It happened one morning. I was almost asleep…or almost awake, depending on how you look at it. The sun was up but just barely. Little squares of orange light filtered in through the curtains. It was cold. I was under two layers of blanket and had, as a pre-emptory measure, turned off my alarm. I’d be going late to work.
Then the bell rang. It was the cook or the cleaning lady. Both are punctual on days I want to sleep in. So, here’s my hypothesis number 1: If you want house-help to come in on time in the mornings, have tough, sleepless nights before where you toss and turn and pace about the house. And then hit the bed around 5 a.m. They will arrive punctually (and very shrilly) at the appointed time.
Anyway, the bell rang and I just rolled over, put my pillow over my head and thought, “I wish someone just opened that goddamn door.” Someone did. I heard the maid outside say, “Didi, tomorrow I’ll come with my daughter. Can she use your table to study?”
I live alone so I found it weird. Very weird. I was on the bed still and someone had opened the door. From what I could gauge, it was me. So, here’s my hypothesis number 2: There is more than one of me. And it is not metaphorically speaking. It seems to be literally the case. I could urge myself to go and open the door when I’m still in bed. I feel that sort of communication with the many you’s happens when you’re in that stage between sleep and wakefulness, between dream and practicality, between night and day, when every kind of an in-between state gets coagulated. Something happens during that time – like the crystallized ball of your personality breaks at an intersection and each little bit rolls off in one direction. Then one day, it comes out – each bit of personality comes out. I have tried to capitalize on this and send this part of me to work. But that I haven’t been able to do that – so maybe some parts of the personality are smarter and less of a push-over.
It so happened that I got a bad headache while I was reading Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. Not because it was bad or heavy. The book was very good and very vivid. It had a sub-plot that involved a character’s memories starting to weigh on him. Each of his memories had weight and he was unable to forget anything. So his memories kept piling up higher and higher and his brain had started to crumble. Things got meshed in his head – colors mingled with smells and songs mingled with touch. The headache I talked about earlier seemed to cause some funny things to happen – I’d be running my fingers over a pretty silk stole and I’d start humming a tune – something I hadn’t hummed in a long, long time. Or a friend would say ‘cobalt blue’ and I’d smell soup. Another time, I had another experience with a book. I had just come to that part of Maximum City by Suketu Mehta where he writes about Bombay riots. I was on the page where the author has described the burning down of entire bastis. People were trapped in that fire and lost their lives. The next few days, I’d walk around with a sharp charred smell around me. So I just kept the book away. This brings me to my hypothesis number 3: Some people become permeable membranes when they read. The book gets inside them. It is different from those who have active imaginations, who create three-dimensional worlds behind their lids as they sleep. I’m talking about parts of the book entering you with a strong, physical strain and altering, maybe, even your DNA. Like your genetic code gets smudged somewhat based on what you read.
Speaking of memories, it seems like everything is a memory. Nothing is original because everything is a memory. Everything is a looking back, of sorts. I had started having very bad dreams when I’d started yoga. The yoga I did was physical mainly – very little meditation or breathing exercises. So I stopped yoga. I started running instead. Bad dreams continued. So I stopped running. Then I did kick-boxing for a while and the dreams got so intense that I’d wake up with nail marks dug deep into my palms. So I stopped that also and went back to yoga. This time, it was a different set up and a different teacher. This teacher said that most of yoga is about making the spine strong because it’s the spine that stores the memories. When you bend it or you move it or you stretch it, the memories get released – this is what causes the bad dreams. So why doesn’t everyone have that problem? Because everyone may not have those kinds of memories that need the release. So, my hypothesis number 4 is this: Everything is a memory and a memory has size and shape and weight. The harder or bigger those memories are, the heavier you feel. I feel that people who are overweight or underweight, with fat around the stomach, have not been able to process their memories. There is a reason why fat around the stomach is a common problem now. So is insomnia and sleep deficit issues. There’s a reason weight gain is linked to lack of sleep. It’s because memories are not getting a release. A memory feels sharp and brittle – like a kidney stone. And you have to pass it when you are in a state of great tenderness and surrender– which is when you are sleeping. And the reason one doesn’t do it is because it is too painful. And something – some part of the aura – rips when you remember. Some energy bleeds off you. My yoga teacher had once mentioned that most people put on weight around their solar plexus area because that’s the energy zone or chakra that relates to personal power. And most people are living lives where their personal power is constantly diminished – whether it’s due to rising rents or dying pets or aging parents or unwritten books or unfulfilled potential or whatever else – that part gets clogged. And the memory of that weakening personal power is too hard to assimilate. This is why I feel getting to optimal health requires one to remember long and hard. Maybe somewhere a good gym or an exercise class will have sessions where you sweat it out and then sit somewhere and fill out a journal.
To carry that thread of memory further, I’ll talk about houses. That’s where memories get made. There’s a line in Tao Te Ching that goes something like this: ‘Even though a vessel has a form, it is the empty space that holds the water. Even though a house has walls, one lives in the empty space within the walls.’ (I have paraphrased here.) So, it’s the empty space that has the value, so to speak. I’ve lived in a lot of places in my life – a couple of homes that are owned by my parents – and some rented apartments. Based on my experience, here’s my hypothesis number 5. I feel that the space in which one lives is ‘alive’. It listens. It responds. And when a home has outlived its utility, it leaves signs for you to heed and move out. In a way, it drives you out. My home, right now, had throbbed with aliveness and joy when I’d first seen it. I had moved in place of a young man who was shifting out. I’d asked him about the place and he had grinned from ear to ear and said, “You will love it here!” And I had. My friends and family had come over and stayed for a long time. I’d tended plants and painted tables. My soul had expanded. Everything had seemed fresh. But lately, since the last few months, I’ve fallen ill. Around me, things go sour ever so often - it’s not the heat or the humidity. Corners seem to be crawling with spiders and insects, despite the cleaning. The home seems abandoned even though it is lived in. Maybe I ought to move. But I see now what comfort zone means. The thought of shifting everything to another space, to have another negotiation with a broker, to have to pay the deposit, to look for maids - all of that seems to be a lot of work. Last week, I checked out a couple of places in the neighborhood. They were bright and cosy, yet dulcet and roomy. I loved them - even though the houses were not for myself but for my parents. I came home and I felt that my home was sulking. It didn’t like the fact that I’d looked at another space and found it desirable. Fresh veggies in the fridge had gone bad. The repaired faucet had started dripping again. Cobwebs seemed to have grown larger and a fan that I’d had cleaned just recently seemed to be caked with dirt again. So I have decided to have a chat with this flat - in the non-mad way one would chat with a house - in silence, in my favorite corner. I’ll probably nurse a cup of tea and ask it, “What’s going on?” Maybe it will tell me. And if we must part, then maybe, hopefully, we will part as friends.