TEN THOUSAND TIMES

“I love you” –

I hear myself say,

Ten thousand times a day.

In my throat forms

This little knot of love,

Each time I watch you

Leaving, from above.

And I fall hard, for you,

I really, really do,

Ten thousand times a day,

Whether in November or in May.

Ten thousand times I inhale,

Your sweet, heady, male smell,

Caressing your clothes, kerchief,

Or your partly wet towel.

Ten thousand times

Your name I scream,

When, at dawn,

The stars grow dim.

In solitude, tension,

Anger or evasion,

I love you with

A steadfast passion.

And if I were to die tomorrow,

Surely, it won’t be from sorrow –

Dying for love’s a better way,

If I were to die some day.

Ten thousand times will I swear this,

And seal it with a tender kiss.

Fear

People, closed spaces, crowds, helplessness, losing people, losing jobs, loving too much or too little, reptiles, insects and worms – these are some of the things I’m afraid of. I’m around thirty years old, give or take a couple of years, an editor by profession and out-and-out modern in my approach to life. I’m outdoorsy, love shopping, eating out, travelling, cooking, music, books, perfumes, watches, dresses, shoes and so much more. I’m a woman, normal in every respect, who takes life, work and relationships seriously; I’m a woman who cries when hurt and bleeds when cut. I’m a theist, a believer in good and therefore, I also believe in the presence of evil and in ghosts and demons and the rest as manifestations of that evil. I realize, every moment, that I’m human and that I, therefore, have human failings – fear is one of those failings. I face as much of it as the next person and I have my own ways of dealing with it, so that I can keep moving forward, past my fears, fighting them instead of giving in to them and coming to a standstill.

Once upon a time, not very long ago, fear used to rule my every action, every thought even, until I was so deep in my own darkness that I used to contemplate about killing myself and putting an end to the suffering. This lasted until I realized that nobody could help me unless I picked myself up and out of the darkness I was in. I also realized that the more you try to shun fear, to avoid it or deny its existence, the greater is its hold over you. So I learnt to acknowledge my fears to myself and others, in spite of the fact that people have laughed at my fears, loudly and often. I realized that bravery lies, not in being unafraid and therefore, foolish, but in acknowledging fear as being real and in being wary of the object of your fear. Once I realized this, the rest wasn’t easy; but I knew that I could scale this mountain, slowly but steadily. Overcoming fear is like climbing a never-ending staircase – one step at a time, placing one foot in front of the other and climbing upwards. And fear doesn’t hamper my day-to-day life anymore.

I’m not at all ashamed to admit that my greatest fear is of people – not reptiles or worms or insects or darkness, ghosts, height and so on, but people. I’ve been bullied, abused, ignored, duped, cheated, ill-treated, threatened – by people. Yet I still go out every day and socialize with people for three reasons – I need to face my fear instead of running away from it; I’ve realized that experience is a better weapon than ignorance, and that not all people are bad – if I’m alive and thriving today, it’s because I’ve been helped by a lot of good people. The scars from the past, however, are a constant reminder that not everybody can be trusted and therefore, I need to be wary at all times and never let my guard down. The most painful experiences have nearly always come from the closest quarters – people who I thought of as family or friends. And these experiences have led to  the realization that fear is closer home than we realize.

It is sometimes hard to get back to normal even after the trigger or object that causes fear is removed. The effect of fear might extend from a couple of hours to a couple of years, maybe even longer depending on how potent the fear is. Fear is often related to past incidents – the past, here, might refer to the recent past or a more distant past. Many of us find that we tend to forget various incidents with time. However, the memories of such incidents, especially the bad, fear-inducing ones are never entirely erased; they are hidden from sight by the gathering dust of time, but they are often awake in our sub-conscious. Therefore, we often find ourselves unreasonable fearful of certain things or even certain people. This is where the saying ‘A burnt child dreads the fire’ inevitably comes to mind.

So, the question is, how does one free oneself of the paralyzing effects of one’s fears and continue with one’s day to day life? I’ve realized from my personal experiences that we can only be truly and completely free of fear when we realize that we are trapped by our fears in a spot from where there is no going back and the only act left is to move forward, face our fears and keep moving past them. The image that can be associated with overcoming our fears would be that of a ship in a gale, the sailors trying their utmost to save the ship from being wrecked because there’s nothing else to do. Life is the ship that we try to steer in the stormy seas of time, and no matter how dark the sky, how high the waves or how strong the gale, all that we can do is to hang on and try to survive. This is fearlessness or bravery, in my opinion – the act of not giving up, no matter what; the act of realizing that if we don’t master our fears, they will master us and destroy us; and that the act of facing our fears and moving forward past them, putting one foot in front of the other and climbing from the darkness into the light is a monumental one. Once we realize these things, the rest is definitely not easy; but, the realization and acknowledgement of our fears is the first step that we need to take in order to conquer our fears and live life as it should be lived; besides, it also shows us the path out of a miserable existence. Some day we might even come to know that our constant battle against fear has helped somebody else face his or her demons. That would certainly be something to look forward to, wouldn’t it?

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MAGICAL

Tender is the night.

A cool breeze gently wipes

The clinging beads of sweat

Off the night’s tired brow.

You and I sit, lost in

The magic of the moment,

Under the dark boughs.

You stare into the distance

And I steal glances at you;

You think of far-off things

While I think of you.

The music flows into the fountain

And spreads across the garden,

Stirring the flowers in its wake;

Then it creeps up on you and me,

Connecting us, binding us tight,

Like a giant, mesmerizing snake.

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A page from THE DIARY OF AN IGNORED WOMAN

 

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Dear Diary,

Today, for the n-th time I’ve felt lonely. Left alone in a wide, wide world while the rest of the world is busy shaping up, decorating and re-decorating their own tiny worlds-within-worlds. Everybody is busy; everybody is uppermost in somebody else’s thoughts; everybody has some significance; everybody but me. This has happened often enough before – when I’ve felt insignificant, hugely underrated, purposefully, mercilessly ignored; but just because something has become a habitual part of one’s life; it doesn’t become bearable or inconsequential, does it? True, I’ve stopped asking, “Why does it always have to me?”; instead, I now ask, “Why are the most sensitive, caring and loving people always left alone during their darkest, most difficult phases of loneliness?” For, let’s face it – everybody needs attention. It’s an elemental need to feel wanted and cared for. Some people – and these people are often the ones that have the most empathy – need it more than others. I, personally, find nothing criminal in somebody’s wanting to be the centre of somebody else’s attention; and who cares whether you call it self-pity or attention seeking or blah-blah, when I feel lonely and ignored? It’s hard enough to be physically distanced from your loved ones; but it becomes unbearable when emotional distance is added to it. Ask me how I feel when I’m at my loneliest? I feel as if the walls are growing larger and coming closer by the moment, intending to crush the life out of my frail frame. I feel as if I’ve entered the darkness of an endless tunnel, and no matter how much I try to find my way out of it and into the light, no matter which direction I take, I just seem to be moving around in the darkness in circles and coming into painful contact with the cold, creepy walls sometimes. I feel like the lone survivor in a post-apocalyptic sordid world, and all I want to do is kill myself, just so I wouldn’t have to keep on breathing alone.

There now, I’ve finally succeeded in putting it into words – the fact that I am afraid of being left alone, that I fear emotional distance more than the physical one. And since you and I are having a heart-to-heart tonight, let me tell you something else. Do you know why I’m extra-nice to people and treat them as if every last one of them deserves my love and attention? It’s because I’m the most selfish creature on the planet. Selfless love? I don’t know what you mean by the term. I love because I’ve a lot of love to give and a greater, never-ending need to receive love in return, so that I can give some more. I love watching romantic comedies because I love happy endings; I share in the joys and tears of those fictional characters and purge myself; and I absolutely do not like tragedies, because they make me feel helplessly and sadly lonely. But here I’ve digressed; as I was saying, I love people, because I harbour a secret hope in my heart that may be, just may be, some day, I won’t have to shed tears in secret and feel lonely and ignored any more; that some day, when I’m crying my heart out, of an evening, and somebody suddenly knocks at my door, I will no longer have to run and wash my face hurriedly and check in the mirror if my eyes look red and puffy, before pulling up a ghastly half-smile that says, “I’m cool and all’s well with the world” and opening the door; that some day, when I feel sad, I won’t have to feel lonely, because I’ll have the rare privilege of having somebody’s arm around me, dear diary.

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PAIN

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No, this wouldn’t do. She realized that day that she loved him far too much for her own good. Or for his, for that matter. Her love for him was a constant, acute sense of pain; when she was with him, it dulled to a throbbing sensation, but never quite went away. And when she wasn’t, it threatened to consume her. It filled her with fear – the fear that all that she held dear was going to fall apart some day; and all because when she loved, she loved fiercely. Her love was of a kind; it couldn’t be contained. She loved like her days were numbered and love was the only thing left for her to do (for everybody else had excelled at everything else)- before her lamp went out.

So, she made a decision. She needed to leave while she still mattered, while everything was still in place. She owed it to herself and to him. No matter what, he shouldn’t be hurt. If hurt, maybe just a little – something that time could erase; not destroyed by love. Love builds; it shouldn’t be given the power to destroy.

She left for the mountains, without a word to anyone. She hoped to find peace. And this she did find; though not quite in the usual way. The car she was travelling by was lost in a sudden landslide. Not a trace of her was ever found. It was as if she had never existed. But she had finally succeeded in putting an end to the pain caused by this love that consumed her – one way or the other.

DESIRE

Burning Desire Waves

The moments crawl past

As darkness digs its claws in deeper;

Yet, I cannot slumber-

I’m enervated, tempted,

Tormented by desire.

I close my eyes to shut all out,

But find your face

Smiling coyly up at me;

The twinkle in your star-like eyes

Simply steal my breath, trust me!

I pass my fingers lightly over

The slightly disheveled bed-cover,

While the brown softness of your skin

Is what my fingers truly desire.

The smokey kohl in your love-lit eyes,

Those trembling lips under my fingers,

Your perfect dimples and raven curls-

Are enough to set my heart on fire.

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TRY, LOVE!

Please, try a little harder,

Try a little more-

To care for the Other,

To love like never before.

Try a little harder,

Pray, try a little more;

And I can promise that

Love will open newer doors.

Just try a little more, darling,

And try to care deeper;

And you’ll find this world of ours

Is a world without borders.

Try a little harder, please,

Now, won’t you, sweetie?

My heart’s an open book, my love,

Filled with beautiful reality.

Just try; and I’ll ask no more

Than for you to walk in

Through my humble door.

I’d ask you to sit down

And may be watch some golf;

Or share some senseless chit chat

O’er priceless mugs of coffee.

I might ask you to make love even

And never yell, “Back off!”

I’d find a million excuses

For us to be together;

All I want is you, my love,

In this world or the other.

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REPUBLIC DAY

January twenty-sixteen –

And we’re busy preparing

For another Republic Day.

Tiny tricolors hang,

Jubilant, from glittering

Strings that have been

Stretched taut from pillars

To posts or even the bare

Skeletons of trees that shiver

Along the wintry road.

Festoons flutter madly

In the cut-throat wind.

Amid loud song and music

We’re quite satisfied

To join our voices in

An unanimous roar of

Raucous celebration that

Nearly hides our dismay,

While dirty politics, crime,

Dishonesty and terrorism

Still hold sway.

It’s yet another Republic Day.

 

 

 

Heartbreak – 2

Ever since I lost him, I have never failed to remember him every single day. Like I said, I returned to normal, if this state could be called normal; I started talking again, then I resumed smiling, and finally I got back my laughter, too, but not without paying a price: hundreds and thousands of times, in the act of smiling, I’ve only been able to give a weak grimace, for even this simple act, reminds me of him. More importantly, for the rest of the first eighteen years of my life, I never again had the courage to make friends. So I remained aloof, and let everybody around me think that I was an arrogant pest, and I didn’t feel like doing anything to dispel the illusion. For I still had my memories of him. I won’t deny that I tried falling in love, if only to drown my sorrow somewhere, a couple of times, but my heart wasn’t just into the thing. As I grew into a young girl, many of the other girls started going out with their boyfriends, boys who were students of his school (his school and mine were the two best schools in our city; both were convents, his was a “boys only” and mine was a girls’ school; and the liaison between the students of these two schools was an accepted thing, from before I was even born), and all their stories, only helped aggravate my pain and deepen the sense of loss. So I cocooned myself in loneliness, and while others fear it, I’ve had it as a comforter. It was not until I left home, to continue my studies in another place, that I again made friends. And in each of them, I tried to find some part of him, just to convince myself that those few months, so many years ago, hadn’t been just a drawn-out dream. Of course, I met with failure, because no two persons can be the same, as I came to realize later. But this realization didn’t help me much; I continued with my futile attempts, and with every failure, I grew more taciturn and determined. That was the start of the second phase of loss. I dived head-long into studies and hobbies, leaving hardly any time for anything else. I put a stop to outings, parties, picnics, romantic movies and books, even music; in short, everything… even to sports, after a few unwanted incidents, when, in every little instance of cheating, I only saw somebody trying to cheat me out of my happiness. So I reasoned with my blinded-by-loss self, that by giving up sports, I was robbing everybody around me of their opportunity to hurt me. Much later, because I started missing the activity of sports, I tried to compensate in other ways, by going in for action movies and suspense-thrillers. I also came to realize that my tears had dried themselves, somewhere along the way, and that no amount of hurt, could now wring tears from my eyes. From then on, I started writing: to give vent to the unshed tears, and to revive his memories, inside me, I started writing love-poems, prose, satire; anything that made me feel a bit better. Writing fast turned into a fever, and I would, more often than not, be found scribbling in note-books or sheets of stray paper, in-between lectures, during practicals, at dawn, in the middle of the night, or right through the long summer day or the bitterly cold winter night. My roommates soon got tired of that, and there were regular and bitter fights, and still I fought to write, because writing made me want to live again.

One other thing happened during this time. As is usual in our time, our entire batch of girls became very intimate with our male fellow-students. I had some few such friends of my own. But having been burnt once, I dreaded the fire. So whenever any of them tried to express an interest in me, I made sure that I drove him off, with my sardonic smile and my dry excuses, but, above all, using my arrogant exterior, which I diligently nurtured, so as to keep my vulnerable self safe. And so, the number of my friends dwindled some, but those that stayed, I was glad to notice, had accepted me as I was then. And I would absolutely agree with you, if any of you were to tell me, that not all men hurt, that they are often much more than nice, that it means the world to some of them if they can bring a smile to your face; but no reason was good enough to persuade me to try again, maybe because I wasn’t ready to test my fortune again.

Fast-forward some years, during which my life went through no discernible change. And I was 26 years old. My parents had been trying to find a good match for me for the past couple of years, but to no avail, as I wasn’t interested, and I had been showering them with all kinds of bizarre excuses for declining the proposals. Another lesser reason might have been that, this thing entailed making compromises. And I was not ready to do that. I was ready to be alone for the rest of my life, nursing my bruised soul, than make compromises to try to be happy. I had watched so many other women around me doing that, and I never did find out whether or how that made life better, because when I looked into their eyes, I could still read the pain there. Meanwhile, I was once again into romantic movies and books, I had resumed singing, but what was most interesting to me, I had started noticing people, looking into their faces long and hard, trying to see whether, in one of them, I wouldn’t suddenly discover him. Because I still hoped, and in all these years, I hadn’t been able to give up. So my vigils continued, more intense than before.

And, then, I saw him. A look-alike of A, who called himself Pari, an IITan, who had been to the University of Wharton, an immensely talented young-man, not much older than me, whose accomplishments were fit to drive anybody insane. He was a killer guy, I’ll give him that. And no wonder, I fell for him. He so reminded me of A, that unknown to myself, I attached myself to him. Quite prematurely, as it turned out to be, I started dreaming of a happy life, with a family of my own. I felt as if all my years of prayer, had not gone in vain; that there was hope for me yet. Of course, I had forgotten that I still had my unusual lack of good fortune to reckon on. It so happened, that, when I expressed my interest, it met with the most supreme kind of indifference that anyone can conceive. Not even an answer in the negative reached me, past that wall of indifference. And how I hated being spurned! No wonder, I took it uncommonly ill. But I am being only honest, when I say that I tried hard to not take it in that manner, or when I say that I still regret doing so. And so, that was the last lesson on relationships that I allowed life to teach me.

I never, ever, gave love another chance. I had been badly hurt. And I decided to end it forever- this vulnerability which was nothing more than a liability. And, worse still, was the realization, that this last loss had poisoned me: that I was no more in danger of falling into darkness once more, for I had well and truly escaped; but that, now, I was the darkness; that now, I had the power to wreak havoc; that, if I so wished, I could suck up all the happiness and light from the people around me, lock it up in a box and drown it in the darkness inside me, and lose the key somewhere. I was more afraid than I’d ever been before. I started going out, each time praying that I wouldn’t have somebody’s blood on me, or that I wouldn’t rip the smile off somebody’s face. For the entirety of the time that this lasted, I was in a fever of fear, feeling like a person who was being haunted by an evil spirit.

I still cannot imagine how I overcame this stage, and settled into a kind of normal pattern of things and events. I don’t mean to say that all is well now. Far from it. The darkness is still there inside, boiling; but reined in. So the poison hasn’t affected anyone else, yet. But if I had to make a guess about what it was, that brought a part of me back, bruised and half-alive, and at the same time helped stop the darkness from spreading and taking control outside, I would hazard saying that, it was the memory of a very short-lived happiness, an even shorter love-story, and a boy, whose image had been etched into my heart since for ever, from my childhood, eons ago.

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HEARTBREAK- 1

I was then but a child, around 8 years old, when I had my first heartbreak. At that tender age, I came to realize, deep within, that I was unusually unlucky, when it came to relationships and love. With time, of course, this absolute absence of good fortune began to show itself in other things, as well. But that is neither here nor there. What I realized, growing up, was that life is a battle, and that I was destined only to fight and fend for myself, with no other weapon, save determination. So I started metamorphosing into a bull, so to say, both inside and out: a bull that gores its way through, trampling all that comes in its way; and like a bull facing a storm, I began to dig my feet into the ground, facing the storms, as they came, with angry eyes, waiting and watching as they tried their best to put me down, once and for all before passing over.

So at the age of eight, I’d had my first of a series of heart-breaks. It must have been love, as deep a love as one stupid kid could have for another; why else would I still feel the pain of losing and have to live for ever in fear? I used to go for drawing classes to a house across the street. One day, it was announced that the classes would thereafter be held in the house of some fellow-student, whom I had never known until then. So, from then on, I started going to the new house, half-afraid and half-diffident, as I was the youngest and newest member there. The elders had their own group and their own pranks, while the younger ones, all except me, had their own share of the fun. As I was the loner, I became the subject of the pranks, played by both the groups, with the result that, more often than not, I would be teary-eyed and red as a carrot and as impatient to get back home, as anybody can be, by the time the teacher came in. The boy of the house, A, used to take an active part in causing me trouble. In fact, he simply loved to annoy and torment me. This continued for a while, and then, one day, I mustered up enough courage to put up a physical fight. I kicked and tore at their hair, and thrashed around, and for a few moments I was a raving fury. I hurt them enough to cause them to complain to the teacher about me. Of course, my parents heard of it, and I received not a few slaps, but all in all, I felt quite proud of myself, and safe, because I was sure that I would never be troubled again. And I was happy about one other thing- A, who was my age as well, started to admire me. His interest in me grew everyday. It was as if I could actually see it happening. So the classes continued, and the admiration in his eyes turned into friendship. That summer, we spent a lot of time together, and if anything, it strengthened our bond. I came to know that he could be really nice once he got to know people and that he had no fear other than that of strangers. He was beautiful as well, and I’m not ashamed to admit that that certainly increased my interest in him. Around that time, my kid brother started going to a preparatory school, which was at a stone’s throw from my friend’s house, and it was my pleasure to drop the little guy off to school every morning and bring him back at ten, a duty which I willingly took up, because my brother meant the world to me. He still does. So then, every morning, when I went to drop my brother off, or when I went to bring him back, I used to gambol around or talk to A, and he used to play with my brother as well and offer him chocolates, so much so that my brother began to adore him. And it was around then, that I realized how beautiful men really are, when they play with children or carry them around. Of course, it was more a realization of the soul, for which I have found the right words only now. This continued, for I know not how long, though I now feel that it didn’t last long enough, not more than some months at any rate. A- was my only friend, my best man, from childhood to the very end of my school-life, long after I had lost him.

When he wasn’t there anymore, the memory of his friendship was still there to guide me through many a rough patch. He went away as suddenly as he had come, for one evening, when I went for my drawing class, I found the house dark and locked up, and a note from the teacher, saying that that day there would be no class, and that from the next week, we would return to our earlier haunt. Soon as I had finished reading the note, my eyes were flooded with tears- I still don’t know why. He might have gone away with his family for a vacation, and one of these days, he would soon be back again- I tried to reason with myself, but still my tears wouldn’t stop, probably because, somewhere deep inside, I realized that my worst fear, of losing him, had come true. I have never, ever, been as afraid in my entire life – never as afraid to lose, as I then was. I came back home in a trance; for the rest of that week, I cried frequently and, apparently, without any reason; and next week when I went to class, I was thoroughly attentive to all that was being said, in the hope of learning something about his whereabouts. But nothing was said about him, and I was more than disappointed: I was afraid. And I couldn’t ask about him, for what would I have said, had anybody asked for a reason for my interest in him? Days passed, and weeks, and then, months, and still nothing was heard of him. I began to lose hope and at the same time started to pray more diligently, for who knows what; but all the while, I felt as if I was dying inside, that I was falling into the darkness of a chasm, from where there was no way out. Daily I felt more and more lost, I stopped playing or even going out, and then I stopped talking, even at home. My parents started getting worried, upon repeated reports from school, regarding the sudden change in my behaviour; and I saw all that, but failed to resurrect myself. Then my results for the class 3 finals came, and I was thrashed to nearly within an inch of my life by dad; but, after he had gone out, amidst all my tears and pain, I blurted out the reason to mom. I think she understood much more than she let on, and she started doing all that was in her power, to help me live again. I still often wonder what might have become of me, if I hadn’t had her.

It took me a long while to return to normal, though I am not really sure that I did, because for years afterwards, during my evening rambles, I used to stop in front of the house and search for any sign of his having returned. And even now, when I am past 30, and no more fit to behave like a young, sighing lover, I still do it. I have watched new people come to live in the house, I have watched them leave and others come and then leave, as well, while I have continued my vigils, but I’ve never thought of giving up, because in my clouded reason, I have somehow felt that, for as long as I continue to visit his place, he’ll be alive and well, maybe even happy, wherever he may be. Perhaps it’s nothing but some sort of superstition, but I can’t take chances – not when it comes to him.

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