Two days ago, I was walking to the parking lot after having an intense conversation with an old friend about something that was weighing on her and I started laughing to myself. It has been a week of intense conversations with friends about trauma, ageing, anxiety, quality of life and work, loss of money, loves lost and found, and a growing irrelevance to our own lives. It has also been a week of friends being infinitely kind to you, of other friends bringing you cut fruit, of acts of service done by family members, of old mentors hugging me and taking an interest in my writing, of artists turning me into art, and artisans showing me how to construct art. I suppose that my laughter on the way to the parking lot was a response to the universe that is a source of kaleidoscopic shower of pain and joy.
One of these conversations happened on the Mumbai local train and I was aware of how public it had become. The women sitting next to us were not offering sympathies or advice, but we were comfortable to talk about deeply moving and personal events surrounded by lots of women who were closer than within earshot. Despite having so many people around, it didn’t feel unsafe to talk openly. I’m unable to romanticise this but I had forgotten how it feels to be “heard” by so many people and not shy away from being real. It is a very different and real experience than writing about our life or posting our thoughts on social media. It felt like our lives are an honest truth. It felt like we became more corporeal in our own existence.
In the very recent past, I’ve taken the local train on multiple occasions and I have felt a sense of public eye on my conversations like never before. Twitter’s got nothing on being in a crowded local train. On one of these rides, I met another woman who was a complete stranger to me. We found ourselves talking for 45 mins about her life, her daily schedule in which she not only goes to work but also has to manage a whole house (cooking food included), and how the pandemic completely flattened her small business. Until then, I was well-informed of how small businesses were affected, but that evening I could feel the past in a visceral way. Maybe it is because I’ve been occupying different spaces until now, but lately I have felt a very personal sense of being alive in this world. Seeing this city and my people up close so much so that I could touch them, has made existence tangible.
I flung myself headlong into my days with an optimistic rage I wrote about last week. I love Februaries — its lukewarm sunlight, its lilting cold that demands dollops of moringa body yogurt, and its crisp perfection of short days. While attending the two art festivals in the city, I had huge smiles plastered on my face every time I encountered a group of college-going kids who were taking umpteen pictures of themselves and their friends (their Instagram game is spot on, by the way) and all that ruckus they created arm in arm with friends and lovers, perhaps.
At an immensely crowded bus stop, I saw 11 young girls collect bus fare to pay to the conductor and barrel into the first door of the bus as soon as it halted. It was clear from the bus driver’s expression that no resistance was going to work; wrong door or not, these girls were going where the bus was going to take them, and he was just going to carry on. I saw a girl construct a picture perfect frame for her friend’s photo — beam of sunlight, yellow windowsill, and a large white mural in the background. I tried to re-create that frame for my friend and I did a really bad job. Another time, I saw another group of college friends singing along to a fresh new hit and I sat there listening to the smiles in their voice. Then, I looked up the song and every time I listen to it, I think of those teenagers having a good time.
I have felt such an immense joy for all of them because I love watching young people have a great time. It makes me so deliriously happy to go out into the world and see girls and boys throwing caution to the wind, laughing about something that will become a distant memory, and sharing momos and pizza with each other. It is true that youth is wasted on the young, but I am convinced that they deserve the jocund abandon that comes with it.
Sometimes, I think I have only ten years left to live a quality life, fifteen at the maximum. This thought doesn’t come from a sense of doom, but seems like a reflection of the world we live in. I’m trying to eat ground flaxseed every morning, but it’s hard to say if any of this eat-seeds-for-nutrition life is going to be around in fifteen years. The deterioration of the quality of air, water, food, and soil seems to be behind this very vague analysis I have made of my own mortality. I find myself making a fifteen-year plan that might be based on an impoverished imagination, but I do bring to it a great deal of enthusiasm of being alive.
In all these conversations I’ve had with friends, one thing has become certain that none of us are deluded about what is happening to us as a society and how we are struggling to cope as individuals. As time passes by, we are being caught up in an intricate web of intergenerational trauma, patriarchy, religious barriers (including those of caste), and insensitive policy- and decision-making by people in “positions of power” on multiple levels. We have been able to put money in the hands of the middle class, but we have not been able to break any of the existing ideological barriers that are an impediment to the quality of life.
This is not to say we are blind to the barriers that exist or are not working towards taking them down, but no matter how much ground flaxseed you eat, you do get tired. We cannot yoga away our problems. I am certain that a lot of work needs to be done for those young people barrelling into the bus, singing a new song, or taking perfect photos so that they don’t have to quarrel with the “system” as much as we do. The system is not broken, it is designed this way.
Because what else is the point, really? If any of the saints and mystical poets are to be believed, life is about suffering, and the getting over of suffering, perhaps. However, if yin and yang must exist, they have to be redefined.
Whatever it is, in between rage and sobs, I am determined on having a damned good time.
“koī ḳhāmosh zaḳhm lagtī haiGulzar
zindagī ek nazm lagtī hai.”
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