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I’m convinced (especially as I grow older) that the real beginning is the middle.

Not that I am anywhere close to the middle of anything – I have neither lived long enough, nor done anything long enough to truly understand the tedium of moving towards the middle.

As time passes, though, I suppose I experience more and more, the middle of things.

The middle of a book, the middle of a song, the middle of the week (Wednesdays, days of part hope and part despair, depending on which side of the bed you wake up that morning), the middle of a relationship (no one, hardly anybody talks about the middle of any relationship, maybe because one does not want to think of the end of it, but….do you have to know the end, to understand the middle?), and so on and so forth.

***
Today, in the middle of a walk – the sweet smell of a particular brand of soap used to wash clothes.

The last time I had encountered this smell was in a lover’s home; he had passed me his T-shirt to wear for the night, and as someone deeply inspired by smells, I had pressed my nose into the sweet-smelling garment and taken a deep, deep breath.

When I told him how wonderful his shirt smelt, he looked at me in surprise, and told me that it was the first time anyone had ever told him that. 

Later that morning, when I left his place, I buried my face in his chest and took a deep, deep breath, trying to memorise the feel of his arms around me, and the feeling of being surrounded by all that warmth and the beautiful smell of clean clothes. 

I didn’t know then, that I was trying hard to capture something to survive a loss.

That time, it was not the middle. It was almost the end of things. 

***

The smell disappeared into the morning air, and I continued walking, still, still, somewhere in the middle of things.

Along the way, we pick up little things.

Like what is the best time to sit by the sea so that you can catch the last dripping colours of a setting sun;

Like the best way to carry a kitten so that you feel all of her soft fluffiness against your skin;

Like how long nights can be without your lover’s voice;

Like the exact number of times you can listen to a song on loop before you get tired of it;

Like how good the first drag of a cigarette feels after a long time without it;

Like the way your lover likes to be kissed – long, deep, wet; 

Like the best bookstore in your tiny town where you always, always find a steal, even when you’re not looking;

Like how the stars look in a night sky when there are no lights;

Like the sound of your mother crying when she is sick, happy, tired; 

Like the feel of him inside you, around you, with you;

Like the exact angle you lie on a park bench on a sunny day so that you can feel the cool breeze and the warm sun on your face while you doze; 

Like the feel of the summer’s best hibiscus bloom against your fingertip;

Like the taste of melted cheese and salty fries on your tongue;

Like the smell of fresh, clean sheets after a long day at work. 

Along the way, we pick up little things.

These little things, they make up this big thing called life.

 

 

In the bus: a little Indian girl and her father are sitting across from each other. The child is tired, her little feet dangling in the air, red velcro sandals swinging gently as she slips into slumber.

Her father watches her as she nods off a little more violently, her little body lurching with sleep.

He tries to wake her up. Her eyes open blurrily for a second, she nods without processing what her father says and falls back asleep again.

This time her father scoops her up into his arms, holding her close as she curls into him and continues sleeping.

I have no doubt that one day, this little girl will grow up to see a similar scene in a bus and smile, remembering her father. Just like how this grown up girl, who’s witnessing this scene, smiles.

And she will furiously type into her phone to capture this memory, before life shifts it into a corner of her brain where she will forget.

It is this safety that we seek in love. The safety of letting our guard down, and trusting that the person/people we love, will hold onto us when we are barely able to hold onto ourselves.

Sometimes love really is as simple as that.

Sharing a few thoughts on Dark Things by Sukanya Venkatraghavan

***

Dark Things by S. seemed like the best book to read after the heavyweight that was Rahman’s In The Light of What We Know (which I have still not grasped in its entirety, but this story is for another day).

After all, Dark Things was described to be about fantasy, and romance – two genres that I had steadfastly avoided in the last few years. It seemed like the best thing to lose myself in, a world that was fictitious and in characters that did not exist.

How foolish I was.

Someone once told me that in every fictitious tale, lies a smidgeon of reality, a reality that you don’t even comprehend fully, until it is right in your face, staring at you, demanding you to deal with it. This reality does not take excuses for an answer. It is a reality that wants you to know that truth always finds you, even if you refuse to see it, once, twice, however many times.

Perhaps, this is the best descriptor that I can provide, as I finished this book.

Dark Things is about many things, but ultimately, it is about love. (Just like life, I suppose. Life is about many things, but ultimately, it is about love).

There is a love story that is explicit, that which transpires between Dwai and Ardra. It is right there. It is not that complicated, it begins in the early chapters of the story, and it lasts till the end of the book. But this is not the love story that demands one’s attention in this novel.

There is another relationship that never quite begins, and never quite ends, between Dara and Ardra. A relationship much more complicated, much more real, much more relatable, and one that has no conclusion even as one draws to the end of this tale.

Because it speaks of a love that was, until it wasn’t. A love that wasn’t, until it was.

How can feelings, that have never been acknowledged, ever come to fruition? And yet, are these feelings any less real?

All of us carry these tales close to our hearts. Of the loves that we wished we had done something about. Of the people we yearn for, but can never return to. Of the things that we could have said, but didn’t. Of all the ships which have sailed, of all the memories that remain in the harbour.

It is so difficult to name this particular brand of love, because it is one that we have never quite owned, one that was never truly ours. And yet, perhaps, because of this very fact, this is the love that will always remain with us, because it is a love laced with freedom.

And if love should be anything, it should be that. It should be free.

This was that smidgeon of reality in Dark Things that caught me by surprise.

Because it is easy to forget, in this day and age, where life is about ownership, where relationships are about claiming and staking, that what is free and gone, is probably what will remain with us forever, however ironic that may seem.

In the concluding chapter of this novel, Ardra says that she can never quite return Dwai’s love the way he deserves to be loved (I presume she meant, as completely and wholly as he felt for her). And this is because of Dara. What she had with him, which was really, what she didn’t have with him.

This was another smidgeon of reality that demanded my attention.

Most times, we do not end up with the people who have us completely. We end up with the people whom we meet at  a particular leg of the journey, who get to have the most of what we have to offer, to share, to experience. We are incomplete; the love we share, mostly complete.

And this is how our (love) stories will also come to a close. Never quite finished. A continuum. Just like life.

And perhaps, if we remember this a little more fervently, we will come to accept this passing of feelings a little better.

Read this book, and meander through your own memories of what is, and what isn’t.

dark things

*picture is not mine*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A memory trigger.

***

Relief, as the music begins, weaving its way through tightly knotted ventricles,

lightly, lightly, the heart is released,

as light as the lavender drifting between the narrow walls of this –

A reminder of days long gone. Cold days, days we hunkered beneath thick quilts, a candle burning into the early evening, the sky dark, darker than black,

again, the same lavender drifting between narrow walls of this –

History always repeats itself. We remain, the characters,

indefinitely changed by the slow-moving hands of time –

Moments of lightness, then, moments that came and went, but the best, and sometimes, the hardest moments came as the sky turned dark, darker than black,

and just like that, a memory trigger –

Of warm hands, of the comforting smell of cigarette smoke, of music that made me catch my breath once, twice, of warmer hearts, of a single burning lamp,

of persons who existed just so, just then, and then,

History always repeats itself. We remain, the characters,

who leave time behind, and move on, on, on.