Lockdown days, it’s fine.

Lockdown days,
When from your window you look at other windows, from your balcony you look at other balconies – children dancing, children playing, children doing jumping jacks every single morning, or just sitting with their heads resting on the railing looking bored; mothers teaching their kids, women sweeping, watering the plants, drying the clothes, grandparents offering water to the morning sun, fathers standing by the windows of their rooms talking to their bosses loudly enough to let the entire building know.

Lockdown days,
Pigeons flying, shitting, breeding, eating, plucking your favorite plants while you curse them under your breath, or out loud. They don’t understand English anyway, and in case they do they still don’t give a fuck. Children coming out in the evening, cycling in the society campus while you gaze from above wondering if it’s safe to step outside, men and women walking and jogging wearing N95 masks, the lone girl sitting on the bench reading a book. Same pinch, you say, as you read yours 8 floors above.

Lockdown days,
Rushing to get the groceries before 10 AM, careful not to touch anything or anyone, or if you do, sanitize your hands! Sanitize your hands all the time!
Cars running on the distant streets, swiggy delivery boys delivering your food, big basket delivering your groceries albeit two days late, amazon delivering your other needs or addictions, while you are cooped at home taking an active interest in your neighbourhood. Or jumping from one screen to another, the only travelling you do these days – mobile to laptop to TV and back. Online meetings & Netflix TV series while the plants in your balcony keep growing – do you finally know what it feels like to be us? They ask. To be static, to be still, to be grounded to one place. But not quite, says the purple flower that just grew. And wilted a day after.

Lockdown days,
About outcries on social media; Where’s Remdesivir? Where’s Oxygen? Where are the hospitals? Where are the crematoriums? Where are vaccines? Where is the government? People from across the world reaching out and asking – how are you? I am fine, thank you. Well thank God. Yeah, thank God. Where’s God? Your new hobby is to visit the worldometer website the thousandth time, watch the curve peak and peak, and drop and then peak again. Where’s my life? Coming in a month, or next month or next year. Or never. Mobile on aeroplane mode please.

Wait, there was this meeting you had to attend.

Lockdown days,
Children forgetting where the schools are, employees forgetting where the offices are, employers forgetting what the increments are but the joy of not commuting though, of waking up 5 minutes before the class, of multitasking – cooking and meeting simultaneously, with formal shirts at the top and shorts at the bottom – let’s login, let’s keep our camera on (or not), am I audible (or not), is my screen visible (or not), is my Wi-Fi working (or not). Is it still March 2020? Or not. Has the time really passed? Or not. How the fuck did China contain this virus? Or not. Where’s my office? Where’s my home? What’s the time? What’s this place? What’s this day? In the middle of space time continuum – Einstein, I think I’ve reached singularity.

Albert stirs in his grave.

Lockdown days,
Nightmares of stepping outside home without masks, nightmares of not washing your hands enough, nightmares about what does the new variant of virus do? Nightmares about who else died? Do I need to wear one mask or two or three? Fuck it, empty your closet and fill it with PPE suits. Are the vaccines still effective? Or do we need a new one? Who am I? Who are you? Is my mom well? Do people exist out of screens?
My own company is becoming boring. Netflix is boring. Dalgona coffee is out of fashion. I don’t want to build my hobbies anymore. My friend’s grandmother died. Fine. Friend’s father died. Fine. A relative died. Fine. My favourite actor died. Fine. Sometimes, it feels like death is just two steps away. Fine. Sooner or later the virus is coming for you. Fine. You reassure yourself with recovery rates. Good, you should. It’s fine. You are here, in your room, breathing, surviving. Yeah, you are fine. Everything’s fine. Everyone’s fine. The sky is falling. But that’s fine. It will rise up again someday. This is the new normal. This is fine.

***

On being skinny

People never stop reminding me how skinny I am. Often it’s the first thing they say when they meet me. That’s brand new information ma’am, thank you. People often assume that I don’t eat and offer me to stay and eat with them for a month or two in the name of goodwill. They sound very concerned as if making me fat is the only way to stop global warming. They sound very confident as if eating with them is miraculously going to change the way my body functions. I hesitate to go for lunch/dinner with such people because they are quick to point out – Look how little you eat! That’s why you are so thin! Here have some more. And more. And more. Because this one gigantic hugely uncomfortable dinner can obviously do what 9125 dinners in my life so far couldn’t.

Some people go on to suggest that I would look so much better if I just start eating bananas and milk every morning. Thank you for pointing out I am ugly. Some people ask me if I go to the gym. Some people ask why I should go to the gym at all (as I obviously don’t need to do). Some people say that they are jealous of how I don’t ever have to worry about my weight. Such a blessing, they are quick to add, you can eat whatever you want and still not gain a gram? Wish I was like you! Being like me means being called a skeleton, a coat hanger, a feather, and a stick figure. Some people also like to call me two dimensional. Some people assume I am sick and weak. I have grown up with these wonderful tags. Not just random strangers, my own family has used them for me.

But skinny girls don’t talk about being skinny because if they do, they are a bitch.

People with an average sense of humour remind me that I might disappear soon. People who once aspired to be doctors but ended up being dentists call me ‘malnourished’. Some people defend me by throwing terms like ‘high metabolism’. I don’t quite understand that and I am sure neither do they. Some people recommend I should take protein. I recommend they should fuck off. Some people think I should be a model. I think they should not be career counsellors. People who want to show off their above-average vocabulary call me ‘anorexic’. I want to show off my creative vocabulary and call them dumbtards.

For twenty five years, I have listened to the same shit wondering what the hell is wrong with my body. And God knows how long this is going to continue.

Listen buddy, I have tried eating more. It doesn’t work. Bananas give me headaches. Artificial protein is exactly what it is – artificial. Being skinny is not a blessing. And yes, I am underweight. I KNOW THAT. But did you notice that I am functioning fine? Hey! I am happy. I don’t get why you are so bothered. So instead of criticizing me why don’t you appreciate your own beautiful three-dimensional body, and get a fucking life. Comprenez?

On Quitting your Job

It will take some time to carry out the social un-conditioning. The layers run deep. The more you explore, the more you would realize how prejudiced you are. It won’t be easy, to discover contradictory things about yourself. It may shake your confidence. It may rob you of your faith. Your insecurity may grow.

You are allowed to take a call. Mission abort! Mission abort!

But I hope you will keep going.

Remind yourself again and again – why you are doing this. You will have to. It’s medicine – you need to take it every day before breakfast and after dinner. And even then, all kinds of what-ifs will crop up each day. There is no guarantee. The roads are hazy, and from time to time, you would wonder if you took a wrong turn. Don’t worry about the wrong and the right turns. What’s done has been done. Just trust your voice and keep on going.

Sometimes you won’t hear that voice. There may be too much noise inside your head. Clear that traffic. Sit down. Relax. Breathe. Introspect. Your ego might not like it – the rejections, the un-replied mails, the criticism, the other people, the could have beens. You would be scared. Be courageous. Look up and face your fears. When you do, you would realize it’s not that dreadful after all.

fear

Of course, your Plan A won’t work. Many times your Plan B might not either. Allow yourself to be creative. You will conceive a new plan. Remember, there is always something you can do. The idea may not hit you right away, but it will. Tell yourself it will.

If you were your actual manager you would hate yourself. It’s hard to satisfy yourself, harder than your ex-boss because you know what you are capable of doing. And this is something you love to do – of course, it can be so much better! God, it will be hard. Your inner boss is a demon. But hear, hear, be assured that when he is pacified, he has brought the best out of you. He won’t let you rest for long though. Next day there would be a new project, with even higher standards. And no, he would never approve your leaves. And criticism is the only language he speaks.

The most difficult appraisals happen before the mirror. Tell the mirror about the things you did right. The journal you wrote, the little Haiku at the back of your diary, the book you read and what you learnt from it, the interesting thing you got to know from the internet, the way you helped a friend in need, the way you spent time with your family, how delicious your lunch was, how you went for a nice walk, how new ideas struck you and how you took note of them, how you worked on them, talk about your new strategies, how you searched for new opportunities and dared to apply, how the small event you organized went well, how you inspired the people you met and how you got inspired by them, how you discovered that old book in library which you wouldn’t find anywhere else, how you meditated, how you sang and learnt something new, how you enjoyed the rain, remind yourself that all of these count as valid building blocks. All of this is work. Value-added work.

Your inner boss might just scoff, but don’t take him too seriously. Don’t take any of those things seriously that discourage you. Don’t let other men and the man in the mirror validate you. You might not know the whole map, but trust yourself and keep on going the road you are on.

Yes, it’s not going to be easy. Definitely. SO think twice before quitting that job. And if you decide not to, then dedicate yourself to the job you do. Eventually, you will learn to love it. You may feel you have lost something. But remind yourself you have gained something too. And if you do quit your job and decide to follow your heart – Don’t look back. You are doing just fine. Remind yourself of the good things. Work on those good things. And just keep swimming.

*

 

The Absurd Struggles of a Writer

When I told my mother that I wanted to be a writer, I expected some kind of disagreement. She was not very delighted but she wasn’t angry either. I got a modest and an are-you-sure okay and soon we both forgot about it. Somehow, sluggishly, I finished college and I obtained a degree that said I was an Electrical Engineer.

Even though I had told a few people that I wanted to be a writer I wasn’t really serious about it. I fantasized about it yes –  Living in a big new strange city, lost and lonely among millions; I am sleeping on the pavements, cold, helpless and yet the fire in my heart kindles and I dream and I dream. Often I don’t eat, often I forget to eat, my writing is all that is and all that will be. I stay in my miserable room devouring two-three books I have, day and night, again and again. But those few books are my life. War and Peace, Madame Bovary, The Ulysses, and oh how I read! Like a demon. My room is built with bricks and rejection mails. And still, I breathe. And still, I write. No one in my family is talking to me. I have no friends. The fumes of my cigarettes and a glass half filled with cheap warm whiskey are my only companions. Yes, it is hard. It is so difficult that almost all kinds of poetry make sense to me. But I am on my way to be a great writer.

The reality, however, is that after graduating out of college I joined a company. We manufactured switchgear, did our bit in providing safe electricity to people. It was a normal 9 to 5 (or 7 or 9 or sometimes 10) job, which I grew to hate within two months. But I could have continued doing it for the rest of my life if it wasn’t for my family.

‘You don’t deserve such a job,’ my mother used to tell me. ‘You should do something else. Do you have anything in mind?’
In my mind, there was a dream that I never thought could ever come true.
‘I don’t know’
‘How about MBA?’ she asked.
Another trending degree that I am actually not interested in studying but I may get a better paying job with it so yeah why not.
A day later, she called me again, ‘How about English?’
That would be wonderful! Wait, what?

No, Ma, you are supposed to force me into choosing a ‘practical’ degree.
You are supposed to be an antagonist so that I could be a protagonist.
You are supposed to say things like – ‘Just because a few odd people praised your writing that doesn’t mean you could be a writer!’  Then I am supposed to leave home, burning with fury and ambition and say stuff like, ‘Oh but you are wrong Ma. I am leaving now. Forever.’ And out of this tragedy, a great writer shall emerge.

‘Why not study writing if you like writing so much?’, my mother told me instead.
You are supposed to resist my dream. You are not supposed to make it your own. What’s wrong with you! What kind of broad-minded dreamy mother are you who sends her daughter to study creative writing all the way to England?

They say that artists live wretched lives. They say they have the worst family. And that somehow contributes to their genius. I have a decent life, a supportive family, so does that mean I am disqualified?

And I wonder…

Do I really need to be Charles Bukowski or is it okay to be the way I am and still be a good writer? I don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t drink cheap warm whiskey. I haven’t read War and Peace. And no, most poems still don’t make sense to me. Sometimes my own poems don’t make sense to me. I live in a decent apartment. I don’t have money in my bank account but I can’t call myself poor. I can afford to buy books. I have Kindle, Netflix subscription (which I just canceled), and a car to go to the nearby library (which I never drive because I don’t know how to drive). Such is my writing life – not ideal but still privileged, and the only real hurdles I face are mental. Hurdles like questioning whether I am actually a writer if I haven’t struggled enough to ‘know the reality of life’. Hurdles like – Can I ever stop wondering what life would have been as an engineer? As a management student? Can I really be at peace knowing how my social rankings have slipped now that I have switched to humanities, that I can no longer consider myself ‘smart’, that Engineering to me is just a paper in my folder, that I have no knowledge regarding that field anymore, that I never really had any, that I have no idea what I am doing right now, did I ever have any such idea, does anyone have any idea, that I am not designing any kind of artificial intelligence, but I am sitting here writing a dumb book. But I love writing that dumb book. So shut up.

*

Should you get a Pixie Cut?

He held his scissors and the comb in the other hand and asked, “Are you ready?”

“Are you sure?” my hairdresser had asked me. This was five months ago. It was a different hair salon. My hairdresser was a trainee (read cheap haircut). My hair was almost waist length.
“Yes, actually, I want it shorter.”
“This much?” She held her fingers close to my neck.
Shorter, I had wanted to say. Like really short. But her fear was contagious. I dropped the idea and nodded yes.
“Are you sure?” she asked again.
“Yes,” I said calmly.

I had loved them once, my long hair. I used to try different hairstyles. I learnt many braiding techniques. I coloured my hair. My hair was a dream. I had sported a bob cut for most of my childhood. “Why wouldn’t you let me grow my hair?” I would ask my mother.
“You are too young for long hair.”
I was more feminine when I was a child. I wanted lipstick and nail polish. I wanted to wear saree and salwar-kameez with dupatta. I wanted bangles and earrings. But when I grew up puberty convinced me that I was ugly and no amount of cosmetics and elegant clothing could save me – in fact, it was probable that they might end up making me look uglier.

“Yeah, I am ready,” I told Frank. I wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

This was huge. There must be a piece of dramatic classical music in the background. They were playing Shotgun again. It takes courage to do something like this – one of my friends had later commented. It doesn’t take courage. I just had to turn up at a hair salon and say the two golden words, “Pixie Cut.”

Khach.Khach.Khach.

I wasn’t sure if short hair was going to suit me. But certainly, it was bound to make me look different.

Khach. Khach. Khach.

“SO, how long had you been planning this?” Frank tried to re-initiate our conversation.
“A year.”
“Well, that’s a long time…”

“What if it looks absolutely horrendous?” I had asked myself standing in front of the mirror a day before.
“Certainly we wouldn’t know unless we try,” the mirror replied.
“I don’t have the face or personality to carry short hair,” I argued.
“Are you sure?”

No mirror had been so encouraging before. It had taken me a year and an entirely different country to find one.

Khach.

Frank was already working on the last section at the front. Small pieces were falling on my forehead. They were itchy. I had closed my eyes, though I wanted to sneak a peek.

“Do you like it?” Frank asked me finally, holding my chair from the back.
“I love it,” I said looking at the mirror.

I didn’t know for sure if it was the best hairstyle for me. But it was so different that I didn’t care.  I wanted to stare at the mirror and part my hair in different ways – see what looked best but I felt too shy to do it. I stepped outside, felt the wind blowing my ultra short hair. I smiled appreciating the fact that they were not all over my face. Maybe I was just imagining it but more people were looking at me that day. I looked right back. So I did have a personality for a pixie cut all this while, I suppose.

It’s been three days. I have been touching my hair 72 hours straight. There’s heaven over my head. I have admired how surprised people have been. Some of them hate it but most don’t. I don’t. And my advice to you, if you want to get a pixie cut too, would be – Just do it. There might be some criticism. You might draw some attention. You might be a center for debate for a while. Tell them it’s just hair really – we ought to talk about better things than some dead cells growing on your head. Period.

*

Featured Image Courtesy: myhoustondaily.com

When in Rome,

“To the girl sitting at the stairs,
You are a fucking goddess.”
~Anonymous


Gatwick Airport, London. A woman dressed in black was yelling at someone on her phone in Italian. I could filter out the swear words. And it appeared so could the little Spanish girl standing behind me in the check-in queue. ‘She just swore again!’ we told each other and giggled in our collective imagination. Yes, I am still eight that way.

The woman in black turned to me suddenly and said, ‘My flight got cancelled.’

‘The flight is cancelled’ is what I heard and I was jolted with a horrible flashback. No, not again, please.

The last time I had travelled internationally, I was stranded at the airport for three days. When I finally arrived at my destination, after a long struggle, the airline had misplaced my baggage and I had reached my university stinking quite literally and metaphorically with the world’s worst travel experience, the tale I would tell everyone I would meet and still do.

‘I understand sister. I understand’, I thought as I feared how I might be swearing soon too. She turned and started speaking on the phone again. Her frustration was palpable. When she finally hung up, I tried to console, ‘I got stranded in the airport once. I know how you feel.’
‘Oh, thank you. It’s horrible…My flight was yesterday and it got cancelled. This airline is the worst! The hotel room they gave me was in Brighton!’ she replied in thick Italian accent.
‘Brighton?’
‘Yes! Do you know how far it is! I have been here since yesterday.’
‘But today’s flight isn’t cancelled, right?’
‘Yes, hopefully.’
I was relieved. Her phone rang and our conversation ended.

What began as a casual remark about a book, soon became a discussion about reading, writing, parenting, politics, trade unions, love, grief and depression with a middle-aged man from Dublin named Patrick, who sat beside me waiting for the boarding gate to open, silently reading until I interrupted, ‘Kane and Abel, I love that book.’  Soon we parted ways and I found myself sitting in the plane. I had a window seat and when the plane approached Rome about an hour later I got to enjoy the aerial view of the city. The turquoise ocean, the islands, the beach, the boats, white trails behind them and the colourful small little buildings, all kissed by the sun that was caressing my face too. It was breathtaking.

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The immigration line was long. I was listening to a techno playlist and watching people around me. Most of them were Asians. I am an Asian too, I reminded myself. An hour passed slugging through the queue. The immigration officer looked at me, looked at my passport, scanned it, stamped it, I offered a weak smile, he offered none and I was in Rome. I found my way to the metro station. A friendly woman, blonde and pretty, who was also the ticket checker, guided me to the correct train. Half an hour later, I reached in the middle of nowhere.

It wasn’t supposed to be nowhere, it was supposed to be the city center. I stepped outside the station and all I could see were old, plastered, slightly vandalised Roman buildings. And they scared me back into the station.
I checked my phone, restarted it, restarted it again and still it caught no signal. I had thought UK SIM worked in all of Europe. But apparently, not in Rome.

I waited for my friend hoping that he would miraculously appear through the gates I sat facing. I knew he wouldn’t. That place just didn’t seem a right place to be and my instinct told me that he must be looking for me somewhere else.

I got hopeful when I found the station’s wifi signal. But sadly that was a hoax.
‘Ye ceiling dekho na, kitni sundar hai,’ a lady walked by admiring the interior design along with her husband. Definitely Indian. I thought and wondered asking them for help but settled for asking the man at the info point instead. After all, guys at the info points are helpful, right?
Apparently, not in Rome.

‘Excuse me, umm…I can’t connect to the wifi and..’
‘Yeah, there’s no wifi.’ he said.
‘Oh, okay. So I have a problem. I can’t find any signal on my phone. And I need to call a friend. It’s very important-’
‘I can’t help you.’
I stared at him, unable to believe what he had just said.

I braved to step outside again. I was sure I was at the wrong end of the station. I turned right and stepped further into oblivion. I expected Rome to be crowded but I couldn’t find a single soul – just distant traffics sounds, abandoned scooter under the bridge and bright yellow street lights.

‘I don’t want to be mugged. I don’t want to be raped. I don’t want to be murdered.’

Fortunately, I found a person who looked like the kind who wouldn’t commit any of the above.
‘Excuse me what’s the way to the central station?’ I asked him. I wasn’t surprised to find that I was heading in the exact opposite direction. I made a U-turn, passed the exit I had stepped out of half an hour ago, continued walking ahead. More and more people came into sight. I felt more and more relieved. And there it was, my destination – the Central station, in all its grandness and glory, holding my joyous and grateful heart. But it wasn’t to last long.

I looked around for my friend for a while. Several minutes passed by. I was panicking again. Suddenly, I caught his glimpse. ‘He trimmed his hair’ I wondered. And in a flash, he was gone. I ran to the place where he stood but he was nowhere to be seen. Did I just dream him?

Behind me stood a bored looking janitor. ‘Excuse me, I-’ He flicked his hands indicating that I go away. At least the guy at the info point SAID he couldn’t help.

Janitor’s rudeness paralyzed me. Did that just happen? Did he actually do that? I took a few deep breaths. ‘I am asking wrong people,’ I concluded. I looked around. There were many people but none of them seemed to be the right one.

Sitting in the middle of the stairs, her rucksack to her left, was this young woman with long black hair smiling at her phone.

It was love at first sight.

I went and as politely as I could, explained my situation and asked her for help.
‘I don’t have enough balance to make a call. But I can call through WhatsApp,’ she replied.
‘That would work, yes! Thank you!’
I sat beside her, told her the number, watched her saving it the wrong way – without inserting the country code. I knew what she was going to tell me in a while – ‘I am sorry. He is not on WhatsApp.’
‘Umm…can I..can I take your phone and try to call him, just once? I am sorry I am bothering you but this is really important.’

‘No’, I had once told a little boy when I was waiting for a friend at Dadar station, back in Mumbai an year ago. He had come to me and asked, ‘Didi, mujhe meri behen nahi mil rahi. Aap phone doge call karne ke liye?’ I looked at the child wondering if he wanted to steal my phone.‘Vo police mein hai. Ye hai uski photo.’ The child showed me a photograph of a girl in a police uniform claiming that she was his elder sister. Definitely a scam.‘Jaao, jaao.’ I had asked him to leave.

She took a second but she said yes.
I took her phone. I saved his number the correct way. I called him praying he would pick up. He did. I told him where I was. I saw him holding the phone, talking to me, a couple of seconds later. ‘I can see you. Just stay right there!’ I said and hung up. I gave the phone back to the girl, thanked her profusely, hugged her, thanked her again and ran towards him.

Welcome to Rome.

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*


“May you ask bored looking people for help.”
~A Chinese Curse

The Accident

Liverpool

Our bus halts. There isn’t any bus stop in the immediate vicinity. I don’t notice it at first, still enjoying Dorayaki. We had dropped these Japanese pancakes on the bus floor while trying to open the packet. That hadn’t stopped us from eating them. We had picked them immediately and stuffed them into our mouths. There’s always that three seconds rule.

“Sorry, you’ll have to get off here. The road is closed ahead,” the driver tells us. Abruptly brought back into reality, we stare at him, puzzled.

“Don’t worry. Your stop is just 2 minutes walk away.”

We thank him and get off the bus. A few seconds pass by deciding which way we should head to. Which nothingness are we willing to pursue tonight? The right one or the left? Our London plans are always nothing. We end up going to the same places, every time – Soho, Piccadilly, Camden, Shoreditch. London is too big to be explored on spontaneous weekend plans. We walk anyway, to the left or maybe to the right, hoping to find an interesting place and probably meet interesting people. My hopes are dim. The night has progressed too deep and it’s Sunday – nothing’s going to be open. But I am enjoying shivering in the cold and unsuccessfully trying to find the top of the buildings around me. It’s the first time I have been to Liverpool. With fancy buildings and offices splashed all over the man-made scenery I am walking through, I am too amazed to know where to look and fix my gaze at.

“So, that’s why the road was closed…” Lee nudges me.

I look at the ambulance as well.

Accidents are not unknown to me. I have seen plenty on Indian roads – the overturned trucks, cars with shattered windshields and their engines bleeding green, two-wheelers lying in the middle of a road – the victims engaged in a verbal fight, curious people gathering around them and traffic growing rapidly behind.

Lee and I continue walking past the accident scene.

“I..I..” a man is sobbing before us, trying to speak but failing horribly.

“There’s a woman on the road..” I tell Lee as cold shiver traverses through my backbone. She nods and we both look at her, immediately turn away afraid of what we might end up seeing. I can’t help it though. I turn to look again. There are three paramedics around her. She’s lying motionless, head covered in blood.

“Paramedics are already there, she should be alright,” I think.

I recall the face of the of the man we had just walked past. So, it was his car…

“Do you think…” I try asking something, immediately forgetting, feeling colder, falling numb. I want to get out of here. We both walk as briskly as we can.

“That woman was-”

“Dead” Lee completes the sentence for me.

I look at her, blink for a couple of seconds, wondering if there was a question mark or a full stop at the end of what she had just said.

*

The Movie Premier

We were walking through the streets of London again, still thinking about Mochi. Our tongues craved for more but we were determined not to succumb to our perverse insatiable greed for this Japanese dessert.

“Is today 12th?” Lee asked.

“Yes,” I said checking my phone.

“I am not sure, I need to check, but if I think what’s tonight is really happening tonight, it might just turn out to be the best night of our lives.”

“Oh, nice!” I said pretending I understood what she said.

“Yes! I know where we need to go!”

I followed Lee blindly. Wherever she would take me, I would happily go. No, I wasn’t in love, we just didn’t have any other plan.

We talked, walking on the pavements, crossing the roads, watching people around us.

“Look at that lady,” I mumbled to Lee. “Yes, I saw,” she nodded.

“I want to be like her when I am old.”

“Me too,” I thought. Who wouldn’t? How could one care to be so well dressed even at eighty? I didn’t intend to be offensive if that thought is offensive in any way. I was just shocked because I am twenty-four and I have given up on life already. I don’t even bother to comb my hair sometimes. I wear the same canvas every day. I wear the same jumper. I wear the same jacket. I don’t bother wearing contact lens, I prefer saving two minutes over doing nothing and looking weird in specs instead. This lady, on the other hand, was a model. How does she have so much life? Bottle green stylish hat, velvet dress, shiny pearls, red but not too loud lipstick, white gloves – Posh and graceful – this is what I would like to be. How do I end up being messy and loud instead?

Later, we started coming across even more fashionably dressed people. Silk gowns and gloves. Crisp and handsome tuxedos. The shiny sparkly queue of glamorous rich people was boisterous and long. Everyone seemed happy. Why wouldn’t they be? They were going to watch Star Wars with people who had starred in that movie themselves.

Lee was brimming with excitement. We walked till the very end of the queue, at the entrance of the Royal Theater. Actors were stepping out of the Limousine, posing in front of the camera, stopping by to say a word or few to the anchor, waving to the crowd, signing some autographs, smiling at the camera again and then going inside the theater.

We could have tried asking for an autograph or a selfie too, but we were on the sadder side of the barricade. The free side. I stared at the huge LED screen while Lee tried clicking some photos by going closer to the barricade hoping for better angles and views.

Star War premier, who would have thought?

A part of me was excited. I wanted to post photos on facebook, send snaps to my friends in India. “STAR WAR PREMIER! WOW!” #London #IloveLondon #RoyalTheater #soexcited #unbelievable #likereallyunbelievable #Pleasetellmeyouarejealous

But I didn’t.

Wish I had watched even a single Star War movie. Wish I had given a fuck.

*

How’s life in England?

“So, how’s life in England?” My phone notifies me of yet another text bearing the same question I’ve heard daily since the past two months. And I am left wondering, yet again, how the hell do I answer this?

How’s life in England? Each day, I wake up with a slight hangover because somehow I have developed a habit of mistaking beer for water. The morning begins with me brewing a tasteless tea and slicing an apple, often along with my fingers. Then I connect my phone to the speakers as I eat my so-called breakfast and start preparing my lunch. Two months back, cooking was my least favorite task and now it is my top choice for procrastination. I chop vegetables while dancing to some 2000s rock. I still don’t know how I manage to pull that off. The day progresses as I finish cooking my lunch which is almost never completely consumed by me. I leave some curry for my flatmates. And by the evening, there’s no trace of it left. My utensils are cleaned and neatly placed back in my shelf. Cooking a little extra so that you don’t have to clean? I figure it’s a pretty good strategy to go by. But this is not what you want to know, do you?

How’s life in England? Well, mostly it’s the blue sky and chartreuse grass spread across remarkably vast stretches of land. Each day I discover a new breed of dog. Each day I come across those cars that I never thought I would see in three dimensions with my own eyes. Each day I meet different kinds of people. And almost each day, I write about them in a small cafe with a small blackboard placed at its gate happily flaunting the beautiful handwriting and the supposedly reasonable rates of different kinds of coffees. Hours pass by as I type random stuff on random things and before it gets too cold (and it’s not even Winter yet!) I return to my kitchen to enjoy a multi-cuisine dinner cooked by flatmates. My kitchen is not a particularly attractive one. The dining table is almost never cleaned. Sometimes, the refrigerators stink. Noone is ever able to find his/her plates or spoons or coffee cup on time. When one of us burns food accidentally, we don’t pray for our own safety. Instead we pray for the inefficiency of the smoke detector. I look at the small exhaust, the electric heat stove, the rarely used oven, the toaster that partially works and the silver platform that’s turning grey – This kitchen is as ordinary as it can be. I look at the people I am dining with. This kitchen is my favorite place. But this is not what you want to know either, is it?

How’s life in England? Whenever the sun shines outside my tiny window my heart swells with happiness and hope. And then I think of the pending work, my spinning head and my heart immediately sinks. My table is splashed with my clumsiness. I am running out of clean clothes to wear. The bedsheet of my bed is beginning to stink. The mattress has given me a permanent back ache but I love my tiny little corner. My cupboard is bare but surprisingly, I don’t hate my limited collection of clothes. I am slipping below the poverty line slowly but steadily. However, somehow I don’t hate my depleting financial state. I am not sure why I am here sometimes. To write life? To live life? Sometimes my room haunts me too – to make it more eerie, there are unexplained bruise marks on my limbs. My financial burden haunts me. My insecurity and uncertain future haunts me. My dreams haunt me. But I am here anyway, I guess, happily haunted.

Days in England – It was clear sky a second ago and it’s suddenly raining. And despite the unpredictable weather, I can safely predict that it would never rain when I do have an umbrella with me. The cloudy night sky is bit of a shame but at times when it is clear I can almost get lost among the diamonds shining above, along with the silhouettes of the trees caressing the edges of the river. And then there’s the moon. The same moon I wrote a letter to saying that I would do what I love to do and in some surreal way I am still keeping that promise. I like to picture myself looking at this satellite somewhere someday in the future and instead of the moon, I like to believe that I would be looking at my own present self. We would briefly acknowledge each other, smile and whisper, “It is going to be alright.” The moon is my imaginary time travelling machine. When I look at it now, I suddenly see myself searching for it through the clusters of buildings back in Vadodara or strolling under the moonlight through the peaceful beaches of Goa during my final undergraduate year or picturing nose or eyes on it during my kindergarten days.

How’s my life? Each day I am going older. Each day I am learning something new. Though I can’t specifically point out the change but I can still feel a certain kind of novelty running through my blood. Life in England – It’s the walks among the pretty homes in red bricks. It’s playing with the amber leaves lining the footpaths. It’s being marvelled by the sparrows with orange necks. It’s walking through the trails lining the river. It’s catching a brief experience of forest and making an escape from urban life during those walks. Living here is modern and ancient at the same time. I am simultaneously falling in love in Swedish beer and cutting masala chai found in the streets of India. I am simultaneously falling in love with butter croissant and Latte and also with freshly cooked potato paratha made by my mother back home. I am amazed by the quiet and peaceful locality but at the same time I sometimes miss the crowd and the cacophony as well.

It’s writing, so much writing, reading, scribbling, dancing, drinking and being terrified of the fact that these days are disappearing much faster than they should and also the fact that I would miss this more terribly than I can ever imagine. My life in England? Well, honestly, life seems to be chasing me instead of I chasing it for a change. At first it was overwhelmingly surreal. Now, it’s overwhelmingly busy. Like the gas compressed in a cylinder, it seems like a whole lifetime has been squeezed into a couple of months. Weeks are long but yet they fly by. And sometimes all I do is breathe and watch yet another sun explode into thousands of shades of Crimson and Magenta and all those hues that I can’t even name.

“So, how’s life in England?” My phone is still beeping with that whatsapp message.
“Good.” I text back.

How to open the door the correct way

I am sitting on the pot, locked inside my bathroom clutching an unusual realization with me, “I am going to die today.” I am aware that it’s a bit uncommon thought considering the location. After all, relief is what they call is a bathroom’s real forte. But I am far, far, far away from that emotion. I am drenched in anxiety. I am assailed by the kind of panic that surpasses my worst panic attack by hundred folds. I am going to die today. Right here. For a twenty-two year old young woman like me, who has been blessed with good health, this scenario doesn’t make sense. But how is it that I am dangling just a few inches away from jumping off the cliff into my after-life forever? It’s such a weird spot to have death embrace you but it’s too late and it seems that there is indeed nothing I can do to change it. Death is near; a potential groom – a mere mutter of “I do” away. I can already hear his steps approaching. Thump. Thump. Thump. My heart is in my throat. I am breathing at a frequency which even the latest computer processors can’t match. As a desperate attempt to distract myself, my brain performs an old trick – it throws me into a day-dream. It could be called a good move had it actually been a day dream. Even in the crucial times like this, my brain can’t let go of his sick sense of humor. He throws me into the dream that does the opposite of what it was supposed to do – It intensifies my panic. Can you believe that guy? In my head, as I time travel two to three days in the future, I can see my mother returning home to find our house in a perfectly normal condition. Perfectly normal condition except for the terrible stench. “Where is it coming from?” She wonders. She enters my room. The smell intensifies. Maybe a rat died in the bathroom. She tries to open the bathroom’s door. But it doesn’t budge. It’s locked! Now, she begins to grow anxious. Something is wrong. This stench is too strong to belong to a dead rat. Or the rat is too smart to lock the door. She tries to break open the door but it’s too heavy. She can’t do it. Her brain has already started formulating alternative plans. She rushes downstairs to the fifth floor immediately where she remembers she may be able to find a carpenter. The moment she enters the apartment, carpenter stops his work and stares at the woman’s grim face sprinkled with sweat. Something’s really wrong, his intuitions tell him. Slowly and calmly he asks, “Kya hua Madam?”
“Darwaza todna hai.”

The carpenter doesn’t ask any further questions. He abandons his work, accompanies her upstairs, to my home, to my room and ultimately to the bathroom door. The wretched bathroom door. It doesn’t take the carpenter long to break the lock. He takes a moment before opening the door. From the smell he can guess what he is about to see is going to haunt him for a long time. He slightly pushes the door and it swings open slowly, as if gracefully preparing them for a horrific sight. The woman behind him has already fallen to the floor, unconscious.

I never thought that the first one to see my dead body would be the person whom I had never met in my lifetime. I kind of always fantasied that my death would be glorious one. Glorious not in the sense that I hope to die at a war. By glorious I meant I die in the arms of a loved one. I die with smile and contentment. But this death is the exact opposite. I have never felt loneliness the way I feel right now. I never thought I would die in a freaking toilet! I never thought I would die grieving over my youth and all the dreams that I had once hoped to realize. I had always hoped that I would die with all my dreams already turned into reality. How cruel fate can be!

I had been so engrossed in my day-dream or rather nightmare that I had completely grown oblivious of the banging and voice coming from the other side of the door.

“Are you there? Answer us!”
“Yes, I am here. I am here.”

My friend had been standing outside the bathroom for a long time. I had been standing inside the bathroom for a long time. All I originally wanted to do here was to pee in peace. Since I had guests with me – my friends, I had taken extra precaution of locking the door behind in order to avoid any potentially awkward situations. We weren’t after all in a usual state of mind. Well, congratulations, there will be no awkward situations. They can’t get in even if they tried their best.
When I had been asked to pull the latch even harder after my multiple futile attempts to open the door, I had mustered all my strength and broken it instead. The broken piece is still lying on the floor. And yes, that’s why I am going to die here today. “You can do this,” my friend says again. “Wash your face. Breath. Breathe, okay? You will figure out a way.”
Figure out a way? Yeah. Right. I wash my face anyway. I am never getting out of here. Could be that my friends, on the other side (on the other side of freedom!) figure out a way to open the door. But it will be too late by then. I pick up the piece, to acknowledge how a tiny thing is going to result in my death and then suddenly I am greeted by a tiny ray of hope! I discover that there are threads in the end. Threads mean that the piece is not broken but just detached! Brimming with joy, I insert the piece in the gaping hole of the latch that had been terrorizing me until now and rotate it in. It’s moving in! Maybe I won’t die after all. Boy, I had been so stupid! Filled with hope, I try to open the door again.

It doesn’t budge.

Perfect! The carpenter has called my neighbors. My mother is conscious and furious. Furious. Not sad. Not weeping. Not wailing. FURIOUS. Because that’s how her daughter died? In a bathroom? From a drug overdose? And which drug? Cannabis? Seriously? No, that’s not my daughter. This is not her. I don’t know who this girl is. Take her body away. Take her to a morgue. Dump it. Do whatever. This is not my daughter—

“There?”

That’s my friend again.

“Yes I am here. Not dead. Not yet…”
“Breath, okay? Try to open the door again.”

I take a few deep breaths. I approach this monstrous door, devoid of hope for any success. A funny thought strikes me then. What if you pull the latch on the opposite side?
The opposite side? But that’s the wrong side!
I would lock myself further into this hell! Crazy or what?
But what’s the harm in trying? So, I try anyway.

The lock slides with an unbelievable smoothness. The door is open.

THE. DOOR. IS. OPEN.

I was pushing the latch in the wrong direction this whole time.
I am overwhelmed by relief and happiness and suddenly a deeply profound thought dawns upon me – Maybe that’s how it works with life. We are trying to push the doors open so hard but nothing works even then. Maybe we need to sit back and breathe. And the solution, an incredibly​ simple and obvious solution, will appear out of nowhere. Push the lock in the other direction. It’s that simple.
Door swings open.
Life swings open.
I am laughing. All my tears that contained panic a while ago contain nothing but joy. My friend, my beloved friend throws an incredibly annoyed look at me. I apologize to her. I need to. I must. I ruined her beautiful date with Mary after all. But did you notice how simple it is? Push the latch on the opposite direction and that’s how you open the door the correct way.

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