June 28, 2006

The Drive Back

To the handful of the regular readers here, my constant harping over my past is not something new. Sometimes I take it back all the way to my childhood, the way I grew up, the metaphorical overkill of the incidents that shaped what I have become and more recently, taking a step into the future, the trip I am going to be making back home in July, after a gap of three very long years.

On most occasions, to the people I know in real life, it would often come as a surprise to find out that it has been that long since I ventured back there. Actually, the time gap is even longer than that. The first time I went back there after I came to Delhi was because I had managed to overwork myself to the point of exhaustion, I could not carry on any further without risking a great deal of harm to myself and I was way too poor to take a proper vacation anywhere else.

The second time was for my sister’s wedding, for which I rather disagreeably managed to turn up just two days before the event. After spending the event in a trance, where I smiled a lot at strangers and politely talked my way through a harrowing 42 hour period, I started back for Delhi a couple of days later. I don’t remember much about the third time. I was way too stressed out and almost had a nervous breakdown a few hours after I landed at the airport. For all practical purposes, I have not been there in spirit in more than six years now.

All things considered, I guess it would not have been much of a secret that I did not ever want to go back there after I left home in 1999, but it did come as a surprise to many that I voluntarily chose to go back there this year. Most friends do believe that it is because I have somewhat succumbed to the growing influence of age and parental pressure and have decided to sneakily go there and do the logical thing – to get hitched and cross on over to the other side.

All my life I have run away from various things, from my disappointment about the people who should have been there for me, the hurt that has been caused to me by them and even disappointment in myself that I’ve walked away from the responsibility of taking care of parents who are only growing older and unwell with each passing day. My life here was meant to be a clean break from all of that. I had hoped to find my real self, change my life for better and be happy for a change. But that never happened.

Somewhere along the way, I’d forgiven everyone and everything, but I could never find my own feet and would always lean on problems and joys of others to make my day. That, of course, never works. It is not your life, your problems or your joys that you are living. It is borrowed and it is even stealing to an extent. It never lasts for long. Thus, I would end up in various replicas of my past, of feeling unwanted, left behind and feeling that I was just not good enough to deserve anything good. Nor could I ever summon up the courage to stand up for what I felt.

I never thought I deserved something decent; it was the norm to have the second, third or even the most unwanted best. Why should I deserve any of it? After all, I was lousy where it mattered. I could not make it work in my past. It was a pattern, a design and a norm for all the things to come, while exceptions were meant for others. I thought the problems in my life would end the day I forgave everyone and moved on. I did, but the problems never stopped because I missed a minor detail – I forgot to forgive myself for being imperfect and incapable of pulling it all together and have the happy family I always wanted to have.

It has taken me six long and painful years to realize this. It hit me in February this year, when I was driving back after having one of the most happiest (for no particular reason) times in a very long time, that I was feeling inconsolably sad because I felt it fit a pattern – that I was being left behind once again, that I could not ask even that little bit of joy to last for a little bit longer, that I’d have to once again make way for circumstances beyond my control. It was then, when she pointed it out to me, that I realized I had become the sum total of all my regrets, which was gradually consuming me and turning me into one of those bitter, cynical and jaded creepy people. And that was an image I could not stand.

From thereon, it has been a hard climb back. I have stumbled more than I have managed to walk, but at least I have not given up and slumped on the ground as I had earlier. I had fixed my working routine to a better one, gave up on a lot of my craziness and I still could not find the missing piece in the puzzle, which is my childhood and my memories. I had come to terms with it only by mostly wiping it out forcibly from my psyche, but it has always remained there, lingering in the background and casting a shadow on everything I’ve done, most often without my knowledge.

Which is why it is important for me to go back and face up to it. I am not going there to get married or settle old scores. I am going there to bury a personal ghost of mine, which I need to do to finally move on ahead in life, for my own sake. In a lot of ways, it would be a final goodbye of sorts, not probably in the way that I won’t ever go back again, but in the way that the pattern has to end – but not me, not the way I feel for everyone and surely not my life – for me to move on. Maybe I will go back there again, maybe I won’t ever, but it surely will be the end of the phase where that place has played a part in everything I’ve done.

I think at least a couple of friends have noticed the minor changes. I am not there as much for everyone as I used to be and I don’t even feel apologetic about it most of the time. Things will only change further once I return on the 16th. It does make me a considerably less interesting person to be not that dark and cynical about everything all the time and I probably don’t even write that well anymore as a result. But in general, I have come around to accepting that things do go wrong every now and then, but that does not mean they won’t go right ever, but you have to leave a window of chance open for that to happen and I am happier about it.

For all this I do owe a considerable amount of debt to her, for telling me during that drive back that I was being extremely silly, that I could be liked and probably even loved, even when I was not being the stud who’d always have to walk away from everything, with the patented shrug, even when my entire being was screaming inside about the unfairness of it all. Even that I did not have to be anybody to be cared and bothered for, that there was something more to me than just all these and the piles of hurt and regret that I’ve carried along the way. And hopefully, someday, similar to the unexpected set of circumstances that led up to the drive back, a bit of luck and destiny happening my way should enable me to pay her back for it. Otherwise, the least I can do is to say “thank you” for the umpteenth time, to my dear friend Laure.