Where Forevers Begin

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I seem to have lost my words;

They left in the middle of the night-

The day I forgot to swallow my blues,

A mouthful of addiction, memories on flight.

 

I seem to have lost my blues;

They left on a train of thought

While I was willfully drowning

In a fight I had never fought:

 

The light of your caramel mornings

Seeping into a world forgot.

 

~ Sumeet Keswani

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A class in nostalgia

For starters, let me confess something. I enjoy the occasional drink of nostalgia. I indulge in the melancholy that memories bring. Perhaps that is why i sometimes seek out places that exhume moments long gone by. They may not even have been among the best times i’ve had, but if i remember them and the emotions associated strongly enough, revisiting them feels a bit like time travel.

So, to relish a slice of a long forgotten past that was bound to sting the tongue, I set out for my school, St. Xavier’s High, one of three i attended in my life. (However, this was the only one i had managed to get attached to.) It had been 12 years since i had been there, since i had walked out of Class 10 thinking i’d just passed my toughest exam. So I anticipated the bout of nostalgia, almost looked forward to it. But i hadn’t expected the stage of my childhood to have stayed almost entirely the same, thereby enshrining those days. Right from the colour of the walls where i once busted my knee while chasing a friend over a joke, to the basketball court which back then felt like the only happy spot in the school, to the notice board which once hosted my first (and atrociously lame) poem, and even the tree fences that we sat on during breaks, everything had retained its composition – as if saved for this very moment when i’d visit, my adult disguise betrayed by a pair of moist eyes.

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I often wonder why we miss it, the past. Is it because our present does not match up to it? Hardly. I’m lucky enough to say most of the things in my present are of my choosing, and hence make me very happy. Close friends who are insanely understanding, a mind that knows its thoughts from its emotions, freedom to live on my own terms – a lot has changed, for the better. So what exactly do i miss when i sit in my old classroom with a broken window that overlooks the basketball ground? Why do i miss the yearning, when, now, i am no longer bound by class rules and don’t have to wait for the tolling of the bell for a shot at the hoop?

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Maybe it’s not the yearning we miss. Maybe we don’t miss the place at all, but who we were while we inhabited it. The kid who sat gazing out of Class IX B didn’t exactly like being there; he was full of doubts and wishes, but was also full of life. He had no bad memories to recall, only an unshakable belief in a gleaming future; he had no money to call his own, but he also never worried about paychecks and bills; he never had the freedom to play at will, but when he was on the court in the ‘Games period’, he ran like the world depended on it; he had no qualms about his own existence and its purpose; he had no cynicism to rob him of his faith; he had no real nightmares, just ones of monsters that didn’t exist.

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Maybe I didn’t visit the school at all today, maybe i just visited me. The 10-year-old introvert who was equal parts excited and scared shifting to a “tough school” in Class 6 but eventually made the exams look easy, who spent every day looking forward to the basketball game at the end (and sulked on those that didn’t end in the sports period), who worried about his grades but only on the last day, who sneaked a glance at his crush in every ‘recess’ and believed love would find a way (and heartbreaks wouldn’t). Maybe for one day, i had the itch to bend the space-time continuum and inhabit that boy who believed, without a speck of doubt, that his life would be grand, and whose biggest worry was if he would grow tall enough. Maybe i wanted to find my way back to a peculiar version of happiness which was unadulterated by reality.

And I found it lying untouched, in a class cupboard that still smells of moss and childhood secrets.

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You’re not alone, stranger

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Dear stranger who wonders why,

It was just another morning of bleary eyes peering into a can of coffee – dark-roasted and ground, and absent. I’d forgotten to get a new pack, again. The coffee machine stood waiting, mocking me like mom does, minus her tinge of affection, over my forgetfulness. At the mercy of habit, i dragged my reluctant feet to a cafe two blocks away. Fingers anxiously tapping the counter, i ordered my cup of morning addiction and waited. Whether it was the aroma of the beans, that purportedly began their journey on the hills of Chikmagalur and ended in hot water in a Delhi cafe, or the sight of you picking cuticles of finger skin while gazing out of the window, I couldn’t tell, but the golden morning suddenly seemed to seep in.

I could tell that you were hurting. Not from the skin-bruising, but from the questions that squabbled for space in your mind, and on your notebook’s last page. As the wind played peekaboo with the covert content of your moleskin journal, I could only make out crooked question marks at the end of each thought that seemed to run into another on its way to a possible closure. I could not see what they were, or what they demanded of you. But i watched their contours reflect on your pale forehead, creases which you ironed with a facade which smiled at the waiter, the girl on the counter and the old man on the next table. It’s only when you stared into the vacuum of life beyond the window stained by last night’s rain that the furrows sneaked out from behind your courtesy.

I recognize the abyss when I see it, stranger; I remember the fall all too clearly. The open page, which you reaffirmed against the breeze every now and then, waited for its second word, the first being a large, conspicuous WHY followed by a serpentine symbol that passed for a punctuation mark. A bookmark gathered dust at the edges, pressed between pages of a novel overdue. The half-full cup of coffee had long given up its attempts at seizing your attention and the stranger across the cafe could not concentrate on his. You were a reflection for him, of months gone by without a single straight thought. You were him, on grey rainy days and those marred by too bright a sun. You were his image, on hazy mirrors that clung to cobweb-riddled walls much like you clutched your questions. They won’t run away; they never do, stranger. They need you as much as you, them.

To question your existence, its purpose, and everything around it, is the greatest question ever asked, to me at least. And sadly one that comes with no promise of an answer. I have spent far too many days gritting my teeth over the anxiety of not knowing Why, stranger. I have turned far too many whimsical, intuitive corners in search of that one answer which lies just round the next one. And always round the next one. I have missed far too many beautiful sights on the way; lost touch with far too many places i called home. I have let go of many i could have walked with, albeit slower, and have sped past many others i could have loved. I continue to run on the same rugged path, believing my choice at that fork long gone did not just conform to an inspiring poem but will also lead me to a purpose served. But I’ve slowed down, stranger. Perhaps the answer isn’t waiting for you and me somewhere beyond the horizon; perhaps it lies in the very steps we take. Maybe, just maybe, it lies in the trail of dents we leave behind.

I hope you got the fresh cup of hot coffee, peppered with chocolate sprinkles, and the note I left with it. I hope you always remember… You’re a beautiful person in a magical world. And that you’re not alone when you drown in the despair of your existence. The only answer to it, i feel, is to love madly: not just the next boy you fall for, but everything from the cup of coffee on your table, the musings of another existentialist which outlived him and made it to your desk, the stray dog who rubs his snout against your palm, and the first sun rays that perch on your eyelids at dawn to that magnificent reflection in the mirror, replete with all its unique scars. All perfection is alike, stranger, but art comes from aberrations.

Until another magical morning,
The boy in the grey hoodie

Where the truth goes to die

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Bury your dreams
Beneath half measures
And excuses:
‘It’s too late’…‘I’m too old’…
Cloak your melancholy now
In robes of sunshine
Forged with gold.

Shred your fantasies
To bits, watch them
Scatter by
Clumsy, craggy feet,
Worn out by journeys
To impulsive lands,
Where the truth goes
To die.

Don’t you just love to whine?
Sulk, sulk, sulk;
Suckle at the breasts of your mis-
fortune, manufactured
In dark rooms and
On typewriters weary
Of deceit.

– Sumeet Keswani