continuance.

A lot of books and articles on writing emphasize consistency. “You must write every day,” they say. And I understand the reason for this advice. Whenever you are learning (sometimes even when you’re not learning) you have to do a lot of something to become good at it. You have to wade through the crap moments. Your callouses don’t just build over night, you have to keep the process going. You have to write everyday.

Unfortunately, this has never worked for me. My mind wanders, or it is distracted. Pick whichever. Of course, I have the luxury to wander. I do not write for a living. This is probably a good thing since I’m rather fond of living. But if I level myself against this advice of consistency, this rush to finish what I had started, then it is also depressing. If consistency is my aim, then I’m consistently setting myself up for failure.

What works better for a person of my disposition is perhaps the notion of continuance. The thought that I don’t have to do this on a schedule. I don’t have to rush to the finish line. I have not failed. My work awaits me when I am ready to return to it. From there, I can simply continue where I left off. I can afford this to myself in whatever it is that I do, apart from writing, too.

There is a trick here, though. That sometimes continuance turns into consistency. If you keep coming back, if the time between the breaks shortens then it doesn’t feel like some rigid consistency. It feels like a flowing motion, something natural. And if the mindset isn’t about consistency, then you allow yourself to do something else. To take longer breaks when needed.

The even more important thing about continuance is that you allow yourself to return. Because breaking the pattern isn’t failure, it’s just another opportunity to continue later. So you keep returning, and maybe it takes you longer to finish than the next person. But, god dammit, you finish! You set the pace and you let yourself be carried by the flow. It will take you years, just keep coming back and you will get to the end.

colour.

even after all these years –
if i asked you – you couldn’t
tell me the colour of my eyes.

that is far too long a time
to have known someone and yet
not have known them at all.

glass.

The sights seem to pass me by somehow.
And only way I can ever see
is by letting go of the looking glass.

You are the maker. You are the mover.
Make.
Move.

an honest mistake – jonarno lawson

Who hasn’t huddled under
a closed wing for warmth,
forgetting for a moment
that wings were made for flying?

– JonArno Lawson

lifeless.

Appa was a rock. I have no idea how he was able to maintain composure. But he did. He maintained it from the moment he heard the news to the moment we were called in to identify Rohan’s body. He maintained it moving forward, too. Appa was a rock, he would not be broken.

Rohan was the sweetest boy, and he was growing up to be an amazing man. His nineteen year old body lay there in front of us and I felt weak in the knees. Last I saw him he was so full of life and energy. Seeing his lifeless body brought me to the floor and I wept with Amma. Nothing made sense. You hear people saying life is precious, and there is no better exemplification of that than seeing the lifeless body of a loved one. “Yes, this is Rohan,” Appa told the medical examiner. Amma and I were in no condition to talk. We were praying that somehow none of this was real. That somehow we would find ourselves at home and find Rohan walking through the door to join us for dinner. I could not eat for days.

The days seemed so slow. I could feel every minute that passed by and it felt like each minute hung around for just a little longer. Each hour for some longer more. I could only think of Rohan with all this extended time. Any other motion or action I did happened in my own periphery. I lost all focus. Appa, on the other hand, seemed calm. I saw him reading the paper in the morning. What does the news matter now, I wondered. The losses of the world were nothing compared to the loss of Rohan’s smile.

Appa took on most of the responsibility for arranging the funeral. The casket, the flowers, and all the decor were at Appa’s direction. I helped where I could, but only in periphery. How did Appa maintain his focus? How could he continue to function? To me the world seemed shaken to its core. How could he walk with such calm and stability?

I could barely sleep the night before the funeral. The morning was worse. We awake each day and it’s the knowledge of the next steps that affects our mindset. Some say the ritual of a funeral helps with closure, others say that it just adds pain. Those are the steps that lay ahead for me. It’s the oddest thing, preparing for a funeral. I just wanted to walk in as I was the day before. But I went through all the actions just the same. I showered, dried my hair, applied make up, and picked out a dress. All with hollow motion. My mind could only focus on Rohan’s absence. I stared at the dress for the longest time before putting it on.

“Seema, you are so strong,” people would say. I was so broken on the inside that I could no longer make sense of what strength meant. Was it appearance or emotion? Is there a difference between displaying strength and having it? Perhaps it was relative? People were comparing me to Amma who would only stop crying when it interfered with her breathing. I’m not sure which of one us was really stronger. I envied Appa’s calm demeanor as he greeted the guests.

Letting go is the hardest thing. But what of someone who is already gone? What of someone who can never return? Why is that so hard?

The viewing continued. Amma sat beside the casket, still crying. I had taken over greeting the guests for Appa. I didn’t want to stray too far from Rohan. I wanted to see him smile just one last time. I greeted friends and acquaintances, people I had not spoken to in years. It was both overwhelming and reassuring to see so many people. It was reassuring to know that Rohan mattered to so many.

I heard yelling from the other room. I wondered if some of Rohan’s friends were causing a ruckus. Or maybe some auntie had said or heard something offensive. The yelling continued and I ran to see for myself. It was Appa. Appa was up in arms about something.

“Who the hell brought these balloons?” Appa yelled. “Why are there fucking balloons at my son’s funeral?”

I approached him slowly. “Appa?” I said, holding his hands and looking into his eyes.

His hands were trembling. His face red. His breath exhausted. “Appa?” I repeated.

I felt weak in the knees again. Appa and I fell to the floor.

We wept, with some odd strength.

climb.

There’s something about a climb that burns your body. Something beautiful. There’s something about how it engages both the body and the mind. The moment is not lost on you because you are with the moment. The metaphors are abound, of course.

The notion of pulling yourself up. The physical act thereof.
Balance. A way of getting to know how your body aligns itself with the world around it.
Patience. Take your time, but not too much. The world will not wait forever.
Falling and getting up. The kind of fall where your feet, your bum, and your back hit the ground. Well, it’s foam padded ground. Safety first, folks.

You will fall, it is as inevitable as day turns into night. You fall and then you get up. Because the rocks are still the same and you haven’t yet made it to the top.

On a personal note, it is reassuring to recall how the year started on a shaky knee, and how now that very knee is used to push off a rock for higher ground, and how still that knee is used to stabilize my falls. And fall we must.

The thing about persistently falling is that the fear still remains. The fear itself persists: before the fall, during the fall, and after having fallen. Whether it’s a ninety foot drop or just few feet off the ground, the fear still stays.

The fear still stays but you climb anyway.

done.

words wither with the wind,
and i am done discussing
dreams and desires
at a distance.

i want to see you closer.
simple words will not do.
stroke after stroke, i want to
see you dive into that
very distance.

this conversation about your
aspirations is such a bore.
i’ve heard this before, like
an old husbands’ tale, like
an old wives’ lore.
i want to see drops of sweat
drip from the side of
your face (and other places)
and i want to see you leap
before they hit the floor.

we are beyond action plans
that just stand still.
i want to see something slip.
i want to see something spill.

no use making silly lists,
simple words will not do.
i want to see incantations
that turn your imaginations
into soaring a reality
against your skin.
given the chance
i would step in step
with your dance but
i want to see you spin
further into that
very distance.

i want to see you turn
page after page, i want to
see an unapologetic rage.
i want to see you climb
the mountains of your
thoughts. i want to see you
glide over rock after rock.
i want to see some wild
hunger in your eyes,
i want to see the chase.
i want to see you close
the gap. i want to see
you weave space into space.

no, no; no, no; no no no.
simple words will not do.
i want to see you on the
other side of your dreams.

even at that very distance –
even before those drops hit
the floor – i would
fall in love with you.

sunday.

I woke up to an intense sense of demotivation today. I didn’t want to do anything. Just a click away even Netflix was a chore. Everything comes at a cost. A night out is followed by feelings of extreme loneliness. Like being hit by a wave or a rock. This is the first time in a very very long time I’ve felt this way, this lack of motivation – it’s been well over a year, at least – so much so that I’m writing about it.

It does come in waves. Somehow I make my way downtown, it’s the last day of the table tennis league. I don’t want to miss it. At the same time, I am not there. I barely won a game – my worst outing. I could feel the waves. One moment, I’m in the game… I’m leading with ease. The other moment I snap out, the score slides. You can’t win them all, and on some days you can’t win anything.

The year comes to a close and I feel this sense of loss. It’s the oddest thing because you can only lose something you had and I didn’t have anything. I have never had anything that would signify loss. Yet the feeling remains. There is no loss of yesterday, but a restlessness for tomorrow lingers.

I know what I have to do. If this year was about restarting things then next year has to be about finishing them. I have a lot of work ahead. A world too beautiful awaits and I have no time to waste.

I have wasted enough already.
There is no time for lazy Sundays.

relief.

She wore her relief like a pair of bright shoes. I could almost sense her tense toes settling into her soles. Relieved. I could hear it in her breath, and in every word that followed; as if they were freed into the wind. A lightlessness that gives new life. A weight lifted off her soul. It solemnly intrigued me how seeing me for the last time could inspire in some one so much relief.

past.

the past has clearly come and gone,
yet the past has barely passed.
the past is but a dream;
a dream i never had.

let’s recall the moments gone,
what was said and heard?
try and fail a time or two,
the charm is in the third.

who speaks for past memories
when no one says a word?
we find ourselves slowly
just walking with the herd.

the night is all but gone
and it wasn’t even sad.
i look toward the day to dream
a dream i never had.

khul ja.

you stood there silently
holding open
the gates of heaven.

i stood there motionless
never realizing
that it was for me.

eventually
your hands tired
and heaven had sent
all the doorstops
to the other side.

these.

i reach my heights on days like these,
i wonder why on days like these.

perhaps fine wine and a dose of cheese?
but those won’t do on days like these.

i could strum a song, if you please,
i lose my voice on days like these.

when was it last i prayed on my knees?
and i do not still on days like these.

the look of joy and eyes that crease,
i miss your smile on days like these.

oh, the solace and ease of winter’s breeze,
my frozen heart softens on days like these.

mesmerized.

I’m on a train right now. I was planning on reading, on maybe writing something, or coding something. But I don’t want to do any of those right now.

I am either sleeping, and when I am not sleeping I am just looking out the window with this one song on repeat. ‘tu kisi rail si‘ written by Varun Grover, sung by Swanand Kirkire.

There is one particular couplet that has me taken:

tu kisi rail si guzarti hai
main kisi pul sa tharthara hoon

you pass by like a speeding train,
and i shiver like the bridge below.

(Translation mine, though I’m probably butchering it.)

Wow, that’s some good shit right there. I don’t know. There’s something about using this metaphor in a romantic song. Turns out that this couplet wasn’t written by Varun Grover, he writes about the song in an article for the Indian Express. It was written by Dushyant Kumar, a Hindi writer born in the 30s. He wrote poems and ghazals, short stories, novels, and dramas.

There’s something about that metaphor that has me mesmerized.
So I listen to the song on repeat, doing nothing else on this train.

(Yes, I know that this a simile and not a metaphor. Please do not write to me about this.)

small talk.

I was amidst madness. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for madness. The madness that flings ideas far into the whirlwind and brings them back into delightfulness. The madness that sways me from side to side, where bodies move and dance to the tunes of Arabic music. I’m all for that madness. This madness was small talk at a party. Can’t really call this a party. I’ve been to parties and this ain’t no party. It’s a get together, really. I’m here as a favour to a friend. Small talk I cannot stand. Oh, the things we do for friendship.

Two men stand in front of me. Drinks in their hands. They’re talking about something or the other. All I can focus on is how the light reflects off of one glass on to the other and back; how slight motions of the glasses change the entire lighting in the room. The wonder of photons. That’s where my mind was. These men, in their ties and eight-piece suits, spoke about the dreadfulness of their jobs and about how they have to sprint to their cars in the parking lots when they get off the train coming home to suburbia. The reason you want to sprint to your car is so you can be of the first to head out of the lot. A casual stroll to your car could mean anywhere from half an hour to an hour of waiting in a car line. Oh, the dread.

I wondered where the conversation would go next. I wondered if these men had any dreams remaining in their souls. Perhaps over time the dreariness of their lives had slowly eroded the mechanisms in their minds and hearts that gave birth to dreams. Maybe they were just ashamed to share how impractical their dreams were. How they were chained to the routines of their lives. How they were now stuck upgrading sedans to minivans that would mostly sit rotting on their driveways. The rest of the time they would rot in the car line waiting to leave the lot.

I tried. I drifted my attention from the variations of the light rays in to the conversation at hand. I asked them what they wanted to do, you know, with their one wild and precious life. Mary Oliver would have been proud of me. But the question was lost on them. As if they were thrown into some foreign land the language of which they did not speak, scurrying to find their tickets home. One man finally spoke about trying to figure out some PowerPoint animations so he could impress his bosses at the next presentation. I drifted back to the photons. Did you know that if most photons had consciousness they would barely have time to even realize it? From the moment a photon emanates from its source it already reaches its destination. We’re talking fractions of a fraction of a second. This is the speed of light in action. Light from a flashlight barely gets to experience its own existence and yet is able to illuminate so much and guide us through forests. We only see where the light shines. Without these photons we are nothing. I’m glad I have human consciousness, though not in this moment. Not in front of these men talking about some whoop-ti-do and whoop-ti-dumb.

They’re talking about sports now. They argue with an invigorated sense of being. Back and forth they go, with the confidence of handsome politicians. Sadly, they’re both wrong and equally unconvincing. This must be some fucking ploy to edge my patience and make my mind numb. It was working. I’m sure this is the same conversation these men have each time they see each other. They’ve got it down pat. Their ability to repeat the same words over and over and yet exhibit facial expressions as if these thoughts were fresh was remarkable. I think they get off on it in some weird way. This is how they enjoy their lives. I, however, was ploying ploys of my own. I sunk into my heart’s desire and asked myself what it was that I really wanted to do. This would be an immense list of things, longer than all the ties in this house laid from end to end. But what did I really want to do in this moment?

So here’s the scene: With my right hand I would take the glass from the man to my left and splash the drink on the face of the man to my right. While they reeled from the shock of such an unimaginable incident, with my left hand I would take the glass from the man to my right and splash the contents on the face of the man to my left. Then I would give the glass that I’d taken from the man to my left to the man to my right, and vice versa. So that each man would not only end up with the contents of the glasses on their faces, but also the very glasses from which the contents came. Thus completing some circle of absurdity. By this point the others at the get together would have gathered around to watch the spectacle. I would then, with a supremely calm elegance never witnessed by anyone present here, say, “Gentlemen, this has been a rather life altering conversation, it really has. I would love to stay,” I would look at my watch in disappointment, “but I have an appointment to be at. Perhaps the next time you can get straight to pulling out my nails with a plier. Good day. Good day, everyone!” I would leave the house with a graceful gait that would mimic a model’s walk down the runway, making sure that everyone had the chance to experience my exit. The door would shut and drops of liquid would continue to fall from the faces of these men to the ground.

This is what I would rather do than stand through small talk. But I didn’t. Instead, I stood there swirling into the the blandness of the sentences spoken before me. I haven’t had a lick to drink, but I know I will wake up hungover tomorrow.

I didn’t follow the barest of my desires. Oh, the things we do for friendship.

compromise.

There are compromises and then there are compromises.

You hear it said all the time, “you have to compromise!” We’re told that compromise is important to maintain our relationships, at work, with family, friends, partners, lovers, and for marriages and so on and so on.

I don’t disagree, compromise sounds dandy. But not all compromises are created equal. Situation and context matter. They matter deeply. Not everyone who compromises in a relationship gets equal compromise in return. Some sacrifices are much larger.

But there are also types of compromises. Two I’d like to focus on are: compromising of the heart and compromising from the heart.

The difference between the two is a willingness and desire to compromise. When the compromise comes from the heart, it comes with a willingness – perhaps even an eagerness. It is a happy compromise. You give of yourself but you feel greater for having done so. In contrast when you compromise your heart (a compromise of the heart), you feel like you’ve lost something. You feel at loss; you feel incomplete. There is hesitation and unwillingness.

There are compromises and then there are compromises.

I don’t want to compromise my heart. I want to follow its beats.
From the heart, I would compromise a thousand times over and a thousand times under.

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