Drapetomani

Drapetomani.

Someone once introduced me to this word. It means “an overwhelming desire to run away from a place or city”. 

Have you ever felt that way? I’m sure you have. I have too. Time and again. 

Sometimes the familiarity of this city gets to you. Memories lined up to greet you at every intersection, every crossing. Every time you turn around a corner and boo! A memory is right in your face like some random stranger playing a prank on you. Strange that one should think of it as a “random stranger” because the prank playing memory isn’t strange at all. 

Sometimes while you are walking down a block and you come across a coffee shop, something just flashes before your eyes. Some fond old memory that was tucked away cautiously in a corner of the mind, it peeps out at that moment and catches you off guard. And then there are those monsters lurking in dark alleys when you’re returning home but then, you know those monsters all too well — misty memories that you wished you could erase. Once you’re in the alley, you almost expect the monsters to jump out of every corner, every dark patch — you are so used to them. The odd day when you’re too preoccupied with some other pressing thought, you don’t even realise when you cross the dark alley into the light of the road. When realisation strikes, you stop short, look back and wonder what happened. Because not being ambushed by painful memories isn’t normal, being hijacked by the pain is

So,  Drapetomani is the common. I wonder though. This familiarity that is cause for much of our pain, isn’t this same familiarity the reason for our comfort? The comfort of knowing which corner to turn and which restaurant to go to when you want your burger and fries? Looking at the yellow taxis and knowing that some ten of them will say no before the eleventh one actually agrees to give you a ride? Knowing that every morning you will wake up amidst the familiar smell of fabric that comes from your bedsheets. And that when you look out of the window, the light that greets you is the one you know of. The birdsong is that which you have heard before. And the fragrances of the morning glories and 9o’clocks are the kind that grow in your city. 

So when Drapetomani  comes calling, I could run away to another city somewhere far away from mine. And the new light of the mornings, the different flowers, different coloured cabs, and a different smell of the new city are all very exotic. However, the dancing rainbows at the tips of my eyelashes reflected by the light that catches my eyes are not the same. Rainbows they are but they have a different tint to them. Or maybe it’s all just in my mind. Just that it isn’t the light I know. Maybe my eyelashes are playing spoilsport. Maybe they are just too used to the hues of my city’s light. 

So, while a few days away takes away that overwhelming urge, the memories remain at the same place — in the mind. A few days away may keep them at bay. I know though that when I return, so will the memories. I will pass by the coffee shops and the wind, driving the aroma of brewing coffee beans in my direction, will stir up a concoction of tinted glass and coffee shots, bricked walkways and long conversations. And I will walk down those same alleys and those same monsters will be there. They will again remind me of some moment of affection now gone sour. I will probably know every small detail as to when and how the memory will ambush me. But I will play along anyway and be caught surprised and gasping for breath at the iron-hold of the pain at my throat. And when I do pass by without an ambush, I will stop and look back at the miraculous escape, for the thousandth time. 

But it will all be in my city. And there is something strangely comforting about that. 

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What were you like, Junaid?

        In our rural management classes in my MBA programme, our professor told us that — in terms of product features, packaging and marketing — what works for India may not work for Bharat. India. Bharat. Hindustan. So many names for the same country. Why? Because there are many different kinds of people, cultures, faiths, religions? Exactly my point. There are many different kinds of people in India. Thats just the way it has been. Thats just what we are as a country. Thats just India, meri jaan. You cannot change it. You should not want to change it. Period.

       So when I open the morning newspaper and read about a fifteen year old’s father’s plight, all I can think is, “Whatever the hell is wrong with people?!” The kid’s name was Junaid. But does the name really matter? Because from where I stand, all I know is that a fifteen year old kid was killed for the choice of meat he (supposedly) ate.

So lets see…was Junaid only about the meat he ate? Was that what consisted of him being Junaid? I mean was his choice of meat the thing, the only thing that defined him? So when this question comes to my mind, the other thought that rather quietly sneaks up on me is, what he was like. Yes, I wonder what Junaid, the fifteen year old was like? Was he a shy boy or was he confident and forthright, bubbling with youthful effervescence? Did he play much? I wonder what he would have been doing on a Saturday afternoon — would he be out with his friends engaging in light banter or reading quietly in some corner of his home? Or maybe he would just be out playing cricket?  

I wonder what he liked to eat (other than the “holy cow” meat he was stabbed for of course!). Did he like junk food like teenagers his age? Cold drink and potato chips? Iced lollies and golgappas?  Did he enjoy the rains? Maybe he liked to play football in the rain? 

Which one of his brothers teased him the most? Did he have a favourite amongst all his brothers? Did he like watching movies? Did he watch TV at all? Was there a favourite sportsperson? 

The questions could be endless like — was he good at studies? Which was his favourite subject? Was it literature or was he the Mathematics type? Did he enjoy going to school? And, the most frequently asked question to a teenager — what did he wish to be when he grew up? I’m sure he had been asked that question many times over. I wonder what Junaid’s response to this question was. Was there something in particular that he wanted to be? A doctor? Engineer? A sportsman maybe? A cricketer? Or maybe he liked some other sport, hockey or kabaddi? Maybe sometimes his imagination took wings and he could see himself becoming a pilot or an astronaut?! I know he was from a village but then, there are no geographic or economic restrictions on dreams!

So, there was much more to Junaid than his meat eating habits it would seem. And in such little time. A mere fifteen years he was allowed to have by the self proclaimed judgement deliverers of our society. And you know what is more infuriating? That we let them. We let them sit judgement on our predicament. After every such incident, they seem to grow in stature in the eyes of their own fellow judges and the predicament seems to get more gory.

So yes, I wonder what Junaid was like, this teenager who had come to be known as the boy who was killed on the train. The train that was taking him and his brothers home after Eid shopping. I ask those proud Hindu murderers how they would have felt had one of their own been killed on the way home after Diwali shopping? Would Diwali have remained bright any longer? Would Diwali have remained that loud any longer? No, it wouldn’t. It would have been shrouded in the quiet darkness that overcame Junaid as he closed his eyes for the last time. As dark as the black space that surrounds you behind your eyelids when you drift into heavy slumber (and God knows Junaid had drifted into the heaviest sleep of his life!). As quiet as the flow  of the blood that oozed from his wounds and trickled down his body. This silence is deafening, as is the darkness blinding. But then, how would we know? Because we have all closed our eyes and turned a deaf ear to it all long ago. So there was no way that Junaid’s cries would have reached our ears or the sight of his brother’s white kurta soaked in his blood reached our eyes.

So I wonder what the boy was like. Junaid. Soldier. Warrior. Thats what the name means. But this soldier lost his battle early on, to a mob of hate mongering monsters calling themselves faithful to a religion. But lets just get this straight. These monsters are not faithful to anyone but themselves. The faith, religion, this is all just an excuse to give a vent to their monstrosity. If not in the name of faith, they would’ve found some other way to be violent and then too some innocent Junaid or John or Jagat would’ve fallen prey. Yes, the name could be anything. Today it is cow-lynching and a Junaid has fallen. Tomorrow a Jagat will fall somewhere in retaliation of Junaid’s death. This vicious cycle has no end. This saga has gone on for decades and people are still none the wiser. Still blind and deaf. And monsters still lurk in every dark alley.

And amidst all this, I wonder what Junaid’s plans for Eid for. I wonder what he had in those shopping bags. I wonder if the soldier is at peace or still restless for fear of his brothers meeting the same fate on some other train, at some other place.

I wonder if Eid will ever be the same again for them.

It  is a lot of wondering. And you know what the best part about this is? For all of this wondering out loud, I will be branded anti-Hindu, and the next time,  anti-something else. 

But who cares? 

I am of all religions and then, I am of no religion at all…

Does small matter?

       Have you ever watched a storm? I mean like really watched it?

      I was alone at home one day when the skies turned dark. It was 2 o’ clock in the afternoon and it got so dark it felt like dusk had come calling early. I sat typing at my computer, when I realised a really big storm was coming. The windows were banging against each other, a couple of things fell off my dressing table; the wind was so strong. It suddenly occurred to me that the birds must be scared. I had three pairs of finches and a couple of parakeets. They were in two cages in the verandah. So I went to them. The finches were all huddled together and the parakeets were screeching loudly. I sat down by them just to let them know that they weren’t alone at home. I looked up at the sky. Gosh, it was some storm. And then, I stared and stared. It was awe-inspiring. The sky just seemed so full — the clouds seemed to be getting bigger and more swollen by the second. As I watched, the dark sky grew darker still. The huge black clouds seemed to be everywhere and the way they seemed to be increasing in volume, swelling up from within, I was mesmerised at this common natural phenomenon. Thunderstorms, they are so common, we all enjoy them. Well, I for one, do. But I had never looked at it that way. Never before had I observed a thunderstorm so carefully. That storm changed something in me that day. It somehow made me look at things differently. I felt so overwhelmed. Like a little kid. As the sky lit up and the thunder crashed a couple of seconds later, I turned to the birds and tried to say soothing things to them to calm them down. And when I looked back at the sky, I realised I had never felt so alone. Maybe the birds were just an excuse. Maybe, I needed them more than they needed me. Suddenly, my humanly existence felt small, like a fleck on the horizon, in comparison to the unending, dark vastness that the sky was. I felt like I had no control over what was happening, over my life. But then, did anybody? Do any of us really have control over what exactly happens in our lives? Are our lives rigged too, like tinsel town award functions?

    I felt vulnerable. I was feeling overpowered by nature and I thought, well, aren’t we all? Aren’t we all just small and negligible when it came to the bigger picture? But then, how often do we really look at the bigger picture? We are all just so full of ourselves, like the thunder clouds. Swollen up from within, thinking of ourselves all the time. It was my life, my friends, my family, my problems, my happiness —- my, my, my! It was “me” all the way! But was’t “I” supposed to be tiny and negligible in the grand scheme of nature? A minion? So, was “I” at all important then? Or is it that these small things are the ones that matter?

Did I actually matter? Maybe. 

Maybe life is after all about the small and negligible. Isn’t this true of human connections? Small gestures, insignificant looking actions that mean more than words. That one moment, that one decision that changes a life. A small thing that someone says keeps a person going from one day to the next despite the struggle. One moment. Quite small when compared to the large number of moments we have in one day. But don’t we all have that one moment in our life which we wish to live again? So is that one moment really too small? Are we all, individually, irrelevant in this world? Do we only mean something when we are considered in our entirety as a human populace? Or is the world really a big picture made up of millions of smaller pixels. Now, I don’t know much about photography or picture technology but don’t they say the smaller the pixels the better the picture quality?

So, is small really large and insignificant significant?

As the sky lit up for the hundredth time, I picked up the birds and went inside.