Something they don’t tell you when you first start writing is that when you keep doing it, you lose people. At first you won’t notice it because it’s absurd that this should happen. Then you see it and you can’t unsee it. Then there will be sleepless nights like these where you wonder if you will get people back if you stop writing. You feel smaller than ever when you realise that you’ve actually already stopped. It’s too late. Thankfully, the gates are only closed, never locked and you can open them whenever you want to.
Aishwarya Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is no longer weeping for Salman Khan. Ajay Devgan is playing Salman’s role. The villain- her father, stands arms folded between Ash-Ajay. Someone forces him to muster the decency to leave them alone for final goodbyes and he does. Ash collapses into Ajay’s chest. Then she cries, he cries (although I can’t see his face) and over his strong, broad shoulders, I see her eyelashes, heavy and wet with tears.
I am in a Thai film. I am in a hurry to get cake for my mother. Someone drops me off at a market where I am suddenly adopted by the people living there as one of their own. The architecture of the building is funny and scary, like strange buildings in new cities are. The entire building is zigzag, like our parking spaces in malls.
A tall woman with shiny black hair and swan’s neck is my new mother. My new mother gathers me in her arms but we are quickly separated by something. There is chaos, the enemies are coming and just the word is enough to send everyone running. I am everywhere and here at the same time but deeply, miserably aware that my new mother isn’t with me. I can suddenly understand why babies need their mothers so much, why I need mine, what all the deal with mother’s love is about. I pine for her, gathering my heart in my hands and running and looking for her in the chaos. I’ve lost her.
My year-old nephew is playing in my arms. We are at a big, bright house by the beach. Everyone is here, my whole family. And even as I am with them, I can’t fight the all too familiar feeling of having/needing to be somewhere else. I curse myself. Why am I such a terrible planner? Why do I make promises I know I cannot keep? There’s a furious wind and I remember with great desolation, my alone and small bike that I’ve parked at college, right in front of the beach (How to move here permanently?)
After the zoom meeting, we sat in the board room to go over it. Insi, who had missed the meeting was next to me and Sharan, next to her. We were filling her in on what she had missed and how everyone had looked (Simba’s hair, Fiona’s children who kept peeking in and giggling, Nat’s wedding)
Mia was sitting at the back and I felt ecstatic that for once, her plans hadn’t worked. She was quick to strategise seating arrangements for herself so she wouldn’t not be the centre of conversation but I couldn’t tell why she’d missed this one. How was it possible that Sharan was sitting here, and Mia wasn’t?
Sharan told Insi that Simba was not doing so well in the pandemic. His university was unstable and he had been looking at other options. I went a step further and confirmed that he had told us that he had been fired. Sharan looked disturbed. Without betraying any kindness in his eyes, he shook his head and told me “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this bit of news is yours to tell. It’s Simba’s”
I felt my head reeling. I looked around to see if Mia had heard and watched me being shoved into my place. She was engaged in a lively chat with others, and no one seemed to be paying any attention to what had just happened. Insi herself was a blur between Sharan and me. It didn’t matter what she thought. But I loudly agreed with Sharan. “Yes yes, you are absolutely right. It’s not my news to share. I’m so sorry”
Sharan continued talking to Insi and I couldn’t hear anything he said. I was distracted by how easily he had made his discomfort known and how despite being told off, I wasn’t feeling resentful towards him. I felt a mad urge to undo what I had done, to impress him somehow before the day was over so he wouldn’t have to carry his bad opinion of me into the next day and forever after that.
I wished I had kept quiet. It’s so charming to watch women not as desperate as I am, those who firmly seem to know what to say when. I wished I had that fierce cross-legged independence. Next time, I told myself.
I told Amita that at the training programme last week, they made us stand in a circle, remove our shoes (and socks) and step into the shoes of those standing next to us. This was to teach us what it’s like to literally stand in someone else’s shoes. Amita slapped her forehead. When the session was over, I told her, I felt bad for the organisers. They had even the most empathetic person in the room now permanently repulsed to the idea of placing oneself in someone else’s shoes, even metaphorically.
Her eyes glowed with terror when I told her how when I had put my feet into the very big shoes of the man next to me, there was a squelching sound and the wet horror of what I assumed was sweat which swallowed all of my five toes. She pulled the slap down to her eyes and then wiped the karma all over her face.
I didn’t tell her about Suman from Chemistry who had straight up refused to stand in my shoes. (‘Uh uh – no, not happening’)
Amita didn’t have to sit through the training because her migraine had arrived that morning and had shown no sign of retreat. Pregnant with relief, she sighed inaudibly but I caught it when her exhaling back became suddenly aware and straightened itself audibly.
We were in the canteen. My green tea was cold and her badam milk was covered with cream. She pinched it with her index and thumb finger and put it in her mouth.