Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Into the darkness and around the drain

A depressed person is a very depressing person.

What do people do when they need to face a person who has been depressed for a long time - not for hours, but days, weeks, months or even years?

Quotes doing the rounds in the social media space advise you to stay away from 'negative people who make you miserable'. Most people would rather keep away than see how they can help. True that it is better for those who lead a joyous or pleasant life to run away than to delve into the chasm of another's misery and ruin their own days. It is indeed a lot to ask to go sit with them and chat with them for a while, because of the radiating gloom.

A depressed person could be a very depressed person.

It is their suffocation that comes out as negativity or accusation or explosion. They know what they are doing to others, but they can't help it. They're choking on it.

Some of them may be twirling in the darkness dangerously close to the drain, wondering what it would be like to let go. Perhaps they need help to not be washed away. Perhaps you could throw them a line and pull them out. Because their life matters, too.

Maybe no one can fix their problem, but knowing that someone cares or having someone to talk to may get them out of the darkest place. It may not happen in an hour or a day. Walking away definitely does not help. Waiting for them to ask for help doesn't either.

'You must find your own happiness' is probably not the best comment to make to them. Clearly, they are well past that stage. They believe they're beyond help.

When others keep away from them because the darkness is contagious, they are adding to the frustration.

The depressed person doesn't want to be depressed either. They want to be happy too. They may be afraid, miserable, coping with grief, angry or stuck in their past.

They may appear happy one day, or laughing out loud or looking quite normal. Don't assume that they are out of the woods. Maybe what you see is their flailing arms appearing above the surface for the last time.

And if they look gloomy again the next day, the silliest question to ask would be, "Now what happened?"

Don't mock them. Don't call them insane. Don't isolate them.

Throw a line.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Walking in the rain

How was I to know?
I'd been walking in the rain.
And after all that dancing,
I thought, a perfect end to the day.

How was I to know?
You must have been in pain.
Alone amidst strangers,
Confused, helpless, maybe a li'l afraid.

The cool breeze in my hair, the droplets on my face,
Why did they conceal your distress?
And all the while, strangely though,
My thoughts had been of you.

How was I to know?
Until hours and hours had passed;
When a certain stroke of chance
Unfolded your day before me.

How was I to know
At that time? But now I do.
And I wish, from this distance,
I could somehow ease it for you.

That I could kiss your wounds,
Caress your forehead, make you laugh,
Once again see your eyes smile
In that way I know so well.

In truth, there is nothing
That I can really do for you
Be we near, be we far;
I must shred my wishes and toss them aside.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Masterpiece

It came to me on its way to publication, a scanned copy of a handwritten poem. Just a matter of routine; an FYI.  I ran my eyes over it quickly, and then I read it carefully, again.

I did not know the poet - was she young? old? a teenager? a mother?

There was anguish and pain in the writing, and it touched somewhere deep inside. I wondered who she was; and then I closed it and went on with my business.

The subsequent day, I spoke to the lady who had forwarded the poem to me. In passing, I asked about this unknown poet. And in the next fifteen minutes, the young poet's sad life unravelled before my eyes.

I went back to the poem again and read it with new eyes. Those ten or so lines - that was her story. The story I had just listened to. How did I miss it when I read it the first time? Why was I not able to decipher it? Why did I not see her heart?

That's the beauty of poetry, I think. When we read it, knowing nothing of its origin, there is beauty, but it is veiled. We try to connect it with our life and give it a meaning, we appreciate something we perceive in it.

We don't really wonder why the poet wrote this, or how the philosophy occurred to her, or why her lines have the power to reduce us to tears, or what inner fire caused her words to blaze like this. We probably think it insignificant. Did it come to her one sunny morning while she was sipping tea? Or when she was relaxed and happy? What difference would it make to us, if she were angry or frustrated or vengeful or in the throes of grief?

It is from our deepest pain that the most beautiful works of art are born. I would not wish such pain on anyone, but if we're destined to endure some, I'd rather its direct consequence be a masterpiece.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Art of Living in an Apartment

One of my friends recently moved to another city. When they finalised the house to live in, my first question was, ‘Is it an apartment too?’ And yes, it was. For those of us who have lived in apartments for a long time, there are several advantages associated with those. First and foremost is the safety aspect. In comparison to single houses – especially considering the news we read every day – apartments offer more security. Or, at least they give the impression they do.

Another factor is the proximity of friendly neighbours. They are right in our own building; if we need a glass of milk or a spoon of sugar, we can walk across to them in our house wear, without worrying about opening our gate or crossing the road or encountering wild beasts on our path.

Nonetheless, there are other kinds of people who know nothing about the art of living in an apartment, and who, unfortunately make up a significant part of our neighbourhood.

None of us are blameless when it comes to apartment ethics. However, there are some dwellers who test the patience of the rest of us, when it comes to garbage disposal, bursting midnight crackers, running up and down the stairs to give others a heart attack (and I am not talking of kids), etc.

When I moved into our current apartment, there were some people who lived right above us. We did not hear any sound from them, and they could have been termed ideal except when I found that one of them had the habit of standing on the balcony smoking and dropping the ashes directly down. The cigarette ash fell on the washed clothes I had left to dry on my balcony. To be fair to them, they stopped doing it the moment I let them know my problem. The people who succeeded them to that house have been ‘harmless’ so far.

Meanwhile in another part of the apartment, we heard complaints (both veiled and open) about used sanitary napkins being found blocking the drains. No amount of notices and warnings were enough to coax these tenants to properly dispose of their waste. The world became a better place when they moved out. One second floor lady has the habit of performing pooja in the morning. She would pour water from a bowl right across the balcony, not caring whether there are people walking below. The wind would hit the waterfall and direct it to the houses below, watering their plants and wetting their clothes and giving the people a free shower. Considering that it is water meant for the gods, and that she is an old lady, one can possibly forgive her.

But the first prize – a trophy, certificate and cash award – is reserved for another resident, who lives two floors above my house. One Sunday morning, I woke up hearing the sound of falling water that sounded much like heavy rain. Realising quickly that it wasn’t and assuming that some tap was broken for so much water to overflow, I rushed to the window to find my husband standing there, staring out in disbelief. When I looked outside, I was dumbfounded, too. For, flowing all over the clothes and plants on my balcony from somewhere above, was dirty water mixed with soap. Half of the clothes I had washed the previous night and put out to dry (so as not to miss the early morning sun) were now wet and sloppy. The security guard of the apartment was somewhere in view, looking up in helplessness and bewilderment.

A quick inquiry cleared things up. The residents of the house had decided that morning that it was time to wash their carpet. So what did they do? They threw it across the railings of the balcony and began to pour water and soap over it and to give it a good scrubbing. There were two houses below. Either the carpet-washers were too dumb to know that gravity has this stupid habit of pulling water down; or they did not care that the grime was flowing all over our houses. Clearly the latter, because when we brought the fact to their notice, we were told that ‘it will be over in just five more minutes.’

There is no point in talking to such people. We put our clothes back into the washing machine and gave it another round of wash and rinse. The next time we hung it out to dry (and since then, every time we hung clothes to dry), we prayed that there would be no more carpets to wash or curtains to clean in the floors above for a long time to come.

If they do not master the art of living in an apartment, we need to learn to live in spite of them.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Alas! The discord.

Is it that we are blind to our actions-
Or just refuse to see them in the right light?
Any explanation would fall on deaf ears,
Every other compromise reduce to a brawl...

The mask of tolerance that youth taught us to wear
Begins to shed, revealing the truth underneath;
Every attempt to appease tightens the noose
Every effort to break free pulls us back to earth.

That's why we cry when we listen to old songs,
They release old memories of promises, of hope,
Of a time when we entertained dreams, all vain,
Of a world we believed in that no longer is.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The million-dollar question of the day

“Auntie, why do Moms scold us all the time while Dads don’t scold us at all?”

This question – that has been asked by children since time immemorial – was recently asked of me by a sweet little eight-year-old. I am not facing it for the first time; I have myself wondered the same, and yet, when her innocent question hit me, I was rendered speechless. After a few seconds of ‘er…I think…you know…’ etc., I finally admitted to her that I did not have any insight on the problem. I wasn’t exactly relieved when her mother informed me later that some of the child’s astute queries often leave the universe itself fumbling for answers.

One morning, in the hustle and bustle of getting my son ready for school, he asked me, “Why does my Dad help me get dressed more quietly than you?” Yes, he used the word ‘quietly’. As opposed to his mother making all the noise – ‘get dressed!’ ‘fast!’ ‘your bus is coming!’ ‘my God, didn’t you eat anything yet?’ ‘you are going to be hungry and sick and under-nourished and ill all the time!’.

My reply wasn’t quite dignified, I’m afraid. I muttered under my breath something like ‘Okay, so get your dad to help you’ and walked away. In my defence, no mother in her right mind can bear a comparison like that, especially when she herself feels guilty for every single thing she does and doesn’t do, every single hour of every single day.

At a recent get-together with friends (all mothers), we, naturally, began talking of parenting (how do we always wind up in that topic?), and we had quite a laugh arguing between ourselves about who amongst us was the loudest when it comes to disciplining our children. Some of the comments went like this:

‘When I begin to shout, my neighbours escape to their hometowns. Did you ever wonder why the houses next to mine are always unoccupied?’

‘I suspect my parents-in-law returned to Kerala cutting their vacation short, because of my constant yelling at their grandchildren.’

‘Surely your voice is nothing compared to mine. When I help my son with his homework, the very foundation of this building trembles.’

‘Oh, was that the earthquake scare last week? As for me, I begin with, ‘Dear, please don’t drop your uniform on the floor, throw them in the laundry basket.’ After a few minutes I progress to ‘I told you to put your uniform in the laundry basket!’ and ‘Didn’t you hear what I said?’ Half an hour later, I thunder, ‘For the last time! PUT YOUR FILTHY CLOTHES IN THE STUPID BASKET!’ and all the kids in the colony would have thrown their clothes into their baskets, without knowing what had actually hit them. I mean, we aren’t asking them to wash their darn clothes, are we?’

(Dads who firmly believe that their wives are the only mothers who yell at the kids should be allowed to secretly listen in on this conversation.)

Frankly, hearing from other mothers that we all fall into the same tribe of beasts is very, very comforting and does wonders to salvage our self-worth.

So this little eight-year-old’s mother assured me that she does ask point-blank questions all the time, and that there was nothing to worry about being at a loss to answer. I face it every day, she said. That didn’t console me one bit. She’s only an eight-year-old. She hasn’t begun to question Newton’s third law yet. I can handle eight-year-olds. I probably should have told her that mothers are more responsible for their children – to show them right from wrong, to guide them to be good men and women, to teach them to be kind and behave with courtesy and compassion, and to respect others. I should have told her that it was easy to say ‘teach your child good manners’ but it took constant monitoring and correcting. I should have told her that mothers felt guilty for the slightest lapse from their child, as though she alone were responsible. I should have told her that our society blames the mother for every wrong thing the child does, and that the mother agonises whether she’s spoiling the child with too much attention or ruining the child with too little. This constant pressure – added to anxieties from her own career and aspirations and finances and other daily tensions of life – stresses her out and, unfortunately and unconsciously, she takes it out on her child, even while knowing she shouldn't. It is a clichéd statement (but true, like all clichés) that mothers are never appreciated for what they do. Everything a mother does for her family is ‘after all, her job.’ No one even bothers to see what she is doing, how hard she is managing, how she is shuffling between her varied roles, and whether she is a little sad about the sacrifices she is making. No one realises how much she would love to be told, once in a while, that she is doing a good job. But why don’t Dads react the same way as Moms? Of course they are responsible for raising the child too. I do not know the answer. Maybe it is a Mommy hormone. Or maybe, Dads have Moms to fall back on, but Moms have no one to.

On second thoughts, probably it is good that I did not say all this to her. She would have understood nothing, and she would have thought, ‘Why in the world did I ask this question to Auntie?’ and she might have stopped asking questions.

But I rather hope that twenty or twenty-five years down the line, I will meet her somewhere and I would remind her of her question, and then we will have a good laugh about it – because by then, God willing, she would have found out the painful answer herself. (If the world hasn't changed all that much by then.) I hope, when that day comes, I can hold her hand and reassure her that we've all been there, and there is no need to feel guilty, because she is not the only mother who feels every day that she is a total failure.

Because she isn't. No mother ever is.

Read - Scenes from Mother's Day 2014

Monday, May 4, 2015

Judging

'Why did you do that?!'
'What a foolish decision!'
'You must do this now.'
'Don't you know it will become this-or-that?'
'I could have told you that would happen.'
'Did you do this? Did you do that? Did you do this after that, or did you do that after this? Why?'

The moment we talk about a decision in our lives, or an illness, or a casual daily affair, there are people who respond immediately with comments like the above. They believe that as a responsible citizen of this wonderful country, it is their duty to point out others' errors and to move mountains to fix those errors. They are also convinced that we know nothing about how this world works and it is upon them to teach us a few lessons based on their vast experience. They also like to gloat a wee bit later that 'I told her to fix it this way.'

We flinch, and ask ourselves why in the world we had to start talking about it. Our murmured replies cement their conviction that we are ignorant folks who only add to the woes of the planet.

Those who know us better - even when they may not know the exact circumstances that led to our situation - may give us the benefit of doubt. Their questions - delivered kindly - are at least based on the belief that we can also think like they do, and  that maybe we have considered all options, and that maybe we are intelligent enough to figure things out when the time comes. They take care to put their responses in a certain way so as to make sure that we are not plunging into a mistake out of ignorance. To be fair, if we like them, their queries are okay; if we don't, they aren't. In other words, we like them if they know how to respond kindly; we don't, if they don't.

Yes, everyone is well-meaning in this world, the only difference is how you make yourself appear in the light of a situation.

Why do we talk to those people who make us feel small? Sometimes it is duty. Sometimes we need advice - and those people are experts in their area. Sometimes we have to visit them for the sake of preserving social niceties and such, and one conversation leads to another. There could be many reasons.

Until a few years ago, it had been difficult to explain this feeling. You feel wretched after each dose you receive, but you could never reduce the entire episode into a single word. You could not quite decide whether your attitude and actions were wrong - or did they jump to conclusions?

Until.

Among the many things that the West has bestowed on us in the recent years is a small but significant word that had slipped past us unseen, unnoticed. A word that we hear in movies, shows, talks, everywhere and is increasingly entering our lives and falling out of our mouths. A word that just by its existence tells us that we are not the ones who are wrong; we are not the ones who should feel guilty.

And that word is - judging.
(Often followed by a flood of Unsolicited advice.)

She was judging me.
Why are you judging me?
Don't judge me!

It is a relief to know that that well-known feeling of wretchedness goes by a clear, definite name. In that single word, we can compress the entire episode, and the listener would know what we mean.

We all judge others - openly and secretly. It's in our flesh and blood. At one point in time, I am sure judging helped our species survive subarctic temperatures and such. But it is probably wiser to keep the art of judging to ourselves or to people closest to us. Today it might not quite help the cause of survival. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Monkey Business

A few days ago, while I was working in the afternoon, there was a movement at the window I was facing. I saw nothing when I looked up. Now, anyone with a ladder can reach my house from the basement level. A few fleeting thoughts about thieves and criminals (and I suspect, even terrorists) crossed my mind. In that fraction of a second I took to rise from my seat, I am sure my heart had reached its maximum pounding rate. I peeked through the window, saw nothing, so I decided to be bold for the sake of appearances, and opened the door. Imagine my surprise when I saw a monkey perching on the rails, looking back at me as though I were the intruder in his (her?) house.

What passed through my mind wasn’t exactly relief, but a close relative of it. It was not a human – that was a consolation, for I had no experience in handling thieves; but it was an animal – that was a worry, for what was it doing on my balcony and how do I get rid of it?

I tried to shoo it away – I was standing at a safe distance, and my foot was in the door so that I could escape at short notice (if the wild animal decided to turn wild). But my shooing clearly conveyed to it that I was one frightened being. It bared its teeth in offense and it was all I could do not to dart inside and slam the door. Then it decided that fun was over, and hopped to the neighbour’s balcony.

Later that evening, I heard of its many adventures from different parts of the apartment. The animal was spotted wandering, idling, searching, and in one place, it had managed to reach the kitchen, from where it was devouring freshly prepared beans fry when the owner of the fry surprised it.

There was an estate nearby, full of trees, and not long ago, we used to have frequent visits from monkeys on our balcony and surrounding areas. They used to soil the clothes on our cloth-line, and leave waste behind. Snakes were also occasionally seen, and many birds and butterflies frequented our neighbourhood. Then more buildings began to appear, and the trees in the estate were cut down – we heard that a posh apartment or a mall was coming up. We groaned, but we were partly thankful when the ‘animal menace’ seemed to reduce. So it was a surprise when a monkey was sighted again, and not just in the vicinity, but right on our doorstep, like in the good old times.

The next morning I found water dripping from my neighbour’s balcony and went to investigate. (The owners were away.) It was obvious that the monkey had left the tap open after taking a swig, the previous evening. It occurred to me for the first time that the animal was here for a purpose. Summer had begun overnight. Just a few days before, we were still in the throes of a severe winter and one fine morning we realised that summer, as dry and hot as you please, was here. No transition, no delay, no pause; no time to catch our breath.

When the maid came into clean my house that day, I told her about the visit, and reminded her to keep our door closed, so that monkeys don’t come in and sneak off our precious meal. She agreed with me that the afternoons are hot and that there is no water to be found for these beings. She lives in a one-room house with her family, at a nearby school. She informed me that they keep a little water outside during the day, for the animals. They see birds and small animals coming to drink, she said. I thought that was good, and I even considered for a moment keeping some water out for the birds. But of course, if the monkeys come to my balcony, I would not be happy – they sure do know how to leave a mess. My dilemma was resolved in a couple of days when the summer showers hit the city. I hoped that wherever they were, the animals and birds got some reprieve from the heat.

Where do these animals, stuck in the urban world, normally find their food and water? Do we even care? We’re just relieved that they aren’t encroaching our space, harming our children and stealing our food. We cannot ‘co-exist’ in the true sense of the word. When nature marches into our lives, we take desperate measures to keep her out. To live a civilised life as humans, we need to keep nature trimmed and well-behaved and on our terms. That isn’t co-existence. If you keep your distance, we may keep ours. If you are hungry, we don’t care. When it comes to us versus animals, we vote for us. Naturally.

The deadlock between man and nature continues.