telling himself to never wait to catch a breath because when you’re Superman, the universe doesn’t expect you to reach out for help. Superman’s supposed to solve problems. Not have his own as well.

On some days, Superman feels more human than he’s ever felt. But the ungrateful world still expects him to repay a recurring, fateful debt that out of his own moral consciousness hangs heavy above his head. Superman is a soldier who’s barely slept, because guarding the borderlines of conflict are part of a duty so firmly etched in his mind that he can’t forget, even when he’s a few inches away from death- standing, taking shallow breaths in a place where its 30 degrees below zero. On most nights, Superman doesn’t need a cape to be a hero.

Every morning, a Superman wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Awakened from a nightmarish fable, drenched in dread and cold sweat, emotionally disabled. The empty can of anti-depressants lies on her bedside table, just like her mental state; balanced precariously but barely stable. The pills ran out two days ago but she hasn’t been able to go to the corner drugstore to ask for more because you see, being a single, working mother of three is a full time job description and responsibility and she has no time to stand in line for a prescription to cure her depraving sanity. Now she’s slaving; craving answers from a mind throwing tantrum after tantrum and misbehaving. Maybe the world doesn’t realize that tonight, Superman is the one who needs the saving because every, single morning, a superman wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. Looks disgusted in the mirror, shakes his head, at a disproportionate body and an utterly skewed ratio of length to breadth gifted to him by fate. Every night he weeps for his inexplicable state. Sheds drops of fears that flow into a river of tears, emptying it all into a reservoir of self-hate. A dam overflowing so bad, that sooner or later it’s going to break. By the age of seven, he’s so afraid, he’s questioning every decision he’s ever made- from full length pictures in his phone gallery, to every calorie he ever ate.

So every day, Superman makes it a point to stay away trying not to blow his fuse. Keeps a distance from the outside world, wary of becoming its ridiculed muse. Curls up inside his room with a blanket and a box of tissues. Too old to drown the demeaning words, too young to understand the meaning of the words “thyroid issues”. So before the end of the day, he prays for world to shift its gaze and just let him be; because tonight Superman is fighting an adversary they cannot see.

As the nights get colder, every Superman wishes he had a shoulder on which to weep. Prays someone kissed his head, tucked him into bed before he sleeps. Hopes he won’t wake from a deep slumber wanting to crumple into a heap, until he’s nothing but a dune of dust. The Man of Steel might be invincible, but he’s not immune to rust.

So the next time the Superman you know wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, remind them what they’re worth. Tell them that ever since birth, every single day was spent in learning to resist the hurt that threatens to punch them all down slowly into the dirt. A soldier teaches the frigid winds of the earth a lesson in defiance, a single mother of three forges with her depression, an uneasy alliance; a ceasefire, to relieve it. Just, just, so that she can look at her kids, tell them everything’s okay, even if she herself doesn’t believe it. A kid with a malfunctioning thyroid gland wipes his tears with his hand, steps outside his room for once and slowly understands, that everything he was ever fed was all a bunch of lies and that Superman suits are stitched and sewed for each and every size. Even one big enough to fit him right. A lot of Supermen woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, but maybe they’ll sleep a little easier tonight.

 


Suicide Note.

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.


Spoken Poetry #1 – Dear Mom.

It completely slipped my mind that I should probably put my first Spoken Poetry performance here. I loved every second of that experience; being on stage, taking something so immensely personal and getting the audience to live it with me. So here it is, a letter to someone I miss every single day. Dear Mom, this one is for you.


Lethal Addictions.

I have been in a complicated relationship for a while now, and it is starting to devour me as time crawls by. I know you want to ask why; so tonight I’ll give my sorrows the vent they always needed. Tonight, you will know all the concerns that went unheeded. I no longer want my silence to be treated like dirt; just because I kept quiet does not mean it did not hurt. 

For the last three years that I have been with you, for you, around you, I went out of my way to be the person I thought you’d love more than anything else, every single day. I have tried even harder since the very first day you lost your heart, and I did my best to clean your mess despite not knowing where to start. I knew that you would never be the same again, probably never find the will to love through pain; but I burnt myself to the ground to make sure that you’d have at least one reason to change that. Clearly, it wasn’t enough. Or maybe, I wasn’t enough. I was never the kind to openly acknowledge this feeling of jealousy, of envy, that is now a part of me, but what she does to you leaves me wondering if I ever made a difference to the indifference with which you treat your pain.  

She makes you feel the way I could never do, the exact same way I always wanted to. I envy the care with which your fingers caress her lengths. I despise the nights you spend tasting nothing but her essence, breathing her in, leading her in to your deepest, darkest corners. She wanders through places where I’ve always wanted to go, exploring dormant reasons I’ve always been dying to know. I always wished I could be something like that, who you could turn to, but somewhere fate and your actions convinced me that I wasn’t supposed to.

Yes, it breaks me. Sometimes I can’t understand why I’m so angry, but I’ve started to realize it is only because you make me. She isn’t good for you, I am. I am not like she is; a temporary pleasure, a desperate measure stemming from unwarranted pressure. I love you and take nothing in return. I just wish you’d drop the cigarettes Dad, before she truly starts to burn.

Why don’t you understand that I haven’t been oblivious to all the signs that I’ve seen- crushed empty packs under the bed, the bathroom smelling of nicotine? When will you understand that white smoke does nothing to fill black holes, or that smoking kills 5 million callous souls, every single year? How do you not expect me to be overwhelmed? What if in the next five million, you’re one of them? 

I have already lost one parent to cancer, you know it better than I do. Yet you embrace an element that causes the same travesty, that took your wife, your life, away from you. I can’t rewrite your past but I can dictate where your future lies, and that future lies with two kids who hold you as the biggest inspiration in their eyes. So, close this chapter, label it fiction; start a new book far away from your lethal addiction. Convince me that this complicated relationship will get somewhere better. Because I certainly won’t run out after a pack, or fade into the night sky in seconds; I won’t strangulate you slowly as time beckons. The only similarity I have with your cigarettes is that I will love you until I burn to ashes. And you know what? I’ll love you even after that.
I know she keeps you company, but you need to know one simple rule. The human body was never meant to inhale fire, only because it runs on fuel. Your head rushes with emotions and memories, mine does too. But my love transcends the smoke you breathe to keep your sanity next to you. 

So this Father’s Day, I hope that my gift to you, is also your gift to mine. I hope you understand that I’d do anything it takes to make sure you’re fine. You’ve always been there for me, now this is my turn. So please drop those cigarettes Dad, before they truly start to burn.


Why I don’t fall in love.

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.


Little Window.

It was a merciless winter’s night, somewhere in late December I think. I can’t say for sure actually; time has drowned my memories ever so quietly. We must have walked down that lonely, desolate lane to Block D at least a hundred nights now. I’m sure he has done that at least twice as much. Nothing has changed; and yet strangely, everything has.

You see, me and him, we’ve walked these streets so many times that we’ve discovered its most minute intricacies. For instance, I know that seven minutes into our walk, I would hear the sound of gravel crunch beneath my size 9 Woodland shoes, breaking the effortless silence of the night, but not the uneasy one between us two.
The pale, dim yellow streetlights would dully light up the grey tar roads, the bright green benches with paint scraping off along its sides, the only witness to this pilgrimage of sorts.

And yet, in the midst of this monotony, things have changed. Sometimes, a gentle breeze would tug at my baggy shorts and the comfortable, loose fabric of my tee shirt during summers. And at times, the winter wind howled incessantly, a waft of ice cold breath from the Gods would bite at knuckles tightly clasped around my leather jacket. So much change, and yet so familiar.

Anyway, 15 minutes into our walk, I could see the familiar outline of Block D swarm in front of my eyes. The same rundown building that no one bothered to maintain. It looked like something you would find straight out of an archaeology magazine; chipped walls lined with dark green moss, missing bricks and faded paint making it seem like a page from a forgotten memory.

‘I like this place’ he looked at me and whispered in a rough, sombre voice. It was the first time ever that he had spoken to me during our walks. We always talked before or after it, but in those hundred days I walked with him, we never spoke when we were face to face.

‘This building is my reflection, it is what I am, you know? Weathered, broken down, forgotten. But I like it, because despite its shortcomings, it makes no attempt to hide. It still stands.’

I could see he was struggling to speak, but I didn’t ask him why. This was a change from our usually accepted pact of silence, I decided it would be wiser to let destiny do the needful.

We slowly trudged to the side of the building. The low balcony of the first floor stood right in front of us. It was low enough for me to jump and touch, in fact I could climb it if the drainpipe next to it wasn’t ancient. We stopped. Same place, for the umpteenth time. I’ve lost count. He put his hand inside his pocket and pulled out the same old bar of chocolate. I liked this part, and I made a conscious effort not to blink. He looked up at the open window next to the balcony; these were the only few seconds of the day when I saw glimpses of life flood back into his eyes. That made me happy; knowing he hadn’t completely forced himself into emotional exile.

He carefully held the bar of chocolate in his right hand, and arched his back. With the expert precision of someone used to doing something every single day, he threw the chocolate perfectly inside the open window. It was dark and empty inside, yet he stood there transfixed; staring at the open window for at least 5 minutes. It was a simple yet powerfully serene picture that I wish I could paint with words; hope looking up at expectations, in static and unsettling silence.

After 5 minutes of holding his breath, he let out a deep, pained sigh. He looked at me, which was his way of telling me that it was time to walk back.

‘Once every 20, maybe 25 days, when she’s strong enough to stay awake, you can hear the gentle rustle of the wrapper being torn open, I swear. She doesn’t go out much because the chemotherapies have left blotches on her skin, and she has little left of those gleaming strands of silky hair she had before. She says that it all makes her look ugly, but I disagree. What could possibly be more beautiful than someone learning to smile through adversity? Once every one and a half months, when the medicines don’t drain her soul, you can see the faint orange light come on in her room. She puts her head at the window, one of the rare times she ever lets anyone see her. When that little study lamp lights up the side of her face and she holds up the chocolate I threw and she smiles at me? It is all I ever needed.’

I just looked at him and nodded as if I understood. I clearly did not, and imagining the courage it took made me wish I would never have the chance to find out.

‘I told you, I like Block D. The place reminds me of what I have become. All I have left is a little window; but that does not stop me from standing in front of it every night in desperate hope. Everything around me is slowly crumbling, but something inside gives me so much to believe in. I like this monotony. It gives me faith. So I keep coming back, even if it means confronting my worst fears.’

‘And what are those fears?’ I asked him.

He looked at me, and gave me a tired, almost resigned smile.

‘Sometimes, I fear my chocolate will hit a closed window. Sometimes, I fear it’ll drop on an empty bed, and the hollow thump I hear will be nothing compared to the reverberations in my heart. I dread these possibilities. But when I started off doing this, she used to look through the window every 3-4 days. That number has slowly gone on increasing. Now I consider myself fortunate if she manages to hoist her limp, drugged body to the windowsill even once a month. I fear I’m living my darkest fears. Maybe it’s her way of preparing me for the worst, I don’t know. Perhaps I do know, but I do not care. I do what I have to, and nothing less.’

As we talked, we reached Block T, where I stay. We embraced, and he thanked me for coming. Although we did this every night I walked with him, it never felt out of place or cliched. I walked up the stairs to my house, and then into my room, slowly taking in what I had just seen and heard. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

The very next morning, I got a phone call. She had passed away in her sleep.

Even though in one hundred nights I never saw anything beyond the little window, I felt empty, I felt hollow. I could only imagine how standing in his shoes would be, let alone walking in them.

That night, I got no text message from him asking me to come for a walk. But I did see a lonely shadow, dragging a soulless existence through the empty street on the way to Block D. I saw all of it through my balcony. Seven minutes later, I could hear the sound of gravel in my head, heavier and deeper than I had ever heard before. Tonight, hope wouldn’t look up to expectations; expectations would look down upon broken hope. Tonight, there would be no warm embrace, no thank you’s. Perhaps there never will be.

It has been almost a year since her death. I have always wanted to walk to Block D one night and pay my respects. But I can’t. I can’t find the strength to look at him staring at that little window again. I can’t. I can’t imagine his chocolate bouncing off a closed window, I just can’t. I still watch him every night, just walking. I realize now why monotony isn’t redundant; it is beautiful, almost overwhelming. But for it to exist, nothing must change. Which is why I think we all fear change. Maybe that little window will slam shut or what lies inside it will fade. But whatever happens, it is important to keep walking.