In the last minutes of 2016, I sat cross-legged on the ground, in meditation upon the events of the year. I decided to meditate, particularly to ease the anxiety-stricken introverted side of my personality. With the drum-beats and the music erupting in the neighbourhood, I wished deeply for a New Year celebration that rested on calmness and introversion as against the bursts of joy and drunken happiness. Instead, as the cold seeped through the nylon mat, making its way through my bones to reach the neck, I sat in discomfort, not just because of a dancing mind, but because of severe anxiety.
The year 2016 was by all means, a difficult, uncertain, and chaotic year, when I lived it. It marked the onset of desperate measures taken under duress, along with the loss of hope, and a plea for resurrection. In retrospect, I now believe that the year was not only profound but also portentous and guarding.
Ten days into the year, my mother lost her mother to cancer. My grandmother fought the illness for ten years with her bony structure and her mettle. She was afraid of dying, I believe, hardly even understanding what was happening to her, but acquiesced to her loved ones’ care and comfort. On the day she died, she was surrounded by her sons and daughters, her brothers and sisters-in-law, and her grandsons and granddaughters. On the third day following her death, she appeared to us as a cat, mewing in her tiny voice, rubbing against our legs, perhaps, to say one last goodbye. But, it was official – in the year 2016, both my parents would become orphans.
Around the same time, I received an email, with a subject line – Your voice is beautiful. I would not know then that this person would go on to become the biggest positive change in my life. She would become a friend, a sister, a mother, a guide, and a teacher, gradually holding my hands when needed, and walking along with me, if only metaphorically. We would go on to exchange more than a hundred letters, sharing a piece of ourselves in each one. I would learn what unconditional love and kindness look like, what someone’s belief in yourself looks like, and what it means to open one’s heart in the deepest wells of despair and vulnerability. We would also share our past, our present, and suddenly discover how similar our lives really were and are and that this meeting, was a kiss of love from the cosmos on our foreheads. In the year 2016, I was not only loved unconditionally but also liberated from shame.
Throughout the year, a long-held dream came true. When I was fourteen, I would look at the moon’s face from my bed, and I would say, “I would want to travel the world someday, moon. I would want to become confident and well-spoken too. Could you help me?” Even when I had forgotten about these secret whispers, the moon remembered them. So, I travelled, if not the world, the country, and I travelled alone, became confident, and well-spoken too. In most cases, someone else was paying me to travel, often the scenic beauty righting the work that accompanied with it. The houses that I stayed in and the hotel beds that I slept in were like Whitman’s palimpsests – erasing an earlier version of the self and rewriting a new person. In 2016, I did not have much savings but, as the saying goes, “You don’t have to be rich to travel well.”
Half-way through the year, in the ever-arcing perils of depression, career would cease to promise salvation or even a distant motivation. It would become difficult further to drag myself to a place that would expect my acquiescence to morals and beliefs that divorced my being into split entities. It would matter how an environment made me feel, it would matter whether people were kind and compassionate, and it would matter whether they accepted me as an individual, too. For the first time, I would begin to think of changing my career path and even take the first step towards it. Along with it, I would put my health and myself in the center of my life and would allow myself to feel special again. I would believe with a strange conviction that systems are meant to serve people and not the other way around.
Uncertain yet, about what would become of me, cash-strapped, and savings running out sooner than I had calculated, I decided to confront my fear of money this year. It began with investments of two kinds – one short and one long – that gave me a little ground to stand upon. Not only did it allow me to see myself as an adult but it also put a stop – if only for a while – to the aggressing domination of the patriarch and his wounded ego. The agency, that savings, investments, and economic independence offers a woman, especially one that has had a male figure controlling these aspects of her life, is empowering, liberating, and consciousness-raising. It was this decision to separate my economic identity from that of any male guardian that gave me my adulthood and womanhood back. However, with demonetisation in effect, the threat that I experienced was the loss of this agency, the power to navigate across the kyriarchal domains – the private and the public – with the aid of self-earned money. It has been a struggle to be financially dependent, especially on a male guardian, and it would persist as a challenge unless, I, as a woman, could also access the same resources – by just or crooked means – as men. But, it would bring this small change in the politics of the family, effected by a policy, to bring the women together. 2016 would become the year of women holding each other in solidarity and in secrecy.
Resting between forgiving and forgetting an old love and its hurts and bolding my heart again, I would find men who I would “like-like”. These men, our acquaintances having formed through various sources, would cause my heart to flutter, anticipate, and hope once again. I would, without knowing, don on masks and appearances characteristic of me, but only partly, and present myself as a perfect-version. But, none of it would work (gratefully) and I would only regret not having worn better shoes than anything else. I would also proudly tell the universe that I had taken my steps and that it would now rest on its shoulders, the onus of love finding me. In this year, I would put myself out there, only to break my heart, but I would learn that it didn’t hurt much or for more than a few days. And, that I would love, eventually.
Trump would win the presidential elections in the United States. With the millions, who voted against him, and who derided with every ounce of flesh and blood, the politics of hatred and fear, I too, would crumble into hopelessness and despair. As anticipated, the incredible event would herald a domino-effect in the world politics, not just threatening world peace, but also raising fear, hatred, punishment, white-supremacy, and global chaos. One part of this rise was sealed in the Indian general elections in 2014, the others would gradually rise or had risen in other parts of the world. As a conflict-avoiding individual, and having been raised in the Babri-masjid demolition period, the war on terrorism period, the war on women (and minorities) period, and the threat to digital and personal freedom, I saw clearly that we need warriors now – warriors that would go to work in a world where nothing was certain anymore. That this era would be our calling and that we would have to stand guard for love, compassion, solidarity, and uncertainty. We would have to cease seeing the other as enemies and have the courage and willingness to share a cup of tea with them, as before. More importantly, we would have to respond to violence with non-violence – in action, thought, and in spirit.
On 5 December, 2016, the woman who they called Amma would breathe her last breath. Her iconic persona, along with that of her mentor M G Ramachandran had ruled our formative years and was the groundbreaking of our political education. Both my parents bear a strong and deep loyalty towards these leaders of the Tamil political and film fraternity. My political education rested on the election campaigns of the AIADMK in its formative years, the charisma and the kind-hearts of its leaders, and the personal stories of how my maternal relatives, and my mother, stood along the Marina beach road, listening to campaign trails and political affairs. We learned of the Dravidian movement, the South resisting the advances of the North (a closer-home version of racial pride and also denigration), the movements empowering women and dalits, the public policies that ensured nutrition, education, and healthcare, policies which were not only pioneering but also visionary. I learned of Anna Dorai and Kamaraj and how they influenced the Centre’s politics, and how to ordinary people, like my parents, hope looked like a man dressed in a white cap and black sunglasses and a woman draped in a white saree with a black, red, and white-striped border.
Lastly, for the first time in my life, I would teach about creativity to young adults. I would see how the long-held belief (and fear) of the new generation would slowly chip away and be replaced with admiration, compassion, and acceptance of these young men and women. I would learn from them courage, confidence, not taking things too seriously, creativity, passion, determination, and innocence. And, I would be proven wrong, again and again of my prejudices, and I would develop respect and sympathy for all that we go through. I would see myself in their struggles and their sadness, and often learn that collaborative dialogue will work better than reprimand and reproaches. Most importantly, I would learn to commit myself to creating and putting my work out there for the world to see, without demanding recognition for it, or that creation holds any such conditions. In 2016, I would write more than I had ever written before, and I would send them out, receiving rejections, throughout the year, but mostly in grace and hopefulness.
While I lived 2016, I was despondent and eagerly waiting for the snail-paced year to come to an end. Perhaps, I was hoping the New Year would come true to its predictions and bring for me respite, success, and greater consciousness. But, as the last minutes of the year ticked away, now suddenly assuming velocity and carelessness, I realised that I didn’t want the year to end. In retrospect, 2016 was a year of inner expansion – beginning to look within than without – a deep winter year, where one prepares to break-free in the right conditions.
Personally, 2016 was a year of metamorphosis – a caterpillar taking its last breath and the butterfly taking the next.