Sunday, 6 March 2022

Reality vs. Imagination.

Every year on my birthday, I cry.

This year was no exception.

"Happy Birthday to me." I grumbled sarcastically as the husband entered the kitchen at 7.30 am on the morning of my birthday last week.

He said nothing. Didn't react. He's learnt to walk on egg shells around this time of the year. He's had 28 years of practice.

I was washing the dishes. The kitchen tap was gushing ferociously. I huffed and I puffed at the unfairness of the morning. 

He extended a small bag towards me. I rolled my eyes at him. I was in no mood to dry my hands and accept my birthday present from him. He left for work after wishing me 'Happy Birthday' quietly.

The 'present' sat on the slab near the water filter, unopened. I looked at it only after I had done the dishes and scrubbed all the surfaces and dried my hands. I didn't open it.

I should've been happy. I should've ripped the present open and rejoiced in this act of love, basked in the happy fact that he'd made an effort. But, something inside me was nudging me on to be unhappy. I wanted to be moody and block any joy from entering my heart. What it is, I don't know. But, it happens every year -- around my birthday. Perhaps, it's an unresolved childhood memory. Perhaps it's a disconnect between my reality and  my imagination.

Till a decade or so ago, I'd imagine my birthday to be a replay of the many Mills and Boon romances I'd read as a teenager. Something like this: that a perfectly fitting dress with perfectly matched accessories and the most comfortable and fashionable shoes (all wrapped up beautifully) will be delivered to my door along with a note that'll read--have made reservations at so and so, will be waiting for you. Love you. Signed--husband. 

The messenger will turn out to be a chauffeur as well.  I'll get dressed and go to celebrate my special day at this fabulous imaginary location and we'll live happily ever after.

Ignore the big plot gaps such as work schedules (my birthday is not a national holiday) and HIS choice of dress, location, footwear suiting my taste and temperament -- I don't let him decide my salad dressing, how did I imagine myself being okay with his choice of attire for me?

Let's assign the absurdity of my imaginary celebrations to my daydreaming ways.

Granted, it's a ridiculous ask. 

Now, Let's take a quick peek at what usually happened--year after year on my birthday.

Firstly, it took the husband more than a decade of reminding (by yours truly) to remember the all important date!

By the time the children became old enough to make cards and make a fuss over me, he'd figured it was safer to ask them to help him to keep me from blowing my fuse.

It worked, mostly. Except, there's that big one he missed -- my fortieth. I sulked for half a month.

He's been good as gold since.

It's been 11 years.

Another learning happened on that fateful 40th. I took charge of my own celebrations. 

I became my own romantic hero from then on. I bought my own presents for me--a saree and/or a piece of jewellery, organised picnics or turned up for gatherings organised by other women, met friends for a meal--anything that I fancied that year to celebrate my special day. 

In fact, the year I turned 48, I decided to let go of all and every expectation. I had just turned older than my mother had ever been. I could see what a blessing this life is. A joy to behold.

Despite all the maturing that was going on, images of my imaginary celebration continued to cast intermittent shadows on the day and make me sad in the middle of all the love, joy, happiness. I'd shed a tear or two and let the sadness wash away from me. 

Of course, there is no logic to my behaviour. No, I have not seen a therapist for this unique problem yet.

Back to my birthday this year.

The little bag is still sitting on the slab. I look at it but don't open it. Instead I grab the garden broom and step outside. Dried frangipani leaves are strewn all over. I start collecting them, one swipe then another and another. A pile of leaves -- half golden, half brown makes me smile for the first time on my birthday. The morning sun, filtering through the branches on which these very leaves lived a day ago, touches the crumbly heap with its magic. Each leaf, now dead, shines like an incandescent incarnation of its life's journey-- a purposeful life lived fully and let go of so effortlessly.

Something dislodges inside me. Tears well up and escape down my cheeks. But they're not sad tears. I can't explain it but holding the handle of the dust pan, I get up and look around with new eyes. I look at my hands and thank them. My dusty feet, naked on the brick floor, look beautiful to me. I look up at the frangipani tree. In a moment, I'm buzzing with joy. Birdsong, sunlight, gentle breeze -- all come rushing in as if the gate I'd kept  bolted up all my life has suddenly swung open. I don't know what happened but I run back to the kitchen--grab the little bag and take out the card first, read it and then rip open the white tissue my beautiful necklace is wrapped up in. I call him. Thank him. Tease him about his 'official' sounding card. I sense his relief. I sense his love. I sense my love.

For the next 2 hours, I clean the rest of the house while listening to Sufi music on full volume.

The list of things I'm grateful for grows longer with everything I touch to dust or move to clean: this safe space, this new day, this new beginning. 

At 10 am, I decide to pick up my phone. It's heavy with messages. I listen to a few, make a couple of calls I'd missed and accept the love. It keeps flowing. Then, I hear a voice note. I'm stunned. I can not imagine I'm hearing it. How could this be? Who's listening in? Who's watching me? 

My friend Aprajita's message rolls out of my phone and tumbles into me like a torrent. Kabir's words gush in through my ears first. I'm stunned to hear the poem. I listen to it again and again. Each pore of my body absorbs the words of Kabir like a famished soul--hungrily. My thirst is unquenchable for the solace his words bring. I put a star on the message so I can reach it easily, quickly as often as I need to hear it.

I don't know where, how or what I'll be next year around the time of my birthday. But for now, I'm happy that the turning, the changing and the unburdening this year happened in a matter of minutes.

Once upon a time, I would've sulked for days for imaginary things. Now, I stand firm in this body, this moment, this reality and keep my heart wide open for love to flow into me, through me.

An ocean in a drop--a drop in the ocean.

Going forward, there will be times when I'll forget the lessons I've learnt. In those times, I know I'll stand firmly in my space and remind myself that this is life. Forgiving the self is the best present I've opened this year. I know without a doubt that the next time I stumble upon my path or lose sight of this love, a voice note or a poem or a gesture or a dried leaf will present itself to guide me back to my present, my joy, my happiness.

Are there any imaginary worlds that you've attached yourself to that distort the beauty of your everyday reality? You know I'd love to hear if you'd like to share.

Thank you for reading this post. I wish you beautiful days and wonderous nights where you stand firm in your reality and in the solidity of your grounding may you soar brighter than any imagination.

Stay safe. Till we meet again.