Keeping you alive

I woke up with a start and fumbled at the table top beside the bed. With my eyes half closed, I pressed the power button of my phone and squinted to take a better look.

It was three. Waani was still wailing and there was no trace of Amrita in the room. I shifted in the bed and tried rocking the cradle to no avail. Waani only wailed with increasing intensity. I was concerned about Amrita now. She wasn’t in the room and the stillness of early morning broken up by a child’s cries didn’t bring her in either.
I leapt up to my feet and gingerly lifted Waani in my arms. Resting her head against my shoulder, I ran my hand gently across her back, trying to sing a lullaby. Gradually, her wailing turned into a sing song attuned to my humming. Within ten minutes, she was sound asleep when I placed her back into the cradle and rocked it to and fro gently, my thoughts now returned to Amrita. I closed the bedroom door behind me without making as much of a sound. And tiptoed to the balcony. Usually I found Amrita there, supporting herself against the railing often during the bouts of depression that plagued our lives now.

To my surprise, she wasn’t there. I turned and was about to head towards the kitchen when the bathroom door slightly ajar caught my eye. Inside, the light was on.

Amrita?

I called.

No response.

I gave the door a slight push and it creaked under the force as the bathroom floor came into view. There she was, huddled against the corner,knees together, her face a dreadful mix of agony and guilt. She had been crying. 

‘Hey, hey!’

I said as I sat down beside her and waited for a response.

After excruciatingly slow moments of silence interspersed with our breathing,

She sniffed and turned her face towards me.

‘Is she asleep?’

I nodded my head. ‘She is.

Why don’t you come to sleep as well, Amrita?

When did you wake up?’
She dropped her head and was looking at the floor now.

‘Around two. I couldn’t sleep, Vaibhav.

I have been having these thoughts that I am not taking enough care of our baby. When I look at her, these scary what ifs start ramming against my mind. I am frightened Vaibhav. I can’t do this.’
I listened to her as I took her hand in mine and held it in a warm entanglement of our fingers.
‘Am I a bad mother?’
Only I knew how I had been dreading this question ever since Amrita had delivered a perfectly healthy baby girl three weeks ago. I knew this was coming and yet I hadn’t prepared an answer. I always knew.

I turned towards her and cupped her face in my palms. How I loved her so much it pained me to see her this distraught.

In sickness and in health.

‘No, you’re not. No one can tell you that Amrita. Trust me, you’re doing the best that you can. Would I ever lie?’

It took her a moment to register what I had asked of her and she shook her head.

I wrapped my arms around her and held her firmly. Her shoulders sagged, as if a load had been taken off, and she slid hers across my waist and let her head rest against my chest. I worked my way through her hair, running my fingers along the length and the same tune that put waani to sleep came back to me.
I sighed. With Amrita, everyday was a struggle.I had fallen in love with the amazing person that she was without realising that beneath the facade, there was a soul so utterly devastated that it took humongous amount of effort keeping up with the various manifestations of her depression, now made severe with post partum trauma.

I used to think the baby would change her outlook for the better.She had been happy. She had been all smiles and she had no idea I could see through that. At the second week after the delivery progressed, I knew she’d breakdown. I knew it was imminent and I had hoped I’d be there when it happened because as much as I hoped it didn’t happen, I knew it was inevitable too.
My thoughts were interrupted when she took a deep breath and looked up at me.

‘I love you so much.’

I said, my words caught in a whisper. I lowered my head and kissed her on the forehead.

She tugged at my tee-shirt, pulling at it with all the strength she could muster, and kissed me back on the lips. In that kiss, I could feel her longing to revalidate herself as someone who deserved to be loved. Tears welled up in my eyes and I struggled to keep them from leaving me when I couldn’t afford to seem vulnerable. 

I wanted to make my way of dealing with her depression work. I wanted to give her the hope that she searched for, when she looked into my eyes.

When she committed suicide nine years later, she told me in a note that it really worked. 

You kept me alive far more than anyone ever could.

Yours.

You will be fine.

Women.
Women who are mothers to us, worrying how we’re making it. What we have had for lunch and just when are we going to marry. Those who became mothers recently and are basking in it’s glory, even those who don’t think they’re carved for the task. Single mothers being a set of parents to their kid. He is going to ask you someday who his father was. I don’t know what you’re going to say.

He didn’t want you, dear.
She stands outside the obscure clinic, her face covered, awaiting her turn. They’re going to extract a part of her and set her free. Free of this judgemental world.
Women who love their husbands and women who are loved. She wakes up to snuggle up to him and he wraps a hand around her. Life’s good.
Women stuck in a loveless marriage, unable to get out. Where will I take my kids? What will people say? My parents will not take me back.

Women who go to sleep, cuddled next to their pets.

And then those who finish a sandwich on their way to office, tackling casual sexism as they drive. Women who are bosses and those who are subordinates. 
Women that bleed every month and yet try to pretend they never have it. They can climb mountains on their periods. Why should people get to know they’re having those days of the month. The shopkeeper discreetly wraps napkins in newspaper and then puts it into a black plastic bag. She feels like an undercover agent delivering a package to Matt Damon.
She watches him do that and wonders of she should be as ashamed of menstruation as he is.

Women who shout slogans and those who rather post a status update. Hashtag outrage.

Women who stand tall in the face of obstacles.

You will not go outside to work.

You will not apply for a job.

You will not drive.

You will not go to school anymore.

You will not talk to boys.
Women who carry on their heads bricks to construction sites and lament the builder’s cut in their pay.

Women, truckloads of them trafficked across states to be used as maids in upscale residential localities. Listen, you will take care of my kid and manage the chores while I go to work. Memsaab I don’t like your husband touching me. 

 To be sold to pimps. To enter a vicious never ending cycle of exploitation. Women who deal in these women without hesitation.
Women sweeping our corridors so that they can pay for the education of their children. Those of them beaten black and blue by their men.

Women motivating other women and those that pull them down.

We are friends.

Sisters.

Our own enemies.

Women who work and those that don’t. The ones creating magic out of words. 
Women who are looking for love and those that have given up on it. 

Women who are achieving milestones. Women witnessing these women and wondering what they are doing with their lives.
Then there is a tribe of those that find recluse in gossip because that’s their escape.

Women adhering to stereotypes and those challenging it.
I know that We are the same, all of us. Our stories make us different, have us grasping at reality differently.

Some of us affixed like rubber stamps into categories.

Good

Bad

Beautiful

Fat

Bitch

Cunt

Whore

I don’t understand how we make that distinction. We are misfits. 
Impossible that every woman finds a mention here but those that I have seen and those I know of, do.

What do you like?

There are a lot of things about life that I don’t like. It’s short and so uncertain, so often ends abruptly. So much about this world bothers me too when I can’t do anything about it. But today, I decided to make a list of things that I like.

  1.  Books

          Yes, I smell books. I order books when there are some already waiting to be read. Books are truly the friends we seldom acknowledge. In books I find comfort. Through the voice of those that have left us and those that continue to inspire us, I find that I can overcome my moroseness about death and existence.The world they weave exists like another universe in my mind. Places and people overlap simultaneously, from Elizabeth Bennett to Chacha Choudhary. Books were my first love and will always be.
          2. Music

          Headphones in, I can conveniently forget the world now. Some songs catapult me into the past and sweet nostalgia. While others intensify the uneasiness I have at heart and bring tears to my eyes. But in the end, music soothes. Music is my answer to the nights I have trouble sleeping.

          3. Mountains

          Photo by Aparajita

          I have been to the mountains once, with my brothers. We went on a trip to Darjeeling and I fell head over heels. As I watched the peaks being kissed by sunlight while I sat in the car, it overwhelmed me. I got caught in the meaninglessness of this existence when I stood before the towering structures that have been here forever. If asked to choose between the mountains and the sea, I know it will always be the former. It felt like home out there.

          4. Relationships

          My parents, siblings and I are not always on the same page on everything and I guess that’s allowed. We are allowed differences and inspite of those, we can always be confident of having each other around like pillars you can hold on to.

          Amongst my relationships my prized achievements include retaining a few very good friends. They’re few, but enough. I don’t need a hundred friends who be unavailable when I need them. I just need one who’ll be there. And one, is enough.

          5. Cakes and pastries

          My friends now know how I love these sweet delights. To indulge into a cheesecake or a heavenly black forest feels the right thing to do, any day. Like a child, I look with a longing at delicious pastries kept in the display at bakeries. I used to joke that marrying a baker would really be convenient for my cravings.

          6. Poems

          Poets say so much in terse phrases that it astounds me. 

          I shall be telling this with a sigh 

          Somewhere ages and ages hence: 

          Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, 

          I took the one less traveled by, 

          And that has made all the difference.

          The poems I hold dear to me talk about time and death. They give me the comfort of trying to find order in a random chaotic universe. Poetry offers the solace that is often snatched away by an existential crisis.
          When I started making this list, I was at a loss. I was unsure if I could list even five. And I did. But there’s more! There are a lot of things that I like. This list isn’t comprehensive. There’ll be at least twenty lists like this one- at least a hundred things that I like! 🙂

          To those who know someone who gave up.

          We should not claim to understand what goes on in the mind of a person who has given up on life.

          Have you been there?

          Have you been there, teetering at the edge of despair when death seems like a better option than survival?

          Most probably, you shake your head vehemently in the negative.
          How can you judge, then?
          I know, it is better to live a long, full life. Someone who chooses death must have nothing to look forward to. NOTHING. When they put their heads to rest, they don’t lie dormant staring at the ceiling until they fall asleep.

          When we look at their lives, we find it going so good for them.

          What was the need?

          But no, in the mind of someone pulling the trigger, she’s caught between the dilemma of jumping from the building or getting burnt along with it. When I watch from afar, I want her to stay put because it is not me faced with a choice between the devil and the sea.
          So in the comfort of your friends and family, it is easy to miss what ghosts wreck the psychological defense of someone suicidal.
          We have been talking about recognizing depression as a real threat to a person but we miss the signs that someone might be in the pits and we go on pretending that he’s seeking attention or just throwing tantrums.

          Our answers to helplessness and desperation have set in stone.

          You should go out.

          You should think positive.

          You shouldn’t watch such depressing stuff.

          You should stop thinking.
          You should stop existing.
          As my bus approaches the bridge,I look down and see murky muddy water in a rage.

          And I can feel myself drowning already. And I know, not one amongst the 50 people on the bus is looking at that possibility. They’re looking ahead, because this journey ends. And that is the purpose at hand. I look at the dilapidated structure as we cross it and wonder,

          This bridge is in such a bad condition. It’s going to fall any day now. Will it be the day I make the return trip? And again,

          I am sinking, trying to breathe, unable to see anything, the weight of things crushing on me. How much longer will I be able to hold on? I don’t want to feel death just yet. But I AM staring at it.

          We have crossed the slight momentary trepidation but I am still there, I am still sinking to the bottom. Can no one see it at all?
          No.
          Someone who knows me, might.
          So the only people who can save others from drowning in despair are the ones that truly know how the mind of that person works.

          As friends, it is our responsibility to at least try. To talk and listen. To stall.
          As friends, we distance ourselves from the ‘negativity’ and start telling them to not post depressing shit on social media. We ask them to not constantly seek attention because for us, the range of emotions contains only two:

          You’re either happy.
          Or Sad.

          And nothing comes in between.
          They’re not seeking attention.

          It’s like a ‘save our souls’ message. Will you respond?

          Will you be first responders?

          What will you say?

          Us

          Women.
          Women who are mothers to us, worrying how we’re making it. What we have had for lunch and just when are we going to marry. Those who became mothers recently and are basking in it’s glory, even those who don’t think they’re carved for the task. Single mothers being a set of parents to their kid. He is going to ask you someday who his father was. I don’t know what you’re going to say.

          He didn’t want you, dear.
          She stands outside the obscure clinic, her face covered, awaiting her turn. They’re going to extract a part of her and set her free. Free of this judgemental world.
          Women who love their husbands and women who are loved. She wakes up to snuggle up to him and he wraps an arm around her. Life’s good.
          Women stuck in a loveless marriage, unable to get out. Where will I take my kids? What will people say? My parents will not take me back.

          Women who go to sleep, cuddled next to their pets.

          And then those who finish a sandwich on their way to office, tackling casual sexism as they drive. Women who are bosses and those who are subordinates. 
          Women that bleed every month and yet try to pretend they never have it. They can climb mountains on their periods. Why should people get to know they’re having those days of the month. The shopkeeper discreetly wraps napkins in newspaper and then puts it into a black plastic bag. She feels like an undercover agent delivering a package to Matt Damon.
          She watches him do that and wonders if she should be as ashamed of menstruation as he is.

          Women who shout slogans and those who rather post a status update. Hashtag outrage.

          Women who stand tall in the face of obstacles.

          You will not go outside to work.

          You will not apply for a job.

          You will not drive.

          You will not go to school anymore.

          You will not talk to boys.
          Women who carry on their heads bricks to construction sites and lament the builder’s cut in their pay.

          Women, truckloads of them trafficked across states to be used as maids in upscale residential localities. 

          Listen, you will take care of my kid and manage the chores while I go to work. Memsaab I don’t like your husband touching me. 

          How dare you say such a thing?

           To be sold to pimps. To enter a vicious never ending cycle of exploitation. Women who deal in these women without hesitation.
          Women sweeping our corridors so that they can pay for the education of their children. Those of them beaten black and blue by their men.

          Women motivating other women and those that pull them down.

          We are friends.

          Sisters.

          Our own enemies.

          Women who work and those that don’t. The ones creating magic out of words. 
          Women who are looking for love and those that have given up on it. 

          Women who are achieving milestones. Women witnessing these women and wondering what they are doing with their lives.
          Then there is a tribe of those that find recluse in gossip because that’s their escape.

          Women adhering to stereotypes and those challenging it.
          I know We are the same, all of us. Our stories make us different, have us grasping at reality differently.

          Some of us affixed like rubber stamps into categories.

          Good

          Bad

          Beautiful

          Fat

          Bitch

          Cunt

          Whore

          I don’t understand how we make that distinction. We are misfits.  We love our men. We fall in love with other women. We are survivors.
          Impossible that every woman finds a mention here but those that I have seen and those I know of, do.

          Let me lead you through

          Commit

          On the thirteenth page of Barnes’ Levels of Life, I was drawn away for the fraction of a second- I was distracted by a vague recollection of the dream I had last night.

          I was also distracted by the FM radio playing in the background. I was fiddling with the thought of switching it off and concentrating on the words in front of me. And the moment passed. I kept on reading: freedom…..moral space…. and a Kishore Da song about love and other things kept filling the room.

          In a corner, I sat with my bare back pressed against his chest, with him against the wall, his lips on my shoulder as I turn my face and guide them to mine- our hands trying to caress and hold and let go all at the same time.

          In the reception of a resort, I bid him goodbye. We stand there, between us feelings that we didn’t wish to acknowledge. Between us miles that may never be traversed.

          In the reception of a resort, I bid him goodbye. Don’t shrug this off as a repetition just yet. Let me lead you. 

          We stand expectantly, hoping to make this departure a statement that declares pent up feelings that we’re unable to understand.

          In the reception of a resort, between us an electric current, a magnetic attraction of unprecedented proportions.

          I hesitated, closed this distance between us and slid my hands across his waist hoping to give him a momentary half hug, better than the weight of words struggling to explain what we felt. I think it is allowed. It is allowed to make a gesture that says nothing but brings us closer.

          We close our eyes for the split second contact that our bodies make and sigh. Both of us perhaps wishing to go farther than this but held back in a restraining urgency arising out of a lack of mutual declaration of love.

          In the reception of a resort, you watch two people saying their goodbyes. You watch the story as I create it for you. You wonder what has happened before this and if this really is as simple as it looks. It’s not. But thank you for taking a peek inside my imagination. 

          In the reception of a resort, a half hearted goodbye that stays lingering in the air after you’ve seen her walk away towards the exit and him undecided- watching her go.