The Immortal Music of The Mortals

Dearest reader, this post contains spoilers. Please forgive me. I have SO much to tell you about the book, and I didn’t want a boundary. Thank you!

6624257Neelaranjani — the warrior princess, as our heroine Janaki calls her — is a tribal gypsy. She is dying of thirst, so she enters Janaki’s backyard, seeking water. How can she enter an agraharam! What a blasphemy! But Janaki, although scared that her gossip-hungry orthodox neighbours might witness her clandestine act, allows Neelaranjani, and her son to shower in her backyard, and offers a portion of her breakfast. Before leaving, Neelaranjani holds Janaki’s hands, and utters a prophecy. Janaki should not quit practising veena, for only she can bring a silent raga to life.

The phrase — silent raga— keeps appearing over and over again, as though it is an underlying current that connects every character in the book.

Everybody has a silent raga playing in their lives.

Janaki, who is coerced into looking after her family after her mother’s untimely demise, has a loud silent raga. She wants to continue sharing her soul with veena, the heavenly instrument. But how can she, when she is expected to labour from dawn to dusk, for her family who fails to appreciate all that she does for them?

Mallika, Janaki’s younger sister, has a silent raga. Her mother might have died. But she has Janaki. Her everything. Will she have Janaki with her forever?

Venkatakrishnan, Janaki’s father, has a silent raga. A note that is unkind, immoral, and out of place. Who can fix the notes?

Gayatri Chitti, Janaki’s aunt, has a silent raga. With her face caked with inches and inches of talcum powder, with her head filled with lust, and in the later part of the book, with her body filled with pain, she is unapologetically herself. Her raga fills me with rage. But that woman is something.

I can’t hate anybody in Ameen Merchant’s The Silent Raga. Every character is extraordinary in their own ways. Sometimes magical. Sometimes painful. Extraordinary all the same.

This incredibly atmospheric novel is set in a small, sleepy, judgemental town called Sripuram. Unlike other Brahmin families, Venkatakrishnan’s is aloof. Besides her two close friends, and her music teacher, Janaki is not allowed to talk to anybody. Even if she tried to befriend her neighbours, she would only be judged more because it’s that kind of a community.

Merchant observes that the walls don’t speak if the people behind them don’t. Sripuram’s walls are replete with stories. And even the trees have many tales, because girls hang themselves from them.

10 years after giving her heart and soul for her father and sister, Janaki escapes from the clutches of Sripuram. She marries a Bollywood actor, who is a Muslim. Venkatakrishnan becomes more insane. Mallika feels abandoned. How could Janaki do such a thing? Deserting her family for a Muslim man?

Mallika, and Venkatakrishnan move to Madras, because Sripuram would never allow Janaki’s story to be buried, when it has reached national dailies, and tabloids.

In a decade, after Janaki’s abrupt exit from Sripuram, life only becomes bleaker for Mallika, and her father. He becomes delusional, and he is sent to the Institute of Mental Health. He loses all orientation. He cannot remember Janaki’s ‘betrayal’. He cannot remember all the carnal pleasure he shared with Gayatri chitti. He cannot remember that Mallika is now left alone. He is completely functional in his own world.

Maybe, Mallika would have preferred that to the lonely life she is made to lead. Despite a great job, and kind colleagues, she has no respite from her bitter past. And to add insult to the injury, Janaki returns after 10 years.

How will the sisters reestablish the bond that was deemed to be killed? How will the sisters bring themselves to forgive their father? How will the sisters see each other for who they are? How will they make peace with the past? How will they give second chance to their future?

Ameen Merchant weaves a tale of a dark sky that is adequately embellished with stars. He hands us myriad notes to compose our own silent raga.

Women. Ah the women in The Silent Raga. There is a Brahmin woman, who is suppressed, and who breaks free to present her talent to the world, and to marry a Muslim man. There is a Muslim woman, who offers golden philosophy, as a cigarette dangles in between her lips. (Zubeida, I love you.) There is a Bengali woman, who doesn’t want her daughter to be in an abusive relationship. There is a Brahmin widow, who shares the secrets to bargaining, with a 13-year-old girl — dress well, and go to the stores which are run by men. There is a Brahmin young girl, who kills herself, after her bridegroom walks out of the wedding hall, because the dowry was five thousand rupees short of what he was promised. There is a music teacher, who prays to her saki, who also took her own life. And there is this warrior princess, who can see beyond.

Women. They are all perfect. Imperfect. Conservatives. Rebels. Ugly. Beautiful.

They fight. They lose. They win.

I heart them.

There are some things about your life you learn not to share. Not with anyone. Like the answers to questions you never summoned the courage to ask, or the inner voice no one else hears.

Memory is binary. The moment, and the feeling in the moment.

If hopes and dreams and wishes all could be reduced to one single essence, one otherwordly scent, that would be attar.

In the darkness of my head, I saw the notes rise slowly, glowing like flames on a copper tray. And then the raga spoke. It was my voice, through my fingers. Lord Shankara closed his eyes.

It’s been 12 hours since I finished reading the book, I am still in a trance. It’s the sort of trance that I don’t want to break. It’s the sort of trance I wish I could return to whenever I want to. It’s the sort of trance that makes reality an illusion. It’s the sort of trance that makes illusion real. It’s the sort of trance that sends melancholy to the dark chambers of my heart. It’s the sort of trance that lights up the very chambers with hope, and redemption.

(Archived from my deceased website. Some posts had to be exhumed. They were way too close to me.)

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For Once, I Loved Bitter Gourd

All alone on a night like this — quite as confession and blackwidow blue. Oh what she would give, tonight or any night, for a lover’s mouth, for a lullaby, for a moon so low it could snag in the conspiracy of branches. And she sits there in the darkness and watches the silhouettes of trees against the city sky blanched with artificial effulgence, and admires the silver rings on her toes, and thinks of how a good reading can unbraid everything. She blows a smokey cloudkiss to the Venus flytrap in the corner and even the Venus flytrap doesn’t bite back.

The High Priestess Never MarriesSometimes, I want stories to be closer to me. I want the characters to drive on the roads I take. I want them to speak my tongue. I want them to know my gods and goddesses. I want them to lose themselves in the ocean where I seek solace.

Sharanya Manivannan’s The High Priestess Never Marries is close to my bosom for the said reasons.

I read the book this February. As I finished every short story and postcard fiction, I kept asking myself, “Between prose and poetry, where does this writing lie?” I released the question religiously, only to realise that it was an exercise in futility.

Because the stories were just there.

Feral. Timid. Pregnant. Empty. Loud. Silent. Intimidating. Comforting.

The stories were just there.

If Haruki Murakami’s heroes kept making spaghetti in his books, Sharanya Manivannan’s characters were fond of bitter gourd. More specifically, bitter gourd tossed with jaggery.

Dark, bitter, and yet sweet. Quite like her stories.

Bitter gourd that tastes of love and all its consequences. It is my simplest, most sincere dish: my heart on a platter.

‘This is an epiphany,’ she grins, her nose running, her back resting against the spice cabinet. I watch her for a few moments before reaching to serve myself.

With her clean hand, she grabs mine. ‘Thank you!’

‘Anytime, my love.’ I squeeze her hand, drop the spoon I reached for, and decided to wait. What a pleasure it is to give.

Sometimes a meal is a psalm. Sometimes it is a code, a consolation, a sense of an unbroken coast in a season of ravages. Always, it is an offering. Always, it is an embrace.

The other motifs created the feminine, divine, resplendent atmosphere too. Toe rings. Mangoes. Neem trees. The colour red. Celestial beings. And of course… sea, sand, soil, and shores. There were myriad omens which made me feel feverish.

I love Sharanya Manivannan’s women. They did not demand my sympathy. They did not offer condescension either. They were beautifully vulnerable, incredibly human. They related their stories in a tone that was free of apologies. Their voices were laden with regrets, melancholy, and pain. But there was no pretense.

I love her women more because those are the ones who can listen to my story without judging me. Those are the ones who can say, “You fucked up? It’s fine. Let’s clear the mess together.” Those are the women who won’t ask me to stay strong. Those are the ones who would say, “Weep. Weep. Weep. It’s okay to be broken.” Those are the ones who understand the need to feel belonged, the need to love, and the need to be loved and cherished.

Those are the women who know what it is like to be a woman.

I wanted to unleash my love on two women particularly — Sarala Kali and Antara. (Oh! The names! There was a man called Mazhai.) Both the women taught me something that I have been meditating for a long while — allowing myself to feel.

I am tired of hearing phrases like, ‘You have always been brave. Continue to be brave.’ Or a patronising one like, ‘Snap out of that depression.’ Or a reduction like, ‘What you are feeling is a mere disappointment.’ So when I met Sarala Kali and Antara, I naturally warmed up to them more for they didn’t wage war against their emotions. They walked into the eye of the storms. They swayed to the tunes of gusty winds. They destroyed themselves. They re-birthed themselves. And when the cyclone had crossed, they were brave and authentic in the way they embraced their sentiments. How can I not love them!

It’s been a long while since I finished the book. But I can’t capture one word as such and pin it down to explain how I feel about it. There is a lump in my throat. I want to hug somebody and cry for a little while. I want to take deep breaths. I want to reread some stories from the book. I am giving myself to the quicksand of thoughts. I am throwing a courageous glance at the bright clarity that has surfaced. I feel everything. I feel nothing. I am melancholic. I am content.

Maybe, I am one of them. Maybe, we all are…

The Stolen Sunset

(As Cyclone Ockhi lashed at Kanyakumari, I am thinking of the little town.)

The cloud-whale was solemn. Against the rising sun and pink clouds, the indigo cloud-whale was stubborn. From my train that was negotiating a generous bend, I followed the cloud-whale as he refused to be dragged by the morning winds. The cloud-whale seemed like a prelude to the legendary, glorious sunset I was expecting to see in Kanyakumari, a little coastal town in Tamil Nadu, India. The train took a couple of turns and I lost the cloud-whale. But I trusted Kanyakumari to show me more marvels during the sunset. I knew she would. After all, Kanyakumari has the sunrises and the sunsets wrapped around her little finger.

“One day,” you said to me, “I saw the sunset forty-four times!”

And a little later you added: “You know– one loves the sunset, when one is so sad…”

“Were you so sad, then?” I asked, “on the day of the forty-four sunsets?”

But the little prince made no reply.”

― The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I am a sunset person, and I don’t agree with the little prince here. Even if I see the sunset every day, it is not going to make my heart sink. Never the same sun. Sunsets fill me with hope, make me feel alive, and lift the veil of sadness.

As the sun washes the sky with myriad colours, as the clouds reflect the burning brightness and draws their favourite patterns, as darkness races against light, it’s hard to think about the trivial problems of life. Even the pressing ones. The spectacle might be staged by the universe, but the real performance happens in the hearts of the spectators who watch it from the sandy shores, who lose their breaths to the ephemeral truth.

I was one of those hungry lovers, waiting to steal a kiss from the cosmos, when I sat on the promenade in Kanyakumari’s sunset point.

But… it rained on the last day of my trip.

On the first day of my two-day trip, I missed the bus. I didn’t employ the cliche there. I really missed the bus that would have taken me to the sunset on time. My bus coughed and coughed while it braved the evening traffic. I understood the passive-aggressive message: I was not going to see the sunset.

The next day, when it rained, I prayed to the gods to push the clouds aside for a minute. Just a minute to devour a fleeting glance. Quite like the cloud-whale I saw from my train, these clouds were obstinate. Their bums were glued to the sky. They stole my sunset.

Minutes drained. The collective sigh of the audience grew heavier. The selfie-takers were still euphoric. But the sunset was robbed quietly, tactfully, by these adept thieves. Clouds.

My disappointment couldn’t be contained in words or tears. But AK knew how to see the bright side of the stolen sunset too. “Perhaps, it’s a sign that we would be here again,” he said. I hugged his words to pass some warmth to my cold heart.

Her sunset could have been elusive, but Kanyakumari was charming in other ways. I would remember her for her people:

The tea-maker whose tea was so-so but whose grey hat was adorably quirky. He was even more cute when he handed me a piece of spoilt cake. He was the cutest when he took it back and offered another piece of cake (which was also almost rotten) as though I was a child and he was sharing his candy heartily. With people like the man under the hat, it’s impossible to fight about smelly cakes. His toothless smile was my kryptonite.

The localites who held a tiny conference to work out the best route that would take me to a hanging bridge. I stayed out of their circle, as they put their heads together — sometimes arrogantly, sometimes humbly — to find the best bus for me, and to coerce the driver to stop the bus where I wanted to alight. I was their guest although they didn’t invite me.

The incredibly talented driver who took us on the green roads of Nagerkovil and some little villages on his 40-year-old car. A white Ambassador. The car listened to him like a loyal dog. In the corner of my imagination, I was on a sled pulled by a group of Samoyed. A girl can dream, can’t she?

The most sought-after sunset could fail me, but so long as I remember to look for beauty even in prosaic, unassuming things, life would show me more whales.

And perhaps, even a cloud-ocean where the whales can swim to eternity.

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The Dog-ooder

My doubts are beginning to take concrete shapes; my dog is a do-gooder. Do you remember Radio Mama (played by Visu) from Penmani Aval Kanmani?

My dog is the Visu of my neighbourhood.

Anu Boo assumes this position — Isn’t this image reminiscent of Hachiko, the loyal dog from Japan? — several hours a day. When I began to observe her, I turned many theories in my head:

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She must be looking at those squirrels, who constantly worry over their nuts and who make noises which are bigger than their bodies.

She must be enchanted by the foliage. Oh! My dog is such a Zen-master.

She must be following that lizard which goes pst pst pst when I say things like, “Fuck! Is my bank account going to be this empty for 893 years?”

She must be thinking of her previous life. She could have been a great actress. Maybe, She was Silk Smitha and she now wants to show the world how she died. Ah! The agony! I should help her.

She must be following the clouds, spotting cirrus and cumulus. My dog can name clouds. I am a proud pet-parent.

She must be predicting catastrophes. I must give her that space and peace to receive the prophecy.

I tried playing EB White. Quite vainly. I wrote a few theories to support my belief that my dog is above and beyond this realm.

My dear reader, her heart is not after any of my said theories.

She watches my neighbours. Who are men. Who are single. Who are semi-naked. Thank you for the sympathies. I needed it.

She is often perched on the divan with her intense gaze fixed on their house and activities. For I am unemployed, I wore my fedora, carried my cane, and quietly followed Anu Boo.

Here are my observations:

The men listen to songs like Saththam Illadha Thanimai Keten, Kadhalenum Thervezhudhu… They seem to have bought their speakers from those guys who donate their equipment for festivals celebrated during the month of Aadi.

Their terrace is their garbage yard.

They are the brand ambassadors of Ramraj. (Yes. You are right. Some images scar me for life. Please offer more sympathies. Thank you!)

None of them have girlfriends/boyfriends. (I haven’t seen them yelling into their phones. So.)

They don’t bring girls home. I don’t know if they bring boys. Anu Boo might know.

They grind coconuts every day. Every. Day. Every. Fucking. Day. Their grinder is louder than their speakers.

Their trimmers are noisier than their grinders.

Phew!

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Kodam — Image from here.

They kept a kodam in their terrace, when the monsoon set in last month, to collect rainwater and all. (Jayalalithaa is not turning in her grave.) The poor kodam is still there. Beside the kodam, there is a tiny aluminium vessel which Kamal Haasan might have used in Varumayin Niram Sivappu. Remember that scene in which S Ve. Shekar, Dilip, and Kamal Haasan pretended to relish a grand meal when Sridevi visited? I am talking about that.

And, on Saturday nights, they listen to gentle songs like Jingunamani Jingunamani, En Peru Meenaa Kumaari…

Sundays are quiet in their household. Because you know why.

So, that is the story. The part that my do-gooder of a dog plays is Radio Mama, according to my new theory.

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Image from Wikipedia

For she spends significant amount of her waking hours watching them — sometimes secretly, sometime way too obviously — I believe that she is scheming to refine their lives quite like Visu.

What I think my dog would possibly do is:

She might crowdsource to buy earphones, sweatpants, and t-shirts for the boys. She might write to our neighbourhood association about a particular landlord’s negligence in providing water for his tenants. She might write fancy codes, crack the men’s playlists, and include songs composed by Shankar Ganesh. She might invite Trisha to exercise her Swachh Bharat vows in their terrace. When a pup summons, Trisha won’t deny. I know. Anu Boo might play Seeman’s speech to spoil their Saturday fun and she would recruit Baba Ramdev to teach them yoga on Sundays. Perfect! Also, when she is not too busy, she would upload their profiles in Bharat Matrimony.

In about six months, I would have new neighbours. And the story would go on and on…

What is my part in this elaborate drama? Pratap Pothen. *removes her glasses and tosses them on her laptop*

 

Of Friendship And Other Demons

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Image from Hitrecord

“Sometimes he wakes so far from himself that he can’t even remember who he is. “Where am I?” he asks, desperate, and then, “Who am I? Who am I?”
And then he hears, so close to his ear that it is as if the voice is originating inside his own head, Willem’s whispered incantation. “You’re Jude St. Francis. You are my oldest, dearest friend. You’re the son of Harold Stein and Julia Altman. You’re the friend of Malcolm Irvine, of Jean-Baptiste Marion, of Richard Goldfarb, of Andy Contractor, of Lucien Voigt, of Citizen van Straaten, of Rhodes Arrowsmith, of Elijah Kozma, of Phaedra de los Santos, of the Henry Youngs.
“You’re a New Yorker. You live in SoHo. You volunteer for an arts organization; you volunteer for a food kitchen.
“You’re a swimmer. You’re a baker. You’re a cook. You’re a reader. You have a beautiful voice, though you never sing anymore. You’re an excellent pianist. You’re an art collector. You write me lovely messages when I’m away. You’re patient. You’re generous. You’re the best listener I know. You’re the smartest person I know, in every way. You’re the bravest person I know, in every way.
“You’re a lawyer. You’re the chair of the litigation department at Rosen Pritchard and Klein. You love your job; you work hard at it.
“You’re a mathematician. You’re a logician. You’ve tried to teach me, again and again.
“You were treated horribly. You came out on the other end. You were always you.”

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

If I woke up from a slumber that stole my memories, who would I be? Who would be by my bed? Who would tell me the things which Willem told Jude in the soul-smashing A Little Life? Above all, what would I be told?

You are Deepika Ramesh. You had no friends because you abandoned all of them. Your family endured your shenanigans, failures, self-absorption, and narcissism because that’s what families do. You sucked at everything you learned. Your 9-year-old marriage was a legendary fiasco. Your career was always tumultuous because you were too lazy to try, you were rebellious, and you complained about everything in life. You were at your boyfriend’s calves like a leech. You were treated well but you sought solace in insecurity and misery. You were always you. PS: Four ‘friends’ wrote RIP on Facebook when you died and three dogs attended your funeral.

Ha! There. I massaged my not-so-bruised ego again!

I understand the meaning of words like laconic, nincompoop, obfuscate, capricious… But I can’t comprehend friendship. *dodges all the judgmental bullets*

This list must throw some light on why I can never be your friend:

  • My family comes first. Always. Always. Always.
  • My family = Amma, Appa, Sister, Brother-in-law, Nephew, Boyfriend, and Dog
  • I don’t answer phone calls. I use my phone to talk to my family and recruiters.
  • I love texting. I can send 1500-word long messages on Whatsapp. I love writing e-mails. But no. I will not return your calls.
  • You don’t have to hire a detective to know that my friendship-record is deplorable. I have deserted everybody who hung out with me, everybody whom I called my friend, everybody who was with me when loneliness wound around my legs like a boa constrictor.
  • I am still swimming against the ruthless currents of depression and anxiety. All my doors and windows would be shut if I am asphyxiated. I choose to stay breathless by myself. (I am not depressed because my tea turned cold. I am depressed because life happened.)
  • I am not an inspiring conversationalist. I leave unintended silences, I don’t initiate conversations, and I am always talking to myself in my head — I am pseudo-intellectual. Why is this person listening to me? What should I say next? Gosh. I am killing this person with my mind-numbing anecdotes.
  • I don’t talk during movies.
  • I don’t watch TV shows. I don’t understand your F.R.I.E.N.D.S and Game of Throne references.
  • Are you a reader? Great. Bye. (I don’t know how to tell you in person that I want to marry the last book I read.)
  • Are you an animal-lover? Cool. (You bought your dog. I am judging you.)
  • I don’t respond to Hey-We-Must-Catch-Up-Soon messages.
  • I don’t go to my school reunion. I don’t talk to my schoolmates. I didn’t go to college. I haven’t stored my ex-colleagues’s phone numbers. My contact list has 40 numbers. And I would never know how I saved so many.
  • I am not on Facebook and Instagram. Twitter, yes. Blogs, YES, YES, YES!
  • I don’t smoke and drink anymore.
  • I am monogamous.
  • I loathe condescending tones. (Ah, Deepika! You are such a silly girl! You have to see more in life.) No. Go away.
  • I talk to animals. I think I am a bear. I send animal-pictures to people whom I love.
  • I don’t make plans. I turn down invitations.
  • Deepika, your problem is actually not a problem. Think of mine. If you reduce my suffering, I will disappear from your life.
  • I am just trying to reform you, Deepika. Thank you, Mother Teresa!
  • Do you read YA and Children’s Literature? Why don’t you pick up some books from the Pulitzer list? *Deepika stabs the voodoo doll and murmurs your name*
  • I love talking to strangers. I love being kind to them.
  • I don’t bake.
  • I don’t wear makeup.
  • I don’t know to gush about Paris Hilton.
  • I am a mad, mad, mad Tamil cinema fan. I can hold long discussions on Bhagyaraj’s dance moves and Vijay Sethupathi’s underrated performance in Dharmadurai.
  • I am melodramatic.
  • I am romantic. No. I don’t need flowers and greeting cards. I have a strong proclivity to romanticise things.
  • I am not patriotic.
  • I want a borderless world.
  • I am naive.
  • I am against capital punishment.
  • I overuse words like Universe, Soul, Love, Light, Good Vibes, Signs, Aura, and Synchronicity, and I mean all of them.
  • I am always changing. So, I dismiss your statement — Deepika, you have changed a lot.
  • I am a believer.
  • Keep your religion and casteism to yourself. I don’t want to know what a privileged, neat, healthy brahmin you are. Thanks.
  • I am a cyclist, but I don’t enjoy group rides.
  • I don’t attend book-club meets.
  • I do not participate in debates which force me to choose between humans and animals.
  • I am a sucker for Buddhist philosophies.
  • I baby-talk to my boyfriend.
  • I don’t want to try that tiramisu and thukpa. I am happy with my ‘full meals’.
  • I fight with my nephew.
  • I wish I could redo everything I did between 19 and 29.
  • I wish I had studied and didn’t stop with just Class 12.
  • I am still studying English literature but I will take a couple of years to complete the course.
  • I am unconfident, I wallow in self-pity, I think I will never be an okay writer, my vocabulary is limited, my syntax is prosaic, and I continue to float in the never-ending spiral of fucked-up things in my life.
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Image from Buddha Doodles

If you are still reading this, you earn the right to know why we can be friends.

  • I am learning to listen. You can tell me about your bitchy boss, glorious days, soul-nourishing moments. But you have to write to me. I will listen with all my heart. I will ask questions, I will make you feel cherished, I will enjoy your moments vicariously, however, I might write back in my own time. Sorry!
  • You can be your best vulnerable self to me. I will not spew unsolicited advice. I will not hold it against you. I will listen. I adore vulnerability. It is the most underrated trait. Tell me about that time when you ran a blade on your thighs. Tell me about that night when your demons sat at your heels and chanted words which sucked your light. I want to know that about you. I want to know what makes you you.
  • I will be my vulnerable self too. I will send you I-am-thinking-of-you messages. I will tell you about my kinky dreams. I will ask you if I would be a good mother. I am not scared to say that I love you and I want you to believe that I love in my own ways. I don’t use the phrase I-Love-You mindlessly. I am not doling it out like marketing pamphlet. I employ it when I am truly filled with love and when I suffer from the inability to contain the words in my heart.
  • I will not be mad at you if you take 24 days to respond to my messages. I am patient.
  • I will read ALL your blogs and post comments. It’s not my tacky method to bring you back to my blog. I post honest comments because I want to tell you that I am listening, that I relish your work, and that I am grateful to you for giving me a safe space to express myself.
  • I am reluctant to offer help on my own, but if you ask I will do all that’s within my limit to support.
  • I will send you books and make bookmarks for you.
  • I will remember your important days.
  • I will draw Zen-doodles and dedicate them for you.
  • I will write blogs about you.
  • I will tell you why you matter.
  • I will remind you of your awesomeness often.
  • No. I am not sucking up to you. I don’t want anything from you.
  • I will call out your oversights in life, but only kindly. Even if I bark at you like a rabid dog, I will gather myself to be sorry.
  • I will not laugh at your dreams and goals. (One of my dear dreams is to wear a panda costume and hug strangers. There. I confessed.)
  • I will come to your book launch, concert, shows. I will be proud of you.
  • I will not invade your space.
  • We can look at the sky and stay quiet.

Are you still reading? Thank you for indulging me. I have never written anything more narcissistic than this post. Phew!

So, I am left with just a couple of pals who are courageous and generous to accept me, warts and all. With my twisted head, I will not be able to understand what friendship is, although Hanya Yanagihara said this in A Little Life.

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified.”

“Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”

Am I in a union that could never be codified? Am I witnessing my friends’s miseries and triumphs? Am I being that flattering light of a candle? I do not know.

What I do know is that when I die, somewhere a mongrel will throw its head up and howl at the moon. That would be the kindest, greatest, most intimate farewell.

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Image from here

Saluting The Ghost Ship

The conference room was cold. Maybe, it seemed colder because I was waiting to be interviewed by two editors. I had applied for the role of a reporter/sub-editor at a popular newspaper. My brain was almost ready to shut down, for I had already written a long test that checked my understanding of ‘affect’, and ‘effect’.

The wait was excruciatingly long. The room was close to the printing press, and filled with the intoxicating smell of the fuel that ran the machines. I was sleep-deprived, nervous, and above all… desperate.

“Why are you choosing to leave behind six years of your corporate career?” asked the editor. In retrospect, I think my answer was the most cliched. “Because… I love writing.” The editor smiled, but not convinced. “Why do you love writing?” I didn’t know how to field that question; I wasn’t prepared. Clearing my throat, and drumming my fingers on the table, I took a brave stab, “I like the person I become when I write.” She smiled again, but not convinced yet.

“Are you aware that you will be a beginner here? You will be treated like a trainee.” Was that a warning? I swallowed my ego along with six years of my corporate experience, and told her that I was ready.

10 days after what I deemed a fiasco of an interview, I sat behind my desk at the newspaper office, and wrote my first story.

When I saw my byline on the newspaper for the first time, I decided not to complain about switching careers, and going back to square one. I was proud of myself; I was pleased with myself for making a bold decision. I never knew that I could be that courageous.

Four years after I joined journalism, I had to make another choice. Should I swim against the current, and survive in an industry that was sabotaging my principles, and sanity, only because I love writing? Or should I quit journalism, and go back to a corporate job to save myself from anxiety and depression? Because the job was crushing my soul. It was challenging my ideals. I was beginning to loathe writing. And, I was tired. I was so tired that I didn’t want to fight anymore, write anymore, and revel in the fame and power that the job offered. I threw caution to the wind, and I resigned.

The corporate company, where I worked for six years, was considerate to me again. I joined them. I was thankful, for I was not unemployed.

But, I started attaching labels to myself.

Idealistic. Coward. Pessimistic. Failure.

When everybody else could create a niche for themselves, why did I fail? I was mad at myself for being over-sensitive, and egoistic. I was livid because I believed I was not a writer anymore.

However, I didn’t stop writing. I continued to make love with words here. In time, I realised that I didn’t have to work for a media house to call myself a writer. I made peace with my past, and shrugged off the labels that weighed me down.

Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.

— Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Image from here.

A friend once asked if I missed my writing job. Without paying a second thought, I said, “Not at all. Not a wee bit.”

Her question brought an epiphany — finally, it occurred to me that I had known little about myself. It dawned on me that I was more valiant, when I made the painful choice of going back to the corporate job. The labels were the swear words that my ego had employed to taunt me.

After all, I was my own prisoner. And now, I breathe a whiff of freedom.

The resignation was not a full stop. It was a semicolon.

I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

(Archived from my old blog Worn Corners)

I quit my corporate job again in August 2017. I have been unemployed since then. Although I enjoy this break, especially after having been employed for a decade, I am deprived of the comfort of receiving a handsome amount in my bank account on the first working day of every month. On a murky day, when the anxiety influenced every cell of my body, I agreed to work as an editor for a newspaper in Chennai.

The job was a dream for many editors. I could work from home, edit crappy stories, and write occasional features. But on another anxious day, I refused the offer. I couldn’t envisage tormenting myself by being online during all my waking hours, following celebrities on every social media website, socialising with PR’s, losing my sleep over typos and grammatical errors in the published stories, and getting my hands dirty to survive the rat race. Corporate jobs could be mind-numbing, but I enjoyed working for nine hours, and keeping the weekends all for myself. Journalism wanted to enter my bedroom. Sorry. The doors are closed.

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Image from here.

I could be called names for having turned down an attractive offer. I could be considered idealistic or inefficient. I could be judged for asking Father to continue to feed me. He might begin to pay my phone bills too. Despite feeling suicidal sometimes, I hold my shoulders and scream into my ears: Do not succumb to anything that has the potential to conquer your life that you have finally put together.

I often ask Father if I can go to a part-time job until the job market looks up. No. He wants me to wait. I am guilty to depend on him. I am in my early 30’s. But Father and I hear the words which we both don’t utter. It’s okay, Deepika. You started working when you were 19. It’s okay. Gather all the shards. Wait. Something will come your way. My parents don’t say that. But I can hear. Life could have been a ruthless bitch to me. She is beginning to believe that I am not that bad. I could do with some tenderness. After all.

Meet You-Know-Who

…on my seventh birthday, my present was that I got to pick my name. So I spent the whole day looking at my dad’s globe for a really cool name. And so my first choice was Chad, like the country in Africa. But then my dad said that was a boy’s name, so I picked Alaska.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

In John Green’s latest book Turtles All The Way Down too, Aza chooses her own name. Her dad says, “We want you to have your own name, a sound you could make your own… It(Aza) spans the whole alphabet, because we wanted you to know you can be anything.”

My parents have never called me by my first name. My family has not pronounced it more than a couple of times. I am not exaggerating. Even when the purohits ask during rituals, they offer my middle name.

I wrote for newspapers for four years, but my byline was a combination of my middle name and last name — Deepika Ramesh.

My first name was profusely used during my school years, by the headmistress who thought I was a lesbian, who later learned that I wasn’t, who hated my then boyfriend, and who decided that I was wasting oxygen. It was lovingly used by a conservative brahmin teacher, who placed all her trust in me and dreamed that I would become a Chartered Accountant or an engineer (Sorry. I am not sorry, miss!). It was grudgingly used by government officials.

It’s now used by telemarketers from North India, who struggle to get the right sound. My first name has now come down to just that. An opening for a cold call.

I am Sarada Deepika Ramesh.

I was named after Sarada Devi. My father had the forethought to relieve me of predicaments which are cast by spelling, so he dropped all the aitches. But nobody knows how my first name should be pronounced. I don’t know because my parents abandoned it. Hence, it’s at the mercy of strangers’s tongues which have lives of its own. I am oftentimes Sharadha. Sometimes Sharada. Very rarely Sarada. Do you see the difference? The callers from North India prefer Sarath. Yes. Thank you!

When I flash my ID at banks or airports, I feel myself walking out of my body as I utter my first name. I witness the scene; I don’t participate. I remind myself: I am not an imposter. This. Is. My. Name. And I am not smuggling drugs. Despite the affirmation, the name doesn’t seem like my belonging. I lug it along without an opportunity in the offing to let go of it or to surrender it to Lost and Found.

It can’t be lost.

Maybe, there are ways to remove it, but I won’t go that far, because I also belong to the cliche It’s-my-first-gift-from-my-parents. Ahem!

Maybe, I harbour a clandestine affection for it.

Maybe, I am just a curmudgeon who wants a new reason to whine today.

Maybe, it’s just another anagram, the first name. A nihilist’s POV helps there.

Hey! But I can’t assume names like Kim Jong Un or Voldemort all right. I can settle with a couple of a’s and s’s and r’s.

I almost hit the Publish button when I wanted to Google the name. And see what I found. 🙂

Sarada Uchiha is the protagonist of the spin-off Naruto, apparently. Japan beckons! 😉