The social animal

No man is an island, they said. Man is a social animal, they said.

They were right.

All this while, I thought, I like my alone time. I enjoy time with myself. I can’t stand people and their drama.

I was right too, but also so wrong. I do enjoy being by myself. I recently realised that I need my people too.

What changed, you ask?
I started my internship. I’m officially no more a medical student. I’m a doctor in training. I’m a few months in, and I’ve learned to be an adult, more than anything else. Handling people, situations, stress, getting the job done. These are the skills my internship has taught me, these skills that may be as important as how to deliver a baby or how to suture. These skills I didn’t even realise were that important.

But the most important lesson of all, is that I need my people. My support system. My friends, my family.

I would have gone crazy without them. My days are extremely volatile. Some good, some bad, some exhilarating, torturous, or plain boring. Through all this emotional yo-yo ing, I’ve felt like I’ve become a teenager again. I hated it. But my people have kept me together.

A patient ear, or a much needed hug, or a trip out to lunch, or party time. A trip home, a home cooked meal, a pat on the head, the voice of my sister. Sympathetic nods, furious expressions of affront, a compliment, a word of appreciation. A haircut, a new trinket, a new flavour of yogurt. Or just a familiar face, a kind voice, a smile in the middle of the day, a midnight message. These are the things that have kept me going.

I’ve realised I can’t go a single day without my people. I’d go mad. A little bit. Be it calling my mom everyday ( you may make fun of me. I don’t care. She’s supermom), or my best friend, a hostel mate I haven’t talked to in a while, a friend who’s a blast from the past, or my sisters or my dad, this is what has been my rock. That at the end of the day, I have a rock solid core of people behind me. Who will catch me if I need it, who will help me fly when I’m ready.

That is what we call family. Not just blood. A bond. Trust. Love. Help. Even if you don’t ask.

To my people, you know who you are. Thank you. I couldn’t have made it anywhere without you.

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Writing and romantics.

For a time, I thought I wanted to be a writer. I don’t know what I was thinking. My introduction to writing itself was an accident of circumstance. There was a competition and they had no one to go participate. I was picked because my English was good from a lifetime of carefully monitored reading. And by a lifetime, I mean about five, six years. And still, at one point, I thought I wanted to be a writer.

When you think of somebody being a writer, you automatically pull up the image of a middle aged man, probably bearded, wearing a shawl or a sweater, sitting at an old fashioned no nonsense wooden desk. An ink pen in his hand and sheets of yellowing paper on said desk. The crackle of a fire somewhere nearby and the chill of hillside air. But the reality is more like a girl lounging in her nightpants tapping away at a laptop or her phone trying in vain to be a writer. Maybe I was enamored of the image.

I’ll never know. Sometimes writing is a beautiful experience, all that it’s supposed to be. Words flow onto paper even before you think them. The story demands to be told and you’re just a muse holding pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard. You form sentences, create images, imagine characters and tell a story that’s already real in your head. It’s magical. There’s no dissecting or duplicating the process.

But sometimes writing is overrated. It has to do with days, even months of frustration. Of banging your head against the figurative desk. Words get stuck, there are no stories, the voice feels stilted, and you feel hopeless. You try to write something beautiful, but it reeks of the trying. There’s no effortless beauty or flowing sentences. It’s all a giant blocked up mess, until you’re reduced to writing about the block itself. I used to think writer’s block wasn’t a thing. Joke’s on me.

I can write, but I wasn’t meant to be a writer. I read works of the greats. The writers who were meant to be. They fit my image of the perfect writer. Their work flows, it speaks, it tells a story. Ruskin bond, J.K. Rowling, Stephen king. Effortless, prolific, beautiful. I feel jealous. And resigned to being an admirer. Maybe I wasn’t meant to create. But that’s the thing about writing. You never know. You don’t need a gift for writing, a flair for language or a mastery of technique. You just need a story waiting to be told. And there’s a story to be found anywhere, as long as you’re open to listen. So maybe there’s hope yet.

The first time

The first time I realised I grew up.

Was it when you got married?

And I was remembering the times we played farmandia and you were jealous of my pickle factory?

Was it when I got my first salary?
When I worked my first Sunday?
When I gave advice instead of take it?
When we began to see each other once a year if that?
Was it when we stopped waiting by the landline for hours?

Was it when we used code names because we had stories we didn’t want our adults to know?

When we fought and nobody tried to patch us back together?

Or was it when it became acceptable to text on birthdays and festivals and for wedding invitations, and that was it?

Was it when our best friend moved half way across the world and our world kept going?
Was it when we saw death for the first time?

Was it when we saw birth for the first time?

Was it when we got degrees tacked to our names?

Or when we learned to wear sarees?
Was it when we learned to cook our own meals?
Was it when we thought of others before ourselves?
When did we first become adults?
Or is that moment yet to come?
Or are we just in denial?
Life has been happening and we’re still waiting on landmarks to show us the way.
The first time. Does it matter, really? We did all those things. And hey, look at us, here we are. You there and me here.

Chapter 2: The wrong questions.

Eva:

Eva did not know what she was doing here, or where ‘here’ was for that matter. They didn’t ask her that. Maybe if they did, she would know. They weren’t asking the right questions. She had come so close a few times. Close enough to know. Close enough to remember and then it would go away. And a man would come and he would ask the same useless questions that made him sweat. Questions she didn’t have answers for. They weren’t asking the questions that had answers. She felt like if she could just push past it, just once, push past this wall of haziness, she could almost see, but then her brain would take up the chant of push, push, push, and the wall would slam back down again. If only they would take her near enough to the wall.

Just as she musters up enough courage to push again, the door opens, and a man steps inside. Has she seen this man before? She doesn’t know. He walks slowly and sits down on the chair before her. The chair creaks, and the lights above flicker once. He keeps the silence.

She can feel him looking at her. His mouth curves up and his eyes crinkle and he begins to talk.

“Eva are you cold, dear?”

Well, what sort of useless question was this. Though she did know the answer to this one.

“Yes.” She says.

“Do you want to leave, go see your parents?” He asks.

“No. ”

He seems taken aback at that and starts sweating. Like all the others. Eva sighs. She had hoped this one might help her.

“Do you remember how you got here?
Where are your parents?
Did someone drive you here and leave you? Who?”

“No.
I don’t know.
No. ”

How they could come up with so many useless questions she didn’t know.

“Talk to me Eva. I can help you. I can be your friend. But you have to talk to me. ”

She opened her mouth, and it seemed as if she would finally say something, but her brain went off on a tangent again. Talk to him. Help. She didn’t need help. But she had to talk to him. Talk. What about?

He only looked at her while her brain clamoured behind its walls.
Talk. Talk. Talk to him.
But he wouldn’t say what about.

Officer Sanders:

The days were becoming more and more bizarre. They find a girl, and instead of helping her get home, they were interrogating her in what was pretty much a dungeon. The girl appeared out of nowhere, there was a box she had with her that nobody could get open, and the weirdest thing of all was the girl.

Eva.

She wasn’t normal. She didn’t ask where she was, or when she could leave. She didn’t know anything about herself other than that her name was Eva, she was 18, her parents are doctors, and she didn’t know anything else.

Except, when asked the year, she gave them a number. Nobody counted years in numbers.

Besides, she made them sweat. He didn’t know if it was the girl, but the whole thing gave him the chills. What kind of 18 year old, had eyes like that, didn’t know who she was and had orders to be watched 24/7?

As if this wasn’t unusual enough, this guy had shown up at the crack of dawn with orders from ‘high up’ and had gone in. After switching off the cameras. Sanders couldn’t help it, but he sort of felt sorry for the strange girl. It was always bad when high up sent a faceless man.

1. Of wires and words:

Eva:

And as she sat there looking at the wires running in and out of her, their monitors blipping and beeping – there was this gnawing silence inside her head – and it didn’t go away even when she opened her mouth to answer the questions that annoying man sitting in front of her asked.

She knew she was speaking but she couldn’t hear herself – not in the literal sense of the term unable to hear, she knew what words she was saying, except even the sound of the words she was saying didn’t make the silence go away.

And he was asking the same set of questions the other one had asked the day before. Or had it been two days? She didn’t know.

It was freezing cold and he had sweat beading up along his forehead. How was that even possible?

And as she attempted to push that thought about the gnawing silence away, this thought about pushing that thought away took up space. It had always been this way inside her head. All these myriad things clamouring for attention – and she had to pick through them all.

The questions were all the same.

“What is your name?

How old are you? Where are you from?

What are your parents’ names?

What do they do?”

Eva.

18.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

They are doctors.”

“You don’t remember their names?”

No.”

“But you remember your parents were doctors?”

Are doctors.”

“What year is it?”

2018.”

“Where are your parents?”

I don’t know.

“Eva, have you noticed that you have multiple scars on your hands?”

Yes.”

“How did you get them?”

I don’t know.”

And the man got up, and left, just like the other one had. Sweating more than before, or so it seemed.

Officer Sanders:

As he walked out of that room, Sanders knew this wasn’t just another day at work.

He pulled out some tissue paper and wiped off the sweat from his brow – why was he even sweating in this subterranean ice cold dungeon of an office?

Throwing the tissue away, he looked around at his team, analysing their reports. They had been at this for quite a few weeks now: the girl said the same thing over and over – same answers, same expressions, same cold ice blue eyes. There was something unforgiving in those eyes, something you don’t see in an 18 year old – something that was very very wrong. But what was it?

This girl had been found sitting in a car alone outside a museum, looking at the people go by. No one knew how the car got there, or when – camera footage showed the car appearing out of thin air – and no one knew who she was or where she was from. There was no Eva anyone knew about, and the most unnerving thing about her, was that every word she said sent a chill down your spine – almost a loving embracing chill, but a cold one nevertheless.

Along with her in the trunk of her car was a metal trunk of sorts, hollow, with something inside – there were noises coming out – but no amount of force could crack it open. There wasn’t even a single scratch, and the experts they’d brought in couldn’t even tell what this metal was. But when the box was near the girl, anywhere close, even through walls – you could see that somehow, she knew.

Who was this girl?

And why was he still sweating?

A new year, a new beginning

With this year tidily wrapping up, a year of surprisingly chill studying, some hectic TV show watching, I look back, with what seems like everybody else.
The Hindu published an 8 page tribute to women this year. Women who are pushing boundaries, breaking ceilings everyday, got 8 inches of tribute each in the newspaper. It doesn’t seem like a big thing, but to young girls, who read the paper and see these names, these stories, it gives them hope. That they too can be the kind of woman that other women want to be.

I have noticed, more and more frequently this past year, that I tend to censor my own writing. Not to cut out the bad words, or the excesses of thought, but to seem not too radical for my conservative family and friends. After a while I grow tired of this, and write exactly what I want to write, but then I leave it in my drafts and give you a whitewashed version. Because I remember that even this whitewashed version is considered radical.
So this year, here’s to saying what I want to say. Because no one will censor me, not even myself. Because I have things to say I want this world to sit up and hear. Because we have a voice, no matter who we are, and we deserve to be heard.

All this entitlement then strikes me as too much. We don’t deserve anything. The world does not owe us anything we don’t make for ourselves. I read Sapiens- a history of humankind, and this brilliant book told me that the human superpower is storytelling. That the ability to tell and believe stories is what put us on top of the food chain. But that that also means that all these concepts, countries, patriotism, equality, justice, fairness, feminism, kindness, virtue. All these are stories we have made up and believed in to make our soceity run smoothly. None of this actually exists. We are not equal. We are decidedly different. The real world has no justice or karma, no kindness or equality. There is only the unforgiving rule of survival of the fittest.

And in this world we live in a dual reality, and fight for imagined rights, and teach imagined virtues, and we stay on top of the food chain.
And in that world of dual reality, we talk about female achievement, and this year, and what we have done in it.

I have watched movies and read books that inspired me. Perhaps inflamed the ‘radical’ unattractive aspects of myself. And I promised to talk about the things that I really want to talk about.

I want female equality, and equal rights and opportunities, and gear up for a fight against the patriarchy and find that most often, it stops with that. The major opposition to the realisation of this ideal is not the male part of the patriarchy. It’s the females – Of course, the male part of it threatens to rape or kill any female who dares to raise her voice against a man, and this is, sadly condoned, endorsed and followed by our leaders-  but the females, they want us to listen to the male leader of the family, to take care of his needs because he is the working member. They want us to stay in our houses because it’s not safe, they want us to not wander out in the dark or even the dusk because it is not safe. They want us to dress conservatively, and cover everything up because it’s not safe. They want to give dowry, because that’s the societal norm, even if neither party wants it. They want us to be realistic and not talk theory that won’t help in the real world.

But I do live in the real world, and it doesn’t stop at dusk, because that’s when it’s unsafe for women. It doesn’t have men who are all monsters who prey on innocents. It has good decent men, who are treated with suspicion, because our mothers have taught us to be careful and ever vigilant. It also has monsters who prey on the innocent and we have worse monsters who say, look what she was wearing. Look what time it was. Look where she was going. Monsters who say she deserved it. And these being men, and women who raised me, who lead this country, who show the next generation how to live. This is the practical world I am supposed to fit into.

I don’t like it. I won’t fit into it. So if I have to be radical, I will be. If I have to be too theoretical and idealistic, I will be. Because these same people who taught me all these things, taught me to think for myself, to stand for the things I believe in, to not give into peer pressure. These same people taught me to be the change I want to see in this world.

So this year, I resolve to be a little more vocal. A little more firm, to believe a little more in myself. And be the change I want to see. Because this world needs me. Or atleast, that is the story I will tell myself, and that will be my superpower.