“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”
This is not about me. This is about someone I know. Not too close, not too far. He exists in fractions, At the meeting point Of a hundred parallel lines.
He lives a normal life, Laughing hoarsely and singing badly and sometimes, just sometimes, Dancing awfully too, When he thinks no one is looking. He basks in his own little bubble, Fantastical worlds lacing his bloodstream. He lives just a normal life, Or one that can pass for normal anyway.
But between sunsets and stars, When the tick-tock of the clock, Turns pitch black with the clouded moon, He lies on his bed, Paralyzed by his own beating heart, Staring sideways at the unopened files on his laptop screen. That bright, sharp screen. And his mind reels itself rapidly.
He looks at the ceiling, At the yellow patches dotted with silky webs. His mind has its own patches, you know. Darker than the ceiling, Way more entangled than the withering webs. The screen starts blinking now, Like a bloody crime scene, And the patches dissolve into nightmares.
He tries, Tries really hard, To think about nothing, To not think at all, But he is drawn to that beckoning flame, To that mirage of solace.
He thinks of times he had painstakingly forgotten, Of the upturned dialogues, And suffocating soliloquies. Of the loud silence, And the quiet crowds. Of the constant intrinsic murmur, And the pain at the back of his head.
He lies there, Till the muses numb him, Till all he can think of Is how these thoughts Drown him And let him breathe All at once.
Inspired by a project started by Rabia Kapoor (called All I Have; check it out on Instagram: @rabia2.0), I decided to lend my words to an alien emotion. A dear friend contributed towards the induction. To give it some context, I shall grace this humble piece with beautiful lines from her own expression:
“What if the loneliness is unbearable, maybe even suffocating.
It’s like the silence kills me, and at the same time brings peace to others. Why is that?”
Here goes nothing:
We are insignificant. The dust of a different time. Hurtling through space at thousands of miles an hour.
Wandering the nothingness.
Seeking peace, yet,
Running around in circles.
You know, the strange thing about dust is that it mingles.
With its brown self and with red and orange and indigo and blue.
It embroils itself in a gooey mess of handshakes and tears and kisses and love.
(I do not own the pictures used in this post, but the writing is solely mine.)
If you were there, you wouldn’t have been able to bear the heat. The smell of singeing flesh and charring bones would have been too much for your feeble senses. The raging fires, dotting the entire ghat, would have blinded you.
I wonder if you can imagine what it feels like to me. To me, it smells like opportunity, seemingly evil, but I wouldn’t expect you to understand. The heat caresses me every day, and the flesh and bones are the essence of my being.
I photograph corpses, the ones brought for the final rites at this ghat.
I ply my trade every day, without fail. The dead don’t celebrate holidays, I’m given to believe. The irony of it, though. I have seen many a silent visage during my job. Their people wrap them up in shrouds and adorn them with flowers, all of which the river unflinchingly carries away.
They say this river washes away your sins. I perpetuate the notion because my livelihood depends on it. So, if you find me around, I will tell you how the dirtiest water in the country shall carry the burden of your wrongdoings, simply because you choose to believe it.
I have to hawk my services around like a vendor. People want to treasure their loved ones in a grim posthumous portrait, the logic of which eludes me, but one which I refrain from questioning. I always carry my overused digital camera with me. The emotions clouding the individuals around me make my job easier because people seldom seem to notice the quality of the pictures in this state. I just need to break in and convince them to choose me as the carrier of their memory. The result seldom matters. Although the same turmoil makes the payment process a pain too.
I’ve been in this business for quite some time. I don’t feel the pain anymore. I have numbed myself to anything that could interfere with the tattered notes counted at the end of the day. Sometimes, just sometimes, I stare at those lifeless faces, in the reddish hue of the developing room, and I am paralyzed. I think about their lives and their circumstances, and their bitter heartbreaks and losses. I have to remind myself that all of that had ceased to exist and that the truth is dancing naked in front of me – I have a pregnant wife and two children to feed. But I’m human too, or so I choose to believe.
The sun bubbled out of nowhere that morning, as always, splashing the holy river with its crimson glitter. I sat by the water, basking in the glory of the tender rays, gently dipping my legs in the cool murky fluid, waiting. This has always been one of the best parts of my day. There is a strange peace in watching the faint awakening of life. The embers were dying, and grey ash flew about, filling the air with its light flakes. The ashes possess a sense of finality, of the inevitability that is the stop sign on this journey.
A group of people moved towards the ghat in hushed tones. No funeral procession, no chants, just silence. In the name of bread, I went ahead with my equipment. As I approached the group, they slowed down. All of them were wearing dull colors.
A woman, in her twenties, her eyes bloodshot with the ache of loss and longing, glared right at me. She seemed to stare into the very depths of my soul, as only a body ravaged with the pangs of hopelessness can. You rarely see women here, a product of our patriarchal delusions. I reached out courageously and asked if they would like me to photograph, looking for a body all the while. I could see none.
Suddenly, a strange bundle caught my eye, ensconced protectively within the arms of the woman.
“Here, hold. Click, if that’s what you want.” Her voice was cold as ice, devoid of emotion.
I stopped breathing. My feet were stuck to the dusty ground, which suddenly felt hot and parched.
She thrust a small white bundle into my hands. It felt blue and heavy. The contour of tiny, hollow bones pressed into my fingers, sinking deeper and deeper.
A withered face, caught in the eye of an all-consuming storm, never returning. I could not bear to look at it anymore. A few months old. Just a few months. My insides squirmed, and my eyes felt hot with tears. I tried to imagine what the woman must be going through. I couldn’t.
In a cruel flash, my mind wandered towards my own pregnant wife, the promise of a healthy child wrapped safely in her womb. I looked at the infant again, at the irretrievable curve of its smile, and I could not stand it anymore. I carefully returned the cold bundle back, shaking all the while. I fell in a heap.
I lay still. Infants are usually buried, but I could make out the faint odor of a fresh pyre, growing intense by the minute. The heat felt chilly to me, as if the little life was defying the effort of the blaze. Or maybe it was because of my freezing veins. Her voice still echoed in my bones, banging against the dark recesses of my mind.
I could see my cracked reflection in the camera screen.
The river started swelling as the sky gathered dense grey clouds.
The other day, I walked the sunset shores, Thinking of orange and red, Of water and ripples, Of the seemingly random things that ail me.
You know why I talk to you? Because you listen, Even when you don’t have to. You listen to my words, my love, and my tears, You listen to my broken pieces, my shaking muses, and my fears, You listen to the wild lies I say, and the truths I don’t, You listen to the slow, scratching pain I put forth, and the words I won’t.
The worlds I hide within me, Are the worlds I tremble against. These worlds, these illusions, Pulse incessantly within my head. Sorry, I can’t contain them anymore.
Someone needs to know, And someone can’t know, Of the effort it takes, Of the mind-shattering aches, Of the numbing cold, Of the tales untold, Of the recovery I promised myself, Of the feelings I rallied against, Of the temptations I gave in to, Of the things I can’t bear to do, Of the paths I’m afraid to lose, Of getting my heart in a noose, Of the blood flowing through my veins, Of the things mumbled amidst euphoric rains.
Listen carefully. Now that I’ve told you this, Now that I’ve let it go, Now that you can probably see, Now that you possess a little piece of me, Please keep it to yourself, Because, Someone needed to know, But someone can’t know.
Whenever I am cold, I drown myself in steaming water. It’s been a year, and the water has smoked every single day. I slowly realized the cold had settled deep inside, in a crevice, spewing numbing chills. I get myself out of bed every day. Somehow. I finish my daily ritual and return home from work, walking.
The streets are empty today. Sodium vapour lamps throw scattered yellow light at intervals. I stand under one of those lights. A major portion of the lamp has been covered by a beehive. I can see the bees buzzing about, toiling endlessly for their queen, a veil of purpose pulled over their eyes.
I am living my life in silhouettes, fading and emerging in these hissing yellow streetlights. A solitary draft stings my cheeks and arms, beckoning my cold insides. It is peaceful, or so it seems.
I reach home. Turning the key in the lock, I feel a sense of apprehension. Of what lies behind the doors. I enter.
A year ago, it was different. I used to live alone. I still do. But it was different.
A shimmering, dark blanket creeps itself slowly around my shoulder. Really slowly, tenderly. I don’t even feel it holding my throat in an innocuous grasp. I can breathe, for sure. But I can feel it, I can feel the pores of my body filling with sparkling, blue ice.
I lie down on the carpet, wrapping it around myself. That was my futile effort to ward off the specter sucking my body lifeless. A few hours later, the blanket is gone, but the room is still heavy, waiting to pounce upon me. I can hear crickets now, their harmonious chatter giving me something to hold on to.
The heart is weak. It loves clinging to things, materialistic expressions, even when they are nothing but illusions of nature.
“It gets better.”
“Lighter days are ahead.”
“Don’t lose hope. Hang in there.”
Let me tell you, it doesn’t get better. And even if it does, it’s temporary.
Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope is an intensely fragile thing. Hope is utterly faithless.
An abyss you ought not look into. Because if you do, it might not turn out to be a ray of sunshine but an endless tunnel. A darkness so black that there is no turning back.
What has to go wrong will go wrong. One has no choice but to accept it. That way, the delusion of hope burns out its own existence.
I gather my freezing knots into my body and turn on the light. It makes no difference to me anymore.
I am not a slave to hope.
I am a slave of my own being, lost forever in memories and pages.
Today, I decided to turn Nothing into words. It seems hard. Until it is not. My mind tells me things, things I dare not tell anyone, not a single soul. I would not tell you now. Maybe I already have.
It has been a long day, as most of them are. Walking back from the cafeteria is a futile exercise. I fly. It’s not fantasy, my dear reader, I walk. I find myself alone, and I feel good. Abysmally good. Sickeningly good.
I can hear things, things you can’t hear. No, not the birds, not the simmering sky, not the steaming coffee. I hear voices, inside my head, outside my head. Calm voices, spiralling round and round, slowly encircling me, and just like that, I am not alone anymore. I still feel alone, though, like a sunken ship in salty waters.
On occasions, these voices just listen to me, without a crackle. Sometimes, I can tell them to go away. And, yes, they listen to me. At other times, I can’t.
My head is buzzing with a hundred different things, sparking, firing, ricocheting, shooting. STOP. A rainbow of sensations. And my hands tremble as I tell you this. You’ll understand, won’t you? I hope so. And even if you don’t, I have the voices inside my head. Please make them go away. No, don’t. They have promised me their presence. Let them stay.
I meet people, one sleazy joke after another, one shy smile, one stolen glance, one avoided face, no, two, three, four. I evade them all. Sometimes, I wish I was invisible, then realise I already am.
A piece of paper. Scribbled. Flowing away in the wind. Leaves in a vortex, rustling. I grab it.
“Loops, circles, and infinity”, it says.
Loops. Circles. Infinity.
Numbers. Letters. Words.
I know you don’t want to read this, and, frankly, I never wrote this for you. I wrote this for me. And my voices. They told me to. Yes, I must do things they tell me to.
I walk in silence. Complete and utter on the outside. Void.
Inside, not so much.
I reach the lake. It’s dark. I can’t see anything, no lights, nothing. I can just hear the lapping water, gentle, harmonic. And for a second, the voices go away, and I cannot take it. Bring them back, please. They are here. It’s me and my voices, isn’t that beautiful?
My head feels like a grey stone. It is aching. It’s not the voices. It’s the incessant ballistics. One arrow after another, through the soft tissue of my brain, scathing, scarring. My muscles are twitching. I am writing on air. I will keep writing until it is time to burn out, flesh and bone and ash.
Lights. Colours. Green.
Paper. Me. Them. Us. You.
Thank you, reader. You have truly helped me. I can hear your voice. Inside my head.
This is not a story. Not a happy one, not a sad one. Just words, inconsequential.
A fragile day. Drop by drop, melting into an expanse of nothingness. I cannot move, not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow. I have tried, straining every muscle, to the point of agony, but I can’t. I am stuck.
The window is open today. It is a graceful piece of woodwork, rough at the edges, reminding of the survived winters. I live, if that is what you can call my existence, in one of those ornate, vintage homes that have adorned many a tale. It is now ensconced in the lap of snowy mountains and fir trees.
I don’t really want to say this, but I might just burst open if I don’t. I don’t know how this reached you, and I never will. I am trapped inside my own useless body, cold and warm.
A chilly wind swirls around the room. I can see it, filling the crevices with an icy blue, gliding tenderly on my pale skin. From the way I rest, I can feel a solitary bird crooning a cracked verse. The song mingles with the breeze, creating music out of thin air.
I go back in time, to the days when running around these valleys was everything I ever wanted. The misty cliffs and frosty trees beckoned with their rustle. Small shops and cafés dotted the entire town, waiting for ignorant tourists to serve their hilly specialties to. The sun would beam amidst the cold, and iridescent crystals of dust would float lazily, and you could breathe in the slow, musty warmth.
And people, yes, the people. You met someone new almost every day. They would be awed by your home, your town. And inside, I would be proud, really proud. That was a long time ago, long before my body gave up on me. I know nothing of the outside world except the four feet of a window now.
It’s my birthday today. They have stopped celebrating it now. They know there’s no hope. I know there’s no hope. I wish there’s a place beyond where life isn’t so unfair. I am tired of waiting, of making them wait. I am just a hollow shell, neurons firing inside, to no end, no purpose.
I happen to have a grandchild. He whispers a wish every year, though he has no way of knowing I can hear him. I have never felt his tender face in my hands, never ran it through his beautiful curls. Do you know what’s worse than not seeing your lineage at all? Gazing at your blood every single day and realizing you could have played a part, a part which he will forever be deprived of now.
“Happy Birthday, Grandma”, he mumbles in a hushed tone.
I can feel the turmoil inside my head, and the tears outside, but it is so common now that it fails to be acknowledged as a distinct emotion. He then circles slowly around the bed, as if gaping at a lost artifact, ignoring the salt altogether.
“Dear, where are you?” His mother. My daughter-in-law.
“I have told you a hundred times not to disturb her. Now, get back here!”
Bye. Away from the vegetable. Bye.
Living in the hills, I always enjoyed my solitude. But loneliness and solitude are two different things. Loneliness hurts, it sticks like indelible ink. You feel an empty space previously filled by your fantasies and dreams. It doesn’t matter if the entire world reaches out to you, that dark niche repels them, stubborn in its essence.
I overhear the argument today. It is usually muffled for my benefit. Today, all control is lost. It’s about me, as most of them are. But today is different. It has the tone of finality, of an explosion. My blood is running cold in my veins, although the numbness is nothing new.
Night. 3 am.
The stars float in the sky, pointed strokes of white on a dark canvas. The wind howls its own rueful tune. It’s the perfect night, serene and occasional.
My little grandchild tiptoes into the room. His eyes are swollen with sadness and tears. I can smell the ache wafting through the room.
“Grandma, please, sorry…” he stammers. It takes him visible effort to walk. It was more of a mixture of hesitation, fear, and regret. “They can’t do this. They will break if they haven’t already. Sorry for today, Grandma. I can’t see any more suffering, not theirs, not yours.”
And gently is the deed done.
I talk of this from my wooden box. I am happy now. I hope they are, too.