By Anju Anand
I was never one to think, I just existed. Because existence is hard enough as it is. What with all the requirements for getting through a day. One needed nourishment, one needed sleep, one needed companionship, one needed protection for when one’s own mind is lulled to slumber, and one needed purpose. For why should one bother living another second otherwise?
Whoever designed the system seemed to have thought well ahead to keep everyone busy, going behind every little thing, that one doesn’t have the time or the energy to wonder about purpose, and instead they trudge along like clockwork. It was genius, really. And it would’ve worked with me too, had some dumb wit not left me alone, locked in a room, taking away hope for everything else from me, leaving me with the final question – why am I here?
I should back up a little bit. I am a twenty something year old living in one of the dingiest slums of my area. I wouldn’t know if it was the dingiest of the lot because I haven’t been around, for obvious reasons.
When I was born, it was said that the skies wept. But I’ve always considered it to be more of the skies reaching out to me, caressing me in their own way. Then again, I caught a fever thanks to the subsequent cold that spread. So I’m not sure which version to believe. Or maybe it is what it is and I was reading too much into it because I wanted it to be in my favour. Who knows? But a girl needs a will to live, and hence I always welcomed the rains, albeit with a vary distance given the experience with the fever.
I am a single child who mostly resides in her own head. Which really suited my parents because they had enough to scream at each other about and didn’t really have the time for another living being. That was completely alright by me – I could fantasize. And that is how my childhood sped away. I lived in multiple universes, all the while my body rested on the dirt that found its way into our home that never got kicked out. Besides, it is hard to make friends when you have to work every minute of the day. I think my only time of leisure was when I didn’t know how to walk. That seems like a good state to go back to, however, I’ve always felt that I’m better off any moment more than any of the previous ones.
I grew up learning to make bangles, to make odds and ends as is demanded by the market. Sometimes it was mats, sometimes it was dresses, all the same I enjoyed the learning process and applying the ways of making one thing into another, for fundamentally, they seemed to have some underlying structure that I was beginning to get a grasp of. And while my thoughts were deep within, I tuned out every fight my parents had, which is probably why I didn’t realise my father left home until it was too late. Like a week late. Yeah, I’m not one to pay attention to external sounds.
It was then that I noticed the internal breakdowns of my mother. Not that she tried to hide it before, mind you, just that I had gotten so good at tuning everything out.
I wondered, should I have let it all in before? Would that have made anything better? The fantasies seemed a better place to live in, given that I could make things up as I wished and not be bothered by reality.
I’d taken up a job as a newspaper delivery girl by then and I had a whole early morning routine. I had to walk to the newspaper office, take my bunch of papers to supply the address list which I knew by heart by now, and cycle my way to each place with the cycle they had so thoughtfully provided. I had to return the cycle after my rounds, of course. But I always took it for one leisure round before taking it back. They had no way of measuring mileage.
The newspaper job led me to interactions with human beings apart from my mother and father who hadn’t really set a good precedent.
The first time someone tried to make contact by giving me a chocolate, I cycled as fast as I could away from there. The girl then left me a chocolate in the spot I placed the newspaper. Food was scarce, so I grabbed it and fled. But overtime, she came closer to me each day and I found myself gazing into her face. I realised then that I hadn’t learned how to make the sounds that people around me seem to be making. I desperately wanted to tell her thank you, but how? This was going to take effort.
That night, I paid attention to my mother. Maybe I could use the expressions she was using, but I didn’t feel like they were giving any kind of a positive vibe.
I decided to observe more human beings. Maybe someone out there would express something positive and I could learn from them. And that is how my newspaper rounds got longer. My mother was annoyed I was not spending enough time on the bangles, or whatever it was we were making that day, but I was content. I could see hope – I could see myself conveying something to her. And some of the sounds I listened to caused my heart to feel different kinds of emotions – longing, happiness, sadness, loss, the whole spectrum of it all.
Every day I’d look at her, the words becoming more and more solid in my mind and yet not completely coming out as sounds. And everyday she would smile for me. My one friend I could come home to. Even though physically, that was not where I lived.
There was something wrong in the general air though. People seemed to be upset. No, upset does not do the feeling justice. Furious, maybe?
I was seeing a rise in deaths and I wondered why. Was a disease spreading in the land? Was I in the risk of catching a fever, only, a fatal one this time?
The dead were not even given a proper funeral, they were taken away to the edge of the forest and dumped there, and there wouldn’t be a shred remaining the next day.
I did not have the luxury of distancing myself from things because doing so would definitely mean death by starvation, not doing so, however, only meant a probable death. I chose the latter.
On one of the subsequent days, and I still remember the day clearly, the gloom in the air had not reduced. It was colder than it should feel like, and as I went on my newspaper rounds, my friend had not come to see me. I feared the worst. I dashed back home to find that my mom was not there. She’s never really left home before.
The silence was too loud, it was unbearable. I cycled to the edge of the forest, hoping against all odds to not find what I was looking for. And yet, find them, I did. I hugged them hard, I did not have the resources or knowledge to send them off in the appropriate way and yet in my mind, I was doing so.
I cycled back home, because I didn’t know where else to go. But someone had seen me in close contact with them.
And when I entered my home, I was locked within.
— What is it that’s stopping me from telling the world that I genuinely love it and for once I wish it would love me back? Maybe it’s the thought that it does, in its own small ways. In the way the clouds break into rain to soothe my soul and bring peace and rhythm to the otherwise tumultuous rigours in my mind. In the way the little sprouts seem to stick out of nowhere to let me know that life can arise amidst a dreary setting. To let me know how beautiful it is to live. How wonderful is it that listening to a particular series of beats brings one to a known setting, and can make one feel emotions even without words.
I don’t have a place I belong to, but isn’t the universe for me to explore?
I don’t have a face to come home to, but isn’t what I’m yearning for spread across every speck of living being?
Maybe this requirement of needing a home and a person to come back to is just an extension of the ego of the self. Maybe all one needs is oneself and the knowledge that every little thing around and within put together is a whole, nothing else. Maybe coming to this realization will cease my existence because to exist means to yearn for love and support, for home and comfort, and that is lost once the meaning behind it is lost. Once the meaning that a word held is lost, it is nothing but a connection of syllables – it does not exist in consciousness anymore. Maybe that is why we are unable to process things beyond a certain point – it is a kind of a suicide mission and the mind tries it’s best to protect itself, for survival is key to evolution.
But why life?