I’m Not Here

By Sonya Rehman

I’m not sure what I’m grieving. But there’s a mass around my heart that has seemed to dull the feeling-ness of things. It’s a bit clunky, but it’s something that I have grown accustomed to for a long time. When life – correction, my perception of life – gets overwhelming, I begin shutting down on an emotional level. Lots of little padlocks start snapping shut. I don’t want any light in, I don’t want any faux positivity, any talk of magic or manifestations and the power of prayer. Please. Even though I’m at the tail-end of The Autobiography of a Yogi, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while, I can’t bring myself to begin meditating again. I’m only finishing this book because it is ‘something that has to be done’ on my endless to do list, my endless personal expectations that keep me up at night in a grip of anxiety and worry which I squash down further with back to back episodes of Say Yes to the Dress on YouTube. Yes, yes, great coping mechanism.

When I look at photos of myself, or old Insta Live interviews of myself at the start of March (the lockdown, when Covid flipped everything on its head), I can’t relate to that girl. In fact her open-heartedness annoys me. So full of it, still so child-like, God, the new 1000-year-old me thinks. So daft. I remember the denial when the lockdown was announced. I refused to believe this would last a few weeks. To think this would last the entire course of the year was unfathomable. I would sit in the small patch of our garden and look up at the blue sky, the electricity poles, their long, looping wires, the odd crow or kite flying in the distance, glance at my oblivious dogs rolling around in the grass, and feel like I was a trapped little child again.

But how we acclimatize to our surroundings – no matter how stifling, horrific, trying…our minds and bodies begin settling into a routine no matter how peculiar or bizarre the circumstances. I wish I could be more confessional in my writing, like I used to, but I am tired of the questions, the judgment…besides, I don’t want to present my life story on a silver platter for all and sundry to pick at, poke around, snort at. Still, I’ll try. Writing is my only outlet and at the end of the day, dil halka karna hay.

I’m not sure what I’m grieving. I’m not sure what’s being nudged out and elbowed in. I’m not sure what my purpose is anymore, and is ‘purpose’ just a life achievement to do list for self-aggrandizement? The ever-expanding self-important SELF. Do this, do that, get this, get that, always on the move, a self-induced tizzy, a never-ending self-created hamster wheel. The damn self. Correction, the damn ego.

The days have a dream-like veneer to them. If the sky is blue, it has to be a very sharp, bright blue. The pink bougainvillea flowers, a very neon, fuchsia pink. I feel like I’m lodged in a Super Mario game, constantly seeing ‘GAME OVER’ thanks to getting my ass kicked by Bowser and failing to bag any mushroom power-ups.

The past and the present have merged in some ways. Old, buried patterns have emerged like phantoms. Certain unbecoming traits have amplified. It’s like someone hit the reset button without knowing how to begin again.

I know a lot of people around me are struggling and hustling to make it work, to squeeze out whatever little that’s left of their old selves to make it through the haze that is 2020. Some have crumbled. Some have drifted. Others have locked themselves into a hardcore routine (again, denial). How will we emerge from this?

Kaavan, the elephant (I wrote about him previously) left today. He’s on his way to an animal sanctuary in Cambodia after decades of mistreatment at the Islamabad Zoo.

The fact that his new life unfolds now, after suffering silently for so long, gives me hope. And that hope, that light, is always too much to bear especially when you are witness to a story, a happy ending like that. The relief, the respite, the belief, the way it floods in…is one of the most painful-wonderful things to witness. The swift disintegration of a stubborn (safe) perception that keeps you locked in and loyal to your pain and your disillusionment is a re-birth. And re-births are always painful.

Perhaps my grief is not grief after all.



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