When People Move Away

When people move away, and you’re still in the same place

The same place turns into something strange:

It feels new because you seem to know nobody,

But it is still new because the new place excitement just isn’t there.

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When people move away, you finally realize

How your mother felt when you left home.

The phone calls are rituals, obligations,

Like a habit which when stopped hurts the other.

They don’t depend on you so much any more,

Don’t tell you what they do, and leave out the details.

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It sometimes scares you, always makes you sad

Do they not remember any more, the little things

That made things work? And sometimes, you wonder

If you’ll be the first they call, like they always did,

When nothing is going right, or they just want

A bit of love, a taste of home, a long hug…

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Or would the geographical barrier have succeeded

In separating them from you? Will you be strangers

Who smile uncomfortably at reunions,

And make small talk about separate lives?

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What makes relationships last, things work?

What makes the distance go away, so that

When you finally meet, it feels like home again?

Like the most comfortable love in the world?

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In Memory of an Assault

Disclaimer: Not autobiographical

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I wanted to scream when you were done with me

To rage and kick and pull out your hair and bite you

In my dreams I slap your face and watch it dissolve.

When I sleep I see a different world,

One where you live in a muddy pit

Dug from all the hot anger I felt.

I am vindicated in my imagination.

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In real life, I cannot scream,

Not when I see you. Your photos.

Emblems of your successful life.

Your clueless, perfect, nuclear family.

I want to cut you with my words

I want to laugh as you repent

What you’ve done, hidden for so long.

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Instead, I am forced to shake your hand

And be nice to your family

And answer your stupid questions

About my life.

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I watch your happy life.

Why is it that I am the one who hasn’t moved on?

Will I go to sleep everyday, exhausted from the ordeal of the everyday,

And wake up in the middle of the night

To feel your hands up my thighs?

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Why am I the one tired?

Why am I the one broken?

Why are my sentences incoherent and mundane?

Why is this a terrible poem?

Maugham’s “The Door of Opportunity” as a Colonial Adventure

Adventure stories were extremely popular during the colonization period. Written for boys and largely peopled by male characters, they addressed boys not as readers but as future servants of the Empire. A journey to an exotic and foreign land, facing a challenge in this land and solving the problems there, and then making a triumphant return to the mother country was the basic structure of a classic adventure story. In a time when colonialist discourse was significantly similar to the language of adventure stories, these stories inculcated, from young age, a desire in boys to set out on “adventures” to foreign, strange lands, and bring back glory for themselves and the Empire. Somerset Maugham’s “The Door of Opportunity”, being set in a colony, becomes a part of the repertoire of writings not only about colonization, but of adventure. In this story, Maugham takes up the format of the adventure story and inverts it to underline the reality of colonial practices and present a critique on colonialism.

Alban in “The Door of Opportunity” is a symbolized as a race marker, an ideological construct to stand for Englishness itself. His interest in literature, love for music, eagerness to learn the language of the natives as well as his physical appearance – the “fair hair”, “blue eyes”, “fine head”, “prominent Adam’s apple” (Maugham 44) – are shown to be distinctively English. He is also pitted against the other officers in Sondurah, and their average minds, petty jealousies, dull pastimes and uncultivated tastes serve to emphasize the idea of Alban as superior. Yet, it is Alban; the same Alban whose wife took for granted will be the governor one day and whose abilities were grudgingly appreciated by the very people who called him Powder Puff Percy; who fails as an imperial agent. Unlike the hero of an adventure story, he does not emerge triumphant from his journey to an exotic country; instead, his is a narrative of loss. Through the characterization of Alban as innately superior to others in the same profession as him, Maugham is perhaps suggesting that the best cannot triumph in an imperialist world: only the brash can. The importance of a careful administrator like Alban as against a forceful conqueror like Van Hasseldt is also ignored by the greed of imperialism.

A conventional adventure story begins with the undertaking of a journey. Maugham begins “The Door of Opportunity” at the point where an adventure story ends: at the time of return. But unlike an adventure story, in Alban’s return, the expected triumphant homecoming is missing. While Alban is visibly excited about returning to London, Anne feels embarrassed by the “friendly little smile” of a woman fellow passenger from Singapore, and notices how nobody will share the train carriage with them. Coming back to the mother country is not a comforting return to a comfort zone nor an arrival back home, but a realization that everything you imagined home to be is a myth. Alban and Anne are in a sense, exiled to London because he has been dismissed from service. In fact, Alban and Anne had been at home at Datkar, an isolated district of Sondurah, where he had been appointed as District Officer. They fell in love with the place from the beginning, and engaged with the people there, discovered that their days were effortlessly filled with activities they both enjoyed and made frequent tours of the district. The place also succeeded in bringing them closer together than before. Datkar was their true home: largely isolated from judgemental eyes of fellow countrymen and accommodative of their shared as well as varied interests. However, Datkar is a part of a British colony, and can never permanently be the home of the colonizer, whose primary function in a colony is to discharge his duties to the glory of the Empire and utilize the resources of the colony for this purpose. Alban and Anne can thus be seen as colonial agents enjoying the perks of the Empire. From this perspective, their relationship is superficial as it is sustained only in a place away from home; during the course of the adventure.

While Datkar can never be a permanent home for Alban, neither can London. His is an adventure story in which he is sent into exile and doesn’t return to rest, comfort and glory. Instead, a narrative of personal, social and political loss is the end result. Because his adventure was unsuccessful, he loses his wife, who is now so ashamed of him that she cannot stay with him, whose love has turned to loathing “the very sight” (Maugham 67) of her husband. Already mocked at for his sense of superiority and cultivated tastes, now he is ridiculed for being a coward and a fake. The people who used to concede grudgingly that he was a good administrator now have tangible proof that he is just a fraud. He also fails as an imperial subject because he lets down the interests of the other colonizers. This, when coupled with Alban’s own limited understanding of Englishness and scorn for his community, renders him totally isolated. Home itself becomes a space for exile, and under the trajectory of an adventure story, all he is is a failure.

Maugham inverts the entire structure of the adventure story. The story begins with a return – a defeated return to be precise. The home can no longer be what it used to be and transforms into a place of exile. The hero of the story in the end does not achieve glory, but instead, is pervaded by a deep sense of loss. By using the very trajectory that was popular to propagandize imperialism, Maugham succeeds in collapsing the myth if a glorious adventure and the national self. Instead, the very idea of the mother country becomes questionable.

Works Cited

Maugham, Somerset. “The Door of Opportunity”. Ed. Bhattacharji, Shobana. Anglo-American Writing from 1930. Delhi: Doaba Publications, 2005. Print.

Dear Brother

BlogHer prompt for Tuesday, November 11: If you could permanently get rid of one worry, what would it be?

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Dear Brother,

They told me when before I left home

Cover your legs, keep your eyes down

Don’t get dark in the sun and

Get back before the sun sets.

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They say they worry for me brother.

Why do they not worry so for you?

Is life easier for you than for me

Advice and warning echoing in my head

Even after its been said, whirling inside

With images of wide eyes and shaking heads

At everything I do.

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Why do they worry so, brother?

Do you know what it’s like,

The weight of those worries?

Do you carry them with you,

All those people who worry,

When you step out, smile or do?

Because they are with me, even when I sleep.

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Dear brother, sometimes I want to be you

But then I remember what they worry for

They worry about what someone like you

Could do to someone like me.

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And then, I don’t want to be you

Not the monster who makes them worry

Not that gender that automatically labels you

As dangerous, making them worry about me.

If I Lay Here

Response to Writing101 Prompt: Write about the three most important songs in your life — what do they mean to you?

I wouldn’t call it my favourite song, but Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol is one song which I have listened to over and over again and still haven’t gotten sick of. Sometimes, the meaning of the lyrics change. Sometimes, I realize that each line has many more layers to it than what is just on the surface. It’s a beautiful song, mostly because of the meaning its lyrics hold which transcends to the music. But my favourite lines are these:

If I lay here

If I just lay here,

Would you lie with me and just forget the world?

People come and go in life. There are people with whom you have so much of fun that every moment you spend with them is soaked in stomach aching laughter. There are people who irritate you so much that their mere presence clouds your face. There are people you call friends when you’re in the same place, but whom you forget once you move away; and when you finally realize you’ve forgotten, you know they didn’t matter anyway. There are people you think would be by your side till the end of your life, the people you imagine you’d die for, but who slowly fade away as you try desperately to hold on through awkward phone conversations and one-line texts. There are people who make you wonder why you put up with them, yet to whom you stick to, maybe merely as a force of habit. There are people who make your heart beat so loud you’re almost positive they heard it when they smiled at you. There are people of whom you’re so insanely jealous that you already hate them before they’ve said a word. People come and go in life. It’s difficult to accept this, but it is inevitable.

But the ones that stay, the ones who even after they’ve gone, have such a grip on your memory that you’re overwhelmed when you think about them, the ones you know have unmistakeably, irrevocably changed your life are the ones who’ve passed the Chasing Cars test. It’s the person who lies with you, amidst the rush and the noise, amid the people and the pain, and forget the world with you. And you remember them mostly, for that time you forgot the world together.

The Day My Friend Cried

Writing 101: Unlock the Mind

This post is written in context of the flood that is ravaging Jammu and Kashmir, India currently. This is a personal account of a friend’s grief. If you can contribute towards the cause, please do.

I saw her cry for the first time. The person whom I thought was the strongest in the world. The person who goes through more in a year than what I have gone through throughout my life. She cried in my arms. As her sobs travelled up her body, I felt so inadequate trying to contain her sorrow in my arms. But I couldn’t let go.

Her parents hadn’t called her in five days. She didn’t know where her sister was, or half of her relatives. Were they alive and stuck? Had they been rescued by the army? Or, was it…too late? She didn’t know. Being away from it all made it harder. It was her land that was drowning, her people that were isolated. And all she could do was cry in my inadequate arms, trying to contain the sorrow within her. There was nothing she could do. Helplessness is the most painful emotion. It compounds grief and kills fleeting moments of relief. She was helpless because she was away. She was alone because she wasn’t there.

She scans the news every day. When I sit next to her in class, I see her refresh her screen every now and then. Her eyes are constantly drawn towards the unresponsive phone, as if staring at it would make it ring. For the first time, I see that the allure of Literature has failed to seduce her. As our teacher talks about Eliot’s existentialism and Hemingway’s sparse writing style, her mind roams, refusing to be captivated by words which she’d hung on to eagerly, earlier.

I do not know how to comfort her. I hug her as tightly as I can, trying to contain the sorrow, letting her know that she’s not alone. But when she looks at me and says, “What will I go back to? Everything will have changed. When the hard earth which I can feel on my palm begins to slip away from my grasp, what is home anymore?”

I cannot answer her.

Happiness

What is it to be happy?

Is it a constant state of mind,

A barrier which holds strong

Against every adversity, trial or loss?

A calm confidence which stops you from breaking

Even when the world is closing up on you?

 

or is happiness found only in fleeting moments,

In a distant memory, stale laughter, almost forgotten dreams?

Is it just a pause

Between the tireless grief that is life,

A moment of cool relief merely to hold on to

When daily you burn in the heat of life?

 

Do you have to seek happiness,

Knocking shamelessly until you find it?

Or does it come to you,

And embrace you in a moment unexpected?

Is happiness real, or is it just a superstition we invent

To bring some meaning to our senseless lives?