A short life.

Last week a friend killed herself. I did not know her much, but I knew her.
So many like her. She is me, I am her.

What led her to such depths of despair that she could see no coming back from it? She has a young child who will now grow up motherless. When she was alive I never thought about her but now I cant stop thinking of her.

It makes me look at every person I know with suspicion. Is this person okay? Is this person happy? Will he reach out if he needs to talk to someone? Will she tell someone that she is not feeling okay, not feeling herself? If the person is close to me, or if I see them often, will I be able to spot differences in their behaviour? Will I be able to ring alarm bells before it’s too late?

When the news of some celebrity hanging himself to death or someone shooting himself in the head comes in, it feels shocking but it’s remote. It’s not in my sphere of life, it’s somewhere in some other universe, not on my planet. But when someone you know kills herself, stops her life midway, you get stunned. You visualise and imagine what it must be to be like her, to be the child that’s left behind and it immobilises you.

I consider myself quite perceptive and I can look into someone’s eyes and at least somewhat know what that person is feeling. But so many times, egos and our preconceived notions of how everything should be – come in the way of an honest, heartfelt conversation.

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I also have a bone to pick with Facebook and other social media right now. They are so snoopy , even picking up on conversations happening in the room, but where it matters most, they are unable to do anything.

Many years back when my best friend got pregnant I googled something related to symptoms of first trimester. I was not even thinking about pregnancy then. But after this particular google search, my husband started seeing diaper ads on Facebook. Even while I write this blog post on Notes, it keeps predicting my next word based on the chats I have had with friends over the last couple of days.
But they are completely unable to find out and raise and alarm to friends and family when someone has searched for “ways to kill self” or “how to tie a noose for hanging” . Or something else related to suicide.

Hanging has an estimated fatality rate of 70%. A person in Mulund, Mumbai has developed a suicide prevention fan. If the fan gets pulled down by anything more than 13 kgs, it releases a spring and extends downwards to the floor. Why doesn’t every fan have this spring?

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In Paris in patisserie school, I had a friend who regularly used to cut herself. When I saw it once while helping each other fold the corners of the apple pies, I asked her what this is. But she shrugged it off and I was too young and naive and did not know her well. I tried to look out for her be there if she wanted to talk for the 6 weeks that we were together, but I didn’t do anything more. Now when I see her on social media once or twice in 6 months, it leaves me a with a pang of guilt. She seems to be fine, but then we all seem to be fine, until we aren’t.

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Sarah Manguso has written in a recent article in The Paris Review, “The phrase to die by suicide is too clinical, but I don’t like the phrase to kill yourself, either. Suicide is self-murder only incidentally; mainly, it’s the murder of your tormentor. That you need to break through your body to get to the tormentor is beside the point.”

If not worded correctly, it’s politically incorrect to say this. To say that someone who commits suicide is essentially killing and smashing parts of people who loved them, whom they also loved at some point. And especially if it’s a child you leave behind, the abandonment the child will feel, no matter if he is 3 or 30, is unbearable. No act can be more selfish than this one.

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But I also believe in a contrary point of view to this.
Yiyun Li in her book , “From my life I write..” says ‘One’s wish to die can be as blind and intuitive as one’s will to live, yet the latter is never questioned.’
It’s a matter of perspective. The suicider – the one who commits the act and and the suicidees – all those who are left behind. Its the perspective that matters.

*

“One has made it this far; perhaps this is enough of a reason to journey on.”

Love,

RC.

Where does the sky begin? And other musings.

Do you ever get that feeling where there’s so much to do, yet all you want to do is sit and stare? At the blank sky or the black inky screen of the television, looking at the reflection of the still sofa and go into a numbness so quiet that the motorcycle buzzing on the street below pierces through your head like a long pointy needle? I call it being listless, feeling listless. But I think those are moments when the world feels too overwhelming.

There is so much stimulation from everywhere and so much that a young productive person can do, that lying around sitting on sofas and staring into nothing feels like an utter waste of time. I have always felt I have been the crazy to-do list girl wanting to account for every single day of life , but I heard something on the weekend that tops this habit of mine.

P and R, my cousins, barely 24 and 21 are intermittently feeling inadequate after looking at all the activities their friends and peers are doing and publicising about on LinkedIn. I barely have an account at LinkedIn and I look at it once a month , but these two talented , intelligent girlies are having anxiety attacks reading about the 50 courses their friends are taking on Coursera, or the articles they are writing and the academic things that they are doing. This is next level. I have always looked at Instagram and Facebook posts of my friends and wanted to go on vacations like them or eat at fancy restaurants like them, but hyperventilating about LinkedIn pursuits is so Gen Z, that this millennial doesn’t understand it.

In other news I am watching the series Sex and the City and so much education is happening even for this married-for-9 years-woman, that it would beat any Coursera course by a huge margin. My mom never let me watch it back when it came out in 1999, which was good in a way, because now I have something to binge watch and also practice. Tch Tch.

When I tell my husband that I am feeling listless, uninspired, he generally comes up with a couple of options that will interest me. But on this particular Sunday evening all he said was, same with me, baby, same with me. Lockdown is getting to all of us, and hence both of us sat side by side, quietly, blankly looking at the dull grey sky. And then sighed. May be this is what being married for 9 years is. Sitting and staring and sighing.

Recently husband read a word in a book – ‘uxorious’, it means ‘having or showing a great or excessive fondness for one’s wife.’ The same evening we read this news article where a woman in UP had applied for divorce because she “felt too loved by husband.” The court did not grant her divorce but the wife alleged that at times he even cooked and helped her with household chores. Either this is true and we are all supremely fucked up or Indian media has only two jobs: writing such bizarre stories and talking about Sushant Singh Rajput all day long.

Or maybe people are sick of watching and reading about coronavirus. So many people I have spoken to told me the same thing, earlier they used to track the number of cases, statistics of death rate etc, and now we have become so numb to all of it, and it’s such a railroad wreck that these daily numbers don’t mean a thing. 65,000 plus cases each day?! We are soon going to be number one, but hey, who cares? We have so many people, that the statistics which apply to others don’t really apply to us.

What we could do in the interim is watch endless hours of Arnab shouting his heart out demanding justice for Sushant Singh Rajput and sometimes get to see a pretty face of Kangana Ranaut amidst all the hullabaloo. Hey, Kangana is a fellow curlie, and the first one to parade it onscreen, so I will always have a soft spot for her. But anyway, if that’s not sufficient you can make a group of people and discuss the several rumours that are floating on WhatsApp about SSR murder/ suicide.

That’s not what normal people do? Oh we are indulging in it at every other possibility. And the rest of the time sit and stare. And wonder where the sky begins.

And sigh.

xoxo,

RC

A little prayer , a little faith

One good thing that has happened in the lockdown is that every evening, at dusk, tinhi-saanj, all of us in the house assemble near the little mandir in our house, light a ghee lamp and say the evening prayers. Invariably, without fail since the last 5 months, and we hope to continue even as we resume offices and our exterior lives. It has helped us stay together, and have belief in something which is unseen but still there, steady as a rock since last many centuries. Human faith.

In the end it all comes down to belief. Long time back I had seen a film based on the story by O. Henry , The last leaf. Back then I had not known about this original story, just the Doordarshan adaptation of it called Kathasagar. The young woman who is suffering from depression feels her life is getting wilted away day by day just like the leaves of a plant in her window falling off. Her neighbour, a drunk painter realises it and then just as the last leaf is about to fall off on a stormy night, he goes there and paints a realistic looking leaf. The next morning when the girl sees it she is filled with a spring of hope and comes out of the misery. I must have been 7-8 when I saw this short film and it stayed with me for years to come. This was a placebo effect, a figment of imagination which is possible only if you have faith. The woman, who presumes she will die as the last leaf falls off, wakes up to see the leaf still hanging on to the climber and her life force renews itself and she eventually snaps out of the depression.

I have always believed that the mind is the most powerful machine , most tenacious but wild organ in our body. It can be tamed into whatever we want but it is easily convinced by negative thoughts and sways over to a rogue side throwing caution to the wind. But it can be nurtured into believing what we want it to believe.

As kids, my brother and I used to have periodic attacks of bronchitis. After a few months of allopathy, we moved on to a homeopathic doctor who lived 3 hours away, in the city where my mama-mami, maternal side of my mom’s family lives. After examining us a few times, he later started prescribing little balls of sugar medicine to us on the phone and my dad would buy it at the local pharmacist and we would feel better in 2-3 doses. Now, modern medicine looks down on homeopathic medicine, but something in the whole process definitely worked for us. Talking to doctor kaka on the phone, being reassured by him in his gentle yet firm voice, ‘take two doses, you will be fit and fine’, switched on the self healing mechanism in our brain. Now does that mean I will still go to him for getting surgery if required? Of course not, that will have to be done by a surgeon, but I will still talk to him to get some sugar coated pills to heal faster. And I will, because my brain, my mind believes in it.

The family I am married into is mostly atheist. We have a small mandir with about 4/5 little murtis collected over the years. The regular ones which you find in any Maharashtrian household, Ganpati Bappa , Shankarachi Pind, Bal Krishna, Annapurna Devi, and a shankha on a silver stand and betel nut. When my son was younger, he would often take all the little idols and make a lego mandir for them. Decorate it with flowers. So we are not really big on rituals and prayers, but culturally the act of folding our hands and saying a prayer in from of an oil lamp is ingrained in our being.

Growing up, my father used to make me and my brother come home before 7.30 each evening, wash up, change into home clothes and then sit down to pray. We would say the shubaham karoti , ramraksha and maruti stotra every evening. I was a devout little follower of my dad and since early on I used to take great effort in pleasing everyone around. My brother used to hate it and sitting there for 10 minutes till we finished saying all of this used to be pure torture to him. He would sigh and huff and puff but did not have enough courage to openly rebel against my dad. And I had wicked pleasure in making him do something he did not want to do.
Looking back, those were some of the best moments in life. The fragrance of the incense stick still soothes me, the reverberations of the ramraksha still calm my frayed nerves and give me an intangible but a very strong rope to hold on to when I am at the end of my tether.

When my son grows up and has his own challenges, I want him to remember how to self soothe, calm down by himself and see a way forward. There are many ways to do this: philosophy, conversations with loved ones, deep seated belief in hard work etc. One of the key things I want to give him as a parent is the practice to quieten, to be still , to focus on a prayer or a chant or something of meaning that helps the wavering mind to relax. And if he doesn’t find the words or the vibrations of the prayer of any help, I hope he atleast remembers his family and how much the family loves him, and I hope that gives him mental clarity to see through the problems.

Xoxo

Rutvika

Mad-O-Wat? Not really.

Last week a little dream of mine, that I had harboured since I was 15, shattered. Atleast for a while.

According to news article , Sapna Bhavnani has closed her salon Mad-o-wat. The covid19 shutdown, loss of income and the high rent in Bandra forced her to shut her shop for now. It came as a shock to me, because for the last 20 years I have nurtured a dream to go there and get a haircut from her.

My hair has always been so curly and so unruly. Before I found the Curly Girl (CG) Method, and stopped using harsh chemical based shampoos, my hair used to be one tangled mass of hair, chidiya ka ghosla. In school if I had left my hair down in a ponytail instead of the two tight plaits, someone would throw little paper balls in my hair and it would stay there till I combed it the next day. I was subject to being called “Maggi” “Sathya saibaba” etc etc. And so I have always dreamed of finding the one hairstylist who would cure my hair into something more sexy, more charming. But that was not to be. Any hair stylist I went to would suggest to straighten my hair, till then they would disdainfully pick up a lock of hair and pronounce it “dead”, this hair cant be turned into anything pretty. Dreams crushed and heart broken.

But I felt Sapna Bhavnani would be able to work her magic on my hair. The tattooed bold stylist full of oomph was the cure to my malady. I was also majorly in love with her writing. She used to write in Sunday Mid-day about her life, being a woman, dating, her bikes and tattoos and S-E-X and I had read nothing like that as a 19 year old. I wanted to be her, I would look forward to her article every Sunday. 2006/2007 was a time of paper newspapers and I had to wait for my father to come home from his night-shift as a police officer, and hope that he would buy the very sensationalist tabloid Mid-day, a paper published only in Mumbai. Remember Mid-day? It also used to have Mid-day mate, the only place to see a woman in a bikini so casually in those times. I would wolf it down and day-dream the rest of the day. Not the mid-day mate but the article and Sapna Bhavnani’a words. Later when I started travelling out of Mumbai for work, and this paper won’t be available in any other city, my then (boy)friend would buy the paper and keep it for me. It was more precious to me than roses or chocolates or whatever.

But I never went to the salon. It was not affordable to go to Bandra from Mulund all the way to get an expensive haircut, and anyway no-one realises that I have had a haircut, my hair always looks the same. So I didn’t go. Later on, I straightened my hair, then turned to the CG method and wear my curls proudly since last 4 years, but Mad-O-Wat is now closed.

It’s so strange how we keep postponing something for later and then the thing never happens. I was always fond of quotes since childhood and one of my favourite ones was inscribed on a bookmark that came with Lonely Planet magazine. “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” I used this adage to do a lot of other things unbeknownst to my parents, but I still regret the ones I didn’t do.

My grandma wanted to go and have a meal at The Taj in Nariman Point. Again, earlier it was not affordable, then we got so busy building our career to earn the money to be able to afford such things, that we got real busy and never got time to do these things. Grandmum got bedridden for a year and then passed away in 2011. Since then I have had countless meals at The Taj, mostly with foreign business visitors, but every time I go there, I feel a pang of guilt for not having brought her here.

May be that’s why people make bucket lists. But what about silly little things that you want to do like a haircut or meal in a fancy restaurant, will these also go in the bucket list? Or are these just wishful thinking thoughts? If we write down every little thing that we want to do at least once in a lifetime, the bucket list will run into eighteen pages, front and back.

But better to have a long list and work on ticking it off than be filled with disappointment for the things we didn’t do or didn’t remember to do at the right time.

What say?

Xoxo,
Rutvika

P.s : I later met Sapna Bhavnani at a Feminist Rani conference and had stardust sprinkled on me.

The resilience of everyday things

When I sit in the balcony of our house, I see one older woman in the building diagonally opposite to us. She is going on about her daily work , her details visible only when she comes near the window. Folding plastic bags neatly into a small rectangle and keeping it under the bed so it flattens out, watering the single but splendidly fresh plant in the window, sorting through sprouted pulses looking for a stone or an un-sprouted grain, folding and storing newspapers in the corner of the window, storing some more documents in plastic bags , neatly compressed to save space in a Mumbai apartment. Her rhythmic movements and her quiet, self assured way is a great accompaniment to my morning cup of chai. And the pair of sparrows who seem to have adopted me as their guardian. They are okay with me sitting in the balcony while they go on picking seeds from the bird feeder, removing the outer cover and chewing on the seed. My two companions before the world around me gets active and starts buzzing around.

Since the coronavirus threat started in our country, we asked Akshay’s 84 year old grandmother Tara ajji, to come and live with us till this all clears away. She wakes up much before anyone else does and sleeps much later. As you grow older, you tend to need very little sleep she tells us when we are amazed at finding her awake all the time. She is always busy around the house. Making tea, making chapatis, cleaning and sorting the vegetables, cleaning bottles and jars with such intense care , they must be feeling rather loved. In our super fast life of consumption, we don’t care about these things that much anymore. We are a use and throw culture, lack of time, easy availability of fancier items. Use cups till the bottom corners get so stained that we replace them. Use hand towels for a while and once they get worn out , throw them away or convert them to rags. But not for the women of Tara ajji’s generation. She spends several minutes per cup ensuring each and every inaccessible ring is cleaned till it is spotless.

I remember my paternal grandmother go through similar activities when I used to go stay at her house. She would put on the radio _vividbharati_ at 6 am and start her chores. Boiling the milk, making tea, making breakfast, rolling the chapatis, combing her long hair and tightly fixing it into a bun.

These daily rituals, routine mundane activities which need to be done every single day are the real crux of life. They lend a certainty and order inside the home, inside our head so that the big wide world broadcasted into our homes via news channels and social media can stay out and not disturb our peace.

I also remember my uncle, my mama, getting the bags of milk every morning and washing them with a spray of detergent water and then washing it again under running water before it went into the fridge. We also do it now in the covid19 times, but we used to be more careless earlier under the guise of building immunity.

What would we do without these rituals that separate the day into morning noon and night?

When my son was a baby, we used to have an elaborate night time schedule of winding down. Taking a shower, drinking a cup of milk, reading a quiet story, asking each other questions about the day and then he would finally snuggle into me and go to sleep.

We still do more or less the same things at night, but I have to reluctantly pull him from the world of fantasies in his head and then he sleeps in his own bed while continuing to ask questions about Star Wars or Jurassic Park, which I know nothing about. He seems to be closer to his dad than me now, because dad is the cooler one, a Jedi with a lightsaber.

I am thankful for these little things I get to witness especially when the pace of life has slowed down and we are all looking inwards.

Is it too mundane? Too ordinary?

It’s essential. No matter what, the sun also rises and sets everyday, the plants continue to grow and birds continue to forage for food.

And human? We continue to do all these things and more. Day in and day out.

What would be life without it?

Xoxo,

Rutvika