By: Ananya Sahoo
Today, for the first time, it’s not about me – it’s about you.
I was seven years old when you were placed in my arms, wrapped in bright green paper and a little bow on top.
The fat kid in me prayed that you were a box of chocolates.
So imagine my disappointment when an ordinary looking black book fell into my arms.
I picked you up for the first time, ruffling through your blank beige pages in disgust.
But then I smelled you.
You smelled like hot Maggi on a rainy afternoon,
You smelled like cumin seeds crackling in mustard oil,
You smelled like my infant brother – fresh, new and brimming with possibilities
You. You smelled like nostalgia already.
I wrote everything in you furiously – lists and tasks and schedules and every single strand of thought that crossed my weary mind.
And when these strands combined to make a giant gooey mess in my head, they tumbled on to your pages to make sense.
You see, words made sense when they were in you
Thoughts made sense when they were in you.
Your love story with ink is still priceless.
The first time I used my best fountain pen on you and I swear I heard you sigh in peace,
The first time I dropped you into a puddle I could almost sense your disappointment,
I was so scared you would escape, whisked away by the wind when I placed you near my open window.
I would come running every ten minutes to see the wind flirting with you vociferously, ripping through your pages impatiently,
As if looking for pieces of bared souls.
But you do your duty and refuse to budge
And instead shut your covers stubbornly.
You are a survivor.
You survived boat rides on lakes, hasty coffee breaks and inquisitive mothers, destructive brothers and tumbles and puddles and my general clumsiness,
You survived me!
And all my angsty teen drama and adult dilemmas,
First heartbreaks and first cupcakes,
Summers and rain and awards and pain.
I was carrying a friend in my pocket!
You carried my treasure trove of traumas,
When that man groped me on the bus, I came running to you.
When my dog died, I came running into your outstretched arms,
Burying my grief in your beige.
When I got my job,
When I won that debate,
You were the one I wanted to tell,
You were the one I wanted to celebrate with.
Because no joy or sorrow was too trivial for you,
You held my hand when I shed tears over Aman dying in Kal ho na Ho,
You danced with me when the dress I was looking for was finally available on Amazon.
And between your delicate pages, I found the most useless and most precious things:
The first rose I bought for Rahul, my beautiful first crush but ended up keeping it for myself because it was so pretty.
Tear splotches over ink when my fragile teenage heart broke into a million pieces for the first time,
You, you held my hand as I slowly and painfully pieced it back together.
Till it broke again.
You were there for my second heartbreak. And the third and the sixteenth.
You patiently bore all my wild mood swings –
Days I had so many words that my pen pressed so hard into the page that it left an imprint on the next one.
And days when the words refused to appear and chewed up pen caps were the only product of my introspection.
You were such a good listener!
And the world’s best secret keeper,
Every dark thought protected stoically by your tough covers.
My hard bound best friend, parent, sister, lover, agony aunt – everything.
You, safeguarded my sanity, tolerated my vanity, blew away my tears and helped me battle all my fears.
My life happened between your pages.
I was today years old when I realized that you were my all.
Temples and Wonderlands
When I was a teenager, my body was my worst enemy.
You know how a snake sheds its skin?
The first time I wanted to shed my skin was when a girl in my class called me a fatso.
I examined my body carefully for the first time.
Each fold was noted, despised and allocated a tear.
Note, despise, cry, repeat.
I tried diets, starving, working out furiously – all to claw myself out of a body I hated with each imperfect pore.
Every acne was laced with disgust and intense self-loathing, every freckle calling out to be concealed.
I scrubbed myself raw every morning, convinced that the right amount of vigorous cleaning would erase the loud stretch marks mocking my very existence with their translucence.
Mirrors were my worst enemies – portraying a truth I couldn’t face, showing me a reality I didn’t want to face.
My hungry eyes scanned my body for the next failure to ‘celebrate’.
The songs lied – my body wasn’t a wonderland.
The next time someone called me fat, I laughed it off.
Later, my laughter mixed with salty tears as I shoved a finger down my throat.
The next time someone called me short, I laughed it off.
Later, my laughter mixed with salty tears from the pain of hanging off a rod.
Because society had it all figured out – fat is bad, short is bad
And we paid the price for our existence in insults, bullies and shame.
When boys told me that I would be beautiful only if I lost a little weight, I finally understood that beauty and weight were mutually exclusive.
My body was an ancient, run down temple made of bricks so fragile that a single waft of insecurity could bring the whole thing crashing down.
When I was a teenager, my body was my cage.
When I turned 24, I embraced my body in full glory.
I shed my doubts and shame and walked into my body for the first time.
Every spot, freckle and fold was celebrated – every blemish a reminder that humans are not meant to be perfect.
I defied mathematics and called myself beautiful AND fat.
Mirrors became my friends, silently supporting me with their clear reflections, inducing smiles and not tears.
Summers breathed in confidence into my body as I proudly displayed my pockets of cellulite in crop tops and miniskirts.
Starving and puking were abandoned, insults and bullies ignored.
It was the first time I felt like a person, a human and not a sad collection of pity, self-loathing and disgust.
My body became my temple – restored and rejuvenated with strong bricks which could withstand storms and battles.
My body was imperfect
My body was human
But my body was my own.
When I turned 24, my body set me free.
I live on the most peculiar street in the world,
A pretty bubble if you may.
As I step outside on to the cobbled grey pathway,
A plethora of aromas greet my nostrils.
The smell of Aliya Aunty’s biryani spices mixes with
That of Savitri Didi’s famous Sambar,
As if they were long lost lovers meeting after decades.
I dodge quickly as a torn, red, cricket ball comes thundering my way
And a troop of little boys follow hungrily.
Atif and Prakash are opening batsmen –
The fielding team’s nightmare come true.
The sun’s last rays hit Radhika’s neatly oiled pigtails
And bounce off Fatima’s hijab as they cycle along the road furiously,
Perhaps trying to outrun society’s stern gaze.
I stand and take pause as I look at the setting sun.
Watching over our little street as everybody prepares for dusk to begin,
Oblivious to the differences which are pointed out by society again and again
I take pause and marvel as the cacophony of noises dissolves into a well-rehearsed harmony.
Just as the Ganesh temple’s aarti puja begins
With bells ringing at uniform intervals,
The mosque’s azaan rings out, loud and clear
As if reminding everybody that Allah and Ganesh ji are indeed brothers.
As I walked along, the bright lights at the Akhtars’ were switched on, lighting up the huge front yard,
Where the elderly Gupta Aunty sat with Noor Aunty, exchanging the latest tea over a cup of chai.
Her saffron draped dupatta swaying slightly in the air beside her best friend’s dark burqa
The saffron and black breathing confidence into each other.
I was stopped by an excited Salma,
With a steel tiffin full of Ramzan special semiyaan.
Two steps later, Lakshmi Aunty purposefully handed me the evening puja’s prasad.
I walked along, with my tiffin of semiyaan and ladoos,
Breathing in the slightly stale air resulting from bikes, lunas and other conspicuous middle class vehicles.
I walked along, an anomaly outside the bubble,
For who can imagine saffron and green together?
Outside the bubble, shiny red flowed down the streets – not saffron, not green, loud screaming red.
Outside the bubble, Allah and Ganeshji watched,
With tears in their eyes as their masterpieces wreaked havoc.
Divine tears falling upon us as rain,
Trying in vain to wash off our collective sins.
As I walked down my street, I felt surreal,
As if the bubble might pop any second,
As if the world I lived in balanced on a precarious set of scales,
And tipping it even a little would be catastrophic.
I looked around my street with pride,
Where the Farhans and Rahuls and Farahs and Radhas
Lived and loved and breathed in the same air.
My street was a utopian anomaly, a glitch in the matrix,
Defying society’s rules in broad daylight.
A small world of bliss in a world full of chaos.
I live on the most peculiar street in the world,
A pretty bubble if you may.
My depression is a lot of things.
My depression wears many disguises. On some days it’s my pink comforter, drawing me into its soft folds, deceiving me with its translucent illusion of safety. On other days, it’s a screaming headache, shaking you to the very core, the kind which makes it difficult to hear your own thoughts.
My depression is a determined cacophony of voices – I thought you were mentally strong. It’s a fad bro. Wait, you’re paying someone a 1000 bucks just to listen to you. Try reiki. Try yoga. Try Pilates. Try anything but actual help. Just try not to be so sad yaar.
My depression is a passive aggressive boyfriend – purposeful whispers here, some gentle gaslighting there, convincing me that I’m a waste of space. That a five-foot-tall cavity of nothingness was a better option. Correction: the only option.
My depression is like standing up on stage in front of a thousand people, naked and forgetting your words. Words you’ve learnt over and over again, words which have been imprinted into your brain. And suddenly you have nowhere to go and a thousand pair of eyes boring into your very being.
My depression is a pair of greasy, finger stained spectacles – where you can see the world but everything is slightly out of focus. Spectacles which you desperately try to clean but they stay stubbornly hazy, distorting your view of the world, and of yourself.
My depression is something I don’t bother explaining anymore. I don’t bother explaining how it’s a humongous, invisible parasite perched on my arm, bleeding me dry of light and hope. It takes a casual bite out of my soul and laughs callously as I struggle to glue it back together – my depression is a real-time dementor.
My depression is making plans but cancelling them because plans aren’t plans unless you want to go. I want to want to go but I don’t want to go. So, I retreat into my blanket of forts and curl up in the arms of my two best friends – despair and hopelessness.
My depression is a constant tug of war, with my brain being pulled in two completely opposite directions. People or solitude? Hope or despair? Smiles or tears? Plans or no plans? Overflowing emotions or no emotions? Insomnia or sleep? Sobbing or numbing? Leave me alone, help me? Everything and nothing.
My depression is a battleground – battle scars and superhero capes, small victories and crushing defeats, swordfights, duels, doom, blood, sweat, screams and a river of tears.
Most importantly, my depression is a war waiting to be won.