a fistful of promises

That thing you’re looking for, is always at the bottom of the bag. Past the two week old ticket stubs, the tangled wires of rebellious earphones, the extra-extra wallet your mother made you carry, the chewing gum, the sunglasses case, the miniature toothbrush, the tiny umbrella for a rainy day, a greeting card, a first handshake, a hesitant job acceptance, a painful goodbye, the fear your parents are getting old, the anxiety of never knowing where your life is headed — that thing you’re looking for, is always at the bottom of this bag.

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I’m not the best packer. I carry emergency energy bars for the potentiality of a zombie apocalypse, sunscreen and sweaters, two slippers just in case I trip on a flat surface, and betadine for the off chance I fall into a prickly bush and develop a rash on the surface of my palms. For someone that hates spending money, on well, anything, the notion of pharmacies and 24/7 grocery stores is a convenience my miser of a brain cannot comprehend. I mean unless you can find a restaurant willing to spare tap water, you’re definitely going thirsty.

And so I carry my backpack like a home on a snail’s back, keeping worst-case scenarios at bay by the force of sheer will and a paranoid mother who hides cough lozenges in my toiletries bag. What if you have a coughing fit while you bathe? What will you do then huh?

And despite being over-prepared for a privileged foray into the developed world, I’m often overcome with a paralyzing fear that I’ve forgotten something. On an accidental street corner, as you pass that famous synagogue you probably won’t remember, you can find me standing to the side with my bag spilled open — hairbrush and extra socks alike littered on the street, crumbled papers decorating the tiles, as I hurriedly scour the endless depths of my luggage in search of something. If you ask me what that is, the truth is, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you.

I came to Krakow with a promise clutched in fists so tight, that it left a line of fingernail marks demarcating the boundaries of my resolve. See, I even overcommitted to the promise of undercommitting — stood in front of mirrors giving grand speeches about taking it easy, scheduling ‘time to do nothing’ in a packed itinerary. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of travelling with me, you know that I walk fast. That I scribble notes while people are talking. I check Twitter for the news. I constantly worry about only having two days in a city to do ‘everything it is humanly possible to do before you pass out from exhaustion’ in that given time-frame. I am afraid of never being able to recreate the memories we could have made  — this is it, our moment in the sun.

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I think more than anything, I needed time. I grew up believing that the human spirit was perfectly indomitable — that the integrity of my principles and my ability to prioritise what truly mattered would stand firm against the constantly changing landscape of my life’s circumstances. I was raised to be a strong, independent woman by a strong, independent mother, and to fathom that I needed help, or a ‘break,’ or seconds of self-care, was an indulgent luxury I couldn’t accept. We don’t tire in my house — we may fail, but we never quit. Nearly a year into a job that demands 14 hours of my day finally exposed the mortality of my skin — my bones and blood it turned out, were human after all: flawed, fragile, and disappointingly mundane. I couldn’t think anymore, and man believe me, I love to think. If there’s one thing I valued most about myself, it was my ability to read — books, people, situations, ideas, abstract human emotions, the meaning behind the diminishing enthusiasm in my dog’s bark, the significance of your silence, my mother’s wrinkles, my father’s laughter, the lingering warmth of your hand, or the coldness of your last text message — I used to be able to find purpose in understanding the world around me. And then one day, I found myself becoming part of a world’s machinery that had no time to understand me back.

I became what I always thought I wanted to be — successful, to a certain degree of course, with the necessary caveats of humility inserted to maintain likability in society. By the yardsticks I had set for myself (read being paid to write, not CEO of Google) I had made it hadn’t I? But when you think success has come to you almost accidentally and unfairly in a race that privileged you with a head-start, you become so beholden to a narrative of gratefulness that stopping to question what truly makes you happy seems selfish, narcissistic almost, a tad bit spoilt — you have what thousands of people would die for, and here you are complaining about your workload.

Is it okay to take time falling in love with what you do? We all walk into first jobs with pictures from career day at school in our minds, expecting to become the firefighter equivalents of whatever field we end up joining — I want to stand in front of my child’s classroom and tell them I exposed a human trafficking ring, a drug mafia, corruption in the highest ranks of the government, human rights violations in conflict zones, misappropriation of funds, harebrained schemes, I don’t know, even seminars on the education system? Something, something to hold on to while I fall asleep at night. I’ve struggled to accept the reality of long-term career trajectories: I’m impatient, I want to be the best, and I want to be it now — l am afraid of never being able to recreate the memories we could have made. This is it, our moment in the sun.

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I stopped listening to stories of other people’s lives, almost as if what wasn’t flashing on the news was merely distracting static in the background. Nights spent drinking at breweries, long drives, birthdays, movies, concerts, meet the boyfriend dinners, poetry performances, fights with faraway friends, everything buzzed around me like the illusion of a life I was truly living — I did so well you know, pretending to pay attention, nodding at the right times, and smiling when something was funny. It was almost as if I was actually there — meaningfully present in my own life as it happened to me. But largely, I’m not sure where I was. I couldn’t feel anything anymore, and I think I just needed time.

On the fourth day, as the bus glided past woodlands on my way from Krakow to Vienna, I finally un-clutched my fists. Set free my promises, switched off the news, and turned up the volume. This wasn’t real life I know, but I also knew that the power to decide how much freedom I was willing to sacrifice for the success I always thought I wanted lay with me. Somewhere along the way, my backpack had gotten too heavy — my shoulders were hurting with the weight of carrying all these extra energy bars. I wasn’t prepared for a life that didn’t feel like it was mine anymore, but no matter how deep I searched in the pits of my luggage for a bandaid to fix the tiredness in my bones, I realised it was never there to begin with. All I had to do was take a small step outside the boundaries of my own expectations — release my fists, and watch the line of fingernail marks eventually fade with time.

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breaking and entering

Hey, it’s me again. I called earlier but I don’t think you were home. I even left a message with the answering machine, I suspect the cutlery sniggered inside their drawers; the kitchen cabinets are growing tired of eavesdropping on our secrets. That stupid song still plays on the other end of the line, I remember you once told me you weren’t really sure who changed it, that no one in your family really knows, and then you laughed at the ludicrousness of a thief breaking into your drawing room to change a ringtone. “The best crime,” you said, “is when they break in to leave something, or change something.”

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Last year I sneaked into my friend’s dorm room in college and rearranged all his books and clothes. Then I watched him navigate through years of practised living with a tinge of sorrow and confusion. He was home, but it wasn’t quite his anymore and he couldn’t figure out why. So strange to think that all it takes is the slight rearranging of furniture to make safe spaces unfamiliar. Then I thought of you. People too, it turns out, work the same way — breaking and entering to change ringtones at will, rearranging your stupid furniture before they leave.

I heard you threw a party last Friday, I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. After a while there were so many people in your living room that I couldn’t even recognise your home underneath all those shuffling feet. Sometimes I feel like there are so many people all the time you know, but you used to tell me that you often get very lonely, so I hope you’ve finally found your feeling of belonging. I see your pictures every day, I promise I’m trying to keep up with your life, but I was never as fast as you, the days move slower here somehow. There’s so much noise now, so I understand why you’ve been missing all my calls, but that’s okay, I know you’ll get around to it eventually. But then again the telephone is so far away from your room, so the distance doesn’t make it any easier for me to reach out to you. Your best friend called me last Wednesday, she says you’ve changed somehow, that she can’t seem to hold you anymore. She says it’s as if she were standing on the opposite side of a busy highway, trying to shout over the traffic, telling you it’s safe to cross now. The sound waves are delayed by the time they reach you, diffused and dissipated among all this crowded living. A car stops quickly, the door is thrown open and you’re just as suddenly somewhere else. “What if she doesn’t get in this time,” I tell her. “But that’s the thing, no matter what degree of variation in the simulation, that’s one thing she always seems to do.”

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I miss you, often. Time used to fall from the lemon trees in your grandfather’s garden, a summer’s basket of tomorrows at our feet. I still keep your letters at the back of my cupboard, and often when my feet stick out from under the blanket of our memory, I revisit the warmth of the past through your writing. You always said it was what made you happiest, and it worries me to see you don’t do it as much anymore. Perhaps I am short-sighted to hold you accountable to who you once were, unfair in presuming that your absence isn’t merely growth in different form. But your stories are beginning to sound rehearsed now; I wait for your eyes to shine at the right moments, but they never do. Almost as if you pre-empted the narration of a memory before you even made it. You seem to be running from something, and I can’t quite tell what it is.

Mother asks about you often. Every other Sunday she pulls Scrabble from the dusty shelves of her library and places it at her table. “4 o clock?” she says to me, and I nod my head in enthusiastic agreement as I shovel some more cereal into my mouth. The doorbell doesn’t ring in the evening, and at 4:15 when I enter her room for an appointment with defeat, the desk is empty. Cardboard boxes of lingering expectation filed back into place, the letters in their cloth-bags, with an infinite combination of words that remain unspoken because you weren’t here. So many words we used to say to each other, one must find space on her library shelf for our endless nights of deliberation. Maybe every other Sunday we can make another appointment you fail to keep.

I’m not angry I promise, I’m just confused and a little sad. Someone broke into your house and rearranged all the furniture, and I’m only attempting to navigate a soul that has started to become uncomfortably unfamiliar. The strangest part is that I think it was me. I tried so hard to reconfigure your priorities that I left myself out of the list, there seemed to be no space for introspection in the full life I always wanted you to have. But now it’s bursting at the seams, and you call me crying on Tuesday afternoons from the empty bathroom stall in your office, and in the same broken breath, you ask me if I can make it for your party on Friday. When are you coming home? The dogs are dying Nandi, they’re getting really old now. And I know you’ve built them a farm in the corners of your imagination, but I promise you, with all this running you’re doing, you’ll forget to say goodbye to them when they leave, for the farm Nandi, they will only always leave for the farm.

Pick up the phone okay, I promise I won’t take too much your time. I just wanted you to know that dad stands outside your room sometimes, waiting for you to come home so he’ll have someone to talk to again. That mom still runs through the news-list like she used to run through your medical prescriptions, so afraid she’ll miss something small and you’ll be in trouble. I keep the shower brush in your cubicle, I know you secretly used it like a microphone when you spent three hours living your Beyonce dreams in the bath. Sangs still steals peas from the vegetable-man, hides cheese in your sandwiches, because she knows you’ll count the calories if you knew. There is time yet, don’t worry, to pick up the letters off the board and change the word you thought you were supposed to make. Come home, we’re still waiting for you.

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————————————– to leave another message, press one. to replay your current message, press 2. to delete your message, press 9. —————————————————

Hey, it’s me again. Just wanted to let you know that there are leftovers in the fridge in case you get hungry later. Mom saved some dessert for you because she knows you like it. I’m leaving the front door open, I think you forgot your keys again.

 

a lesson in tenses

Some days are harder than others, some weeks, some months, some years, sometimes an entire life seems bundled into one solitary hard day. Unfortunately, the present is a petulant child that demands attention, you can’t just abandon it at the toy-store and go get ice-cream (thanks for that one parents). I mean after all, if the past is merely a memory, and the future is unrealised imagination, then the only true thing we actually have is the moment it takes me to write this sentence, and the moment it takes you to read it. Right now is the only thing we’ll ever know for fact, because even history is rewritten over and over by the brain depending on whether you happened to smell the rain outside your window that day, or whether you want to convince yourself you never loved them, or lost them, or forgot to call your grandparents more often before they died.

The past is a puppet held at the ends of future’s calling – we believe we can only end up at the right destination if we’ve been travelling down a straight path this entire time. So while we sleep, our blood runs backwards, rearranging the breadcrumbs so mistakes appear like bad-nightmares, kind of faded, lingering sorrows, an essence of incoherent sensation when the sun hits your face through the curtains. Today is a new day, a perfect day, a wonderful day – because it hasn’t happened yet.

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Yet our relationship with the here-and-now is one that constantly requires reminders: “Be in the moment!” “Seize the day!” “Don’t look backwards, you’re not going that way.” So strange to think that a species that claims that its primary existential angst stems from a quest for truth, is actually absolutely terrible at embracing its automatic existence within it. I mean literally, all we have to do is be — it’s our closest shot at objectivity. That’s why I’ve come to the rather calming realisation that people don’t actually want the truth, like at all, it’s almost complete bullshit. They want a story that makes sense to them about why their lives have shaped out the way they have — a series of breadcrumbs that discounts the cruelties of chance and fate, of just pure shitty luck and unrequited love and cancer that shouldn’t have spread and wars that shouldn’t have killed and presidents that shouldn’t have plundered and alleyways that shouldn’t have been so dark that night when you were wearing jeans and drinking I mean whose fault was that right.

I often speak of ‘getting away from it all.’ A rather pretentious statement for a privileged 22-year-old who smokes cigarettes in balconies at night because ‘god it’s just too overwhelming, the absolute okayness of it all.’ I told my mother the other day, as I was leaving for work at an unseemly hour with flavoured yoghurt in my hand for breakfast, that I can’t believe this is actually my life now. “I mean this is it ma. I’m living – going to work, and paying tax, and meeting deadlines, and having panic attacks, and like there isn’t a dress rehearsal anymore you know? School and college were the dry-runs of this, and shit, this is just the beginning, why am I so exhausted at the prospect of an indefinite future that has already begun. I’m actually living in the ‘real’ world now and that’s so fucking scary.”

I keep a hypothetical-probably-will-never-take-it gap year on standby because a part of my story needs to believe that there’s a bookmark I can fold into the pages. Pause, just one second, the truth of the present-continuous tense is too much for my body to bear. “She has been going to work for 6 months now,” – language is a beautifully absurd thing – in this form of present-perfect-continuous you arrive at the intersection of infinite time: it acknowledges a past (that you have been doing something up until now), the present (that you are still doing it), and sets precedent for a logical future (I mean it’s likely you’re going to continue doing it), and suddenly you have: a story, fuck. A life even.

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That is why my let-me-dye-my-hair-red and ‘get away from it all’ statements are actually factually inaccurate. My limited vocabulary delineates my rebellion into physical spaces, visualising escape in the forms of tangible destinations: ah the woods are lovely dark and deep, and for the life of me, I can’t commit to the promises I have to keep. A road-trip to the lovely cottage you haven’t found on Airbnb yet. But I think I was mistaken, it’s not where I’m trying to escape from, but when. If it were truly the walls of my room that had gotten too much, I probaby would have learned how to drive, but “I have been learning for over three years now” – present, perfect, continuous, forever, and therefore, never. Like the parallel lives we are leading in a multiverse where we got it right, I will probably be learning to drive for the rest of my life. I think I haven’t learned yet because I can’t disrupt the continuum of my story.

At some point, we fall more in love with the narratives of loss than we do with the person that actually left us. I was afraid I would forget you, because the vacancy your memory would leave behind will force me to face the present moment – the truth of it all, of my life that is actually frighteningly filled with potential. Just as I have been perhaps, afraid to learn how to drive, because that would mean I could actually go places. Actually ‘get away from it all.’ The question is, where would I go? And if I manage to fulfil the unrealised imagination of a perfect future, then it will become the present, and it will then become the truth, and soon enough it will become the past, and once again I will be empty.

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I wonder how much happiness we deny ourselves simply because we must continue living in perfect-present-continuous. Stories that make sense only as long as you never stop telling them, over and over.

a brief conversation with death

When you lose someone, you will still set an extra place at the dinner table for two weeks

Fold a napkin precisely, a swan for Mondays when you realise that work is an un-inspired reality

A flower for Fridays, to weave love in between silver cutlery, hidden in withering tapestry, a toothbrush in the bathroom stall, a blanket for their cold feet

When you lose someone, it takes life a moment longer to catch up.

Like the light of a fading star, it may take 8 years for the truth to sink its teeth into your skin

a sound of deafening silence delayed over the airwaves, a millionth of a second until you call their name and no one replies.

They say in war, sometimes soldiers continue to run across a battlefield, because their own bodies have not yet realised that they have died

We carry the inertia of memory like the promise of a resurrection, maybe today the dinner table will be full

When you lose someone, their name becomes a prayer you whisper after amen

I wonder how much longer we spend bent with our heads to the heavens after a lifetime of loss

My grandfather must have to write a new list every year,

how long I wonder till I have to write mine

He is the only grandparent I have left.

 

On Tuesday I found his coat at the back of my cupboard

It hangs loose off my shoulders,

too big, bold, too filled with history and obscure anecdotes

typewriter keys, Urdu poetry, a love for the army, and candlesticks when the electricity goes

I tell him over the phone that newspapers are dying, that no one waits on Sunday morning for the crossword anymore

that no one waits at all really

I remember during partition he says,

we waited for lists to appear on bulletin boards,

for newspapers to declare the missing as dead, as something at least,

so we could stop waiting for them to come home.

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I tell him we fight our battles with hashtags now, that the only way to reach out to people is all at once

he remembers the sound of his neighbour’s bell, door to door meant discovering homes out of hardwood, windows through which you could watch incomplete families eating dinner in silence

Did you read my article I ask?

He says nothing, over the static of the phone I can hear his heart-breaking

Slow carnage unfolding, he is a man paused in the past,

his heart started breaking 6 years ago and it just never stopped

Your grandmother would have been so proud of you he whispers

 

Three years ago I measured the length and breadth of my body,

found myself wondering how big the pyre will have to be to accommodate a space I no longer occupy

When you sit with your own mortality over a cup of coffee, you tend to start your conversation at the end of a sentence,

playing your life out backwards, wondering at what comma it was that you began to stop living and start dying

I worry that no one will come to my funeral

On most days, I stumble on the word ‘I’

Trying to wrap my mind around the idea that the entire process of self-affirmation can be contained inside a sharp letter, a straight line, a path to an understanding that you inhabit your own mind

To say I seems entitled, upper case, abrupt, almost narcissistic

Look at the way it forces itself to fit in between two actual words, and suddenly the thought, the feeling, the action, noun, adjective, verb is consumed by the subject that frames it

Who allowed you to become so big?

you know the funny thing about being someone that blends into the furniture

is that your own shadow slowly starts to disappear in the mirror

 

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I learnt that he took her to watch our movie, the one you pretend you aren’t frantically scrolling past on your phone screen

you feel the warmth of his hand around yours when the background score plays on the radio

two days ago you saw a bruise form on the sides of palms and realised that it actually hurts to hold a ghost

but you hide obscure references in your blog posts convinced you’ve found a way to communicate with the afterlife

We hide the broken parts of our lives like knitting needles in cookie boxes

in plain sight, fragments of broken threads under the promise of a sugar coating

Hoping that we gave them something to remember fondly, practised loneliness like slight-of-hand, the magic trick is always perfect because you can’t see the trap doors we fall into

Alone in the darkness when the applause fills the room

A magician is only as good as his ability to disappear.

 

I worry that you won’t come for my funeral

 

That I have managed to live a life so small, that nothing will change with the passing of it

That the world will continue to run with unfaltering speed towards a destiny I could not carve my name into

If you take a look underneath my pillow cover, you will find chestnut dreams I have been saving for the long winter

To take with me when my time comes, a hibernation I practice speeches for while walking to class

When I pass, promise to set a place for me at the dinner table

Fold napkins into ships on Thursdays, paper planes on work days,

because I’m only travelling for a short while

But after two weeks, promise me you’ll stop reaching across the bed when the alarm rings,

Remember to water the plants, to wash yesterday off your skin,

to carry my memory as a reminder to keep living.

when you lose someone, even yourself,

you must remember that only life begets death,

when they come to collect your bones at the end of the day,

send them away with your cookie jar, show the world your knitting needles,

say your goodbyes with the completeness of a lived life,

the broken threads and bruised lifelines,

the missing-persons list you sometimes wrote your name into

your grandfather’s coat, a piece of your broken heart,

the wilting plants,

a fistful of your first dog’s fur, as she lay so still, so quiet, so asleep, please be asleep, under the living room chair

the lemon smell of your mother’s kitchen

a thread from your grandmother’s handkerchief,

a corner of your first paycheck,

a picture of your parents,

a pocket watch,

time itself,

with your final breath, tell them a story

write your obituary without any apologies

when you lose someone, even yourself,

remember, remember

that only life begets death.

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the head and the heart

The whiteboard in my room reads ‘MATH EXAM TUESDAY,’ in capital letters, black font of impending doom against a stark-white background reminding me, for certain, that you are probably not going to end up studying for this. The exam was 7 months ago, D- . I treated my friends to ice cream. Next to this fading testimony of my procrastination, is a piece of paper, stuck with a blue magnet, withering edges:

  • Look into writer residency programmes
  • Apply for dream travel-writing job you probably won’t get, but hey you have to try
  • Driving School (come on Nandi, get your shit together.)
  • Stop abandoning blog ideas.
  • Put down the samosa
  • Ice tea is great, but your relationship with sugar has become too serious

My walls, it seems, have become symbolic of an effort I almost always make, almost. They whisper into my ear while I sleep, the drooping map of Europe lifts its latitudes and longitudes off its pages to wrap around my feet. Tying itself into knots around my wrist, pinning me to a longing for someplace far away from here. Dreams are a strange paradox, because in order to yearn for something, you need to be relatively stationary, to not have it. ‘Want’ stems from scarcity, away is always dependent on here, someday – now. White-board, black ink. Math exam and ice cream.

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I said to a friend of mine recently that I’m becoming increasingly afraid of happiness. “I’m happy, I’m happy, and I can’t understand why. I mean I can you know, I’m doing well in my job (I think), I resist the occasional samosa, I’m surrounded by incredibly intelligent friends who love me, my home is holding itself together, my dog is alive and of course she’ll live forever, and I’m so ready to fall in love again. I’m so afraid, because now I have something to lose.”

“Wow. You’re actually thinking yourself out of happiness as we speak,” he said.

It was the strangest sense of realisation, that perhaps to keep something, you have to be structurally unable to feel your possession of it. To have it just ‘be,’ to have your dreams written in rusting diaries without them becoming the ropes of this current moment which keep you from your someday. Suddenly, I became aware, that I am somebody who has repeatedly compromised her future because of a painful awareness of present emptiness. If I ‘want,’ it must mean I do not already have, and shit that makes me sad.

Sometimes I do not understand emotional cues. I have spent my life trying to make logical arguments out of inconvenient circumstance. See to make sense of a surrounding that was crumbling as I was growing up, I had to ‘make sense’ myself. I built myself a vocabulary that depended on rationality and reason to fight an uncontainable rage that seemed to spill through the cracks in our bones back home. How much money will this divorce cost? It is practical given the logistical difficulties of dividing joint property? Yes ma’am I am good at English, and terrible at math, but I promise if you read my paper you will see that I am deploying arithmetic reasoning to break down the complexities of this author’s proposition. Everything makes sense, except I love you.

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I made mistakes, a lot of them, over the years with lovers I tried to love, and keep, but couldn’t find a formula to understand. I remember, many years ago, I was sitting on a staircase with a man I loved then, and the lights in the building went off. The electricity is gone and I love you. I felt a surge of reckless affection, don’t think, just lean over and kiss him, steal this moment, keep it in the treasure chest at the back of your attic. Think think, but what if the lights come back on and somebody sees. In this country this kind of behaviour is frowned upon, not to mention illegal. You’re a girl, girls don’t do this right, what if he thinks you’re too forward? The electricity came back on, and I still loved you. But I was too afraid to do anything about it.

“Wow. You’re actually thinking yourself out of happiness as we speak,” I said.

I never apologise, I explain. I make infographics out of context to help you understand that “I never meant to, I promise.” For a girl who is half metaphor, my brain is awfully good at powerpoint presentations. Each moment of frantic falling apart is accompanied by a text message 15 minutes later – I’m sorry, I know I overreacted. I write disclaimers like people write shopping lists, asterisks for terms and conditions of my faulty heart just trying to be heard over a brain that won’t stop shouting.

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To the boy, or girl, I almost love next, it is important for you to remember that I am truly sorry for all the things I haven’t done yet, or said yet, or almost felt yet. It takes every ounce of my body to lean over in the dark and kiss you. I promise, I try, to be like the girl with red hair who sneaks in at night through your fire escape. I saw Lady Bird and made a mental note to fall out of a moving car someday. “But what if she had hit her head? I mean she got super lucky it was just an arm fracture right?” Stop it, jump. Every relationship I have ever been in has consisted of two parallel conversations I can’t seem to stop having – one with you. And the other, with myself.

I’m happy, happy, I, I am, I promise, am I happy?

“Maybe a start, is to stop asking yourself that,” you said.

Before Midnight

And soon the clock will strike twelve, fifteen seconds, ten, five, three, and one before you wonder what all-consuming thought will spread through your veins like an epiphany. In the turning of time, the moment suspended before the new year, what will you be thinking about?

For many, perhaps for most, the essence of a warm feeling will find an anchor in another person – it is easier, after all, to believe we have truly lived when we can touch the symbol we choose to designate a full life. Another human being can touch you back, and this unfathomable idea, that home can be a breathing, breaking, and wanting entity is what often punctures our directionless yearning for belonging  – to be loved is to come home.

New Years for me is a lot like the promised potential of a first date. You walk into swinging doors with trepid expectations, hoping this time you’ve found a conversation worth continuing. As the promise of a new beginning, that ‘meant to be’ year rings in the distance like the teasing tick of a pocket-watch, you realise that a decision must be made – now, rather than later, 20 seconds to midnight: is this going to be the moment when everything changes? Is this when I become everything I was always meant to be?

I am not a profound person. To the contrary, the endeavour of my small life has been to quietly sneak up behind people and burst their meta-bubbles. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, because a promise made on a forgettable Tuesday afternoon has far more merit than one determined largely by the size of the ribbon tied around it. To live means to start a new year every day of your life.

But I understand, I am after all a flawed human being looking for the spectacular in mismatched socks. I yearn, and hope, and pray to a God I don’t believe in, wish upon a fallen eyelash, cross my fingers when I tell a lie, wait for someone else to pick up the crossing black-cat’s curse, send out a request to the universe at 11:11, see signs in passing metro advertisements selling brands that sound so much like your name but not quite, never quite exactly the same. Every morning, as I walk the street leading to my office, I look out for the brown and white dog in a red sweater. She’s waiting, every day at 8:15am. Sitting perched on the top of the stairs, attentive, ready. I don’t know what it is she’s waiting for, and like all the stories we tell ourselves, I like to pretend that it’s always me. On the days I see her, I know- today everything will be okay.

In the last year I have found myself falling into place, and on tired evenings when I catch my fleeting reflection in the windows of crowded metro compartments, I see a smiling face looking back at me. I wonder when this became my life. But that’s just it, to fall means to slip, without intention or control, and perhaps, endlessly. ‘Into place’ – signifies an end, a comfortable landing for some, a broken leg for others, but still, a boundary wall to crash into. This also means that you weren’t quite ready to be here, right now, the way that you’ve become, and what the world suddenly expected you to be. A series of seemingly random events in your life have led you to this moment, and so much of it my friend, is credited to your clumsy feet. We fall, into accidental purpose, into revolutionary friendships, and warm loves, and exciting adventures, without always knowing if there’s cushioning waiting at the bottom.

And perhaps, that’s what makes me love my life so much – the unpredictability of it. The sudden loss of balance, and the just as sudden, re-stabilising of it. I am, a time traveller, because for the life of me, I cannot seem to remember the things that happened in between the distant past and the immediate present. But I know, that while I am alone on this train platform, buying a cup of tea, a blank ticket in hand, that the place I stumble my way to next, is perhaps already waiting for me to arrive – I just have to be okay with slight delays and twisted ankles.

When the clock strikes twelve, I hope you remember that you don’t have to be lonely, even if you’re alone. Build yourself an armour of all the different kinds of loves in your life – I promise you, when midnight comes, your mother will be worrying if you’re okay. And the best friend you stopped talking to three years ago will send a quiet prayer to the skies in your name. And the work you do, for the world and on yourself, will show – each numberless, quiet, forgotten act of small kindness will collect itself in the palm of your hands as an offering of gratitude. Use it, to shape the world into silhouettes of your childhood dreams. Fight harder for the things that matter, for people and purpose and principles that keep you whole, and happy in the face of constant change. Understand that no one really gives a shit about your job, maybe the big things, but never what your boss said in passing that still occupies your thoughts sometimes – forgive them, and talk to them about your ailing father. And your dogs that are getting older, the food you learnt how to cook last week – feed them. Feed yourself, feed your goals and fire till the shine can no longer be contained within you. Be the sun.

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And when the clock strikes twelve, remember, I love you.
I love you, I love you.
Before midnight, and forever after.

for the writers without violins.

I’m not sure what passes for good poetry these days, but to be fair, I’ve never really known. It’s a strange awareness for someone who calls themselves a writer, when the breadth of your experience seems too small to write about. They say it’s the big things that escape articulation – the grand loves, and bitter goodbyes, the slow motion funerals, and clinical smells of hospital rooms, but oftentimes I find it impossible to describe to you the pinch of a sweater label, the sound of a cut fingernail hitting an open newspaper, the turn of a handle when the doorbell rings – I always wonder if someone has come to surprise me, they never have, but in the three seconds before the plumber enters my living room, I stand at the precipice of adventure.

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Sometimes my metaphors rewind themselves, beginning at the end of a feeling. Coming to life in the suspended nanosecond between the flap of a bird’s wings and the moment of flight. Perhaps I have failed as a writer, because I could never bring myself to write about love or loss. It seems that elbow patches and musty cigarettes come with instruction labels that don’t only tell you how and what to do with them, but also who to be while you do it. They speak in riddles in narrow corridors, of philosophy and irony that perhaps they cannot tell, are sometimes supposed to go together.

For the writers without violins, our words wring free from the weight of the spectacular. To me, the mundane has always been fascinating, because it allows me to speak about the infinite number of small things that make up your messy, wonderful day. The poets have left me a large section of the playground, because while they use the force of their legs to swing themselves into the constellation of your freckles, I will build a home out of the dirt and twigs – a sandcastle I can grow old in.  I am far too ordinary a person to exist in the goosebumps of your first kiss – you will find me right before it, in the stumble of your feet, and the sweat covering your palms.

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People often tell me that I make light of things. “There is a time and place for jokes Nandi,” – I did not learn how to stop laughing at tragedy. See if every moment is extraordinary, then by definition, none are. I think as human beings, we spend far too long distracted by the consequences of our make-believe fairytales to understand that we have the potential to make a real difference in the actual world – here, right now, in the second it takes to tell a person their shoelace is untied. To find metaphors in emptying kitchen shelves – your mother did not buy groceries this weekend for the first time in years, ask yourself a question – is she alright? Notice how your colleague skipped lunch for the third time this week — every morning, my friend sitting next to my desk at work asks me to eat her stupid samosa, “I read your poem, and god help me if I don’t force you to eat now,” she says. I don’t tell her, but she reminds me of a kindness I only ever felt in my mother’s arms when I was a child. I take a morsel from her hand, and I am happy.

To love me is to learn how to love the pebble in your shoe – it’s annoying as hell, but will always remind you of the ground you walk upon. To the prophets without foresight, prediction is cowardly anyway. It takes away the potential of the impossible. I end all my sentences with ‘I don’t know,’ because there could be a million other truths my body has not bumped into on the metro yet.

I spent three years studying literature in college, and quite contrary to my expectations, it left me less romantic, and more cynical. The teacher stood behind a wooden desk and pointed to the sky, ‘there is nothing central to any proposition ever really,’ he said. And as I watched God die in his words, the world fell into pieces of context I had to pick up off the floor – it taught me to bend my back, and leave my pride next to my shoes at the door. To be able to see-through things is a curse I was not born with, but learnt in the traffic jam to and from the ‘best party of your life.’ Now every selfie I sometimes-maybe Instagram comes with a disclaimer of self awareness — ‘I know we live in a society that reinforces self-worth only through external validation, and today I could use strangers telling me I am beautiful, but to believe it, I must first convince myself that I am doing no such thing.’ Give me back my doublethink, I am tired of the sweater label pricking the back of my neck as I confess that I will never love anybody like I love you *I probably will.

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I have learnt to like myself while I oil my hair. It smells like sunny afternoons spent on the balcony in my old home, matted carpet laid open, resting curved back against the strong legs of my mother – I am a visitor from the past, and every strand of hair stretches itself like fingers into the memory of my childhood.

To the writers without violins,

write poetry that people can touch, even if you think it can’t touch them.