Happiness is the ability to constantly re-invent oneself. I have been thinking about the flexibility of mindsets for a multitude of reasons including creating an environment where a dialogue on #metoo can be open, constructive and not have that unfortunate and idiotic side effect where people denounce the campaign as something that goes against sexual freedoms or being used as a power play gambit by man bashing feminists. However, I am not going into that right now. The idea here is to create a sort of map of the self and see where I was, to how far I have come, reconciling the knowledge of the two to understand the factors that have and will continue to shape who I will be in the future. This is applicable not only on a micro scale, but a macro level as well. A friend and I were talking about the possibility of creating a timeline to track our past selves and the growth we have undergone to become the present selves including the impact of the good times and the crappy moments as well. And, in the hopes of not repeating one’s mistakes. So here is me doing that.
My earliest memories of childhood are less of being a human toddler and more like a werewolf cub :)) I say this with good reason. People who used to come home to see me used to bring offerings of cream biscuits and chocolates to appease so as to make sure they didn’t get bitten. I remember childhood being an energetic, frenetic blur of outings, friendships, “investigative work”, pressure to achieve academic excellence. I recollect summers spent at my grandfather’s, a person I was close to and tried to emulate for well over a decade after his passing in 2002. I remember the sticky sweet juices of the jackfruits and watermelons we used to eat together, while watching TV. The jackfruits used to grow in a neighbour’s orchard behind our house, it became a symbol of a close knit community mindedness and kindness. An era in which neighbours knew each other by name and stood by them in times of difficulty. Today’s reality though is we don’t even know who our neighbours are. The fact that I live in an old but developing part of the city resolves some part of the issue because the residents have known each other for more than three decades but the newer crop of neighbours who have moved in, we don’t know them at all. Not really. Moving on to the years spent in school, the things I remember the most are the classrooms, the dusty corridors with the narrow benches outside the Principal’s office where we used to wait, to be congratulated by her for winning some music and creative writing competitions, Olympiads etc. I remember the dark blue blouse and white pleated skirt that always remained nearly immaculate because I was never too much into sports in any case except for shotput and running. I used to prefer board games with friends so we could utilise the opportunity to continue our talks, while not being chastised for not participating in the “P.T.” period. School was a whirlwind of conversations. As thrilling as it was, neither school nor college left me with that aching sense of nostalgia on those last days. I shed no tears at the idea of not being able to meet my classmates again, I was ready to move on. I was excited even. Throughout, the years saw me transform from a bubbly, outgoing achiever to a deeply insecure, reserved, young woman who shut herself off from much of the world for reasons of her own. Part of it, and this is so important to state…is the mentality of society that tends to stigmatize people with speech impediments or other kind of issues. The other thing of course is how your primary caregiver or doctor treats you. It is not enough to be merely competent. It is equally imperative to be compassionate else you are just an asshole. An asshole who leaves the patients shaking with fright, self – doubt and has the power to rewrite the trajectory of some of the most dynamic years of their lives. In any case, my memory palace is composed of tiles stacked up with their impressionist art style of events running from side to side. Often overlapping and colliding to create a larger picture of a certain haze of colour for a particular time period.
“Run, Missus! It is not safe for you here any more” the boy implored. “Nonsense, Jonathan. You have a very active imagination.” She ruffled his hair, noting with a slight smile how he coloured when her fingers grazed his forehead accidentally. “Now get to work” she reminded him firmly, but not unkindly. Several moments passed with the pair working perfectly in unison. “Your Master was married twice before, was he not?” She asked suddenly. The boy nodded. “Do you know how they died? I have heard people talk. I know he can be a bit rough around the edges, but he is not as bad as they think him to be.” She continued. The boy looked surprised, peered at her from between his sandy hair. For a long time, he didn’t say anything. She watched him. He seemed to be shifting from foot to foot, contemplating and struggling with something. “He killed them, Missus! He is a bad man, he deserves to rot in Hell. You shouldn’t be here!” He burst out hotly, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. “Jonathan!” She went after him, shocked at his outburst. She was ready to reprimand him strongly for what he said. She followed him, and found him sniveling while feverishly ruffling around in the Master’s workshop. “What do you think you are doing?” She said sharply, pulling him away. “Wait, please… I want to show you something.” He pulled out miniature ceramic figurines of women, rendered so beautifully. “He made this? They are so life – like. He never told me about his artistic abilities”. She was astonished. Showing her the figurine of the woman in a bath tub, Jonathan said “This was his first wife. God bless her, she was as saintly as they come. She was his cousin. She always had a kind word for everyone.” He paused. ” How did she die? I heard that she died shortly after childbirth.” She inquired. “The Master wanted a boy. She gave birth to a girl child. The Master was displeased. He drowned them both in the tub and threatened me with the same fate if I told anybody. Besides who would ever believe that someone of his stature would do something so heinous?” His voice rang out in that shed. She shuddered slightly. Regardless of whether it was true, it was a horrible story. She was tempted to cut the boy’s pay for the day. What a horrid boy, him and his imagination! Spreading such lies! She crossed her hands, gazed at him levelly betraying none of her thoughts or emotions. “And what about this one? I am presuming this is the second one then?” She asked him as she turned around a figurine slightly more voluptuous than the first one with a sunny smile. This one looked to be in repose. “She was indeed his second wife. The post master’s daughter. We were classmates. She was vivacious and had a lovely, singing voice. I liked her a lot. You could even say, I was a bit sweet on her. And I think she knew. Which is why it came as a shock to me when the Master brought her home as his new bride.” Jonathan looked away, his eyes burning. She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “She was seventeen, and with child when she supposedly fell down the stairs. I had heard them arguing the day before. He was accusing her of infidelity, and she, the same. It was true that she had taken up with a young writer at the lodge down the street and she was planning to run away in order to escape the tyranny of the master. Somehow, the Master found out. A passionate fight ensued between the two of them. She was never one to mince words. When it happened, they were the only two people in the house. Or so I am told.” The words spilled out, as if he had held them in for years. He probably had. She mused. “What makes you think I am not safe anymore?” “I found this when I was cleaning the shed yesterday.” With trembling fingers, he handed over a brown paper bundle tied in string. Puzzled, she unwrapped the bundle, and let the contents fall to the ground with a scream. There lay on the ground, fragments of what was earlier, a perfectly rendered miniature figurine of her.
I looked through the shimmering glass window. I saw her ornate writing desk, half opened like someone had gone through it looking for something. A lot of things I remembered placing there were missing. A few journals, I think. There were a few loose sheafs of paper. I recognised her handwriting. Those were my words, in a different time. The Sun was setting in the distance, I looked to my right side. The bed so perfectly made. Mine. But it wouldn’t be slept in, it had not been. For a long time. Briefly I considered just that. I sat there and soaked in the room. My one and only chance to see it. This wasn’t my time. I had to go back after all.
I closed my eyes. I remembered. She walked around, she seemed restless. She had never been more alone, but she had also never felt more free as she looked at the elephant that seemed to have materialised before her. The elephant didn’t seem afraid of her, she felt calm looking at it. She walked towards it. It sat down, so did she. She stroked it gently. Murmured words of comfort, and also relaying her predicament. How strange, she thought… That a creature she had only encountered a while ago should make her feel so safe, as though everything was going to be just fine. She sat down, her back resting against the elephant and closed her eyes. And waited. I felt the hours pass by. I knew what was coming. Sure enough, there appeared a white bird in the sky, the wings flapping majestically. The bird rose up towards the Sun, as though to devour it. There was a great explosion of light, like a canopy of shimmering fragments of diamonds enveloping the entire forest they were in. She rose, she was free.
She had arrived at the beach. She watched as the waters lapped at her feet gently, an ever present cool breeze playing with her curls, casting them about hither and thither. She opened her arms wide and received all of it, smiling serenely.
It was at once, the most peaceful and the most heartbreaking thing I had ever seen. I wanted to see no more, I opened my eyes. My eyes flooded with joy and envy, I know not if those tears running down my cheeks were mine or hers. It does not matter.
Here I am. Once again. Till the great white bird comes, I bid you all adieu!
This was the second exercise we undertook in the writing workshop I have mentioned in my previous blog post titled “Free Writing – piece 1”. The rules remained the same for this exercise, however the interesting part this time around was that Rohini pulled out a slender, wooden box which contained a few decks of tarot cards. We were each asked to select a card, focus on a card and write a story based on that image. The one I drew was the Death card from the Rider Waite deck.
Since I have dabbled in tarot, I felt the need to inform her that I knew what the symbols meant and that an element of bias might possibly creep in. Having said that, off we wrote. The timer was set for ten minutes. Here is what I wrote:
The buildings were burning. A heavy layer of soot and smog engulfed the place. He felt a distinct sense of unease. Death had definitely visited his village, and taken many with Him. If he listened carefully, he could hear the heart breaking wails of many people trapped beneath the ruins. His heart clenched painfully, his eyes teared up but he resolutely moved forward. He ran like he never had. His boots made a dramatic crunching sound, when juxtaposed with the eerie silence all around. He stumbled over bodies of friends and people he knew, but never paused.
There, House no. 43! He had finally reached his destination. All the memories of his childhood came back to him, flooding his senses with nostalgia as he walked through the house. He looked at the charred bodies. Father. Mother. Sister. Wife. Every single one of them was lost to him. He heard a faint wail. Could it be? He headed straight for the crib where lay his boy. His boy looked at him and began crying loudly. Bless the boy, what a pair of lungs he had on him! His boy, as if symbolic of the journey that lay ahead had his face darkened by ash and soot, but remained unharmed. He picked up the child carefully and walked out, feeling a bit more lighter and hopeful than when he first set foot in the village.
The rays of the Sun had began to break out in the distance, enveloping he village in a sort of unearthly brightness that seemed to him, more sinister than optimistic. He reassuringly pressed his son to his chest, and kissed the top of his head.