Things I never write about

I do not write about relationships that are knotted. I did not write about Rohith Vemula’s suicide. I am not writing about the deaths and conflict in Kashmir

Will you still listen to me if I have nothing to say? Photo: Natasha Badhwar
Will you still listen to me if I have nothing to say? Photo: Natasha Badhwar

I want to write about them but I haven’t yet written about my meltdowns. I watch myself as a spectator and sometimes make notes when I lose control and begin to yell or cry (or both). Meltdowns are useful, they act like a reset button and are a great respite from the world of passive-aggressive etiquette. If I had video evidence, I would use it to startle people who ask accusingly, “How do you manage to do so much and still stay so calm?”

I am desperate to write about my nightmares but I haven’t yet convinced myself that there is a greater good in publishing details of being humiliated, rejected or threatened in my own dreams. My real life is safe and privileged, yet I have recurring dreams in which I enter spaces where I am not welcome and refuse to leave even when I am expected to. I often wake up dry in the mouth and angry at my subconscious. Why am I a petty thief in my own nightmares?

I do not write about my 93-year-old grandfather’s old age. Dadaji is raging against the dying of the light and there is nothing poetic about it. I do not know how to reconcile to the loss of a person while he is still alive. I know we are witnessing the circle of life. How easy it is to forget about him as he lies curled in his bed till he wakes up and begins to yell abuses at no one in particular. How much easier it is to advise my mother on how to take care of herself as she takes care of her father-in-law.

I do not write about my mother’s chronic illnesses. I cannot write about them till she heals, till we heal her. I cannot write one more sentence in this paragraph.

I do not write about Bhai, my elder brother. Our story could easily belong to one of those late night subtitled films from Poland, the USSR or China that we used to watch together on Doordarshan. There are years when we didn’t even make eye contact, let alone have conversation. Those years are filed in the yet-to-be-lived folder somewhere. My younger brother is easier to write about. We played hockey on the terrace and badminton in the park and he hung around when I learnt to cycle. I bullied him with my words and he beat me with his hands and we got over it all quickly enough.

I do not write about my father or father-in-law. I still want to change them. I refuse to accept that men whose love can be so pure and powerful, can also be helpless in the face of their sociocultural conditioning. I still feel that I can go up to them and say: “You are my father. This is your power. You can change the world around you. Do it in this lifetime.”

I do not write about Kanta and me as we are every day. I am typing at my desk with my feet up on the table and my backbone curved, despite the grand chair I am sitting on. She is humming in the kitchen as she cooks and washes utensils simultaneously. Before this she has cleaned the house and after this she will wash clothes because our washing machine has broken down. Kanta loves being at work, she is restless when she is free. She loves my children and her giggles are legendary. Despite this, we still have to be careful with each other. She judges me and I judge her in retaliation. We know how to be rude to each other. I think of Kanta every time I meet other working-class women whom I profile as part of my work. I feel guilty about how hard she works and how sorted she is about her choices. I don’t write about it because guilt isn’t an end in itself, it isn’t worthy of being written about. If Kanta and I can give and take from each other equally in our lives together, that will be a life well lived.

I do not write about relationships that are knotted up, although writing about them might untangle the knots. I am afraid of facing up to truths that are easier to deny. Sometimes it looks like laziness, on other days it feels like incredible patience.

I did not write about Rohith Vemula’s suicide although reading his suicide note stopped my breath and choked my voice. I am not writing about the deaths, blindings and conflict in Kashmir today. The horror burns inside me, corroding my own armour. My words have no solace, and I rely on those of others to beat an uncharted path.

I do not write about what has happened to my sleep although I want to understand and undo it. I fall asleep at odd times, but I sleep fitfully, as if I have covered myself with a sheet of fear that soaks through my skin. I repeatedly wake up startled, as if I have slept through a disaster that I could have averted. Sometimes I open my eyes and it takes a while for me to remember why I have to go on living. Anxiety, I do not want to honour you with words. I will confront you when you are least ready for it.

Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and mother of three. She tweets at @natashabadhwar and posts on Instagram as natashabadhwar.

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