Sinking deep into an abyss has been the recurrent nightmare I have suffered since childhood. When I was a child, dreaming of my utter collapse into the giant, unfathomable pit of nothingness would leave me in sweat. I was a dreamer, I still am, so how could I sink until I had burst out in flames of unforgettable brilliance? How could I without dazzling in the scathing fire of human enterprise even if it burnt me? That darkness was unbearable, the prospect of not even failure but the sheer idea that a person could sink without even trying – what a criminal waste of life. I can’t remember when all of this waned in frequency. I was sinking less into my dreams and more in life but my nightmares, however untrue they were, were disappearing like the dying wood of the summer wildfire – perhaps, they had served their purpose and I had grown up enough to tell myself that the fall, however scary, was just a bad dream and nothing else.
As this dream’s corollary in life, I don’t think I have fallen and bruised myself ever, except for a terrible motorcycle accident in Bombay. It wasn’t my fault that I would find myself, all of 21, in the painful throes of a hip injury that would keep me off work for two weeks. It would be fair to say that this was neither the result of the carelessness of the photographer I was riding pillion with. A cargo van hit the rear of the motorcycle while my photographer colleague and myself cooled our heels at a busy traffic signal and the bike magically slid forth beneath me. I fell on my hips and that was it. No fracture but my hipbone was bruised. The photographer, who escaped unhurt, took me to the nearest hospital and from there to my office. I dictated my story to a colleague and returned home. I spent the next two weeks in a bare and lonely room I called my paying guest accommodation until a friend’s mother took me home and treated me to her kind hospitality. The motherly care at this friend’s place in Bombay healed my injury and left me deeply touched. My feelings are often amply expressed and I remember being so stoked I continued to call them long after I left Bombay. I still remember and cherish them as some of the warmest of people I met in Bombay.
In those days, I didn’t have a fair understanding of the way of life in the metros – the way people were blind to human suffering and prioritized time and money over everything else. In the journalism school I attended, friends would share meals down to a rupee and that shocked me. Of course, you may call it bad economics but I would often wonder why one couldn’t forget about a rupee someone owed, or why people kept cribbing about money. I was not rich but I was used to deliberate forgetfulness. If someone offered me money for a coffee, I looked the other way. I still do and take it as an insult that someone I have chosen to spend time and company with, offers to split the bills for a coffee or a snack. And, by arduous practice, it has remained just that way. A bill on my table is always paid by one person at a time – and it moves in turns by mutual respect and appreciation, never shared with people who believe in sharing, I try to pay all of it by myself. But certainly, big cities have changed me since. Now, I let my friend take a turn, and I am fortunate most of them kindly do.
After that accident, I have fallen ill occasionally but have never been on bed rest. Each morning I wake up to a bright room and tell myself that this too shall pass. I keep my chin up and try and slog through the difficult mazes through frequent slumber. In wakefulness, I read and talk to myself. If there were a true blue loner anywhere on this part of the earth, you could count me as one. Perhaps it’s this solitude that has fortified me for life and helped me wean away from much expectations from people except myself.
But my expectations from myself are one and many. This is the weight that I carry at all times and it guides my course in life. Expectations that I set for myself sitting on a swing clinging to a soft guava tree branch in a small town in Bihar, singing all the words that floated in my heart. The first time I could understand what poetry was – the perception of life in all its grandness and struggles. What stories were – emerging from the rusty tin drums lying in my backyard next to the litchi trees in the shape of imaginary wolves that my mother invoked to put me to sleep; and the bedtime stories that unraveled the magic of fairies. My mother would say they would descend on our courtyard to bathe in the stone bathtub built adjacent to the turmeric plant. It was most often the yellow fairy that left the water yellow when we would rush to the tub eagerly in the mornings. Sometimes, indigo. It took us years to discover the marvelous storyteller in my mother. Her stories were the lifeblood of my imagination – she stoked it rigorously and it wasn’t long before I picked up the pencil and fancied myself a poet, a writer. In mundane, mother found greatness; in ordinariness, she found a purpose; in humble life, she found occasions to rise and shine.
Often, not without regret, I ask myself if I have found purpose like she did. Have I been running away from things I have yearned for? Is cultivating distance my way of neglecting the gift of my mother? When would I know? Is free-fall my act of abandonment, expressed in the cruelest of nightmares that faded as I learned to forget my gift? I don’t know. Perhaps, all predicaments have their allies in the future and mine will find its own that would show the light. Perhaps, this will never happen. Perhaps, in the sinking valleys on my dreams, I would bump a hole with my obstinate head, hoping to find a voice. I don’t know.
But technology and solitude are allies of the present. When my dreams have stopped regressing into nightmares, I close my eyes and plug my iPod in my ears. In this musical solitude, I become my best dance show. I make splendid moves in the mind and I seem to know all dance forms orchestrated to songs I have written. At some point in my dance, I reach the top of a cliff and dash into a free-fall inevitably. The tip of my feet moves inward in a lyrical bend and my arms fly out. It happens quickly but I don’t end up at the bottom of a dead, haunting valley. As I fly, songs of my soul begin on a loop. I hit another cliff, swaying softly into a calmer dance. Here, I wait for my dormant gifts to awaken.
(C) Pallavi Singh. 2019.