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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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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Last seen: Too long ago

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Does he caress your hair
Before ravaging your skin?
Does he bring you flowers,
The tulips you love?
Does he read each thought
As it leaves the recesses of your mind
And lingers on your brooding eyes
For a stolen moment in time
Like dew on a winter leaf?

Does it rain nostalgia in Paris
When i write of us here?

A hint of Thunderstorms

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When did they take it from you?
Tell you you were (worth) nothing
But a correction, and corners
In a pompous house
Full of followers.

You’re obviously bitter,
You never got over
Words of a critic,
Rigid, oblivious of your shimmer;
Buried your fragile, glowing wick
Beneath the ordinary,
The din of everyday glamour.

Did you know you’re them now?
Passing on the toxin
Of conformity, asking us to bow
To what they call normal,
To what we fight,
Rebel with audacious revel,
With all our fucking might.

When they robbed you of you,
Were they as mean as you (are)?
Did they push you
To the last limit until you caved,
Swallowed the salt water,
And grew gills that saved?

My lungs will scream in silence
One last time
But you won’t see me drink
Your waters to blend.
I’m the sky, you can’t quite sink,
With a hint of thunderstorms.