Sanjana Kapur is a children's book author and editor. She currently works with Amar Chitra Katha.
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This poignant first-person essay is from the beloved author of the best-selling children’s book, ‘Who Stole Bhaiya’s Smile?’
When MyndStories adapted that story for the Dear Mynd podcast (you can listen to it here), Sanjana reached out to us and shared this story about solitude, anxiety, and finding yourself.
The knots on the tassels of my bag are tight, because I have fiddled with them over and over. I look around the room and smile. I have been clinging to my seat with poise on the outside and sheer panic on the inside. I have cracked the occasional joke to keep up the persona of an interesting person. I take a deep breath and reach out for my drink. The cold liquid seeps through and folds itself around the tightness inside, enveloping it in a warm glow. I pause. The room has more strangers than friends and I keep having to hold on to their smiles to remind myself that I have done this before.
I haven’t been a person in a while. Many people haven’t been people in a while. They have become new versions of what humans are expected to be. Closed, isolated, screened. That is probably how we’ve been evolving. This time, it seems dreary and dark. I read somewhere that the reason humans managed to do so much was because they communicated and shared ideas. They collaborated and grew as one. It was the ability to band together that gave us superiority over every other living thing. We learnt to ask for help. We clung to the idea of a community and we settled in that sense of togetherness.
I haven’t been a person in a while. I think I have forgotten. It is taking a lot of effort to be in this house that is filled with warm, smiling faces. The breeze on the 21st floor is weirdly transportive. I am listening to the conversations, but the wind is far more inviting. I know that I will fly if I let go. I also know I won’t, but there is a part of me that believes that my shoulder blades have been waiting to sprout wings and take to the skies. In truth, they just ache. I straighten my back and catch up on words, now describing personal preferences in music. I don’t have any. I agree with the first person and hope there aren’t specifics needed in the conversation. The hosts are wonderful. They don’t know me, but they’ve been welcoming. I am actually having a good time. Kindness and warmth weirdly surprise me. I think I have come to expect awkwardness. I have spent so long not liking myself that I don’t recognize kindness. I have been told that I am not good enough so many times that I don’t trust that I deserve the space I take. I have spent so long feeling just tolerable that I expect everyone to leave. I expect distance and I don’t recognize a genuine smile. My insides have folded over each other, making it uncomfortable to feel elation. I don’t think we are supposed to live this way.
What do we trust? Do we trust words? Words are all I have had for a while now.
It is how I make sense of things. I write them down, I speak them and I hope that someone knows what I mean. I am here in this house with friends. The friends that came out of nowhere and became part of me. I have known them for only two years. It seems short but feels like a lifetime – because of words. With one of them, the words that grew between conversations and texts became an outlet for ghouls and ghosts that I had locked away. I listened for wisps of escape, and stories that were reflections of experiences I’ve lived. I watched bits of myself free themselves and take space; bits of me that felt seen. Over the years, I have learnt to recognise a kindred spirit. They aren’t necessarily people we’ve known forever. They are the ones you choose. They arrive from a place of healing.
Conversations heal me. I think it’s why humans have sought communities for as long as we’ve been able to walk. The act of conversation has saved people. Voices tear through and create cracks in the hardened smoke around our heads; the voices that belong to people who know when you need them. There are times when I feel that the kindred spirits that I found can hear me. These people who I call mine are extensions of the thoughts I have. It is from their conversations that I decide on joy. We have invented so many different ways of communicating. Have we figured out how to converse, though? Maybe. It is the invention versus the evolution of conversation. Will we eventually evolve into being able to converse telepathically? I think I can truly talk to only a few. To sit in silence and words and just know it is an exchange.
The room I am in is put together with ease and openness. It has color in the right places and reflects the love with which our hosts have created it. The little things on shelves and the walls have stories. Stories that they share with pride. They call it their home with a bounce in their voice. It is a safe space for them. They invite people in because it is through the things people leave behind that their space grows warmer. They share with abundance because it is through their sharing that their space welcomes more. The yellow around me is inviting enough that I stop panicking and begin to enjoy what this space has to offer. The conversation in the room has switched to talking about stories. Stories that people tell. Stories in books and movies. As I discuss and wade through everyone’s thoughts, I realize that I cannot watch something sad, even if it is a masterpiece.
I cannot dive into art of any form if it is too close to a reality that I recognize. I want art to be an escape and not a reflection. On some days, the only thing I can watch is romance–romance that is filled with lingering glances and flowing dresses. On other days, I can only watch something with dragons because they seem far from reality. I am so tired that I need to be healed by the art I choose to let in. I may be expecting too much from another human who sat writing a story that has found its way to me in another part of the world. It is between their silence of creation and the silence with which I take in their words and descriptions that I find healing. As this realization looms larger, I long for that silence. Right now, I am in another person’s house. I don’t know them. I am not home.
‘Breathe. Slowly. Breathe. Remember that you are alive. You are here. Breathe. That’s great. You are doing it.’
I repeat this to myself. I am okay for a while. I haven’t always been anxious. Not about myself. I have built myself to exude joy to everyone around me. I do it well. I can feel turmoil inside and still do it well. It is tiring, though. The expectation that I can fix everything is getting harder to live up to. I don’t want to have the answers. I need someone else to hold it together for a while. I have been holding too much together for too long. People around me let me, because I do it well. I manage a crisis with aplomb. Truthfully, deep inside, I want to sometimes crumble. I want to allow myself to break. And then I want to be healed. I want to be held together. And while I want all of that, I also think I would reject it if it presented itself to me. I wouldn’t know what to do with a friendly shoulder. I suspect that I would spurn it. I would look with disdain at gentle words that make me feel whole.
We are not taught to break down and weep. We want to fix everything immediately and find solutions. Do we weep enough without the shame of drawing attention? Do we allow ourselves the luxury of wallowing? Do we try to give ourselves the space we usually give others so willingly? We don’t grieve. We are taught to be strong and fierce. Our strength in the face of utter despair is met with applause and adoration. We aren’t taught to hold the right things in high regard. We don’t celebrate sadness. We don’t know how to accept love in every form. We don’t know how to let a loss be felt fully because we begin fixing before we have accepted it.
The wind on the twenty-first floor is beckoning. I want to be closer to it. It has been raining and everything around is misty and washed. Everything will start to get dirty again but, for a moment, the trees and roads feel new. I have been breathing, but I need more. I have been smiling, but I am not laughing anymore. I find myself drawn to the balcony. I step away from the warmth of the room so I can feel the wind. The moment I step outside, I am alone. Not truly, but I am. I don’t want to be. I think true solitude scares me a little. I watch the low-hanging clouds dance against the lights of the buildings. I look down. Far below, everything is glistening. The night lets up and allows for thoughts to disappear. Would I really fly?
The voices behind me are muffled. The laughter floats through a veil of music and reminiscence. I float and it feels like I am being a voyeur to my own self as I watch myself stand alone on the balcony. I watch her stare into space that is too far to reach. I watch her sway without fully comprehending what it is that she is feeling. I stare at this woman who is hoping for wings. But more than that, she is hoping for something that will hear her. Something that will clear the mist around her head. Anything to remind her that she is breathing. Something that will quell her inexplicable panic. Her eyes seem distant. She isn’t actually looking at anything. Her hair flies behind her in the wind and she shuts her eyes for a moment.
Her hands are on the railing, crossed over each other. Her hands tighten around the railing and her eyes open. She feels close to tears, but I know she won’t cry. I watch for what seems like a long time. I am her, but at that moment, I am far away from who she is. I have hope, as I watch her, that she isn’t actually alone. She knows love, and knows what it looks like. So I have hope that she heals every time she sees the right words and hears the sounds she needs.
It is around this time that I hear my friend talk. It isn’t a conversation directed to me, but it is closer. I am not watching anymore; I am living. I am not floating anymore, I am standing. I close my eyes and breathe, reminded. There are some moments that seem inconsequential, tiny, fleeting ones. To my mind, at that moment, on that balcony, I felt saved. I am not sure if my friend got up consciously that day to move the conversation closer to the balcony or if it was a subliminal feeling of wanting to fix something that drove the act.
I also don’t know how long I would have stood there if I hadn’t heard my friend’s voice. The conversation had moved to the balcony and soon, I was standing amidst smiling faces. I glanced at my friend, whose reassuring smile had taken away the panic inside me at that moment. I was there again, laughing and conversing, the far heights of the balcony forgotten.
I am thankful for the kindred spirits who hear the inner yelling when we seem all smiles on the outside. I don’t know what heals us. Words and thoughts, formed in crevices of ideas and conversations, have brought me life. They find me broken and allow me a moment to heal.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of MyndStories.