Thank you for the gesture, stranger

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Dear stranger with the kindest eyes,

I fear I’m already forgetting you, the little details that I cherish remembering about people – strangers encountered in brief moments of serendipity, composed on a cosmic instrument that plays out our lives like keys in perfect symphony on a grand, old piano.

Yesterday night was the first time I was ferried around on a wheelchair in a shopping mall. It was a terrifying lesson in losing control, publicly. I’m temporarily impaired by an injury that will heal in a week or two, not a permanent disability. But I got a taste of what the latter would feel like. What hurt a travel writer more than his inability to walk was the almost-ubiquitious pity he received from complete strangers. A wheelchair seems to mandate a series of reactions from people – first comes surprise; then, an exaggerated effort to move out of the way; followed by a look of pity and wonder; and lastly, an aversion of one’s eyes as if this grim fate is contagious. I wore camouflage trousers, and wished I were invisible.

When I joked and laughed out loud with the two friends who wheeled me around like it was any other day at the mall, spectators marvelled at the boy who could laugh on a wheelchair! I nearly jumped out of my quasi-coffin on crutches, to prove that I was still human. Capable of wit and sarcasm, and love and laughter. As if it needed to be proved.

And then, there was you. In a summer yellow top, I think. Or was it the orange of dusk skies? I forget. It was, after all, merely a glance. I looked away from your approaching silhouette, assuming you’d be one of the scores to gift me a look of unequivocal ‘sorry’ for the day. But you stopped in your tracks, bent down, and looked me in the eyes. For the first time that day, a stranger talked to me. Me, and not my bandages which seemed to be a screaming beacon of attention. “Get well soon,” you said, almost sang it as if in a musical, emphasizing the soon, like the world couldn’t wait to see me back on my feet. Your kind eyes spoke of concern and optimism, not a condescending form of sympathy. For the first time that day, I felt that I fit in. That I was a part of the species that populated the mall and indulged in reckless shopping, and selfies, and inappropriate humour. For the first time that day, I grinned from ear to ear and meant a “Thank you!”

Friends who do not miss a single chance to pull a fractured leg joked about how a wheelchair couldn’t dial down my charm. They’re the best, stranger. They would later take me window shopping, and to a birthday party, without ever letting me feel the weight of my helplessness. But through that entire evening of being towed around and stared at, I carried the gentle warmth of a kind gesture by a beautiful stranger who seemed to know just what I needed to hear and who did not heed to the walls we build between one another.

People think changing the world comes only from big policy decisions and seats of power and money. But change is also in the little things, stranger. Smiling at the overworked staffer behind the counter, an inflated tip for the waiter with the torn apron, a bag of holiday candies for the homeless, a random conversation struck with an immigrant alienated for her dreadlocks, the girl who wishes you on a wheelchair when everyone else averts their eyes… It’s the little things that matter, it’s the little things that stay with you.

Thank you for the gesture, stranger. It made my day. I hope you know that.

~ The boy in the brown jacket

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Silk

What are we
But waves abandoned
On a silken shore,
Feverish in our attempts
To find home.

What is love
But this pristine
Silence
Between vowels frothing
At the lips of nameless lands.

I found mine in you-
The belonging of a nomad
To a castle of sand.

~ Sumeet

Lingering

Cafe

 

Come
Sit with me
Feast on my soul,
All its trap doors,
Creaky wooden floors,
Almirahs of lust,
The attic and its ghost,
Sealed windows –
Stained by the rain
Of yesteryear.
A forgotten pain
Lingering.
I’m here. I’m here.
I will always be
Here.


~ Sumeet Keswani

How I quit engineering and became a travel writer-photographer

Scuba diving in Andamans

Five years ago, I dared to dream.

In 2011, I was a computer engineer gulping cupfuls of machine-spewed instant coffee at an IT company while pondering a strange existentialist cloud that rained often on my cubicle. I was disillusioned by the tech bubble that encircled my life, the kind that makes managers worry about web servers instead of people when natural disasters strike. They were just doing their job I guess, but it was clear to me that that job wasn’t my calling. So, I quit. And I dared to dream of a career which would make me travel the world to tell stories through my favourite channels of expression – writing and photography. Now, before you denounce this reckless career leap as a millennial’s privilege, let me stop you right there and agree with you. Yes, I’m one of those Gen-Y yuppies who are constantly seeking their ‘special’ place in this world, unlike their parents whose idea of success was a secure, well-paying job.

Truth is, everybody dreams reckless dreams. But few give up everything to follow them. After all, the blue pill is so much easier to swallow (Matrix reference). You continue on the path you did not choose because you’re already on it, because “it’s too late to turn back”, because if you went after the dream you might “lose everything” and yet never find the fabled treasure, or worse.

I took the red pill.

As I gave up that life, I joined a journalism college and sat amidst History, English Hon. and Journalism grads, trying to comprehend what it meant to be a scribe in the new world. I was told I was a decent writer but had no sense of news. My introduction in every class followed the same pattern. After the customary name, domicile and interests trivia, and the mandatory ‘why quit engineering’ argument, I announced my intent: ‘To become a travel writer and photographer’. It met as much amusement as rebuke. So much so that at one point, I felt I was being unreasonable asking for such a surreal way of life. My ambitions were watered down to the nearest common denominator: city reporter. A city feature writer at most, if I was lucky.

No Signboards

Desperation took over. Whenever an ad announced ‘The Best Job in the World’ – more often that not related to travel – I threw my hat in the ring, akin to buying a lottery ticket. My resume held no qualification for the job, only ‘immense passion for travel, and unbridled creativity in storytelling’.  I was a daydreamer, chasing my phantasm with the single-mindedness of a sniper. I shot out query letters to professional travel writers asking for advice. When no tips returned, I inquired about their career trajectory. Perhaps I could try to emulate it. Vague responses only made the job look more like a myth. Travel cafes offered workshops on writing; blogs gave advice on shoe-string budgets and marketing; magazines asked for experience which wasn’t available without prior experience. They were all selling real estate on whimsical clouds. It is then that I decided that if I ever became a travel journalist, I’d write about it. If not concrete advice, at least my own story. So it would give hope to anyone who dreams the same dream.

It’s 2016. And I’m here. A writer-photographer for a travel magazine, one of the two publications I mentioned in a naive Facebook note I posted in 2011 while sketching out the goal. [For those who are quick to make Bollywood comparisons, this was two years before YJHD and Ranbir Kapoor made it cool to be a travel photographer.] I wish I could tell you if the dream lives up to its projection in my head. But I’ve just got here; I’m yet to savour it. Perhaps six months later, I’ll tell you whether the Loch Ness Monster really has gigantic flippers for feet.

Lucky Number: None

It wasn’t luck that got me here. It was an immense amount of stubbornness, courage to take silly risks, many sacrifices, and working insanely hard at whatever I took up along the way. (Also, a lingering sense of discontent that soiled every success I tasted along the way.)

I topped my journalism school. Not that medals are any indicator of talent, but that gold medallion gave me a lot of self-belief, an assurance that I was perhaps right about changing the course of my career. The industry was in such a dire state that there were no campus placements that year. So I interned at what is routinely called the biggest English-language daily in the world.

The internship was supposed to last four months. But after just two months of reporting in a city I loathed, I ran into a wall. A bad bout of hepatitis-induced jaundice made sure that I lay shackled to a bed for four months while my peers got published and scored jobs. When I went back to the newsroom, vitals nearing normalcy, reporting jobs had run out. I finished my internship in a different department, one that held promise of a job but involved work that I had never intended to do. I wanted to tell stories; instead I spent eight ill-timed hours editing others’ political stories and populating pages with them. A far cry from travel writing. But I kept at it for over two years. Back then, it felt like a means to an end. But in hindsight, it was a significant phase of growth.

Did I like it? No.

Did I learn from it? Yes, for a while.

Did I do it nevertheless? As well as I possibly could. A double-promotion later, I approached the nicest boss in office with mutiny (and guilt) on my mind. I wanted out. I wanted to write. Before my CV was cast in an editor’s mold. And a transfer within the company was the only way. Few firms would hire a rookie reporter, with no sources or portfolio, at the salary of a senior sub-editor.

Earning It

Internal transfers aren’t uncommon, but they do meet some resistance. Especially when you want to leave the desk for the field. (Because almost everyone wants to do that). I was fortunate to have bosses who acknowledged my calling. But the team I aspired for was the weekly national features team. If I got in, I would be the youngest in the room by at least 6-7 years. I was vying to fill the boots of someone who had 10-odd years of writing experience. I knew I had to earn my place. So, after two years of editing monotonous political stories, I put pen to paper, summoned my muse, and tried to write content-rich national features hinged on news.

Words had abandoned me. The metaphors that once laced my tongue bled like ulcers in the mouth. I wrote nevertheless; I crawled through language, groping for one word, then the next. I turned to my personal blog for momentum. [Yes, this one.] For the next five months, I balanced two jobs. While I continued to follow the eight-hour rut of politics and pages every day, I also contributed the occasional feature story to iron out any doubts about my abilities. In March 2015, I finally broke in. I was a feature writer with a nationwide audience.

Sunset at chidiya tapu

Life turned easier after the transition. For one, my day turned turtle. For the first time in 2.5 years, I was going to office in the first half of the day and coming back before midnight. I was eating three meals a day and watching the occasional sunset. My reluctant editing stint proved to be a strength on the new job – I wrote without the fluff which usually clouds rookie writing, because I’d spent two years cutting out that very fat from stories. Most importantly, I was telling stories under my own name. For me, nothing beats the thrill of receiving a phone call/sms/fan-mail about a story that resonates with someone.

The travel dream remained dormant but never died. Being the youngest in the team eventually proved to be an advantage. I could leave for an assignment at a moment’s notice. Any assignment. My job took me to Nepal twice, to China, and to Andamans for a scuba diving experience – all in a single year. Outsiders called me lucky; my insides winced. It’s an easy thing to attribute someone’s way of life to luck. No, I wasn’t lucky. I’d worked my guts out for this; I’d rebelled for this; I’d given up an IT career that promised money and the American dream, for this. While most of my engineering friends uploaded selfies with their new sedans, or pictures of a posh office in Silicon Valley, or a home they moved into with their better halves, I had been busy figuring out if I could pay the bills on time that month. Journalism isn’t an easy job, and the industry pay standards don’t make it any easier. My only reward: Every Sunday when my story came out, Ma would call from a faraway hamlet, once home, telling me she’d read me; school teachers and cousins and former best friends would message to say my stories had become a ritualistic accompaniment with their Sunday morning cup of tea. There is no greater reward for a writer than to be read.

The Treasure Trunk

The job was great. I enjoyed a big audience and the freedom to write on various subjects. But it still wasn’t what I had spelled out five years ago in that classroom. There was travel involved, but it was purely incidental. My feet itched to wander. So, after 1.5 years of writing features on topics ranging from alternative sexuality in comics to couple apps and suicide helplines (http://bit.ly/29xLc7r), I unlocked the trunk beneath my bed and dug out the dream, now covered in sheaths of dust. I applied to a travel magazine. By this time, I had built a portfolio of over 50 national features and composed a Flickr page that featured eclectic frames – from wildlife photographs and unexplored landscapes to underwater creatures and street portraits. The work laid out on the table, I wasn’t asked to give a test. Salary terms were negotiated, the offer handed out. It was mine. Just like that.

Andamans-sea

Sometimes life offers mirages in the middle of a scorching desert. Sometimes, we build them ourselves, making up a reason to keep walking through the harshest of terrains, plotting dreams with emboldened crosses, reaffirmed, on tattered maps, imagining treasures beyond belief for the taking – if only we walked. If only we survived this. But what happens when you suddenly have it, the dream, tossing and turning like a baby dragon of folklore in the palm of your hand?

Dare to dream. And don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done. But be prepared to give everything up to chase that fantasy beyond the rainbow’s arch. ‘Wishing on a falling star got me here,’ said no one ever.

As for me, my next dream is already keeping me up through nights.

Living an ocean-blue dream and capturing it

Have you ever heard the hymn of the sea? Not the emphatic roar of waves that crash recklessly into the dented black of rocks. But the gentle symphony that lives under the turbulent attire of the surface. It’s a singular form of poetry that seeps in through every pore of the skin. Under water, all you hear is the sound of your breath, which leaves a train of bubbles marching to the surface, and the musical silence of deep blue. It’s the closest you can get to entering a wormhole and exploring a whole new reality, where gravity can’t keep you grounded, the senses are crippled, and the surrounding life forms defy all that your eyes have become accustomed to.

The training manual claimed that it’s the most memorable moment for any beginner. But nothing could prepare me for the first time I breathed underwater. A worn, uncomfortable regulator, which I clasped with my reluctant teeth, flushed dry, hollow air into my protesting lungs on demand from a cylinder hung on my back. All that meant nothing the moment I went down into the ocean blue, which I had loved all my life from the safe realms of the shore, and breathed. In that tiny instant, I became part of the ocean and everything that called it home.

Looking for a subject and something called neutral buoyancy. Pic credit: Anurag

Looking for a subject and something called neutral buoyancy. Pic credit: Anurag

One of the many ironies you get introduced to as part of an open water diver in training is the art of sinking yourself on purpose: You tighten a weight belt around your waist to counteract the buoyancy of water and deflate your BCD (buoyancy control device – a jacket that inflates and deflates on the touch of a button). It goes against all instincts of survival, so you train your mind to do it. As you cross the surface line, the lights go out, a blue tint takes over the world, and all your senses panic. It’s a hostile environment you aren’t supposed to inhabit. The steeply rising water pressure hammers your ear drums, so you equalize your air spaces. You’re taught to do this at every count of five. This and a dozen other things that you can’t afford to forget.

I was horrible in the first few confined water dives (shallow water dives). I drank half the ocean and inhaled some of it. But my dive trainer would have none of my skepticism. It was my dream to scuba dive, and he took it upon himself to see me through. In the training module, all sorts of potential situations are simulated and dealt with – you’re asked to flood your mask with ocean water that stings the eyes and drive it out with one swift forceful blow-out; swim 9 metres to the surface in one extended exhale (for an out-of-air scenario); sip on air from a leaking regulator, and more. I overcame one instinct at a time. By the time I reached my open water dives, I was getting a hang of things, and drinking less salt water than before, but hovering mid-water still confounded me. I kept rising or sinking while my patient trainer levitated in a monk-like stance in front of me. It reminded me of a clumsy Po blundering in front of Master Shifu. After all, it takes just an inhale to go up, an exhale to sink, and you can never hold your breath (lest you tear a lung).

In many ways, learning to scuba dive is like learning to walk, or balancing your first bicycle. You see others do it with almost no effort, and wonder why you keep falling and scraping your knees bloody. But once you get the hang of it, it liberates you. You turn directions by merely turning your hips, do somersaults, swim sideways, fin ahead with a superman fist extended, rise with just a breath, plunge with an exhale… you finally have the superpowers you always wanted. My most memorable moment was surfacing from my last training dive with a wide grin and hearing my instructor call me an ‘open water diver’. Or wait, was it the one where i first saw a stingray and swam circles with it? Or was it the moment i swam with a school of yellow snappers who let me into the clan? I can’t possibly choose.

Thank you for capturing me in action, Anurag

Being a photographer, I have an instinct to take pictures of anything wild and exquisite. Naturally, I itched to capture marine life the moment I laid my mask-protected eyes on it. Once I was a licensed open water diver, I started to learn the tricks of underwater photography the very next day. It’s the most difficult form I’ve tried, by a margin. The blue-green water is the biggest foe of sharpness and colour, the sunlight a mere trickle from the surface, and zoom lenses pointless – so you go as close to stinging fish and corals as possible while floundering for neutral buoyancy (a perfectly horizontal floating position). Not to mention the need for waterproof gear. Not getting into the nitty-gritty of all things camera, i’ll go ahead and present my first attempt at capturing glimpses of a world that I adore. A world that finally accepted me as its own.

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Have you heard the hymn of the sea? It’s the song within that we drowned in everyday’s cacophony.

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

Footsteps

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Into the dark of woods
The morning sun peeks,
Sly as a myth.
Solemn trees are roused
By recklessness
Of footsteps on leaves.
The forest floor crumbles
Beneath scraggly feet
Of a girl purposely lost.

She treads the quiet trail
For answers don’t sit in crowds,
Nor does the boy
Who sings birdsongs of spring,
That only she can hear-
She and paradise flycatchers.

Feet scarlet as the ground beneath,
Toenails blue
As the cold timber fell,
She is the woods:
Pristine, rustling with life,
Lit with a blazing yellow.

O wanderer of the woods,
Sit by the lake blue and clear-
It shall tell you secrets; show you
The answers you seek
Lie within;
That if you sit still,
Very still,
They’ll find you.
Just like I.

Dear Women, All Men Aren’t Assholes

Disclaimer: This post addresses a certain section of women, and talks about a certain category of men. It does not generalize about sexes. In fact, it seeks to counter certain generalized notions about them which need to be thrown out of the window.

Of late, I have witnessed (and experienced) more heartbreaks than I ever thought I would. All a part of growing up and coming to terms with reality, they tell me. But what has been most surprising is the depth of emotion I have seen the males in these relationships display and the cold, calculative manner in which the ‘better halves’ have gone about the breaking-up business. I grew up being fed the generalization that women tend to be the more emotional ones, and men the jerks, capable of emotion only when it came to sport. The truth could not be farther.

For those girls out there who keep whining about there not being ‘any good men’, I have news for you: We exist. And we’re better than your limited understanding of men lets you imagine. And we take offence every time you post a sweeping generalization that starts with “All men…”. You are looking for him with the wrong criteria in your head, or maybe he’s right where you left him: In the friendzone, possibly still waiting for you to get your priorities straight. While you went about getting attracted to a charming smile or a cool hairdo or leather jackets on bikes or an aloof attitude, he was right there – sitting next to you in class, sharing his lunch, texting you all day, lending you his favourite books, actually listening to you, wiping your tears on every heartbreak, or just staring from across the hall without the courage to come up and talk.

Of late, I have come across some of the most disturbing dating advice and even worse definitions of all-things-love from some female friends. “Why get so involved and mushy in relationships? You’re young, go out there, use your devices, and have fun! Girls love to date a guy who treats them at a fancy place, buys them drinks!” chirped a female friend concerned over my latest relationship being torn apart by the other half. As much as I’d like to use my ‘devices’, contrary to popular perception, sex is not the only reason we’d get into a relationship. It’s not the topmost reason either. When a groom-hunting friend was asked, out of curiosity, what she was looking for, the first criterion thrown at me was an outrageous annual salary. For the women who fall in these categories, yes, we don’t exist. Not for you. Thankyouverymuch!

To define our critically-endangered species, and to burst the bubble of those who choose to believe we went extinct with your dads’ generation, here’s how we work:

We are hopeless romantics at heart but we may never say it in as many words. We love a happily-ever-after and want it as much as you do. Some of us, despite numerous reality-checks, have also managed to hold on to the belief of a ‘soulmate’ but we’re on the brink. Push us too far and we’ll lose it.

Yes, we might be instinctively and briefly attracted towards great bodies and beautiful faces owing to our anatomical wiring, but what really holds our attention and draws us in are great conversations, witty retorts, self-confidence, kindness, a certain amount of intellect, a unique opinion, an eccentric soul who is not afraid to be herself.

When we’re in a relationship, we don’t cheat on our girls. It’s difficult to think of another while you’re so deeply in love with a person. To set the record straight once and for all, we don’t think of you as fat unless you keep pointing at yourself and saying it over and over again. In fact, it hardly matters to us if you gained two or lost a few. We wouldn’t notice; we’re too busy looking at the way you’ve made your hair today, or the fact that your eyes keep going to a certain pair of shoes at a store and making a mental note of surprising you with it on the next big day (and probably about saving up for them.)

We might make fun of you when you cry in a movie, it’s simple diversion- our way of hiding the fact that it affects us too; you should see us watching it alone or reading a tragic love story- we’re busy blinking back some of our own.

We love to get you flowers, or balloons, or the random accessory you mentioned on a phone call – anything that makes your face light up. We love to try our hand at art. Even if we might end up making something really sloppy, we want it to convey something to you. Read the thought behind it, we’ll get better at the technique. Needless to say, we can be charming as hell, but we reserve that side for the ones who love us despite us, or better, for being us. Ask our best friends.

If you just look past the first few pages of inappropriate doodles and careless ink blotches in our notebooks, you’ll see a romantic poem reveal itself, and quotes from books you wouldn’t have heard of. If you just get past the top shelf of our DVDs, underneath the Avengers and the Transformers and the A-team, you will discover a RomCom collection that will beat yours. Before you question the placement, ask yourself: Why would a guy, in a world with such a skewed perception of masculinity, admit his favourite movie of all time is ‘Before Sunrise’? How will he not fake-scoff at a Nicholas Sparks mention, when the whole world, including the woman who he seeks to woo, believes that that genre of books/movies is not for the testosterony? This does not mean we do not actually enjoy indulging in crass humour or computer-graphics-enabled nihilism as is the perception. We do. (We don’t judge you for spending half your salary on a handbag or gossiping about each others’ love-lives either). We love those typically-boyish indulgences. But believe me- as much as we like to defeat the evil forces of the Universe on a computer screen, we also like kicking back with a John Green novel every now and then.

You think you have it tough living up to a societal perception of feminineness? Try being a man, experiencing loss and holding back your tears. Try getting dumped by the love of your life for “no fault of yours” and being asked by friends to move on to the ‘other fish in the sea’ while your whole world crumbles inside you. More often than not, we have it equally bad, if not worse.

And before you assume all of these guys I just described must be taken: Ironically, most us are single. Why, you ask? I have lost count of how many times I have seen a female friend reject the nice guy, choose the jerk, and then whine about “All Men” being “Assholes”.

“He doesn’t get me flowers!”, “He doesn’t care when I’m angry”, “He doesn’t listen to me”. Well, you kicked out the one who would have done it all. It’s time you cut out the hypocrisy or deal with the consequences of your choice. And whatever you do, stop generalizing.

  • To the girl who dumped someone for being ‘too nice’ (I know a poor chap who got that) or for ‘loving you too much’ (I actually got that one), you deserve the person you chose for yourself. Good luck!
  • To the one who thinks you haven’t come across one of us, look closer. We’re all around. This article and the comments beneath are evidence. Also, notice the authors of some of your favourite romantic novels. Guess what? Men!
  • To the girl who fell for the nice guy, hold on to him and he’ll give you the world. You deserve every thing you get – stop feeling you don’t give back enough (I keep hearing that). He loves you for being you, and there’s no other way he would have it.
  • To those of you who are looking for Ian Somerhalder’s grin, or Enrique’s exotic accent, or Channing Tatum’s abs, or the Hemsworth brothers’ faces, or worse – a fictional character like Mr Darcy – in guys, I hope you get men who possess all those things. (Hey, the superficial ones need to spawn their next generation too!) The concept of true love will, sadly, remain a mystery to you. [Before you vent spite, consider what you think of men who drool over Internet pictures of Megan Fox and bodyshame you for not looking ‘perfectly shaped’. Why wouldn’t a guy feel the same way when compared to a model and shamed? Yes, bodyshaming and objectification happen both ways and hurt both genders. Sorry to burst that bubble.]
  • Lastly, to the fellow gentlemen who belong to this league I proudly take the liberty of representing in this post: It’s a ridiculous time to be alive and in love. But, hang in there! (Also, did you check out the latest Call of Duty? It’s awesome!)

– An unapologetic romantic