The Other Side

At my pity party, I introduce myself as Meredith Grey or Harry Potter. A vertically and emotionally challenged cosmic joke. Because death, is my best friend.

Have you realized nobody really talks about death? We tiptoe around it. We tiptoe around it, walking on painful eggshells around those ‘afflicted’ with this condition called grief because they are porcelain dolls aren’t they?

They’re porcelain dolls so fragile that society is afraid that a single waft of normalcy will knock them down. So, we tiptoe and use phrases like – ‘He has passed away’ or ‘She’s no more’. Because we’re afraid of the word death. Afraid of its finality.

My father died and I didn’t shed a tear.

My father died and I didn’t shed a tear and society’s stern gaze bored into my soul, pushing me to express grief in their conventional ways set in hard stone or face their wrath.

Seven years later, my grand mom died and I didn’t shed a tear. And society sighed, shook its head and dismissed me as a cold, miserable oddball – an atrocity.

But how do I explain the chilling numbness? Do I sing the famous Linkin Park number? Or explain that it’s the feeling of diving into a freezing lake over and over again, the water so cold that you can’t feel your toes, nose or your soul? It’s like sitting in a theatre and watching your life pass by on a big screen.

Grief is like that ugly scar you got on your knee while playing football as a kid. The scar which dulls in pain everyday but never really goes away.

Grief is that scar on your soul which never really goes away and my body is so full of these scars that my skin doesn’t have room to breathe any more.

They told me I had to grieve.

They told me I had to grieve and suddenly I realized that grief is not an emotion, it’s a 3-act play. I was thrust on stage and asked to play my part of a grieving daughter and granddaughter. I was told to cry, sob, wail, tear my hair out, not sleep, not eat, not breathe, not…exist. For an agreed upon period of time.

You see, grief is a 3-act play. And plays aren’t valid without an audience. My grief wasn’t valid without an audience.

I wonder why they didn’t teach us this in school. Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell and here, take this book called How to deal with Death 101.

They say there’s no right or wrong way to deal with death. Guess what I discovered? There’s most definitely a wrong way and I stand before you, exhibit A.

They told me I had to grieve by their standards and norms and laws and I refused. I refused to bow down to their pretentious, commercialized rules of grieving.

Three road diverged in the woods and I? I took the neutral, lukewarm, middle road.

I’ll let you in on a little secret – it’s not just fight or flight. It’s fight, flight or hibernate.

I took the neutral, lukewarm middle road and my mind shut down completely. I was a gloomy polar bear, ready to hibernate for the winter. I was a blooming butterfly in reverse, tucking my wings into my cocoon. I was a castle under siege, my soldiers on the defence, I was a dying star, collapsing in on itself.

I began drowning. I began drowning in a mind-numbing concoction of delusions and denial and unhealthy coping mechanisms till one day the lines blurred and I couldn’t see the sky anymore.

And society was happy. I was applauded, patted on my back and songs of my strength were sung everywhere. Because society loved perfect, crease-free neatly wrapped packages of normalcy. So, I wrapped my grief and emotional baggage into a neat, crease free package with a red bow on top and handed it to them.

There’s this thing I call ‘The Look’. When I tell people my Dad died or make a statement about death, I receive The Look – an agonizing swirl of squirm-in-your-pants discomfort and social awkwardness which makes me want to scream at them that I, am not a porcelain doll. I, am not a delicate wooden flowerpot sitting at the precipice of your window sill.

I, am hopelessly human. I am that last resilient leaf, fighting against the torrential rain trying to rip it apart. I am that stubborn ray of sunshine trying to emerge from the clouds on a rainy day. I, am that flame of the candle which burns steadfastly in the eye of a storm.

I, will shun your laws, your mindless rules of decorum and your eyes full of judgment – I need your empathy, not sympathy.

And I will continue to deal with this monster of an emotion in the wrong way. I will fail and fail and fail till I figure out my own path, the fourth path.

My dad died and I didn’t shed a tear.

Society shunned me and I couldn’t have been happier.

Where do I keep my feminism?

Where do I keep my feminism?

Down my throat which you like to choke in the name of intimacy?

Or my mouth stuffed with your ‘progressive’ opinions?

Maybe down my shirt which has holes from your ‘innocent’ gaze boring into my chest

Or in my lipstick case whose red makes me eligible for a slap on my behind

Perhaps in my hair which you pull amidst screams, when you enter me without my consent

Or in my pocket where I keep my keys – my only source of solace on a dark, desolate street

Maybe in the locket around my neck which resembles a noose

What about my purse, brimming with your rape jokes, whistles and item songs

Or my bra which seems to offend and mesmerize you all at the same time

Or hidden under my red dupatta, the red which you abhor only when it flows from between my legs

Perhaps under my nails which have colour changing nail point to protect me from you

Maybe between my clanking bangles trying to drown out the noise of your mansplaining

Or inside my carefully wrapped sanitary pad which is a symbol of my impurity

Where do I keep my feminism?

Under my acne? Breasts? Vagina? Stretch marks? Blackheads? Scars?

You.

The liberal, progressive, open, tolerant, twenty first century man,

You tell me.

Where do I keep my feminism?

The Games

As little girls, we loved games

Doll houses and tea sets and hula hoops

Innocence spilling out of our bouncing pigtails

Building sandcastles and forts under the scorching sun

But the other games happened at night

When hands slipped under the sheets, under our pretty little frocks

As our uncles smiled charmingly down at us

Assuring us that the pain was a part of the game

That we were good girls for playing and keeping our little secret

We flash our milk teeth at them, confused

Six-year-old brains trying to comprehend

Why the games we played left us feeling dirty, nervous

But the adults knew better, didn’t they?

We grew up with family night games as tradition

Where the winners were announced the next day

And rewarded with a doll

We own quite a huge collection of dolls today.

 

As we grew older, the games got tougher

Basketball and parties and college fests

New toys called alcohol and denial

As we tried drowning our sorrows in cheap vodka

Swaying to the deafening music

In the blurry lines between sane and twilight

We played these games with strangers

Strangers smelling of whiskey, cigarettes and dubious intent

Forbidden fingers running up our thighs, under our straps

We slur that we do not want to play

But quitting was against the rules, they say

Loosen up and enjoy the game, they say

Don’t you know that players wear little black dresses and shiny make up?

So we don’t have a choice, we play this whiskey flavoured game

Till our legs and brains can’t play anymore

Next morning, the winners are awarded with a stellar reputation

The losers are left with labels and blame

Sour losers, they say. Where’s your sportsmanship?

We didn’t want to play, we say

Why were you in the arena then?

They dragged us into the arena, we say

Sour losers, they say.

 

As we grew older, the games got tougher

We have permanent playmates called husbands

We play with real houses and kitchens and bedrooms now

We play these games with our permanent playmates

Playmates aka knight in shining armours, our protectors, our Gods

Domestic fingers undoing our blouses, slithering under our sarees

We plead that we do not want to play

But this is dutiful love, they say

Forfeiting is against the rules, they say

So, we swallow our doubts and play this grey coloured game

Where does love begin and end?

Next morning, the winners are awarded with nursed egos and chai

The losers are left without a voice and a saree drenched in trauma

Such graceful losers, they say.

It’s futile saying we didn’t want to play.

 

The games continue till we have our own daughters

With their dollhouses and tea sets and hula hoops

Innocence spilling out of their bouncing pigtails

Exhausted, after decades of playing the games,

To our little girls we say –

Games are played but only in the day,

And at night, when you’re ready

With playmates who play a fair game

And where quitting is within the rules

And there are no winners or losers

To our little girls we say –

You have a choice, you don’t have to play.

Cocoon

I live in this cocoon

A giant, translucent sphere of comfort

A bubble of denial, if you may

The curved walls keeping the monster(s) at bay

I snuggle into the warm, cosy couch

Catching the world in glimpses

Living in the in-betweens, the pauses

 

The walls keep out the sounds from outside

Muffled whispers of reality barely touching my ears

Disappearing like bubbles before I can catch them

I watch through hooded eyes

The shimmering mirage of the outside

Like looking out a window at the rain

The mundane details of my existence rolling down like drops

 

My cocoon is a safehouse

Bombs of struggle and disappointment ricochet off its armour

The air is exact – wisps of tranquil floating around my head

Like the light summer breeze flirting lazily with your hair

The air purifier is sophisticated –

The aroma of baked bread disguising the smells of failure and doubt

The music is exquisite –

Like that tune which you hum in the shower

The notes which make your soul blush

 

I smile as I walk on the lush, carpeted floor

My bruised feet finding solace at last

Carrying around baggage is tough, you see

On the outside, I carried a big, bag suitcase

Full of a motley of issues and conundrums

Each a stubborn, tangled mess

A giant jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces

Lucky, the cocoon is a baggage-free zone

 

My cocoon is my knight in shining armour

Shielding me from the cruelties of reality

My cocoon is a womb

An incubator for my sanity

But my cocoon has a secret –

It’s temporary, fleeting

A transient stop before I’m catapulted back onto the road

Until the next time I’m forced to seek refuge

 

I live in a cocoon.

A bubble of denial, if you may.

How to live in denial 101

  1. Make sure you have a blindfold ready. Use the blindfold to close your eyes to all unpleasant things – confrontations, lies, failures, hurdles, morals. The darker the blindfold, the better. It should be taken off very carefully and only when you have received a reality check.

 

  1. Prepare a list of The Top Three UCMs – unhealthy coping mechanisms. Explore a variety of popular UCMs before making a decision. Alcohol, cigarettes, substances, meaningless sex etc. If you find a healthy coping mechanism (like work, music, humour), convert it into a UCM at the earliest.

 

  1. Compile a list of evasive tactics. Avoiding confrontation with reality is key. Distractions, diversions and detours are welcome – selective hearing, ignoring, walking away, cracking uncomfortable jokes.

 

  1. Master the art of changing the subject. It is a handy skill which will rescue you from triggering questions, looming altercations, conversations venturing into dangerous territory. Remember, subtlety is crucial. Do NOT get caught – consequences include suspicious looks and probing questions like ‘Are you okay?’ or ‘Do you need help?’

 

  1. Organize your brain into little compartments with keys. Lock away all the things you want to avoid and throw the key away. Bury these compartments in the depths of your mind. Ensure that the compartment is strong enough to withstand triggers, questions and emotional blackmail.

 

  1. Ensure that the façade is always complete. Perfect your fake smile by practicing in front of the mirror. Use the fake smile as a standard response to the question ‘Are you okay?’

 

  1. Beware of falling prey to vulnerability – erect unscalable walls to protect yourself from all things remotely healthy. The walls should be sturdy and capable of withstanding long sieges. Enemies who call themselves ‘well-wishers’ will try to attack these walls and do the unspeakable – make you deal with things. Fight them with all your strength.

Mirror mirror on the wall

Mirror mirror on the wall

Do you ever speak the truth at all?

Behold the beseeching eyes staring at you,

Searching for answers, redemption and reassurances

Sometimes, I can hear you smirk

When I stand in front of you,

Drops of insecurities and disgust

Sliding down the numerous folds I’ve come to loathe

Can you hear it?

Self-esteem crumbling into shards, just like your glass

Will glue be enough to piece it back together?

I wish you had superpowers

One flick, and all the scars and marks and blemishes vanish into thin air

Leaving behind a smooth field of skin, ready for the next round of defects

 

I swear I can hear you chuckle

As I stand with my nose just inches away from yours

Waging a bloody war on the stubborn blackheads and spots

Wishing I could order a nose online

Do you get as exhausted as my bed?

Struggling under the weight of rejected clothes and indecisiveness

As I look for the perfect dress

A dress which completes the facade,

Obscuring the doubt and tucking away the faults

 

Do you have an armour?

To protect me from the deafening whispers

And the excruciatingly piercing glances of scrutiny,

To protect me from myself.

I wonder what you think

When I stand before you, naked

Desperately looking for the next flaw

To punish myself for,

Another failure to ‘cherish’

 

Mirror mirror on the wall

Are you even my friend at all?

Or just a master of illusions and mirages?

But one day, as I stand before you,

Searching for answers in the depths of your gleaming body,

I wonder if I’m asking the right questions

Do you have to be a friend or a foe?

Why can’t you be what you are – an object?

Why do you wield so much power?

Wait, is it because I let you?

Maybe, just maybe

The demons to battle aren’t present in your glass

But inside my heart and my mind

 

Mirror mirror on the wall

Who’s the prettiest of them all?

The girl with the scars and edges and folds

The girl who walks with her head held high

The girl who is

Imperfectly perfect.

Book of Firsts

Humans love to collect

Especially memories

So we had a giant book of firsts,

Milestones and the big moments

Mine was a pink, lace one

Part one was the usual

First steps

First words

First encounter with the Tooth Fairy

Part two, a more detailed section

 

The first time I realized that goddesses are worshiped but only in theory

That impure blood meant restricted access to temples and kitchens alike

The first time I received ‘compliments’ from strangers on bikes

Words and whistles and noises

Or received appreciative glances at my halter top and denim shorts

Shame I never got the chance to say thank you

The first time I added slut, whore and bitch to my expanding vocabulary

And used them judiciously as accolades

For strangers and peers and sisters

The first time a man accidentally brushed his hand against my behind on the bus

And I put my training to good use –

A tirade of profuse apologies spewed out of my mouth

The first time my heart pounded loudly in my chest as I walked down the street at night

An obvious blunder, an expensive faux pas

Who steps out into the open after sunset?

The first time I learnt that some words don’t have meaning – like the word ‘no’?

Hold my beer, let me erase that from my dictionary

The first time I realized that monsters come in all forms

Strangers, uncles, fathers, boyfriends, husbands

Masters of disguises, camouflaged as love

The first time I understood the power of make up

Conceals acne and dark circles and blemishes and marks

Also, stubborn scars and bruises with stories

The first time I read a newspaper

Pages upon pages of misunderstandings, misjudgments and wrong allegations

Of scheming victims and conspiracy theories

Mistakes happen, ho jaata hai yaar

 

The first time I noticed that my book of firsts

Was a testament covered with

The cobwebs of injustice and the dust of battles

The stains of prejudice (pun intended)

And the smell of subtle bias

 

The first time I tore out my book of firsts

All the lace and pink and tainted pages

Staring up at me with reproachful eyes

As I looked down at the glorious mess, I decided

It was time for a new book of firsts.

Tick Tock

Tick tock, tick tock –

Hasten, hasten!

Five steps ahead, not two

Fast paced? We call it being prepared

Breathing is for the weak

 

Pop a pill, write that memo –

Meet therapist? Maybe tomorrow

Tweet, post, upload, swipe –

Validation quota for the day, check.

Clocks on the wall? Pfft, laminated dual degrees

Drenched in blood, sweat and silent tears

 

Spinning a tale

Of morning espressos and stifling schedules

Yoga classes and vegan meals

Blurry parties and to-do lists

Let’s play catch up (for the rest of our lives)

App store, our home

Little flat screens, our drug

Who said slavery was dead?

If only they built an app

To replace humans, sigh

 

Note: Siri, set a reminder

To appreciate the little things (microscope?)

Snap judgments and lightning flash decisions –

Keep up or despair

 

Note: Google, set a reminder

To work hard, party hard, deny harder

No time to take solace in insecurities

Chasing dreams – sprinting and

Winning the rat race, check.

But wait, what’s next?

Standing up on two feet,

Squashing toes in the process

 

Stretching morals and bending truths,

It’s all grey, my friends!

Swallowing down doubt,

Oozing out deceiving confidence

Strengths you ask?

Facades and masks

Delusions and wafer thin egos

Glazed eyes from looking at the big picture for too long

Deep breaths and respite – sorry, what’s that?

 

Note: Alexa, find answer to

‘Is logic better than emotion?’

Money = happiness, money = respect

Goal: Overnight wealth

Forty hour weeks – Stress? Us?

*nervous laughter*

Meet insomnia – an old, loyal friend

Sanity, so overrated

Baggage and deep seated issues –

No, say that with pride

There’s no jumping off the carousel, child.

 

Note: Self, don’t forget to breathe.

Tick tock, tick tock –

Snooze, Survive, Repeat.

Monsters under my bed

There was a bedtime ritual which was followed very strictly in my house. Under the supervision of my sharp 3 year old eyes, the superhero aka Dad would double and triple check for monsters under my bed.  Only then would I sleep like a baby, not worrying about a hand reaching for me in the middle of the night.

As an adult, I realized that one monster had snuck back into my bedroom, very gradually and very sneakily. Its most striking feature was its color – a vast, cold, all consuming shade of blue. It took me a while to understand how shrewd it was – it posed as a friend, smiling as it stabbed me in the back repeatedly. It took me a while to realize that I had yet another frenemy to deal with. Only this time, it was craftier than anyone I had ever encountered.

It snuggled into my bed, intertwining its icy fingers with mine even as I shivered. It cradled me in its cold blue arms, sapping my energy like a parasite. It convinced me to stay in bed surrounded by a blue cloud, unable to move or think. It whispered underhanded compliments and veiled insults in my ears, with a voice so soothing I didn’t know I had to be rescued. It pointed out the clouds in the silver linings. It was charming, irresistible – it held me tightly in its frosty grip. Soon, I was looking at the world through dreary blue goggles. My ‘friend’ assured me that it would hold my hand when in reality it pushed me further into a downward spiral – hopeless, exhausted and convinced that there must be a better use for the space I occupied in this world.

One day, sitting amidst the dense blue mist, I mustered my last ounce of strength and decided to get help. My monster had to be slain and I could not do it alone. Countless battles later, I tasted victory – the mist receded, the goggles came off and the whispering ceased. I returned to the world with its myriad of colors – reds, yellows, greens. My monster had been vanquished.

Seven years later, completely monster-free, I found out I wasn’t the only one it haunted. In fact, it had various names; the survivors called it ‘Depression’, the ignorant called it ‘It’s all in your head’. I read stories about people taking up arms against the monster. People brave enough to ask for help and strong enough to accept the fact that there was indeed a monster in their lives. I listened to stories of the world sneering at these people, calling them weak when in reality they were the superheroes we read about, wearing capes, swinging swords and fighting fiercely. I exclaimed at battle scars left behind, each complete with its own story. I listened to tales of strength and victory, pain and courage. All these stories had one thing in common, one irrefutable fact – the blue monster was not invincible.

It’s been seven years and I don’t check under the bed anymore.

L for lies

Averted eyes and pumping hearts

Knives in backs – hello Brutus!

The bane of Mahatma, the curse of Pinocchio

Meet the crafty sibling – I am NOT the best policy

Red horns, not halos

One ticket to ‘hell’ please

The corrupt are my children, the cunning my brethren

Use me to crumble empires

Use me to spark off wars

Shun me as a child and embrace me as an adult

I pour from the lips of the adulterous wife

I live in the breath of the deceitful lawyer

Spin me a web and drown slowly in its tangled maze

Shh, can you hear me tiptoe between the blurring lines of black and white?

Remember, I am grey

A necessary sin.