25.

Today is my ‘lunar’ birthday, it seems. It didn’t feel like a birthday, to be honest. Definitely not a milestone like the 25th. The social constructivist part of myself laughs at this seemingly arbitrary calculation for an arbitrary number of years of existence that is deemed so noteworthy. Yet, as my ‘actual’ (oh well.) birthday looms just around the corner, another part of me – more difficult to label – titters excitedly. Why are birthdays so important to me? Perhaps because it is the only day of the year that I am so self-aware: a day that I know for sure is going to be remembered for ever; rather, has to be remembered; hence, has to be worth remembering. I have tried my best to make my birthdays these spectacular, perfect days that stories can be spun out of decades later. I have mostly failed. The failed ones are remembered in sharper clarity, unfortunately.

So here I am, once again, trying to make this one special. The failed birthday cynic in me scoffs and is already wondering what can go wrong. Some loose threads have already begun to unspool. But I shall not be daunted. So, I’m giving myself the best birthday gift I can: time to write. Write about what it means to be 25, to be flung beyond the cusp of adulthood that I was long hanging on to. Write to celebrate my learnings and reflect upon my mistakes. Or should it be the other way ‘round? Write to remember. Write to recover. Write to let go. Write to invite others into the conversation. But mostly, write because I love to.

Adulthood.

The other day, as my best friend and I were crossing the road, a group of preteen boys called us ‘Kaku’ (roughly translated as Married Aunty). We were offended, but later joked about it being the lowest point of our year. But it happens. I sometimes catch myself in the mirror and think, when did I grow so old? I have millions of grey hairs. But not the wisdom that comes with each strand. I behave like an adult but I have to remind myself of being one, at least once a week. It hasn’t sunk in yet. When did it happen, I wonder? When did I finally become an adult? Was it after I got a fulltime job, and my first salary? Was it when they let me inside a bar after checking my ID? Was it after I cast my first vote? Was it after my first sexual encounter? Was it after the first time I experienced intimacy, and relished it? Was it after my first experience with a loved one’s death? Was it the first time I drove a car? There have been so many firsts! And yet, none of them exclusively made me feel very grown up. I think adulthood is a process of adaptation. Of slowly unpeeling layers of yourself – and the pain and exhilaration that come with it.

I don’t feel like I am on the edge of a precipice anymore, though. I’ve jumped in, and am learning to swim. When swimming gets tiring, when the current is good, I float. But not for long, or else I’ll drown. So, swim I have to. It is a vast sea of loneliness at times. Other times, there’s too much company. I’ve stopped being afraid of loneliness. There was a point when I started craving it. Maybe that’s when I became an adult.

Love.

Falling in love, to me, is the easiest and most difficult thing. Easy because it just happens. Serendipitously. My most prized relationships have been ones which unfolded without us even realising it. And love is most difficult because it is not easy to love someone so constantly, so completely. Not even myself. Not even life. And yet, that’s what we are expected to do. I’ve realised that I love people contextually. I love my boyfriend in certain situations. Does that mean I don’t love him in other situations? Not necessarily. I just cannot see him in certain contexts. There are times when I desperately want to love him but cannot. There are other contexts where other people, other ideas overpower my heart completely and claim it as theirs. I love feminist theory because it allows me to see a completely new dimension of the world – one that has already been right there but never perceived, never realised, never understood. It allows me to see so starkly the workings of power in a society which invisibilises it by hegemonically normalising it. Like I have some sort of superpower, a supergaze. I love thinking about what we do once we gain this gaze. Do we bask in the glory of possessing it, gazing down upon lesser other who don’t? Do we try to spread it to more people, infecting as many as we can with this supersensory perception? Do we attempt to change what we don’t like (but care enough about)? This is my question. I think I’m in love with this question.

But loving people is much more difficult. Most people I love, I don’t know the answer to why I love them. And yet I still do. What does loving someone entail though? To me, (and I steal from CS Lewis here), to love is to be vulnerable. Permeable. Open to pain, and sorrow, and joy. It is also to be honest. This year has given me the opportunity to make myself vulnerable to people in beautiful and powerful ways. Some of my best conversations stemmed from this space of vulnerability. I think being vulnerable is important because it is the only act of political resistance left to me in a world that tries so hard to make me competitive, insurmountable, perfect, so geared to succeed. Vulnerability makes space for imperfections, for failures, for warmth, for empathy. It allows me to connect my pain to the pain in others and to collectively try and ease it. It allows me, as a wonderful lady told me this year, to come close to people. My pain may not be the same as another’s, but it pushes me to move closer.

My problem, however, is that in return for my vulnerability, I expect it from people too. And that’s where I’ve been sorely disappointed.

Disappointments.

Being an adult means being disappointed quite a lot, I’ve realised. I feel like everything doesn’t live up to the way it is made to be. I’ve been disappointed quite a lot this year. With life. With the choices I’ve made. With my boyfriend. With my job. With my friends. With people, in general. A question I’ve been struggling with is, how do I deal with this disappointment? Do I stop expecting? Do I stop giving? Do I stop trying? But I cannot. Maybe I should stop holding everyone else to the same standards as I hold myself. Maybe I should stop holding myself up to any standard. Maybe I should give a chance to people to please me. Does disappointment occur from my need to be in control? Should I let go of the reins, a little bit at least?

Life isn’t any one thing. It has its highs and lows, something everybody knows. So, the good will come with some bad. I cannot let my disappointment overwhelm the good left in this world, in people, in myself.

I think for the most part, I’m very proud of myself. For taking the efforts, regardless.

Transitions.

It hasn’t been an easy year. So many things that I thought were becoming my footholds to life were pulled from beneath my feet. I got my gold medal but didn’t get my dream job. My boyfriend – who had been my anchor for the past four years – was pulled away in the pursuit of his dreams in another city while I was left behind, with memories that became increasingly bitter. I took up a job I wasn’t sure about in a city I didn’t want to live in just because I didn’t want to stay at home. For a while, I didn’t know what I wanted. I had had a glorious, perfect post-graduate performance. I had made a thesis-baby I was proud of. I had won accolades after accolades. I had won the gold. I had a boyfriend who fulfilled all my people-needs and snuggle-needs. From this lovely, cosy little oven, I jumped into the fire of mediocrity. Those few months, I hated my life. I hated Mumbai, my job, my boyfriend, my friends, my life. They had all betrayed me.

But it got better. Conversations helped. Unexpected friendships and drinking sessions helped even more. As did Sahir’s poetry. Life was bearable, even enjoyable. But just as I was settling down into this cosy little bubble I had created for myself, it was burst, once again, by Life. Circumstances. Things Beyond My Control. Maybe being an adult is to realise that it’s a constant, unending walk over hot coals. We just need to keep dancing. Reinventing. Readjusting. Rest your feet a little longer and you just might get burnt.

Will it ever get easier?

[re]Births.

Okay, I realise this thing is becoming too cynical. I’m becoming too cynical. I’m usually not like this! I hope it’s a phase. When was the last time I was truly, unabashedly, unequivocally happy? It was almost two weeks ago, when I found out that one of my closest friends had given birth to a baby girl. The baby’s father is the closest thing I have to an elder brother, I’ve literally grown up with him. Her mother is someone I look up to, an elder-sister-role-model in many ways. Around nine months ago, I had a vivid dream that these two had a baby daughter who I would go play with. I like to believe it was some kind of premonition which actually came true. On Christmas Day, when I held her in my arms for the first time, I felt a strange sense of solidarity, an attachment of sorts, with this little fortnight-old babe. I wondered what it was.

In many ways, her birth feels like déjà vu for me. She reminds me of myself, for a number of reasons. She’s a Capricorn. Her parents, in their thinking, in their politics, and even in their relationship with each other, are akin to mine. They’ve even given her a name that’s like mine – with no surname! I see this kid growing up in a wonderful environment – a progressive, liberal, egalitarian bubble, just like I did. But it is still only a bubble! Needing to be created, preserved, protected, upheld, at all time and at all costs. Looking at her little life, I ask myself, what has changed in the past twenty-five years? How will this one’s life be different from my own? Let’s take her name, for example. Just because her mother did not change her surname after marriage, the baby’s birth certificate was rejected by the municipal authorities. Because the mother and father need to have the same surname, apparently, in our society. Because within the institution of marriage, the wife needs to take her husband’s name, according to a clerk in the municipal corporation. There is no law to validate these claims, of course, but you see, these minor discrepancies will cause you trouble, inconvenience, shame. Dare you try.

Twenty-five years ago, my parents went through the same inconveniences. The times have changed, but social customs have not. At least my birth certificate wasn’t rejected! Maybe things have worsened. All the more reason to fight. All the more reason to protest. I look at my fifteen-day-old fellow-Capricorn, sound asleep and happily unaware of her own, very controversial, name. I wonder what battles she will have to fight. I wish her all my luck and love and strength. I wish the world she grows up in the next twenty-five years will be a better one.

I promise to help make it a better one.

 

Human Beings

When I meet people in different parts of the world, I am always reminded that we are all basically alike. We are all human beings. Maybe we have different clothes, our skin is of a different colour, or we speak different languages. That is on the surface. But basically, we are the same human beings. That is what binds us to each other. That is what makes it possible for us to understand each other and to develop friendship and closeness.
~ The Dalai Lama

I often wonder about certain people’s lives. Like the carpenter and his assistant who came to work in our house today. Or the court bailiff whose display of patriarchal condescendence was blatant and outrageous. Or the sales assistant in the shopping mall I went to this evening. Who are these people, what are the kind of lives they live, where they live, how they live, what kind of relationships do they sustain, what kind of person they really are. Also, what must be going on in their minds when they look at me, my house, my life, the external and internal intricacies of myself?

I wonder because I feel so disconnected, so distant from them. The conversations I have with them are formal, impersonal, work-related, and sometimes I even look down upon them. I’m the more educated, more privileged, more intellectually and morally superior – that’s the position I take with them. I’m kind, benevolent yes, but also harsh and rude when I feel my own superiority being questioned or overlooked. Like what happened today with the bailiff. Maybe I’m even proud of it, a part of me says jubilantly, “I taught that sexist bastard a lesson.” or “I silenced him.” I feel pride at being able to speak out, perhaps shout out, against these notions that so subtly and not-so-subtly teach women their ‘place’ in a patriarchal setup.

But then, another part of me – a deeper, harder-to-reach part suddenly sends a wave of… I cannot describe it. Pity? Sympathy? Empathy? This part of me wants to reach out to them, wants to make friends and get to know their lives. The lives of people I usually at best ignore or at worst condemn. This part wants to hug someone, just to reassure them and perhaps myself that I am just as human as you are. That at our core, we share the same fears and hopes and dreams. That we were born to love someone, that we might have got our hearts broken at some point. That we’re scared someone we love so much will one day be a cold, lifeless body. And then nothing. That we’re all headed in the same direction, the same abyss we are one day going to fall into, unknowing of what lies beyond.

And for that one moment, I want to take joy in the fact that both of us share this core. That we’re together, at least for now. But this feeling, this want scares me, or my more rational, pragmatic, socially-oriented, easier-to-reach self. I think of the problems that they – the poor, unprivileged, having to work as a peon/carpenter/manual labourer/and so on – face. Their quality of life. The socio-political-economic reasons behind such a vast disparity. What are the ways, mostly utopian, it can be fixed. Then I chide myself, because who am I to decide what work is unworthy and unvalued? Perhaps someone likes carpentry. Or masonry. Or even delivering letters. Maybe that’s what they’re good at, that’s their purpose in life. Maybe they feel a sense of fulfilment in what they do, in the service they provide others. Who am I, from my point of privilege, to decide someone else’s job satisfaction? Can I ever do that? Then I think about choice and its relation to privilege, but again, are we, am I, with all my material resources and ‘education’ really as free to choose as I think myself to be? Definitely not.

But as you can see, my more rational, pragmatic, socially-oriented, easier-to-reach self has taken over the thought process and does its best to intellectualise and justify the feeling that was released by my harder-to-reach self. It is because of this that I need to write, to express this jumble of thoughts and feelings on paper before they vanish, before they are taken over thoughts that do often rule our daily lives – my increasing weight, whether a new diet and exercise routine will work, will I ever be thin enough, my new clothes, my shiny new wallet, my glittery bag, my amazing boyfriend, my mane of hair that is also the bane of my life, and so on.

I want to capture that feeling in these words. I want to retain it because it is powerful and deep, like a jolt of electricity under my skin. Like a cold shower on a wintry morning. I want to revisit it sometimes, and wake up from my shiny happy world. Because it leaves me uneasy. There are no intellectual-sounding solutions that can bridge this gap between you and me, a fissure hacked out from generations of disconnection. I simply cannot reach out; I am scared of doing so. I’m scared of explaining to myself the simple little truth that I’m as human as that man out there, and like him too, I have to face my share of losses, resulting, ultimately, in the loss of my own life.

Once there was a little puppy stuck in the rains that was crying for help in the yard outside my house. That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about that little mutt and crying, even though my father and I had ‘rescued’ it and made a home for it. Much more recently, I read about an old man who patiently stands outside Connaught Place in Delhi and sells toys so he can sustain his family, years after his retirement. Once again, the tears didn’t stop, although after a point the rational mind failed to understand why the tears were coming out. What is it about these stories that makes me so emotional? What is so universal about pain, about suffering, that reaches spaces within us beyond the various walls and abysses of identities we have created for ourselves?

Maybe there isn’t one way to reach across and communicate and share our mutual humanness. Maybe, sometimes, it is a small step – a smile, a tear, a dabeli in the rain, or even a look – that creates tiny pathways and alleys that crisscross across the yawning gap between our souls. These are our only hope.