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

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

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

Here & Now

Today

The one who loves more each day,

You know how we marvel at how we met and fell in love and that it all feels like an ingenious stroke of destiny?

I bleed for all the Mes and Yous in all those parallel universes out there where we did not walk into each other. I wonder how i’m putting myself to sleep and whom you’re telling all your little secrets to. I wonder whom we’re coming back home to right now. I wonder if i made it through today without screaming at a wall and if you remembered to wear your smile to work. I wonder if i ate today, without your repeated reminders; if something made you laugh so hard that your eyes teared up; if someone told you a million times in the day that you were beautiful, and loved very much; if someone told me they were proud of me…

Then i notice your big worrying eyes reading my face from across the room. And just like that, nothing matters. Nothing but today, here and now.

– Your daydreamer

Your other Today

Today

Dear stranger-turned-lover-turned-stranger,

This day, last year, you said you didn’t love me any more. That it did not feel the same way. I stood by you like i had always promised i would; you walked away. You don’t know what happened next, do you?

I knocked on your door on a sunny spring morning. The tulips in your front yard shied away from the scorching sky. I came with roses and scrunched up notes in my pocket- each one a different draft of what I would say. I didn’t have to open them of course, for I had felt the words lodged in my throat for four days. Four days: That’s 12 cups of unstirred coffee, 6 half-cooked meals and 2 cold pizzas, 3 cans of ice cream, 4 bars of chocolate (okay, 7!), 4 long sunsets, and a sum of 3,45,600 moments without you in my life. The moment you opened the door, my eyes blurted it all out.

We exchanged our eccentric vows at a placid beach on a stormy day, a few monsoons down the way. The photoshoot was washed away, but the clouds giggled as we kissed in their rain. Our first dance was barefoot, on sand birthed by the sea, lit by a crescent moon the size of a paper lantern. The ocean swayed with us that night, before the darkness fell asleep in your gentle embrace.

It’s too bad the dream always ends there: In a perfect world, painted the deep blue of a dawn nigh and an ocean full, marked by the caress of hair that held the perfume of daisies and filled with the harmony of your bloodsong on my skin. It’s a universe where I knew what to say that day, and you were home to open that door. Out here, right now, pizza and unstirred coffee await tired hands, nostalgic of a day we never had, as another letter recklessly crawls beneath your locked door.

Once yours,
Just another whim