This is a small attempt at conversing with the reader through some mutual and at times personal moments. This space is created as a safe place. While writing these letters, many emotions surfaced and found their way to become the content. I feel immensely grateful to have had a platform where I could interact with my classmates in our last semester. It led to many more new ideas and artworks.
(Click on bold text to explore the collaborative artworks created by my classmates and me.)
It seems to me that people don’t actually like to stay indoors for a long duration of time. Whoever is reading this might agree to it or might not. And on whichever side you are, I understand you. It looks like I am the powerful one in this lockdown, because most of the time I am anyway on bed rest due to illness, and I see the world running by everyday from my bedroom’s window. The anxious days spent thinking that my colleagues are attending an important lecture or a friend is going on a date or there’s an interesting exhibition of my favourite artist at KNMA. On the brighter side I think I know how to stare at the ceiling endlessly and prioritize my chores around the house. In order to save myself from this monotonous routine, I choose to make friends with the flowers on my roof and the street dogs. There are actually a lot of things to look at everyday and to make friends with, but for me my inability to be physically present at most occasions makes it difficult for me to maintain a relationship. Hence comes the powerful imagery of a colorful flower vs a weak old flower. I admire them both. To me, a life well spent leaves the most beautiful marks behind.
It does get difficult to wake up every next day and have nowhere to go to. If I have to go somewhere casually, I have to inform my dad beforehand about the schedule I will follow. I have to ask for money to get a cab so that I can be comfortable for the ride and spend my energy on the actual task instead of traveling through metro or any other public transport. The thought of how i might end up taking painkillers afterwards nullifies the whole plan. Hence I would rather stay at home instead of going through all the trouble. On the other hand I see my brother casually leaving home with no plan of any sort. Like, he just wakes up, dresses and leaves. He enjoys his metro rides with a couple of songs while observing people on the way to college. Ironically i guess the healthy way for me to survive a day is to be in a lockdown mode. Hence, I think I will survive the lockdown better.
Every new day comes with new challenges. The solutions to such challenges are generally the same. You will always find something that pleases you or puts the anxious mind to sleep. And for me this is what I wait for the whole day. In the evening I walk downstairs, and from far off I can see a tail wagging excitedly waiting for me to open the gate and give some hefty pets. This is Shakina, a street dog I have known for almost ten years and she chose to be my friend from the very first day I offered her my vanilla cup ice cream. We grew up together and hence she has seen me in my best and my worst. I wanted to keep her but my health doesn’t support that much responsibility and she is a free soul. In return of some eggs and milk, she gives the best positive vibes and a gallon full of energy which makes me think that dogs are antidepressants sent by the universal power.
I just hope that the person reading this understands that this is a day’s routine from my life. Apart from these two things, I read, create, love eating fruits and playing virtual games. What I am trying to say is that there is mold which eventually a person tries to fit into or grow into using most of her assets. My assets were limited and I designed my life minimally around it. But my resources are the least of resources anyone has. I do feel I am falling behind but it’s the best I can do. I wanted to write this to whoever feels like they are breaking or at the verge of a panic attack during this pandemic outbreak. Feeling fearful or getting anxious is extremely normal to feel at this time. And there’s not much awareness about mental health, but I encourage you to talk about your fears and at the same time about what makes you happy.
Someone who felt the need to be heard.
I know captivity is a very strong word, it could lead to different roads of meaning. I am using it casually to explain how we let ourselves be captured by our changing dreams or situations. It could mean that I am talking about a person who is recently heartbroken and feeling this lockdown drastically more than others. Or it could mean that someone’s near or dear ones are on a national duty and praying helplessly for their well being. It could mean a person who came to this city to be a part of an institution and now is locked in a room lonely thinking about their family in their hometown. Or it could mean that an artist left her personal space to be with her family and is now wondering how to exercise their energy in these different surroundings.
I decided to talk about this word “captive” while looking at a wall on my terrace. This wall is shared with our neighbors and it has broken pieces of glass stuck to it on the top. It was there when we moved in. I guess no one was harmed, so it stayed like that. I noticed it because of the way sunlight shines through the glass pieces is beautiful. At the same time I wondered how we hardly talked to our neighbors.
Certainly, the current situation makes it easier to understand terms like captivity than earlier when we probably used to just think of it more as being physically captive, like a jail. Now when there is a pandemic outbreak, we start feeling like prisoners in our own houses. I felt this word encapsulating me after this particular lockdown. Why do you think it is like that? Maybe we as humans didn’t realize the importance in respecting a disease or sickness. Now when it has come to a certain point where we are standing in a face off with a virus, it is scaring us. Making us feel worried about our common day-to-day actions like taking a walk. Trust me, when I say that I also find having a freshly brewed cup of coffee desirable with my friends while watching the traffic pass by from a nearby cafeteria. But this simple wish is fulfilled only when my health supports and the pollution is under control. I am aware of every step I take, because it has always been limited to the norms of wellness. I bet you are also wondering about your steps while being at home now.
As I was saying, the wall with the broken glasses is somehow limiting my access to the world. This wall can be a big leap of faith between today and the end of this pandemic. Even after the pandemic, it will still be here. i will still be counting my steps every now and then, saving them for my dearest actions. But you could feel that you are free now and will take this wellness for granted. I don’t mean to be a pessimist here, but i know those who lack something have the ability to find the importance of “lack” or “less.” Steps. I see these pieces of glass limiting my steps today.
I wonder how you are doing now. Is it better than it was earlier? I wish we had spent more time with each other and been there for each other in the hardest of times. I remember us talking on the terrace discussing how misty the sky looks at one point in the evening. You assured me that it’s not my eyes that need a fix and the sky does look blurry. I wondered how collected you were and talked minimally. Hence I just believed you. Even though I got my spectacles later that year. The families we are raised in and the lessons we have been taught since childhood, seem to be extremely vague now. I am not saying everything is wrong but the roots are damaged. They are not just backward but they are self-damaging. The institution in which an Indian kid is brought up, has truly lost the battle in your case. The expectations whereby a man is supposed to act as the head of the family, respect his parents, take care of everything alone by bottling up everything inside. These expectations always keep you in fear and therefore not being able to take care of your family as the ‘man’ of the family.
It’s been years now, and I still don’t feel the strength to accept the truth. I am afraid because I could understand your actions or this series of unfortunate events. I understand why you chose to leave everything behind and move forward without us. It’s not that you were escaping, it was the fact that you didn’t wish to let your family go through the trouble. I just felt that one more person lost the race to compete with the structure of “life” that we have now built. This structure is damaging to so many people in so many different ways. I feel the pressure of running side by side with others, but is it what we are supposed to do? Is it not important for us to express love to our beloved ones? Is it that important that we look beautiful from the outside and have a perfect job? I mean I see it both ways, I really do.
When I am sick, I feel the burden of letting my parents or family down. I feel the burden of not being able to get a job or a family. I feel the burden of not earning money. I feel the burden of not combing my hair properly and wearing proper clothes to go outside. I feel the burden of not finding the right length of jeans. I feel the burden of taking my shoes off before entering a temple because people stare at my flat feet. Do you see mama? I know how you would have felt for all the last months of your life. Or maybe even more. It is not even limited to sickness anymore, the stigmas attached to being in a healthy environment or being happy are also a trap. The basic need of providing emotional support is not considered as basic as it seems in our families. Not just ours, everywhere. I wish people could ask for help freely. People could cry more often accepting that it is not bad but as normal as laughing.
I was partly happy for you, I guess you were not supposed to be here in this confusion. It was not meant to be. There’s too much pressure already and I just think it was not worth your honest personality. Or maybe this is how I choose to cope with the situation. There is a cavity here that everyone is trying to fill up, but we are building the courage to be there for the rest of us. The mutual strength that came in after the loss, was something that should have happened years ago. But it is happening now and we will always live through you.
Your loving little sister,
I was never afraid of getting captured in a photograph when I was a kid. Somehow when i grew up i realized i don’t look like others. My first bad memory could be traced to the early days of a metro-ride. I was standing alone in the ladies compartment thinking how hardly anyone stays off the phone nowadays. I realized a group of girls was standing in front of me and were giggling about something. The shortest girl of the group came and stood next to me. Within seconds that group started taking pictures of me, 6ft tall with their friend who was apparently 4.5ft. I guess that was funny to them, seeing someone so tall is always funny to people.
If you think that was the end of the problem, it wasn’t. For almost a week or more, before sleeping I tried to google words like “weird tall girl in metro”, “funny tall girl in metro”, “slender woman in metro”, “abnormal tall girl in metro.” And the list went on and on but somehow nothing came up. I felt stuck between this modern world and normalcy, a mere act of technology can lead to hazardous effects for me. For how long could I have stayed afraid of this, it seemed endless. I had to step outside everyday, I had to attend classes.
Ultimately, I was aware of people’s stares and rewarded them with a smile. Because it is okay for people to see someone different and be taken aback. It is not just about me, it can be about anyone who felt less in any way. I still can’t face a camera without hesitation. And to this day I thought that the surgery scar on my chest is an actual scar, whereas it is not. This memory is an actual scar on my mind.
On the contrary, i met a friend in my Master’s course. She knew about the barriers I had to face in actually coming to the class and attending it. She wanted to take a picture of me for her project and offered to help. I tried explaining to her how I am afraid of having pictures taken because of the scar. I further explained that I don’t want people to see my scar in my personality because that changes everything. But I also wanted a picture that speaks of who Aishwarya is. My initial traits should be a part of it. She replied that I should take a picture of myself and she would paint it. That way it would be like a filter over my shyness of actually coming out through a photograph. I never felt this much acknowledged to be considered with my shortcomings. Her portrait can have a reflection of me without me being actually there. So here are some pictures I took with my camera on my terrace in my favorite dress. The favorite dress which I never had the actual courage to wear. I am glad that I wore it for your project, and it makes more meaning now.
A different friend.
It feels like everything is coming to a conclusion in between these closed walls. And it makes sense when you talk about a Door or a Portal to escape a particular mood or circumstance. Sometimes a person has to move forward towards positive otherwise there is no hope. We have been friends for this long, and I could easily resonate with your emotions through your words or pictures.
Despite this, I felt anxious while reading about the need to see something specific or substantial through a door. Maybe the journey is yet to be discovered, or maybe feeling stagnant in blankness is also okay, or it could be a bright light shining, calling towards the end of the journey. The path beyond the end could be beautiful too.
So I think a door is a commonality? or a middle point between two different worlds. I understand that today in such situations of lockdown people are somehow forced to think of a door as an end or something which is stopping them from feeling free. But your door speaks of how you are trapped with the demons of anxiety or panic or the walls closing in daily. You know the monotony can be beautiful only if your mind’s at rest, if it’s not, then everything comes crashing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lockdown or an open city, it can happen to anyone.
For the past so many years, I have been able to walk around whenever I felt anxious. And I thought to myself that I am doing this great deal for myself, that I am not taking any pills or worrying my parents to get sober. Which is literally happening now.
A dog gave birth to four puppies in the park of our society. These puppies cannot come out of the park and I cannot go inside the park because of the lockdown. So the only place I get to feed them or see them is through the door. This door has certainly become so important for all of us now, that I wonder what would have happened otherwise. They would have starved, and hence that door is the favorite place I come across every day. Perspectives change so easily with the priorities. I used to put a glass of frappé as my Instagram to show the beauty of glass against the color of coffee, but now I feel more excited about updating my friends about how today’s meal went with the pups. The time I open my door, they start running to the gate of the park. But, I am still waiting for the door to open. So that I can meet them properly or officially. I guess somewhere Nav is right too, a Door does come with limitations.
Please feel free to revert back for the letters or discuss more about it please write to me at Instagram : Aishivyas or Facebook : Aishwarya Vyas