Saturday, March 1, 2014

Wanted child of the universe

Loss is brutal. It breaks you…into little pieces. I have been broken thrice…first by Shekhar’s sudden departure, two years later by Mom’s and two weeks after her, my father-in-law. The toll has been exponential…it is now coming up to six years since Shekhar, during which time I have felt victimized, emotionally mugged and physically bruised…with a reduced field of vision and a remarkably constricted scale of life. I have focused only on the next moment, the next step, the next action, the next…the next…until at the five year mark, I looked up. I am glad I did.

In January of 2013, I entered the Passions Contest of Mills & Boon India with a very brief first chapter of a romance novel, not for a moment thinking that my truncated writing would stand a chance in the competition. I made the top three and as a part of the reward, won a mentoring opportunity with the UK editors of Harlequin… A six month struggle to write romance while toggling my core writing on development later, my editor sent me a mail that made looking up worth it... They liked the manuscript. They would publish it in a two-book deal! For the first time in years, I felt like a wanted child of the universe.

Now, as the book hits the shelves* this week…I am setting it free to travel on its karmic journey…it is symbolic of my own traverse up the mountain of grief and down the other side. That’s the insight, there is the other side…but more important is the realization that I am a wanted child of the universe and…someone up there definitely loves me…

Here’s raising a toast to romancing the night…Shekhar, Mom, Dad…I hope you’ll join me.

Salud! Cheers! Chin, Chin!


*The book is available online at Harlequin India , Infibeam and Flipkart and will hit bookshelves across India in the coming week.

***

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Wrestling with demons

©Jyoti Singh Visvanath
As one year ends and another begins, there is a sense of change, of letting go, of looking forward, of making the past year a part of the repository of your life.


I find that as the years accumulate after Shekhar, calendar time does not really have the same meaning for me. In some ways, I am still in the same place I was nearly six years ago and in others, I have travelled so far that even memory does not serve me well. This treading of two worlds is exhausting. I am told to move on, let go…but what does it really mean?

How do you really move on from your essence, your definition? How do you let go of the best part of yourself? What if you don’t like the person you are becoming? The questions are demons…they come at you in the quiet of the night, slipping into your dreams and rearing their ugly heads each time you think you have them under control. I wrestle and find myself wanting. So far, it has not been a fair fight because I am vulnerable, fragile and weak…something’s got to give but what and how?
To hark back to the infamous dialogue from the film Jerry McGuire…Shekhar completed me, as I did him. That was because we were young and finding ourselves together…but that has changed. I no longer seek or need completion. It’s balance that I yearn for. I miss the other voice, the perspective of another vantage, the point of view and support of the better parent…this is a lonely place and the challenges are many. I wrestle and find myself wanting.
As I wake in the morning and face another day, life calls in different ways. Time folds telescopically, appearing on my face and body, in the growing bodies of the boys, in marked folders in the storehouse of memory and life, in spaces and voids…in a cumulative past. My default state is to hide and never leave the comfort of my safe place but it is time to wrestle with the demons…it may not be a fair fight…I may forever be vulnerable, fragile and weak but as long as I am here I owe it to myself to embrace this shadow of my previous self, to take that first step into the unknown world of moving on and letting go…making the effort to die empty. Who knows where this new journey will take me? I can only commit to one little step right now…the rest lies in anticipation that the demons will find someone else to wrestle with…

***

When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can't replace
When you love someone, but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?

…When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth…

From the lyrics of “Fix you” by Coldplay

*
Look into my eyes
It's where my demons hide
Don't get too close
It's dark inside
It's where my demons hide

They say it's what you make
I say it's up to fate
It's woven in my soul
I need to let you go

From the lyrics of “Demons” by Imagine Dragons











Sunday, November 24, 2013

Playback...


The boys hated my last post. They thought it was lazy and did not fulfil the contract with the reader. In my defence, there were two reasons I chose to post a video of a song… apart from the title ‘I grieve’ and the haunting music of Peter Gabriel, the lyrics suddenly had a new resonance. Especially, the line from the chorus – life goes on and on and on… Then there is the change in tempo towards the second half of the song. I have realized that much against my will and resistance…life does go on and on and on…relentless, overwhelming and at times, in what seems like an unending spiral…but with grace, always with a touch of grace. The change in tempo reminds me that despite all the pain, there is hope for alleviation.

I was hit by a bout of nostalgia recently after listening to some music that I was passionate about in the past. Like any of the senses, it brought back memories…and with them the freshness of a pain that I am trying to move away from. It’s not funny when you can put a time and place to something you heard for the first time or what became a signature of treasured and shared moments or a totem of love.

It means that I cannot listen to Enigma without thinking of Zambia or Deep Forest without envisioning the Western Ghats. This music is embedded at a cellular level, not just in my memory but the boys’ too. It brings recollections of long drives, mountains made green by rain and mist rising from the bowels of valleys…just the four of us…happy, together, whole…

Shekhar was a romantic, something he demonstrated most ably by choosing music that expressed what he could not say. I remember Foreigner’s ‘Waiting for a girl like you,’ Rick Astley’s, ‘Never gonna give you up,’ and ‘Drive’ by Cars were songs he recommended I listen to when we first started going out. When he shared his precious stash of cassette tapes with me, there was no question about my place in his life. Over the years, he continued to search and find other musical missives…my life had a background score.

I will admit when I heard some of the songs again, I was gutted. But listening to them on repeat has somehow sweetened the pain of remembrance…those were good times. At least I had those…

Now, as I find myself changing, the choice of music has changed too. New music defines my score – remastered and remixed. It includes the sound of our older son’s soul playing on his guitar, songs our younger one chooses for me and whatever resonates at some subconscious level and pounds to the beat of my heart. I feel blessed. These are good times too…even if life does go on and on and on…

***

Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness
But it's better than drinkin' alone

Sing us a song you're the piano man
Sing us a song tonight
Well we're all in the mood for a melody
And you got us feeling alright


From “Piano Man” by Billy Joel

 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Need I say more...



"I Grieve"
 
by

Peter Gabriel
 
It was only one hour ago
It was all so different then
There's nothing yet has really sunk in
Looks like it always did
This flesh and bone
It's just the way that you would tied in
Now there's no-one home

 I grieve for you
You leave me
'so hard to move on
Still loving what's gone
They say life carries on
Carries on and on and on and on

The news that truly shocks is the empty empty page
While the final rattle rocks its empty empty cage
And I can't handle this

I grieve for you
You leave me
Let it out and move on
Missing what's gone
They say life carries on
They say life carries on and on and on

Life carries on
In the people I meet
In everyone that's out on the street
In all the dogs and cats
In the flies and rats
In the rot and the rust
In the ashes and the dust
Life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

It's just the car that we ride in
 A home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in
And life carries on and on and on and on
Life carries on and on and on

Did I dream this belief?
Or did I believe this dream?
Now I will find relief
 I grieve...



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Run first…choose your destination later


It has been a challenging year, thus far. For the most part, I have found myself at the receiving end of many lessons from the Universe, which was why a horoscope prediction this week made me smile – “You will make plans…and the Universe will laugh.”

Shekhar and I had that in common. We were both planners, with plans A, B and C always in place. But his going reduced my vision and ability to look forward. I relied on the next best thing. Lists. Each tick mark, a step towards an unknown destination. I did not think of outcomes and what's next. It was just enough to take one step and live one day, at a time. This telescoping was very useful. It made the trivial extraneous. It made fear redundant. Not planning liberated me from the tedium of thinking through and working out all options and scenarios. This has been a blessing in disguise. It has allowed God’s grace to work. He has carried me.

As creatures of habit and bias, we struggle to live in the moment, to breathe deeply and actually be present. I have learnt this the hard way. In the past five years, I have clung to memory, to the pain of remembrance, living in the dark abyss of anger and bitterness, victimized by a past I could not rewrite and a future that refused to unfold. I was a failed state and the Universe was laughing at me. I did what I could do…I got out of its way.

It is only then, I found His grace become visible. Unplanned things happened, what needed to happen, happened seamlessly, unknown people appeared as angels, familiars became God’s instruments …helping hands were everywhere. Hiding in the dark depths of despair, I was hard to help. Something shifted at the five year mark this year, I allowed a hand to reach out and pull me to where I could see some light. Letting it guide me, I took one step and another…and the light became brighter. It is where I stand now. I know one misstep can send me hurtling back to the bottom. It has happened before.

The key difference is - I am now looking up. Not letting the light out of my sight. It is difficult and the need to retract and return is like a siren song floating up from the abyss. I resist its call. Just like I resist the urge to plan. I have only now understood, nothing I could ever think or imagine would equal or surpass what the Universe has planned for me. I have surrendered to its will and found that…the Universe is laughing not at but with me.

***

Somewhere there's a star that's shining
So bright that I can see you smile…
From “Things my father said” by Black Stone Cherry

*

I’ve done it, I’ve done it!

Guess what I’ve done!

Invented a light that plugs into the sun.

The sun is bright enough,

The bulb is strong enough,

But, oh, there’s only one thing wrong…

The cord ain’t long enough.

Inventionby Shel Silverstein

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What about today?


Sixty four months and another birthday looming…Should one continue to mark the birthday of a dead loved one? Why does the day still hold the power to bring you to your knees?

I remember the first time I met Shekhar…it was a strange happenstance. A lift that would not stop. Trapped by fate in close quarters with no choice but to acknowledge each other. There were no fireworks, just embarrassed laughter. There was no meaning, no significance. It was only after a few meetings that the why became apparent. Life had brought us to a place and awareness where we recognized each other as souls that had travelled together before and were meant to travel together again through another lifetime. A soul mate? That is just a term we use…I am sure there are many in each journey. Families of souls have been said to travel together. Some are bound to us by blood, some by circumstance but it is the ones that we recognize that make the journey worthwhile. Strangers at first, the connection that arcs beyond what can be explained by mere contact is a spiritual experience that defies logic and rationale. It happens with that person with whom the conversation assumes a depth of previous knowing, the one who responds to your unasked questions, touches the core of your very being and understands your unexpressed dreams, needs and fears…

On my birthday that year, Shekhar spent more than half his salary to ensure that we celebrated in a way neither of us would forget. It was a tradition he carried through our time together…birthdays did not mean a day…they meant anticipation, build up, a crescendo and then as he loved to say when the day was done, “It’s still your birthday somewhere in the world.”

The boys have carried the tradition forward for me and expect the same level of celebration for their own. We relive Shekhar’s dictum by making it seem like the day will never end. It is Shekhar’s birthday that poses a problem… expressing religious gratitude for giving him to us is par for the course now. But each passing year makes me wonder at the cosmic joke played on me by a God with an unfathomable sense of humour…what do I do with a day that makes me both jubilant and wrenches my soul? A day, I wish, the calendar would skip…

I have been told that at the level of consciousness there is no beginning or end, the soul’s journey is a continuum of shedding one body and donning another in an effort to evolve. We choose our lessons for each lifetime as we enter the world…then we forget what we have chosen the moment we are born so that life can be explored anew. We leave when we have learnt the lessons we came to this world for…time remains a human construct, the day of our birth into one life just a milestone in our eternal journey…I envy the fact that Shekhar’s lessons were done before mine. His birthday is a grim reminder that at the level of my soul, I chose to be here without him…to learn and grow through grieving for him. Although that begs the question – why, I now understand that this parting is just a separation in this physical plane…I obviously have many more lessons to learn but there is a certain peace in knowing that he still travels with me.

Happy Birthday, my angel!

***

It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but only retire a little from sight and afterwards return again. Nothing is dead; men feign themselves dead, and endure mock funerals… and there they stand looking out of the window, sound and well, in some strange new disguise.

Ralph Waldo Emerson
*
The sun is breaking in your eyes
To start a new day.
This broken heart can still survive
With a touch of your grace.
Shadows fade into the light.
I am by your side,
Where love will find you.

From the lyrics of “What about now?” by Daughtry


 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Reminiscence bump

I have recently had several opportunities to revisit pieces of me from the past. Parts of me that were forgotten, lay buried or have lived on the edges of my memory through the years…it has been a peculiar experience to encounter this stranger to me, the one my friends talk about in the third person…the Jo I knew would have, could have, should have…did, said…

Joan Didion wrote in 1968 that, “Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.” I am one of those people. Over the years, I have had a compulsive need to log my life in notebooks. I started early and along the way although I have lost some of those records of memory and the therapeutic aspects of talking to oneself on the page, I find some fragments live on in other people’s recollection of me. Different times, different people, different memories…

Funnily, when you are with people from different stages of your life, you recapture some of your old spirit. Becoming for that period, the person you were. It has been surprising to relearn about who I was in the eyes of others. Was I really that person? If I was, where did I go? Who is this person I see in the mirror every morning?

In her book, “Time Warped,” Claudia Hammond speaks of the reminiscence bump, which refers to the fact that we are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25, largely because of the novelty. This is the period that records the largest number of firsts and ties into when we are forming our unique identity.

I met Shekhar during this period of my life. Our time together was full of firsts and the memories are both strong and vivid but I am learning I have other firsts, ones that came before Shekhar. The ones I recently rediscovered…sublimated below the grime of years gone by. Made shiny and new by friends, who I have not met for decades…our mutual absence from each other’s lives making certain memories sharper and others fade into insignificance. 

The reminiscence bump has been known to recur for those who undergo major transformations in identity later in life. It has taken me five years to reach a point where I am willing to let go of the sadness, to look at not what was taken away but what was given, to stand at the threshold of such a transformation… I have and am accumulating many more firsts after Shekhar. As I forge this new identity, part old self, part consolidation of who I was with and because of him, part damaged, part regenerated…I cannot wait to meet the me I am becoming.

***

We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at four a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.

Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem