For some months now, Clubhouse has been my new social media toy. It has also been my solace, my refuge during the soul-shattering COVID-19 second wave. I’ve made friendships of a very different kind from any I’ve had before (even counting the pioneering days of chatrooms, blogs & Twitter). Hearing people’s voices through the dark desolation of a pandemic and having those voices be what carry you into choosing to wake up every day – this cannot be explained to somebody who hasn’t experienced it. I’ve become closer to a small handful that I was acquainted with offline, after I began speaking to them everyday on Clubhouse. And I’ve formed deep bonds with people I’ve never met but with whose daily personal challenges I’m familiar with, thanks to the Clubhouse rooms we’ve held together. I even had a birthday party on Clubhouse, a 10 hour one with music, laughter, tears, sharing & wishes. I’ll never forget this.

I took one of my pet projects Alphabet Sambar, into Clubhouse in the form of Themed Mics, which invite poetry, stories, music & paintings to the pre-set theme. For weeks now, my Mondays have gathered a small motley crue of word lovers in English, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Kannada, Marathi (once Spanish) and more. I used to set the initial themes, but now true to the community, several others suggest themes, help me hold the room together, take our conversation in different directions & make me a better writer & person.

This piece was written for a theme set by the first co-host of Alphabet Sambar, Tareque LaskarBetter Days. And another co-host Kapil Sharma suggested its Hindi translation be ‘Acche din’. We laughed (wryly) and I changed that to ‘Behtar din‘. And then began the week of worry, trying to dredge up something to write. How to hold the idea of hope after the two years that have been? This is what I came up with.


Better Days

I have been slipping away from myself

unsteadily but definitely, for over a year

I even have to look at the calendar to remember that it hasn’t always been this way

And some days, I’m not sure even then

I’ve tried to surround myself with pretty things

And everywhere all I see is devastation, ruin

Crumpled paper & decay

Things that shrivel under sanitizer

and kill without

I can’t finish reading a page without grabbing for my phone

Where once I would confidently sail the seas of words in a book

without backward glance at reality

I struggle, clutching my fear timelines

It’s all I remember to do

I can’t hold thoughts together long enough to open computer, login, draft, edit

Where once, once, I can’t even remember how I did it

But I must have, didn’t I?

Except when I talk to other people

And I hear the same trepidation in their voices, see it in the bend of their shoulders

I have even begun reading it in the frequent ‘…is typing’ statuses followed by silences

I remember I’m a smith of ideas

I can give names & form to these things we are feeling

And it is we

You are not alone

I am not alone

And this is hope

One here says, spend time under trees, it brings you back to good earth

Another there says, I can’t bring myself to step out of home

And there someone says, work from home has made me forget what is day, what is night

While another says I’m stir-crazy, I’m also afraid to cross the road

In May this year, I crumbled & surrendered

Feeling the tang of defeat in my mouth

Wasn’t surrender supposed to be a spiritual thing

And taste sweeter? It didn’t

I could not remember how to hold people anymore

I did not know how to speak condolences when I couldn’t see hope anymore

Last week, I got dressed & then the hours passed, thumbing my phone

When night came, I was glad and ashamed

The next day, it took me an hour but I stepped out

Another half hour before I made my way to the beach

But it was too late, the sunset over

I didn’t dare stand on the sand alone

In the place that has been home & healing my whole life

Today, when she said she couldn’t step out of home, I was the feeling again

I was also the sentiments of nature & healing

Give it time, I said, one step at a time, one day at a time

I am realising

Hope isn’t a warrior

with blazing eyes & defiant pride in his spine

Not a lawyer

with ironclad promises & perfect contracts in hand

It isn’t a healer

with gentle hands & a flowing gown

Not a nurse

Tending to pain with reassurance

Hope is what follows them

a child in tatters

halting, hand in mouth

stumbling, stopping to pick up a blade of grass

Hope is what notices that between the bloodied stones,

a flower grows

2020 brought us a terrifying monster, holding up a mirror to our worst selves

Fear, abuse, violence, tyranny, fascism

I stood my ground

I am strong, I knew that

And with the impatient derision of that knowledge, I weathered 2020 proud

This year will be better, I said

And then this year, the second wave

What an innocuous two words

I always like the concept of 2

This was a slap in the face, in the heart and most of all, a blow to the spine

Scrambling for a hospital bed

For oxygen

For a magic medicine

For a vaccination

For a travel pass

For words to explain why

For a way to say

I give up, I give up, I give up

No words left to even complain

Make it stop hurting

And amid the voices

There was one from another continent,

united in history, divided by a line

music in her laughter, smiles in her reading

who sends me digital packets of happiness every day

There was one, unnamed that gave me identity by saying,

“The fact that you exist, is a political act”

I am courageous. I am enough. I am abundant.

Now I am a person who loves love poetry & enjoys flowers.

There was one who I may never have crossed paths with

Who creates a space of wit and words with me,

Every week

And this week he brought us all better times

There was one who felt like my own

That feeling was a stab in my heart when he died

In the days that followed, his people told me he spoke of me

And said I was creating spaces of joy & inspiration

He bequeathed me a world of people like that

And two books, with his thoughts inscribed in pencil

There are those who find safety in my presence

Courage in my name

I don’t always like it, sometimes I hate it

And within me, without the need to make sense of it, there is

SILENCE

And then, there is light.

It’s not proud

It’s not tidy or dignified

Not logical, not coherent

It has gaps & wounds & no baggage

It is light streaming in through the bulletholes

The relief of tears pouring out with the blood

I can’t capture it or control it

I can’t even know for sure, it’ll always be there

Or that it is even there

Or what it’ll grow into

Still, it is a mirror that shows me I’m still here

Still breathing

This weekend, with a friend, I stood on the beach

And met a sunset for the first time

2021, you taught me hope.

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