“Isn’t it funny how day by day, nothing changes; but when you look back, everything is different…”
Life is a crazy kaleidoscope of changing patterns; the whirlpool of change manifests itself day by day, but goes unnoticed. It is only when you glance at the rear view mirror do you realize that everything has changed. People you thought were going to be there forever, aren’t, and people you never imagined you would be speaking to are now some of your closest friends. Life makes little sense and the more you grow, the less sense it will make. This is the story of how I realized that age is just a number and there is no such thing as being an adult;You only grow older and if you’re lucky, maybe a little wiser!
A friend of mine once told me, “You’ve changed.” We were in the middle of a conversation when suddenly, she paused, looked at me and said: “A, you’ve changed.”
I blinked; I tried to cover my feelings by mastering some witty innuendo to pin her down. We were always doing that to each other. I snubbed her off with a sassy remark and giggled to find her at loss! We had met after months and she was (is) one of my closest high school friends, (I say that because ‘that‘ comment coming from her, meant ‘that‘ much to me!)
Back home, listless and temperamental, I started wondering. I found myself thinking long and hard about what she had said. What was it about changes that scares us so much? Why was I even thinking so much about it? It was as if what she had said had resonated a hidden bell inside.
“I was changing!”
I was changing just like every little thing around me, every inconspicuous detail of my life, that in this last one year, had undergone a mammoth change! The black school bag by the corner of my room was the only constant- the only link to who I was before. Beside it lay a box of felt pens whose refills were now used up and stuck with half hearted colours like the faded remnants of those days lost in dreams. The prick of memories viewed through the rose-tinted spectacles of time made me homesick for a place I could not get to. A wisp of music from a familiar David Bowie track halted my thought-train as it hovered through the chink of my half-shut door:
Turn and face the strange
…..Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
Mmm, yeah I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
“Beezus, turn the volume down!”, I yelled at my sister in the other room as snippets of symphony came floating down the corridor, into my room. As the music filled my room, I found myself slowly slipping into a realm of retrospection, the words poured through my ears dripping into my soul like dew drops on a rose bud,until before long, I was quietly humming the tune to myself, sitting there clueless and alone on my big divan!
<< A bright red kite with its sharp, thin thread pierced through the bubbles of my thought. Giggles from a kid with beady eyes as the boy with practiced hands handled the string and “latai” with ease, took me back to that happy gloam of ‘99. Like a toddler, the kite held back in fear, stuttered, then swaying with the magic of the noontime breeze, it started flying. It flew farther and farther away as the boy relaxed the string coiled around the latai, little by little. The bright red kite fluttered in the wind and soon it had flown so high that it merited a jump of excited claps from the toddler in pink frock who with her beady eyes, had mistaken it for a little pastel butterfly flying in the distance against the happy velvet of blue…. >>
Sadness sung as the vestiges of that day blurred out through the same ‘beady’ eyes as I found them wet with drops of dream clouds. That kid still breathed in some shady corner of my insides!
The clock kept up its perennial ticking, the wall lizard faked an introspective yawn as it crushed a bug in the folds of its tongue and in the other room, the track changed. The unheeded protagonist turned contemplative with the lilt of the music as the jukebox played yet another song….
“How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change
Makes you change…”
Later that night, I lay in my bed staring up at the ceiling. The unfaltering tick-tock of the clock and loneliness, my sole companions. I wondered, about what my friend had said; “what did she mean?” and “why couldn’t I master the courage to ask her just that instead of masking my fears with fake witticisms?!”
I made up my mind to ask her myself the next day for the thought bee kept buzzing in my head with painful cacophony and over thinking drove my brain to the verge of incineration.
When I broached her on the subject, my friend was unnaturally placid. Candidly she replied, “Nothing has changed. I’m sorry about last night; I just got carried away. Perhaps it’s just that you’re growing up and things aren’t going to be the same as before. I was scared that maybe things would change and with differing priorities, we would grow apart. It’s a scary world out there; the adult world!”
I let that sink in. So, I was growing up!
“And is that a bad thing?”, I gulped.
Deep inside, I knew that things had changed. Only, I was too naive to face it. The small voice in the back of my head pricked the bubbles of illusions that I had. This last one year had been one of incongruous changes. Hijacked from the security of the four-postered walls of childhood and of the little convent classroom, I’ve been forced to confront the adult world. Like an alien, a misfit, I’ve stumbled to survive, to exist, to adapt. She was right. I was growing up and the changes lay in the growth. In the adaptation to suit the larger canvas of existence. Chiselled and sharpened in the spark of reality I’ve evolved as a subtler being, equipped with the finest faculties of self defense and self care.
I now knew how to maintain a mask of maturity, how to restrain myself from being accelerated with joy at the sight of commonplace things of little importance that would have merited a rupture of unabashed ecstasy if it were to be as it was in the salad days of life spent as a tiny, senseless over enthusiastic creature, but for the voices outside that echoed, “ Grace and poise, my dear. Grace and poise!”
Firm and candid now, I had learned to survive; to trick the grown up world into thinking that I had grown up too. I owed my life to close calls and how every knife in my back had missed my heart by inches; But adapting, I had learned to shield myself against the dragons outside fairytales. And while that was a progressive change to some extent, there was also the nagging fear of losing the bliss of childhood innocence at the cost of the evolved sense of the adult. Perhaps the hardest part of growing up, is letting go of who you used to be.
“……..Your little eyelids flutter cause you’re dreaming
So I tuck you in and turn on your favorite night light
To you everything’s funny, you got nothing to regret
I’d give all I have, honey
If you could stay like that
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up, just stay this little
Oh darling, don’t you ever grow up
Don’t you ever grow up, it could stay this simple
I won’t let nobody hurt you, won’t let no one break your heart
And no one will desert you
Just try to never grow up, never grow up…..”
This time, it felt as if the wave of music was coming from somewhere inside my head. I was surely going mad, I thought. Late at night, when I’m most true to myself, I started crying. The tears came streaming, naturally, unlike those times when I felt too tired even to cry. This time I didn’t need to try hard to let the pain flow out like I sometimes did while crying and ended up feeling relieved, as if the hardness of the heart was scrubbed out and cleansed by the dreary liquids cascading down my eyes. Instead, this time the tears only made the pit darker. I was fighting with my inner demons and the few hours before I gave in to sleep was the only time I had to do it. Come morning and I’d have to gloss in my brightest smile as I blended the chap stick and notwithstanding the darkness inside, face the world with a smile! These last few hours of the day, curled up in my bed beneath the order of blankets as I shut the world outside, (or shut me in), I gifted myself the luxury of “me time”. I cried, decidedly…knowing that the water running down my face would let go of the steam inside..but with each falling teardrop, I saw myself moving further and further away from the girl who woke up every morning and went through the day wearing the garb of elusive happiness. This hour, I was nude inside and the masks that I wore to trick the world was lying beside me with that same Cheshire grin placed firmly- Plasticized!
“Did some things you can’t speak of
But at night you live it all again
You wouldn’t be shattered on the floor now
If only you had seen what you know now then
Wasn’t it easier in your firefly-catchin’ days?
When everything out of reach, someone bigger brought down to you
Wasn’t it beautiful runnin’ wild ’til you fell asleep
Before the monsters caught up to you?”
The thought clouds drift back as the music fades into the background. Its 12:24 now, and a yawn hiccups its way through the gurgle of my sighs. A little girl sulks at the dinner table. Hazy initially, but soon a shadow crops up: Tall, firm and broad shouldered! He stands with his hand raised, facing her, with his fingers pointing at the girl, with disappointed derision.
“…Do you know what your class teacher told us today? ‘The most talkative girl in my class!’ Have you any idea how much you embarrass your parents with your habit of non stop blabbering in class? Every year, every class: same complaints! Again and again we’ve heard the same thing and trust me I’m tired! I’m just sick and tired of this whole business!” The last statement echoed through the high walls of that room. The louder voice laid down the emptied glass with a thud on the table as another voice softer, mumbled, hesitated and coaxed incoherent words of harmony as it tried to pacify the first one. Draining the contents of the glass down his throat, the first voice continued: “We had enrolled you into a convent school for a REASON! The most important thing in life is DISCIPLINE. But for that, you need to learn to keep your mouth shut first. Why in the world would you have to talk so much? Why can’t you change your self and be more like the other graceful girls in class?”
In the hubub of a noisy classroom, the quite sophomore in the corner stared, looked, blinked. A horrible recollection! But somehow she had nothing to say. “Anti social ” they called her. “Introvert” she preferred. “Arrogant” said the haters. Inside, she was dying with so much to say…like the volcano that bubbles and surges within the heart of the rock, sealed by its own cooling, hardening lava. “Introverting again?”, he chuckled, breaking her chain of thoughts. She really did need to change herself, wondered the sophomore as the little girl of her childhood days ran in giggles past her vision. Sometimes, the things we can’t change, end up changing us!
Changing meant losing a part of your self in the yellow frames of history. The shreds of what you were are left behind as you grow up to fit into the larger framework of adulthood and its responsibilities. Bu t lying in that bed, that lonely night, I realized I had never felt more like an adolescent before, as I did then. I thought of the little girl that was little-girl-no-more! A medley of memories from the salad days of my life scuttled about my eyelids…fragments of habits, quirks and visions, filled my heart with the warmth similar to that of a surging harry potter patronus! I closed my eyes and drank of my dreams…. The little girl appeared, face smeared with blends of yellow, blue and orange as she poured over a sheet of blank paper, drawing an orange sun in the extreme corner of the page. She was lost in the happiness of pastel shades; the colurful sticks of crayons with its sweet smell, hard, cool and smooth like a rounded pebble as she rubbed it against her skin, on the page, on the boring walls and everywhere.
The pleasant coolness of the crayons took her back to another day; a particularly hot one. The girl in frock stood in front of the refrigerator with its door ajar gazing into its insides like a bizzare sadhu would at his client before reading his stars and telling the future. The cool air emanating from inside the fridge, (at a time when air conditioning was a decade away in that dreary little town where she was born,) made her hold on to the door for just a little longer before she would close it really slowly, just to see when the lights inside the fridge went off…how she would try to balance the light switch between ON and OFF or wash her hands after stepping out of the toilet for full ten minutes because she loved the feel of running water flowing through her fingers…how the first time she saw the picture of a heart in the book of a senior class five student, she was so surprised because she had always thought that the shape of a real heart was like one of those tiny ones at the end of a page of barbie doll stickers…the potpourri of images reminded her of the silly days of joyfull innocence, of the times when ringing the doorbell of the fat lady in the neighborhood (who they knew was really a witch, by the way), running away before she could come after you and giggling from behind the mango tree as you peeped in to see her plummeting with anger like a rare turkey cock, was one of the biggest temptations one could give in to; when the smell of bubblegums as the bubble popped a gummy slap on your cheeks building a giggle in your stomachs and controversies about who had blown the biggest bubblegum balloon were serious issues; when one could sail of ones dreams or fly with them in boats and planes made out of discarded papers and there wasn’t such a thing as a rumour; when a game of hide and seek with friends in the colony, or eating bournvita (without milk!) and straight out of the jar, or blowing soap bubbles on a warm fuzzy afternoon or the tinkling bell of the approaching cart of the cotton candy vendor (and chomping it down no matter how messy it was to eat the thing) was all it took to cheer you up…!”
Waking up from my dreams I wondered: “Metamorphosis eh?!”
When did this happen?!
“……So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through
Turn and face the strange
Another time, heartbroken, she laid her face on a rumpled cushion letting her hurt down in angry, hot teardrops. Beside, a gentle hand stroked her hair crooning words of comfort with each stroke. ” You know, you really need to grow up A. You need to be strong.” Then she told her the story of the tortoise…how the first tortoises on earth were really like rabbits: soft,delicate, bouncy and harmless! But what was most astounding was the fact that the Great great grandfathers (or grandmoms, really!) of today’s “tortoic” generation: the primeval tortoises, didn’t have shells!
” Eh?”, she blinked, “I’m not a kid anymore mom.”
“No, really. I’m not feigning….They didn’t!”, she assured her.
“..but where did the shells go?!”, she asked in wide eyed wonder, the tears now starting to fade from her cheeks in the warmth of a good tale.
“Well, they didn’t have any.”, replied her mother.
“It was only after the other animals of the planet were born that the tortoises found it difficult to live safely and had to armour shells to protect themselves. With the evolution, there came on earth beasts, predators and other sinister creatures. It was a big bad world and the tortoises were scared of the shadows lurking behind the branches; the shadowy shapes of darkness, that came gliding: black under the clouds….They were fearsome shadows that lay in ambush in the dark and would spring forth on their victims from behind. They were deadly and ominous and the tortoises knew it coming, with life-failing footsteps; Death-doomed! So in order to protect themselves from harm, the delicate creatures hit upon a particularly bright idea: they started building them shells…Beautiful coral shells weaved from sea-swells, foam and emerald greens made strong with the strength of their hearts. Now the shadows couldn’t touch them anymore, safe as they were behind the walls of their shells. So each year the mother tortoise would teach her children how to build their shells and the tradition got passed down ever since. None of the tortoises got hurt anymore and they all lived happily ever after. As a last word, (if you don’t believe my story), ever wondered why tortoises live that long? -That’s happily ever after!”
The little girl giggled, “That’s fairytale-talk!”
Her mother smiled a rhetoric and continued, “you, my dear, have a heart like the tortoises: soft and vulnerable. You too need to build your own shell and now is the time.”
As days passed and the li’l girl grew up, her mother would often have to coax a soggy nosed teenager with more of metaphors and “fairytale-talks” but with real life implications. About heartbreaks, she would tell her, “with each unhappy ending, you come one-broken-heart-closer to finding the love of your life!” Her mother always knew the right words to make her smile. Growing up she learnt how to build her shell, how to bottle up unnecessary, distracting emotions and put a cork to her feelings. The little girl was little girl no more! She was ready for the big world. She had changed: grown up, matured…no more the silly kid lounging with her crayons and candies inside makeshift blanket forts made out of broken umbrellas. She took the world in her stride and faced life bravely…but sometimes when they’d call her emotionless for keeping a straight face, she’d cry inside!
She hadn’t changed enough, had she?
Throughout her life she’d focused on progressing: be it in her career, perspective or person. She’d build new bridges each day and cross them over the next. She loved the ingenuity of creation- in stories, art or recipes. She believed in living, building and loving, in exploring new avenues, in things that stirred her soul and made her feel alive (thrills you don’t get inside your comfort zone!) She was proud of how far she had come but there was this one fear scaling her insides: Did crossing over to new pastures, meant losing who she was before? Was this change aimed at forgetting the li’l girl living inside?
The idea of metamorphosis stuck in her mind like a gramophone record stuck in the same lines of the song, going back to the words again, gazing into the galaxies that the cream made in her coffee cup, she pondered upon changes. She thought of who she was this time last year. She knew she was a lot more afraid and that she isn’t the same person anymore. She had learned to care less about what other people thought about her and more about what she thought of herself. It was like one of those moments when it finally clicks: You realize how far you have come and you remember the times you had thought things were such a mess they’d never recover. And then you smile. You smile because you’re truly proud of yourself and the person you’ve fought to become.
But did that mean losing oneself and deserting the little ingenue inside?
With another sip of her coffee as the liquid went bubbling down her throat, relaxing her nerves, the power of the caffeine rang a little bell inside. She recalled an ubiquitous line she had read somewhere long back:
(Must be in one of the zillion posts of the Berlin art parasites!)
“I don’t know exactly when I changed or how, but at some point between cutting my strings, escaping my cage, and building my wings, I set myself free.”
….and she couldn’t think of a better way to end the drizzle of her rantings!