Dear Ex-Classmate

Some thoughts are impossible to think, let alone communicate. Some thoughts are so big, scary and consuming, it would never do to let them out. Let me be alone with my thoughts, they say. I wonder if they really mean it. Does everyone not have thoughts that are so chaotic that they might strain the fabric of sanity? Perhaps it’s just me. But this is not about that; not all of that, at least. This is about you – how you constantly refuse to stay in the box I put you in. You leak out, anytime, anywhere, always ruining things. Even as I write this I can’t help remembering how you once asked me if I was moody because I was on my periods, when I happened to show you some scribblings I was low-key proud of. I was surprised. Girls can be so mean. Dear ex-classmate, I detest you; and I detest myself for letting you live rent-free in my head for so long. Will you please go away?

Everyone asks, “When did you know you were different?” No one asks, “When did you know you were in love?”  I know. I remember the exact moment. Have you ever been hit by a truck? Or imagine, if you will, being fried so slowly that you believe you are getting a particularly intense tan until you see your skin falling off. Both very different images and sensation, and none anyone would ever associate with love. See how scared I am? I am already imagining how you will laugh if you saw this. Has anyone ever told you that you have a deliciously cruel laugh? I mean the one that you reserve for special occasions; the one I always hear in my head when I hate myself. Dear ex-classmate, I know. You wouldn’t really care at all. When has that stopped a bitter lover anyway?

I keep coming back to this letter over and over again. It has been in-the-writing for about a decade now. I often think of that Sylvia Plath quote about fig trees. The possibilities of what could be stop existing once you choose. If you wait too long they ripen and ruin. I think about it while I not-write my declaration of undying love. For a few years, I went on not-writing a testament to humiliation and bigotry. A few years since then, I feel very smug about not-writing an ethnography of wisdom. The fig I have in hand is green, purple, and black all over. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The 19-year-old who started it did not have the right words. She couldn’t even imagine the words existed. It is a special kind of loneliness – not having words for what you are feeling so intensely. The 22-year-old slowly found the right words, read them in books, heard them in lectures, waited for them to drop into her soul like rain, and soaked in them. The 26-year-old whispered them in her beloved’s ears. The 28-year-old shouted them on the streets and plastered them on flags and posters- “This is what I feel. This is where I stand. I am real. I am.” Will you then, as the Hon. Chief Justice so famously said, “Take me as I am” ?” The 30-year-old who is putting the words to paper still doesn’t know if that is the right question to ask.

Do you remember being 18? There I was, wild child smelling of grass, sweat, bicycles and the suburbs, suddenly finding myself in city smells, city colours and city sounds; in a building that had a history of its own, had decorum, had rules, had specific ways of rebelling too; and a way of ‘being’ that everyone but me seemed to know. Did they teach you that in city schools? This feeling that there is an unspoken understanding everyone else shares is not new to me. I’ve always liked sparkly things, shiny  things, girly things; loved the feel of polish on my nails, loved seeing colour on my lips. But I could never get rid of the suspicion that I am missing something; that I was probably at home, sick, the day they taught “How To Be Girl 101” and nobody shared the notes. So there I was in orange capris, a yellow t-shirt and a ridiculous ‘boy’s-cut’, among girls who already knew how to be women. Dear ex-classmate, I loved my orange pants. I  didn’t really want to stop wearing them. They made me feel like myself.

How much woman is too much woman? How much woman is woman enough? How much woman do you have to be to love a woman? How much woman are you allowed to be when you love a woman? Before I learned to ask these questions, I learned that you were Woman – gloriously so. How you curved like a woman! Your black black tresses coiled like a woman’s. How you spoke like a woman, with pride, assurance, a little disdain and deep deep obhiman (Some words are untranslatable)! So I grew my hair out, wore kajal, wore jhumkas, wore bandhani salwars and worshipped at the altar of your femininity. I was shocked at how I looked in the mirror. I loved how I looked in the mirror. I felt like myself still.

Dear ex-classmate, I have learned to be alone with my thoughts. I have learned to turn the boxes in my mind inside-out and let the contents float about while I  observe them with mild curiosity. In this mind-palace of mine I collect people with the meticulous seriousness of a philatelist. To see a person, really see them- their hopes, fears, eccentricities, their loves, dreams, sorrows; to sit still beside someone and feel their presence, feel  their selves exist beside that which I know to be me, is truly luminous. Some people are adventures. Some people are shelters. But the most interesting ones are mysteries. They build walls after walls, moats and dams, and intricate security systems to guard their souls. It is a delight to be able to slip in, not because one is clever and charming, but simply because one is not important enough. So there I sat on metaphorical parapets, occasionally glimpsing how soft, vulnerable and kind you can be when you let yourself. Dear ex-classmate, I know I made you up inside my head. I willed you to be real, went looking for tenderness, went looking for empathy where there was none to be found. I saw you for the first time in three years while I drowned in murky waters of hate and narrowness. I will always remember the morning you stood on the other end of a long narrow lane because that was the limit of proximity you were willing to allow me.

Dear ex-classmate, I have learned to move through lanes, through mazes and through socio-economico-politico lingo of love, lust, lipstick and other L-words. If I could I wouldn’t change a thing. I would instead wish for a special breeze with the voice of a kind lady. She would visit the girls with awkward long school-skirts, cocky collars and styling gel in their ‘boy’s -cut’ hair; the girls who save up to buy the best greeting cards for their special favourite miss; the girls who share clothes, hugs and make-up, and don’t understand why it feels so nice when they hold hands while crossing the road. She would whisper in all of their ears- “Be you. Be you. Love your lives. Live your loves. Be completely and utterly you.”

Dear ex-classmate, I sincerely hope you are a better person now, and thank you for breaking my heart. Thank you for being my story – the one story we all have that launches us off to great discoveries of mind, body and heart.

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