Niloy

 

He sat stirring a spoon of sugar in his coffee, wishing the choice between cowardice and courage was an easy one to make. Stains of yesterday’s dinner were visible on the tablecloth, he absently scratched at them with his fingernail. He had woken up with a sudden bout of nausea and his head swimming with guilt.

Before he could sip his coffee, his phone chimed with an agitating urgency. The sound of incoming messages were syncing with that of the irregular rhythm of his anxiety, every message tipping him closer to yet another moment of weakness. Niloy told himself that he was afraid of confronting her, afraid of her words that dig their way under his skin and nest in his heart. He placed his phone face down on the table and took to pacing the room instead, the harsh light of the sun’s glare exposing the worry lines on his forehead. Nothing is real till he confronts it, and he intended to keep it that way. Downstairs, his instruments groaned in exhaustion. They knew they had another long day in front of them.

He knows he is in trouble, he is in love. He has been in love before, he was just never consumed by it. Falling in love with her took him by surprise. It swept him up in its torrent, desperate and demanding, almost infantile in nature. He didn’t know then, it crept up on him when she laughed and he felt something detach from the familiar tinkling of her laughter, and come to rest on his tongue. He crushed it gently, the sweetened nectar pouring down his throat and filling up his ribcage. That’s when he knew. He carried the secret with him everywhere he went, rolling it around on his tongue, moulding the unfamiliar shape, testing its weight, asserting its existence.

Each time they spoke, he would wait for another piece to detach and add to the shape. The first time she cried, he tasted a piece of his bruised heart. The first time she said ‘I miss you’, he tasted an unripe bittersweet nectarine. What he couldn’t swallow was her rage. Her rage was acrid, angry words laced with hurt; they stifled him with their need to grow. They would feed on his inaction, grow to consume a room, burn down curtains and beds on its way. Niloy never housed her rage, he dealt with it like most men do- by shutting the front door on it and hoping it dissipates. Men after all have grown up with the privilege of being able to ignore a woman’s anger, of never having taught to acknowledge it. When confronted with a woman’s rage, men either discard it as an unnecessary distraction or stifle it with the remnants of their bruised ego in an attempt to bury its existence.

Yet the fruit of Niloy’s love matured, he nourished it with her softness and watered it with his attention. Niloy was an artist, and as is the case with artists, he sought out vulnerability. He would coax her pain out of the phone, will her to tell him when it hurt, where it hurt and who did the hurting. He would lie down on his blue bedspread, shut the door on his life and curl the night around his body; he only ever spoke in hushed voices to keep their world a secret. Then one night, when she had made him laugh harder than anyone ever had, made his body feel lighter than air, he told her he loved her. ‘Be mine’, he said. ‘You haven’t even met me yet’, she laughed. He told her it doesn’t matter, he loves her now, in this moment. He would love her when they met, when he could stare at her face unbidden, lightly touch her cinnamon skin, and see her eyes crinkle up when she laughs. He scattered his words like flower petals, letting the wind carry them where it wishes, throwing them without real intention.

She sensed his nonchalance, she refused to answer it with intent. He tried to part the heavy fabric of her silence, his pride willing the eight letters to find their way to him, wishing and wishing she felt the same way. After she said goodbye that night, he couldn’t sleep. He stepped out of the door and into the familiar darkness broken infrequently by the glimmer of stars. His thoughts wrapped around his shoulders like an unwelcomed touch, Niloy walked and tried hard to shed them. She didn’t love him, not yet anyway. And if she did, it didn’t glow bright enough for him. When he came home, his ego had made his decision for him. He would disappear, he would dissolve into his world once again, a world where the sound of music was loud enough to drown out the fitful knocking of love.

The next morning, he woke up in his old life. The smell of breakfast greeted him at the door, his father cooking. He ate, showered, slipped into a musty grey t-shirt and jeans, and stepped out of the house. His instrument on his back, he took the metro and seamlessly traced his steps back to where he was before he met her. Back to a life of pastel colours, diluted of real meaning. She called, she left messages. But he was far away, her words funnelled down, into the life he had slipped out of, a life that held her at its centre.

In the time he withdrew himself, her affection stumbled. It questioned itself before it even bloomed, it produced a half-hearted fruit, a sorry looking thing with orange flesh and splotches of brown. So when he did leap back to her, convinced he had secured her love, he plucked the fruit and tasted its over ripeness, and mistook it for love. He thought it was his for bruising, for loving, for consuming. So deep was he in his desperation for her, that he mistook her friendship for love, didn’t notice the fruit rotting. He tortured her, he demanded declarations of her need for him, of her want to be with him. He hammered down pillars and corridors, shrunk the room till all it contained was him and her.

But he didn’t foresee the other side of warmth, the flames willing to lash out and lick the remaining bare walls. She set ablaze the words she had buried deep within, which he now sits dodging. Hurt, more than anger spills out, bubbling at the cracks, frothing and flowing towards his heart. He couldn’t love her rage, couldn’t accept it, and couldn’t love all of her. So, he yearned; a pitiful whine. He yearned for the rage to subside, yearned for her to play a requiem for her harshness. Now he runs far away from her words, back into his world insulated with his narrow understanding of love, of women.

Men, brave or weak are after all cowards in the matters of heart.

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A Disease Called Fascination

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Illustration by www.bitesizedsanity.com

My spoon scrapes up shards of blue stained glass, the exact shade of my melancholy, only slightly watered down. Your knuckles make that sound again, echo around my ribcage and reverberate in my head; I love you. You seem to be the kind of man drawn towards objects of fascination, after all, you have affixed your eyes on me. You swallow a teaspoon of this fascination every day, feeding your delusions till they branch out into acts of desperation, till you think you need me to even continue living.

Alright, I think to myself. I let you climb inside my mouth, slide down my throat and cling to my lungs. My ribcage made you feel safe, so close to my beating heart. My teeth crunch glass, drowning out the sound of your desperate appeals to be heard. They don’t go down easy, but that’s what you get for letting the paranoias of your mind feed you. Was that a scream I heard? Sounds of scampering, feet shuffling urgently, as if to flee. You grumble about the sharp pieces of glass, your feet are cut and bloody. I cannot stop, I am ravenous. I spoon more into my mouth, even beads of a confusing colour, all mixed in. Is this what anxiety looks like? When the streams of thoughts have lost direction and come to seek each other, like moths drawn to light? Thoughts of different colours, from the bluest of blues to the murkiest browns, spun around and around in a complicated jumble.

My throat is dry, I wash it all down with water, one easy swallow. Help, you scream; I am drowning, you say. You beat against my insides and plea for your freedom. But darling, I never imprisoned you. You were always a prisoner of your own fairy-tale. When you said you loved me, you meant when I was at my best. You loved me when I put up a string of Christmas lights around my rib-cage, when they glowed warmth, enveloping you in a womb-like safety. Two fingers down my throat, out you come, awash in relief. You run away, almost expecting me to hold you back, perhaps a little let down when I don’t. Maybe you know better now, you watch me from afar. You don’t wish to drown, merely to stay afloat in your fascination of me. I wish you were wiser, I wish you rather knew how to swim.

Oh! Calcutta

The first time I went to Calcutta, I must have been 6 or 7 years old. You would think I wouldn’t remember much about the trip but I do. My father tells me I have an elephant’s memory. To a child though, Calcutta was just a holiday. What does a child understand about exploring roots or your own culture?

My family moved from Delhi to Bombay when I was 11 years old. I didn’t give Calcutta a second thought till I was at least 18. Since neither of my parents are from Calcutta and we are what we call ‘Probashi Bengalis’, meaning Bengalis who live outside of Calcutta, I grew up in a different setting. I didn’t grow up with a lot of Bengali friends, and from my observations, none of my Probashi Bengali friends liked interacting with each other in Bengali. Evidently, I didn’t pay much attention to what it means to be a Bengali. Over the years, I have endured a lot of taunts from other Bengalis on social media about how I am less of a Bengali because I don’t listen to Bengali music or muddle up Bengali words and mix up Hindi and English seamlessly into my mother tongue. Something I assure you annoys me immensely. Since when did identifying or belonging to a culture become a competition?

Who are the Bengalis? 

A quick Wikipedia search tells me that Bengalis are the third largest ethnic group in the world, after Han Chinese and Arabs. If you are familiar with Bengalis, you too might hold some much loved stereotypes about us. For example, if you believe all Bengalis can sing well or are artistically inclined in some manner, I would be more than happy to introduce you to my brother who has absolutely no drop of artistic talent. If you believe all Bengalis are highly intellectual, please acquaint yourself with Mamta Banerjee. Do all of us worship Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray? I have only ever watched two movies by Ray and read two books of Tagore. Granted, I did try to learn Rabindra Sangeet like a good Bengali girl and do know two of his songs by heart. Also, not all of us eat sweets every single day, especially not Rosogolla. I don’t even like Rosogolla! My point is, Bengalis are not the sum equivalent of your generalisations.

Let me acquaint you to a few things I have observed about my own community of people.

  1. Lethargee demands to be a surname– Bengalis are notoriously lazy. A point I want to elaborate upon when I talk more about Calcutta.
  2. We like to sit on our high horse– Elderly Bengalis will miss no chance to tell you how ours is a community more superior and intellectually blessed than the rest. Never-mind that they themselves might not have read a single book in their lives or uttered a single intelligent word in their entire lifetimes.
  3. Look, we are so cultured!– Bengalis will miss no chance in keeping up appearances about being ‘cultured’. If culture is wearing saris and rustic jewellery and a giant-sized bindi, then yes, we are all very cultured.

I know it seems like I do not like Bengalis at all. On the contrary, I revel in being a Bengali. This is why I also believe that I have the licence to critique and question a culture I belong to, in order to understand it better.

Long story short, I have been thirsting to travel to Calcutta since the moment this need to explore my roots hit me. This year in February, I finally flew to the city of joy. Was it everything I had hoped for? Did I find what it was I was looking for? I will blog about how I experienced Calcutta in the new few posts.

Almond Blossom

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Illustration- http://www.bitesizedsanity.com

The chatter around us seemed to have multiplied, the music ebbing into a gentle stream. I looked out of our bubble and felt only a hum, reverberating around us but not quite touching us. I was secure, I was happy.

My mind tugged onto a single stream of memory, a thread I had looped around it to help me remember. It’s been a while and I have stopped being surprised by how easily our conversation flows, how I want to tell you everything and not hold anything back. From the most inconsequential event to things of great urgency, they flow like a tide between us, back and forth.

My words spill their letters and, in that moment, you take my hand and intertwine our fingers; the alcohol gently making its way to our bloodstreams. You sit there wearing a lopsided smile, absorbing my words and looking so nonchalant. Like as if this was the most ordinary thing in the world, like as if my heart hadn’t slipped through my ribcage and into the pit of my stomach, like as if affection was a commodity to be shared so easily.

In your defence, you have never viewed affection as a commodity to be sold and bought. I come from a world where love has a price and hearts are broken with the speed of lightning. A world where affection is hoarded, a wasteland of hearts. I have only ever been robbed of my soul, for I am well versed in the art of giving.

If I love you, I will let you have my all. You can move into my heart, strip my body of all its shame and haunt my soul. I have been told to be careful, hearts break easily. But, what else is the purpose of our hearts? The heart is for breaking, for feeling, for loving recklessly. How can the heart grow softer if we never let it break, never allow it to grieve and feel?

But, I am getting side-tracked. You laughed, and now I understand why making someone laugh is such a treasure. I could do this all day, hold your hand and walk you through my world of absurdities. This is a world of my own, my vulnerabilities are alive and breathing. You should know I do not bring people here, not so often anyway.

You are gazing at me like I am the most important thing in the room, I have never seen your eyes drift away from me. We are held together by electricity, buzzing and alive in our hands. We get ready to leave, my hand held firmly in yours. Tugging me along the next adventure at 10’o clock in the night.

It’s a hot night, spring is coming alive in the form of almond blossom trees, their pink petals strewn all over the streets. You kiss me then, and it’s as if I have never been kissed before. It’s a heart thumping, mind reeling, fingers tugging onto skin kind of urgency. Your kisses are always urgent, like as if you are boarding a train to an unnamed city at the crack of dawn, tasting me for the last time.

Through the thumping of my heart, emerges a single delicate thread of whisper- I hope the night sucks us in right this moment, the geometry of our lips intact and our bodies communicating in a language private to them alone.

Women’s Day Apology Letter

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Artwork by www.bitesizedsanity.com

 

I see a group of people mock a beautiful fuchsia skirt, its pleats akin to an accordion. They do not mock the colour or the fall of the skirt, only the hairy legs that peek out from underneath it. Today I read nasty comments on a makeup tutorial video, they said that makeup is for girls.

I have grown up witnessing parents scold their boys for their tears.

“Boys don’t cry”

I wasn’t aware that tears too have a gender and that society is hellbent on pouring women into its role.

So, we systematically oppressed boys and men who cried, who tried to express their hurt and anguish. We took up arms against the poems that could have been, against a healthy way to grieve. We didn’t let our boys be soft, for soft is feminine.

Men are tough and made of arrogance and ego. Men open fire in public spaces when their advances are rejected, men believe a woman’s body is owed to them. Men engage in violence, men shrug off softness.

“Boys and men should be capable of beautiful things”- Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Oh but we don’t let them, do we? We tear their self-respect down, we try so hard to torch their feminine aspects. They bleed poetry but all we see is ash flying in the wind. They build walls and nest in the farthest corners of rooms. They blend with shadows and choke the throat of their opinions.

God forbid they find their voice, because when they do, we question their temerity. We ask, “how dare you stand up for your own rights?”

We reduce them to ridicule, a public object of humour meant to be pissed at whenever it pleases us. They have flowers blooming inside their lungs but all we see are 100 ways to trample them.

Women too, conditioned by patriarchy are suspicious of their femininity. Femininity, they think is something to be claimed only if you have a vagina.

No, I said no. You are a woman if you identify as a woman. Repeat that after me. You are a woman if you think you are, you are a woman if you believe yourself to be.

Nature didn’t fuck up, you weren’t born in the wrong body. You were born human before we tried to shove you into a box of gender conformity. I apologize profusely for the number of times you thought cis straight women were your allies and they spat at you, unacknowledged your femininity and mocked your softness. I am sorry they didn’t realise the toxicity of the term “man up”.

I apologise for the number of times you were told you are not enough of a woman, when they said makeup is not meant for men. I am sorry they didn’t appreciate your beauty.

I am also sorry for the times your humanness scared them. For when they thought a trans woman too should shave her legs to be more feminine. I am sorry they think they are entitled to define what ‘femininity’ means. I am so sorry that they don’t let you be, that they treat your existence as a bad joke.

I may not be able to make this all go away, but I will fight for you. I want you to know that my feminism is intersectional, that I am raging and expressing sorrow for a world that has taught itself to hate you. I will stand by you, I will support you.

The world has never known what to make of us, we weren’t born to comply. All we do is exist, on our own terms and free. The world retaliates, builds monsters who encroach on our personal spaces and question our rights to be. I want you to know that we are in this together, you and I, and this is a fight we will see through.

Happy Women’s Day to anyone and everyone who identifies with feminism. May we drag patriarchy out the door and torch it, together.

Ah Anxiety, my old friend.

There are a few moments in your life that you can go back and pinpoint to, single them out as the root cause of what made you, you. My anxiety issues found their sea legs when I was 15 years old. You see, that year was a nightmare I have successfully managed to push behind a closed door. My 15 year old heart had to grow a skin thicker than the hide of ignorance. Of course, anxiety somehow managed to bruise a part of my defence mechanism enough to squeeze through. It rose up to my head and has since refused to vacate the chambers of my mind.

This is what living with anxiety is like. It’s a tenant who refuses to pay rent, who will barge into your social gatherings and flash its ugly self. Anxiety likes noise; anxiety knows the walls of your mind are soundproof. So round and round your thoughts go, running their nails against the wall, screeching. It’s all a game, they never stop. Anxiety has abandonment issues, anxiety cares too much. Each time I develop affectionate feelings for a person, anxiety is present, overlooking my shoulder. Reminding me how any day now, this person will leave you. They will take what you have to offer, they will take your time and your peace of mind and they will walk away in the dead of the night, padded feet on a marble floor. Anxiety is paralysed by the future; stepping into the unknown is like stepping into an elevator knowing your claustrophobia will take over any minute. Hah, that’s not to say that it finds solace in the present. Oh no, the present prods and pokes anxiety, leaking radioactive liquid. Anxiety makes you believe that you are worthless, that you will never amount to anything. That your entire existence is not significant and you will fade away to the edge of the universe. Anxiety makes us believe that we are not loved, or cared for. Anxiety, my friends, is a real joykiller.

These are the demons we live with everyday. This is what living with anxiety feels like. Romantic relationships on the other hand, ah they are another ballgame. If you have ever dated someone who struggles with anxiety, you know how difficult it can get. But for those who have friends or partner who struggle with anxiety on a daily basis and are unsure of how best to confront its woes, here’s a checklist.

This is a checklist of things you should never say to someone who has anxiety issues. 

1. Don’t think too much- Gee, that cures my mental health disease completely. This does not help, at all. The foundation of anxiety is based on overthinking. It’s not a switch we can turn on and off on our own will.

2. You are overreacting- You have to understand that for us, when we sense that we have somehow managed to upset you, we are bound to have mini panic attacks. Telling us that we are overreacting makes us shut up inside our shells, roll into a ball and stay there. This will only work to alienate us.

3. What do you have to be anxious about? Anxiety is irrational. Anxiety does not show up with a manual guide. Anxiety sees rhyme and reason and chucks it out of the window. We have a lot to be anxious about, but trying to put that into words is more mental and emotional labour than we can afford right now.

4. Don’t worry so much- ???

5. You are being a dramaqueen- No, Charlie I am actually just responding to this situation in the best way my anxiety allows me to.

6. There is no need to overanalyze this- I know that, logic knows that, but does my anxiety understand that? NO. Overthinking makes us pass through every single word or moment through a microscope in our head and it’s not pretty. We do not enjoy torturing ourselves with possibilities of how terrible our future can be, it’s only our anxiety encouraging us to do it anyway.

I am sure there are 50 other things that needs to be added here, but for the moment my mind can only process these. Dating or being friends with a person with anxiety issues is not unsavoury. I think we care too much, we understand more than we should. Our disease has taught us to value, to never take for granted. We are crippled by our mind but we do try very hard to get through our lives. Mostly, give us your time and gently nudge us to open up, to talk. It is extremely difficult to give voice to mental health diseases. Talking about it, that does not come easily to us. Be patient with us, that’s all we ask for. Your patience is the biggest gift you can give us. Be gentle, it’s already too rough up there. But mostly, be there. Let us come home to welcoming arms after a day of waging battles with our thoughts, let us have a short moment of absolute peace.

 

I backpacked across Europe as a brown person and this is what it was really like – Part 1

To be fair, I went backpacking in July and it has taken me two months to really collect my thoughts and sit down to pen them. Since I am crippled with this mind-numbing disease called overthinking, I spent weeks going over all the monumental experiences I had and analysed each and every one of them through my brown girl lenses. The next few series of blog posts are the end lab results straight outta my head.

I want to try and detail everything as much as I can, starting from my visa nightmare to the places I went to, the people I met, etc. So, here goes nothing.

You are going to go backpacking by yourself? Whaat?

Indian parents are known for a lot of meme worthy qualities but letting their children breathe and giving them enough freedom to do so is not one of them. Enter, my parents. I do not mean to brag but I truly do believe that my parents are uber cool. My mother is clearly descendant from a tigress and has zero patience for the world’s shit and my father is an oasis of tranquillity who reminds me everyday that being ambitious is not a disease I need to be cured of. My parents have done their fair share of struggle. My father has been travelling across continents since I was born, sometimes staying away from us for months because work calls. He has always encouraged me to travel, always telling me how important it is to soak your feet in different cultures and meet different people. So talking to them about how I wanted to travel was not an argument or a nervousness-induced conversation, it was a discussion.

I did not mean this to be a solo backpacking trip, but as is the fickle nature of the best laid plans, travelling with my friends did not work out. As I was trying to gather the broken pieces of my Parisian dreams, my baba suggested I go anyway, with a travel group and with some supervision of course. So I signed myself up with The Backpacker Co. which is a travel company based out of Mumbai. They specialise in arranging backpacking tours and they had a 10 day Europe tour chalked out. Only 4 people signed up for this one though, me being one of them. Relatives called, concerned if my baba had his wits about him.
“You are spending all this money so that she can…travel?”
“Are you sure you want her to go by herself?”
Granted, I was privileged enough that my baba agreed to finance this but that was no reason for my extended family to have their panties in a bunch. He brushed it off carelessly. July had 10 days of trapezing through Paris, Barcelona and Rome for me.

My not so humorous attempt at procuring a tourist visa

Well, that is if my visa were to be accepted. Lo and behold the horrors of trying to procure a visa if you happen to be a POC from a country considered to belong to the third-world. Yes, getting a visa is not that big of a deal. But it is when you happen to fluently speak the language of a country you are visiting. Haha you thought learning a foreign language would make you cultured and intellectually fascinating? No, my man.

The first time I applied for a visa, it got rejected. I wanted to believe that it was because the universe did not intend me to go; My (second) travel agent was convinced it was because I could speak French, and was 23 and unmarried. *cough* discrimination *cough* sexism. That is the day I realized just how highly countries in power think of themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I do understand that there are a bunch of security protocols in place and every country has to look out for themselves but for a country to assume that you, an unmarried young girl who can speak French would disappear in France and become an immigrant even though she clearly has the financial means to support herself in her country of origin as well as in the one she intends to visit is mind boggling.

Why would I willingly choose to disappear in a country or in Europe in general when I am aware that I would be treated with racial taunts and assume a third-grade citizen role? While I had blind rage coursing through my body and helplessness threatening to brim over in the form of salty moisture, my baba nudged me to try once again. All I could think about was the amount of money that would be wasted if it were to be rejected again and for what? My parents wouldn’t have any of it. To them, my bruised heart meant a lot more than the money. (Yes, I know how privileged I sound and no, I am not proud of it)

So, I applied again. I applied again with a mountain of documents proving my identity and my intent to come back to my country (Hi Europe you were great but apna desh toh apna desh hota hai ok). For someone who is terrified and overwhelmed by paperwork, I managed to sail through it. I was getting through my work days with frayed nerves and abject helplessness, holding onto whatever optimism I could gather. I was called to the French consulate for an interview and guess what? I got the visa the very next day. I could breathe easily.

That is also the day I learned that maybe, just maybe the universe intends for things to happen in a certain manner so that you can learn a few things along the way. I learned that patience is an art form I am good at when I try really hard, and also that helplessness is a disease I wish to avoid like the plague. Helplessness has a way of tying up your insides with a rope coated in jagged pieces of glass and boy does it cut you up. I also learned a thing or two about time and how you cannot pick up arms against the way it flows. Nowadays when I find my hyperness rising, I find a comfortable looking rock and position myself there as I let time do its thing. Que sera sera, right?

Anyhoo, I am going to write about what the trip actually was like in the next couple of posts. I am not sure how many people are going to read this or bother but hey, I have got a lot to say and I am going to put it out there anyway.