Insomnia is the frothing, gurgling beast that sneaks up on you like a drunk stumbling husband in the dead of night and clutches at your throat and drips its slow poison, drop by drop, tick by tock, into the cogwheels of your brain, patiently waiting for when the daylight breaks and you drag with it your drugged hollow carcass into another blinding day.
From where, this anxiety?
The anticipation, I suppose, of change. Of change, impending. Of doom lurking. Of transition. Of the slipping away of comfort zones, the ground beneath her feet, of not knowing what lies behind door number two.
Of being out of one's depth,
-- or out of one’s element.
Of unknown protocols, social and otherwise,
Of trying to fit in
Of trying to stand out
Of the struggle for…. what, really?
(and the vein-popping task of not letting the effort show)
Of submerging into unremarkable mediocrity
Of missing home, country, family and the familiar.
Of questions too troubling to answer
Of worries too fleeting to define
That benevolent whore from whose bitch-tits we suckle, and fondly call the motherland. A society of a million people labouring under its sticky yellow sun, holding on to our illusions for dear life, our gracious host only too willing.
The beauty of India is the surety with which its parasitic inhabitants inhabit this land, the securedness of our existence in face of the undeniable truth that at any moment our host might decide to discard her unwelcome guests. Or perhaps it is precisely because of that knowledge that we hold so lightly a life that we know is not ours to hold.
Why bother with denials after all, when the very topics too unpleasant for any civilized mind, greet us shamelessly naked and underbelly-exposed, as if to say, ah well, would that you hide me behind pristine hospital walls or beneath lush green cemeteries, there’s no denying that one day, your time too shall come. Hark. Truth bears the form of a shiny-toothed beggar, one gangrened arm outreached.
And yet, we still cling to our carefully constructed illusions of ranks and hierarchies, of pure-bloods and uncleans, of denominations and status symbols. Holding a life lightly, and our opinions dearly. After all, how can you tell if you're successful if you can't find someone you can pay to fold his arms, call you madam, stand when you sit, nod when you speak, smile when you call him “country fellow” and then leave, knowingly, saying -- na varein -- that curious custom of saying, I'm coming, when one is actually going.
India is, it seems, the world’s greatest shammer. Who hasn't been sucked up to, sucked off, sucked in to the whole notion of some more equal than others, us more secular than them, we more tolerant than those, I more Indian than him.
This country is, let's face it, the best handjob you'll ever get. The best ego-massager, regurgitating a string of ego-massagers delicately balanced like a house of cards.
Misfits, miscreants and misanthropes, we are a body of builders, a building of bodies, each brick supported by the blood sweat and tears of the one above and below it, cemented with the crushed dreams of the unrealized –the dhobis prayer to win the lottery, the young girl’s dream of running away, the maids daydream of being the next undiscovered queen of Tamil soap, the housewife’s dream of strangling her philandering husband - the feel of another's pitiable dreams squishing beneath your toes lending credibility to your own aspirations.
And yet, this flesh-building stands supported by the very same dreams. Or rather, the reason behind their crushed unrealizedness, the reason behind their very existence, the common glue that holds this quivering house of cards together.
That fervent, gnawing clutching at straws that oneday, someday, we will break out of this on to a better life, a better day, a better tomorrow. That whatever happens, this too will pass.
And that belief is the very fabric of India. Its the reason the wheels keep turning underneath the grime, the grit and the glamour, the reason you smile as you bribe another pot-bellied cop on the way home, the reason we live forever in a permanent status quo, the reason you nod patronizingly as you tell your master's ten-year-old daughter... na varein.
That one day all this will change. What goes around comes around. As you sow, so shall you reap. Karma.
And yet, India is the only country capable of laughing in your face at your delusional reality. ‘What goes around...?’ Look around, she seems to say, at poverty, black money and corruption. ‘What goes around...’ Is something good people tell themselves because without their small lies and illusions, their worlds will sink into an abyss of hopelessness and cynicism.
And then, in the same breath, virgin-whore motherland hugs you to her bosom, pats your hair, the faint smell of coconut oil rising, strokes you under the chin as if to say... Now you see? Now you see why at the end of your journey, you will come back to me. When the curtain falls, and the applause is died down, and we have no more use for face makeup and costumes and canned laughter and constructed realities, this is where you will come. For truth. For beauty. For stark reality.
What will I miss from my homeland? From this welcoming beast that suckles lepers and benevolently tolerates parasites, us of fragmented minds and fragmented bodies, incomplete without a back to rest our legs on, without a dream to anchor our existence, without a hope to carry on for, without a stepping stone to step on.
What will I miss most?
All of it I suppose.
The benign servants, the well-meaning bystanders
The malignant cops, the corrupt officials, the leering roadside leches
The identity of self – that notion of ourselves only reflected through the ayah, the watchman, the dhobi, the autodriver
The undying optimism
The impossible possibilities
Of being oh so delicately poised in the vortex of paradoxes
Of seeing the truth and not seeing it
Of knowing and not knowing
Of hoping despite the hopelessness
Of being servant-master, husband-wife, virgin-whore, mother-father
Of the joy of holding your life so lightly, of knowing full well that tomorrow it might be blown like so much dust, blood and mangled metal with the next influx of extremists, nay, lackadaisical bureaucrats, nay, sleak-tongued crooks in suits that come knocking on your door grinning their lopsided toothsome grin, as if to say, arre sorry baba… what to do… you know the drill nah… and then cock one’s head apologetically, shrug one’s shoulder and unload a barrel into one’s skull.
The knowledge, the liberating knowledge, that there is no law, no law enforcement, no justice, no justice system, no system - of any kind - in India. That we survive by the skin of our teeth and the quick of our wits.
That should we fail - lose money, lose status, lose faith - that we are supported by blood-ties and families, not dole or rehab or government programs.
That should we falter, there always is a way - a bribe, a threat, a folded prayer to golden idol, a name dropped like a gold coin clanking against the tin cup of red tape and bureaucracy.
That should we fall, in the streets, in society, in standing, there always is that human ambulance of well-wishers and curious passerbys, that gathering crowd of mob well-meaningness who take on your battles as their own, beat up that chain-snatcher, take that woman to the hospital, climb into that pit.
That unshakable belief, that we will always have the kindness of strangers to rely on.
I will miss it all. The dirt, grime and unspeakable beauty that is India, and leaving it behind for clean pavements, orderly queues, and hand sanitizers.
And insomnia is but like everything else.
This too shall pass.