Sadness has clawed its way into your heart and taken you in its sweaty, clutch grasp. It follows you around like a dog you exiled only returning to leave dead birds at your doorstep. Wake up in the grab of dawn, alone in your bed and experience a flighty jolt – a made-up sense of repartee with time, the weight of the duvet vanquishing all existential dread. Put a kettle on to boil, watch the tea leaves swirl like flower petals as you smoke a cigarette and envision the funeral of a loved one, stretch your arms out, still ringing from the breathlessness of the last orgasm, peel oranges and pop them into the mixer – the steady whirring accompanying the dullness of your thoughts. Wash the fresh orange juice down with a sliver of aspirin; it’s a morning full of the feeling of letting go. It’s certainly not pleasant, you’ve tried being indifferent but you’ve always had that feeling in your gut – of skipping your meals again. There are days you try too hard and days you don’t try at all but none of this is important. The way your hands move makes me think of the sadness etched in their veins as you lovingly feed the colony cats with bits of old roti and milk. They watch you with piercing grey eyes and eyes like almonds dipped in honey. They circle around you surreptitiously and on good mornings, one lets you touch its soft, silken coat as the morning sun dapples through the few remaining trees on the block. You turn your face up to the sun, eyes scrunched and remember the time, you lay at the edge of the world, one eye shut against the sun, lips grazing a stray nipple, the dip of a shoulder eclipsing constellations.
You will do things, all sorts of things to give your life purpose – build birdcages with chicken wire but no bird would inhabit its insides, you would buy plants that can survive without too much care or sunlight, not listen to your local botanist and still water them every evening. Before you know it, the plants would bloom, held in place against a Velcro fence, growing and curving towards the slivers of sunlight that you similarly, curve towards as you wake up. You will look up recipes your mother didn’t teach you since she was too busy working and buying you books that kept you company bored, lonely teenage afternoons. You’d buy an apron, complete the sacred picture of domesticity, skin the chicken like you’ve only seen on DIY cooking videos, sprinkle it with parsley, thyme and basil, a lick of butter and lemon and pop it in the oven. You’d set the timer to 350°F for 30 minutes, smoke another cigarette, remember the time you slid on top in the cold, bare attic with mattresses that felt like blocks of ice as snowflakes floated up to your window. You clung on to each other in the Eastern European cold that had a way of crawling into the crevices in your blanket and settling in your bones, making your eyes heavy from the mulled wine and steady waft of wood smoke, you’d skinned a freshly caught silver carp as it floated right below your fingertips swallowing planktons, you were nervous about your skinny frame, bones jutting out at oblique angles, nervous about your music collection (how is ‘disco’ the defining genre of what you listen to?), nervous about your ability to fish; you considered yourself a city rat, a voyeur to the many similar stories of people encased behind glass walls, you had fingers like sausages capable only of rolling out wheat in round mounds of a roti and recently, snapping fingers as you mimic the people surrounding you at open mic events, your inherent skepticism, quietly envious and admirable of people putting themselves out there, you think of a time when everything was a bit easier, the hardest days were tinged a brighter shade of blue with an idea to look forward to. Now, love was a concept for rich people and sadness more tangible.
Get off a bus at 7 am opposite the old colony with the taste of sleep and longing in your mouth, trudge home in an auto that refuses to go by metre but it’s too early to argue for 40 rupees, the wind whips your hair against your face and wakes you up and you wonder if you’d benefit from living in another neighbourhood – a less gentrified neighbourhood. “Places turn far less interesting once the rich move in,” you think to yourself as you look out at the fat SUVs spilling over public pavements turned to slopes to accommodate the imported tires. Rush on home, you’re out of groceries but the chai masala sits ominously on one end of the stove, call for milk, pour it in, watch the tea leaves swirl, let it boil, pour it out in a tumbler complete with a cap to keep the liquid in place, hail another auto, ring a doorbell to an unknown house and wait.
Wait, and question your decision to surprise your lover who’s just moved out.
You’re in his arms, and he’s in yours but the chai’s gone cold despite the tumbler the shopkeeper promised would keep it warm. Your arms are entangled with each other’s’ even though the room feels alien with its retro-futuristic stone walls, the pale blue bed-cover that reminds you of a sky you crane your neck to catch an eyeful of every morning. The way you two kiss has always been slightly off – like two tongues confused about where they are, hesitant, questioning; it’s been two years but the way you kiss refuses to change so you turn to astrology for answers because literature provides you with none. The romantic turns sexual, perverse, you just wanted hugs and cuddles but he has therapy in ten minutes so you leave the tumbler, you put on your sunglasses, you can never catch up with the coastal sun and its persistent rays lighting up nooks and corners you try so hard to not look into, catch an auto and you return to your singular room with a rusty fan that you’ve never switched on but you like to look at, lying face up on your bed as the bedsheet sticks to your perspiring body, you consider the fan, almost a relic to the meagre life you’ve spent here, Instagram stories the only testament to your experience in this city. The din of the morning rush hour fades, the flutewallah, sharp at the strike of two, plays a Bollywood tune on his flute – impeccable from start to finish. Their pop culture symbols repulse you despite you practicing the expensive mindfulness techniques you’ve picked up at the nearest yoga studio, you don’t like the pungent smell of fish that seeps up your nostrils and sits like stones on top of your eyes and you don’t relate to the general lack of conflict, the desire to be unseen, barely even a face in a milieu of people, people clinging to their average day as they’ve stopped subscribing to newspapers, phones tuned to the newest OTT platform, streaming glossy videos about shiny people with problems that make yours fade away for the time being, meditating on other’s struggles as a way to ignore your own pain is a heady place to exist in, one that finds its place of equal delusion and envy plugged in by social media and yet – you cannot stop. You accrue all the minute details of your life, hoping that it paves the way to something more profound, you look at your friends returning from foreign universities, 1 crore down in student debt but with bylines in the Guardian (UK, not India), and you think of all the eyes and smells you pass by on the road every day – the one with the genital warts, their worries and fears deep in their eye sockets and in the folds of their skin, the ones at the Mountain Climbing Forums with the gashes across their calves, you look at the relic taped to the ceiling of the old-Parsi style house you live in (you pass it off a revival of the Rennaisance but in reality, writing paycheques don’t cash that hard), you think of your father and his kind eyes and how much you love him but he identifies as Muslim and won’t understand why you chose to fall in love with a Brahmin boy from Karnataka and soon, your eyes chase the sun’s last rays like sharks cruising waves as the sky turns pink and people trickle out of their glass homes and offices, onto the roads, a woman roasts corns and peanuts by the corner, locks on bars loosen and you think of how warm his eyes feel as they rest on you lovingly, how when you both watch something funny, you turn to each other to acknowledge the sudden mirth you feel, a lightness of mind and body that jars with the weight of everyday mundanity that sits on your limbs, you think of how you discard your own sadness and he does the same when you two can’t afford dinner at the nearest restaurant so you look up recipes on BBC ‘How To Cook’ because the British-Indians just have simpler recipes for the dishes your mother could cook with her eyes closed and on some days, you can’t discern between cumin and coriander powder but work calls while you’re on your way to collect some herbs and date night is cancelled but he comes home to you with his exhausted arms and tired eyes and you hold onto each other like a crucifix and nod off to a dreamless sleep, hugs suffice when words don’t and you look up at the relic on your ceiling and wonder how many such small miracles has it borne witness to, you wonder about how you used to believe sadness was infectious, certainly, but not half as much as your grudging acceptance of happiness.
All Image credit to Akshay Singh