Free me from these clichés. These movies and novels polluting our psyche. Ideas of this hysteria called love lasting forever. Transcending the realms of our lives and into our different incarnations. Let me capture this moment like a photograph. A photograph made, not of the usual playground of colours and light but just feelings.
Let’s free our minds from the dwellings of past, from the ideas of perfection we bought naively, from regrets and mistakes we still keep in the safes of our memory. Let’s break free from these insecurities and worries of being together forever. From our desire to hold onto each other like a prized possession. Let’s pretend the scars from our past aren’t engraved on us, because time is conspiring and it has sinister plans on its hands. But it wouldn’t take away this moment from us.
Let’s pretend the moon isn’t watching and let me capture you, bathed in its pale light. Bare nothing but your present to me and hold my hand we are going to get lost in this moment together, till it lasts.
It’s a beautiful day, you notice the birds chirping after so long. You notice the children in the park, reminiscing about the happiest of times you had as a kid. There’s a smile on your face, it’s a feeling that has become unfamiliar. And then a sense of dread takes over you, a smell of fear and despondence is around. The kids are there and the chirpy birds too but it’s your smile that has just vanished. The monster’s back.
You’re not even surprised anymore. It’s like being a prison of your own mind, getting visits from happiness once or twice a week and then you’re back behind its bars. You start accepting that these moments of escape wouldn’t last long, you start waiting for the gloom to be back with handcuffs. It comes to a point where being happy for an extended period starts making you feel uneasy.
Your shoulders are sinking, your words fumble on their way out. Waking up everyday becomes a burden. Even the thought of going through the day seems daunting. You’re drowning and that thing is pulling you down every passing day. You try to stay afloat by holding onto things that keep you happy. Some find solace in sleeping all day to dodge reality, some write, some prefer to get high from attention on social media, some party, some cry through their time here. You start overdoing these things to remain on a high, now that you know one bad day and it’ll be back to zero. Sometimes you just want to give up, wishing that the ground below you cracks wide and swallows you because there is no hope left.
Why are you sad? The worst thing that happened to you last week is that your phone’s battery died and you had no charger. You know your life has no problems, yet there is this feeling that something’s wrong. Something that’s making you feel wretched all the time. You seek help, you look for hands to hold, for ears to lend, for words of comfort to guide you out of this dark place. But will they treat me the same way if I told them all that is wrong with me? Will they understand? You ask yourself every time you think of sharing this mess with your friends or family. You wonder how will they comprehend something that even you couldn’t understand after having lived through it for so long.
You tell yourself It’s just some elements in your cranium pushing you down this hellhole. Nothing’s wrong and everything’s gonna be alright. You finally feel like you have some control over your thoughts, a sense of relief takes over. You know it’s over. You’re back to being what you used to be. You’re smiling, you’re buoyant, the shoulders aren’t sinking anymore. It’s the best day you had in a long time. And then you feel it, a tap on your back. The cycle is on, and the worst bit is that the monster is nothing but a part of you.
Let’s dance, let’s smile for the cameras, and walk this road as students for one last time. Let’s sit on these benches, ornamented by years of graffiti. Let’s break into dance in the middle of a lecture, because this is our last chance to cause chaos as one. Let’s pet these dogs we have seen growing up, let’s call them by their nicknames they will never understand. Let’s check the attendance to keep above the magic figure of 75%. Let’s make plans for Goa, never to materialize. Let’s say things to people we always wanted but could never say, because there will be no next semester to be afraid. Let’s hug our friends as tightly as we can, because we may never see them again. Let’s sing with each other as we remember the last five years, the memories we made, the lessons we learned, the person we were and the person we became. How we came as strangers, as just names on a merit list and how we are leaving as a part of each other, howsoever small.
We have always wondered why the bell wouldn’t ring, why the lecture wouldn’t end, but we will all dread the ringing of that last bell. It hasn’t happened yet but we’ll be dancing, we’ll be cheering and in the middle of it all, it will hit us, and it will hit us hard. It’ll choke us, it’ll make our eyes moist. It’ll make us all cry before we accept it and with our eyes still moist and hearts still heavy, we’ll walk away for one last time.
The sombre moonlight is irradiating her face, barely making it visible. Her hair dancing on the whims of the night breeze. Eyes with a brownish hue, through the depth of their vastness are saying things. Things that words can’t contain, things that you only understand but can never articulate. Her smile starts from the corners of her lips and your heart knows it’s its time of weakness. The smile runs and blossoms in a moment, taking your heart for a run full of palpitations. A gush of blood has risen up in your streams, you can’t hear the rattle of crickets anymore. Even with all your might you can only muster to hold her hand and pray. Pray that the moon remains perched, guarding both of you in this murky night. That the wind wouldn’t stop playing with heavenly locks of her hair. That these stars would keep twinkling, as if applauding her grandeur. That time would stay still for a while so you seize this moment, before you run out of time.
“Indians and Dogs are not allowed”. Imagine being meted out this inferior treatment in your own country, in your own land. After more than 60 years have passed since our forefathers fought nail and tooth for all this independence we revel in today. Yet there remains a systematically discriminatory framework which mocks their sacrifices in the most institutional of manners.
Indian Armed Forces. Here we are with questions that I seek answers to. And I am going to try and address the elephant in the room. From restaurants in Army cantonments to Hospitals for the veterans, I have seen that ‘Indians and dogs not allowed’ mentality hasn’t freed our minds even after Britishers left. These discriminatory practices mock fundamental rights in their face. Pardon me for my diminutive understanding of Indian Constitution, if I see it wrongly.
Let me give you little background to help you understand the situation better. My father joined the Indian Air Force in 1980s, after nearly 26 years of service he took voluntary retirement as a JWO, that is Junior Warrant Officer. Now some work structure of the Indian Army. Workforce is largely divided into 2 parts, that is Airmen and Officers (These days both are collectively called Air Warriors, which I understand is an effort to lessen the divide). Every Rank you gain, like every government service brings in better pay and better amenities. Thanks to the Colonial Era, Indian Military system had and still has two very distinct categories of soldiers whose living, eating and mingling with each other wasn’t really allowed. My understanding is that Officers consisted of British citizens and it was natural for them to not allow people from supposedly ‘lower’ ranks to mingle with them, and these were Indians if you didn’t guess it. JWO is a ‘lower’ rank as seen from that perspective.
Let me bring you to present with some incidences.
First one – My mom’s not well and we are at a Military hospital for Ex-servicemen. We all submit our smart-cards and wait for the doctor at OPD to call us up. Several senior citizens have been waiting for hours to have their turn. And thank lord, there is a priority entry for any senior citizen. As we all patiently wait, a man in his 40s walks smoothly to the smart-card counter, shows his card and gets an instant call into the doctor’s cabin. Yes, the same british-era perks are still present. You guessed it, Officers of the Indian Military forces. Why would you think a relatively young man will wait for lesser humans like Senior Citizens?
It broke my heart. People barely able to walk will have to keep waiting but someone with a higher rank will parachute into the doctor’s cabin. I always thought Hippocratic Oath was to treat patients equally and with utmost care. But there is no reason to blame the doctors and not even the army, when the whole system in place advocates for oppression.
Second one – Mom was operated and we are at Command Hospital, Pune. It’s vast and has public access. While Mom sleeps and recovers from anaesthesia administered to her we go to an on-site canteen. There are two doors to come inside. One is made of reflective cut glass, one is made of dull blue painted wood. As I take my seat on a table I realise there are two halves of the restaurant, one is where I am sitting, other is built on a step higher. I can read the board saying “Officers and Medical Students”. There is a waiter, but he wouldn’t come to your table, he does but only if you sitting on the other side. The ‘Higher’ side. The walls on the other side are well painted, my side is good just that the paint is tarnished. So is my soul. I suddenly realise how was it to be in British India or how was it in apartheid era South Africa, where you could have the money and means to travel first class but you were not worthy of it.
Am I dirty or filthy? Or is there a disturbance that my presence will set in your tranquil solitude? Isn’t that a place of public access where you are making compartments without a reasonable reason? Am I too little to sit near you? You have put a curtain between us, am I so perverse that you can’t look at me or I can’t look at you?
The same place, same menu, same price. And I face discrimination thanks to my dad’s rank. Or even if I was civilian, thanks to me being just a little human who can’t eat in the same place as an Officer’s family does.
It was tea-time. I went to a different canteen, once again in the hospital campus. For a moment I couldn’t see compartmentalization and that gave me hope that things are changing for better. And their it was, that beautiful curtain. Saving noble eyes from sight of us poor humans, with the board kindly announcing that I was not welcome. Telling me that you can pay the same price, you can be as good as you want to be, but we will never let you in.
I can write incident 3 and 4 and then 5, I can talk hours on how this institutionalised discrimination belittles a man and his service for the nation by disallowing his family to have access to basic amenities. But I wouldn’t. It will again be the same rant with no conclusions. In my understanding, ranks should get you more payment and perks but one’s rank should not let his or her family being humiliated on places of public access. Ranks decide your pay, they cannot in any way create a lesser human and more human criteria in a constitutional democracy. Imagine going to a public park in a civil establishment, and not being allowed access to it if your Income Tax return wasn’t above a particular amount last year.
I am not blaming Officers or the Military. They are are just a cog in the wheel. They didn’t decide this, they didn’t do it. It was done long back by the British. It’s the system that needs to be reformed. For the sake that children and families don’t end up being humiliated for a practice that should have been long abolished. So that our senior citizens don’t have to wait longer for medicines. So we can kill this apartheid within.
And it’s not just another random rant, I am aggrieved and fed up from this years of humiliation. Writing a letter to Chiefs of military staffs and commands remains on my to-do list. Further, if it seems legally viable, a PIL to stop such practices.
Kindly Note- This is just a sketch I wrote from a particular perspective. This is not my personal story. Purely fictional. Just a clarification, because many friends felt this was real and were concerned. Cheeeel. k?
“It’s not like I am not aware. What’s that term we use for being aware of stuff… Man I am losing my mind, it’s a very basic term. Yes, so where was I? umm, yes, the aware thing. I know it. I wake up with it, I sleep with it. I know all I am doing is wasting my time, I mean, I had a good brain they said. Could have been a scientist or some shit. Yes! I remember. Haha I still have some memory left. The term is ‘consciousness’. Like, I am conscious. I am totally aware of my shortcomings. I know I am ruining my life by just sitting over here, pushing keys on this damn keyboard, talking random things to random people I am never gonna see. And when I am not doing that, I am busy playing World of Warcraft. I know it all.
You know, I had friends. Like, real ones. We used to play outside when we were younger. They really cared. Sometimes they call, to see if I am alive. Or maybe they share my hope. Hope of getting outside this cycle I am in. You ever saw a Hamster wheel? That damn Hamster keeps running, the wheel moves but it’s just there. Is that hamster being playful or just too hopeful? I am a Hamster.
Sometimes I try to beat these demons in me. I go out, sit in parks, try to socialize. But you know, who wants to talk to a fatload of a person who can barely mumble out words from his mouth. Carrying on normal day to day tasks have become my towering achievements. Bathing once a day, waking up early, remembering birthdays of people close to me. These have become my achievements if some days I manage to pull them off. I woke up early today, felt so good. I mean, not physically, my eyes still burn. But mentally, it’s like I had control of my life for that particular moment I forced myself to wake up.
I think of rehab at times. Telling your friends that they need help is easy. Telling it to yourself is tough. You are the problem. You are suggesting a solution. No one accepts being the problem. Do they? It just doesn’t work out. Some day I wish I will be that kid I once was. Reading books, making sand castles with friends, cycling to new adventures. One day I will get over this phase, I will look back and smile and congratulate myself for all the hope I had. I will call my friends who cared and thank them for being there even when I wasn’t. I am already crying now. I am just choked. These dreams. All they need is little changes in me and yet they are so far. These little changes are too far, I have tried. I have tried to change and then like a rubber band my life snaps. And then I am back to the same life, same cycle. Fuck it I am going back online.”