Go find your magic. Travel to a city that comes alive at midnight, and find your magic in the single empty cafe on a crowded street. Travel to a city that smells like warm puddings and blueberries and the cologne your first love used to wear, and find your magic in the accidentally taken out-of-focus photo of a strange girl with purple hair. Travel to a city that tastes like sea salt and sunshine and moist earth, and find your magic in the single dried flower that you pressed in your book…
I’ve never really been able to define myself. I assume most people have difficulty doing so, but I’ve never gotten close to even a broad categorization. I’ve questioned my sanity more times than I can remember and my own fickle-mindedness often gets on my nerves. It’s a gut wrenching feeling, not knowing who you are or what you’re doing with your days. It’s like a ball of anxiety that stretches from the pit of your stomach to the base of your throat. You learn to ignore it, but every now and then, it tends to take you by surprise. It’ll press down on your shoulders with such force that you won’t be able to breathe. It’ll gnaw at your brain day in and day out. It’ll make carrying out simple tasks extravagantly difficult to do. I should know, it gets to me more often than not. I’ve been looking for an explanation for longer than I can remember, and I finally found something that made me feel slightly better about my existence.
Csikszentmilhalyi wrote in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention:
“If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude. Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows paradox, light, shadow, inconsistent, even chaos-and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”
I believe in my creativity, even if it has a tendency to disappoint me at times. I won’t say that my creativity is justification for my erratic recklessness; it probably isn’t. But I’ve come to understand the various colours of my being. There is extreme insight and there is complete emotional immaturity. I feel as invincible as the sun on certain days while on others I feel like a house crashed down on me. There are times I need people to surround me for the sake of my sanity, and there are times I would cut someone for merely speaking to me. I can be humble and I can be painstakingly proud. I’ve been told that the trick is to accept the spectrum of emotion you feel towards yourself. You aren’t an individual, you are a multitude. Is it just me, or does that sentence really get to you? It explains the vastness of the human mind in all but eight words. There is no concrete version of you, no matter how hard you try to push yourself into concretizing one.
Loss. There is nothing like it. It’s accompanied by regret, anger and a whole lot of pain. It makes one’s head swirl and stomach churn. After a while, you’ll know how it feels, and you’ll know exactly how to deal with your own pain without shoving it in other people’s faces. You’ll deal with the stabs of pain that pierce through you, you’ll expect your body to tingle with the thought of it, and you’ll anticipate tears splashing down your face at any given point of time. But eventually you’ll realize that you expect too much of yourself. None of this will happen. You’ll look into a mirror and feel a kind of numbness you hoped to never feel. You’ll listen to that voice inside your head that says,” Big surprise. What did you expect?”
You won’t break down because you expect your mind to wander to the “what if’s” and the “why’s”. You’ll be prepared for your mind to convince you of your utter unworthiness. You won’t mind missing those daily conversations that lasted till the nightfall, and you’ll forget how his face looked like. It will become as simple as that; going through the motions.
Loss is the only feeling that makes you feel alive, but you’ll learn to deal with it when you’ve gone through it enough. What you won’t learn how to do, is accept the help you need from the people around you. This time around, I’ve decided to turn a new leaf. I’m not hiding anymore. I’m grabbing on to the people I need and they’ve never let me down. So, let’s call him Kyle. He is my personal happiness haven.
The older you get, the harder it becomes for you to include someone in your comfort zone. The relationships you forge earlier on are the ones you usually carry till the grave. I met him four years ago and he quickly became a part of my most inner circle. Imagine a man who has no particular responsibility towards you, but you never feel the need to back off. I called him four times a day when I had nothing to do, and each time he would answer, it would be the same happy “Hello” I got to hear. I never wondered if it was a bad time, there was no such thing. Picture someone listening to your ramblings about the fly who wouldn’t let you sleep and the girl you hate in college, without saying that you’re petty even once. I know, it’s hard to believe he exists. But he does.
It’s difficult to not take people for granted when they’ve never let you down, or made your stomach churn. I’ve done that, forgotten about him when another man enters the frame even if he’s literally all I need for happiness to encompass me. That’s how I define him now; happiness. I’ve never been afraid of him leaving my side, even if I threw the shallowest bitch fit in the history of bitch fits. He didn’t go out of his way, I just asked him to stay, and he always did.
The kind of friendship I share with him is hard to understand for anyone on the outside. It’s more complicated than the normal stuff you see. Men I’ve dated don’t understand it, it makes them turn into a bundle of insecurities. All this time, all these years, he’s picked up my pieces and he’s put me back together. He’s built me up to believing I’m invincible, that I’m a dream who’s larger than life itself. For someone who’s been accused of being heartless and shallow for the majority of his life, he sure is my best person with a heart of pure gold. I can talk about my deepest, darkest secrets with him and I don’t need to worry about an ounce of judgement coming my way. There is no one who has helped me deal with loss the way he has. And for him, I am grateful always, even if I forget to tell him that ever so often.
I threw myself at heartbreak,
Like a moth drawn to a flame,
Patching up my broken wings,
Just to try it once again,
And the world thought I was foolish,
Because I never seemed to learn,
But how do you save someone,
Who is convinced that they should burn?
I’ve been suffering from a kind of writer’s block. I don’t claim to be a great writer, I don’t even claim to be a good one, but I feel the need to write. It helps me make sense of thoughts I avoid. “The only requirement,” to be a writer, said Stephen King, “is the ability to remember every scar.” So that’s what this is. Me writing about a scar. It isn’t one of my best works, but it isn’t one of my worst either.
It was a day like any other. There’s nothing in particular I remember about it, except I didn’t want to visit Nani. I never wanted to. A fifteen year old has so much more to worry about. The game of basketball she wasn’t allowed to play, the cute guy who won’t ask her out, the music that she hasn’t listened to in a while, the homework she doesn’t want to do, the exams she desperately wants to avoid, the TV show she’s been obsessed with, and her friend who was throwing an unnecessary fit now and again. “Honestly, who had the time to go all the way to Nani’s house across the city?” I thought as I changed out of my uniform into a faded t-shirt and torn jeans. “Mom’s going to kill me,” I thought, smiling to myself. I don’t know what it was, but annoying Mom was a new hobby for me. I think it was the teenage hormones that caused the redundant need to rebel.
That day, I wasn’t asked if I wanted to come along. Daddu had told me I had to, in a voice that could not be argued with. So I slammed the door as I slid into the passenger seat and jammed my headphones on so I could tune out the unfairness of the situation. I used to be one hell of a drama queen. One must understand, I was missing my favourite TV show, and I really didn’t want to go.
As we pulled up at Nani’s house, I couldn’t help but wonder why there was a sea of people swarming around the place. I took out one of my headphones as I walked towards the gate, hoping to see a familiar face in the hundred odd people in Nani’s house. In retrospect, I should have figured out that something terrible had happened, but I’ve never been the best at facial expressions. There wasn’t a smile in sight; everyone had the most sombre expression they could muster plastered across their face. “Nana!” I exclaimed as I finally spotted a family member. He snapped out of it and walked up to me. Then, at that very moment, I realized only something dreadful could have happened. His eyes said it all. There was pain in them, the kind of pain I had never seen before. There were tears brimming, and he looked ten years older than usual. He smiled at me through the pain, patted me on my back, and jolted off to where his brother was calling him. My pleas of “tell me what’s going on” were promptly ignored.
My earphones were off and I frantically searched for someone who could tell me, or give me some kind of hint to what had happened here. My eyes searched for Nani, but I couldn’t see her anywhere. As I ran outside, I bumped into Kathan. Kathan! He could tell me what was going on, he would tell me what was going on. I caught hold of his wrist and dragged him outside the house. “What’s happening? Why are there so many people here, why is Nana crying, and where is everyone?” I practically screamed at my young cousin. He looked up. There were no tears there anymore, there was just pain.
“Nani’s been murdered.”
“No. What? I’m sorry, what?”
“Ashni, calm dow–“
“You don’t understand! I need you to repeat what you said. I don’t think I understood you.”
He took a deep breath and said exactly what I had heard the first time.
In that moment, I practically felt the weight of those words crashing down upon me. My stomach dropped and a chill run through my spine. My eyes welled up and the tears came splashing down my face. The chill didn’t go away; it kept crawling through my body as the night went on. I sat down and heard Kathan tell me exactly what he knew, but I was barely even listening. “She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone.” That’s all the voice in my head could say.
I don’t think I had ever truly felt pain before. As a child I had often wondered how losing a grandparent would be. Yes, that’s a morbid train of thought, but not for a second did I figure I would lose one of them to murder. It was always natural causes, and death gave them peace in the end. The vision of Nani hobbling towards me saying “Ashu” still haunts me. I never saw her do that again. I never expected to lose her, not on that day, not so soon…not when I had been taking her for granted.
I realize now that back then, I was feeling something I had never felt before. There was a whole lot of pain, but there was something much scarier than that. Anger and regret. When a fifteen year old is left to deal with loss, she will hardly ever do a good job of it. Anger seemed to be the only logical channel of release. It consumed my existence for the longest time. I rebelled more than I needed to, and anger management became an active part of my life. If I got a penny for the number of times I’d been to the Principals office, I would be rich. Life suddenly became a whole lot harder to deal with. My grades dropped, my friends couldn’t stand me, and I couldn’t sleep no matter how hard I tried. Eventually I realized I could mask my anger and seem normal. It still didn’t stop my occasional outbursts of anger; those still happen. It’s what happens when rationality leaves my body, and heat replaces it. I feel anger more realistically than most people. It doesn’t stay in my head, it pulses through my body like surges of electricity.
Regret is harder to deal with than loss. You learn that only when you have the deepest of regrets. This wasn’t an “I wish I had to talked to that cute guy” regret. This was the real deal. The regret of not utilizing the time you could have had with someone if you had just gotten out of your own head. The absolute nature of this emotion is unfathomable unless you’ve felt it. Regret is the only emotion my mind has never been able to conquer.
I couldn’t help but question the existence of God either. She was the gentlest soul I knew, and she died in front of the Mandir in the house with the Bhagwat Gita in her hand. It was enough to make anyone wonder. I didn’t really believe in Him, I was agnostic at best. It’s been ten years since I lost her. I still ask myself the same questions. I still can’t talk about it without choking up. I don’t think I did a great job of dealing with it. I started locking up thoughts I couldn’t find answers to. And it worked for the most part. I could finally control myself and my surroundings; all I had to ensure was my thoughts stay safely out of thinking range. That sounds weird, unrealistic and borderline crazy, but it’s true. Staying out of your own head is a real thing. When I open those locks, I drown at an alarming rate, so I keep them closed.
There is no point to this piece of writing. I’ve been trying to get back to myself, something I haven’t tried in a long time. That requires me talking, or writing about memories I’ve managed to bury deep inside myself. I didn’t realize it until now, that what happened to Nani is one of the biggest milestones of my being, so it had to be done. It was the root of many evils that grew along with me.
It’s probably not just by chance that I’m alone. It would be very hard for a man to live with me, unless he’s terribly strong. And if he’s stronger than I, I’m the one who can’t live with him.
If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you
Little by little
If suddenly you forget me
Do not look for me
For I shall already have forgotten you
If you think it long and mad the wind of banners that passes through my life
And you decide to leave me at the shore of the heart where I have roots
That on that day, at that hour, I shall lift my arms
And my roots will set off to seek another land”
I need a lot. I need great coffee shops, beautiful sunsets, and tedious road trips where I sing myself hoarse. I need a few hours a day to sit idle and contemplate every aspect of my day. I need long walks in the chilly night sky, I need a terrace where I can sit with my memory box and relive the days I miss. I need to sit by a stream and listen to the songs that touch my soul. I need books to live a few hundred times. I need to cycle through what looks like a tapestry and I need to eat food that makes me feel thankful for it. I need to get out of the real every now and then, and surround myself with the surreal. There is so much I need. But most of all, I now realize, I need people. I need other people, because I need to be surrounded by the living, breathing, screaming invitation to believe in something better, something more complex, and profound, than me.
The poison leaves bit by bit, not all at once. Be patient. You are healing.
– Yasmin Mogahed
It would seem like any other day if it weren’t for all the flag decorations. The parade was to start at nine. Fifteen more minutes. I was in the wing of the auditorium stage, dressed head to toe in white, with the flag painted across my face. As an eight year old, all I wanted to do was to finish off with the Republic Day dance, and head home to the comfort of cartoon network. Children were swarming around me in last minute panic, some fixing their hair while others fixed their face. Bianca was the best, she stood next to me without moving a muscle. We both just wanted to get this over with. In this particular moment of frenzy, we did what was convenient, and sat wherever we found space enough for the two of us. I consequently phased out into the world inside my head. I did that way too often.
I was so caught up in my Lalaland that I didn’t realize when the frenzy became all the more frenzied. “Everyone clear out. NOW!” screamed Mr. Patel. I jostled to my senses just in time to see the usual shuffling mass of people, running to the exits as fast as they possibly could. I was as obedient as they came back then, so I ran! I ran as fast as I could, though the mass of people, down the staircase. It was then that it struck me like a bolt of lightning; Bianca! I had run so fast, I had completely forgotten about her! Midway down the stairs, I stopped and turned around, trying to spot her. In that moment, the full terror of what was happening finally hit me. I wasn’t moving, but the ground beneath me was shaking violently. A sea of students passed by me with the same face I probably had plastered on; the face of pure panic. Nowhere in this sea could I find Bianca’s face. I stood there, losing my balance every other second, till the biggest masses had passed by. The fear had made me phase out once again. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening. “Ashni, what are you doing? Move! We’ve got to evacuate the building!” Mr. Patel shouted as he dragged me by the arm towards the exit. I just followed on, waking up from my disoriented state of mind.
The next thing I remember is somehow reaching the football ground. The whole school, from Kindergarten to the 12th grade was out there with me. Some children were crying, others were screaming, and all I could do was try to comprehend what had just happened. As a girl named Ahaana ran by me screaming, I turned to Mr. Patel, “Sir, what’s going on? What just happened?” He looked at me with what I could only describe as melancholy. “It was an earthquake, dear child. It’s probably caused a lot of damage to the city. We’ll find out soon enough,” he said as he patted my back reassuringly. I looked past him to see Bianca cuddled up in the grass. Exhausted, I went and joined her. We ended up cuddling with each other till we were allowed back inside half an hour later.
The school was undamaged, there wasn’t a crack to be seen, but parents had started arriving to pick their children up and take them home. I was in my classroom with the news running in the background. News never interested me, but for the first time I couldn’t look away.
Mansi Towers Collapses: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
This particular headline hit close to home, because Mansi Towers was close to home. I had gone there last week to a friend’s house for a play date, and there it was, crumbling to dust on the screen. At eight, I hadn’t seen much loss. My childhood was a happy one, and I still had all my grandparents. Pain and suffering were alien emotions to me, I had my own little world without them, but now I could see it all in abundance. My first blow of reality wasn’t a grandparent passing away, it was a natural catastrophe that brought even my dream world to its knees. My home, Ahmedabad was synonymous with chaos for quite some time after, and decided to start paying more attention to the world on the outside.